A Simple Saturday

Once upon a time, a little while ago, about last Saturday, a very tired, happy girl sat on her tiny balcony to drink her coffee. She was tired because she’d been on a glorious, intense, bountiful choir tour all over Poland for the last 3 weeks, and she was happy because she’d made new friends she’d never dreamed existed, she could putter around her little flat again and water her brave, parched houseplants and drink coffee–plus she still had her voice that hadn’t succumbed to vocal fatigue as it had in other tours.

At noon, the happy, tired girl took herself to the school to clean the place and get it ready for church the next day. But she ended up not cleaning very much because of all the lovely help that also showed up, so she went out to buy cleaning supplies that had run low over the summer. Then, because she had time/money/energy and because she always wants a reason to buy flowers, she trotted off again to buy flowers for some friends. The florist lady, speaking English, helped her expertly and asked when English classes will start again because of course she’s coming for lessons.

Back home again, the girl had every intention to sweep and mop the floor, but was too tired, and laid on the couch for a long time. She read a borrowed copy of Fahrenheit 451 and wished for her own copy to write in and then she had a nap.

The tired, happy girl was invited to a friend’s bonfire for dinner. They were six friends around the fire, with lemonade, glorified ramen noodles over the fire, kielbasa, and apple crisp and tea. All of this was spread out over hours while the sun dipped low and golden and the stars came out. At one point during the laughs and stories of family lore, the girl tipped her head way back and saw the stars sparkling between the tall trees over her. It looked like glitter and diamonds and all the tired went out of her.

It had been a Very Good Day.

A World in a Grain of Sand


In a disorientated week sandwiched between a summer of crazy weeks, yesterday was blocked off for free time. It was a to be a girls’ day out–seven of us with a friend who is leaving soon.  You don’t celebrate these things; you just acknowledge them and squeeze the goodness out of each minute.

On the train to Warsaw, we talked logistics and plans for the next weeks on Hope Singers. We found a restaurant in the city center and I had my favorite Polish soup, chłodnik: cold sour cream purple with beet juice and thick with grated beets and fresh dill. Fantastic! The pink color is enough to charm me well before the lush flavor hits.

We rented bikes in Powiśle and followed the bike path for nearly ten kms toward Wilanów. It was easy cycling, mostly flat, through shaded parks and past apartment blocks. We took our time. The sun was hot and I was thirsty so I stopped at a roadside fruit stand and bought a treat: fat sweet cherries and blueberries. It was better than water or chocolate, which is saying a lot.

I was last in the string of seven, not being as speedy as some of them, but enjoying every minute.  Suddenly, turning a corner, I recognized where I was.

Just down the road behind that building is the hospital where I was last December.  Maybe I will always be fragile regarding hospitals and operations and waiting rooms because it all washed over me again and I couldn’t stop whimpering. Hysterectomy, that nasty word, and how it shook up the surgeon because it was so much worse than she was expecting it to be, the units of blood and brick of ice on my stomach for hours and me out of my mind in pain.

It was just down around the corner, eight months ago, and now I was biking past, eating fat sweet cherries from my bike basket, wearing sunglasses, the breeze drying my tears.

I don’t know how the heart expands to hold so much sadness and gladness in one day, and even in one moment. But it does.

Wine of the World

water jug

I wrote this free verse some years ago. Usuallycommunion tells me about the past, but during one communion when I was empty of wine and life, I caught a glimpse of the future–the wedding feast when Jesus said He would drink the wine again.

In the day of Jesus’ first public miracle, it was a disgrace for the host to run out of wine. On that last great day, He, the gracious Host, will have enough for everyone. I share/repost this for anyone who may be empty, in disgrace, and in need of hope for refilling.

“I have no more wine,”
I say to Him at the edge of the crowd.
Palms up, shoulders hunched.

Conversation dwindling, smiles fading,
The crowd thins.
No sparkle,
No celebration.
We have no more wine.

“Woman, what have I to do with you?”
But His eyes belie the cold words.

“What do You have to do with me?
My Lord! My Maker!
The True Vine from which True Wine comes!
Leave me not alone.
Forsake me not in this disgrace.
Do not deny me dancing feet and songs.
I cannot bear to leave this place of light.
Without You, I will go out into darkness and die.
But You are here, and You are my life,
And I will do whatever You say.”

He commands the water pots to be filled.
Clear, splashing rivers that cleanse and refresh.
Full and sloshing over earthen rims.

The harried, frazzled MC takes a sip in a deserted alcove.
His eyes beam over the edge of the chalice.
Then he shouts.

I find Him at the crowd’s edge again.
He says nothing, but
Smiles at me.
The silence between us fills
With music.
Rolling, trilling, glorious music.
It sings of sweetness and life,
Of vibrance and light,
And the guests raise their cups high
To the health of the bride and groom.

The music swirls again, and
Everyone’s feet wear wings.
He is still in the alcove with me,
Is He thinking of a grander wedding feast
In another place,
Without time?

Bread of the world in mercy broken,
Wine of the world in mercy shed,
I pledge my life to You.
You fill the hungry with good things.
I come to You in emptiness and desperation
And You always–always–
Fill, refresh, give reasons to dance.

And on that last great feast day,
I will see You smile again,
And it will be as we said back then:
You saved the best for last!

*These are opening lines from a hymn by Reginald Heber who also wrote “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/jenny-pics/4850731034/”>jenny downing</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

I Don’t Like Scary Stories

A couple days ago I was reading The Fellowship of the Ring and was coming up to the saddest part of the story. (No spoiler here!) It’s the nth time I’ve read the book, so I knew what was coming. I found myself wanting to stop reading because I didn’t want the sad part to happen.

Sort of, I guess, like a baby who doesn’t have object permanence.  If I close my eyes, it doesn’t exist. If I don’t see it, it’s not happening.

But I pushed through the Mines of Moria, and now they’re in Lothlórian. The fellowship still has great sadness, but their grief didn’t destroy them, and they found rest.

The same kind of reaction happens when I read the Gospels and I know when the sad part of the story is coming. I read the tender, last words, and I want to stop reading because what happens next is too terrible to think about.

Maybe if I don’t read it, it didn’t happen.

This evening we had communion, so I couldn’t avoid the sad part of the story. I’m not supposed to forget it, Jesus said. I should not try to forget that part of His life because all of history hinges on it. It’s good to push through the terrible parts and come out on the other side, knowing the tragedy wasn’t actually the end of the world even though it felt like it.

There’s a lot to take home from that. Trust. Hope. Confidence. Defeat for the enemy. Redemption.

I think maybe the biggest thing to take from that awful story–apart from gratitude for Jesus saving my soul–is that the dark, terrible parts of the story make the light brighter at the other end. Joy is fuller after the grief. Healing is more wondrous after the brokenness.

For the fellowship, the story doesn’t end in Lothlórian. Most of the journey is still ahead of them, and it will be hard.

I have walked in darkness and brokenness, and this current place of light and healing is more precious for it. But my story isn’t finished yet, and the road will be hard and yucky and scary.

Knowing other stories lets me know that difficulty and blood and tears doesn’t end the story. It’s part of the story. Adds to it, in fact.

And some day, we will lose our object permanence. We won’t see sorrow and it won’t exist anymore. Like good old Sam wondered in bewilderment after the great shadow had passed, everything sad became untrue.

This is how I have courage to keep reading. And living.

Sitting with Masters


I’m blown away this week with my students who are masters at what they do. To tap into their interests and abilities gives a lesson wings to take off and fly high.

One is a checkers player, so I asked him to tell me how to play the game. I didn’t have a real playing board, so I printed a board and cut out little black and white checkers. Of course I’ve played checkers a looooong time ago, but forgot most of it, and I’d never played with someone who routinely plays in tournaments. It was a great exercise for him to explain everything in English, and as we played, of course he creamed me, but the exciting thing was that he talked non-stop.

A teenager? Talking freely and not putting his head down on the table? He was in the moment, explaining positions and fields and defense moves. I was agog. He explained that in the past weekend, he’d been at a competition and his team won 2nd place in Poland in his age division. Plus, the team they were coaching won 2nd place. He said each player has 90 minutes to play a game, and sometimes it take 30-40 minutes to plan one move.

“Is it hard to concentrate for so long?” I asked.

He shook his head. “No, I love it!”

I’ve been teaching him for two years now, and never knew he had it in him to talk so long and excitedly. Or that any teen is happy to sit and think in silence for 30  minutes. I wanted to cheer!

Another lesson was a listening exercise for a student who’s a musician. We watched one of my favorite TED talks, and it connected with him since he’s a conductor and music teacher.  We talked about poetic words like waft, and of the connection between musician and listener, and of Zander’s definition of success: how many shining eyes are around us. At first, my student wasn’t sure this definition of success applied to businessmen and shop keepers, but as we discussed it, I saw the light dawn on his face. Because he understood what it is to empower others and enlarge their capacity to learn and perform, he acknowledged that commerce also needs shining eyes.

During another lesson, my student talked about how she makes baskets from willows. Her English level was low. I think none of my students has ever used the word “willow.” She did, because it is her interest and ability. She loves to work with her hands, knows folk art and hand crafts, and can respect others’ work.

These days, I am absolutely drained by evening, and try hard to stay strong and not melt into a puddle of  exhaustion. What helps is that most of my work does itself if I just tap the right buttons and pick up on what  my students care about.  And it’s wonderful to sit and listen to someone talk about what they do well. I see the light in their eyes and the passion in their gestures, all unconscious, and I’m so happy that I get to sit with masters.

Related post: Tigers’ Shining Eyes

Golden Lives

I was catching up with an acquaintance.  He asked me why I’m still in Poland, his country.

“I love teaching English,” I said simply.

We talked about his family, farm, neighbors, and circled back to my job.

“My students are wonderful,” I said. “I LOVE my students!”

“No,” he corrected me seriously. “You love your JOB.”

Hmmm, well. That’s not what I just said.

He was making the point that when you’re happy in your work, you’re willing to put up with bad days, and it doesn’t make you start looking for an opening somewhere else.

I love my job, it’s true. When class is in session I forget about pretty much everything outside the classroom. It always surprises me how soon the clock say it’s time to wrap up. (There are rare exceptions.) I’m definitely in my zone when I’m teaching English, but it’s way more than my joy in gerunds, infinitives, and pronunciation.

Because my students are absolutely the best. They are brimming with life and whimsy and cleverness. They tell me the wildest stories and ambitions. They are quick and kind. They are beautiful and fascinating and brave.

So I laugh with the lady who told me she’s so practical that her boyfriend’s first gift to her was a mixer. To the new father whose baby cries a lot, I say that I’m praying for them, and he is profusely grateful. I’m in awe at the woman who lives in joy and forgiveness for her husband who divorced her. I treasure the surprising turn of phrase and sparkling eyes. I do everything I can to equip my students to have good English conversations, but most of all I want them to feel safe and loved, no matter their level of English.

Most people have few places where they accepted just as they are, without being judged or scowled at for their clothes or education or occupation or performance or weight. Disapproval especially seems to hang thick in the air of this post-communist country. Hardly a generation ago, people on these streets were paid to be informers on their non-conformist neighbors, and old habits die hard.

But the tendency isn’t unique to certain political systems. I know my own insidious tendency to rank, cull, and venerate at will, and I know only Jesus’ presence is what can erase judgement and disdain. He is my leader, and His love was magnetic, and I want to be like Him.

This is what I pray and sing:

Heal their hearts, feed their souls,

Their lives can be golden if Your love enfolds.  –Bill Whelan



Who is a Mother? Part II

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If you sit with empty arms on Mother’s Day, and your life feels devoid of beauty and miracles, ask God for opportunities to be His reflection of love and nurture.

In Isaiah 54:1, He promises that the childless woman will have more children than the mother with a husband and family. God keeps His word in amazing ways—try Him and see! When I asked God to help me be as Christ to people, He gave me opportunities that I would never have imagined. But, as all birth mothers know,  high callings and great privileges come with the price of servanthood and selfless love, and sometimes the cost makes me stagger.

After the Emmaus walk with Jesus, it was in the breaking of the bread that the men recognized Him. If we women symbolize bread as nourishment for our world, it is in the breaking of that bread that Christ is made visible. Spiritually broken and consumed in hidden, thankless, ordinary places, we are part of a calling that is bigger than any of us—the privilege of introducing the real Christ to people for whom He may be only a dusty relic.

Motherhood—nurturing in brokenness—is a beautiful but demanding calling to which childless women are not exempt.  This calling is not just a spare hole to fill in life’s puzzle. It is the whole purpose for which He created us women.

Following Christ’s example of love and service can make us feel drained and exhausted. But God anticipated these feelings of being used and spent. In Isaiah 58: 10 & 11, He promises that if we spend ourselves in behalf of others, He will satisfy our souls in return. While we pour out our lives as Christ did, God pours out even more life to us. We can never out-give Him!

And His care is not only spiritual or intangible or theoretical. He sends people at just the right time to remind us of our worth and help us feel the sun on our shoulders.

When my sister-in-law became a mother and was looking forward to celebrating Mother’s Day for her first time, she anticipated how some of us would feel, and she ordered a bouquet for the church house. After the Mother’s Day service, all the ladies who encouraged and influenced younger ones were invited to choose a flower from the bouquet to take home.

I chose a white tulip—white to symbolize purity and a tulip to symbolize hope. Because hope does good things to my heart even if I’m never given what I long for. And I can know that even if the shape of my life is different from most women my age, my calling still carries value and beauty.

It is Mother’s Day and I am not a mother. But because I am God’s daughter and want to reflect His character of care and nurture to a world devoid of these virtues, my identity is already sure. My value is not based on how many babies I have borne. That He should trust His perfect character to be reflected by this fallible, easily-distracted lady is a high honor indeed.

For this privilege, I thank Him today.

Yesterday: Part I