Love and vulnerability

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” -C. S. Lewis (The Four Loves)

Ok, so I know it’s kind of a long quote. And I wasn’t sure when I was thinking through this blog if I wanted to start or end with it. But I think that starting with it will help me, and maybe you, digest more of it. I love C.S. Lewis. He has some really great writings. This quote in particular has been on my mind since Sunday when I was in Sibiu and the pastor there spoke about love. He mentioned this quote, and while it wasn’t the first time I had heard it, it’s stuck with me. I think there might be a couple of reasons why.

First, recently I’ve seen firsthand how painful love can be. Recently, several extended family members of mine have passed away. And while they were not immediate family, I still feel the pain of loss. But more than that I am observing the pain of loss in others who knew them better than I. This pain truly is a result of love. These people were loved well and although we do not grieve as those who have no hope, we feel the pain of loss because of the love we gave.

I also feel the pain of distance quite keenly right now. Christmas is in just a few days, and this is the first time I will spend it completely away from family. I love my family, and that makes this distance painful at times. One of my very good friends got married this past weekend, and I couldn’t attend the wedding. I felt the pain of distance in that moment. But weddings happen in America everyday, and even weddings of people I kind of know, it’s no big deal. But when I miss a beautiful moment like that from someone I love, there is some pain. Finally, seeing the people I love grieve loss makes it difficult for me to be so far from them. To not be able to comfort and show love in this time is painful.

One more example: I’m a social worker. I hear stories of trauma all the time. When I worked as a social worker in the States, there was some distance from the pain of those stories. While I still cared deeply about my clients and the pain they faced, it’s different when it’s your friends. Now, living in Romania, I’ve heard some extremely painful stories that my friends here have experienced. While I don’t know the pain they know, hearing the injustices they’ve faced brings me pain because I love them. To love is to be open to hurt.

The Bible talks about this idea too. The verse that immediately pops into my head is in Romans 12. Romans 12:9-21 is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. Definitely worth looking up (shameless plug:)) but at the end of this passage that describes the actions and marks of a true Christian, it says “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God.” Now, this might not seem to connect much to what I have been talking about, but bear with me. What is avenging yourself? Is it not ultimately an act of selfishness? Someone did something that hurts me, so I need to protect myself, I need to “make it right” and what does Lewis say about this? To protect oneself from hurt is to wrap oneself up in selfishness. Love, at it’s core, is unselfish. It is giving of oneself. Even when it hurts. Even when it means you’re on the other side of the world during good and bad happenings back home. Even when it means hearing stories that hurt. Even when it means making yourself vulnerable to someone who could reject or hurt you.

Even when it means giving up your glory and majesty to become the most vulnerable for a people who would hate you, malign you, eventually kill you. Even though they themselves were the guilty ones. Love takes that pain, and instead of dulling it with strong drink, refuses the sponge offered. Because love KNOWS that to love is to be vulnerable. And to keep loving is to feel pain. Feel it fully. Because Love endures all things for the object of His affection. And we, the ones receiving affection, are called to do the same.

So this Christmas season, in the midst of the love you share with your family, your friends, those closest to you, remember the Love of your creator. The truest example of love we have. Who became the most vulnerable, an infant, in order to love us so perfectly. And when the love you give makes you hurt, remember the pain He felt, and the pain He calls us to feel. Do not harden your heart in the casket of your selfishness, but dare to feel the pain of vulnerability. And let the Balm of Gilead (Jesus;)) heal that pain in whatever way He chooses.

A Thankfulness That Lasts

It’s THANKSGIVING!!!!! Or at least this week it will be. For those that don’t know, thanksgiving is my second favorite holiday (behind Easter, and yes, in front of Christmas.) and this year, I have SO MANY things to be thankful for. But this season has gotten me thinking. Thinking about what I am thankful for. But also thinking about why I can be thankful and what that means.

I think in this season for me it’s really easy to think about all of the good things in life. To think about the easy things in life right now. I know the holidays do not always lend to this kind of thinking for most people, after all, hospitals see a significant uptick in domestic violence and elder abuse cases this time of year. But for me, the holidays are usually a season of busyness (which if you know me, I LOVE being busy) a season of time with friends and family (which is also a blessing for me, and I know it’s not always one others enjoy as much as I do) , and a time to celebrate all that the Lord has done for me.

And that’s my sticking point today. All that the Lord has DONE for me. Don’t get me wrong, the Lord does do so many good things. So many wonderful, transient things. Wow, that took a cynical turn. All of these things, good things that God gives us, can also be lost. We can lose family members, our health can deteriorate, our living situation can be disrupted. All of these things we think about and are thankful for and even hope for in this season are not guaranteed. So where does that leave us? Do we stress endlessly about when we will lose someone or something close to us? Do we live in ignorance about change and become blindsided with grief when our circumstances change?

No. Not if our true thanks is in the right place. At least that’s what I’m coming to learn. A question that I heard in my devotion time this morning: do I want the Lord himself more than I want all of the good things He gives me? The example on my heart today: if the Lord said no to me being in Romania, would I still rejoice in Him? Would I be able to thank Him even if this were gone? I know, kind of a downer for the week of thanksgiving.

But not actually. Because here’s the thing, Jesus is better than Romania. Wow, weird sentence right? Like on the one hand, obviously Jesus is better, He’s better than everything! But on the other, there’s something different about being specific about this. And there’s something different about saying it about good things. Like it’s so easy to say Jesus is better than covid, or Jesus is better than immigration (that’s basically become a curse word to me). But when I sit down and look at all of the wonderful things, can I honestly say Jesus is better than all of them? Can I say with my heart, if I lost everything, if I lost family, friends, music, frisbee, yes, even Romania, would He be enough for me to be overflowing with joy?

If the answer to that is honestly no, then maybe I need to recenter my life on Him. I recently read the Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer (highly recommend, shameless plug) and in this book he stresses that what we think about God is the most important part of who we are, the most important part of our theology, the most important thing we could ever think about. Which leads me to ask, do I believe that the Lord is better than the gifts He has given me? Am I living as if that is true?

But I don’t want to leave you on that *slightly uncomfortable* note, even though I think it’s sometimes important to be uncomfortable as that most often leads to growth. I want to leave you with this: what joy we can have knowing that when we do find our joy in Christ, there is NOTHING that can shake it. Like seriously, nothing. Because He is constant. Always. We can be thankful for the good things he gives is, but thankfulness for him himself is something different. It’s something we can depend on. It’s something that gives us joy and hope and peace even when the other things we are thankful for are shaken. So this thanksgiving, I’m thankful most of all for the Lord. Because he is good, he is with me, and that brings me a thankfulness that lasts.

Designed to Create

Well, I think I’ve officially settled into life here, and that’s a truly wonderful thing. As I sit on the windowsill outside of my room with the warm October sun shining on my face, I realize it’s time to share again. 🙂 it’s been six weeks (or just over) since I landed here in Romania, and life is settling in to a new normal for me.

I’m definitely busier than I was when I posted last month, I am actively working with several NGO’s and with the churches here in Romania, but there’s still a lot of unstructured time. (I hesitate to call it free time because there is work to do, but there’s not a lot of guidance on when where or how to do it, which I am learning to appreciate.)

As I was thinking about what to share, several things came to mind, but I think today I really want to encourage you with some of the joys I have experienced here, even as Romania is approaching another lockdown due to skyrocketing Covid numbers (something I would appreciate prayers for as we all are trying to navigate this well.)

Anyways, the joys I want to discuss can be summed up in one word: creativity. I have had so much space to be creative this past month, to make things, organize things, bring people together in different ways, and I’m so incredibly thankful for it. Here’s just a few examples: 1) I started crocheting again. I’ve been making scarves, hats, and blankets for myself and others and it’s been so fun to try to make new things. 2) Baking. I currently live in a hotel/community center with three other young adults, and we spend quite a bit of time together. But my favorite thing that we have done together is bake. Romanian dishes (the picture from this post is of us rolling Sarmale, a DELICIOUS traditional Romanian food), American dishes, whatever we feel like at the moment (today I took a whole pumpkin and made roasted pumpkin seeds and pumpkin purée to use for later recipes because canned pumpkin doesn’t exist here:)) 3) Crafting. I have become the point person for all things crafts with kids for two different NGO’s here and I have absolutely loved it! 4) Art. A friend here talked me into trying my hand at painting and drawing again, and while I’m not exactly where I used to be with it, I’m enjoying picking up an old hobby. 5) Hair and makeup. Another friend loves to have her hair and makeup done…for some reason by me😂 while I enjoy doing hair, I’ve never considered myself an expert, but being around her more I have started to try different ways to style her (and my) hair, which has been fun and another way to build community. 6) Music. There’s a guitar here! And I’m allowed to practice with it whenever I want!! It’s beautiful!!

Wow, ok when I started that list I didn’t even know it was going to be that long, but ideas just kept coming, so I kept writing them down. Anyway, as I have thought about all of these avenues allowing me to be creative, to make things and sounds and foods and images that didn’t exist otherwise, I’ve realized a couple of things.

First, when we create, we are living into one of the core parts of being created “in the image of God.” After all, God is the eternal Creator, and only by His grace and divine will do we have the capacity to create anything ourselves. But more than that, I believe that creativity is a part of the stewardship mandate given to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1. God tells them to “be fruitful and multiply, fill and subdue the earth.” A lot of times we think about this passage as referring to families and nature, and I think that’s definitely true, but I think we are also called to take what God has given us, and use it to create good things.

And second, I have come to realize that many time creativity facilitates community. For example, when I started to bake here, I would just do it alone. But then as I became friends with the others living here, it’s become more of a community event, something we share together and enjoy together. One of the crafts that I was able to design helped me to get to know some of the younger kids at one of the community centers here, which also is facilitating community. And even in discussing interests with new friends, when we find something that we both like to create, that strengthens the friendship and gives us a unique way to spend time together.

So, my encouragement to you is to lean into the ways you are creative. Maybe you like to write, maybe you like to design programs or organize people and events, maybe you’re logically minded and can solve puzzles and problems by creating new solutions. However you find yourself creating, remember that you were designed to do so, and that you were designed to enjoy it, and let that knowledge fill you with thanks for our Great Creator.

Embracing the quiet

3 years. It’s been 3 years since I’ve posted. (give or take a few months) well, not really, I have a separate page, but it didn’t feel right to write in “Ohio to Romania” when I wasn’t…you know, IN Romania. I left my last post here off with a “ne vedem târziu” a “see you later” because I knew that it wasn’t the end. SURPRISE!! It wasn’t. And I’M BAAAAAACK. Like, in Romania. Living here for a full year this time, and wow, two weeks in and I’ve already got some stories. 🙂 But I really just wanted to take some time to tell you about a big thing the Lord has been teaching me since I arrived.

Ok, so background information, this summer leading up to my time here was HECTIC. Yeah, it was absolutely my fault, yeah, I did it on purpose, yeah, it probably was a little much, even for me. I was busy. Like, all the time. And I liked it. Down time was not something I had or even really wanted. I like being active, doing lots of things, seeing lots of people. My time since coming to Romania has been quite different from that. It’s been an adjustment for sure. Having time to myself, being alone (this is my first time ever living by myself) in the evenings, I am learning that there is beauty in quiet. Which is so, like NOT me. As in, I’m not quiet, and I don’t usually like quiet. So when I had THAT revelation the other day, I knew it had to be the Holy Spirit, cause I’m loud.

But anyways, downtime is not something that I think is very valued in American, and maybe even western culture. I think we (or at least me) tend to value busyness, I think it makes us feel important. Like the world would stop functioning without us. News flash: it won’t. I am learning that I am not that important. But in a good way. Not that I don’t have value, I know I do. But my value comes from the Lord. And I think in my busyness, I began to believe that I could do something for the Lord he couldn’t do on his own. I would have never actually admitted this, but I think it’s what happened. But here’s the thing, Jesus doesn’t need me. At all. In fact, he doesn’t need anyone. That’s a big part of the whole “eternal” thing that comes with being God. If he were to need me, that would mean that I in some way were superior to God. Which means, I think for me at least, my mindset and my busyness had become an idol. That doesn’t mean busyness is always bad, or that we should just stop doing things because “I’m not needed” quite the opposite actually.

God in his amazing all powerful, good, just, oneness that He is, decided He wants me. Even though He most certainly doesn’t need me. And that, my friend, is even more amazing than being needed. Because it means that his great plans will not be stopped by my failures, and it also means that I am valued not because of my merit. Because let’s be real, next to him I have none. Zero, zilch. “Negatory good buddy”(name that movie;)). It also means that my limited time on this earth, while important to bring under his discipline and guidance, does not have to be packed every second with good things to accomplish. He has ordained my days, and he knows in his timing what he wants to accomplish with me. And sometimes, that means sitting still, being quiet, and trusting that He will lead me in his time.

It also means that I have had a lot more time to spend learning from him through his word and the way he speaks when I actually take the time to listen. Something my pastor said this…evening??? Morning for him but evening for me (gotta love that 7 hour time difference) 🙂 was that in Jesus’s ministry, in his time with the disciples, they spent a ton of time walking. Going from town to town to teach and heal and build the kingdom. And as he was saying that it kind of dawned on me that walking between cities and towns takes a lot of time. Just doing nothing but walking and maybe talking with those around you. The down time did not make Jesus or his disciples less effective, in fact, that time, I am sure, Jesus used to deepen his disciples faith so that when the time came to witness, they knew who Jesus is, and who they were in Him. I believe that’s what he is doing with me right now. As things change and I start to really find my place here, continue meeting new people, and start to maybe get a little busy, I hope I will respect the quiet. And I would encourage you to do the same.

Ne vedem târziu

Well, I’m back! It’s been a little over a week now and this is really the first time I’ve had to sit down and write about coming home. So I’ll just dive right in! Re-entry is hard. Like, REALLY hard. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be home. I love spending time with my family, getting brunch with friends, and being involved in church again. Those are true blessings and I’m so thankful for them. But let me tell you, when I woke up that first Friday back, my first thought was “the kids are meeting and I’m not there.” That sucked. But missing people isn’t the only hard part about returning. There’s also this wonderful thing called reverse culture shock. Yep. It’s real. Now, I had fair warning about it and I’ve been preparing myself for it as much as I could, but you don’t know what’s going to bother you until it does. Luckily, I am surrounded by people who care enough about me to listen when I get frustrated and I know enough people who have experienced this as well that it’s easy to work through. But, ranting about culture shock is not why I wanted to write this post.

I wanted to write this post because now that I’m back in my native country, eating Cane’s, playing with my dog, driving again, and so on, I’ve had some time to reflect about what I’ve learned in the past three months. I’ve learned things about myself, about culture, and about Jesus that I didn’t necessarily realize even as I was learning them. Here are a few:

I learned that I can do more than I thought I could. I learned that when situations get stressful or there are unknowns, I can remain calm and deal with them. Basically, I learned how to not turn into a ball of stress over things and that I’m a lot happier when I don’t.

I learned a little bit about how hard it is to integrate into a new culture, and it makes me appreciate the diversity in America more. In fact, now I just can’t help but smile when I hear a language I don’t understand, because I know how it is to try to communicate cross-culturally.

I learned about following Jesus, the immense adventure that it is to chase Him wherever He leads.

I learned about the quickness of life, and how hard it is to say goodbye, but also how good it is to know that goodbyes are not final when we are in Christ.

I learned how to receive well (or at least better.) Getting gifts of any kind is not my favorite thing in the world, but living in a culture and environment where people want to give and want to accommodate me, I learned that to not receive well is to deprive the other person of the joy of giving out of their love.

All of these things and more have continued to mold me into the person I am becoming, but the mantra that has been resounding within me this past week was “I’ll be back.” Yep, Arnold Schwarzenegger voice and all. But the point remains, no matter what happens, Jesus isn’t done with me yet, and he’s certainly not done with Romania. And if it’s in His will, He’s not done with me IN Romania yet. I’ve been saying to everyone who asks that I want to go back. And this is true, but I’ve questioned the wisdom in saying this to others.

Here’s why: it’s scary to say that. It’s terrifying to think that at 19 years old I’m going to start planning to move to a different culture, a different environment, a place that precious few in my circles in America have ever thought about, let alone been to. And then I start to think, “nothing is set in stone, what if you DON’T go back? Or even worse, what if you do and it’s NOT God’s best for you?” But as soon as this happens, I’m reminded of some really good advise I got once. STORY TIME! 🙂

I was in high school, at a typical youth meet up, and one of the pastors in my church at the time was sharing her God-story. At the end, we were aloud to ask questions, and as a senior pondering what I wanted to do with my life, I asked her if she ever doubted her calling, and what she did about it when she did. Her response is something that rocked me to my core, and continues to encourage me as I chase this unconventional life laid out for me. She said “when I start to doubt my calling, I think about standing before God at the end of my life. And I would much rather hear Him say ‘what you did wasn’t my call, but I know you did your best to follow Me’ than hear Him say ‘I called but you didn’t answer.'” So I’m gonna keep chasing where He leads, trusting that He’ll take my best and do something better than I ever could with it. Because I’d rather live a difficult life chasing Jesus, than a comfortable life bored with what I’ve done.

As I prepare to sign out for a while, I’m not really sure when I’ll post again, but I do know that I’m not done. So I’ll leave you with this: ne vedem târziu. See you later. This isn’t goodbye, just see you later. 🙂

Dream Big

Whew! These past two weeks have truly flown by in a whirlwind!! I’ve been able to be involved in some really cool things (like ceai and chat, Christmas baking, and tomorrow I’m helping with a special needs program!) but I’m also only a week and a half from returning to the states….and that brings up some emotions I’m not quite ready to face.

Anyways, today I want to talk about dreams. Not the kind you have when you sleep, cause those, at least for me, are usually weird and make no sense. No, I’m talking about dreams you have when you’re awake. Aspirations, goals, values, things that you want to accomplish. These things are so important to us as humans, but I didn’t really start to realize this until last week.

One of my projects that I have been working on over the semester has been creating a student handbook for the special needs club. Basically this means that each client gets a page with their picture, name, and some other information on it. As I was editing it, I decided to add a place for them to put their values and goals. This then led to being able to sit down with each client and ask them about their goals, and this rocked me to my core.

Now, these clients have differing levels of disabilities, and some are quite high-functioning, but almost all of the clients responded to this question the same. I don’t mean their answers were the same, but I mean they lit up when I asked them about what their dreams were. Most said things like “to get married” or “to have a job” you know, this makes sense as they are things most everyone wants. But I was struck with how much they seemed to be impacted by simply being asked this question. As I thought about it more, I realized that outside of the special needs club, outside of Veritas, there are probably precious few in Sighişoara who would ever stop to consider the dreams of a person with disabilities. Not because these people have malice towards the disabled, but because the disabled are not in the public and do not have the opportunities that they do in America. As I continued to mull this over in my brain, I started to connect some other dots.

As a part of my culture class, I had to read a book about working with those in poverty. The book I chose talked a lot about the importance of community. It talked of the power of community and that true poverty happens when a person feels isolated and without hope. This is not just poverty, this is destitution, and it has nothing to do with money or material possessions. After talking with the special needs clients, I realized that having someone honestly care to hear what their dreams were, and even help them further develop those dreams into a reality, was the kindest thing I could do for them. But the thing that really struck me: this applies almost ANYWHERE IN LIFE!!!

Don’t believe me? Here’s some examples:

I cannot fix the family life of a child in the kids program, but I can encourage her to fight for her education despite pressure to marry.

I cannot heal someone of their disability, but I can listen to their goals and then fight to put them into action.

I cannot relieved material poverty that so many in villages face, but I can persistently affirm those who live in poverty that they are capable to work for their dreams.

I cannot stop the pain of a broken heart, but I can hold someone as they cry, and help them start to rebuild what was broken.

I cannot undo the harsh words said in anger, but I can affirm someone’s worth.

Here’s the problem: I can’t make people dream. Ok maybe that’s actually a good thing cause let’s be real, me in control would be a train wreck. But seriously, I can encourage and love and affirm all I want, but if someone has never been shown what it means to want more, it doesn’t mean anything. Wow. Depressing right? Nope. Cause now I, and hopefully you, have something to pray for. I have all but stopped praying for God to give people money, or for Him to get them out of their situation, not because I’ve given up hope or think their situation is fine, but because there’s more. I’ve started asking Him to help these people that I have come to cherish to DREAM BIG. I want them to dream so big, so crazy, that it can’t POSSIBLY happen without God. I want these kids, these adults with disabilities, these mothers and fathers and social workers and teenagers to experience a Love so radical that they can’t help but dream big. Because I know that my God not only loves them that radically, he even RELISHES doing the impossible.

Mashed Potatoes

Bună ziua!!! Ok, I’ve now been back in Romania for 2 weeks since fall break in Rome, and it’s still been truly wonderful. But, instead of telling story or giving a normal update, I wanna share my latest experiences in a little bit of a different way. As you may know, Thanksgiving is coming up this week, and it just happens to be my favorite American holiday. So, I figured I could be a little more public this year with what I am thankful for, as I have been blessed with so much.

I am thankful first for my God, for I know that only because of him am I doing so well here in Sighişoara.

I am thankful for my family in the states, for my parents who have been a source of unending support, for my brother who never fails to make me laugh, for my cousins who I can truly say are my close friends, for my grandparents and aunts and uncles who love me all the way from home.

I am thankful for my school, for Cedarville, even though I don’t agree with everything they do or ask, the faculty has pushed me to become a better person in so many ways, and the classes have taught me more than I could have expected about myself, the field of social work, and what it means to follow the Lord.

I am thankful for my friends in America, who continue to Snapchat and FaceTime with me even when the timing is inconvenient, who let me crash their dorm rooms when I wanted to come visit, who push me to follow Jesus even when it means being away from them, who write me unexpected notes just to say they’re thinking of me.

I am thankful for my host family, for their welcoming spirit, for the opportunity to better understand a culture different from my own, for their true acceptance of me into their family.

I am thankful for the people I work with at Veritas, for their patience with me as I seek to learn Romanian, for their kindness to me as I adjusted to this new environment.

I am thankful for the friends I have made here, for the movie nights, the game nights, the worship events, for the dinner group and the opportunity to have an American thanksgiving here in Romania, and building community with a whole new set of people.

I am thankful for the clients I get to interact with each week, for their acceptance of me, and their willingness to teach me as well as learn from me as we all grow together.

I am thankful for the kids club I get to work with, for the beautiful faces of the kids, for their wild spirits and eager hearts, for the hugs I get and the love I give. I am thankful that these kids have this program, that they have a help for homework, that they have adults who demonstrate Christ’s love when so many in other villages and homes do not.

I am thankful for the challenge of learning Romanian, for when I feel as though I have figured things out, the struggle to learn this keeps me humble and reliant on God.

I am thankful that even though I only have 3 weeks and 4 days left in this country, God is not done here. I am thankful that the upcoming goodbye is not goodbye, just see you later. I am thankful that even before I was born, before my grandparents were born, God loved this country more than I ever could, and he still does. I am thankful that the work I’ve been a small part of did not begin with me, nor will it end with me. I am thankful that even when I am uncertain about my future, Jesus knows my heart, and He knows what is best for me, whether that means staking my life here or back in the states.

I guess to sum up, because I’ve only scratched the surface of what to be thankful for, I’ll end with a classic: I am so, so thankful for MASHED POTATOES.

Acts and Rome

Well, I’m late. But only by one day on a self-imposed deadline so I feel like that’s acceptable. Also, this post is a little different from my previous ones, and here’s why: I’m not in Romania right now. *gasp* how could this be? Two words: fall break. Two more: in Rome. Saturday night I arrived here in Italy (without my luggage) and got to meet up with my family!!! What a blessing, am I right?!?! Sunday we went to mass in the pantheon, toured several of the gorgeous churches in this city, and my luggage finally caught up to me. We ended the day in a delicious restaurant and then I got to see where Julius Caesar was assassinated. So that was cool!! And mind boggling, as there were ruins there that have been standing since before Jesus was born. Like, wow.

Anywho, during all of this yesterday, several things really started to get my mind-gears turning. First, seeing churches as beautiful and intricate as the ones we did always forces me to beg the question: is this good? Second, mass in the Pantheon was quite the experience, and finally, in my devotion time right now, I just happen to be working through the book of Acts. If you don’t know, this particular book in the Bible is primarily about the development of the early church. The verses that really stood out to me this morning come from chapter 5 verses 41-42 which read, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

This passage highlights so well the attitude of the disciples after Jesus’ ascension. Not only did they rejoice in suffering, but they continued to preach to and include others at the risk of imprisonment and death. I can’t help but compare that to what I see in the church today. I know our culture is different, and Christianity is no longer illegal, at least in the places we are, but what if the church still had this outlook? Would we spend millions of dollars erecting beautiful buildings that remain mostly empty? Would we look down on those who are “unchurched” and marginalized? Would we get bent out of shape when someone sits in our pew at church? I think not. This is something I’ve been grappling with since the service yesterday at the Pantheon. While it was a wonderful experience to worship in a building as historic as that one, before the service even began I was upset. We had gone to sit in the pews set out and wait for the service to begin. About ten minutes before the start of the service, there were probably a couple hundred people inside. A woman then started announcing that the pantheon would be closing for a service and anyone not staying for mass needed to leave. This wouldn’t have bothered me too much, but as people started filing out, several workers began walking around gruffly asking people why they were there and asking them to leave if they weren’t staying for mass. I was furious. There ended up being maybe 75 people in attendance, and I looked outside to see hundreds of people milling around in the square just outside of the building. Ugh, I’m getting worked up just thinking about it now. Why did this anger me so much? I’m glad you asked. 🙂 All I could think was “if Jesus were here, he’d leave too. He’d be outside with the people. He’d be with those that truly needed to hear the gospel. Think about it: there’s a church service about to happen in a place filled with hundreds of different people every week who may otherwise never hear the good news of Jesus, and how does that church respond? Kick everybody out. I hated it. The service was nice, several of the readings were done in English, (the service was in Italian) so I did understand some of it, but what was the purpose? Why on earth have a church there if you treat those literally on your doorstep with such contempt?

So this is what I’ve been wrestling with. One thing I’ve learned to remind myself these past few months though, is to suspend judgement. One way I try to do this is by asking the question: what is cultural difference, and what is truly wrong? After asking this question, and talking with my family about it, I truly think it was wrong to aggressively kick those people out. I think it was counteractive to the purpose of the gospel and the Church. I think culturally, having so many beautiful churches is a gift, but seeing as many beggars as I did on the streets, those gifts could be used for so much more. I think brokenness can be found everywhere in the world, but seeing it so blatantly in a place supposedly so influenced by the gospel hurts. And as I continue to see the amazing things Rome has to offer, I will try to keep these things in mind, while also remembering the gift it is to be here and see the things I am seeing.

The Power of Presence

Ok, so I’m starting to realize I have a pattern of posting every other Sunday, so in keeping with that pattern, here’s an update!! It’s hard to believe I’m approaching my halfway point of being here in Romania already. It’s been 5 weeks and the culture-shock “pit” simply has not yet happened. While I know it still could, settling in here has been easier than I ever could have hoped for. I know this is largely due to my massive support system back in America and all of the prayer for me and my time here. So, before I begin, thank you. Thank you for your prayers, for your support, for just taking the time to read what I have to say and allowing me to have just a little bit of a voice in this big crazy world. It means so much to me that the people I love most are willing to love me from afar for this season of my life as I continue to chase what God has for me. So with that said, what I’ve been learning most these past two weeks (since I last posted) has been about presence. Haha kinda ironic since I was just writing about distance, right? 🙂

In Titus 2:7-8 it says to “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.” (ESV)

Ok, so that may seem like a kind of random scripture passage to just plop down in the middle of my post, but hear me out. I deal with a language barrier. Every. Single. Day. It does get easier, but it doesn’t go away. Because of this, I have to learn other ways to communicate and observe in many situations. And, as I step more into my role as a social work intern, I must learn how to influence and affect change for the clients I am working with. Putting these two things together can seem impossible at times, but I’m learning more and more it’s not as difficult as it may seem.

Story time!! (Don’t worry I haven’t forgotten about the scripture:)) I was out in Tigmandru, working with the younger kids there on Friday. For the activity that day they were each given different coloring sheets to color. Some of the kids weren’t exactly thrilled with which sheet they were given, but instead of allowing them to fight over who got what, we simply handed each child a sheet and that was that. Well, one girl simply was not having it. She sat grumpily in her little chair and refused to look at the paper. I saw this happen, and at first allowed her to sit, but once everyone else was settled and I wasn’t needed anywhere else, I decided to do something. I sat down next to her. She gave me her poutiest face and started to complain (this was one instance where a language barrier WAS helpful:)) but I simply pushed her sheet back in front of her, picked out a crayon from the pile that I thought was especially pretty, and held it out to her gently. She looked at me, she looked at the crayon, and her face lit up as she eagerly began to color. I have no idea why that worked, but it taught me something. As I was sitting at that table with those kids, I realized sometimes all they need is a caring presence. I spent the rest of the activity time encouraging the kids at that table and simply saying “bravo!” and “foarte frumos” (good job and very beautiful) but it made a difference.

So, what does this have to do with Titus 2? I think the word that stuck out most to me when I read that verse was the word “show.” If you read the context around these verses, this chapter is about older men and women in the church setting good examples for the younger men and women. So to read this and understand it in that context, it is clear that Paul, the author of this particular letter, is saying “lead by example.” Show up, be there, and then do the next right thing. This may seem small, but working with kids who at times are ignored and forced to fend for themselves, sometimes simply handing them a crayon with a smile on your face can change their entire day.

As I grow and learn here, I am beginning to see that the words I say are not the most important thing I can use to communicate. I am learning that the way I act and the fact that I show up, that I notice, is far more powerful than any words I could ever say. And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.

God Doesn’t Waste Anything!!

Phew! It’s already been three weeks and it feels like I just stepped off that airplane!! Anyways, here’s another update of how my time is going here in the beautiful country of Romania! 🙂

I’ve been working with my programs for a solid two and a half weeks now, and I’m starting to settle in to the routine here. Things have been good, and while I’m no longer on information overload, I’m still learning a TON and taking in lots of new information. So, before I dive in to the big lesson I’ve learned this week, I’d like to describe in a little more detail the programs I’m working with.

On Tuesday’s and Friday’s I go out to a nearby village called Țigmandru and work with kids in an after school program at the Nazarene church in the village. This program involves playing games, singing VBS songs, sharing a bible story and practical life-application and finally providing a meal (either a sandwich or a bowl of soup) for the kids. Their ages range from around 3 years old (some are barely walking) to around 13 years old. Now, although this is technically an “after school program” many of the kids that come do not consistently attend school, and many drop out before finishing 8th grade. Because of this, the program is designed to not only encourage school attendance, but it also is designed to provide social, mental, emotional, and spiritual education that would otherwise be missed for many of these kids. This program has been a ton of fun for me as the kids are wonderful to be around and love to teach me new games and learn new games from me (we played ninja for the first time last week.) 🙂

The other program I am working with on Wednesday’s and Thursday’s is an adult special needs club. There are about 8 clients that come to this club Monday’s through Wednesday’s and around 15 that come just on Thursdays. This club lasts from 10 AM to 3 PM and consists of community time, sport, lunch, and an afternoon activity such as baking, pottery, or some other sort of craft. I have also thoroughly enjoyed working with this population group as they are very joyful and welcoming to new people.

So now that you know a little more about what I’m doing while I’m here, I wanted to share something that’s been on my heart this last week: God doesn’t waste ANYTHING. This statement is one that I have found to be true in several ways since I arrived here. I have found that even small things in my life God can and will use for His glory. For example, the first week I was here, Veritas had an open house for many of their beneficiaries. One of the stations at this open house (the most popular one) was, in fact, face painting. Now you might know that I painted in an art studio for 11 years before graduating high school, but during that time I also volunteered in several fairs as a face painter. So when I was asked if I could face paint, I jumped on the opportunity. It was something small, but I was so thankful to be able to contribute to Veritas in this small way so soon after arriving. To me it was proof that God will use whatever you give Him, even something as small as face painting.

One last example: you know where I have felt most useful? Where I believe I have served well this week? In doing the dishes. Yep, I flew across the world to wash dishes. Now, I’m not saying that I haven’t been blessed to be able to participate in wonderful, kingdom-building things, because I have. But, if I have learned anything in working with an NGO these past weeks, it’s that what is most beneficial is doing what needs done, not what seems “most-important.” If a client needs assistance to go to the bathroom, you take them to the bathroom. If there are dirty dishes in the sink, you wash the dishes. If someone asks you to carry boxes to the other side of the campus, guess what? That’s what you do. It’s not glamorous, it’s not spiritual in the sense that you leave feeling so accomplished and good about yourself, but it’s SERVICE. And that’s the whole point. The small things ARE the big things. Not because they are difficult or essential, but because they are done out of service for our neighbors and out of respect for our God. So when I’m asked to do the dishes, I’ve learned to say yes with joy because I’m doing it for Jesus. It’s not about how I look, but how He looks, and THAT is why the small things matter.

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