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.

 

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.

 

Zimmufka

This past week, I went on a retreat with the youth group to Wisła, 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 Tomaszów early  on a brisk Monday morning, driving about 4 hours toward Wisła. 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.

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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.

November/Listopad

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

Romans 8:28 

It’s difficult to write an update this past month because so much has happened internally for me. November was the first month where I felt some sense of normalcy here; I’m not new to Poland anymore. The language is becoming less mysterious and I don’t think twice about the inconvenience or discomforts in relying on others or myself to get around either. Complaint sometimes comes up, but more often with bigger issues like last minute scheduling or unexpected events popping up. All these are easy things to peg when I think about how I’ve changed.

On a spiritual level, I’m still discovering how God has been shaping my character through my challenges. I’ve become aware of my need for control and where that need is rooted from my past. I’m learning my limits, where my boundary lines are with relationships, and how to explain them better. I’m so in need of God everyday; there’s real thirst on a regular basis for his Word and taking time to pray. And that vulnerability is not easy to start over with new people. And that’s all 3 months in. God’s been busy!

New relationships have been popping up for me: there’s a new American missionary previously living in Ukraine that’s living here now long-term; my jazz friend, Wojtek, and his musician friends I’m becoming closer to as we practice together; a few of the other women helping at Proem that I started connecting to earlier, got away from for a while, and have been reconnecting with now. My two close friends from Warsaw have been invaluable for me, too, and I’ve come to know and make new friends through them. God has been setting up a village around me here.

The highlight of this month is getting to jam with my jazz crew and preparing a set to perform sometime in the coming months. I’m really thankful that I have an outlet like this, and an outreach opportunity because none of them are Christians. Two of them have asked me why I came to Poland or if I’ve been here before, and I hope that they’ll come to some Proem events and get tied in even more.

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First official snowy day.

Thanksgiving away from family and friends was not as hard as I thought. There’s so many other Americans here, we had our own celebration and it kind of made up for missing out on time at home. Christmas will probably be a little harder to bear, but I’m excited for something different and making new memories with my Polish family.

December comes in with a bang: teams of volunteers are coming tomorrow to help with Journey to Bethlehem and I’m so excited to see some of my Mosaic family this week! Every weekend will be busy helping out with Bethlehem, since it’s one of the biggest outreach events we do here. I’ll be singing every weekend, so please pray for my voice and health to keep up. Looking forward to it and more!

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 Tomaszów, which was blocked off from car traffic by a police van. There’s usually a few permanent kwiarnia 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. 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. 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 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 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