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

 

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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.

*

Ode

“Ode” by Arthur O’Shaughnessy
We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers
And sitting by desolate streams;
World losers and world forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world’s great cities.
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire’s glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song’s measure
Can trample an empire down.

We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth,
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth;
And o’erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world’s worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.

Letters From An MBI Student – 3/2

Dear Family,

Welcome to the caffeinated ponderings of this week: being tired. I think there are levels, because tired is not an unequivocal thing. To say “I’m tired” can mean one of sundry stages. Here are mine.

Stage One: I’m tired, but I haven’t really considered that yet. I am, but it’s white noise at this point, like walking the halls on Doane 3 and hearing music but not reflecting on it until asked. An annoying trickle of tiredness that I know is always there but don’t bother with. The coffee I hold in my hand is most likely out of habit, and I don’t know you well, so I will say: “Outstanding,” when asked.

Stage Two: I’m tired, and I know it, and it is habitually ordinary. I will add a dose of caffeine to my afternoon and look with far less enthusiasm at things that have no deadline, like the dishes in my sink. Homework will happen, because panic is still an effective motivator. The coffee in my hand is most likely my second cup, and I don’t know you well, so I will say: “Going,” when asked.

Stage Three: I’m tired, and I feel it. I become a minimalist in all things, whittling away at evening plans and extraneous conversations. My caffeine consumption takes the mug form of an IV line, with a dose before every class. The coffee in my hand is most likely my third cup, and I don’t know you well, so I will say: “Surviving,” when asked.

Stage Four: I’m tired, and I don’t know anything else. I’m counting the hours until I can crawl into a corner, and I’m in glasses and probably the clothes I wore yesterday. Classes will happen, fueled by countless unquestioned cups of coffee interspersed with unsuccessful doses of Earl Grey. The coffee in my hand is not working, and I don’t know you well, so I will say: “Here,” when asked.

Stage Five: Nope.

I don’t actually say, “I’m tired.” Not anymore. I asked Lady to hold me accountable on that, because, please note, there is no Stage Zero. We live this life tired.
The closer I am to Stage Five, the more blurry my perspective on life. It is far too easy to be tired of being tired and far too simple to make that my identity and not an adjective. After a week of wavering between Four and Five, getting back to Stage One will be the closest I get to some sort of ‘not tired.’ So I say other words instead, which sort of mean the same thing, but maybe can encompass other things, too.
For example, to say I’m “Outstanding” means that I’m thinking of you, Father Time, and your persistent slogan of my childhood: “Outstanding and Improving!” It doesn’t mean that I’m not tired, but it makes a little room for the other things in life; like delighting in the lazy snow, engrossed in the class reading, or enriched by unexpected conversation. I’m not not tired, but I’m not just tired. I’m other things, too.

Like maybe missing you,

~Rae

Comparisons

If I set the sun beside the moon,
And if I set the land beside the sea,
And if I set the town beside the country,
And if I set the man beside the woman,
I suppose some fool would talk about one being better.

-G.K. Chesterton