Things I’m Noisy About

“Anita, are you hungry?” My friend asked me in the lunch line. “You’re exclaiming at everything you’re seeing, and I’m just enjoying hearing your delight!”

Well, I was hungry, but the real truth was that I’m always noisy about the things I love, so when there’s wonderful colors and flavors around me, I start crowing and cheering and talking in superlatives. Plus, I haven’t lost the wonder of working in an institution where lunch–colorful, fresh, creative food– is waiting when I walk to the food bar every day. And today’s fish tacos with cilantro lime slaw really and truly was the best lunch all year.

Since bloggers are allowed to rant and rave about whatever they want, and this blogger tries hard not to complain or rant, (but sometimes she fails, judging by the looks of another post that’s simmering) I’m going to be noisy about two things I’m excited about at the moment.

  1. People frequently ask me for book recommendations, and I’m thrilled to give them ideas and push books into their hands, but it always mystifies me because I don’t know why they come to me with their questions about books. There are other people who read far more than I, but I wonder if I get asked about books because I’m just noisier than others about the books I read.

I’m part of a book club, where we read a book a month and the person who chose the book leads the discussion afterwards. (We take a break in the summer, in which our sole group activity is a grilled steak dinner. The men grill, and the women bring salads and desserts. “This is such a perfect evening” we kept saying to each other as we cuddled babies around the fire and drank coffee and looked at the stars. I’m the newest member, and don’t know all the traditions or rhythms yet, but it has been most enjoyable.) Our current read is River Town, two years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler, who relates his experience as an English lit teacher in China with the Peace Corps.

 It takes me to my own experiences of teaching English as a second language, the child-like identity you have to take on as a foreigner, the way life narrows down to finding the right word to buy supper, the simpler lifestyle that comes with living in a small apartment in town far away from family, the freedom of stepping on a train to explore an even newer place, the love/hate relationship locals have with foreigners, the stereotypes that every nationality presupposes on other nationalities. Peter tells his story with great heart without being sentimental, and I frequently giggle at the stories. The folk lore, the quirks such as the “Happiest Man in All of Fuling as well as the Luckiest,” the teaching bloopers, and can you imagine–pet birds in cages that you bring with you and hang in the rafters when you hang out in the teahouse with your cronies. Can you imagine!

Everyone should experience being foreign at least once. It is terrifying and embarrassing, but wonderfully clarifying and exhilarating and deeply enriching.

19 Travel Quotes to Inspire Your Wanderlust

2. For many years, I dreamed of taking voice lessons. Then for a couple months in Poland, I was at the right place at the right time and exchanged voice lessons for English lessons, which was a singular experience.  I think the Slavic way of singing is different from what I was wanting, plus, my teacher wanted to make me a soprano and insulted me when he said “Most altos are lazy sopranos.” I have no hard feelings. It makes a good joke, and now I think I understand the point he was trying to make. I will always treasure the English lessons where we watched musicians’ speeches and songs. His English was advanced enough to understand the poetry, and I always think of him when I sing “Heal their hearts, heal their souls, their lives can be golden if your love enfolds.”

Last summer, I started going to a voice teacher at the local college. My friends had told me I’ll like her, and they were right. Claire is an incredibly gifted soprano, deeply sensitive to her students. I often wished for 30 minutes to catch up and then 30 to sing, because it was like meeting a friend every week. She hears what isn’t said or sung, and knows what I need to hear or do to improve. In the lessons, I learned that when you hand your soul to a stranger you don’t die, which helped me feel less fear in other settings like public speaking. I learned that driving onto a campus and finding my way into the right building isn’t impossible. I learned that I can sing higher  and sustain lower than I thought I could. I learned that I can bomb a recital, forget everything I knew to do, and still not die. Unfortunately, I’ll never be a credit to Claire, and this week I had my last lesson with her. New responsibilities and other things to learn have crowded out this privilege, but I will always value those lessons. I experienced the law of the echo and the enriching power of a focused discipline.

Of course, the best voices train for years, but I think everyone should take voice lessons for at least one year.

Farther Along

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It’ll be hard, they said.

Give yourself at least a year to adjust, they said.

So I gave myself a year, and July 1 marked the day, and most days since then, I’m not sure that a year did any good in helping to adjust. I’m still fragile enough that tears are usually simmering just under the surface, and I would happily board a plane tonight to go back to Poland. 

oh.

That strike-through option shows me that a year does something more than I’ve realized. I couldn’t freely board a plane to leave because it would mean tearing up the little burrow I call home and leaving work I’m coming to love and people who have come to mean a great deal to me.

But if I’d have known how harrowing the year was going to be, I’m pretty sure I’d never have had the courage to start.

“There is always something to miss, no matter where you are.” That’s what Sarah, plain and tall, said. Her words have helped keep me from feeling completely insane in this crazy mix of being happy and sad in the same second.

I miss simple, flavorful European food without sauces that disguise whatever it is. I miss living in town and walking wherever I want to go. I resent needing to drive everywhere. I miss taking the train or bus to the next town or across the country. I miss elegance and stately city designs. But I love how easy it is to drive away for the weekend, and how stores are air-conditioned and how customer service agents laugh with me on the phone.

I always hesitate when writing the date–is it month or day first?–and I feel like a deviant either way I write it. I push down the anger when people talk so LOUDLY in public places because it feels terribly invasive and indecent to me. I shudder at the shocking amounts of artificial coloring in food. I’m agog at how effortlessly church fellowship dinners appear and I did nothing to contribute. I still hate answering the glib question about where I’m from. I still feel like a foreigner, an oddity.

But I know my address by heart now, and that feels like a huge accomplishment. I have a PA driver’s license and a local library card. I know my way around town without a GPS. I walk around campus with this incredibly rested, relaxed spirit, singing, instead of feeling the tight, nervous, nameless fear of a year ago. And most delightfully, there are people with whom I share inside jokes and confidences, and I didn’t even know them a year ago.

hmmmm.   Maybe a year makes a bigger difference than I thought.

Maybe I’ll always feel like an oddity. Maybe it’s deeper than feeling European and a “returned missionary.” Maybe it’s part of the human condition, which is why I talk about it here. I’m not that eager to dump my feelings on the internet, but maybe someone else feels like a forever transplant. Maybe another human out there feels odd and mixed up. I’ve met more of those this year than I ever knew existed. We’re a weird bunch, puzzled and dazed and mystified at how it’s possible to function in this world while feeling very attached to another place.

There may not be compensation for the losses sustained in our fragmented hearts, but I’m slowly, slowly coming to see that what’s behind us gives us more to go forward with. It’s possible there’s a largeness of soul gained from our experiences that gives us something more to offer our world than we could have otherwise.

These ideas are just tentative. Maybe in another year I’ll know more about it.

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The Water is Wide

I call her my Polish mom, though she said she’s more like my big sister. She’s a grandma and has lived lots of life, so that’s why she’s like a mom figure to me. The drama and the dreams she comes up with are like no other, and forces to be reckoned with. By her own admission, she has ADHD, and it’s a standing joke and explanation for how crazy and boisterous it gets when she’s around.

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But she’s not just loud and wild. She cries and hurts and agonizes. What’s more, she hurts with other people’s pain. She has this enormous heart that she spreads over me and those in her world. I don’t have to say anything (and often I can’t because we don’t speak the same national language) and she knows what’s going on inside me. Is that because my eyes reveal so much or because she’s so incredibly perceptive? Probably some of both. Very often, she would ask how I am, and I couldn’t wiggle out of the direct question, so I’d be honest, and she’d say she knew it already. Then she’d cry with me and tell me it’s going to be ok.

It was an experience that’s hard to describe–how two verbose women who didn’t share the same language could talk or be silent and still understand each other. Tears and laughter are their own language. And God’s Spirit in both women is a perfect translator.

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We talked food and people and traveling and teaching. Having taught school for decades, she’s a master at handling children and teenagers, and winning their hearts. Her big heart wraps around them and they cannot stay untouched.  She asked me to be her English teacher, and it was delightful.  I especially loved how she praised me to the skies for my teaching ability even though she constantly lapsed into Polish and I couldn’t tell if I helped her English. I think the biggest benefit was just that our lessons were meetings of the heart, and probably that’s more beneficial than retaining language.

She knows heart break and the ravages of a devastating divorce. She knows ache and poverty and dreams that never come true. That’s why it’s so beautiful to see the power of Jesus’ transformation shining out of her. One of my favorite stories about her is here.

I left Poland last July 1, and she told me when she’d be at the school to tell me goodbye, but she never came. I was sorry, because I need closure. I don’t love pain, but not saying goodbye is worse than saying it. But clearly it was going to be too hard, and this was the easier route for her.

There is no right way to walk away from a vibrant, life-giving relationship. It’s impossible to cross an ocean, live among English-speaking people, and go on as if nothing happened.  My heart strings are still raw and dripping. Tears are always shimmering under the surface. Always. It’s different with my family even though they’re far away. They’ll always be family and we’ll always be in touch. Ela is FAR away, in another language, separate from anything here, involved in her own world, even though I know she’ll always love me.

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Yesterday I Skyped her for the first time since the time we didn’t say goodbye. She’s the same Ela, full of smiles and exclamations and wild dreams, pouring out so much love. She read me, as always, and observed that I’m doing better than when I left. But she didn’t see the quaking, shattering in my heart that went on the rest of the day and made it hard to concentrate because her voice and grin kept coming back to me and yet were so far away.

Sometimes I hate the globe and limitations of space.

Shining Armor?

knight-602103_1280My cousin Caleb Mast is married to Sandra, and together they are a dynamic, beautiful team. Sandra is the guest writer in today’s post. Thanks for your wise words, Sandra!

Valentine’s Day is  another one of those holidays God has been speaking to me about, and I think it goes back to Caleb challenging my life in that of having a learning heart. A restless heart that never ceases to crave more. A heart searching for God, and what He desires of me.

And so this Valentine’s Day, I want to show the world and encourage other Christians as to what true love and romance is.

Soon after Caleb and I started dating, one of my best friends also starting dating. It was a wonderful time of sharing our excitement of budding love, and also sharing the painful part of letting go of our single-hood and the dreams we had dreamed in exchange for learning submission to God by way of following and submitting to a man. We both have similar personalities and our boyfriends (now our husbands!) also had similar personalities, which added an even greater depth to our discussions. In one of our many conversations, we were talking about the common “Knight in shining Armor” idea and how we thought that it was more than a little twisted in its descriptive name. We both concluded that we did not end up with a knight in shining armor… and neither did we wish too!

Here’s why:

The mental picture I get with the whole knight-in-shining-armor deal is a knight on his snow-white horse with shining, smooth, and spotless armor. Think about it. Would you really want a knight wearing an armor that is still smooth and spotless?? Somehow, by the grace of God, I ended up with a knight in weather-worn, muddy armor full of dings and dents, riding a tired and sweating horse! My knight isn’t the knight sitting proudly on his snow-white horse, with the sun glistening off his smooth and shiny helmet and sword.

My knight has fought too hard to have a spotless armor. He’s fought the dragons head-on, muddying his armor, taking the brunt of the blows, and bloodying his sword. Now THAT kind of mental picture has my heart pumping!!

I’m not sure why I had to give that intro to what I’m really dying to write about, but… that is my hero. That is my Caleb, my lover, my gift from God! He’s not the hot dude in the sporty outfit and hot-shot ride. He’s the hot dude wearing dirty jeans, sweating hard as he shovels mud out of a neighbor’s flooded house for hours. He’s the hero respectfully acknowledging older people and honoring authority in words and actions. He’s the mysterious guy in the background. You’ll see him spending time with the underdog before seeing him on a platform with everyone’s attention on himself.

To me, true love isn’t about Caleb buying me flowers, opening the doors for me, or singing me love songs, even though he does all this and more, making me laugh and melting my heart time and again.

True love, one worth celebrating, is about him making the effort to daily pray for me and with me. It’s watching him tell our little son, Desmond, about Jesus, praying with him for orphans around the world, witnessing to others while Desmond watches, desiring to be an example to him and open his heart and mind to the bigger picture.

It’s about him loving people even if they are disagreeable and hard to love. It’s about him respecting his parents even when he doesn’t see eye to eye with them on everything. It’s about him accepting my family and all our weird quirks that continue to surprise him. It’s about those moments when he comes to me with slumped shoulders and confesses some of the weaknesses God has brought to his attention. It’s about watching him do hard things, about him keeping the goals he sets. It’s about him standing up in church and baring his heart, even when I know not everyone agrees or understands him. It’s about him choosing to forgive me when my selfish side controls my actions and words and hurts him deeply.
THAT makes me really melt. That makes the tears fall as I realize what a hero God gave me. Caleb exemplifies Jesus to me, and  challenges me to a closer walk with Him, the Greatest Hero of All.

All that said, don’t think I always have this respectful, awe-like attitude towards Caleb. I’m ashamed to admit that sometimes—mostly because I don’t feel as patient and loving as Caleb is—I criticize his niceness, and get impatient with how patient he is with difficult people. That’s why I need moments like this to reflect and help me remember what true gallantry really is!!

Our marriage and home has been a green house for me. Honestly, the more I’m with my husband, the more I grow spiritually. I love the late-night discussions we have, the tears we shed for the lost souls we personally know and those we don’t, the prayers we pray for those we love deeply and those we need God’s grace to love at all.

I love when, after timidly sharing with him a wild idea I have, he says “go for it”. And how I feel believed-in even if the idea is pretty crazy. And vice versa. I love watching him step out and do hard things and cheering him on. I love being accountable to each other in big and small ways.

I love when he comes home from work, and I love sending him off to work. Because I know he’ll use his spiritual armor. I know he’ll use his spiritual sword. I know satan trembles. I know God smiles. And when he comes home, I help him dress his wounds… on my knees. And then we rehearse the victories. And pray and cry together and do whatever is necessary to prepare for the next day’s battle.

That’s my knight in muddy armor.

Maybe the world won’t notice. Maybe the church won’t notice. But those hungry for a battle worth fighting for will notice.

One of my greatest wishes while living where God has called us is to impact youth with a godly example of marriage and true love. This generation is fast falling. Young kids are wrapped up in finding love. They are really young kids, desperate for a very warped version of love.

I both tremble and grieve at the young girls I see walking around seductively, placing themselves in dangerous situations, longing for affirmation, attention, and love. I grieve for the young boys I see through the window shades, playing video game after video game filled with blood, guts and gory actions just to have something to do… and maybe feel half like a heroic warrior?

It’s all satan’s counterfeits to temporarily fill the gaping hole only God can fill! TVs are numbing the pain, distracting them from the gnawing hunger for love and fulfillment and meaning in life.

Yet even more saddening then all of this to me is some of the attitudes I’ve heard from Christians.  “I can’t see how they can spend so much time watching TV and playing such horrible video games!” “It’s so sad that they can’t find better things to do.” And many other glib and naive comments.

Is it really any wonder this is what kids are doing? Who’s fault is it that they don’t have anything better to do? Who, WHO will exemplify any other option if we don’t spend time with them and open our hearts and homes to them?

Yes, open our homes to these “terrible, heathen” children and youth. My heart’s cry is to bring them into our home and, by God’s grace and mercy, give them a taste of heaven on earth. I pray continually God’s presence to fill our home so that those who walk inside the doors will immediately both feel and “smell” something different.

Because WHO is going to show these children there IS true meaning in life, there IS tangible joy, deep peace and fulfillment in life? Obviously not their parents, who themselves are not sure of their sexuality, have multiple partners, and are also lost in trying to find meaning to their lives.

And sadly, too many Christians are more worried about getting their hands dirty than for the salvation of these precious souls. So who, WHO will show them JESUS?? Who will love them, disciple them, and by their victorious, Christ-filled life show them there is hope? That true love is not red and pink hearts, roses, kisses, and sex??

So I share all this to hopefully pass along by burden for this generation. They ARE watching us, whether we know it or not. Often the judgemental, holier-than-thou attitudes we have are exactly what turn them away from Jesus and convince them their “fun” lives are worth the pain and emptiness they feel deep down.

Let’s spend more time in God’s Word, bathe ourselves in His presence (where fullness of joy alone is found), ask for His love to overtake us, and live out of THAT! Let’s open our homes to kids seeking love and affirmation, let’s showcase Christ and His bride in our marriages and homes so these kids can see there is something different out there… there IS another option than what they too often see!

We can’t force them to drink of the Living Water but we can show them there IS living water and that it is more than enough, and we can make them thirsty for it themselves!

This Valentine’s Day I am grateful for a love-filled marriage, for a Godly and loving husband, for a brave and bold leader, for how much Caleb has taught me by example, and I want to share my blessings with those hungry for something greater.

We’ve been blessed to be a blessing!!