Letters From Tour – 01 JUN

Dear Family,

What is beauty? We talked about it last night, the sort of night that is the last night on earth even when you know it isn’t. We talked about it in the dark blue dusk of evening along the Danube, with the bright, old yellow of city lights on cathedrals and Parliament and ordinary buildings across the water.

Forgive the sentimental prose for a moment so I can ask this: what is beauty?

There has been so much beauty on this tour. At every turn I wanted to tell my Gypsy: your country’s normal is so beautiful. But do I say that rightly?

What is beauty? What is the beauty of crumbling history? What is the beauty of a disintegrating human face carved between windows and around doorways? What is the beauty of cracked stone and streaked gray brick? Romania and Hungary still carry the leftovers of Communism, and I think they may struggle to answer this question, as well. What is beauty when it was meant to laud human dominance and the subjugation of man? There is a beautiful statute in Budapest, high on a cliff overlooking the Danube. The woman holds a branch aloft with both arms, a palm leaf flung up to catch the wind – and the light. There used to be two more statues below her: communism in metal, honoring a false freedom. They were called the statues of Liberation, this collective. The Soviet statues were relocated to a hated and historic wayside park, and the lady is called Liberty now. It’s a semantic tightrope across the Danube; once you are on the other side, you see the view and wonder how you ever could have thought that both sides were the same.

What is beauty for its own sake? What is beauty made by sinful man? Was the tower of Babel beautiful?

I wonder if our creation of corrupted beauty speaks of our identity as image bearers – imprinted with a reflection of the beauty of our Creator, spun outwards in statues and structures in an attempt to replicate what our souls long for.

Perhaps C.S. Lewis said it best: “The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

What is beauty? I have been far to quick to assign that to things I see and experience – far too quick to catch my breath and say “Ah, what a thing!” and far too slow to say “Ah, what a Creator!” Is the world beautiful in a way that delights my eyes, or is the world longing in a way that speaks to my soul? Or, possibly, is it both? Threads of a fabric woven in perfection and stained by sin, drifting music played by a child in hopes to replicate the soul-song he cannot quite hear, eye-catching colors in the faded shades of Paradise, monuments of and for and by man. God crafted a world of beauty and placed within man the longing for the reality of it. Our ability to create beauty is continually frustrated by sins, personal and collective, but we know we want it. These desires are as twisted as ourselves – our sinful hearts covet the greatness of other men, wishing that statue was of, for, by us…and our image-bearing souls recognize the diminished beauty that achingly cannot capture the greatness beyond it.

I love the beautiful things too much, I think. I wish to know better the difference between the beauty of this world and my longing for what it mimics. I wish to know when my self shakes hands with a sinner and lusts in rebellion against God’s beauty, and I wish to know when my soul is gripped in mutual longing for the beauty beyond the now. I wish to recognize the towering craftsmanship of these little Babels, to decry the sinful lusts of twisted longing, and to direct the ache of my soul to the author and satisfaction of true beauty. I wish to say, truly, with the Psalmist, as a cry from the sinner and saint:

“One thing I have desired of the Lord,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord,
And to inquire in His temple.”

Psalm 27:4

 

Missing you and the beauty of the far country,

~Rae

#JOY

Sometimes this world is cold
Once high and then we’re low
Don’t need a pot of gold
Just love
A smile or even hey
Can make a better day
Open your eyes
And look around

Let’s fill this world with Joy
Let’s fill this world with Joy
Let’s fill this world with Joy
Let’s fill this world with Joy

Just turn around and say hello
And let me know they’re beautiful
Let’s spread the love and let it go
We are each others miracle

Empty hearts and souls
All across the globe
All they need is a little bit of love
A smile or even hey
Can make a brighter day
Open your eyes
And look around

Let’s fill this world with Joy
Let’s fill this world with Joy
Let’s fill this world with Joy
Let’s fill this world with Joy

Just turn around and say hello
And let me know they’re beautiful
Let’s spread the love and let it go
We are each others miracle

Let’s fill this world with Joy
All we need is a little bit of love

 

P.S. This song is your standard hopelessly unfulfillingly postmodern song that expects each other to be each others’ joys, as if the drops in our cup could fill what is lacking in one another. But it does speak accurately of the longing we have for cheer and for community and for the way we speak into each others’ lives. I just wish we hadn’t learned to settle for self-manufactured joy and “a little bit of love.”

P.P.S. Also, it’s catchy, and I heard it in both a taxi and a host vehicle in Romania, so…memories

Letters From Tour – 31 MAY

Dear Family,

I’d like to tell you a story. A story of colors and first things. This tour has been full of firsts, but last week’s wasn’t my favorite: an ambulance ride.

Prologue: it wasn’t my favorite night, but there were still good things about it. We were in Gypsy’s hometown, she and Lady did everything, her mother drove, we were at a church with a very gracious nurse, I was able to go home that night…many good things. Many less than, though; and to be honest, I don’t entirely remember everything from that night. Mostly pieces and colors. Here they are, disparate and disassembled.

Black: I wore my Chorale dress the whole night. I tried to sing the first set (ha), came off for the second, and tried again for the third. The last song I had enough oxygen to sing was The Lord Bless You and Keep You, even though the world was already spinning by then (per usual). It’s a good song to end on.

Blue: I remember getting into Gypsy Mother’s car afterwards (being handed in, mostly), and being cold and it being very dark out. I thought it was funny that they always wheel you out in a wheelchair yet somehow expect you to get home alright. I also remember being annoyed at how much clothing I was wearing when Lady and Gypsy helped me get ready for bed.

Green: Green and blue and dirty-looking but almost overwhelming? There was too much already, so when I think of the color of the ER now, I’m glad it was muted to that side of the color wheel. My eyes and mind couldn’t really take much more. I wanted to sleep and couldn’t really and for a long time they didn’t want me to close my eyes, then they said I could, then I didn’t want to for the things that happen when you close your eyes without breath. Funny how an oxygen mask can’t convince you that you aren’t suffocating.

Red/Orange: I don’t remember the ambulance people, but their vests were orange and there were red things around. I still had people telling me to open my eyes when they came, or maybe it was after… I only remember the pricks of early tests and those slices of color and far, far too much noise that still sounded like it was coming from far, far away.

Pink: the color of the sky for the sunset I didn’t see. I think Nae Nae and Mountain Man had said it was beautiful, but by the time the concert ended I was heading out of daylight pretty fast. I wanted to catch my breath so I could go see the sunset, and I never found either.

Ivory and Brown: I think of Nae Nae in those colors, when the world went nope and turned into mud colors and went sideways. Her lap was soft and felt so safely unhurried when everything went very fast. I have never realized the measure of confidence one receives when one is heard and understood. Lady, Nae Nae, Gypsy…the Lord placed them under my head and around myself and somehow, they heard me and there was never a time when this highly verbal person did not feel like her voice was not heard through the fog.

White: the nurses and people with the cold and gooey EKG stickys and the one who kept telling me to look straight ahead when I was trying to leave and the world still wanted to tilt and I couldn’t squeeze his finger even when I tried. It’s amazing how frustrated you can be with the kindest of people when whom you are really frustrated with is yourself. I do recall the relief of leaning into someone and not having them push you away because at that point, you’ve returned to a body that feels as hollow and unfamiliar as a seed husk that was ground underfoot.

Gray: that’s the color I remember most of the night. Gray hands that didn’t work and were the sort of all-encompassing pain that made me forget everything else but that couldn’t be distracted away themselves like all the others; the sort of bewildering force that is almost too great to be responded to with something as little as tears. Gray lungs and body that folded up like creaky billows that get stuck and never quite open up for air. Gray self that spent itself like water wringing out of a towel and managed to hurt when there was nothing left to hurt. I was proud of this analogy that I said (and remembered!) from the ER: I am a juice box. One that is emptied out and all twisted up and can’t be undone yet. I’m still undoing it.

Epilogue: so there was my night, in the full spectrum of color. Except yellow and purple. Yellow was the color of Lady’s hair when she smiled at me and made the downhill slide feel not quite so fast. Purple wasn’t a color I remember, but maybe it’ll come later, like most of these pieces have.

I woke up sometime in the dark that night, still looking for that elusive breath, but the Lord, with His gentle hand that wastes nothing, taught me once more how to pray.

With all the dizziness of mind and disembodiment that comes with pain, somehow the thing that keeps me tethered to myself is this called prayer. I once would have said prayer is an ethereal thing; a paper crane that cannot fly. But when it is your soul and self that wants to fly away and make it stop, prayer is a tether strong enough to keep a kite in a hurricane. Is it the meeting of heaven and earth, the way prayer takes the physical self to the throne room of God and keeps your soul on its knees when the walls tumble down? Is it because it doesn’t matter whether or not the trembling walls are the skin that holds us together or the soul that shakes us apart?

When we return to these husks and hollows of ourselves and find that the muscles and mind and lungs don’t work like they should, prayer draws in the lines that should be there, returning the loose cotton to these empty cloth dolls, knitting soul and body together with prayer and breath, holding our fragile seed husks with hands we cannot see that work better than our own.

I remember my father’s hand, so large and heavy, and the way it felt to pick it up and draw his arm around my shoulders. That night, prayer began without the strength to pick up the Father’s great hand and place His arm around me..but in that yawning nothingness of my own strength, I found, underneath, the everlasting arms.

In the shifting prisms of graying color and the ungrounded firsts of that night, that was all I needed.

~Rae

Letters From Tour – 22/05

Dear Family,

I don’t know if it’s being in Europe, being tall, being a woman, or having long hair that makes bathrooms in this place just plain weird. I have never craved a regular shower before quite like this.

Shower 1: Our first two nights were in Hungary, at a delightfully American home with Cru missionaries. I’ll have to write to you about that experience another time, because it was lovely. The bathroom was slightly larger than the bedroom and tiled completed in tiny squares of a shocking sea blue. This huge room had a toilet in its own tiny room in one corner, a tiny shower in the other corner, a small standalone sink, and a small towel cabinet. The room was nice and big, however, so I think maybe it was supposed to make up for the size of everything? The plus side to this bathroom, despite the way the tiny shower leaked a surprisingly large amount of water into the room, was that it had a shower curtain.

Shower 2: We stayed in a small apartment in Oradea, being welcomed to the beautiful city by a night walk around the old quarter. It was jaw-droppingly-beautiful, and another post for another time (again). The shower, however, was not. Here was my first introduction to the tiny European bathrooms that have no garbage can, a frightfully loud toilet, a window you don’t realize is uncovered somewhere, a bathtub with a shower head, a recalcitrant temperature gauge that has two options (scalding and lukecold) and no shower curtain. Not for the first time did I wish I’d cut my hair before I came. The bathroom was a lovely purple color, and I managed not to coat it entirely with water by (TMI moment, sorry) laying down every time I tried to use that darn shower head. I took a long time in the bathroom, unfortunately for the other five people also staying in the apartment. In my defense, there was another half-bath at their disposal, and its window was bubble glass.

Shower 3: This lovely apartment in Brasov would have made Ikea proud. The green bathroom was very pretty, but the family had an unfortunate habit of keeping the bathroom doors shut even when not in use. I’d finally gotten used to the light switches being on the outside of the bathroom, and this night I realized a fantastic utility to this: ready indication of bathroom occupancy. This bathtub had a shower curtain; two, in fact. Two little squares that barely hung down to the tub edge and managed to give the illusion of protection while still allowing a massive amount of spray to coat the bathroom, the towel I was supposed to be using, and the clothes I needed to wear.

Shower 4: This was a particularly memorable one. We were welcomed into an apartment in Bucharest, owned by the quintessential Romanian grandmother: immaculate home, eclectic mixes of new furniture and ancient bed sheets, gorgeous library, and no English. Not for the first time was my lifesaver my Romanian roomie, occasionally known as The Angry Gypsy. We were shown to a bedroom with a classic (aka creepy) picture of Jesus–requisite halo and thin white European face–hanging at a 30 degree angle out over the bed. I believe the point was that you could easily see it when laying down. Point taken. We sat on the old bed and looked up to see a large face staring at us from behind the door. It was a giant bear, with a 15″ head, Winnie-the-Pooh yellow in another life, wearing a faded, handmade pajama shirt, and looking not-at-all creepy. To top off our apartment stay, which had no wifi, we were introduced to the beautiful bathroom, all light brown tile and clean white shower, sink, and toilet. The shower didn’t have a curtain, the toilet required a special touch to flush and sounded like it was tearing the bathroom apart, the towels were the sort of thin hand-towel that would manage to get one hand dry before being soaked, and the icing on this odd cake: no hot water. Yep: we had Jesus, Pooh, and no hot water. So no shower.

Shower 5: Instead, our chauffeuring host picked us up at 6:40 on our second morning there and took us, bed-headed and sleepy-eyed, to the church. Not at all awkwardly, we trundled our suitcases to the office on the second floor, where a little bathroom was built into the eaves of the building. The pastor ran the water for five minutes straight while we stood and wondered if there was no “apa calda” here either. Eventually we were in luck, but Gypsy went first and came out with a helpful warning: “It’s not made for tall people.” True story. The bathroom was canary yellow, the shower was cornered in the slanted space, and the shower head had a few spastic sprays heading sideways off of it. Like most European bathrooms, there was no fan, but the 6″ x 14″ screen-and-paneless “window” waist-high in the wall right behind the shower helped. It was another showering adventure as I crouched down in the corner, trying to shower while holding one hand over the shower head to keep the errant sprays from coating the entire bathroom since, of course, we had no shower curtain.

Showers 6 & 7 have been in regular hotel-style bathrooms, with their own collection of oddities. But all in all, I have to say that I am grateful for a bed to sleep in, and a spout somewhere with water that lets me do my thing.

Maybe missing you and the promise of hot water,

~Rae

 

Letters From An MBI Student – 4/23

Dear Family,

Lesson of the day/week/semester/year/life-so-far: sometimes the kindest words hurt the most.

I’ve had many, many kind words this semester. I’ve had many, many painful words this semester. If the words were a Venn diagram, there would only be a thin crescent moon on each side of times when those were not the same thing.

They are so innocuous, these words that come out of alphabet soup, these words that sound and seem and are written down as extraordinarily ordinary words.

“How are you doing?”

“Can I do anything for you?”

“You say that a lot, don’t you?”

“Do you always have to do that?”

“Did you know?”

“How can I pray for you?”

“Did you mean to do that?”

“You look nice today.”

“I missed you.”

“I waited for you.”

“I was hoping to see you.”

“I don’t understand you.”

“Where are you?”

All of them, those plain little collections of letters, are stones thrown up against life-old bruises. Maybe it’s self-centered, with that ubiquitous “you”…but then again, isn’t it that little baby of a word that makes it mine? What hurts is the hand of care reaching out, what hurts is the someone reaching for a hug you don’t want, what hurts are the questions that stumble against what you hoped they wouldn’t find. They ask “you,” and “you” give them something of “you” and it hurts.

I’m still learning the difference between a hurt that I draw back from and a hurt I lean into. Some of the words on that list come from people or conversations that I never hope to have again. Some of the words on that list come from people or conversations that I need to have again. Some of the words on that list come from people or conversations that I will have to have again. I don’t get to use a Venn diagram to tell me the difference.

Because where kindness and hurt overlap is where the grace of God comes in gentleness to exactly where I most need it and least want it. I have to know Him to know His hand, and in knowing His hand I know His healing.

“Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John 10:25-30

Maybe missing you,

~Rae

Letters From An MBI Student – 4/12

Dear Family,

Decision-making isn’t really my strong suit.

Maybe you knew that.

I’m learning that on the hamster-wheel of immediate consequences, although I think it might be the pace of college that has shortened that timeline. Choose not to read that book and regret it within the next week. Forget to do laundry and lack for real pants tomorrow. Drink lethal amounts of coffee and enjoy your brain functioning while your body yells at you in sundry disagreeable ways. Stop to chat and arrive late. Buy the food now and bemoan the school bill next month. Consequences are not served cold here at school. No, tomorrow’s face gets slapped by today’s hand.

Like I said, decision-making isn’t really my forte.

I think I’ve forgotten that the tumbling pace of consequences right-now covers up the slow shaping of life not-yet. Lately, I’ve been picking the easy side of life and living with the little bruises of my own decisions. It hasn’t really mattered if the crossroads are trivial or less-than, I’ve just gone the way that asked less of me or seemed like it did. Exhibit A: Daily Crossroads

Set out matching clothes the night before//Throw on yesterday’s shirt the next morning

Pay for a cup of coffee as you’re running late//Take your noisy grinder out in the hall to let the others sleep but your coffee brew

Write your paper in the blurry P.M.//Write your paper in the bleary A.M.

Spend quality time with a friend//Or a book (Bonus question: a book for class//a book for you)

Study alone and plow through the necessities//Study among and meet no deadlines

Rewrite the paper//Submit the draft

Make the phone call//Put the phone down

Step into social media//Step away from social media

Take a nap//Drink more coffee

Dash to the next free hour//Linger in the classroom

Text back//Or not

Speak//Don’t

Volunteer//Abstain

Set aside//Give away

For a world-class over-thinker, I’m actually not sure I’ve done enough thinking. Here are a few more I’m less pleased to add to the list:

Spend time with God//Spend time with homework

Choose Christ//Choose self

Like I said, decisions? Not my métier. The decision that I do least well is the decision of what is important, and I’ve forgotten that every “yes” is also a “no.” I’ve lumped my own underfed union with Christ in a collective basket of “things to be decided,” along with the color of my socks and an unanswered text. Enough days of careless decisions and my character and body and soul grow into something I never thought they would.

But decisions? Praise the Lord I decided to go to class today, because I was reminded of the One who pursues me down these winding paths. I was reminded of the One who picks me up with the skinned knees I’ve gotten on the way to growing up. I was reminded of my pitiful faith He undergirds with His own staunch faithfulness. I was reminded of the decision He made, once and for all, to place me in Himself, so that no matter how much I blacken my soul and batter my mind with the consequences of my hand and others, I am yet His. My own faulty decisions are made within a life claimed by the faultless decision–no, being, of Him.

Like I said, my decisions are scarcely laudable, but, then again, neither am I. But I’m found in Him who doesn’t stand at the crossroads of life and flip of a coin or glance at the clock. He does because He is, and with every little choice I make now, I fight for or fight against the shaping of the being that I am in Him.

So here’s to tomorrow’s decisions, whether that’s another letter to you or an unfortunate yellow shirt or a heart that actually listens. Today, one of the decisions was Philippians 3:7-14, and it was good, both for today and for the imperfect crossroads of tomorrow. Praise Him.

Maybe missing you (sorry, I guess that decision is still in the basket with those socks),

~Rae

Homesick

You make me homesick

You white hills and lonely trees

You farms and fields and far away beauty

Homesick for white hills and crop stubble, for lonely trees and sunset silhouettes, for farms and fields and far away beauty

*

You make me homesick

You gravel roads and country lanes

You homes and hearths and clean-made beds

Homesick for gravel roads, for country lanes of dirt and dust, for home and hearth and a clean-made bed

*

You make me homesick

You starry skies and fresh snow

You belted hunter and big dipper and great bear of the night

Homesick for starry skies, for fresh snow and glittering frost, for the belted hunter and big dipper and great bear of the night

*

You make me homesick

You smiling baby girl and little boy with shy hugs

You friends that stand and hug and fit just right

Homesick for a baby girl who smiles in my arms, for a tall boy and his reluctant hugs, for my father who stands and hugs and I fit just right

*

You proud cities and crowded streets

You highways and horizons and roads to everywhere

You make me homesick

Homesick for places you are not, for streets no longer mine, for highways and horizons and roads that lead everywhere but home

*

I am homesick

*

Homesick for all that does not exist

Homesick for the home I cannot find, for the people we no longer are, for the sun on the horizon that used to be

Homesick for the lonely tree that is not mine, gilded by winter frost and cut down by summer lightning; those autumn fields that grow yellow and red before someone else’s eyes; the great bear of the night that waits beyond the fringes of this city’s greedy lights

Homesick for the easing of the ache for better things, homesick for the final turn in the lane when the prodigal comes home, homesick for the promises too great and glorious to be found in the dust and stars of this place

*

For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

*