Saturday, April 30, 2011

spinning, rushing history

I was talking to someone today and I've been hearing a lot lately about how ugly Bucuresti can be, all the blocs, compared to some other European cities. To be fair, I suppose that's true in the sense that much of the city is not aesthetically pleasing, not the way you'd see the architectural crowns of Europe. These buildings with air conditioners sticking out and colors like rust and brown. I'd like to have seen it before Ceausescu razed a quarter of it to the ground.

There is something beautiful to it to me, though. Maybe not the blocs, but the whole city. Maybe I'm just still taken in by the fact that I live in Europe. Because it isn't the pollution, it's not the dog poop or the blocs. The churches are beautiful, the National Theatre and the monuments to the Revolution or Stefan cel Mare or the one for the unknown soldier at Parcul Carol. The view from the top of those steps, the People's House off to the left. It's a sweep of it all.

That walking toward Universitate and then to Unirii, the buildings stand against stark blue sky, I think, this is Wilmington sky if I quiet everything else for a moment, and it's also a sky over Europe, one full of a vast history. I think of the wars and the farmers and the hills rolling into flat places, green Europe, gray Europe, a placid sky that reaches over so many centuries rolling into one another the way history does.

I think, south of me, not so far even, Paul walked dusty Roman roads and the world was changed. North of me, Poland invaded and bombed out, Warsaw rubble.

Recently a friend was telling me about studying in Prague, this feeling of a shared human history, a rootedness in that. My own Wilmington has its history, and is even the only city in the States to have had a coup. The racial tensions run deep, run old. But it seems to me on the margins and that here I am so close to the center, in a place that holds so much. Imagine the tree, its farthest branches stretched out to a brand new country still shooting off new branches--the US feels this way to me--and closer to the trunk is Europe. Thicker, solid branches, ones with lines reaching out and tangling all of it, so much passing through one place.

And meanwhile life goes on here, riding the bus in a city with 2 million people, "American Woman" playing over the bus speakers. The farmers are still doing what farmers do, and it's still the same sky. We have somewhere to be, and we are city-people so we go there quickly. But it's still new enough to catch me off guard--the lines of this Eastern European city, its buildings and crowdedness stand against something that will watch it all press by, in a hurry, and then will still be there. It's this, I feel that I am in the middle of a spinning, rushing history, one that is also powerful and rooted deeply, and you see it in the outline of blocs against sky. It's beautiful in this way.

Friday, April 29, 2011

more cultural observations

I've realized something in the last few weeks. And it's a funny thing. I think I'm freaking the Romanians out, and in some strangely inverse way they're freaking me out. Imagine that game with the ball on a long string attached to a pole and now imagine us hot-potatoing that ball back and forth like to touch it for a second would burn your hand off.

So for me it's the money questions. No surprises here--we got those when we came the first time, so they don't catch me off guard, but I don't particularly like them. Mainly I don't like being asked how much money I make each month. Just freaks me out, makes me uncomfortable, the most vocal of my weird mixed-culture backgrounds making a face that says: slow yo roll.

But here's the thing. I'm doing it to them too. It's the vulnerability issue--it's happened with several different people recently. Someone says something to me, example, I don't know, "I don't trust Hungarians." (*No one has ever actually said this to me*) Probably the worst hypothetical example I can think of in terms of being loaded and more extreme than the everyday example, but it illustrates what I mean in that it is not just a surface-level statement but clearly has something that can be fleshed out. (I'm using words like clearly but let me note that I'm only referring to myself--that's the whole cross-cultural deal, of course, that we're thinking differently, coming at it differently.) So my first and most natural reaction to a statement like that is to follow it, find out where it goes. I ask, why? Not because I'm nosy but because a) I assume if you make a statement like that you're comfortable enough talking about it to go further with it; b) if we're having a conversation at all chances are I'm interested enough in you as a person to hear more--it's part of why I do this job: I love to know people; c) there's the cultural part in that the culture I come out of is just much more vulnerable as a baseline; and d) there's the lack of language skills right now which sometimes translates into a lack of conversation skills--the ones I have in English disappear with limited vocabulary and sometimes it's easier to word-vomit de ce? without thinking and let the other person talk than it is to think of a more appropriate response and then formulate the sentence. So it just kind of happens. And meanwhile, the Romanian with whom I am attempting to converse is saying with his or her face in a language as clear to me as if it were English: girl slow yo roll.

And then the conversation dies, boom, just like that. Clearly not the desired outcome. And until I can do conversational gymnastics in Romanian...

Now I'm certain that there is an equally long and logical explanation as to why Romanians ask the how-much-money questions. And I would love to know--time to go have this conversation with a Romanian.

In the meantime, though, I want to be aware. There's the cultural side of this, but then I also think I have spent the last five years with the same people and that's longer than I've spent anything since I was about ten. So there's a certain level of intimacy with people that I'm used to, and it's easy to forget that even in the most conducive of circumstances that takes lots of time, and even if I'm comfortable others may not be.

Certainly openness is something I value, and there is space for it here for sure, it just looks a little different than in my culture. What to do in the meantime? Something more like softening it, molding it within the culture here, I think. Being aware.

So, new goal for now: quit harassing Romanians. Sounds like a plan :)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

to my favorite boy in the whole world

Today you turn nineteen years old and I can hardly believe it at all. I don't remember much about the day you were born except that I was at Gann and Papaw's while Mom was at the hospital. Actually, I'm trying to remember my first memory of you--they seem to jump straight from the baby pictures of you to when you were three or four. Remember when you cut your own bangs? I remember you used to crawl under the recliner part of the couch. And then the time we put on a play of Jack and the Beanstalk. I think one of my favorites will always be when we would lay on the living room floor with our hands and feet in the air, screaming and pretending to be the two kids in Jurassic Park when the dinosaur tries to eat them. We were so weird :) It seems not much has changed.

Nineteen years, and Josh, all I can say is that I am proud to be your sister and that I love you dearly. I think about you all the time over here, how you would love riding the metro and probably hate all the walking. I think you'd like the mountains, though, and I would take you. It has been seven or eight years now since we've lived together, even in the same city, and I suspect we'd be better at it now. But whether we ever will again, I don't know.

But there is something I know. Even if it is from across the globe, I will hear good news about your life. You have survived nineteen whole years--and I think in your case this word survive really applies--and the ones coming will be full to spilling over with hope and promise. You know how much God loves you and how much I do and it seems I can't write you without talking about it, but I want to tell you a little about who you were named after.

Joshua David. Joshua led the Israelites after Moses died. God said to Joshua, "As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you... Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua, meaning, 'to deliver/be liberated' or 'to be victorious.' You see?

And David. There's so much with him. When he was young he was anointed to be king, God said he would become king of Israel. And I don't know exactly how long it took, but he didn't actually become king until he was thirty. And in the meantime crazy King Saul tries to kill him and he ends up fleeing into the wilderness and living in caves. And oh goodness, there's so much more about when he does become king, what happens then. But you see that sometimes God's promises feel impossible, more like wishful thinking than something true, that sometimes a lot of junk has to happen first--but the promise is good, God is faithful. And he will be with you wherever you go.

It's finally Spring here in Bucuresti. It's been pretending to be and then changing its mind for a few months now, but it seems to really be here this time. I even got a little sunburned in the park today. Everyone is out and about on bikes these days, and I realized today just how many memories I have of us on bikes.

Remember in the mountains when you crashed down that gravel road? You couldn't have been more than four--your legs all tangled up in the bike. And then in Richlands when we'd ride down to that bridge and it turns out we were playing in snake nests, cotton mouths. Some metaphor. We never knew. And then Rumley Rd.--flying down the hills, to the gas station, down the path to the river. Just wild little kids running loose.

You know what I remember though? Despite everything and even in the midst of very different memories, this is the way I remember it: the two of us running barefoot across a field, night settling into the trees. Two thick-skinned kids laughing because it was good to be alive in that moment, shouting in the dark, the whole of heaven filling up above us. We made it good, Josh. And we will.

This is something I think about a lot, but if I could change how everything was for you, I would. You are teaching me in your letters, though. You look forward so easily, so much less prone than I am to holding on and thinking through things over and over again. You have taught me about letting go, forgiveness not seeing the object because perhaps it is not forever turned toward it. It's for this, among many other reasons, that I am so proud of you. And full of hope about what's already being worked in you, what's next.

Happy birthday, buddy.

Monday, April 25, 2011

empty metro, empty grave

It's a national holiday here in Romania today and it's supposed to be a whopping sixty-five degrees (celsius: eighteen degrees) which means as soon as I'm done writing this blog, it's to the park.

But I've been wanting to write on here all week, just not sure where to start with it all. Life here continues to surprise me even in the most literal of senses. I spend my Thursday evenings with an American family here, and apart from one other friend, all the rest of life is Romanian. But Thursday nights when I walk to the metro after three or four hours like being in the States, I am surprised to hear Romanian. To see these dark-featured, angular people, their language one still unfamiliar enough that I can listen to the music of it without letting the meaning through.

I am still here? I really live here? This is only once a week, though. Most times I forget about being American, the main two reminders being having to think and try to pronounce and communicate, and then referring to it when my brain stops working and I can't think of anything less uninteresting things to say in conversation. I don't mean I forget that I'm American--no, it's more nuanced than that.

What I mean is that life isn't defined out of where I come from. In the largest and smallest senses it's defined out of what I believe, whose I am. The context isn't: I am from that place but I live in this place--that of course is true but the context is more just that I live in this place. Some things are different, but that's been true of the many places and situations that make up the last ten years. I'm missing it, but I don't know how better to explain it. Crossing culture is really just being graceful and aware and intentional, if you boil it down. Maybe it's not fair to simplify it like that, but I think the kind of problems that come up in a context like this are the many of same ones that come up in life anyway, only the vehicle is different. And communication has to be that much more intentional.

We'll see. Let's say that it is humbling to do this and you become aware of a lot. But it's good.

Anyway, I wanted to write about Easter. Yesterday, all day long, Hristos a inviat! Adevarat a inviat! He is risen, he is risen indeed. And all day long, especially on the way to church, the city so quiet and empty, I wanted to shout it. Our God is alive! He has defeated death, conquered the grave, set the captives free.

My brother's birthday is in a few days so I wrote him a letter two weeks ago and sent him about unbinding the prisoners, somewhere in Isaiah, but I can't find it now. While looking for it I found these (can you tell I like the book of Isaiah?): "On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will removed the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken." (26:7-8)

And so you have this day, the part in the movie where the music swells and the faces of the enemies turn white and there is hope, rejoicing. The scattered disciples will come back together, those disciples who really didn't understand, who fled when Jesus was taken, hope stolen away by the sight of a king on a cross. But he is alive! Again in the movies you have the moment where everything hangs in the balance--good versus evil, all eyes turned to watch which way the scale will tip. And I think probably it felt like that, and certainly wrapping a dead Jesus in linens and spices must leave a feeling of helplessness, a million questions, a what now?

I can't imagine I would have felt differently. But how good it is to look back knowing that it was never a question, that from the moment the world was formed death would be defeated and those weeping women would run from his grave with the good news. And it is.

When I'm alone on the metro I always want to do something silly like dance just because I can and no one will see me. And especially so yesterday, the metro empty, the grave empty. Filled instead with hope and joy (and maybe even a little dancing ;)).

Friday, April 22, 2011


"That is the real explanation of the fact that Theology, far from defeating its rivals by a superior, is, in a superficial but quite real sense, less poetical than they. That is why the New Testament is, in the same sense, less poetical than the old... That is the humiliation of myth into fact, of God into Man; what is everywhere and always, imageless and ineffable, only to be glimpsed in a dream and symbol and the acted poetry of ritual becomes small, solid--no bigger than a man who can lie asleep in a rowboat on the lake of Galilee. You may say that this, after all, is a still deeper poetry. I will not contradict you. The humiliation leads to a greater glory."
--C. S. Lewis

Sunday, April 17, 2011

culture shock-ing (or, how i really feel about canada)

Well, two months in and it's finally starting to hit, I think. Culture shock--and hit is the wrong word entirely. It has sneaked in, is inconspicuous, is manifesting itself in ways I wouldn't have guessed (and a few ways I would have). The interesting part is that it's not directed toward the culture at all, like you might expect. I'm dealing with that fine, and while certainly there are challenges already, I'm not walking around thinking that I hate this city or I'm tired of Romanians. It's different in ways that are exciting and perplexing and sometimes frustrating, and anyway I never get tired of trying to understand it and it seems I won't run out of material anytime soon.

With recognition that I probably won't always feel this way (and certainly not consistently), here's one example of how it's happening now:

The other day I was watching Tom Brokaw explain Canada to Americans. Don't ask me why. I have no idea. And there's this part pretty close to the beginning that is talking about an inscription on the Peace Arch by the border that commemorates the treaty that ended the War of 1812, one that reads, "May these gates never be closed." And boom! All of a sudden I was tearing up, crying as Mr. Brokaw went on to describe the wonders of the Canadian wilderness. Runny nose and scrunched up face and all. May these gates never be closed!

The thing is, I don't know much about Canada other than what I was taught in school. In fact, I learned a lot from the clip I watched. I have no emotional attachment to Canada, in fact am quite indifferent. Although! Although, I will say, when I was fifteen I did write a blog about how the Canadians are really commies and Russia planned to use their border to invade the States entitled "The Sickle That Cuts the Maple Leaf." (Available to be reposted upon request.) I thought I was a pretty boss fifteen-year-old back then.

So, random little things, completely unrelated to the issue of adapting, and that's where it's manifesting itself. Next week I'll be on the metro and someone will almost fall over like they sometimes do and next thing I know I'll be weeping over how the carton of eggs they dropped broke open, and all those wasted eggs!

We'll see. How about you? Any weird (or otherwise) ways you've culture-shocked?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

destul de happy

Things that have been making me quite happy as of late:

1. Hugs! You don't get a lot of them here, and they don't seem to be the kind where you can really hang on a while (I suppose it's not being close enough yet to anyone for that?), but you can side-hug me at this point and send me over the moon. I think I can count on one hand the number of hugs I've gotten since I've been here, but every single one of them has made me very happy. The best one, interestingly enough, was from a random dude on the street. I was hanging out with a friend one afternoon and she pointed out some people on a corner with a 'free hugs' sign (in both English and Romanian!) and I was so excited that I ran across the street and indeed received a free hug. And it was a real one, too, all holding-tight, none of that 'patting you across the twelve inch gap between us.' The Southern side of me rejoices!

2. Yellow flowers. When we came back from the conference (in the mountains) this Sunday, Bucuresti had turned full-bloom. My roommate gave me white-yellow flowers her mom had brought back from the countryside. And then yesterday on the way to my lesson I decided I would buy flowers from one of the women selling them on the street. I ended up accidentally getting three bunches of them instead of one since I didn't know the word buchet (bouquet), but for five lei (like $1.30) for all those daffodils sounds good to me. For the record, I had to look that up--I don't know types of flowers or have a favorite, I just like when they're yellow (and/or white). And they're making my room smell so nice!

3. OSCER. As mentioned, I was at a conference all weekend. I don't write much at all on here about what I do with work, and I do wish I could write more. It's tough because discipleship and that sort of thing is personal, and while I can decide how much I want to share about my stuff, clearly I can't broadcast other people's. Still trying to figure out how or if and what I can do with that here. Anyway, we spent three days talking about the vision for the movement, a lot about discipleship and evangelism. It is exciting to me to see how much they all love God and students, to hear about the sorts of things God has been doing among students for the last twenty years. So thankful and excited to be a part of this. And looking forward to working with OSCPi (OSCER in Pitesti).

4. And uite, pot sa scriu in romana. Ma bucur ca, in sfarsit, pot sa comunic cu oameni. Stiu ca, tot timpul, spun ca 'nu pot sa spun nimic!' si 'n-am rabdare deloc!' Dar e adevarat ca, putin cate putin, mai invat. La conferinta, peste trei zile vorbeam in romana. Cand m-am intors, am fost foarte obosita. Dar si ma da energie pentru ca, hey, se poate! Toata lumea e extrem de incurajator--ma ajuta. Deci, o sa vedem... poate sa cand vine vara (daca vine, inca e atat de frig!) o sa avem conversatii si lungi si profunde. Haha, pai asa sper. Sunt optimista... o sa vedem. (Forgive the grammar mistakes.)

Basically that means, hey look, I can write in Romanian, I can actually communicate. Finally! I know I'm always going on about how I can't say anything and that I don't have any patience, but it's also true that I'm learning more and more, little by little. At the conference I spent three days speaking in Romanian and by the time I got back I was exhausted. But it gives me energy just knowing I can actually do it some. And everyone is super encouraging which of course helps. So we'll see. Maybe when summer gets here, if it ever decides to as it's about fifty degrees outside right now, I will have long deep conversations. Or... haha, at least I hope, I'm being optimistic here... We'll see.

Also, the fact that that took about five minutes to write as opposed to thirty. Yes!

5. And last but not least, Isaiah 54 and James 4. Knowing that God is listening. I'm not talking about resolution, but kind of like God saying, I know, I hear you. You just have to trust me. And being very very thankful for a response that changes nothing but reminds me of the direction in which I am to go.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

"words that don't exist in english"

Via my friend Chris, via here:

L’esprit de escalier: (French) The feeling you get after leaving a conversation, when you think of all the things you should have said. Translated, it means “the spirt of the staircase.”

Waldeinsamkeit: (German) The feeling of being alone in the woods.

Meraki: (Greek) Doing something with soul, creativity or love.

Forelskelt: (Norwegian) The euphoria you experience when you are first falling in love.

Gheegle: (Filipino) The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is unbearably cute.

Pochemuchka: (Russian) A person who asks a lot of questions.

Pena ajena: (Mexican Spanish) The embarrassment you feel watching someone else’s humiliation.

Cualacino: (Italian) The mark left on a table by a cold glass.

Ilunga: (Tshiluba, Congo) A person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time.

I am told that the Romanian word dor is unlike any other word, is very specifically Romanian. From what I understand, the context is a cultural one, related to Mihai Eminescu. It means something to do with missing someone, as in mi-e dor de tine, I miss you. But I’m told that doesn’t really communicate the depth of the word. I don’t know what the roots of this word are (it looks Latin but I’m not sure/haven’t checked), but it makes me think of longing, deep longing. Maybe there’s a connection between dorinta (desire) and dor? And maybe doare (it hurts), as in I ache for you. (I’d say ‘I miss you so much it hurts’ but that just sounds too cheesy to be beautiful the way ‘I ache for you’ is).

Mi-e dor de tine. I just looked it up and it turns out that dor does translate as longing. Well there you go. I long for you, I ache for you. Beautiful language, Romanian.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

feeling like an israelite

Thinking about 'spurring one another on.' I want to tell you about the small group I'm a part of, how wonderful it is, how every week I understand a little more. And it is something else entirely to be with a group of people who love God, half understanding in regard to language, and in regard to something else understanding more deeply than you know how to put into your own English. Brothers and sisters, indeed, with hearts all longing for the same thing.

This is glorified, I'm sure of it, in the sense that it's only one side. Let's not forget being so tired (I have been physically, although not as much emotionally, exhausted lately) and of course this crazy back-and-forth I've been having with God that basically amounts to spending half the time praying he would just take something away if it wasn't of him and then walking around scowling in the meantime because I'm so frustrated.

Without being more specific, I will say that I have realized two things. The first has to do with impatience, something I'm up to my ears in here between not being immediately fluent in Romanian and everything else. It's not so cut and dry, though. For example, I waited six months longer than I thought I would to come here (sounds so much shorter than it felt) with no idea of when I would. Had I known I'd be leaving in February, it wouldn't have been so hard, I don't think. When you have a date to focus on, it's easier to dig in, to shoulder through. Even if you are certain something will happen, not knowing when throws it into spinning. So here I realize that if I knew things like when, I would be living for those whens. Holding out for them, waiting on thing, going toward them--as opposed to living for my God. I hate not knowing when. And when I do know when, it appears as though I am trusting in the assurance of that rather than the assurance of my Father's promise to work all things according to his purposes, to never forsake me.

I am reminded that God is determined to be the God of my whole life.

And I would have him be

...except for the fear that comes from uncertainty, the thing that makes me gather more manna than I need for today, that makes a god of my own ability to provide for myself. Why is this such a difficult thing? Don't I already know--haven't I already seen?--that God is good, that he provides, that his will is perfect?

What I love about this most is that the gentle nudgings of my God turn me back toward him and every time I find a Father waiting with patience and open arms. Don't get me wrong, he is a jealous God. And he is good. My hope, my life, these things are wrapped up in his will. Thy will be done--I want that, I really do. And there is joy in it.

And then there is the reminder that I am not at this alone--last night at OSCEB I was able to understand everything (everything!) because most of it was translated from English. And it was one I needed to understand. It's easy to forget that we're all wrestling with this back and forth, this self-control. And I know we all have something that does this to some degree or another. Makes us prone to wander, has us forgetting we are free from sin's hold, that would have us hoarding manna rather than trusting the one true God.

Maybe I am like an Israelite, but I am not lost in the desert. And God is good, faithful as the morning.

From Hebrews last night:

"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful." 10:23

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such oppression from sinful min, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." 12:1-3

Running toward you, holding unswervingly.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


"The dignity of life is an inner, God-given grace which projects out ... so that despite the cynicism with which we guard ourselves, we are taken aback."
--David Schiedermayer

Sunday, April 3, 2011

wandering thoughts about being rooted

Today my roommate was telling me about how when she was little she would spend vacations and breaks at the countryside (I'm not sure how exactly to say this--they say it this way in English here, but it sounds a little stilted, not quite natural. We left the city? We spent the day outside the city, in the country? It may just be that I never use the word countryside except in this context, speaking in English to Romanians living in Bucuresti. The meaning is still clear, though, you know what I mean). And we were talking about how she's lived in the city, in our apartment her whole life.

It's something I can't fathom, not at all. To be that long in one place? Not just one area, but one house or apartment. On the one hand it's appealing. Imagine how full your house would be--of things, yes, but what I mean is memories and meaning. The way things are shaped by twenty or thirty years of life.

We have a window in our kitchen looking out over, well, over blocs, but I like to stand by it in the mornings sometimes and watch the sun come up over the buildings. I asked if she remembered when she first became tall enough to see out them. In some ways there is something about Wilmington that made me want to settle, put down roots in that sandy soil between the river and the ocean. I doubt now that I could ever live there for the rest of my life, but I love it, and it does hold five years of my life. But thirty? What would that be like?

I'm thinking now of a few verses from Jeremiah that were promises to me in all those months (even that seems like such a long time--difficult to imagine years of anything) of waiting. Part of one of them says, "My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them." The other: "'So there is hope for your future,' declares the LORD. 'Your children will return to their own land.'"

What will this look like? I wonder. It's a big question, too big to zoom in on details like where and when yet, or even anything more tangible than the metaphors of being rooted. Being planted, having your (my?) children return to their own land.

I'm realizing while writing this that the truth is, whether I live in one place most of the rest of my life or I continue to wander, there is a sort of rootedness I hope for. I'm thinking of my family--both the one I have now, my brother and mother, and the one I hope for one day, my husband and children. And I hope, if I do get married, it's a sort of family that I can be grafted into, rooted with, that no matter where we go we can come back to them.

It's bigger than this, too. We're grafted into the family of Christ, adopted sons and daughters, heirs. Rooted in him. Family wherever we go.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

i'm blue (da ba dee..)

Well, then. After thirteen years of doing laundry (I can wash clothes like a boss, y'all), it has finally happened. Disaster has struck (stricken?). And now I am the proud owner of half a wardrobe full of once-white now-Willy-Wonka-blueberry-girl-blue clothes.

Suggestions about how to turn them white again are welcome.