Mine Mine Mine

I feel very lucky. Very, very lucky. In fact, I might liken myself to Governor Ratcliffe–yes, the villain in Pocahontas. Much like Ratcliffe dances around singing with joy about the golden swag he is hoping he’ll soon be pocketing, I feel like dancing around singing about this city that now belongs to me. (Okay, maybe this comparison is a stretch but the song has been stuck in my head for weeks now)–I also went on an archaeological dig, so even the digging is relevant. Mine Mine Mine, Bratislava is mine.

I have found myself in a wonderful place. I was reading some poetry earlier this month about different cities in the UK (I have been trying to ingest as much British literature as my mind can possibly handle–as I am teaching it next month) and I was struck by an understanding that was new. Poetry for a long time was something I just didn’t “get.” In recent years I have noticed that my life experiences have enabled me to resonate more deeply with poetry–maybe that is the trick, the passing of time, a fuller understanding of myself and the world offers me access to the richness of verses that articulate a sentiment that I have yet to verbally conjure myself. (I am not fooling myself into thinking this is novel information for the world, rather it is more a new understanding I have begun to recognized as late as last year–when I stopped thinking the Psalms were the most boring part of the Bible.) *musicians roll their eyes*

Sorry, I’ll get back to the point. The poetry I was reading was about different cities in Great Britain, the one that has stuck with me as I have walked the twisted avenues in Old Town has been a poem by Christine de Luca from Scotland in her poem, Edinburgh Volte-Face, she says:

City of venerable skylines;
each morning you un-do yourself
like someone more anxious to save
the wrapping than enjoy the gift.

mmmhhh. I don’t really know what that means, but it gives me some inexplicable feeling. Maybe that is the point of poetry–or maybe I am still missing the point entirely–I am not ready to make a definitive statement for this case.

Well, that took an entirely different turn than I expected, I was going to write about some of my initial feelings about being in the city by myself, feeling nervous, and then really starting to feel comfortable–I was not going to get all artsy and thoughtful on you, so sorry about that. Maybe you liked it; if that is the case you’re welcome.

Over the years I denied being a “romantic,” but my friend once told me that Pride and Prejudice could not be my favorite book if I was not a romantic, so there you have it. The evening strolls to look at city lights, the afternoons spent with cappuccino in hand, people watching, the tram rides with Beowulf–offering me expositions of valor, the misty mornings wandering through at a castle ruin, the late nights with my windows open–lights off–watching the lightning bubble its way through the clouds–these are the moments I endure with utter joy. Each precious gifts from a God that knows I miss my friends and family, yet reminds me of a greater purpose and the exciting adventure I have been invited into.

I get to be here in a place that is starting to feel a bit like home. Where I am learning the choreography. That is sort of what it has felt like. When you go to a place where everyone else knows the dance by heart, you spend the first few lessons bumbling around. Like you don’t know how to fit in, and you are sticking out like a sore thumb.

You feel self-conscious, you step on toes, your face gets all red, in my case your hands are constantly producing more sweat than any human should be able to reasonably manifest over a week long period, and you feel like quitting, but soon, it starts to make sense. You can hear the beat, you stop focusing on whether or not your feet are in the right place and you dance right alongside everyone else. I am starting to learn the dance, and it feels good. For the time being, my soundtrack is coming from Pocahontas.

OOooo Suga, OOOoo Honey Honey

I haven’t been much of a sweets person the last few years, but all of that has changed in the last month.

It is a bit unfortunate really, but I blame it entirely on the intensified level of sweets consumption that I have so far been subjected to. At home, I would almost never go out of my way to buy a chocolate bar or candy, I would only eat it when it was given to me or out with friends, but it never sounded that appetizing. But between the chunks of chocolate being passed out, the sugar in the coffee, the Kofola, and the cookies, my tune has changed.

I am not sure what to do about this, do I go on sipping the “sweet” water (the juice they served us at the dig that was basically water and sugar) and gnawing on cookies? I think my best option would be to stop it all together–but can I? *ominous music plays and camera zooms into a cookie*

I can give you a perfect example of my swift upheaval of all reasonable sugar loving for the darker, more poisonous ache that now resides for it in my belly. Week 1: Breakfast consisted of toast, tomato, avocado, egg, and bacon. Week 4: chocolate granola with strawberries, and yes, actual pieces of white chocolate (marketed as a breakfast cereal, but we all know is a lie). I don’t have much else to say on the subject, but at least we caught this early. I do believe I am now overdue for a sugar detox, I’ll keep you in the loop about whether or not I end up Paul Blarting.

Did I just turn PB into a verb? Why yes my good sir, I did.
Pointless post? Maybe, but I think it is very important that I now have access to a dangerous internet power of injecting gifs into my posts…

Will She Blend?

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I like to blend in. And that is not necessarily a bad thing, but I am beginning to see this goes a little deeper for me than just not getting catcalled or stared down by a suspicious Slovak grandma. I don’t want to be noticed.

I see this most readily in myself when moving around by myself in public, on transportation,  walking in the city, sitting in a cafe, etc. Any sort of activity where I might be observed by others. To some extent my skin color allows me to look the part, but in a foreign country my smile, my clothes, and my language give me away. I am different, and that makes me a little uncomfortable. My reaction, I am noticing, is something like embarrassment, like I am embarrassed to have people pay attention to me. It reminds me of a time last summer where I thought a lot about myself, my weight, and my body–comparing them to others and feeling overly concerned about how I “measured up.” This was all sparked by an incident with some teenage boys; some of my brother’s friends would call me fat (in earshot) whenever they were over. And I was mortified, I wasn’t sure how to address the situation.

To myself, I’d think, “I’m 21 freaking years old, shouldn’t I be passed this nonsense?” Naw, I wasn’t. Whenever they’d say something along those lines, I would seize up in my heart a bit, put on a fake smile and pretend I didn’t hear. That seemed to egg them on though, they’d keep saying words like “fat” and “gross.” I don’t have a lot of experience with feeling bullied, but I’d say last summer I got a taste of what that feels like, and it was bitter. I’d wait until they left, grab my Bible, and cry over the words that I could not believe, pleading to God that I might. That I might really, at the core of myself believe I was beautiful, loved, and created with a purpose. I’d pound down Psalm 139 again and again, hoping that it could be true. Wondering if I could even believe it was true.

And remarkably, and with aching slowness, the words began to fasten themselves in my mind, when I would think negatively about myself, but then a memory of what the psalmist had said would bubble up into my mind.

“Miranda, you are are all alone.”

You have enclosed me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me.”

“Miranda, you are so ugly.”

For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.”

This practice of acknowledging I have these thoughts about myself, and then holding them up to the words that God has given us in the Bible was so helpful for me. It was freeing, it was humbling, and it was hope bringing. Not that it always stuck like I wanted it to.

 The thing about the Gospel is that it doesn’t sink in completely–or at least it doesn’t feel like it. In Psalm 71 (vs. 14 and 15) it says:

“But as for me, I will hope continually,
And will praise You yet more and more.
My mouth shall tell of Your righteousness
And of Your salvation all day long;
For I do not know the sum of them.”

What God has done for us will probably never be fully grasped in this life, His mercy is too rich, His grace too vast, and His loving kindness too extensive.

I don’t fully get it. Psalm 71 is a new one for me, it is all about an old man asking God to faithfully persist in his life. God had been with him from the beginning, and the author is asking that God leads him still, until the end. I think one of the points of life is to understand who I am. And I don’t have to force it, there is something inside of me that demands this investigation, that I might better understand myself, the world and ultimately God. The funny thing is though, to accomplish this, I have to work backwards. If I try to understand myself by looking at myself alone, I will get nowhere. I end up staring at myself disapprovingly and without understanding, entirely heartbroken. I am a broken mess, and I can pretty myself up, try and prove that I am good enough my some measure of my own design, but it is ultimately going to be fruitless. However, if my starting point is rather Jesus and who He is, and who He dares to say I am, then we have a whole new story.

This life is a messy, bloody, hilarious, and frustrating story, and my pride and my belief that I can somehow win people’s approval by fitting into some collectively decided box–no matter how convincing or ideologically alluring–is going to get me nowhere. I’ll tell you this, if some kid calls me fat, or stupid, or unqualified tomorrow, I’ll probably cry, but you better believe I’ll be crying over words that each day grow more fixed in my heart. I am (by only the work of a Holy God) starting to believe them and it not only changes the way I see my God and myself, but it is shifting the way I see other people, for they are precious too. This crap practice of comparison is being poked at here–on a tram in Bratislava–and Christ ain’t gonna quit until I believe the truth. And praise God for that.

Funny How the Times Did Fly

I am approximately 19 days away from hopping on a plane to move to Europe, and part of me just wants to bury my face in the sand.

On my high school graduation night, after the whole ceremonial ordeal, I sobbed my way through the Medford countryside, taking the REALLY long way home. It had been one of the greatest years of my life, I had come into myself; exercised my thespian bone, exercised physically via cross country (an inexplicably stupid yet exponentially satisfying sport), and was surrounded by precious people.

 

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I mean, look how much fun we’re having

 

 

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Graduating with these two bonnie lasses from grade school

 

Soon though, “home” became somewhat of a foggy notion. Home began to feel like Eugene. Friendships formed like anchors in sticky mud, my eyes and my heart were opened in new ways. I didn’t even know it was possible to have people know me so well. Academically, I pounded down anthropology courses like a starving man crashing a wedding, and historic preservation studies–a concept of restoration that desperately excited me–like a rabid weasel also crashing a wedding. Most of all however, these four years saw me through a time where I began to hunger and thirst for God–whoever He was exactly–like never before. I spent spring days under trees reading C.S. Lewis, early winter mornings at diners discussing the Bible, months of wandering through parks in prayer, and summers entrusted to God in Central Europe.

Central Europe. Well, more specifically Slovakia.

 

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Year 1

 

Strange Guy, God. Remarkable though, entirely remarkable. I first visited Slovakia the summer of my freshmen year, I enjoyed it. I love high schoolers, to begin with, and enough summers spent on the Oregon Coast at Bradley has instilled in me a passionate love of all things “camp.” My parents to this day, still refer to me as the “Camp Director.” I suppose it’s better than “the Mortician” or “Dawdling Dora” which were other historically hyperbolized and occasionally accurate nicknames of mine. But nevermind that. I knew about Czechoslovakia, but I wasn’t really ever aware that they had split up, but over the course of that summer and the following year, my heart for what I shall now refer to as “the Jewel of the Europe” or “Sheepland” or “”PotatoDumplingland” or “PowerfulCheeseland” or “Decrepited-And-Numerous-Ruinsland” (still deciding on an appropriate nickname), began to grow.

I really didn’t have any plans to return anytime soon, but something about that place I couldn’t shake. I’d be thinking about a genius new way to utilize the FaceSwap app, then BLAMO, I’d be back in the Communist era school building listening to Milan talk about his country. Enjoying a Eugene rain shower on my walk home, and KABLAOW, I would remember sketching mediocre pictures of students while we laughed together. I won’t say I was haunted by it, but that was kind of how it felt. Over the months before I committing going back (a choice I made at the last possible minute) I felt a little ridiculous for holding such an affinity for some random country in Europe. I mean, what the heck could I even do there? Didn’t God need more people, in like, China? If I was going overseas, I should probably go to China.

 

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College lasses

 

Nevertheless, like an apple on a vigorously shaken tree, I was doomed to obey gravity (in this case gravity is referring to what I believe was God and His will for me to return there) (I am deeply apologetic for my terrible allegories, however I cannot nor will not stop). And so like a starfish being tugged at by an extraordinarily muscular seven-year-old, I yielded to His sticky paws (poetry, pure poetry, I’m the next freakin’ Yeats). I spent that year reading and reading and reading about Slovakia. I wanted to know about it, I was interested, and the more I learned about it, the more I developed an affection for the people, the culture, and a hope to see it restored.

Don’t get me wrong, America has her share of problems, and I LOVE the U.S. I want to be a part of its and the people’s future here, I want to see America become a place that is full of people who love God, love each other, and love the world; but something about this rascally little country kept calling me back. I spent my second summer in the pulsating heart of Europa and loved every, freaking, minute of it. On one of my last nights, I sat up on a porch watching the people pass around below, dozens of them on evening walks, and while I sat and prayed, read my Bible, and listen to Josh Garrels croon the songs from his album Home through partially busted headphones, I started to wonder. Was this where I was supposed to be?

 

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Year 2

 

God has really held my hand through this entire process, the more I loved Slovakia, the more I simultaneously loved Oregon and Eugene. I feel like I have grown to really care about the people, the hippies, vegans, rare but outspoken conservatives, militant eco-warriors, the pot smokers and the dog owners alike. It is a broken city, but I love it. It needs healing, but I have hope for it. But here I was, at a crossroads. It had been mentioned to me earlier that summer, that perhaps I could come teach at the high school. I really wasn’t too hot on the idea, but as the summer progressed and I packaged baby gift baskets, printed labels, and worked the embroidery machine for my mom’s business, I again could not shake the idea. By the time I committed to leading the Slovakia trip in 2016 (which would be my third summer there) I knew I was in danger of moving there myself.

The people, gosh I love them so much. I feel a genuine passion for seeing the Slovak people encouraged and strengthened in their walks with Jesus and their hope for their own people, their own country, and then ultimately the whole world. My hope is that God might use this country as a focal point for reaching Europe, and He certainly could. And then, in the middle of my junior year, I felt like God gave me a verse to for my time that summer:

Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.

Jeremiah 29:7

Last summer I returned with the hope that I might get an answer about whether or not I was supposed to move to the Europe’s proverbial tootsie pop chocolate center (okay that one is pushing it on the stupidity scale, but I am keeping it), and when I was there 3 things happened that made me feel very certain.

  1. I got to share my heart with a few of my Slovak friends over there, and they were really receptive and encouraging. I finally felt like they understood why I was there, and they said that I should come. I was honored.
  2. I asked God beforehand if he really wanted me to move to Slovakia, would He so kindly give me access to Mexican food. Because decent Mexican food is an urban legend in Central Europe I was really only joking, however, an authentic Mexican restaurant had just moved to downtown Bratislava.
  3. I shared my Jeremiah verse with Caro (one of the teachers at the school, she is incidentally from Mexico) and it turned out that that was her verse for Bratislava as well.

 

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Year 3

 

So here were are. A year from last summer, a year from my initial commitment to move. And I am sad. Oh, believe you me, I am also pumped out of my mind for the journey I am about to embark upon. I am so excited to see what God does in my life and in the lives of my Slovaks over the next few years–He has good things planned. For the time being though, I am sad to leave. I have done my fair share of sobbing, for several reasons, first, I am having to move and I love clothes and books (things which in large quantities don’t travel well. Secondly, I have to raise what seems like an inordinate of money in a very short amount of time (plus facilitating “financial ministry partners” is not a jolly walk in the park for me, it is humbling. More like a rattlesnake-sucking-on-your-left-ankle kind of walk in the park or a both-my-kneecaps-are-blown sort of park walk, but it is good for me). Third, and obviously the most serious, is that it is hard to leave these people because I love them too. So much.

 

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Some pretty rad foolz

 

It is a painful thing to have the people you love spread all over the world. There was a rare moment this year, when my friends from Medford, my friends from Eugene, and a friend from Slovakia sat around the same table. It was amazing, and maybe that is what heaven will be like, but for now, I shall entrust my friends to Jesus with tears in my eyes, and embark on my next adventure. From a country that I love to a country that I love.

The Quiet

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In a world of over stimulation, it is a living nightmare to have those moments of absolute quiet. The times where it is just me and my brain sorting through its disorganized filing cabinets of imagination, commercialism, nostalgia, hope, and scripture are like massive vitamin D pills that I swallow when I haven’t seen the sun for a long while and I’m feeling a little down. I’m a product of a generation whose very core is burdened with the threat of a moment of life lived un-entertained. Every minute, every second, every moment has to be filled with something to protect me from the terror of boredom. Oh, fearful phrase. And so I avoid it actively, with every turn there is a new television show to watch, a book to read, a new song to listen to, something, anything to resurrect my imagination from its hibernation (while I meanwhile don’t have to do anything but absorb).

Today I ask the question, is absorbing enough? Is there something to be said about staring at a blank wall or the ceiling and not letting something else direct my thoughts? To step away from the constant stream of entertainment is an alluring, but often a terribly impractical thing to do. How often I just want a silent evening to walk with only the singing birds to keep me company, but turn to a cacophony of buzzing music and chronic email checking. The Sabbath is a dusty thing on my shelf that I remove without enough frequency or joy. For me, this pulling away from the noise and the craziness to seek what I identify as both truth and rest is a precious fire extinguisher that rests in a “Break in Case of Emergency” box in a back closet somewhere. I find myself at integral times sprinting for the extinguisher when I accidentally create a metaphorical grease fire, praying that it’s not out of date.

More than a few times have I collapsed in a pile of tears after promptly refusing to slow down. Who says I shouldn’t fill every waking minute with people to meet, educational documentaries to watch, or bills to pay. If I can’t rest until it’s all done, I’m never gonna rest–and I’M NOT EVEN THAT BUSY! I know from the 30,000 older people that have told me, you will only get busier as you go along. Restraint is something I must learn now, or I will be in hot water when life really kicks it up a notch. I am not sure if this is a new phenomenon, but it seems like the people in my generation tend to be absorbed in busyness. We bury ourselves in school work (or our jobs) and our social lives that we don’t have a second of availability to think or breathe, or for me, flood with spontaneity. The last term I was planning get-togethers with friends 3 weeks in advance–for someone that thrives on spontaneity and feels like planning is drinking poison, it was very frustrating. Over the last few years, I have developed some tactics to keep myself from going crazy, but it never seems like quite enough. It is only during the long summer days of working with my hands without music, people, or podcast to distract me this sort of rest is experienced.

During the school year I have to actively work to get this head space, on my walk home from school sometimes I’ll turn it all off (though often I’ll use\ that time to respond to people’s text messages and emails) but often being tired from the day I don’t want to entertain myself. I deeply enjoy life, all of these things I’ve mentioned above from meeting with people to podcasts are things that bring me immense joy, but too much of a good thing really does seem to have consequences on a person’s spirit. I mean, God often notes in His Word the importance of rest.
I guess this is just a way for me to process what I am experiencing and perhaps grow and change my way of living to more reflect the way we were made to function (anthropologists would even argue for the human race’s history of rest). I have found that during the times I make space for the seemingly unreachable quiet I encounter something; someone much grander and more wonderful than I could have hoped. I make it out to be such a difficult thing to rest, but it’s not, it is a choice, plain and simple. Stepping away from the noise and choosing to reside in a quiet place is costly because, in a land where time is money and your value as a person is seemingly dictated by how many things you check off your to-do list, this practice opposes it at its core, but it is worth it.

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Wonders

One way that I relax is by taking a walk. I am lucky enough to have access to a car and about a half a dozen beautiful places I can drive to in 15 minutes to get completely out in the woods. Part of me wonders if it is some primeval necessity to be out in the woods running around, even if that’s not the case I cannot deny myself the joy that comes from glancing up through the canopy as rain drizzles through the cracks or closing my eyes as sun shines through the trees at dusk.

I always find this pull to nature the strongest during times of added stress. It is one of the mechanisms that I utilize to reassert my perspective that there is a big world and a bigger God that supersedes the “big” things in life. This week it is finals, another week might be taking a social hiatus to examine my heart, or sometimes I just need to think about Jane Austen. So after spending 3 and a half hours in Denny’s writing, and another few hours taking a final, I was inconsolably ready to go.

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My new favorite place to hike is Elijah Bristow State Park. It is almost always completely empty of people and while its trails are well organized, they are almost swamp like in the winter, so they comes with the guarantee that I’ll be getting muddy. If I am being honest, the mud is a main selling point for me. There is something so satisfying about clopping around in the mud. The main issue for the park’s maintenance team (I’d imagine at least) is that a few of their trails have been completely washed away by the river. I am genuinely astonished about how much water it on the trails. There are a few sections I am learning to avoid because they are several inches full of murky water.

I was walking along the riparian path (amongst the most flooded) when I came to an impassible section of trail. I decided to turn back, but I saw that there was a little side path right up to the bank, and as I walked up to the river, I saw some sort of brown creature burst out of the brush and sprint across the path. “Otter?” I wondered aloud. I love otters.

As I approached the bank my mind was irrevocably directed to that moment Judges when Gideon was assembling his army to go fight the terrifying Midianites. He first tells everyone who is afraid to go home and the army of 22,000 drops to 10,000, and then they get to the river and God tells Gideon to send home anyone who laps like a dog from the river or kneels to drink, and that leaves him with 300 men. I have always read this story and been frustrated with why God decides to send people home because of this. The point of the story is clearly that God’s power is not dictated by our strength or our cleverness. He is the One that runs the show. And one of the things that makes Him so fascinating. He likes to stun us. A wonder is wonderful because it is unexplainable, shocking, incomprehensible . The reason this story irks me just a touch, is that I would HATE to be one of the ones that gets sent home.

I found myself reflecting on my weaknesses. I am not the smartest, the strongest, the most charismatic, the wisest, the “Godliest,” the kindest, or the most self-sacrificing. SO what would make God choose me? What do I have not offer? Answer: nothing.

Remarkably though, God sees it fit to hamper His army to reveal His glory. God, I want to be a part of the adventure, and if my weakness is a necessity for revealing Your glory, then make me the weakest of them all. Can you believe that? God actually takes our weaknesses to show the world His strength and power. That is what Paul is talking about when he says, And He has said to me,

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2nd Corinthians 12:9)

The thing that sent the majority of Gideon’s army home was fear. The opposite of fear? Faith, baby; its faith. I scooped up some water in my hands and flecked it onto my face (I didn’t drink it because I don’t want river cancer). I want to be a part of God’s wonders. I don’t need to be afraid of anything, my O.G. is the baddest (goodest?) Son on the planet. Oh that my weakness could be center stage for people to see God’s majesty.

At that point, I felt tempted to pray to see that brown little creature again. At first I was like “this is stupid, I don’t wanna just ‘test God,'” but then I was like, “hey, I can actually pray for anything I like.” I asked God to let me catch a glimpse of the animal. I waited for a bit, he didn’t come back after a few minutes so I started walking away from the bank and back to the main path. I turned around right before bank was out of my sight. Suddenly I saw movement. The little otter was running through the reeds towards me, it took a while because I was far away at that point. He ran all the way up to me, came out of the brush and we just stared at each other for several long seconds. My mouth was wide open as the little otter stood there just a few feet away. “No way! Thank You God!” After those few seconds the otter backed up and ran to the river, I watched until he disappeared.

“But as for me, I would seek God,
And I would place my cause before God;
 Who does great and unsearchable things,
Wonders without number.”

Job 5:8-9

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Here what an otter looks like–I had to confirm that this is what I saw. It was indeed.