New

Newness. Not just new goals and hopes and dreams but new sorrows and burdens and heartbreaks, too. A new year beginning is full of endings. A year ending is like filling-in the last page of a precious, gifted journal or the last bit of wax melting away from the favorite scented candle. We know there are new journals to begin; they will be just as sweet and comforting to hold and pen into. We’ll light new candles, and their gentle flames will fill the room with ease just as well as the last.

Each year that passes, though, takes with it the older things. These things or people or memories or places that we wanted, so badly, to continue to hold. We value the old maybe more than the new: traditions, familiar faces. Each new thing is sweet inasmuch as it is what we already were longing for.

The recent advent now passed was about hope. New years and their resolutions are about hope. No matter the time of year, we are hoping. “Born Again to a Living Hope” is the title of a section of scripture found in 1 Peter 1:3-9. Born: something completely new, a starting moment. Again: implying a repeated act. Our souls are not satisfied without paradoxes, it seems.

Here, in 1 Peter, Paul shares,

“3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Every moment that brought 2014 closer was making my heart heavy. It is still heavy– I’m longing for so many new things, and I’m pondering the old and don’t want to let all of it go. New York pastor, Timothy Keller, teaches us what Peter says in this small portion 1 Peter that I quoted above. In his sermon he speaks of the hope that Paul tells us we have. It’s a hope that doesn’t ignore the horrors of our pasts, the sufferings of our present, or the trails yet to come. This hope remains no matter the circumstance and will, surely, be fulfilled.

The sermon is titled “Born into Hope” and can be listened to for free here.

Poetry is. . .

According to Robert Frost, poetry is “when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” To Carl Sandburg, poetry is “an echo, asking a shadow how to dance.” Emily Dickinson wrote a poem about poetry “To see the Summer Sky/ Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie -/ True Poems flee.”

When the 6th graders are introduced to poetry, I read them several poet’s thoughts on poetry, and then I ask them how they define poetry. Here’s what they said and some poems that they wrote soon after. Each author was asked to write about their favorite place; they each have their own color.

Author 1

“Poetry is the loving art of rhyming random words and becoming famous. Poetry is the color cherry.”

PIZZA PLACE

Ukrainian pizza place

I arrive at a place where an unknown pizza lays on the table,

I arrive where a new ceiling is above me.

I arrive at this pizza place,

An eating place for me.

Oh waiter of the food! The customer humbly offers his money to buy food for himself.

Author 2

“Poetry is someone’s thoughts or feelings. It’s something about someone, something, or the person’s culture, society, government, and their rights and economy.” 

UNTITLED

This place is hot, 

Its beautiful sites

It was the place that I flew a kite, 

It’s where I was, 

it’s my homeland, 

its the south, 

it also is the state

that has most of my relatives, 

it’s Arizona.

Author 3 “Poetry is the words that make a person warm, sad, happy, and confused.”

MY HOME

There are three people who I love

My sister, mother and father

Home is my best place, because they are there

There are also many things I can do

I can eat food, play games, sleep, and talk

Home is my best place, because I can do those things there

Even though there are some bugs and it is not clean,

home is my best place!

Because there is my family

Author 4 “[Poetry is] Words that describe something you like or don’t like. Poetry can be beautiful or sad. It expresses feeling, like how you are feeling right now.”

MY PLACE

My place is where I was raised, I spent all of my life

in the Caucuses where almost everything is fresh. The

language was easy but difficult sometimes. 

How I would love to see my home again. 

How i would love to see my old friends again. 

How i would love to play in the streets again. 

How I would love to see my place again. 

My place Azerbaijan! 

Author 5 “[Poetry] is boring.” 

HELLO SEOUL

Hello Seoul. 

My home, my friend. 

Hello Seoul.

Many food, many friend

Hello Seoul

People, buildings, cars.

Hello Seoul

every time has sound. 

Bye Seoul. 

Let’s meet 2 years later. 

I miss you. 

Author 6 “Poetry is horrible! I think poetry is boring and everything besides good. Poetry is a story usually with rhythm or rhyming. Sometimes it doesn’t rhyme, but then it sounds bad. I would say poetry is blackest black.”

UNTITLED 

A place of comfort for me is home

Where I was born in the morn

Where the sky is bright to my eye

And where I eat with delight

I can feel the floor covered in a rug after getting a hug instantly when coming home.

Author 7

UNTITLED

I live over here in Moscow, 

But my place is far away. 

Way over in the USA, 

I would like to stay, 

There I was born, 

And lived for years. 

When i remember it, 

It makes me drop some tears. 

There I keep all my fears and smiles, 

My first laugh, secrets, and first cry. 

I think: how far is it until, 

These memories die?

it’d be so painful to forget, 

Such moments in my life. 

A Hint of What We’re Missing By RKC

It’s the small things which make our time Stateside so enjoyable: driving a car down to the store, loading up the trunk and driving home again; trips to Target to browse anything and everything; looking out the window to breath-taking views of Colorado peaks and the San Juan Islands at sunset… Most treasured, though, would be the sound of Anna squealing with joy at the sight of a grandparent coming to scoop her up for a hug – I wish we could bottle up these special moments and relive their day-to-day resplendence at any time.

We’re filled with very mixed emotions as we prepare to return to Moscow just days from now. What a delight to be here in the States with family and friends during this season of our lives. We’re so thankful for the opportunity to be here: we recognize that the opportunity to be in the US for Peter’s birth was truly a luxury that many families in our line of work are unable to pursue. Each day here has been a gift. As we prepare to say goodbye, we recollect the treasured memories we’ve made here over the past months – not wanting this time to end. Returning overseas with small children who adore their grandparents (and vice versa) is quickly becoming an emotional experience for which we feel desperately unprepared. The looming heartache feels staggering.

Sometimes emotional heartache, although overwhelming, feels spiritually healthy. It reminds us that there is something more, something missing, something coming for which it’s better to wait. I think the coming of the fullness of God’s kingdom feels a lot like this imminent separation. We’ve had a taste of life in daily fellowship with family and friends, celebrating the gifts of life, of love, of creation, of beauty, of light. But for a little while, we suffer the lack of this fullness. We live at a distance from the people we treasure with simply the hint of what we’re missing.

So we return to Russia because so few Russians know that a new Kingdom has come. They don’t know of the fullness of life in fellowship or a love worth waiting to experience. They do not even recognize the hints of the Kingdom, let alone the existence of the King who will reign for all time. “We talk of the second coming, half of the world has heard of the first” (Oswald J. Smith.) We return to Moscow for the sake of this coming Kingdom and for the faces and faces of people living outside the Kingdom but desperately wanting to come in.

Any Hope for Moscow’s Winter? Or Anything?

When it is Autumn, all my love for family and friends, close or far, kindles with the color of the leaves. It deepens, and then bursts into red, orange, and purple flame. The people who are in front of me, I hug more. Those far away, I write more or call. Then I get so homesick, even for those nearby. In contrast, the next moment, I feel amazed at the existence of such beautiful people that could possibly care one wit about me; and then I get to love them back and get to know them–it’s incredible and mushy. There are so many emotions in Autumn. Life just pours out of everything until everything suddenly has no more life to give.

After a month or two passes, my proverbial beautiful leaves curl up, dry, and catch embers to burn. It’s like the song “Time is All Around” by Regina Spektor. “Leaves become more beautiful when they’re about to die,” she warns. She was loving beautifully, in the most beautiful way, and then the love died. She grows tired of putting forth effort “I’m so tired/ Why am I suppose to love if I don’t want to?” she says, “I don’t want to/I don’t want to/ I don’t want/I don’t want.” Winter here is just like that.

It sets in quickly, and it promises to be numb–cold, a chronic gray, and numb. Not sad, not happy, not melancholy, just nothing. A bad case of the “I don’t want” anything mood becomes chronic. Every year I’ve added a new weapon to my artillery against Moscow’s winter. Last year I whipped out exercise and now enjoy an activity that I always loathed before, running. This year I added extra vitamin D and a small, bright blue lamp called “happy”: this lamb blinds me for 15 minutes a day and supposedly will stuff some emotion back into my heart. We’ll see . . .

But what will really get me, and other Moscovites, through the looming winter? What will combat the apathy, the whining, the blues? I don’t mean to be cliche, but I have to be honest, it is just a little bit of hope. And yes, it’s vitamin D, and happy lamps, and exercise, and extra hugs and smiles and buying that bouquet of flowers or coloring with as many colors as possible: it’s all those little things AND it’s the one big thing:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature, children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And it is not by your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast, for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2: 1-10
The leaves will fill with bright color again: it’s simply the truth. They’ll be green and alive and then, they’ll be willing to, in a beautiful fit, die to themselves because they trust that they will be resurrected to an even brighter and broader green then was known before.
Okay, winter, here’s the deal: In faith I’m working on saying “yes” to the dying thing, by His grace, I believe the dying will be beautiful, and finally, by His great love, not by my own doing, I will choose to hope that I will be raised again from winter and everything else. I hope you can claim that, too!

Searching for Cornbread

As a child I didn’t like cornbread for two reasons. First my sister liked it, and secondly it was cut into triangles. Silly I know, but cornbread tastes better cut into rectangles. As I got older I realized that it is simply ridiculous to forgo my Grannie’s southern cornbread just because of a few hard feelings. Before moving to Moscow I was a cook-it-straight-out-of-a-box kinda girl (not just for cornbread). After moving to Moscow I realized that cornbread is one of my comfort foods, so I needed to learn how to make it. During the past year I have had a difficult relationship with cornbread because I just couldn’t seem to get the right texture, flavor, or moisture. I almost gave up on cornbread after a terrible experience at Thanksgiving, but as a foreigner failure is no stranger. I decided to combine a few recipes and a little bit of my new baking experience to finally settle on a good recipe. After about 6 unfortunate cornbread recipes, I have finally settled with my very own.

cornbread

Cornbread Recipe

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup melted butter, plus 1 Tablespoon for the pan

1 cup buttermilk (or 1 T vinegar, then fill to the 1 cup line with milk)

2 eggs

1/2 cup canned corn, drained

Preheat the oven to 400F (204C). Melt 1 T of butter in an 8×8 inch pan in the oven being careful not to burn the butter. Combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Combine 1/3 cup melted butter, buttermilk, and eggs in a small mixing bowl. Lightly beat the buttermilk and egg mixture. Then add to the dry ingredients. Stir just until all of the dry ingredients are wet but still lumpy. Fold in the corn. Bake for 20-30 minutes until the top is golden brown.

Hope is Beautiful

1 John 1:7

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
My friend and I used to get in constant arguments about the beauty of God’s creation. “It’s beautiful,” she’d agree, “but the evil and pain is overwhelming. It’s all too heavy. Look how people suffer!” I’d agree but explain that she wasn’t looking close enough. “Beauty’s light overwhelms the dark, every time,” I’d say. But we were both a bit naive. God’s beauty was in everything: the sweet smell of rotting leaves, the colored pebbles on the path, the hug and smile of a friend like herself. But evil is dark and heavy, too, and easy to find.
Recently, I find myself overwhelmed with the evil I see around me. It’s all too heavy, I think. I hear story after story of family and friend’s loved ones who are sick, hurt, dying or desperate and then turning away from those who love them; they are victims of circumstance and other people’s sin. Where is God in these situations? Where is the beauty when suffering is all around?
My heart felt cold this Sunday as I thought of all the pain and loss of those dear to me. I chose to sing along with the hymn ” Jesus Paid it All,” though the beauty and the music of the words were not yet touching me.
As we sang through the chorus the first time, the words- “Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow” -rolled over me. When we sang them a second time, I was reminded of all my faults, including my inability to worship that morning, and I was grieved and relieved all at once as I remembered God’s forgiving grace.
Finally, my thoughts came back to all the recent wounds and pain that afflict my family and friends. It’s too much, I thought. What are you going to do about it? Won’t you help? Then we sang the chorus a third time, “Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.” I pictured those wounded by sin, not just their own but also the sins of others that had marred them. What do we do with the wounds that are from other’s sins against us?
There, in those lines, I heard God’s answer to my call for help. I know that He is strong and pure and beautiful enough to wash away all sin, from ourselves and from other’s that were committed against us. He washes us white as snow, I thought. He promises to resurrect us; removing all our stains and scars from ourselves AND those left there by others. Hope and healing is coming–that is beautiful.

Two Different Things

It had been raining all day– the clouds were gray and moving quickly overhead. The uneven sidewalks were littered with puddles. Yet the babushkas and dedushkas (grandmas and grandpas) had already emerged to sell their home produce carefully displayed on cardboard boxes and plastic tarps.

I passed a group of two babushkas and one dedushka each selling different types of produce. I glanced back as I recalled the comment my husband had made earlier in the week about the corn looking good on the walk home from school.

“It’ll go well with taco salad,” I thought to myself.

As I did a double take the man selling the corn turned to talk to the babushkas near him. When the women saw me approaching, they shooed the man back over to his cardboard box displaying two small piles of corn.

“Do you have a bag?” He inquired.

“Yes,” as I pointed to my backpack. He looked slightly discontent with this answer, but I wasn’t phased because after all it was only two ears of corn.

“I would like two,” I said confidently as I got out forty rubles in coins.

“Do you have bills?” He asked.

“Yes,” I answered slightly confused until I realized that he had been saying two hundred instead of twenty. That should have been a red flag because  two ears of corn should certainly not cost two hundred rubles (about $6). I pondered how I had seen corn for twenty rubles across the street just the other day.

Nevertheless, I handed him two hundred rubles.

Backpack full of corn

I took off my backpack, and I opened the outside zippered pocket to put in the two ears of corn that I thought I had just purchased. He placed the two ears of corn into my backpack much to my delight, but he didn’t like how it fit. I showed that there is an open pocket that he could place it in instead. He added 3 more ears of corn to that pocket. My backpack was starting to get a bit dirty, and if he added any more corn my other groceries were sure to be squashed.

He motioned to the bigger compartment which was already full of groceries. By this time, I was already smiling at how comical this must look trying to fill a full backpack on the wet sidewalk with half husked corn. Plus the dedushka was so happy to be helping me pack up the corn that I couldn’t help but smile at him.

Then he proceeded to shove the other pile of corn (five more ears) into the open compartment. I just stood back and smiled trying not to laugh at how two people can try to communicate and inevitably understand two completely different things. I had just bought two piles of corn (ten ears) instead of two ears! To top it all off he transferred the other five ears into the big compartment to the point that it would barely zip. I bent down to help him zip the backpack the rest of the way. When I looked up he was beaming, and it looked as if he was just going to jump in the air and give me a big hug.

He certainly made my day a little brighter! Oh, the joys of cross cultural (mis) communication.

From Fretting to Trusting

God is sovereign.

God is good.

If I am to go on with the next few thoughts, then I must believe those statements.

“Fret not yourself because of evildoers…” (Psalm 37:1) But wait a minute if I don’t worry, who will? Worrying gives me a sense that I am in control of the situation. Still I don’t find a good outcome in the Bible for those who worry. “Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil” (Psalm 37:8b)– God knows that worry is a waste of energy and it slowly corrodes the heart and mind. If I choose to stay fretting and worrying, I am saying that God does not have control over this and he may or may not act in my best interest.

However if I choose to turn from fretting to trusting, I am saying to God– You are sovereign; you know what is best; you are good. The Lord has given us such a strong promise for those who trust– “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.” (Psalm 37:5) HE WILL ACT! (I get a picture in my head of Aslan acting on behalf of Peter, Susan, Edmond, and Lucy. When Aslan roars things go right!) When I imagine God acting on my behalf, my worry just fades away.

It is easy to remember that I am not supposed to worry, but it is difficult to actually not worry. Today I heard a question that really shook me up– do even 99% of things that we worry will happen actually end up happening? No, but there are those times when they do happen or they were worse than I feared. In those moments God is still sovereign. God is still good. Why then do I cling so desperately to worry which God so clearly abhors?

Fret not yourself. Psalm 37:1

Do not be anxious about your life. Matthew 6:25

Do not be anxious about anything. Philippians 4:6

He does not leave us with a list of things not to do, but He gives us a promise of what will happen if we turn our worry into trust in Him.

Psalm 37:3-4 “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Hand them over to the Lord with prayer knowing that Our God never fails, never runs out, and never grows weary. He is big enough to handle all of our worry!

Psalm37

Dust Bunnies on Display

This summer our landlords surprised us with a new refrigerator. They also fixed our sagging blinds, the broken doorknob, and the creaky cabinet door. Day after day they’d call, “We’re on our way again. This time we are going to clean the windows.”

“Clean the windows?” I asked my husband as he hung up the phone.

“Don’t ask me,” he said. As foreign tenants, we just do as we’re told.

Hours later, the landlord and landlady couple were hard at work, yes, indeed, cleaning the windows and the screens and the bathtub. Having landlords in “your” space, which is technically their space, is hard enough, but to be cleaning up our window streaks, and our soap scum: I couldn’t handle it. My westernized personal space boundaries were being stomped on. I went to my room and started to read and remind myself to be cross-culturally mature.

“Katya!” My landlady’s voice broke into my failed protective bubble.  “Katya!”

I put down my book and found the source of the calling, “Da? Yes?”

She spoke rapidly in Russian as I ridiculously and pathetically grasped for a few recognizable words.

“You…” she said while pointing to me, “. . . clean. That’s your job.” She then pointed to the closet door and pumped her arm in case I didn’t understand that she wanted me to look at the closet.

And I didn’t. “I don’t understand,” I said my most-practiced Russian phrase.

She sighed, moved to the closet door, and slid it open to reveal our winter coats, board games, and Christmas decorations. I couldn’t remember the last time I opened this closet; it’s like our forgotten attic.

Her finger began pointing again: pump, pump, pump. I followed her gesture to the closet floor. There, staring up at us as if it wanted us to run away in terror was a giant Moscow dust bunny—very common in these parts and almost impossible to eradicate. So what? I thought. You can sweep everyday of the week and still one will crawl out of the corner and stick to your toes. Those of us who are smart just go back to sweeping once a week for something to do: it really makes no difference. But it definitely made a difference to her. The big, hairy, full-of-ashy-pollution ball was not going to be ignored.

“Look!” Her wrinkled finger continued it’s death point, “You . . . clean. . . You work . . . wife’s job.” Behind the finger, which was now pointed at my face, I could make out her eyes. They were bright and threatening.

This is disgusting, she seemed to say.

But I clean every week! I wanted to respond. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to say “I clean every week.” I could say, “I every day clean. Work–I do that.” No, that wouldn’t do. “I understand,” I said.

Moscow dust bunnies

I was then led to the bathroom where, of all things, behind the cleaning supplies bucket, she wiped a clean rag against the tile. The orange rag was now black and gritty. Oops. Why couldn’t she have wiped the shelf instead?

“. . . dirty. . . you clean,” then again with the finger pointing. The finger went on to show me the corner of the tub and the dirty crack in the sink. “I cleaned,” she finally said, “you need to clean. Your job.”

I bowed my head and said over and over again, “Yes. Of course, I do that. I do that. I understand.” And then, “Thank you,” with a bowed head.

I went back to my book and tried to read the words. Instead, I felt that I’m-a-foreigner feeling. It’s a mix of self-loathing, confusion, and complete inability to handle a situation. I called my husband to come home. Right away, he took over as lecturer-receiver and cleaning student. In his good nature, he asked his teacher, “So what is our grade for cleaning?”

“Oh, a three out of five, I think,” she said thoughtfully, and laughed.

“Not bad. See, Caitlin, they like us. Don’t worry,” and he gave me another hug, “They’ll be gone soon. The windows are almost done.”

Two hours later, we all sat around our kitchen table looking over our wedding pictures. They had specifically asked to see them as we wait for the plummer to arrive and fix the leak that we didn’t notice and doubt existed. “They must be bored,” Chris concluded in a whisper.

As those pointy fingers flipped through our happy photos, she raved, “You’re beautiful. . . What a young looking mother. . . how lucky you are, Chris, to have such a beautiful wife!” She wouldn’t stop praising me and every member of our families. This Russian babushka (grandma) was caring for us in all the ways she knew how: she was a friendly representative in a not-so-friendly city. She is one who is willing to have weird, foreign tenants and help them when they can’t call for their own stinking plummer. Teaching me how to keep house was just another thing she could give to me.“You poor young thing.” I imagined her saying, “Here, let me show you how it’s done in this incredibly dirty city—it’s so hard to keep up, I know!” This is how it’s done here. The experienced teach the inexperienced, whether asked to or not. Every babushka is a teacher.

The plumber finally came and left (he did find something to fix, after all) and our landlords made their way to the exit, too. On their way out the Mrs. had to share one last bit of advice.

“Get pregnant,” she said. And that finger pointed at my husband, “That’s your job!”