Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Year Ago . . .

I went to meet Alex and Howard, a dating couple, in Slovakia where Alex is from. From Slovakia, we traveled together by bus to Prague in the Czech Republic.

I thought as I wondered around the streets of Prague about where I was a year ago, teaching hectically in May when there was so much to do and prepare for, and where I am now traveling and living in Europe for a year. I think I would have treaded 3 weeks of my past just for yesterday alone. Wouldn't I rather be traveling this train I'm sitting in on Monday at 8:13am looking at the luscious green outskirts of Prague fly by than teaching a math lesson? But, in all honesty - there were some great math lessons . . .

I think it must have been the hum drum that scared me and killed me.

As Howard politely led me to the train station this morning, he got me talking about the future and I realized that two months from today I don't know what will happen - where I'll be living in Romania. All this ambiguity is refreshing to a young heart that for 5 years listened to the same song.

I know there are advantages to listening to the same song over and over, and each time hearing new things. But can there ever be anything like listening to a song for the first time? Thank you, God, for giving me a new song. Why have you been so good to me? Thank you - it is completely unearned.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Civil Ceremony

Having a good day in Romania is like climbing a little higher when you’re already on the top of the world.

I woke up before I was naturally ready for it, which is unusual for me here. Vio opened my door and reminded me the time I had quoted I would wake up. I walked around the apartment like a drunkard, increasing speed until I was whipping out the door with a promise to Vio that I’d be back.

Today Conrad and Vio would be legally married in a court in Romania. Their church ceremony will take place in July, a little more than two months from today. Her fiancĂ©’s parents had Emailed me from the states to ask if I could buy some flowers to give in their stead. I like spending other people’s money, and that’s what I did when I saw the yellow and orange roses at the florists. I asked for a dozen and watched a Romanian girl wrap them up with care. I was waiting anxiously for the flowers to be ready, when I realized I couldn’t make time go faster by wanting it to. It was a waste not to enjoy the moment as I watched the florist take so much care with the dozen roses I had ordered.

As I stood their waiting I had time to marvel that 6 months here have equipped me to communicate with the florist, even though I’m still a beginner. Now I have little wings, and though I may not fly beautifully, it is nice to know I don’t have to be afraid anymore of jumping out of the nest.

I rushed back home. It’s fun to walk down streets in Europe with a bouquet of a dozen roses in your arms in the middle of May. Personally I like the curiosity it provokes when people see a happy young woman alone on the streets with a huge bouquet in her hands.

I opened our apartment door a crake and spoke to Violeta, who was all dressed up for the civil ceremony. She was waiting for the event by calmly reading her Bible on the couch. “I have a present for you from Conrad’s parents,” I spoke in Romanian. We agreed she should cover her eyes. The roses were so beautiful and we admired them together. Part of the beauty of the flower is that it dies. Would they ever be as beautiful as they were this morning?

It was pure joy to meet everyone once we arrived and I had been given the job to video taping everything. In Romania that gives me the right to stand and move almost anywhere I want during the ceremony. How great to really get to be the fly on the wall for a short time.

Before the ceremony I had made chocolate chip cookies. After the ceremony everyone gathered to eat sweets. Conrad held the tray of Chocolate cookies in his hands; another piece of America to this official Romanian marriage besides the American groom. I spoke Romanian and listened. What happiness! After the ceremony we took pictures at the park and then moved on to Vio’s brother’s apartment where we got to eat and talk and talk and have fun. Vio’s brother and his girlfriend keep telling Livia to speak with me in Romanian, instead of English, and it was great to feel part of their family and their home and their hearts for a time.

So today was an incredible day in my life because I was loved, I was spoken to and spoke to others in Romania and I was with people I loved and felt safe with. I thank God for the best year yet and that today he didn’t give and take away, but he just gave.

Friday, April 20, 2007


I was helping prepare for Simona and Raca's wedding. I was making small decoration bouquets with Carmen and Roxi in the church. When we ran out of the green leaves with the white in the center I noticed Carmen at the front of the sanctuary. She was pulling green leaves with white in the center out of the potted plants so we could add them to our bouquets.

"No one will miss them," Carmen told me when she noticed me watching her take them.

Then I looked at the materials we were using to make our bouquets. At that point in dawned on me that ALL of the green leaves with white in the center were from the same potted plant at the front of the church, not from the florist as I had imagined.

"How many of these long blades of grass should I use in the bouquet?" I asked the girls.

"It doesn't matter. There's plenty more where that came from." I thought I recognised the blades of grass from the church parking lot.

I had to smile at how funny it was that among our special decorations were many things we looked at every week just used in a new way.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Art After Life

I left the country for a day. When I arrived at the capital of Hungary, Budapest, the microbus driver and I reconfirmed as best we could with my limited Romanian that we would meet at the bus station about five hours later for our return to Romania.

—I came to Budapest because I had to leave the country every three months so that I did not remain in Romania illegally.—

After he drove away I was left to myself on the streets of Budapest, a place where the average citizen appeared more American to me, but the language was further from my understanding than Greek; I don't know one Hungarian word. After a snack and a self-tour of the bus depot, I hit the streets. I couldn’t find a map of the city and so decided to attempt a walk without one.

I walked for about an hour when I came across an interesting cemetery. The graves weren't packed all together, in fact, there was often open green lawn between each site with enough space for a car or two to fit. It was like a park. Huge, life-sized statues stood atop the tombstones. One tombstone had Christ carrying his cross, another had three life-sized women, joining hands, and all three weeping. Other graves had beautifully sculpted women looking down thoughtfully. There was a sculpted man with a walking stick, who appeared so comfortable with life that death was the last thing he expected. There were many romantic sculptures and being in this cemetery was like walking in a museum. When I admired a piece and looked at the date I was sometimes surprised by the year. 1843 was engraved in one, the beauty, the originality, and the youth of the pieces made me think these tombs had been erected more recently. I guess even in that era people were every bit as creative and original as we are today.

Many tombs had statues expressing deep sorrow, like the three women joining hands that I described earlier. There was an adult woman with a young adolescent boy standing beside her. Below them a life-sized male figure clung to the tombstone tortured by grief and longing. The woman and boy seemed not to notice him, while the male figure seemed not to notice anything but them. I was attracted to the open expression of grief that these figures portrayed. It reminded me a recent conversation with Romanian high school students. "There is something unnatural about death," I told them, "It just seems wrong." When I said "wrong" I meant out of the ordinary, weird, and absurd even.

As we were driving to Budapest I was thinking about how the consoling words, "He's in heaven now" don't really cut it for those that have lost a loved one. As "spiritual" as we may want to be, just knowing the deceased’s abstract personality still exists in another place—even a better one—doesn't compensate for what we've lost. We lack their physical presence. Losing something, somebody, that you can hold and touch and feel and even just look at is a tragedy.

Robbing us of our physical form—is—robbing us. I don't understand, of course, what the afterlife is, but I have to believe that there will be a physical realm to it. When the Bible describes us as being made in God's image, we are inclined (or even encouraged) to think that the word "image" only refers to a spiritual concept, but I am tempted to contemplate that our physical image is also makes us God-like. Image, after all, in its most basic sense is something physical.

After these thoughts, the weeping concrete statues that stood atop of real people turning to dust below, demonstrated grief in a real sense for the physical body (and all that comes with it. How can we separate soul and body?) that is lost at death. And it seemed very Christian to me to weep at death and hate it... as these ornately adorned tombs seemed to condone.

If we hate death with ever fiber of our being, are we not being more like God? No one hates death more than God who fought death to the core and ironically even gave his life so that His children could live forever. If we hate death, and when I say hate, I mean HATE, we are more like God. We are allowed to say, "Death, I hate you, and I will NEVER give into you." And I don't mean a hatred of a metaphoric death, but a hatred of real death. Death that smells bad after a few days.

In conclusion, I leave you with a mental picture of my favorite statue: The woman stood on two legs, but she was bent over, crying, leaning on a man beside her with one of her hands covering her face and her head close to her knees. In her posture of grief she seemed so controlled by sorrow that she did not realize neither the man on whom she leaned nor his stature. Unlike the woman, the man stood upright; he was strong. He looked up to the sky with a concentrated gaze. You might have felt he was disconnected from the woman, but he held her hand with the same strength with which he gazed upward. It didn’t take long to recognize that the man was Christ and the woman, my heart told me, was any of us who have ever wept with one hand over our eyes and the other, even absent-mindedly, in His grasp.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


I jumped out of the backseat of the car at a stop light. I had forgotten I promised Delia I would meet her at my apartment, and left the house when Vio invited me out. I had to get back home before Delia arrived.

I was thinking God always had a reason for me being this forgetful when I noticed a strange sight. The street was full of buses and cars, but no one was in them. "I could steal a bus," I considered, but then I realized that there was no where to drive it. It was stopped behind other empty cars. I noticed two other empty buses on the road. "Why would buses be completely empty?" I had seen this once before in Romania. When I was on a bus in Timnisoara there was an accident in the road ahead of us. The cars had to stop, including the bus, and all the bus passengers, myself included, got out of the bus and simply walked to our destinations.

Then I noticed the throng of people on the street. I joined them to see that a man lay in the street in his own blood. The car that hit him, beside him. The Ambulance was there with medical professionals. I saw one bloody boot beside the man and the other boot on the his foot. I couldn't see his face. People gathered silently on the street to watch, giving plenty of room to the medical crew. A lady came up next to me and asked me who it was. "I don't know," I said, and a man infront of her explained to her what he knew. I was praying as I stood there, and something in the silence of the mob told me that I wasn't the only one. Little kids were there, too, looking at the blood and the motionless man. "It's a good lesson for all of us," I considered, "to be careful pedestrians and drivers. Perhaps it's even more effective than 'Red Asphault.'"

I enjoyed how Romania wasn't like America for a moment. These police weren't pushing people away. There was nothing wrong with our looking, and perhaps there were lessons learned from watching that the best Driver's Training Course couldn't match. Furthermore, I like how even three bus drivers stood on the street and watched - and everybody just left there work and their jobs and the important things they were doing - just to see what happened. Because human life mattered more then getting things done. This man's life, or even just his traumatic experience, was worth MORE than hundreds of schedules and there was nobody in the crowd arguing with this.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


"When we first married," a Romanian woman told us in her home, "My husband talked, and I listened."

"But as time passed," the husband explained, "my wife talked and I listened."

"But now," the couple continued, "we both talk, and the neighbors listen!" The wife leaned back in her chair, eyes shut as she giggled. The husband leaned forward as he smiled, enjoying the sight of us, his guests, laughing at this explaination of their relationship.

This wife had married at eighteen to a husband of twenty-three. Here they sat as grandparents, showing us the pictures of their youngest curly blond-headed granddaughters, enjoying life as if it was some sort of kiddy roller-coaster. The wife would run into the other room when her husband or a guest needed a napkin or a spoon. The husband enjoyed nothing more than telling jokes to the guests that came other. When I had first walked in the home, I had thought the couple was brother and sister or else just two good friends, yet somehow not necessarily husband and wife. I didn't want to leave their house.

Friday, February 9, 2007


There is a small singing bird that is very common in Romania. Sadly, however, the "privighetoare," as it's called, only sings its beautiful songs at night. Craftily, people put the birds in cages and covered them so the birds would think it was night and sing during the day. More ruthless admireres of the privighetoare ripped the eyes out of the birds so they would sing all the time - living in an endless night.

Traian Dorz was imprisoned for 17 years during communism in Romania for writing Christian poetry, and he compared himself to these birds. Imprisioning him and banning him from paper and pencil was like ripping the eyes from the Privighetoare. When they took away the sun, and all that brought light to his world, it withdrew from him the sweetest songs.