Around the Bend

I’ve got some tough news. My biggest financial supporters had an emergency happen last month and are no longer able to give financially to my mission. That’s $500 less a month to live on.

The time was coming (July) when their two-year commitment was up anyway, but it still hit hard. And it came with a harsh questioning of my motives for being overseas. Why did I leave the comfort and relationships–family and friends–to live thousands of miles in a foreign culture? Particularly one where I’d never be mistaken as a national.

The truth is I didn’t plan for this. I heeded the strong call I felt in my spirit to stay here and serve God’s kingdom. My living expenses are covered by the grace and generosity of others, individuals. No church has or is currently supporting me financially. (I asked, but they said no.) I’m only able to be here because there are 7 people who regularly give money as partners with me in what I’m doing (with a few one-time supporters here and there. Really, thank you; it all adds up). And now I’m down by one and it’s a big hit.

I questioned whether this was it. I should just stop now; I won’t be able to keep going if I don’t have others to back me up with actual means. Prayers and well-wishes are great, but missions need physical means. This is rent, food, gas, electricity, car maintenance (I drive back and forth to school, camp, giving rides, etc.), hospitality (having guests over to share life with), and just general living expenses (soap, toothpaste, laundry soap, etc). I have a pet, but I teach private lessons and that covers his food and maintenance pretty well. The rest is specifically for me to do ministry.

And I spend every day serving in some capacity: 4 days a week at school, my off-days doing private lessons and connecting with others outside the church; weekends serving in worship at church service or helping as staff with Zako events (sometimes including setting up and tearing down). In between, I plan lessons for every week (I have classes twice a week), plan private lessons, volunteer help at the after school program and finding time for fellowship and rest to recharge.

I love, love this mission field. I’ve said it so many times. It’s amazing and incredible, and hard and exhausting. I do it because I love Jesus and people. I want my life to show what’s possible with Christ at the center. Though, I’m far from flawless. Christian faith can be messy because there’s a lot of junk Jesus drags up from the pits of yourself, if you give him the chance. There are so many people here in Poland that aren’t aware of this: Jesus is personal.

I don’t think I’m done here. I’m just getting started. Proem is just getting started. Yes, I want to be a part of it, but there’s also this feeling of I’m meant to be a part of it. There are needs that I can meet and currently do meet now. It’s not that I’m so important that I couldn’t be replaced, but I’m here. I can’t forget that the highly improbable (as it seemed to me two years ago) happened already. God provided people to support me getting to and living in Poland. I couldn’t do it without them. And it’ll happen again. Only…I’m not on the other side of that leap, yet. I’m still holding my breath.

 

Changes

It’s hard to describe how I’m doing lately. If I had to sum it up, it would be something like treading water with a wave about to take me under. The end of the year is one of the busiest times and while I don’t have quite the same amount of drama as I did last year, there’s still much on my mind.

I’ve decided, first of all, that this blog will be more about reflection and personal growth than my ministry updates. I’ve spent the last three months struggling to think of a great way to write about my experiences, to put them into journalistic prose or sweeping narrative…and I’ve come up frustrated. The truth is most of the time here in Poland is spent doing pretty normal, every day things except that I’m in a different country and with the motivation of sharing my life testimony with others. And the experiences I have at events, serving during camps or weekend conferences is so difficult to put into words. Honestly, pictures and videos that I share on social media are the best way to see what I’m up to.

What I’m missing is a space to reflect and share what comes out in hopes that it is inspiring or at least resonates with my readers. I lost focus of my first goal with this blog: to show you what life looks like on the mission field long-term.

And actually, the feeling of not being able to express just what you want to say is a great example. There’s a lot of things that happen every week and emotions that aren’t always clear enough to pin down. Sometimes I forget just how jam-packed my weeks are. Even more so because I’m surrounded by a foreign culture (well, not so much now) and have to expend energy just being in a room with other Polish speakers grasp at straws of understanding. Then you have students who don’t all speak English well and the challenge of trying to communicate instructions effectively. Then there’s driving. And having to do everything myself because I live alone. And, and, and鈥攖he list goes on.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m completely, utterly in love with what I’m doing here. I adore being a teacher and I’m hugely passionate about serving this community. I wouldn’t trade this for anything. It’s hard work and it gets tiring, but so, so forth every bead of sweat and lost hour of sleep. I’m incredibly grateful I have the privilege to serve with Proem. There are times I have to stop and just wondering that I’m seriously living in Poland. Like, this is my life now. What?! Crazy.

And so, it’s almost 3:00 AM. I’ve spent the last couple hours trying to sort out an idea for fundraising and how I want to structure this space from here on out. But I have a class in the morning, so I think it’s time for bed.

2019: Relationship

Something I regret not doing more of last year was bonding closer with the people in my ministry. There were several reasons I was distracted from it (a dating relationship, reconnecting with other friends outside of Proem, and my only-child, pseudo-loner spirit), but I want to do better in 2019.

The theme for Proem this year is “Better Together” and I think it’s apt for my personal growth goals for 2019. Already I’ve spent more time with my ministry family, from staying local over the Christmas holiday to inviting people to come have a meal at my place.聽Moreover, I’d like to build friendships with more people outside of the Proem staff and volunteers. My Polish is far from perfect, but I’m able to have conversations more easily and I think sharing my story with others will inspire them to think about how they can make changes or take more risks in their lives as well.

I think I’ve struggled with this aspect of my Christian walk most of my life. Openness has always been hard for me, and I’m very picky when it comes to who I let in. I want to have this appearance that I’m strong and I trust God so I often say something like “yeah, I’m struggling, but God’s got my back.” It’s not the worst thing but it kinda shuts the door on my problem. I don’t let the deeper details out, really asking for prayer for specific things that are bothering me.

I felt that effect over the last few months. There were some hurts I carried over from last year that I never voiced; I dismissed them because it’s been months! And I’m still bothered. So, I’m slowly opening up, letting them out in the open to people I trust and I feel the burden leaving my mind. Praying with my sisters and just talking about things is so cathartic. I should be scared of vulnerability. That’s part of relationships; it’s what makes them special and so needed.

There are still a few more burdens to unload, but I’m in the process of making that happen. Good things. 馃檪

Fall(ing)

“Rejoice always! Pray constantly.”

1 Thessalonians 5:16-17

The first month was so busy, frustrating, and required a lot of adjusting to the new school year. Now that it’s mid-October, everything is settling into routine and I feel a lot less out of control. There is still something I’m worried about, though.

Burnout.

Like, big time burnout. I’ve come home nearly every day, crashed on my couch, and slept for 2-3 hours before I can even get up and make something to eat. Part of it is I have to wake up early for my cat (6:00 am on the dot), but I honestly have no energy left by 4 pm. Maybe I need more vitamins, or going to bed earlier (that’s an issue, too), or to pick back up my exercise regimen I’ve abandoned since the summer. I don’t feel like I have the time or can motivate myself enough to just do it.

From what I’ve been reading in John Ortberg’s book Soul Keeping, the likely culprit is ‘soul fatigue.’ It’s not just mental or physical exhaustion alone, but deep inside, I feel hurried even when I don’t have anything planned for the day. There’s a perpetual to-do list that hangs over my head every hour and I can’t seem to make it smaller or check off enough things to feel at peace. Plus, my “busyness” has knocked time with God and inner rest off my radar. I’m so preoccupied with things I need to do/should do/should have done that I forget to take care of my inner self. My soul needs rest. My soul needs peace. I can’t get that without time for prayer, meditating on a scripture, and uninterrupted, quiet space. Just to be still.

Even knowing this, I struggle to apply it on a daily basis. Mondays, like today, are especially hard when I spend all day at school teaching six 45-minute lessons, half of which I have to stop 4-5 times to tell kids to listen. This is a whole other post, but I feel like I’m failing as a good teacher. That really beats me up because I try so hard to make my lessons interesting and it never seems to work with some of my groups.

And being in the mission field, I feel this sense of having to serve in as many capacities as possible because people are supporting me with their finances to be here. If I’m not working my tail off every free moment, I’m somehow taking advantage of their generosity. I know this isn’t true. Rest is a fundamental part of faith, and well needed if I’m going to serve with Proem, the school, and among my relationships here effectively. But it’s that nagging sense that I’m not doing enough and that someday, my support won’t be there anymore — as if I have to earn this.

Looking back at that last sentence, I’m realizing how skewed my perspective is lately. I’m here because of God’s plan and providence. I definitely worry about money because this year is more expensive than the last by far and I’m not the best fundraiser, but I really want to try and trust Him as I had in the beginning. I didn’t even know if I’d make it to Poland, but somehow, I’m still here over a year later and taken care of. Amen.

Rejoice and pray. Let’s see how this plays out in the next few weeks.

 

Worthy is the Lamb

“The Lord will fight for you; you must be quiet.” Exodus 14:14

“For I, Yahweh your God, hold your right hand and say to you: Do not fear, I will help you.”聽Isaiah 41:13

The past few weeks have been extremely trying. My mind and body are tired, and there’s still a whole summer of challenges ahead of me. But I hold onto hope as the waves rise around me because of the One that never leaves my side. He who continues to fight for me when I don’t have the strength on my own. And He knows the plan; I just have to follow with my eyes open.

My first year in Poland will be wrapping up in 3 months time. I’ve grown so much in this year, embracing fear and stepping out of comfort for Christ; in giving of myself in greater measure than I have before. I feel more courageous, daring, and bolder than I ever imagined I would be. I feel like God is waking me up to my true self. At the same time, I’m facing life challenges greater than I’ve had before to meet this new person I’m becoming. My family is changing. My relationships are transforming. My walk with God growing deeper and stronger. My human-ness being revealed layer by layer; I’m so far from perfect. That’s why I need Jesus — he is, so I don’t have to be.

This second year will be the greatest yet. And possibly the hardest. It’ll involve a more serious transition to setting a long-term home here in Poland. There’s something about this country, the needs here for people to care, to love, and show compassion, that’s called to my heart. I’m not sure what God wants with me yet (is it ever 100% clear?), but I’m heeding that push I felt the first time to keep going and trust him with the details. Be praying for me.

 

 

 

Grace in Hardships

” ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ ”聽

2 Corinthians 12:9a

This verse rings so true for me lately. The next few months are going to be very trying time for me. Summer camps in Zako, family affairs in the States, mental exhaustion, and preparing for the CELTA course I’m taking in August. It’s all converging at one time and I’m really tempted to shut down, hunker down with some Netflix and tune out the stress.

Summer camps are a lot of fun. I’ve never been longer than a week each time I volunteered, but they were the most bonding and memorable experiences I’ve ever had with Proem. Especially my first, full-fledged camp two years ago (Fishart). I co-lead a singing workshop for the first time and had the privilege of watching my girls perform in the talent show. And leading warm up worship dances from our kids’ ministry with my team for the whole camp was so incredible. Not to say that it’s always fun times. We worked hard, rushed to be on-time, and cleaned A LOT (one of the perks of being a big group – kitchen duty). But you see the results of your time and effort in the faces of the kids around you. Nothing but smiles.

This summer will be a bit harder for me. My grandmother’s health is failing quickly. She’d been diagnosed with cancer about two or three years ago, and when the treatments made her feel worse, she decided to just manage the pain. At 94 years old, surgery isn’t really an option. So, the past two weeks, my mom has kept me updated. It’s times like this that I find really hard being away from family. My mom assures me things are okay, that they’re managing fine, but I still wish I was able to do more than pray.

So likely, I am going back home earlier than August-September. Probably June-July, which means I’ll miss out on camps. The other complication is the CELTA which takes place in August. I can’t miss any of the course days over the four-week period, so I’m committed to being back in Poland for that. It comes with it’s own challenge: refreshing my English grammar knowledge, pre-reading before the course, and a pre-course task I have to finish before I start. I’ll have to do some of this while I’m home, of course, but I also want to be available to my family to help with closing affairs and such.

The mental exhaustion comes from the end-of-the-school-year burn-out. The kids are done. The teachers are done. But there’s still a month and a half left. Ugh. My dating relationship is entering a new phase as well where I’m learning a lot about myself (some bad habits have come to light) and him, and where our needs converge well, but where some things need work too. And I realize more and more the importance of counseling and therapy when you’ve gone through a major life change like moving your world half-way around the globe and enduring culture adjustments. I’ve prayed and studied Scripture more this year than I think I have in my entire life. Not a bad thing at all, but there are times when you just need to talk out some things with a professional too.

All this to say, relying on the grace of God is my refuge. I feel so weak some days, where it just seems like I’m stuck or there’s nothing I can do, and praying feels useless. Thank God for Jesus and the power he grants me to still take everyday afresh, and not allow the heavy waves to sink the ship. I struggle not to worry about the next months, the year ahead, but I remember God’s faithfulness and blessings thus far and really try to hold onto the verse in Philippians 4:6-7 about how to handle that anxiety. It’s helped me carry on and I know it’ll all be well in Him. Amen.

Expectations and Onward

“Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

It’s been about 8 months since my arrival here in Poland. I anticipated some of my challenges with moving to a new country and embarking on a year of serving with Proem, but a lot of things have taken me by surprise.

The day to day task of teaching English lessons to the preschool has taught me so much about being flexible and handling the unexpected. It’s usual to have to change up lesson plans when you work with young kids, but even more so when your communication has to cross language barriers. It took me a while to adjust to the relaxed attitude to my lessons here, but it’s helped me simply enjoy being around my classes. I get to walk into a classroom, share my language and my love for singing, and give lots of hugs and high fives. It’s a pretty awesome way to serve and I’m grateful to bring smiles to the kids each day.

Being a part of Proem Ministries and their events has been awesome, too. The two major productions,聽Journey to Bethlehem and聽Road to Jerusalem,聽have been a lot of work. I mean, knocked-out-as-soon-as-I’m-home work. But tons of fun, especially when you see the impact you have on the thousands of people that come to see the story of Jesus played out. I enjoyed my time serving and bonding with my fellow volunteers through both experiences, and it helped my Polish get a little better as I had to sometimes direct the crowd and speak some short lines in my role. Other events and groups I’ve been able to be part of are the women’s meetings, the worship team, a youth group retreat, staff meetings/devotionals, and an English Winter Art camp. There’s a passion for sharing the gospel in each of these aspects, and what I appreciate most is the simple core message: Jesus’ love for us compels change and healing in our lives that we then share with others.

I suppose my biggest surprise is how easily I’ve adapted to life in Poland, being in the mission field, and how many new friendships I’ve been able to start since the beginning. The first few months were difficult, having to get used to asking for help more and not having easy access to things (aka. shopping at convenient, big-box stores like Target). Learning day-to-day Polish to get by wasn’t quite as hard, and I’ve gotten to a point where I generally understand everything someone says to me. I still have a hard time with some direct questions.聽Even being black in a homogeneous country (and small city like Tomasz贸w) hasn’t been what I thought it was. I anticipated some behaviors (blatant staring, whispers about me, stopping traffic…actually, I didn’t expect that last one haha), and my response to them was also kind of a surprise. I felt really self-conscious often walking down the street, and there are still days when I try my best to ignore being gawked at. But, I was never treated poorly by anyone. Every person I’ve encountered has been polite and very hospitable, and I would say, personally, the people are even more friendly than those in the States.

The other part of my experience that’s been so valuable is traveling to Warsaw and interact with other missionaries and ministries there, building close friendships and participating in some of their activities as well. I had the chance to lead a bible study recently off the cuff and it was really impacting, not only for me in being able to share my experience, but to see the girls I was speaking to really take in what I had to share. Warsaw is like a second home to me now, and I see future opportunities there as well as in Tomasz贸w.

And so, I’ve come to the decision to extend my time here beyond just a year’s length. I’d like to serve again at the school in Tomasz贸w another year with Proem (there’s a need for teachers to stay) and look into serving a different mission organization in Warsaw following the next year to connect even more with my adopted missionary family there. I continue to pray over my decision and ask for God’s guidance, but I sense he has a place for me in Poland and that I’m going the way he has planned. Still, prayers can’t hurt. So please do keep praying for me as well, and if it comes to mind for you to support me financially going forward, please do see my support page for details on how.

 

z Mi艂o艣ci (with Love)

Tomy church hosted a women’s conference a few weekends ago with the theme of love; how it’s able to transform and heal in relationships through God’s example to us. We had a special guest performer, Agnieszka D臋bowska, who was a contestant on The Voice Poland, and amazing speakers from our community that shared their stories.

The opening session began with a look at 1 Corinthians 13: how the Bible defines love; that it goes beneath the surface things and looks at the actions outpouring from the heart. Love gives our life meaning. And how to meet these expectations with behavior. If we replaced “love” with our name (i.e. “Theresa is patient, Theresa is kind”), would it ring true? And that without God’s grace to help fill in the gaps, we wouldn’t be able to do so.

The second half was an interview portion where three women from three different聽 backgrounds shared their stories about when they struggled to love, and when sometimes that meant no, and how that “no” shaped their lives going forward. I resonated most with the single woman who had to eventually say no to a relationship that wasn’t going to work, and uproot her plans to follow God’s lead in a different direction. Not that I was leaving a relationship, but the process of deciding to leave something familiar — my plans — for God’s plans is one that I’ve experienced before coming to Poland long-term, and in some ways, since.

Afterward, we each had discussions at our table about our personal experiences in loving people, experiencing love toward us, and times it was hard to love someone. For me, loving a person well is making the time and space to be with them, caring for their cares and praying over their concerns. It’s so much more than giving gifts or compliments. I shared some experiences I’d had in times when it was hard to love someone, and how God helped me break through those moments and healed my hurts enough to care about them.

The last session, one of our school directors shared her experience in learning what love meant through Jesus Christ, how it is healing past wounds in her life personally, and that God’s ultimate act of love — sending Jesus Christ to die for us — changes everything, and brings hope of real transformation and renewal. Then we were asked to think about a person who has been or still is hard to love, write down their name on a heart to pin to one of the boards they had at the front of the stage, and to pray for them — for whatever hurt or disappointment they caused us to keep us from loving them and to pray that God breaks through all that so that we are able to do so now. It was a really powerful moment and helped me realize there are some people and situations that I still need God’s love to heal.

The influence of this past conference continues still. We had a staff meeting to review updates and a really cool story came up. A group of women who aren’t part of Proem staff volunteered to organize different parts of the conference like drinks, food, decorations, etc. Well, there was a woman who attended who was going through a really difficult time: she was pregnant, living with her mother in law, and her husband was in prison. She’d been orphaned at a young age and hadn’t had a lot of stability in her life. Well, these same women, after learning of her, decided to throw her a baby shower and buy all the things she needed to care for her child and herself.

It’s really incredible seeing how God is using our presence here in Poland to change lives and provide a community of loving people to lean on in good and bad times. The follow up Bible studies post-conference have had about 40 women attend so far, and there will be another 4 meetings in the coming weeks between 艁贸d藕 and Tomasz贸w. I pray that they will impact the women who attend and continue to define God’s love for them.

 

Zimmufka

This past week, I went on a retreat with the youth group to Wis艂a, a mountain town bordering Czech Republic and Austria. It was gorgeous! And so much fun getting to know the teens and fellow interns better on this trip. Plus, I conquered a fear I’d had for a long time: learning to ski.

The first day was ridiculously cold. We left Tomasz贸w early聽 on a brisk Monday morning, driving about 4 hours toward Wis艂a. The sun made an appearance as we headed south and by the time we were on the winding path up to our hotel, the skies were bright blue instead of the smoggy gray we’d left behind at home. There was already a decent amount of snow covering the ground and we had a little trouble getting our bus down the sloping driveway but we all made it safe and sound.

I was roomed with Kaitlyn, my roommate, as per usual, and we were lucky. The other girls were housed 5 to a room and one bathroom between them (no thanks!). We went to rent our ski gear and my first impression was, “ok…I can handle this I think.” I had no idea what to expect the next day. That evening we had our introductory meeting, setting ground rules and played a quick get-to-know-you game. We hung out afterwards, chatting or playing cards/board games until lights out.

dav
We had a white out our second day.

First full day, we had breakfast and headed over to the slopes. I stuck on my ski boots with a lot of trouble and hated it immediately. The buckles strapped the hard plastic to my ankles and lower shin so tight, I could barely walk. Not to mention, the bottom of the boots were smooth, even with traction soles, so any slick, icy spots on the walk from the parking lot was a little scary. My feet and shins were pretty angry when I got to the bottom of the ski area, and because I had to walk so slowly, most of the group of new skiiers was gone already. I happened to see some people from our group and asked where the other newbies were. It took me a few minutes because I already felt like crying in frustration and pain of these awful shoes, but I found them eventually and reluctantly snapped on my skis.

Getting over to the lift: okay. Going up the lift: fine. Standing at the top: not bad. Trying to move: God awful. I fell over in the first two minutes trying to “make a pizza” with my skis and couldn’t get myself back up. See, I’d made the mistake of keeping my backpack with me for the first time so the extra weight wasn’t helping me at all. After falling my way down the hill, I was pretty frustrated with the whole process but I wanted to try a few more times. The last fall hadn’t been too bad. And I spotted a friend of mine who took the backpack for me. That made all the difference.

Second run, I still fell a lot, but I was able to get up. Crash landing at the bottom became my technique to stop, but at least I was making it down. And slowly, just a little bit, I wanted to keep going. The feeling of actually beginning to understand, through hard-knocks and snow in my face, was exhilarating. I started smiling and by the end of the first day, I had a pretty decent working knowledge of how to make it down the bunny slope without losing a ski or stick when I fell.

The second day was even better, and I managed to get down the bunny slope without falling and crashing to a stop. By the third day, I was ready to tackle a bigger slope and even though I wiped out so, sooo many times, I learned even more about what worked and what didn’t. I was a bit sad by the last day, but I went down the biggest slope almost the whole time. It was so much fun! I even went through a short forest path and didn’t fall down until trying to get back on the regular slope. I was pleasantly surprised to see what a little perseverance can achieve.

In between these days, we had evening meetings to come together for prayer, worship and a lesson. The theme was about making the right choices and how God uses unexpected people and circumstances to accomplish incredible things. We stayed in the first few chapters of Joshua and discussed the ways the Israelites’ experience related to our own lives now. Their fears of entering the Promised Land and mine of skiing lined up pretty nicely. I put faith in the techniques I had been shown and learned just as they were to put their faith in the Lord who’d guided them with the Laws out of a generation of slavery to a generation of a holy nationhood. It takes courage to step out of the comfort zone and embrace the unknown, but the risk has always been worth it: you will learn something either way.

I had a conversation yesterday at church about the experience and the other person said, “Wow, you’re a brave girl!” I suppose, yes. Yes I am.

It’s the little things…

I caught some sickness again at the end of this week. It was pretty mild compared to the strep throat incident at the end of September, but not fun all the same. I’m recovered now for the most part, but I realized I haven’t really kept up to date with my blog and what’s been going on at the school and my life in general.

Proem Edu is in full swing, and keeping busy. The liceum/high school students just went on a field trip to Brazil. Yep, the country in South America. That would have been an awesome experience when I was in school in the States, but apparently, it’s a normal thing here to go on trips to other countries with your school. Lucky ducks! The most treat we ever got was maybe Sandy Point Beach or visiting Washington, D.C.

Anyway, the preschool, elementary, and middle grades all had Polish Independence Day presentations. The pre-K sang some national hymns and watched a short video about how Poland started. Then they took about 2 hours to take costumed pictures. You can imagine with little people how they responded to sitting on a carpet for that long. We had some fun watching and singing some English songs on the TV and eventually got through it. The upper grades put on a play later in the week, but unfortunately I was in the middle of doing my classes and didn’t get to see it.

Our small missionary group is finally聽meeting regularly now that my subbing is done, and that will help so much in the middle of the week. Just the opportunity to speak English and share our highs and lows is so valuable. Often I want to share what I’m going through with some of the staff at school, but I’m not versed enough in Polish to really express it and even those that know English well have a hard time understanding what I want to say. We’re currently going over a video series about the book of James and so far it’s pretty good.

I had a chance to visit Warsaw last weekend for a singing collaboration rehearsal, and it was ah-mazing as always. A piece of my heart gets left behind whenever I leave back for Tomasz贸w.聽 It’s really cool that God has put these people in my life. I relate to their experiences and have an easier time connecting to them, so it’s a nice haven from the daily grind of mission to go up and visit. My small jazz group I’m in now has an opportunity in January to perform, and I think we’ll totally be ready. More on that as I learn about it. 馃檪

Overall, things are settling into normalcy. I mean, as normal as it gets in Poland. There’s never a dull moment and the culture is still different, but I’m feeling less and less outside of it now. And I’m understanding a lot more of the language, so that always helps. In it all, God is good and teaching me deeper issues I’ve been unaware of or only just scratched the surface into understanding. No time to get into that now, but I’ll share a post later.

Lighting the Way

It wasn’t too cold. There was a bit of mist falling from the sky, but nothing like the torrents of rain we’d had lately. The sun had stayed behind clouds all day, and it was pretty much night by 5:00 PM. K and I had stayed inside, cleaning the apartment, attempting to plan lessons for the next day, and binge-watching Netflix episodes of the latest popular series. After about 3-4 hours of this, some fresh air was a good idea and for me, it would be my first experience.

November 1 in Poland is a day of sad or solemn remembrance for some, dutifully traditional to others…I don’t really know the gambit of emotions. I don’t come from a Catholic background and Halloween overshadows All Saints’ Day where I’m from. The limited scope of emotions I gathered came from the people walking around that I saw and one conversation with a student during Konsultacja yesterday afternoon. But it’s definitely a special thing to see while here.

There were several lantern and flower sellers lining the street outside the large cemetery in Tomasz贸w, which was blocked off from car traffic by a police van. There’s usually a few permanent kwiarnia聽that sell flowers and candles year-round outside the wall, but it was at least double that this time. And it wouldn’t be Poland without some bread sellers as well — I saw at least two stands on the side we were walking on.聽Cmentarz Rzymskokatolicki (I totally copy-pasted that) is pretty huge, spanning a few blocks all around. It rivals most of the city parks in size. So I was actually really excited to see how it would look lit up with lanterns and was not at all disappointed.

The photo I featured here really doesn’t do it justice. My phone camera is not a fancy SLR by a long shot, so you won’t see the same depth and atmosphere as I did, but I’ll do my best to share the feeling in words. The wall is solid brick as you walk up to it so I didn’t get any glimpse of what the inside looked like before coming up to the open gate. Immediately, your surroundings are illuminated in golden light and far off into the distant corners of the cemetery (when the second wall doesn’t obstruct your view), you can see lit lanterns resting on the graves. They reminded me of stars from far away in the dark. And because it wasn’t completely night, there was still a bit of blue-gray in the sky and you could see the trees beyond the reach of the lantern light. There was a huge variety of lights as well: some sites had only red-glass lanterns, some had open oil lamps with real flames, and there were some with color changing LED bulb flames too. The flowers were hard to see, but what I did catch were a lot of white chrysanthemums and roses.

Walking through, close to the path, there were very small graves of children — I didn’t check to see how old all of them were, but I remember one was 12 years and there were smaller stones than that nearby. There were also quite a few young adults — one said 27 years, another in their 30s. Each of them had at least one lantern lit. I can’t imagine how hard it must be, coming back every year to pray and light a flame for them. It toned down the whole experience for me at that moment. I didn’t become sad so much as sobered by what I was seeing and the sentiment behind it.

I was reminded that there are no guarantees of our time here. What legacy will I leave behind? How will people remember me? I have faith in heaven and God’s mercy. I have purpose in sharing of Jesus and leading people to him through how I live. I hope my example — my attitude in joy and hardship, my response to living, the way I treat others — will have lasting influence for his glory. And moreover, I want to be remembered as genuine. Not religious or just a good person or any of that. Real. Gut-level. I follow Christ; not because I was taught to as a kid, or I’m following a crowd, or only that it’s the right thing to do (while I believe that’s true, my reasons go deeper). I follow him because he’s offered me, completely and undeservedly, his all. I’ve seen incredible change in the person I’ve become from being open to his teachings and obeying them. My heart is light. My mind is at peace (…most of the time, hah). We are not made to burden ourselves with baggage and trudge through the hazards on our journey alone. He’s promised to be there always, and he truly is.聽Just as families remember and honor their past loved ones, I must remember daily the God I serve and who’s love for me goes beyond my capacity to grasp wholly.

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.17聽Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God鈥檚 love and keep you strong.18聽And may you have the power to understand, as all God鈥檚 people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.19聽May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”

Ephesians 3:16-19

Pains and Passage

This week has been tough. The extent of the culture shock I’m experiencing really hit me hard. I cried over not being able to explain an order error at McDonald’s. Like, legit felt humiliated and stupid. I ended up leaving the restaurant because I didn’t want to get stared at with tears streaming down my face and the fresh air would be better for me anyway. I prayed in frustration and ended up calling another missionary who helped me regain perspective. She told me this is all still new (October is my second month here), and the things that were easy in the US are not going to be here for a number of reasons. There’s a grieving process happening and it’s completely normal. All of the veteran missionaries have been through it. You feel the loss of something you took for granted: normalcy.

And she was right. Besides the culture shift, I’m working my brain cells overtime trying to convert Polish words and sounds into cohesive meaning, all while managing and teaching young children which is a huge mental and emotional drain already. All of this seemed forgotten because all I could think about in that moment was the embarrassment of not being able to order a hamburger meal. My pride was hurt.

I know I keep referencing James 1:3-4 a lot (and Romans 5:3-4 is a similar message), but its exactly what I am in the midst of. Refining and growth to build endurance: painful, awkward, and uncomfortable; the results of which are a strong and resilient person, rooted firmly in faith because she was tested and came out better.

All is not grim struggle here, though. I’ve made new friends, strengthened previous relationships, and really, I have an amazing community here and in the States. I love being here. There are just days when it makes me feel like screaming or huddling under a blanket away from everything. One cool thing is that even my limited experience of living abroad and being on mission allows me to share advice to those about to do the same or considering it.

My best friend is on her way to teaching English in Korea. We had a chance to Skype the other day and it felt really good to reassure her about living overseas and how God has been pruning and pushing me. To encourage her to set aside misconceptions or insecurities, and know that God is the one opening and closing doors. I thought, while I was talking with her, how I felt the same just 2 months ago, a week before I was going to fly to Poland. I didn’t know fully what to expect or how my life was going to change. I couldn’t have been prepared for the challenges that cropped up or the emotional waves that I’ve had overwhelm me. But through it all, I have Jesus. I have the people he’s put in my circles. I’m not alone in this and remembering that makes a huge difference.

Patient Endurance

So, while I’m definitely having fun and enjoying good times in Poland, there’s often a lot of challenges. We had a meeting a few weekends back about the things that are really hard right now and some things that are going good. Last Thursday, a small group of us American women missionaries got together to check-in on our hearts, feelings, etc.

I shared that the adjustment to life here has been hard. (I’ve made a few posts about this before, too, I think.) I miss the ease of things in the States, because it’s familiar and habitual. The cultural shock is subtle, but definitely there. It’ll probably hit me more in the coming months as the weather changes. But out of all of this, God has been refining my character a lot. I don’t complain as much as I had in the US. I have to practice a lot of grace living in a one-room apartment with another person, receiving and giving. Serving is just an expected part of life here, and doesn’t feel weird to me. I get frustrated when something doesn’t go the way I wanted or expected, but I can also let it go really quickly instead of marinating on it.

Emotions are amplified overseas. There’s a grieving over the loss of your previous lifestyle. I’m beginning to see that in me. (I often lament there being no Target here…) But I also see my response to these things is reflective and perspective-forming. I’m growing.

We’re currently following a study by Francis Chan about the book of James. James 1:1-12 was our first meeting, and was a good reminder that patient endurance is so needed when we encounter hardships and trials. That we should ask God for wisdom through the difficulties to better understand what we’re going through. That like silversmiths refine silver over and over with fire, God will refine us in the same manner until we are a perfect reflection of him.

This is actually the second time I’m seeing this verse within a month. At the student conference a few weekends ago, the morning’s meeting was centered around James 1:1-8 as well. And I have a small painting I made with a verse from Hebrews 10:36, “Patient endurance is what you need…then you will receive all that he has promised.”

I’m here because I wanted to be part of effecting change for others toward Jesus. In turn, I’m really being transformed as well. It’s kind of amazing how God maps these things, puts details together to shape us how we need to be.

My next personal study is about praying without limits. Looking forward to what that will bring.

Wrzesie艅 – First month

Has it really only been a month?! It honestly feels like I’ve been here for a few months. There’s a lot that’s happened, and it’s been hard to adjust to change. I’m still praising God that he’s brought me here, though because I can tell I’m growing a lot.

I’m writing this in recovery from a throat infection that caught me by surprise and derailed my plans for the weekend and into the week. I was supposed to sing on Sunday (was really looking forward to that) and go to 艁贸d藕 on Monday for my residence card appointment. Well, not this time. Thankfully, antibiotics and rest are working their magic and I’m feeling well enough to write an update. And the appointment was rescheduled for the end of October so I don’t feel as rushed to have the paperwork ready. AND I have almost the entire week off to recover. So, really, it’s turned out pretty good.

If I can sum up the lesson I’ve taken away from this first month, it would be “laugh a lot.” Seriously. A month ago, I would have been crying (and trust me, I have cried a few times here) and angry and frustrated that things weren’t happening the way they should. Today, though? I smile and shake my head because it’s just one more thing that’s trying to beat me down, but it honestly doesn’t now. God put me half-way across the world for great things, so I can’t let small obstacles derail the bigger vision of things to come. And he’s blessed me through these challenges, too. I’m growing in patience, tolerance, and perseverance. James 1:1-8, case in point. I’m also learning to lean on people around me more, too. To let go of feeling so independent. Those days when I miss home, feeling stressed about Polish, or just miss the culture of the US, I have other Americans who feel my pain and understand it. We have to support each other through this.

Anyway, I talk a lot about lows, but there’s a good bit of highs too. The kids I work with are great fun. Yes, kids are still kids, so you have days when you want to just leave the room and let survival of the fittest play out. But they take to the songs and games in English well, and we have a good time learning together. I actually miss being with them quite a lot today.

biedronki_with_me
Fall Festival with Biedronki (Ladybugs) class

And one of the teachers at the school was baptized this past Sunday! Hopefully, more to follow as the school year progresses. I’m hoping to have more conversations with teachers and staff as my Polish improves. The new gymnasium for the school has started construction. The expectations is that by the end of the year, it will be open for graduation ceremonies and whatever else they have at the end of the school year. New camps started this year, Proem is sending a team to help finish a building in a school in Zimbabwe they support, the 艣wietlica/after-school program in Tomasz贸w and 艁贸d藕 is going great…there’s a lot to celebrate!

The only thing I would probably change is the weather. Rain for days on end here. And some cold days, too. But there’s bright sun out today, and I’m really happy to see it.

 

 

Thorns

“…So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.Each time he said,聽鈥淢y grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.鈥聽So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.That鈥檚 why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Corinthians 12:7b-10

I’ve been experiencing these little bad moments throughout my stay here in Poland. Today, I jabbed my finger against the door and broke my nail horizontally in the middle of the nail bed. The day before, I kept scrapping my already peeling cuticles every time I had to open my wallet (and that’s quite often when you’re buying for a new apartment). I’ve banged my head on cabinets. My living arrangements got complicated. I had to walk in the rain with Kaitlyn, lugging about 7-8 lbs. of furniture for 1.5 miles after walking the same distance to go pick it up. I’ve been bitten by mosquitoes about 5-6 times, and the bite marks are still on my face and arm after a week. I also fell and landed on thorny brush, scratching up my arm the first full day I was here.

Needless to say, I’ve faced some mishaps. And it’s only been 2 weeks now.

However, don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not discouraged by any of this. Just as Paul saw his “thorn” as God’s way of reminding him not to be proud and to rely on his strength over Paul’s, I feel more confident that I’m where I’m supposed to be. Satan can’t do anything about my presence in Poland; I’m ready to share about Jesus and live with love, pursuing grace and truth here. My Polish skills keep improving, and I see where God can use me in sharing my faith with some other teachers and to pray for those who are hurting.

I’m blessed thoroughly. The challenges I’m facing at the just the beginning are only going to reap a richer, durable character in me. I want to keep up my faithful attitude, even when the times will get harder (and they certainly will as the school year goes forward).

The sermon this morning at Tomy church was about Joshua 1, and following the promise of God courageously. The take-away at the end and I hope to keep it in mind in the months to come:

Kiedy B贸g m贸wi: “Naprz贸d!”– odwa偶nie zaufaj Jego S艂owu.
When God says: “Go forward!” — boldly/courageously trust His Words.