Friday, October 30, 2009


“In Zen, the world is nothing, man is nothing, everything is nothing, but Zen poetry says it so beautifully, so much more beautifully than the underground press. Swearing in four-letter words, the underground press often declares that man is nothing, the world is nothing, nothing is nothing. And one thinks to himself, "Ah, but if it were said with some beauty, maybe there would be something." And then Zen comes along as a high art form and gives this message with beauty. And now you're dead twice."
--Francis A. Schaeffer

Thursday, October 29, 2009

"war is a force that gives us meaning"

I'm reading a book called War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, and when I first saw it, it was sitting on my roommate's desk and I had to do a doubletake. It gives us meaning? What, like it has inherent meaning, and we've got to have war in order to have that meaning? My first thought: well, less a thought and more of reaction, equal parts stunned and disbelief. Just sort of like, really? Are you serious? But then it turned more into, well, what is this? What's this actually about? And I kept seeing it when I'd get dressed in the morning so I finally asked my roommate about it and started to read it this weekend.

It hasn't been what I expected. He's talked mostly about the negative effects of war, how it feeds off of and bolsters lies between people, how destructive it is, how it becomes alluring, a drug even, because it allows people to be what they aren't outside of war, allows them to help in ways they might not have normally. A lot of interesting things. Sometimes I'm reading and I'm seeing pretty eye to eye with him, and other times I want to put the book down and not pick it back up. He's pretty against any sort of organized religion because of the conflict he says it causes. And oh goodness, I wish I could really write about what he's talking about, but you'll have to read it. It's interesting, to say the least. And I'm learning a ton about all the conflict between the Serbs, the Muslims, and the Croats. And considering the potential proximity I might be having with Muslim communities (more on that later), it's fascinating.

Anyway, from the introduction, after he (Chris Hedges) has written for sixteen pages about all the evils of war:

"And yet, despite all this, I am not a pacifist. I respect and admire the qualities of professional soldiers. Without the determination and leadership of soldiers like Wesley K. Clark we might not have intervened in Kosovo or Bosnia. It was, in the end, a general, Ulysses S. Grant who saved the union. Even as I detest the pestilence that is war and fear its deadly addiction, even as I see it lead states and groups towards self-immolation, even as I concede that it is war that has left millions of dead and maimed across the planet, I, like most reporters in Sarajevo and Kosovo, desperately hoped for armed intervention. The poison that is war does not free us from the ethics of responsibility." (emphasis mine)

I don't really know where I stand with all of this. I don't want to say either way because, as with most things political in nature (or just controversial anyway), I don't feel like I'm informed enough to say. And even if I were, I haven't given it nearly enough thought or conversation to have formed any thoughts I won't change my mind on later.

That said, that last line blows me away. Sounds like something I can stand behind.

And even as I type that I'm listening to the soundtrack to Blood Diamond, thinking about Sierra Leone and the RUF and how in the movie, how in 1999 they were cutting off people's arms. And King Leopold did this in the Congo. There is no justice in that. That is not just, nothing about it is right or fair or good. And if I say that I am a de facto pacifist, if I say that I hope for peace among the nations--and I do--does that mean that by default of my political ideologies, I do nothing?

The things is--and I'm still figuring this all out, but--I don't think so. What does that mean for me? For Sara, college student, very limited realm of influence? Well, I'm not sure. But it moves in me, makes me want for some sort of action, justice. I just don't know what that looks like yet.

Monday, October 26, 2009


This month it's been heavy heavy heavy, just one post after another, and so I promise I've got a funny one coming up, a story about how I was trapped hiding underneath a comforter on my couch because a cable guy had come into my living room and I wasn't wearing pants. So until then, if you'll give me one more, I've got another one to write out.

I know it's the same thing again and again, and mostly this is for me I suppose, mostly I'm just processing and feeling this out. I do know that I'm continually surprised by how much I find myself caring about the kinds of things I write on here, and I say that more as a testament to how God will sow things into your heart in ways you don't guess. And I'm just like, well I'll take it then. Hrmmm. Right. I know it's boring to read about the same thing over and over, so from this point on, I'm strictly processing, and feel free to wait till the next post, or read at your own risk.

I'm going on about movies again. The thing is, I put them on as background while I work on homework or when I want to wind down but I'm not in the mood to read, so I do watch then fairly frequently. And on the one hand, I can think of a hundred reasons why I shouldn't be watching them. It really probably is better to read, I like to be outside, and as much as I like to see things that rile me up as far as what I care about, I don't want to become desensitized. But I saw this movie called Tsotsi last night. And first of all, that movie is just gold mine, linguistically. They speak in this language called Tsotsitaal, which is a creole of I don't even know how many languages. Afrikaans, English, Xhosa, Tswana, Zulu--not sure what else. It's funny because listening to it, you could hear the English words very clearly. It takes the grammar of one language (usually Afrikaans?) and uses words and expressions from all the different languages. And it was originally a gangster language. Just amazing. Countries like South Africa and half the European countries--they're so lingual, it just blows my mind.

So anyway, I was watching and I thought it was really good, and in the end it wasn't a movie that moved me necessarily, but all of a sudden I was just crying, and not like my eyes teared up crying, but sniffling and running nose and eyes all red and my face all twisted up, which hasn't happened since Return of the King. And again, it wasn't because it was one of those movies that floored me. I was thinking about the main character. How hard life had been to him, and how hardened he had become. And I know that, even though we're all broken, we're born into sin, all of that, we don't start off as hardened as that. And it just hit me, how hard life is, how it makes people. And it's just all so messed up and there I was crying for the way that's real and I half couldn't believe it because it wasn't exactly the movie making me do it, and I don't know. It's overwhelming. I think that's something I'll almost certainly encounter in mission work, and heck, that's everybody, everywhere. And what can you do in the face of something so big like that? I've said it before, but there's this tug and I want to help. Most times I could care less about sending money (as guilty as I feel about that) but I wouldn't think twice about spending all my money to go there, wherever there is, and help--I'd be over there in a heartbeat, but how could I help? What do you do? It's just so big.

And the surprising thing about all that is this: one the one hand, when I see stuff like this, when I read things in these books I'm reading, the desire to go, to just go and serve is getting stronger. But on the other hand, the more into this semester I get, the more I want to stay. It's part that as I'm investing in more people's lives, as I pray for them more and know them more, I don't want to leave them. I've always thought that since I'm not particularly close to my family (I would miss them, of course, but I've kind of been doing my own thing for the last four years) and I'm single, there's not really anything tying me down, and I could just go. But then I start thinking about my roommates and friends and the people who are my family in InterVarsity and all the people here that I love and I can't imagine not having relationships with them like I do now. I never thought I'd think twice about leaving, but here I am on what might be the edge of it and suddenly I'm hesitating, wondering how could I leave this behind?

So I'm just sort of a mix of things, right now. On the one hand, ready to go because it breaks my heart not to, because there's just this pull toward it, and I know that it's in my future somewhere. But I'm realizing now that it's starting to be just as hard to leave. So what next? As always, we'll see. I'm kind of one foot in the door, one out, just praying, now, and I don't know. Mm.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

i'm thinking in themes again

I've never been the kind of writer who walks around with whole plots (or even parts, really) in my head, lists of characters and their stories and traits and all of that. At best, I'll have a picture of a scene, kind of a feeling of it, and I'll want to make it into a story but I don't usually know how. I'll tell you this: those writers who walk around with nine novels in their heads they've never gotten around to writing down--I will never be one of those. Maybe that's why, in the end, I chose nonfiction as my focus, instead of fiction. It's easy to say I picked it because I could just write about all the crazy things that have happened in my life, how God's been in all of that. If I couldn't fill a whole book, then I could at least get something undergrad-thesis-length out of it. But I don't think that's it either. In any case, when someone makes me write something less memoir-y, use more research based stuff, the essay is generally better and I do really enjoy it.

I think it's something different than all of that, though. I've noticed lately, while doing mundane things like walking to the bathroom or washing my hands or taking out the trash, that I'm thinking in themes. Not in a 'I want my story to be about friendship or hope' way. More like connecting things I hadn't thought about connecting, realizing how they could go together, how something good could be built off it based on that union.

I'll give you an example. One of the stories in my thesis is about amputees, phantom limbs, and as per usual for me (buh), not knowing my dad. The other day I was thinking about how the name of the place where I was born--Camp Lejeune--has roots in the French language (sort of ironic, all things considered, but for reasons that I'll get to eventually, hopefully). Le jeune, like el joven. The young person, the young one. Youngin', as we'd say, to make it a one word noun. And then June, my middle name. June comes from Juno which comes from the latin iuvenis, young man. Like juvenile. I want to write something about how young I feel, how I feel like I've got so much catching up to do, how, even though there's a lot I understand much differently than other people, there's so much more I don't get yet. About being young and full of fire (that goes both good and bad ways, good as in passion, bad as in reading something I wrote six months ago and thinking, how obnoxious!). And the way that connects to the roots of the words that mean things to me, are connected with pieces of my life. What the goddess Juno was like, the people in France called Les Jeunes, etc.

I have all these things I want to shape stories around, things that make the story mean something. Except a lot of times I don't feel like I have the story. It's like I'm working backwards. I don't want to write competent, clean stories. I want to write things that people feel, that make them want for something good. My friend Tristan once told me, back when I was sort of wishy-washy about God, that I was going to be a Christian writer, but a cool one like Don Miller. Well, I don't know about that, but it would be pretty cool, and the more I think about it, the more I want it. What am I talking about? I just want to write. But I've never really known what about, beyond writing about my life. But that's the thing, I almost don't want to write about that anymore, because I feel like there's just better stuff I could write about.

I don't know where I'm going with this, really. If I can, if I'm able to take these things, these lines and the pictures and the feelings and make them into something, stringing in little parts about how a few words can outline a whole part of a life--well, I'd like that. I think it'd be pretty neat.

Monday, October 19, 2009


“If you’ve seen the piece, you’ll remember that David’s right hand is huge, ribbed with life-like veins. Biblical legend, of course, would have him preparing to slay the more powerful Goliath. In Michelangelo’s own time, Florence was surrounded by neighboring bully states; in part, David represented Florence in her courage and pluck. Still, the hand is not a fist. David is capable of so much more than violence.

Circling the towering piece, I couldn’t help wondering about that hand today. Sure, we can throw stones, program ‘smart’ bombs, build walls. But doesn’t it also suggest the amazing creativity, the amazing good we can do with our hands? Michelangelo—painter, sculptor, architect, man—used his own right hand to such glory and beauty and inspired purpose. Five hundred years later, we’re still lining up to sit in wonder. I think of the Muslim man who painted the icon I bought in Jerusalem last month. I think of Cheryl Anderson raising her hand to direct the Chancel Choir, Stan Poplin pulling his bow across the strings of a bass. And a healing circle of friends. And communion shared in the jail. We are capable of such magic, such mystery, such love—with our hands, with our fingers, with the choices we make.

Michelangelo seems to have known that, seems to have delighted in it. In his Renaissance, God was no longer a sky-bound despot, a jealous and judgmental emperor. Instead, David celebrates God’s partnership with human loving, with human creativity, with human responsibility. God is with us! God is in David’s hand; and David is in God’s!...

Next to the towering, alert David, this Pieta seems lost. The former is so alive, so tense, so ready for life. The latter is sad, riddled by grief and loss, tangled in the cords of death. But there’s something that ties the two together, something that strangely links them. It’s Mary’s hand. In death, Jesus is held, truly and tenderly held. Mary’s hand is every bit as powerful as David’s, every bit as human and kind. The Pieta from Palestrina insists on strength as compassion, courage as tenderness, creativity as touch. Again, God is not distant, vicious, abstract. God is in Mary’s hand; and she is in God’s….

Less than a month now and I’ll return to you and to our life together in Santa Cruz. I know that we, too, are capable of magic, mystery, love. By the light of grace, in the spirit of Christ, we breathe new life into our neighborhoods and families. We bless the earth. We invest in peace….

I look forward to that week, and I imagine that Michelangelo’s David and his other work, the Pieta from Palestrina, will join me somehow. What grace, what tenderness, what power is in our hands.”

--Dave Grishaw-Jones

the plan

Thanks to Kristy Johnson, I'm on The Plan. Here's the problem. I've gotta quit drinking Sun Drop. Not altogether, mind you, but I just think I drink too much. I don't actually have a hard time not drinking it when I'm somewhere where I can't get it (basically anywhere out of state), so I know it's completely a psychological thing. And as these things usually go for me, after trying for forever to quit and never being able to go more than a day or two without it, suddenly it clicked and basically I've gone cold turkey. Kind of.

The Plan, officially, is no Sun Drop during the week, but Friday through Sunday I can have it. I had some Saturday night because I knew I could, but I didn't really want it too badly. Didn't have any yesterday. And am having some right now sort of for the heck of it, but not because I'm really craving it or anything. We'll see how this next week goes, and I'll tell you, I do love Sun Drop and I don't ever want to give up completely, but for the sake of being able to not drink it when I could if I wanted. I feel like I've been cleaning up life lately (again, kind of) and maybe this is just another thing? Who knows, but I'm doing it now and I couldn't before and who knows why, so I figure what the heck, why not?

In other news? Five weeks without a phone, and I got one about a week ago. Which means I'm very poor now, but it's kind of nice having one again. By nice I mean something more like convenient--I don't have to borrow everyone else's and feel guilty about it or tell people to call other people if they need to get ahold of me or use facebook chat as an actual means of communication. But checking for missed calls or text message feels like a facebook sort of addiction all over again. I'm over it now, mostly, but at first I sort of wished I could have gone on without having one.

That, and I love southern accents, I'ma just say. And I'm feeling particularly proud of being from North Carolina (Nohth Kehrlahna, if I'm saying it quickly enough, that second r barely being pronounced) as of late. And there's this website I found a few months ago, one of the coolest things ever, called the International Dialects of English Archive. You can listen to English speakers with all sorts of accents and dialects from all over the world, it's amazing. The North Carolina list isn't as accurately representative as it could be, I think, since a lot of the speakers were from Greensboro, which sounds pretty similar to how people in Atlanta talk, and there are a ton more accents in the state than that one. But it's still such a cool, amazing thing. I can't tell you how much time I've spent listening to recordings on this site.

It's a weird night though. Don't know how to end this one. I almost always say that when I don't know how to end, and if I end by saying I don't know how, then I'm copping out. Where's that ending? Well, maybe I'm copping out, but here we go again, so here I go again, Sun Drop to my left and Jamie's stories to my right, and what a way that is to end a Sunday, at least.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

on doubt

Because here's the thing: I've always had a hard time with it. I can remember being fifteen, sixteen, seventeen and sitting on my bedroom floor completely distraught because even though I knew God was real, there was no way he could not be, there was that what if that kept creeping up. I wanted more than anything to just believe in God, to not have to worry about not believing, but I couldn't. And it would happen all the time, just out of nowhere sometimes. Not so much a thought like 'God isn't real,' but more like 'what if he isn't?' and 'how could he be?'

I'm going to be real here, and I don't usually like to talk about this just because I feel like it's really undermining--in part to how other people see me, although I know that's silly in some ways, but also to how I feel as a Christian. And let's just say right now that this would all probably be a lot easier if I understood grace, but most of the time I don't think I do, because even though I know what it is, I still work in the fear that I'm going to screw up one too many times and God will just get tired of me. What I mean is that I get afraid of talking about this doubt because what if it means I'm not good enough? And of course I'm not, but it's not about that.

I was walking to my car fifteen minutes ago to leave for my lunch break, and I was thinking about how nice it felt, how beautiful a day it's turned out to be, and then there it was. It just crept up in there. Like, what if this is it? What if this is the best in life, feelings like this, and we would just live until we didn't anymore and that would be it? If life, going to work and school and even the good things like being with people, if that's it and it just ends and there's nothing else--what's the point? What should it matter what I do if what I see is all there is, if everything is finite? If we're just on this rock that spins around a star and for eighty years out of a billion, if I'm around for eight millionth of all time on this planet that's so small and in all of space it's like the corner pocket, tucked away and most everything there ever is will pass by without us ever having touched it. If all that's true and that's all there is, none of this matters. It will all be done and what's a book or monument or even one person's memory in whole universe?

In high school, when I had so much trouble believing, it used to be two things. First, there was the certainty of God. He was irrefutable, something in me couldn't not believe. It was always that--he couldn't not be real. But then I would get to thinking, and that's not even the right word, but these thoughts would hit me, all these what ifs. And now, if I think about, even if I can't make it make sense or make the doubts disappear entirely, I realize at the same time how absurd it is to think definitively that God isn't real. How could all of this mean nothing? Now I'm not trying to say that it's not important to love people and serve them and do things that are meaningful, but I am saying that without anything for that to lead to, without an eternity, you could sweep away all of it and there would be no difference.

I know, somewhere in me, that I everything I see points to God. And still, every so often, I think thoughts like those and I wish I could stop it, I wish that I had perfect faith. I imagine God looks at me like Peter, saying Simon, Simon. Sara, Sara. Oh faithless child. But then, even after I wander away again and again, there he is welcoming me back and he won't ever stop. The thing is, even if there were no God, I can think of nothing better to live for. If I based my life on my writing, if I lived for that, if I lived for family, for people I love, for the way it feels to be in the sun on a cool day--all of that passes, and in the end, even though those things are important to me, everything else besides God feels empty. Even if in the end it all turns out to be made up, I can't imagine living for anything else, because anything else just feels like nothing compared to the richness and purpose of living for Christ. And if I'm wrong, what will I have lost?

C. S. Lewis (or Puddleglum, the Marshwiggle) says it so much better than I do:

"One word, Ma'am," he said, coming from the fire; limping, because of the pain. "One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things--trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's just a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you are right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentleman and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."
--The Silver Chair

i love language, and this is why

I love it when one word has two different meanings in one language, and that word's equivalent in another language means those same two things. Example:

So in English, two meanings for the word band are band like a band of robbers, and band like rubberband. In Spanish, liga. It means league, like a football league. It also means band, like a rubberband. Liga = league = band.

And it makes perfect sense--the verb ligar means to bind, and you can be bound by both rope and friendship, or purpose. Of course, there are so many words that do this, but I love how you can see how it's mirrored in other languages. I bet if I tried I could find a Romanian word--one not even from a Latin root, mind you--that meant a few totally separate things, and then find out that the English translation had the same separate meanings. And really it's just one of those intuitive things, word meaning and all the connections between things, and meaning runs deeper than language anyway, so of course this would happen.

"We worried over nzolo--it means dearly beloved; or a white grub used for fish bait; or a special fetish against dysentery; or little potatoes. Nzole is the double-sized pagne that wraps around two people at once. Finally I see how these things are related. In a marriage ceremony, husband and wife stand tightly bound by their nzole and hold one another to be the most precious: nzolani. As precious as the first potatoes of the season, small and sweet like Georgia peanuts. Precious as the fattest grubs turned up from the soil, which catch the largest fish. And the fetish most treasured by mothers, against dysentery, contains a particle of all the things invoked by the word nzolo: you must dig and dry the grub and potatoes, bind them with a thread from your wedding cloth, and have them blessed in a fire by the nganga doctor."
--The Poisonwood Bible

Cola means line, like waiting in line--and it also means tail, like the tail of an animal. From above they look the same. Pegar means to hit, and it also means to glue, to stick. But here in the south, you might hear someone say they stuck someone in the face when they punched him. Derecho means right, as in someone's rights, and derecha means right, directionally. If something is right or just, it's good--and your right hand man is the one in whom you're most confided. It goes on and on.

I wrote this paper once about word meaning, words as carriers of meaning--as opposed to words having inherent meaning. The whole, I could call this table a fish and it would still be something I sit at to eat, and fish would just mean where dinner was had. The word could be anything, but I love words, and I don't think that because they could be anything that they're irrelevant. The meaning is most important, of course, but all you'd have is empty space and intention without the word to shape it. And look at nzolo, how it carries so much, how it connects things like grubs and wedding garments to talk about what we value and how what's dear to us permeates everything.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

albac, romania

As always, there are about eight other things I want to write about right now. I don't know what it is--maybe just that I was looking back through Romania pictures, thinking about the camps and the people--but I've been thinking about the accident. When we had our last STIM weekend a couple weeks ago I got the pictures one of our guys took and I was just looking through them, and it's funny. They don't look that bad. We talk about flipping over a guard rail and down a mountain because how crazy is it what happened? I don't think I believed it while it was happening, but looking back at the pictures--I mean, it's still crazy, but we didn't go crashing 200 feet down the side of a mountain. It was fifteen feet down, I think? Thirty from the road? We've all thrown out different numbers, but I'm thinking from inside the minibus where we landed to the road was about that much, and then five more feet down to the river.

I'd actually never been in an accident until this one. Once I was in a van at a camp and we almost collided with a drunk driver. He was going the wrong way down the highway, and we swerved so hard I fell out of my seat, and then we all turned around and saw this SUV behind us. I remember the way it rocked, upside down, one wheel still spinning and glass everywhere. I didn't see it coming--all of a sudden we were swerving and then we were looking behind us, and it's just like with the accident in Romania. We were driving and suddenly it got really bumpy and then the whole thing had already happened, it had already finished. I was already being picked up off the window of the bus and we were climbing out, already hardly believing it had happened. Five seconds, maybe? How long from the moment we went off the road to the moment we stopped rolling? I can't even imagine that. I happened so quickly that it might not have, especially considering how little we were hurt, except I still think about it and how big a thing it was.

I remember I was starting to feel carsick so I had my head leaned against the glass, trying to fall asleep. One of the Americans, Patrick, was sitting behind me and he was reading from some sort of Romanian phrase book and he sounded funny, some of the Romanians laughing at him, and I thought about pulling my camera out and filming it. I still wonder what that video might have looked like. And then Peter, because there weren't enough seats, was standing in the aisle beside us (us being the three smallest girls squeezed into two seats, me, Naomi, and Miha). I didn't remember any of this until afterward, until I'd gotten back from the hospital and we were all together again, minus Miha, talking about it, all the pieces being fit together. I'd forgotten that the driver was offering Peter a fold-out chair to sit on and he was asking if it was culturally okay to accept it.

So that's what happened. He was turned around, trying to unfold the chair to give to Peter and all of a sudden the whole bus was shaking and I didn't really think much, didn't really have any clear understanding of what was happening--which is weird, because for some people they saw the whole thing, knew what was happening the whole time--but I think I understood that it was about to get really bumpy. I don't if I figured we'd bounce around and then get back on the road and that would be it, and I say figured on purpose. None of what I thought was this explicit, and I don't think I thought anything at all so much as maybe I understood it, figured it. So the next second, the next thing I remember is looking up and in the windshield it was green, bright green, branches and leaves like tall thick grass. We went nose first, and it makes sense picturing it, remembering how it looked to see the whole windshield filled up from the bottom.

I think our back left side got launched up. That's what it felt like, but I don't know if that makes sense. We went through the guardrail, and maybe the left back tire got pushed up over it? I don't know, but it shot me straight up out of my seat, even though I had a bookbag that weighed about as much as I do in my lap. And I don't really remember falling either, although I must have fallen about seven or eight feet to the other side of the bus as we rolled onto the right side, angled downward. But I remember being on the window, my shirt pushed way up and my stomach showing, and it's funny the things you worry about. Peter had grabbed my arm and lifted me onto my feet but I was wiggling all around trying to get my shirt down. But as soon as I stood up, just standing there bracing myself, holding my forehead against the row of seats I'd just been sitting in, oh man the back of my head split open. I remembered hitting it then, when I'd been launched upward, before I'd fallen across, and let me tell you, I haven't had a goose egg that big since a twenty pound light fixture fell on my head when I was five.

But everyone was getting out and I couldn't think except that my head hurt and that I had to climb, and where was my bookbag, and then the absurdity, the improbability that I was standing on the windows of a minibus I'd just been riding in. I don't know--this is what I mean when I say how it happened so fast, and I know that's what people always say, but I was disbelieving it, I was gaping at the unbelievability of it before I even made sense that it had happened. I think back on how I couldn't really think, how after I got out, I wandered around with one flip flop on and the other one that had broken in my hand. I wanted to lie in the river because it was so hot, because I couldn't think and all I wanted to do was lie in the river. But I was worried about my shirt coming up, and as I was climbing out, who knows how I had the presence of mind even to think this, but I asked the Romanian who had appeared from nowhere and was pulling people out--cum? How, in Romanian. And then of course he proceeded to tell me how in Romanian and I had no idea what he was saying but it's so funny to me how we are, what we do. You never really know, I guess, and you surprise yourself what you're thinking.

So that was it, mostly. I wandered around, one shoe on, one shoe off, dazed probably the right word for that. I remember it was hot. Sitting against a building in the sun with my head down and then when I stood up I realized I had sweated through my shirt. Standing with my feet in the river, seeing blood on the back of Kayla's neck, Patrick hugging me, Shannon mouthing to me how bad the gash in Miha's leg was. Aidan with his head down reading his Bible, Lindsey praying with Shannon, hugging Miha and hearing her ask me, why, why did this happen? and wondering that that question hadn't occured to me. And all these Romanians from who knows where, standing in the road, by the minibus, at the top of the ladder they'd put down so we could climb up from the river. I was gone, already taken to the first hospital, when everyone prayed and sang together, but I was barely thinking at all and it hardly occured to me to pray.

I'm looking at these pictures now, thinking back on all of it, and it wasn't bad at all. It was crazy, and I've never had anything else even remotely like it happen to me. The feeling of being tossed around in there--I didn't realize it until afterward, but it was like the time I fell off the third story balcony, or being blobbed. Or being tossed around inside a wave, just flipping and feeling things collide with you until you stop. Your body and momentum and no control at all, but it's only a few seconds and it's over before you can even be scared--so that said, mostly I'm glad I didn't see it coming.

What a miracle, I think. I've said before, but we were in the middle of nowhere, and we crashed right in front of the only place with people for kilometers. And a hundred meters in either direction--you know? But it wasn't bad at all, and really it wasn't even too big of a deal. We all climbed out, all a little bit shaken up, a little bumped and bruised, but then we got to see the generosity, how hospitable these people were, strangers, to a group that mostly didn't even speak their language. I don't know why. I never really did think about it, to be honest. It happened and it was crazy and we got to see some things that were pretty amazing, and the next day, all together, apart from the soreness, you might not have known that eighteen hours before the minibus we flipped down the side of the mountain. Who knew?

It was hot, today. Humid hot, and I thought about sitting in the sun, the way the asphalt burned my right foot, the one without the flip flop. The way the women at the top of the ladder spoke to me in Romanian and all I could say was mulţumesc mult and suntem bine (or suntim, I can't even remember now), and wanting to lie down with all my clothes on in the river. Seeing a car in front of us crash off the road and down the hill while we rode in a police car to the first hospital, the way the dust floated up where the car had been, seeing the man get out, completely unhurt, just standing there in a cabbage field. And then thinking about the name of the city the second hospital I went to was in--Alba Iulia, White Julia, and how all the way there with siren blaring and us flying around cars and people turning to look, the countryside sort of rolled away, not really green like in the mountains, but lighter colored, the way grass starts to look in the winter.

I don't have pictures of any of this, but I remember it all exactly how I saw it, the dust in the light, the white-green leading up to Alba Iulia. And I still remember parts of the minibus the way I saw it all, but I've got pictures now, and my memory is starting to shape itself around that. So all of this, the rest of it--I'm writing it to remember it this way. And the minibus:

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


"They are very religious people, you know," the old man said. "For all that."

"How do you mean?" Mother asked.

"Everything they do is with one eye to the spirit. When they plant their yams and manioc, they're praying. When they harvest, they're praying. Even when they conceive their children, I think they're praying."

Mother seemed very interested. But Leah crossed her arms and asked, "Do you mean praying to their own pagan gods?"

Reverend Santa smiled at Leah. "What do you imagine our God thinks of this little corner of His creation: the flowering trees in the forest, the birds, the drenching downpours, the heat of the sun--do you know what I'm talking about?"

"Oh, yes," Leah said, straight-A pupil as always.

"And do you think God is pleased with these things?"

"Oh, I think he glories in them!" she hastened to say. "I think he must be prouder of the Congo than just about any place He ever made."

"I think so, too," he said. "I think the Congolese have a world of God's grace in their lives, along with a dose of hardship that can kill a person entirely. I happen to think they already knew how to make a joyful noise unto the Lord a long time ago."

--The Poisonwood Bible

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

the journey homeward

There's a quote I've been wanting to post as a quote-of-the-day for the last few days, but I was driving today and I realized something. It was rainy and colder than it's been yet and I was at a stoplight or something, just thinking about how the rain and the air made me want to write, how I just had the urge to write. That feeling that I always get, the one that's the reason all I ever write about is the way the air feels, lights and all that--that feeling, whatever it is. And then I was listening to my music and I had something like Hillsong, I don't know, some sort of worship music in and there was that feeling again. I thought about how little time I've spent with God this past week, and I just wanted to go and spend time with him or be somewhere with music, singing out.

I find myself wandering all over this city, sometimes, and I can never understand why. I think about the places God had put on my heart, and how there is this yearning for those places that I don't know how to satisfy. It's funny what things God will use to work things into your heart--I'm talking about movies, in this case. I was looking back on a bunch of things I wrote in 2008 and toward the end, the last four months or so, I keep mentioning Syria. And North Africa, that part of the world. There's this thing I wrote on New Years Eve, nothing at all to do with God, really, just this restlessness that I couldn't explain, and I mentioned North Africa again in it. I was watching The Visitor tonight and one of the characters is from Syria and I think that and this one specific scene in Iron Man, toward the end, may have been where this first started. I don't know where I want to go or where I'll be sent or anything like that. I don't know about Romania or Turkey or Syria or wherever--right now, it's a little after seven and it's dark already and I'm not thinking about that.

There's this urge in me to write, this longing. And it's identical to the feeling I have for different places in the world. It's the one I get when I'm outside at night and it's quiet, and there's only air and lights. And these are the same as the pull I feel to spend time with God, to worship.

It makes sense, now.

"When I attempted, a few minutes ago, to describe our spiritual longings, I was omitting one of their most curious characteristics. We usually notice it just as the moment of vision dies away, as the music ends, or as the landscape loses the celestial light. What we feel then has been well described by Keats as 'the journey homeward to the habitual self.' You know what I mean. For a few minutes we have had the illusion of belonging to that world. Now we wake to find that it is no such thing. We are mere spectators. Beauty has smiled, but not to welcome us; her face was turned in our direction, but not to see us. We have not been accepted, welcomed, or taken into the dance. We may go when we please, we may stay if we can. 'Nobody marks us.' ...The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longings to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret."
--C.S.Lewis, The Weight of Glory

"The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy… I am speaking of the best possible ones. There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of lonigng, which just fades away in the reality... If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world… Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing… I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death..."
--C.S.Lewis, Mere Christianity

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.
--Philippians 3:20

Something in me longs for home, for God. Something in me knows what's missing, why I wander, even if most of me doesn't understand, won't ever this side of heaven. In V for Vendetta it says God is in the rain. Well he's in the rain, he's in the way the air feels and the way the night feels and the whole sky, he's in the things that draw me, that leave me wanting more, the things I could never describe or explain or understand, and he's bigger than all of them too. I drive and drive, I sit in the dark and watch and listen, and I want to write it out, sing it out in worship, that feeling that keeps drawing me, keeps me longing for something, some place I haven't seen yet. I was made for another world, I really was, and everything in me longs for it.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

here's what's coming

Fall gives me sleepy eyes. Right now I want to curl up on my couch (not the heater couch) under a blanket and fall into sleepy sleep, not tired sleep. Cold on the edges, warm all buried underneath. It's not quite cold enough for any of that yet, but riding my bike on the way home tonight my eyes got watery from the suddenness of cold air.

Here's what's coming: Halloween, Pre-Turkey Day Celebration, wearing hoodies, and then my fingertips all red. It already feels like this time two years ago, and I don't understand why but all my sense memories seem to be skipping last year, which is interesting because last year they didn't hit me nearly as strongly as they normally do. I can hardly imagine two years ago, a year and a half ago. I barely remember it, to be honest. But it's good, and I know "the places that used to fit me cannot hold the things I've learned." What I want more than anything right now is to be wearing fuzzy socks and pajamas and trying to keep warm while making cookies and watching Christmas movies, everything all lit up by Christmas lights.

I feel disconnected though. I mean that in a literal sense, not emotionally. It's been something around a month that I haven't had a cellphone. The part of me that likes to avoid things and be all introverted likes it, because I can just do my thing and not have to worry about answering my phone, which I suppose I didn't do half the time anyway. But it's also a pain. When I've been out of the country without my phone, that was always different--mostly the people I was with didn't have phones either, and even if I could have used one I never really needed one. Here, though. Being so busy, scheduling things, seeing friends on the spur of the moment because only the times that suddenly open up are the free ones. It's tough when I need to be gotten ahold of, and it would have been especially tough if my car had broken down any time after the two minutes it took to leave the camp ground last weekend. I'm thinking about getting a prepaid phone, something like that, and I'm pretty sure I've decided I will, but I think right now I should appreciate it. We're so connected, especially with the internet, but when I think about when I was in Colombia and Romania and I didn't have a phone, I liked that. And I like this. Maybe that's where the floating feeling has come from. If I want to talk to my friend, I walk between the apartments, and that seems like something good.