Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Word for 2014

As few and as far between as my posts have been lately, I thought now would be as good a time as any to announce my word and song for 2014.

I assume that people who read my blog have read previous blogs I've written about my weird tradition, but let me explain for any possible new readers.  For the past several years, around Christmas, I have been choosing a word from the Biblical account of Christmas that will set the tone for the following year.  The first word I chose was Joy, then Peace, then Hope, and last Christmas, this year, my word was Glory.  Three years ago, I also added a song to the mix--my "Year of Hope" had a theme song--"My Hope is in You" as performed by Aaron Shust.  This year, my "Year of Glory," my theme song was Jason Gray's "It's Good to Be Alive" which is about giving God glory for your life just by living to the fullest. 

I focus on words from Christmas because, well, Christmas is kind of a big deal for me.  It's kind of my focal point of the whole year.

Honestly, all year I've been kind of worried about my word and song for 2014.  Last Christmas season (and keep in mind, my Christmas season starts in September and runs through about March), I knew exactly what my word was going to be.  I knew what it was going to be all year.  Almost as soon as I picked "Hope" for my  word for 2012, I knew that "Glory" was going to be my word for 2013.  But this year, I had no clue.  I kept thinking, "Well, it will come to me," but by August, I was starting to get worried. 

Then September came, and I was really worried.  I had no clue what the word was going to be.  October came, and I was starting to think that maybe the tradition was over.

...but then one October morning on the way to church, I heard a song on the radio.  It was a newly released song that I'd never heard before.  Usually, when I hear a song, I have to hear it a few times before the lyrics sink in and I decide I like it.  But I only had to hear this song once, and I knew.  I knew this was going to be my song of the year. 

Because one line of the song really stood out to me, and suddenly I also knew what my word of 2014 was going to be.

And actually, a "word" for 2014 isn't really an appropriate description, because it's not a word.  It's a phrase.  It's one of my favorite phrases in all of Scripture, and it's said on multiple occasions in the Biblical Christmas story.

"Don't Be Afraid."

And when I think about it, God's been weaving that theme through so much of my life this past year.  I'd read about God calling Joshua and Israel to be strong and courageous.  I even wrote a blog back near Easter about not being afraid, relating back to the Christmas story.  You would think I'd get the memo then, but it takes me awhile.

I'm afraid of a lot of things--and new fears pop up all the time.  But 2014 is the year I really focus on the command "Don't Be Afraid."  The angels always gave reasons we don't have to fear--and all of those reasons point back to Jesus and what He has done so that we can fully live for God's glory.

The song for 2014?  "Love Alone is Worth the Fight" by Switchfoot. 

"And we'll find what we're made of through the open door.  Is it fear you're afraid of?  What are you waiting for?  Love alone is worth the fight!"

It's a powerful song, but so full of hope.  And that's where I want to be as this year closes and the next year begins.  I want to fight the things that I fear, because the life God is calling me to live is so worth living.  I don't know if I'll succeed in making some long-suffered dreams come true.  I don't know if I'll just keep struggling through with what I have now (which is already more than I deserve--a wonderful life).  I do believe I'll choose joy.  I do believe I'll pursue peace.  I do believe there will be so much hope.  I do believe God will be glorified.  And I do believe it's time to be strong and courageous, to face the Dragons again, to be who God is making me to be just as hard as I can be.  Love is worth it.  Life is worth it.  He is worth it. 

So merry Christmas, maybe a little early for you--but I feel like it's right on time.  "Don't Be Afraid." 

...great...now I gotta make a Christmas decoration with that phrase, because I don't think I'll be able to find one, at least not for cheap.

Oh here.  Enjoy this song, my song of 2014.



Saturday, October 19, 2013

Changed

Well, it finally happened. 

When the Disney movie, "Beauty and the Beast" came out when I was 11, it changed my young life.  Obsession is too small a word for what I experienced.  I didn't just love Belle; I wanted to be Belle.  I didn't just want to watch the movie and listen to the soundtrack over and over and over, I wanted to live the story as my own personal story.  I would pray at night that God would let me grow up and be just like Belle.  And when my 11-12 year old brain, which was, even then, prone to realism, understood that I could never actually BE Belle, I would pray that I could at least go to sleep and dream that I was Belle every night. 

To my recollection, God never let me have that kind of a dream.

But that didn't stop me from dreaming about being Belle while I was awake. 

Now, I had other obsessions.  I still have lots of obsessions.  I have one of those annoying personalities that is either disinterested in something or OHMYGOSHTHISISTHEBESTTHINGEVER.  But Belle and "Beauty and the Beast" always held a dear, dear place in my heart.  And I used to wish and pray that there would be a play version, which eventually became a reality.

Now, the reason I wanted a stage play version was that I could go into musical theater and BE Belle.  And even when reality struck again and I realized that being in musical theater was just NOT going to happen for me (for several reasons--mainly because I just don't have the right kind of personality to be a successful actress), I was still obsessed with the stage musical.  But first it was only in New York.  Then it was touring, but not near me.  Then it was touring near me, but I was too broke to go. 

Then something miraculous happened.

The mom of the kids I watch called me and said, "I won two tickets to 'Beauty and the Beast,' and I can't use them.  I thought of you first!"

And 22 years after I first saw the movie, I finally got to see the stage play.  And you'd better believe I was excited.

I only found out I had the tickets the day before the performance, so I didn't have too much time to get myself psyched up.  I mainly couldn't believe it was finally happening.  I just figuratively started pinching myself on the way there, as we entered the theater, as we took our seats. 

Now, since the tickets were freebies, I thought we might be getting some really good seats.  But...we were in the last possible row of seats, in the second balcony, of the theater.  But no matter.  I was about to realize a dream, about to fulfill a fantasy, about to start an obsession all over again. 

I was a little bit afraid of what would happen.

But here is what actually happened.

I watched the show.  And the show was good.  The show was amazingly, awesomely, good.

But it was just a show.

I remember feeling a little bit deflated during the intermission.  I thought perhaps that it was the fact that we were so far away from the stage that I could hardly see what was going on.  I thought perhaps it was the fact that I'd put on good-smelly lotion right before the show and was self-conscious about how strong the smell was.  I wasn't really sure why I wasn't as deliriously happy as I thought I should be.

Now, when the stage musical first came out, sometime in the late 1990s, I immediately bought the soundtrack.  I memorized the songs.  I knew them all by heart.

But a funny thing happens to musicals when they've been out for a while.  Some songs get cut out.  Other songs get added in.  So I was surprised when near the end of the play, Belle sang a song I'd never heard before.  It was one of those haunting melodies that makes your soul wake up and pay attention, but the words really made me think.

It was called "A Change in Me," and ironically enough, this song--a song from this musical that I'd been dreaming of seeing and LIVING for years and years and years--explained why that childhood dream was no longer at all important to me.

Here are the lyrics:

There's been a change in me
A kind of moving on
Though what I used to be
I still depend on
For now I realize
That good can come from bad
That may not make me wise
But oh it makes me glad

And I-- I never thought I'd leave behind
My childhood dreams
But I don't mind
For now I love the world I see
No change of heart a change in me


For in my dark despair
I slowly understood
My perfect world out there
Had disappeared for good
But in it's place I feel
A truer life begin
And it's so good and real
It must come from within

And I-- I never thought I'd leave behind
My childhood dreams but I don't mind
I'm where and who I want to be
No change of heart
A change in me


I had all these crazy dreams of being in musical theater, of pretending to be different people, of escaping reality to temporarily become someone else.  But the thing is, I love my reality so much, now.  I love teaching my preschoolers.  I love writing.  I love singing in church and writing songs about God.  I love the work God has called me to do.  My life isn't perfect and there is so much I still long to pursue, but there's been a change in me, too.  It doesn't come from within as much as it comes from God--but it's because God is within.

My childhood wasn't always happy (not because of my family, but because I never fit in with others in school, etc.).  I wanted "so much more than that provincial life," and I got it, but not at all in the way I expected.  And that's okay.  In fact, it's actually pretty good. 

I'm really grateful I finally had the opportunity to see that play.  It was a great play.  I had a great time, but then I went back to my house and lay my head on my pillow and thanked God for the life I have, the life He's given and is giving to me. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Silly Superfluous Saturday Stew

I missed the last two Fiction Fridays.  To make up for that, I'm going to stir you up a little Silly Superfluous Saturday Stew.

So, I recently moved into a new house.  I also obtained a new housemate, in addition to my previous flatmate, who moved from the flat to the house with me.  I'm not British, but flat sounds so much cooler than apartment.  So there's extra estrogen in my life with all the female housemates, which can only be amplified by the new PINK bedroom, in which I currently sleep and keep my stuff.  And, due to the fact that mummy dearest sells Mary Kay (you need a consultant?  She ships anywhere in the continental USA, my friends...and maybe even further, but probably not to the moon.  Yet.), I have acquired lots of PINK stuff which I can use to decorate my new PINK room.  In addition to that, my good friend Dianna got me one of those shiny metallic balloons that is PINK, looks like a tiara, and says, "Princess" in large princessy letters.  This balloon remained airborne, floating near the ceiling, for over six months.  And in fact, it was still floating on its side a few inches off the floor, like a dying fish, flipping its little special fin, fighting until the end, when I took a pair of scissors to that sucka, let all the air out, and folded it up to pack to the new house and the new PINK room.  Because when a balloon lasts THAT long, it deserves to come with you wherever you go and add PINKness to your life.

So now I have a PINK room with PINK stuffs with a PINK tiara to hang up somewhere...and well, pretty much, I have the bedroom of five-year-old me's dreams. 

Thirty-three year old me is coping.  Just fine.

The jobs are all going well.  My stuff is slowly finding its way out of boxes and into places on shelves or in closets or somewhere inside the depths of my tiny PINK room.  I'm hoping to start writing again.  And...maybe find some gumption somewhere so that I can start trying to SELL some of my writing...again.

Also, I've had a discovery lately that if Grumpy Cat were a human being, she would pretty much look just like me.




We're practically identical.  Also, I taught one of my barely two-year-old preschoolers how to use a banana phone this week.  He used his sippy cup, but he still got the general idea.  I'm teaching my preschoolers lots of important things, I am. 

And speaking of Grumpy Cat and Banana Phones, I'm thinking about going to see Beauty and the Beast--the Broadway musical version.  It's coming to a nearby city next week, and I really want to go.  This has pretty much been a dream of mine since before Beauty and the Beast--the Broadway musical version--was even a thing.  Because about 1991 or so, when the animated Disney flick came out, I was 11 and I was OBSESSED.  I would run out into my back yard and start singing "I want adventure in the great wide somewhere!  I want it more than I can tell!"  Only Philippe would never come and tell me that my Papa had been captured by a Beast in a scary magical castle.  And I didn't live in a French village.  And I wasn't being pursued by a burly attractive chauvinistic idiot.  But who cares, no big deal, I wanted MORE.  ...wait, wrong Disney movie....

I wanted to be Belle.  And when reality set in and I realized I could never ACTUALLY be Belle (and that Stockholm Syndrome isn't all its cracked up to be), I started praying for a Broadway musical version of Beauty and the Beast so that I could grow up and portray Belle. 

Only...musical theater and I could never happen.  I can sing all right, but I can't dance.  Plus, I'm allergic to rehearsals.  And I doubt my acting is as great as I once imagined it was...but I digress.

So basically, I just try to live as much like Belle as possible, and I pray that some day I'll find me a big hairy guy to marry.  And maybe a talking tea pot. 

And until then, I'll at least try to go see the musical.  And try not to sing along with all the songs.  Even though I know them all.  And probably could sing them rather well.

I still can't dance.

I'm also thinking about seeing the Christian guy group, "Tenth Avenue North" this month, but I have never had any dreams of being a Christian guy group.

Well, until I get my act together and start blogging like a real blogger again, stay PINK, my friends.




Saturday, September 14, 2013

Romania Part Six: Angel Face

*Edit: I wrote the following blog a few weeks ago, and for some reason, just wasn't ready to share it.  I think I am now.  Today marks a month that I've been back in the states, so I guess it's as good a time as any*

This will most likely be the final post about Romania.  It requires a little bit of introduction.

I have weird dreams sometimes.  Some of them are long and detailed.  Others are short.  They happen when I'm in that state between wake and sleep.  They're sometimes just a few words or images, and when I hear and them, they're so intense and real that they wake me up.  And the memory of the word or image is so clear and present in my mind after waking that it takes me sometimes several moments to stop thinking about it.  I try not to read too much into dreams, but when they're dreams like this--I at least pay attention.  It could be nothing, but I don't want to miss it if it turns out to be something.

I had one of these dreams on one of the flights to Romania.  It was a very odd waking dream.  I just dreamed a color.  The color red just flashed before my eyes in such a vibrant way that I couldn't stop thinking about it after it woke me up.  I was trying not to read too much into things, but the whole time I was in Romania, I kept wondering if there was something I was supposed to be looking for with the color red. 

It's kind of funny because the prepaid phone services in Romania have names of different colors.  I noticed orange phone plans and blue phone plans.  There was also a RED phone plan, and I considered briefly stopping our team to go into one of the phone stores that was advertising RED phone plans, just because of that dream.  But I knew that probably wasn't really all that wise, and the Holy Spirit didn't seem in that decision.  And I didn't want to force a meaning out of a dream that might have just been me being half-delirious on a plane.

So the week in Romania went on, and I just kind of forgot about the RED dream. 

The last night in Romania, my pastor, the pastor we were working with there, the pastor's youngest son, the missionary who had come from Switzerland, and I all piled up into the van and started driving out to a village.  I was pretty apprehensive about this village visit, for a couple of reasons.  Two of our team members were not coming--they had stayed to cook dinner for the pastor's family, which was a very nice gesture.  I didn't know I was going to be accompanying the others out into the village either, but they wanted me to come.  And I didn't know what to expect, and neither did any of us, really.  This wasn't a typical church service, even by Romanian village standards.

A man in one of the villages, not a pastor, but a bachelor in his sixties, wanted to have an evangelistic service for several of his neighbors--many who were unsaved.  We pretty much didn't know what that would look like until we got there.

And I wish I had taken a few pictures, because this place was interesting.  We had a few benches and plastic chairs all gathered round this guy's back yard.  The guy kept a LOT of chickens.  He also kept bees.  So we were sitting there listening to chickens "amen" our pastor as he preached an evangelistic message, and we were constantly swatting bees out of our hair--not that they were threatening at all.  They were pretty "tame," as bees go, and weren't going to sting anyone without good reason.  It was a pretty remarkable experience being there.

Before the service had even started, this very old woman with a walker had come.  The man's back yard was on a very sharp incline.  It took this lady, with help, about twenty minutes to come down the hill.  It was obvious how badly she had wanted to come.

Well, my pastor preached, the other pastor translated, and the service was over.  I felt pretty useless being there, so I tried to talk to some of the young ladies who had attended.  But small talk is just not my thing.  After saying hello and "I'm glad you came," I ran out of things to say, and my brain froze up.  That happens quite frequently.  So I just walked away in awkward defeat and figured the night was a bust.

But then, as I was gathering my things, the elderly lady called me over.  She started talking and talking, and the guy who was translating for me really didn't have much of an opportunity to get a word in edgewise to tell me what she was saying.  He did manage to tell me that she had been injured and a lady had come to take care of her.  She said that this lady had read the Scriptures to her while taking care of her.  Through the ministry of her caretaker, the old lady had become a Believer, but she wanted to be baptized.  I looked into this dear lady's face and was mesmorized.  She just kept talking, and I felt as though I had met a long-lost sister.  I felt as though I was looking into the face of an angel...perhaps, as the writer of Hebrews described, I was entertaining an angel unaware.

And right after I thought that, the Swiss missionary, the one translating for us said, "She says you have the face of an angel, and that you remind her of the lady who took care of her and read the Scriptures to her."

About that time, another lady came near.  I don't know her exact relation to the older lady, but I could tell that she was either a really close friend or a family member.  She knew a few words in English, enough to learn my name was Ruth.  For some reason that I never learned, this caused an emotional reaction in her.  So I asked her what her name was.  She didn't understand.

The Swiss missionary was still listening to the older woman, so I called the pastor's son over.  I knew his English was good enough to at least ask what someone's name was.  So he did his first translating work and I found out the woman's name was Maria.  Then I asked what the older lady's name was.

It was Elizabeth. 

Elizabeth is a strong name in my family.  It's my oldest niece's name, my sister's middle name, my mother's first name (she goes by her middle name, as I do), my grandmother's middle name, my great-grandmother's middle name, and I don't even know how far it goes back after that.  But I had been sitting there, looking at that dear lady, feeling as though she was my sister, a close part of my family.  Upon learning her name, I also had a very emotional reaction.  I was in tears, just so blessed by that encounter.  And Maria and I wept together, even though we couldn't understand one anothers' language, even though we had just met. 

I spoke with and listened to Elizabeth for a few more minutes, gazing into that dear woman's face.  It really did seem to be the face of an angel, wrinkled and aged as it was.  And I couldn't help but rejoice in the knowledge that One Day I'm going to get to see her again, not bent over in age, not needing a walker.  We'll be able to talk to one another without an interpreter.  And I even felt a little jealous of her, because most-likely, the wait for her won't be nearly as long.  But I'll see her again.  It was such a joyous thing.

After many hugs, we parted, and I was riding back in the van, away from that wonderful village with those wonderful people.  The pastor's son was being funny, as he tends to be quite often.  And I realized he was wearing this bright RED shirt--a baseball shirt.  The team name?  Angels.  I laughed to myself, treasuring the memories I'd just made.  The waking-dream made sense now. 

There's a lot of experiences I'll treasure from Romania, but the people.  It's all about the people.  These are people so different, and yet so similar to us.  I have brothers and sisters a world away, but they are my family.  And I'm praying for them as I also pray for those who are not in my family. 

I don't know what would happen to you if you went on a trip to Romania, to Thailand, to wherever.  But if you've never been out of your country of origin, then you really should go.  There are experiences, places, and people who will change your life.  I'm so glad I went to Romania.  I didn't know why I was going, but I know now. 

I'll never forget the people I met.  They've changed my life forever.  I'm so grateful for the opportunity to have gone.  All glory to the Giver.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Make the Voices Go Away!

The title of this post probably makes me sound like a crazy person, and lately, I've felt a bit like a crazy person.  More than usual, I mean.  This year has been awesome and has been full of a lot of interesting experiences, but it's also been full of a lot of Spiritual Warfare.  I have mentioned that in other posts, and I'm mentioning it again because I'm still very much dealing with it.  Sometimes I deal better than others.

Satan is a subtle guy.  I've written before about how he likes to deal in half-truths, in things that might have a small basis in reality, but he makes them seem bigger, or he twists and distorts them somehow, or he only tells the part of the story that condemns and not the part that redeems.  Satan is a crafty, subtle guy.  And he's got a lot of tricks.  And I haven't always been on guard as much as I really need to be this year.

His newest attack has been distraction, but not in a way I've really been used to before.  The distraction has been cleverly combined with a lot of his previous attacks--mostly ones that have been attacks on my insecurities.  I have a lot of insecurities.  And Satan has cleverly taken those insecurities and used them to put my attention on things that don't really matter.  The trick in this is that if I'm dealing with things that don't really matter, then I'm robbing myself of time that could be better spent on things that really do matter.  And right now, with all that I've got going on, there's a LOT in my life that really matters.

The other day, I let myself get really upset over some comments from someone who I barely know. It was on Facebook, which was also unwise of me. Basically, I just posted a vague, semi-comical statement about how God's teaching me using "helpful people" who aren't really helpful. But suddenly, I had people attacking me because I won't let people help me and I don't like advice. I did state that I wasn't asking for advice in a follow up comment, but that comment should not have been enough to trigger the ridiculousness that followed. There were many incorrect assumptions, many misplaced accusations, even a few insults, and I was sobbing, crying until my eyes were dry, completely broken down by the end of that night.

I kept wondering if there really was something wrong with me (insecurities), wondering if I was doing something to provoke these attacks (it was the second such Facebook encounter in a week--the first one was even more ridiculous). I was hurt because I felt completely ignored when I had tried to state my case. I just was so sick of everything being blown completely out of proportion, sick of fighting with people who had no clue what was really going on.

And I had to really pray through all that, and I realized my sin wasn't that I'd posted vague stuff on Facebook or been honest about not wanting unasked for advice (though I really do need to learn to word things better--I meant no offense, but can see how it might have looked to others). My sin was that I cared too much about what others thought.

I don't like being misunderstood, but people are going to misunderstand, sometimes even after I've explained things a couple times. And in that particular encounter, it would have been prudent to have just stopped talking to the individual who was arguing with me. I spent an evening fretting, stressing over what she and a few others thought, when I could have been doing so many other worthwhile things.  And I barely know this woman. And even if I did know her, that's no reason to keep stating my case over and over and over. There's a point when ridiculousness becomes too ridiculous. I wasn't wise in finding that point, but I'm grateful I found it eventually.

I did start thinking more about why I feel the need to tell people I don't like unasked for advice. It frustrates me, and I guess I never thought about why. I figured it's like door issues-I know I don't like car doors being opened for me, but I can't tell you why. But if someone doesn't respect my right to dislike it, they're going to hear about it.

But I found there is a reason I don't like unasked for advice--especially on social media, where just about anyone can see and answer. I'm insecure. I also think WAY too much about everything. I also read WAY too much into innocent comments. If I've got a conflict or issue, chances are, I've already thought that thing through to death. The LAST thing I need is a bunch of people, some who don't know me well, most who only see the smallest fraction of the whole situation, throwing opinions in my direction.

Satan has been speaking against me, and he's used a lot of well-meaning people. Voices are everywhere, telling me what I should do. And Truth is getting lost in this sea of voices.

So while I'm planning for my important work commitments that I love, I'm getting several odd job offers that are so much worse paying than what I've already committed to do. And people, people with such good intentions, hear just a fraction of the whole story and give me advice that God must be calling me to quit my jobs.

So while I'm struggling to find time and resources to work on the writing God has given me to do, I'm getting suggestions from SO many well-meaning people that I should use my precious time to try to "write" some puff book that no editor would want and that I would never DREAM of "writing."

So while I'm honestly crying out for people to stop adding to the cacophony of voices that are distracting me, I'm getting concern from well-meaning people that I'm wrong for not soliciting everyone on Facebook for advice.

Oh. It's so very, very frustrating.

Don't get me wrong. Counsel is good, if it is good counsel. But if I want advice, if I want counsel, I'm going to go to someone in person. I'm not going to post a vague status on Facebook and let it be a free-for-all. That's just not at all prudent, especially when what I'm needing isn't a lot of opinions from various sources. I need Truth. And, I'm sorry, but just because an opinion is popular, even among Christians, that doesn't necessarily make it true.

So I'm sorry for letting things get to me.  I'm sorry for not always being gracious.  Other people are dealing with Spiritual attacks and insecurity, too.  And I suspect God really is allowing these attacks to help me learn more about being gracious, about learning when to just let things go, even when I'm misunderstood. I want to be respected, but if I want that too much, it's also sinful.

I'm praying God will continue to work in all of us. These aren't easy times, but He is so good. He's walking us through.  Thanks for reading.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Romania Part Five: Not in Kansas Anymore

The pastor at the church we worked with in Romania is a VERY hard-working man who is constantly helping others.  Whenever we were out with him, either visiting families or driving to villages or just going to the grocery, his phone would ring multiple times.  He was constantly getting calls from someone who needed him for something.  One time he even got an URGENT call to pick out new floor/wall tiles for the church restrooms.  You haven't LIVED until you've helped pick out tile in the Romanian Home Depot, let me tell you.  I think that Pastor Bill (our pastor from America) found a new Spiritual Gift--he's got a great eye for tiles.

The pastor in Romania is also kind of the go-to guy for all of the pastors in the area.  So he has connections to many different people and churches in nearby villages.  And some of the greatest, most humbling, most memorable experiences from my trip was getting to see some of these village churches.

Even just getting to the villages was an experience.  We piled up in the pastor's van and rode out to remote places, sometimes about 45 minutes to an hour away.  The countryside was just beautiful.  The rolling hills and distant mountains, the fields and livestock, well, it reminded me of where I grew up in Kentucky--only prettier.  I can't tell you how many pictures I took just of the Romanian countryside.  Oh, I guess I could show a few pics, though.





 
 
I should have also taken some pictures of the actual villages, but I didn't want to look like a crazy American tourist.  But it was interesting.  There were a few times when we had to stop and wait for goat or sheep herds to cross the road.  I mean, it was stuff you see in movies and don't realize it's real until you're right there.  And then it's right there.  And you realize it's someone's normal life, every single day. That's more than a little bit mind blowing.
 
The first village we visited (and I'm probably going to spell it wrong) was called Hernova.  About 80 people showed up to their small, but very nice little church building.  There was a little stove to heat the building in winter.  During the service, a guy played the accordion.  It was so beautiful and quaint and amazing--I almost pinched myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming.
 
It all was even more remarkable when I learned that just two years ago when my pastor and other team members went, that little village church only had about 16 people.  The lovely little building was only a concrete slab foundation.  But God is at work in that little village and in the church.  I gave my testimony there, which is just a story about how God has used all my weaknesses as opportunities to show His strength.  I'm not sure how well that went over in that culture, in that place that is so different from everything I've ever experienced, but it was real and true, and I hope God used it to at least encourage those beautiful people.
 
And there was also something magical (the C.S. Lewis type, not the Harry Potter type) about worshipping with those people.  I was reminded of Revelation, where every tribe and nation and tongue is going to be bowing before the Throne, singing "Holy, Holy, Holy" and "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain."  Mmm.
 
The next village we visited didn't even have a building for their church.  We met on benches outside.  A missionary named Gabriel travels to that village and others with a keyboard and small sound system.  There he preaches and sings and even does some songs with the kids.  The kids performed a couple of songs for us.  I couldn't understand their words, but one of them had hand motions--it was obvious they were saying that "Jesus loves me, Jesus loves you, Jesus loves everyone" or something very close to that. 
 
I also gave my testimony there, which was nerve-racking, but it would have been even more so had I realized I was speaking to a lot of the Roma Gypsies who had attended that service.  We tried talking to a few of them after the service, but only a few seemed interested.  They like to keep to themselves because society treats them as outsiders (to put it mildly).  I'm not sure, but I also think my general paleness was shocking and offensive to them :-). We did manage to speak to one lady (with the help of a translator).  She told us she was not a Believer, but she likes coming to hear from God's Word.  I think many of the people who came that night, who come to many of the services, are unsaved.  But they like coming to hear the Word.  Please keep them in your prayers.


There is another village we visited, but that's for another blog post.

Before I log off this one though, I want to mention one other experience.

One of the families we visited was very poor, as is the case with many families in Romania.  This family had 12 children, some of which were grown and had moved away to work, but still.  Twelve children!  The dad worked, but he had been injured (and I don't think the injury was going to keep him from going back to work, even though it really should have--his foot was completely black and blue).  The family lived in what I would describe as a glorified concrete slab.  It was a house in that it had doors and windows--fairly standard ones, but it was basically a concrete slab.

They welcomed us inside it and talked to us (in Romanian, with translation) about how their family had lost their other home in a fire.  They described how one child had woken up and alerted the rest of the family.  They described how one child hadn't made it out, and how another one of their children had run back inside and rescued her.  They were so grateful they had all made it out safely.  The mother and father were both in tears over how God had given the family safety, how God continued to give them all health.  The dad wasn't complaining about his injury; he was praising God that he was healthy in other ways.  He and his wife were praising God that they had all they needed.  They were so, so grateful.  Living in a concrete slab with so many mouths to feed, they didn't stop praising God from the moment we entered their home.

It's another world.  It's one I am grateful I got to see, just for a moment.  I got to see into the everyday lives of people who have so little, of people who are grateful for what little they have.  Here in America, we have so many resources, and yet we are so lazy.  And I'm not trying to be judgmental, an I'm talking to myself as much as I am to anyone.  But God allowed me a little window into this remarkable world, and I'll never be the same.  I hope you have the opportunity to go sometime, to Romania, to another place where people live so differently, where people have so little, but are grateful for it.  It will change your life.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Romania Part 4: Meeting the Missionaries

I have mentioned in the past few blogs that one of the things we did in Romania was lead little Bible Schools.  We did the first one of these at the church in the little courtyard.  The second and third ones we did at a nearby park.  I liked having it at the park because other people who were just visiting the park came to see what we were doing.  A lot of them came to play the games, listen to the Bible stories, and make crafts.

The crafts were pretty lame, actually.  We had only brought some limited supplies with us--index cards and stickers being the main things.  I had also brought my knitting bag with me, you know, to knit stuff if I got bored, so we had yarn to use.  And my sharpest knitting needles made a pretty good impromptu hole punch. 

Yeah.  Actually it didn't.  But we made do with what we had.  And the lameness of our crafts really didn't matter.  The kids still wanted to make them.  I'm not just talking about 3 year old kids who are impressed by glitter crayons.  Ok.  Honestly.  I'm impressed by glitter crayons, too.  But my point is, kids of ALL ages--teenagers included--wanted to participate in the crafts, in the stories, in the silly songs, in everything that we were doing. 

They wanted to meet the missionaries. 

They wanted to sing our songs and hear us speak.  They wanted to do whatever we were doing.  There was something magical to them about being around people who had come to them from another country.  It really was almost like we were celebrities.


Ashley, a member of our team, signing autographs for the children.
 
 

I think I also mentioned in a previous blog that I'm shy and awkward.  I mean, I do better with children because I work with them for a living, and I'm around them all the time.  But meeting and getting along with new people isn't really high up on my skill set. 

The thing is, when I really really try to push myself to talk to people, that's when things go really badly.  I've tried in the past to push myself to talk to strangers, and I even tried on this trip.  It always leads to awkward failure. 

But the thing about being an "American celebrity," a missionary that people wanted to meet, was that I usually didn't have to try too hard to meet people.  Kids wanted to talk to me.  Adults wanted to talk to me.  Young adults wanted to talk to me.

One young woman in particular made a pretty big impact on me.  After our last Bible school, I was putting my knitting needles away and cleaning up some of the scrap yarn and note cards that the kids had scattered all over the park, when a sixteen year old girl called me over to talk to her.  I wasn't making any effort to be social or anything.  She just wanted to talk to me (and she spoke very good English, which made things a bit easier :-D).

So I sat down and talked to her for a few minutes.  And when I'm not forcing the situation, really amazing things tend to happen. 

As I talked to this remarkable young woman, she told me about her heart.  She reminded me a little of myself when I was her age.  She talked about some anxieties she had about starting a new school, but mostly, she talked about wanting to know God's will for her life.  Throughout our brief conversation, she mentioned several times about how she wanted to follow God and know Him better.  She even mentioned that she wanted to be a missionary, and she pointed to me.  I really didn't think about myself as a missionary, even though I was on a "mission trip."  But the thing is, every Christian should be a missionary, no matter where he or she is.  And I think I was able to offer up a little encouragement.  I remember being sixteen, unable to sleep, staring at the ceiling in my bedroom at night, begging God to show me His will for my life.  I wanted to know His will--some big thing that I was meant to do forever. 

But life doesn't work like that and God doesn't work like that.  And I was able to communicate a little of my experiences to her.  If we're faithful in the little things we know we're supposed to be doing, like reading our Bibles and praying, like loving your neighbor, etc., then God would be faithful to lead in the bigger things.  I think that was a little bit of an encouragement to her, and I know her sweet willing spirit was a blessing to me.

She had one more thing she wanted to say that was very encouraging.  She asked me specifically to bring a prayer request back to the Church in America.

If you're a Christian in America, this prayer request was for you.  This young woman asked for the Church in America to pray that there will be more opportunities for adult and young adult Bible studies in Romanian churches.  At the church she attends (the one we were working with), there are no Bible study classes for adults or teenagers.  And she was asking for prayer that more would be available, because she wants herself and others to be closer to God.

I think her request shows that she has a lot of vision for the Romanian church, which was refreshing, because it seems like the vast majority of the young adults in Romania just want out.  They want out of the country.  They want to move away somewhere else.  They don't see that there's much of a future for Romania.  But this young lady seemed to have a different, refreshing perspective.  She seems to see that God isn't done with Romania or the churches in Romania.  And I think that she might very well be one of the future leaders in her church.

In fact, she's already leading.  She and several of the other young adults at the church did an incredible job leading the music on the Sunday night that we were there.  And also on that Sunday night, after the service, she and another young lady ran up excitedly to me and Ashley (another member of our team).  They said that they were about to go to a meeting about an upcoming evangelistic trip across the Danube River into Serbia. 

She said, smiling ear-to-ear, "We're going to be missionaries!"

And, as far as I know, this amazing young leader went off last weekend to tell other people about Jesus.  And, as far as I know, she's going again this upcoming weekend.  I ask that you would keep her and the team from her church in your prayers as they strive to reach others and tell them about Jesus.  And I ask that you would keep her and the churches in Romania in your prayers as she and others strive to know God better. 

It was interesting and fun to see how many people in Romania wanted to meet the American missionaries.  But that was nothing compared to actually being an America, going to Romania, and meeting these young, willing Romanian missionaries.  Please keep them in your prayers.  While God isn't done with Romania, the people are willing, but the resources are small.  They covet our prayers!