The Visa

But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
    Cush and Seba in your stead.
Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
    and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
    nations in exchange for your life.

Isaiah 43

Here is my compilation of posts from start to finish that will serve to document what happened in August and September of 2017. God did some wild stuff in my life (I am still sort of reeling from what happened, so this is also a way for me to process). So, to share my joy, proclaim God’s grace, and for me to remember and hold to His faithfulness, here is: THE VISA

August 29th

My first two weeks are done and I am now starting my third (its a home office week so we work from home). Next week is when it all officially starts–the teaching anyway. I have a few prayer requests, but the most pressing at the moment it for my visa.

My FBI background check took forever to go through, so because of that, we are just now able to start my visa application process. All of the paperwork has been collected and I’ll be going to the foreign police tomorrow (usually an all day thing to my understanding) however once I am approved and my visa is processing I will only have about 3 weeks to stay before I’ll be here illegally (the 22nd of September is the day I am officially done). There are several ways this goes down:
A) I get my visa back before the three weeks are up and I can legally stay! Possible, however unlikely.
B) I stay illegally until I get my visa. If I keep
My head down and don’t travel, I might be able to swing it. But if I’m caught, I’m banned for 5 years–no questions asked.
C) the third option is to go to one of the countries that aren’t a part of the 90 day visa that I am on–so the UK, Croatia, and Romania are options. I’d leave a few days before my visa expires to have a buffer so as to come back and get my visa.

if you have any questions I am happy to answer them, please be praying for our team, and that’s we make the wisest decision. Right now Mike is looking into me staying with someone in the U.K.

 

August 30th

6:00am–Mike and I are at the foreign police as we speak! Please pray that they accept our paperwork!!

7:30am— Update: we have been here for a few hours already and they are just now letting people in, however, we discovered that there was a list that they created last night, so when we got to the front of the line they turned us away because we weren’t on it. However, we are standing next to the door, hoping to get in as soon as the list is finished. Hopefully, it will be today!

9:00am— Okay, good news: I don’t have to wait all day at the police station

Bad news: that is because they ran out of numbers. The next day the station is open is on Monday–when school starts. We are trying to look into a few options, but the visa will have to be shelved for the next few days.

This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it! His lovingkindness is everlasting, and He is good. Holding onto Psalm 118 this morning, and praise God I don’t feel too terribly discouraged.

Not totally sure what the next steps are, but Zuzka from the school is amazing and is helping me. It is looking pretty likely that I’ll be taking a month off a few weeks into the school year to wait out my visa outside of the eurozone. I’ll continue to keep you guys updated! Thanks for the encouraging messages.

September 7th

Tomorrow is round two at the foreign police! I’d appreciate your prayers for endurance, patience, a good attitude, and a friendly person behind the counter!

September 8th

6:00am–So we checked for a list around 11pm last night, and there was no list. But got here at 5, talked to some people and it turns out there is now a list. Please, please pray that I get in today. It is looking a little bleak as there are a lot of people ahead of me.

 

 8:00am–They have run out of tickets, but Zuzka and I are waiting to see if we might be able to sneak in, otherwise, I’ll have to come back
 9:00am–There is a group of about thirty of us waiting by the ticket machine for a number. The way it works is they will issue a certain number of these tickets (about as many as they think they can get through in the hours they are open) and then the machine will not print anymore. If the people get through enough of us it will print some more. Zuzka asked me to stay for another hour, however, if I don’t get in, I’ll go next week with the Rotary students.

At this point I am feeling pretty frustrated, it sounds like in order to get in you literally have to stay the night here, because at some point (at an undisclosed time) a police officer will come and take down names, but after that you have to stay to avoid losing your place in line. There are also no bathrooms for people. I feel angry for the people who don’t have the opportunity to leave for the U.K. for an almost-vacation and come back, there are a lot of people whose stakes are a lot higher than mine. These people by the machine are frantically pushing the button to get a ticket. This is tough, team.

11:00am–No dice today, I was feeling pretty bummed, however, I am feeling better after a good cry in the park. A toddler on a bike stopped short about 10 feet from me, he pointed (which as first I thought he was pointing because I was indiscreetly crying through sunglasses, but then he just held up his hand and waved his fingers and said “Ahoj!!” He stayed there (demanding that I wave back) while his mom called after him.

 

So the things I can be grateful for today:
I made a Russian friend in line today, and she only spoke Slovak but we could communicate
The salad in my stomach
That Ecclesiastes demands that I don’t find satisfaction in my job or my accomplishments, and sometimes crap just happens that you can’t control.
All the people here (and at home) that are helping me

It’ll be okay, and once I snag some sleep I think I’ll have a newer, clearer perspective.

 

September 18th
Hi guys! Looks like tomorrow is round 3 at the foreign police–please pray I get in. I will be leaving for the UK (or maybe Albania or Ukraine) this Friday or Saturday. Still a lot of uncertainty right now, I could use some encouragement  Thanks for praying!
September 19th
7:45am–And once again they are out of tickets, I’ll again wait for another few hours to see if the machine turns back on, but it looks like I will try again tomorrow 
8:00am–So, tomorrow night is a thunderstorm, but it is one of my last chances to submit my paperwork so I might be camping in the ☔️

Good thing I love you Slovakia

 

9:00am— Fantastic news! I have made a friend! Her name is Kate, and she is a Belarusian student, and we will stay the night together at the police office! I am thankful to not have to go alone! I am feeling encouraged!
9:50pm–Got here at 9:50–already tons of people here. I am 49th on the list, I have to stay here all night in order to hold my place, but I think is unlikely I will get in. Feeling very frustrated!!
September 20th
7:00am–S/o to Mike and Janka who brought cocoa and tea, sweets and sandwiches throughout the night. You’re the real MVPs!
Also–I have neglected showing photographic evidence of “the sitch” so here you are–it looks worse than I think is, it is two lines, and I am at the middle point
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8:00am–Nope, not today. I have one more shot on Friday, or else I’m out 90 days. Bit of a mess, today is a day of heartbreak
9:00pm–Thank you guys for all your encouraging words–I may have cried more tears and dropped a few more swear words (sorry) than I would like to admit in the last 24 hours, but if anything, I am stunned at the ways people have shown me kindness. I am more than ever resolved to press on, because when I think over that critical question: is it worth it to stay here even though this part bites? I am continually coming up with the same answer: yes, yes it is.Thanks for loving me through my tears (especially Zuzka and her husband–oh my gosh, that was when I both at my most tired and most emotional), I have not been the picture of gracious suffering, but God doesn’t need me to be, and I am glad for that. We shall press on!

Dusan (the principal) is calling all sorts of people, they are attempting to extend my visa for a few days so I can hopefully file my papers. If the process doesn’t get started, that is when we will be in hot water.

Apparently tomorrow at the school there is going to be some sort of rally to garner a physical presence of students at the foreign office. Dusan painted a mental picture of having 30 or so students perhaps staying the night with me in front. I must admit, being this much the center of attention is a bit mortifying. My pride just wishes I could solve this myself and not draw a bunch of attention because of it, but as these things go, that is not the case. I hope if anything, maybe some of the other people might feel encouraged.

Okay, that is all for now  Resting in Philippians 4, crying when I need to, and setting my heart and mind on the bigger picture and seeing the joy therein.

One last thing: my friend who I met at the foreign office–the one who stayed last night as well, is AMAZING. Like, I actually see us being really, really good friends. She, even after staying there all night, has offered to come back and wait for part of the time with me tomorrow. Who knows what God is up to? But since relationships are my most precious possessions, I feel really blessed!

 

September 21st

5:00pm–So today is a crazy day! I am again at the police station–number 14 on the list!! There will be students visiting me all through the night–some staying with me until dawn, I just got interviewed for Slovakia’s largest tv network–haha, what is happening?

6:45pm–Possibly on a list!!! Like the OFFICIAL list!! Don’t know for sure–the police say it is not the list, but they video taped all of us (our faces) and checked our passports–they say the will come back every once and a while to check and see if we are still here, so we will see!!

8:30pm–This is insane!! There is a TV crew here–also like 15 students, well, this is an adventure! Who knows what God is doing!!

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11:30pm–Because of the media attention, it sounds like there is a small chance they might approve my visa tomorrow–crazy!
September 22nd
11:30am–I apologize for the delays, my phone died about 4 in the morning, some details are still unknown but I can tell you things are looking very positive for my visa. If anything, the paperwork is submitted and my fingerprinting is done.The past 24 hours were some of the most bizarre and wonderful of my entire life, I will now recap to the best of my ability:

Thursday

10:50- Dusan (the principal) calls an assembly and asks students to join me for the night, as well as come to the foreign police in the morning to show solidarity. I am embarrassed at first and then encouraged and shocked at the student’s response…

12:00- I teach a lesson I call “literary terminology yoga” (it didn’t go great)

1:00- I write a letter to the American ambassador while eating a mustard sandwich.

2:30-I get together with Steph, Caro, and Gabika and we pray for my visa, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. Isaiah 43, when God is talking about moving nations and giving others as a random for me sticks out.

3:30- I and a crew get to the police station and get my name on a list–number 14.Most of the students are sophomores who don’t even know me but just wanted to show support.

5:00- I get a call from Dusan saying a guy from one of the news networks wants to come interview me–I nervously say yes.

6:00- There are about 30 people waiting now, and several police officers burst through the door and demand we line up with our passports. They write our names down, what we are doing there, and then they film our faces with a camcorder. One officer tells the girls I am with that if they see anyone cutting in line and they tell him, he will move us to the front.
The officer also dramatically destroys the list in front of us, shouting: NO LIST!

7:00- Students begin the flood in to join me. At one point there are about 15. Helenka also comes and somewhat of a party begins. A guitar is brought out, pizza is ordered, and laughter and dancing ensue. Helenka makes a note that this environment is oddly reminiscent of a Serbian refugee camp.

9:00- Dusan alerts me that another news crew is on its way. They arrive with at least 3 massive cameras and bright lights. They film and interview as many people as they can. The anchor Darius, is very kind and says he’ll be back later to film more.

10:00- Matej Hadvab brings a table, Niki and Viktor bring some soup (and teach me some Hungarian), Samo brings a double bass (still not totally sure while), and Maria and Sara bring a boom box. We have now properly set up camp.

10:30- I see a man lurking in the corner of my eye, he keeps on wandering out of the little shelter and back in again. Eventually, he comes over and tells me he is a reporter for a newspaper. He asks for an interview, and then he asks if I am aware that the Minister of the Interior offered to let me in there and then if the media went away. No way in heck!

11:00- I make a bathroom/coffee run and Zuzka runs over a curb.

Friday

12:00- A formidable force of teachers join me on the front lines and Darius the newsman returns with maybe more cameras. Janinka and David give a great interview and my colleagues prove evermore more wonderful. Caro dances in the background of an interview Sierra delivers in perfect Slovak.

2:00- Discussing the American legacy of reality television with Sierra and students and Malaysia with Caro.

3:30- Pass out on a mat in front to the building.

4:15- Wake to bright camera lights in my face for a moment, and then they are taken away. I see my friend Martin waving to me, and then I fell back asleep.

4:30-People start panicking about getting in (because most of the people have been waiting all night, but the list was destroyed, so those who came after six are furious because they felt they should be closer. A tired and angry Ukrainian man makes a few punches at a Brazilian man.

5:00- The people in the line noticed the camera attention I was getting through the night and for some reason look to me to explain things rationally to angry people in English.

5:15- I befriend the angry Ukrainian man, and we give solemn nods to each other for the rest of the day.

6:00- Students and teachers begin to show up, I am offered cake after cake after cake, and a cup of tea after cup of tea after cup of tea.

6:30- People in the line begin to get restless. I befriend 4 Filipino men who work as truck drivers. They seemed to be above the panic. I also am surrounded by Caro, Marian, Katka, and Miska. They keep me company while I am crowded in line. And Miska talks with stars in her eyes about our revolution.

7:00- More students show up, more cameras show up. The people in line are both intrigued and also nervous as to whether or not they will get in. I am sort of just stunned at this point. As far as I can see, there are about 70-80 students and teachers (probably more than the people in line) waiting there for me. Winking, nodding, waving, and telling me that we are going to do it.

7:30- The police are having trouble handling the rowdy crowd, there are huge cameras looking at them and then switching back to the line–it doesn’t good great for them.

8:00-I make it inside the building. Finally, after 15 long hours of waiting, and I hear literal cheers from outside. I take number 313 and await my fate.

8:30- I befriend another Ukrainian and he spends several minutes trying to convince me that Bill Clinton was the best president ever and Monica Lewinski was a scam. Afterwards he makes eye contact with me across the room and mouths “I love you”

9:00- Zuzka and I make it to the office. The lady looks carefully at every piece of paper Zuzka hand her. Asking a different colleague for everyone. It is agonizing, but then she accepts it.

10:00- I get fingerprinted and have my picture taken. THE PAPERWORK IS DONE!!!

10:15- I get simultaneously interviewed by 3 different newscasters, there were actually like 3 of those foam mics in front of me. I cry when talking about what the school did and Darius makes them turn the cameras off.

10:30- Mike and Steph pull me aside and tell me that it sounds like the head of the police has just called Dusan to tell him that not only has my visa been accepted, but I am free to stay.

I should tell you guys–this doesn’t happen here… I cannot thank you enough for the ways you have encouraged me and pushed me to trust God even when it didn’t make sense.

I am stunned, I am tired, and I am thankful. What a wonderful way for God to show His power in my life, and His love for me through the love of you all.

11:30- Home, and it is time to sleep.

Links to newscasts:

https://domov.sme.sk/c/20655688/prisla-ucit-anglictinu-pre-policiu-takmer-nedostala-viza.html

https://www.noviny.sk/slovensko/261420-ucitelka-anglictiny-z-usa-nocuje-pred-cudzineckou-policiou-aby-sa-dostala-k-vizam

6:00pm–Thank you guys for keeping up with me and praying for me! Final update for now–my visa is technically taking longer to process, but I CAN STAY!!

They have granted me extra time in the Schengen, which just doesn’t happen. I emailed the US consul on Thursday about my situation and they said that there was no way that I could stay and that I would for sure have to leave.

This is for real a miracle. Praise Jesus!

 

September 25th

9:00am–We might have celebrated a little early, we are still waiting for either my special exception to stay or my fully processed visa. I will find out in the next 2-3 hours if I can stay or not–they need to give me a paper by this afternoon. If they don’t, it is likely that I’ll have to leave for just a week or two. So, the drama continues. But I am optimistic!

11:00am–Okay–more drama is ensuing. The police had accepted my papers on Friday, but they had told us today that there is a problem (we don’t know what the problem is), if they accept the papers they are not supposed to change it. But it isn’t likely a mistake on their end, they might have accepted papers should not have, or something got lost, I have no idea, haha.

And in other news, the website I used to calculate my 90 days didn’t count the first day, so I am officially illegal today (we just discovered this like 10 minutes ago). This is really bad, please pray that the system will have mercy on me, because as of now, I am in the wrong because, while I had verbal assurance from the higher-ups that I could stay, I don’t have any legal documentation so I might be in trouble.

Now, according to Dušan, since this story ran on all 3 major networks and was literally all over Facebook, they believe about 1 million people have seen it (that information makes me want to go hide). The media will be here in about an hour, and they will be announcing my fate. Please pray for strength and for God’s will to be done.

12:15–Also they had a brief assembly, and some students brought out this sign, and I was given flowers

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 1:00pm–I have just received a call from the foreign police, I am to come at 2 to the back door and ask for someone called Tomčo.This is basically a political thriller. Our principal, Dušan, is literally amazing.

We don’t know if I am getting my visa or not at two, however, we are prepped to buy a ticket to London for tonight.

4:00pm–Finally, the case is put to rest! I can officially stay! They broke out some legislation from back when it was Czechoslovakia to do it, but I am here!

I am officially a tourist so I will not be able to work until I have my visa, but I will hopefully have it within the next two weeks!

Also, they got me 🌸 🌺🌹
And, another fun fact, in the news, they have been calling this case: Kramerova vs. Slovakia

Weird life, man. I am glad it is over, I am pretty tired, and I am thankful for everyone who kept encouraging me and for God and His word which was my daily hope to cling to! We made It! So, now the real work begins (well, soon anyway)

 

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Fin (for now)

Patience, Young Grasshopper, Patience: Present Concerns as Told Through Liz Lemon

So, things aren’t going quite as planned. I’ll give you the quick and dirty version: my FBI background check was late in arriving in Slovakia so applying for my visa was pushed back. The foreign police office is super backed up right now, and August and September are apparently the busiest months for applying, so I have tried twice so far to get my application started–this means getting up at 4:30 and standing in a line until the office opens at 7:30, and then waiting another few hours to find out if I can get a ticket to see someone.

But I haven’t gotten a golden ticket yet, so though I have all my paperwork (which they will hopefully accept the first time), I have yet to apply. The reason this has been particularly frustrating is that my 90 days in the Schengen ( a coalition of EU countries where you can stay 90 in a 180 period) is up on the 25th of September. To stay, I need my visa in my hand by the 25th, however, the office can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months processing the request. So that is my mess: it is the 9th of September, and I haven’t even begun my application process.

I’ll use Liz Lemon to express my range of emotions:

Firstly, I am frustrated because I want to stay here and I can’t control the outcome of this situation by myself.

Secondly, I am learning to celebrate the small victories, learning a new Slovak word, deftly communicating with a service person, and remembering a student’s name from a few years ago. Rejoicing in the good things cannot be neglected!

Thirdly, I am seeing that I have some inherent issues with waiting. I was reading C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape letters this morning, and the passage that stood out to me was when the Wormwood is telling Screwtape to make sure the patient doesn’t see his present suspense and anxiety about the future as the real burden to hand over to God, but rather the event that the patient is worried about itself. I can see that I need to give these moments of an undecided fate (and the worry and frustration that accompany them) more recognition as perhaps my bigger battle, and I need to entrust them to God with the expectation of His help.

Fourthly, I am a little excited at the prospect of going to the birth place of Harry Potter. I mean, if I leave, I am being literally forced to go on vacation where all of my favorite writers are from.

Fifthly, I am sad because I want to teach. I am sure there are more tears yet to come, I am mourning my displaced excitement.

Sixthly, I am unsure how to start making plans for the near future. Do I buy a plane ticket to Romania, Croatia, or the UK? Do I try and do a Workaway program? My funds are pretty limited as I didn’t work all summer, and I haven’t received my first paycheck from the school, (my fundraised Nav money will be primarily untouchable for IRS reasons while I am gone, so it will definitely be an experience in living frugally–but I am looking forward to that actually). I need some help figuring it out, and I need to be patient. This GIF is how I feel like my planning process is going at the moment, but once I know a little more and I give God some time and space to speak into my life (and also listen to the wiser-than-me people around me), I think it will be alright. There are just so many options being thrown at me, I feel a bit overwhelmed. AND, there could still be a freak miracle (not entirely unheard of when working with Jesus) and I’d get to stay and teach.

Seventhly, I really, really like these kids. I never thought I’d love working with high schoolers so much, but I do. Maybe there is a life calling in this somewhere.

Whatever happens next, it’ll be okay, and I know I’ll learn a lot during this process–which is what I was hoping for anyway!

Ja Rozumiem, Well Kinda…

For years I thought I was going to be a linguist. I fell deeply in love with Spanish and soon after Spanish, it was French. I loved studying it, so much so that I was entirely prepared to devote my life to it. However, before I graduated I took a Statistics class that changed my world, I started down another path thinking: “statistics are where it’s at for me!” Little did I know (as I did practically no research on my university beforehand) the school I attended did not have a focus on stats, and two terms into their math program showed me I had made a terrible mistake. Around that time, I had tried my hand at Korean. I am not sure if it was the timing or just the difficulty of the language, but I REALLY didn’t enjoy it, so I took a step back and decided to pursue anthropology–and that was the one that stuck. I tell you

I tell you this because I hadn’t really thought much about studying a language again. I mean, everyone always makes those offhanded remarks about finally putting their high school Spanish to good use, but does anyone actually do that? Now, however, I have the privilege of living in another country. Most Slovaks have looked at my morosely and reminded me how difficult the language is, but I think I can learn it. It might be ignorant confidence, but my hours in Slovak class and the times I can catch what someone is saying as they pass by me have once more ignited my love of language.

One of my prayer requests for people has been that they would pray for the language to stick, and so far I have had these wonderful moments of insight. Whether it is talking to someone on the bus, asking for a key, communicating to a waiter, yea I might sound like a child, but I am learning! And it feels so good!

I am looking forward to all the ways I will continue to be stretched. Some days I feel like I still can’t say anything, and other days I feel competent, no matter how I feel though, I know it is a special gift to be here.

Garden Boxes

IMG_3074Behind Mike and Steph’s apartment building (where I made my home for the first month and a half of my stay here in Slovakia) there is a block of buildings that look a lot like little garden boxes. I would sit on the back porch watching the people hang up their laundry, water their plants, sunbath, read, barbeque, and sip wine in the evenings. Each of the boxes (the porch parts of their flats) were like individual ecosystems that were governed and gardened by that particular family. Each had their own style. Some older women would spend hours on their back porches smoking cigarettes. Others were almost always vacant. SOme porches were full of plants and flowers, some were just used for hanging laundry. Some were organized, some in chaos.

I think I will find out what my little garden box would look like. These last few months have been really precious to me. I have had so much time to myself to really think, really consider what I value, really challenge myself to see what I’m like. Since so many of my friends have been away from this summer and I have had to do a lot of things by myself–including living alone for the first time–I think I am learning more about myself than I have before. One thing I have noticed especially in this last year is how hard I work at pleasing other people. It has been an interesting challenge to go shopping and think, okay, what do I want to eat? What movie do I want to see? When I wake up in the morning and have nothing planned for a whole day, how do I want to spend it? WHen I have no responsibilities, what sounds like fun? What makes me uncomfortable? How do I relax? How do I motivate myself to do things when they aren’t scheduled in? Do I need a schedule to accomplish things? To ask myself these questions and not have someone to give me their thoughts has allowed me to make choices that were wholly mine.

I am so glad to have my friends back in town, I am thrilled to be starting work (something that I knew already but was proved to me again this summer is that I NEED to have something to keep my mind and body busy), but I am grateful to God for these quiet months of soul searching. I haven’t been so well rested for years, and I am eager for life to kick up into full gear, but I feel like I am more in tune with myself and my needs than ever before. I know that taking a walk in the evening will help me sleep and will relax me, I know I prefer talking to God in the morning (for years I always did it at night), I learned that sometimes I really do need a to do list, and that it takes me a while to start my day, but once I get going I can go all day. I don’t like napping, I love eating out (but really only with people), if I start watching youtube I will not choose to stop and read a book, I like to sit down and eat breakfast, and I have to always be doing something creative, whether writing, drawing, finding weird pictures to send people, or just dreaming about fun lesson plans. That’s just the beginning, I know this will be a year of a lot of growth. This year I am holding firmly onto Isaiah 58:

“And the LORD will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.”

I know that Jesus will continue to enrich my life in the ways which only He can, and He will continue to show me more and more who I am, both my quirks and who I am in Him.

Below are some pictures from my stay in Marianka, a little village outside of Bratislava. I was house sitting for a family and got to hang out with a dog all week. It was amazing.

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In the backyard there was a gate that led out to a field and a path for walks.

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Another thing I’ve learned, I really love flowers. Especially sunflowers.

IMG_3140IMG_3134IMG_3129IMG_3123I will own a pair of crocs or else my name is not Miranda Jo Cramer.

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Actual garden box by row of apartments that look like garden boxes.

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.

 

highscho

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.

 

yer1slo

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?

 

mehslo

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.

 

meandslovak

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.

 

eugme

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.