Sunday, December 11, 2016

Teenage Dream

I haven't been in Romania since the middle of October and while my focus has been on all things California (plus a pinch of North Carolina) I am getting back to a place of feeling like I belong back in Piatra. I realize I'm missing out on a lot of things. I open Facebook and see new photos of the kids, many of them taken by the talented Brandusa, and I can already see how they all are growing up. That might sound silly, that I can tell they're doing more adult things already, but it's pretty obvious. It's like they're discovering themselves a little more all the time. That's all breathtaking stuff, to me.

Working with teenagers requires a constant attention to the dynamics of the kids as they interact with you and each other. It necessitates thinking on your feet. Teenagers are in a state of growing mentally and emotionally, testing the limits of their popularity and social skills, and they also do that tricky thing called falling in love. It's up to their guardians to engage them in ways that protect them but also let them make decisions for themselves. Throw in a language difference and you might have an idea of what ministering to Romanian youth is like. I'm still figuring it out myself.

Being Jesus to these kids means having faith not just in them but in the power of Christ to transform them. I believe in these kids, but more than that I believe that God wants to be a part of their lives and that he will make the real difference in them. I get the privilege of being the hands and the feet of Christ to go and care for these kids as best I can but it takes the power of the Holy Spirit to bring hope that lasts forever. All the confidence and self esteem in the world cannot match what God can create: renewal and an awareness that there is more beauty in the world that they had ever dared to imagine before. When my eyes were opened to the greatness of the Creator back when I really began to follow Jesus, I was amazed to look at everything around me with a new understanding. I saw that things are the way they are for a reason, and the knowledge that God created a new order of purpose for humanity gave me ambition. It made me want to do the best thing I could think of: be a missionary.

Our kids need perspective. They're on the right track, for sure. But I think that what all teenagers need is a sense that they are a part of something really important. A sense of the greatness of God and the majesty of his creation is the perfect anchor to a strong sense of self. Being self-absorbed and short-sighted comes naturally to adolescents, and this is okay. It comes with figuring out who you are and what you want. But no one needs to stay in that place of immaturity. And that's why as mentors and family, I see the potential for us to speak truth into the lives of these kids. Caring for, teaching, and loving these teens entails a lot of personal soul-searching for myself, so I know I really have the right mindset and a foundation in the Lord. It's so easy to just assume that I've got it all figured out. Aligning myself with who God wants me to be is a constant practice. I want to be the best me possible, especially because now I've got twenty kids to influence positively.

I'm on board to spend the great majority of next year in Romania. I'll be in Piatra and elsewhere in Romania beginning in February all the way until next Thanksgiving. I'm excited and am looking forward for what this means in terms of really being there for the kids, and I imagine I will be learning even more of the language. There are difficult things about leaving SoCal for so long. Mostly the difficulties involve leaving the very young and the very old. I don't have many friends in my hometown but Ontario is still the place I've spent most of my life. My idea of home is sort of up in the air at the moment.

Normally, I would provide a link for ya'll to contribute to my mission...but I'm fully funded! Praise the Lord. Really, I hate fundraising, so this is a huge blessing. If you still feel called to give, pm me and I can put whatever you would like to donate away toward future needs. Thank you, friends.

Katie xoxo

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

"Writing Is Hard," I Said

Writing is hard. It's easy to mess around and write whatever I feel like, which is what I usually do. If I write something good, I publish it on here, and if what I write sucks, I don't. Simple. But I have over two months to prepare for my next period in Romania and I swore that something I would do is get serious about writing. I want to write with a goal in mind. Maybe write short stories, or work on a book. But as you've gathered by now, it isn't that easy.

There is one main reason why this isn't easy. The reason is that I like to write autobiographically. I enjoy memoirs and autobiographies and I have been lucky to have had an interesting life. Thus, my desire to pursue putting my life on paper. But the thing about my life is that, um, I am not the only one in it. I have family and friends and there are people I have run into along the way and not everyone has contributed to my story in a positive way. People have misunderstood me and shut me out and screamed at my window from the dorm parking lot, and those are just the minor offenses. I really, really don't want my memoir to be only about how people have done me wrong. I really don't. But writing about how people have hurt me, how living with others can be difficult and how I have decided to let people go is necessary. All that is a big part of what has made me who I am today.

I have the idea that maybe if I write from a point of forgiveness and understanding of others, then the reader will come away with the idea that I am not trying to expose people in my life but that I am being honest, while offering them the benefit of the doubt. But part of me thinks that sounds like wishful thinking at best and rubbish at worst. I just finished the memoir Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison and he offers a great explanation of his process for writing about his parents. He made the choice to write about his home life and it encourages me that he was able to do it in a way that was open yet did not paint anyone as a monster. That is something I am worried about being guilty of. Once I publish a memoir, I can't unpublish it. Once the information is out there, I can't get it back. I must be able to take responsibility for the can of worms I may end up opening.

The motivation for writing a memoir should, I think, be based mainly on the desire to tell a story. If you get your own emotions and opinions involved too much, the story can end up sacrificed for other things. These other things can include your ego, your personal vendettas, your desire to be heard, and your overall need to feel justified. "She hurt me, he lied to me, they ignored me but this is why was right all along!" I never want that strident, cloying voice to be mine.

I think I'm still coming to a place of acceptance in my life. I'm trying to understand what full forgiveness is. I still feel at times like if only people knew what was happening in my life when I was 20, 19, 18, basically all the way down to when I was ten years old and even four, then I would somehow be at peace with everything. That everything would be worth it if only I would not be alone in the middle of my story. If other people were in it with me, even if only in retrospect, then maybe it wouldn't be so painful. Maybe it wouldn't make me so angry. But I know that my being okay with my past must come before the sharing of it. At least, as much as possible.

There is a way to write about others, and not just fictional others, in a way that is fair and accurate. I hope to learn exactly what that way is. Life is messy because people are messy. My family is messy and my friends are messy and I am absolutely messy. It really doesn't boil down to good people vs. bad people, not even half the time. Everyone has a story even if not everyone writes it. Some of the people in my life who have done the most damage to me are incredibly broken people themselves. They have their own emotional, mental and physical trauma that has left me in a state of not knowing how to feel. How should I feel, when the person berating me has chronic pain? When the person who obviously doesn't care that I'm suicidal is losing a loved one, slowly and painfully? I could go on. These are my sticky situations.

There are good things to share, though. People who have left me better than they found me. People like Jeff,* who I met last year and became my work buddy and one of my good friends. We stuck together like two peas in a pod. Everyone at work thought we were dating, but really we were just talking about Star Wars and telling each other the highlights of our shift. There's Crystal,* my roommate last year, who has become one of my best friends. She understands me in a way few people do. She's also just legitimately stylish and rad. And then there's my Romanian family, and my next door family...and there are more friends and family that make my story a happy one. I want to tell my tale properly, including the good and the bad. And I have a feeling that as I figure out how to do that, I will see even happier things develop.

I have a knack for predicting things. Not everything, not all the time. But I can read people pretty well, and I get good feelings and bad feelings, and I tend to do best when flying by the seat of my pants. I predict a happy ending. I've just got to get there first, and when I'm ready, I'll let you know.

In the meantime, I'll just be writing as much as I can...

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Watershed

As I've spent the last week getting back to California and adjusting, I've thought about what I wanted to write. It's been a whirlwind. One day I was in Piatra, buying chocolate and instant coffee at Adrudan and walking back to the apartment in 40 degree weather and two days or so later I was changing out of my pants and sweater into shorts and a tee shirt in a Carl's Jr. restroom after leaving LAX, since it was about 100 degrees outside. Life just keeps going. But there are some moments I'd like to share with you, moments that for one reason or another stand out.

I get off the plane after we land in Istanbul and head for the nearest screen. I look for my next gate, but don't find it. Huh. I can't see my flight to LAX listed. I keep walking, turning to the right. I pass men, women in hijabs, children and babies. I look for the next screen and find it across from a duty free store. Sure enough, this screen has one more panel, and on this panel my flight to LA has appeared. But the gate is not ready yet. I stall, wandering over to check out the duty free stuff. They have shelves upon shelves of perfume. I scan them, guessing that they won't mind me trying a sample. There is a man and a woman clerk, and the woman is singing. I pick up a pink bottle. The name is Je t'aime pour toujours or some other flowery French phrase. I spray it on one wrist and rub it into the other. The smell is nice, and I appreciate the improvement on my state after the hours long bus ride from Piatra to Bucharest. There is nothing else to do in this store, and my gate has yet to appear, so I wander back the way I came, looking for a place to sit. A family with young children occupies the first row of benches but farther down there is another bench. I sit down, and figure that I have enough time to listen to a song or two. I pick "I'm Still Here." I was obsessed with this song when I was ten years old at Disney World, listening to the Treasure Planet soundtrack on my CD player almost constantly. I remember riding a monorail at night, putting the song on repeat. I was having depressed, teenage angst as a preteen. Something like that. Listening to this song in the Istanbul airport, I think back to earlier in the day on Tuesday, the previous day, the day I left Piatra. I came to the center to say goodbye to the kids. I got to have chocolate and caramel cake with Brandusa and two of the girls, two girls who I happen to be close to. And when we got back, Adrian came outside with a plastic toy gun, and he tried to arrest me but I ran away from him and we chased each other across the pavement and over the low fence and through the grass, jumping off of the tree stump. I picked him up from behind. He's small for a nine-year-old. He fell at one point, rubbing his elbow but he walked it off. I took a picture with him. He ran away before I could properly say goodbye to him. Thinking about running around chasing Adrian, listening a song loaded with meaning, I find myself tearing up a little, alone on that bench, staring out at the skyline of Istanbul, Turkish flags hanging from buildings. I sit in the moment, crying at this crossroads, at this turning point. I want to keep chasing kids around. I listen to "Divine Romance" and then I check my gate, and yes, it's up. I power-walk to the other side of the airport while listening to Paramore, going back the way I sprinted the last time I was in this airport, when I accidentally went to the wrong gate. Ain't it fun, livin' in the real world? Ain't it good, bein' all alone? It is.

Then next moment held in my mind comes when my parents pick me up from LAX. After stopping at Carl's Jr. so I can change and to get something to drink (I have strawberry lemonade for the first time in a long time), we decide to have tacos at our favorite place, Senor Baja. But traffic is terrible. All I want to do is shower. It takes us twice as long to get to our county as usual, about two hours. We stop in the Senor Baja. I've really missed fish tacos. I get two of them and an asada and a chicken. We sit down. But somehow it's all too much for me. The place is packed, and it's already pretty tiny. But the main thing overwhelming me is the loud mariachi music. It leaves no space in my brain. I'm used to hearing Romanian top 40 wherever I go. They even played it all night on the bus. This audible culture clash is too much for me, so I ask my parents if we can go outside, and we sit at the table out there. The heat is the least of my problems. It's really not so bad, now that I'm wearing shorts. Since this moment, I haven't had any more reverse culture shock. I don't get jet lag, and I don't fully get culture shock or the reverse. At least, I haven't yet. Maybe I will in the future. There's always time for that.

The last moment is the hardest to explain. Back home later in the week, I go next door to visit my Punjabi neighbors unannounced, as I always do. However, I pick an inopportune time to drop by because the parents are both working and the kids, Priya and Dinesh, are at their uncle's house. Grandma opens the door. At first I think she is saying that the kids are taking naps upstairs, so I take a seat. She brings me orange juice and then makes me tea. My neighbors always make the best tea. Really, it's the best Indian tea I've ever had, and some of the best tea of all time, in my book. The tea is always accompanied by biscuits. I sit and wait, and talk to Grandma. She speaks to me like I can understand, which I can't, but I appreciate it. She nods and gestures, and I nod at the appropriate moments. She is saying something emphatically, asking me a question, and she wants a response but I can only shrug. She laughs. After a while we just sit. The TV is not on. I try to get it to work, but as I try to explain to Grandma, there is no internet connection. We sit in silence. I run next door to grab a book. I read, still thinking the kids are upstairs sound asleep. Grandma is lost in thought. I wander outside, into the backyard. Rows of either onions or garlic are sprouting up in the garden, green tendrils poking through the dirt. The peach tree looks bigger. There are little orange and green globes in the orange tree. I walk over to the other side of the yard. I stop in front of a bush I have never noticed before. It is covered in buds, the purple petals still enclosed, so that I can't tell what kind of plant it is. I run my fingers through the stalks, feeling the buds, and suddenly a breeze blows down between my house and the neighbors' house and the breeze is soft and strong at the same time and it's like a gentle voice, like a divine hand against me. I look north, toward the mountains, the direction the breeze is coming from. I search the air, as if trying find its source. But of course, there's nothing there. The empty void between our houses disappoints me for some reason. So I close my eyes, and my fingers return to the purple buds, and I decide the best way to experience the wind is, of course, to feel it. The breeze reaches me again, but less meaningfully. But I only need to feel it once to understand.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Mountain I Didn't Climb

Everyone at the center is packed and ready to go. The kids begin to gather behind our two vehicles as we arrange their backpacks in the trunk of the Ford and the back of the Zafira. Everyone is excited for our annual trip to Ceahlau, a mountain in the Carpathians not far from here that some of us are planning to climb. I notice Ioana sitting on the low fence with her backpack. But she isn't talking to any of the others and she looks miserable. Then I notice she is with two people who must be her mom and brother. "Are you going acasa?" I ask her in Romanian. She says "yes." I can tell she isn't pleased to be with her mother. "Do you like going acasa?" "No."

I try explaining to her, all the while searching for an interpreter (aka Nadia) who can tell her that I will be leaving back to California on Wednesday, and that I will miss her. I think I communicate the first part but before I can even begin the second she is leaving, still looking very unhappy. I watch her go. Then Anca tells me that the Romanian for "I miss you" is "Mi e dor de tine." Mi e dor de tine. I am missing from you. Like French, sort of. Tu me manques. You are missing from me.

We all pile in the cars, Anca and I climbing in the Zafira. Brandusa sits on the other side of me. Somehow they both discover the fact that my hands are cold. My hands are always cold, and while most people treat this discovery with only an exclamation, Anca and Brandusa take both of my hands in theirs and hold them, warming them up. Anca holds my left hand all the way to our first photo stop. We climb out of the cars to take a group picture. We can see the peak of Ceahlua rising above the hills, so we pose in front.

We make a second stop, and scramble up onto a field. Ceahlau rises even more impressively in front of us. I have just entered the field when I feel a soft squish under my right shoe. Great. A cow pie. A minute later I feel the same squish, again under my right foot. Brilliant. A second cow pie. I don't know how I managed to step in two cow pies in the span of a minute but that's my life sometimes. Colin takes not one, not two, but three pictures of me trying to scrape the mess off of my shoe onto a wooden fence. I plan to delete them, since they're on my camera, but they are pretty funny.


We pile back in the vehicles and get to the place we will be staying. We all share one big room, the boys and Joe in four beds next to the bathroom and all the rest of us girls are in beds against the opposite wall. I will be in one of the beds that are extra tiny, narrower than a twin, somehow. We eat a meal of schnitzel, chicken legs, pork, red or white bell peppers, tomato slices and bread. It's one of the best cold lunches I've had in Romania. Then we go outside and some of the girls play that cup game. "...When I'm gone, when I'm gone...you're gonna miss me when I'm gone...." They sing the song and tap out a beat with the cups and their hands every time we get together. They even changed the lyrics to be about NGC. When the cold gets to us, we go back inside and Miruna wraps a scarf around her head, perhaps impersonating an old Romanian woman, and everyone is soon in stitches. I even laugh, though I have no idea what she's saying. Her voice quavers, high and reedy.

We all gradually change into our pajamas. But many people remain active even as others try to  sleep. I read a little, although Miruna next to me stands up on her narrow bed and begins to dance. Brandusa carries on a conversation with someone across the room. I put my book away and try to sleep. Eventually someone turns off the lights and a little while after that the conversation stops. Sleep comes soon after that.

When I wake up around seven the next morning, everyone else is also more or less waking up. I have decided that I will not be climbing Ceahlau. It would be a great accomplishment, but maybe I am too traumatized by that time I climbed up a mountain in India, using my hands to grab onto plants out of necessity, lest I fall off the side and break my arm. Joe says Ceahlau won't be like that. But I also don't want to climb because I know it will be very hard even so, and I would rather enjoy myself and focus on taking pictures instead. So I opt to go on a plimbare, a walk, with Brandusa and Anca and Georgiana.

When I packed for Romania in July I didn't know I'd be going to a mountain in mid-October, so I need to borrow clothes from people. I wear a scarf from Nadia, child's gloves from Ana, a hat from Rasvan and a bright pink jacket from Georgiana. I think I'm ready to go.

The majority of our group set off toward Ceahlau, which looms very close to our cabin, impressive in the morning light. The four of us going on the plimbare take our time, leaving maybe twenty minutes after the large group, and after stopping at the natural spring so we (I) could get some water, we head off in the opposite direction.

We walk down the road, Brandusa and I taking pictures with our cameras. Brandusa is a professional photographer, while I am more an amateur. She does it for a living and uses manual, while I do it to supplement my missions work and I use automatic, even though I have learned manual over and over, only to promptly forget it. We both loving photography, though. We come upon a blue and teal
painted house with white chickens out front, green grass and orange trees dotting the hillside behind it. I take about a dozen photos of this scene, playing with how much of the building to include, how much of yard.

We continue walking. It is cold, and I am kicking myself for only bringing a small wad of toilet paper for my nose. My nose always runs when it's cold out. At my job at PNC Arena, I used a handkerchief because every night from October to March it would be cold out, and I would stand in the parking lot for hours juggling tickets and a giant wad of cash, and the last thing I wanted to worry about was my nose. I lost that handkerchief in my move back to California so now I make do with toilet paper. As we walk along the road, I dab gently at my nose and suddenly it feels very wet. I look down at the red mark on the paper and realize, my nose is bleeding. Great.

My nose has been giving me these problems ever since I got to Sibiu. But this time it is my left side of the nose that is bleeding. It bleeds and bleeds. I lean over and blood drips and drips from my nose. We don't have any more tissue paper so Brandusa forces me to use two spare eyeglass cloths. I soak them.

Brandusa makes me lie on the ground, quite literally on the side of the road, using her backpack as a pillow, while I continue to apply pressure to the left side of my nose. I laugh a few times because the situation is so ridiculous.  I laugh especially hard when Brandusa attempts to use a piece of bread to absorb the blood running out of my nose. The girls flag down three cars. We acquire two packs of facial tissues and some gauze. I pack the gauze into my nose and hold it in place with some tissue. Brandusa says, "Oh look, a bear!" jokingly, as if to say the situation couldn't get any worse, and I laugh, and feel like a freak, lying here on the ground holding my nose. I soak through the gauze.

Another driver stops and Brandusa says he will return to use with something to stop the bleeding. I don't really understand what the heck that could be, but I welcome anything to stop this torrent of blood. As I lie here, every time I swallow I feel blood sliding down the back of my throat. I swallow so much blood that the acidity starts to wear at my esophagus, and it begins to hurt. I imagine that vampires must have sore throats all the time.

I have soaked through my second wad of gauze by the time the man gets back to us. Brandusa puts a wad of cotton soaked in vinegar under my nose. "Smell this," she instructs, and I do as she says. Sure enough, I find that my bleeding has finally stopped. Good. I was a little worried, since I also was losing blood in another form at this time of the month, and I didn't know how much blood I could stand to lose at one time.

I stand up, and the man drives the four of us back to our cabin. As we climb up the stairs, I imagine the elevator full of blood from the Shining, which we watched in the apartment last month. Remote cabin: check. Cold weather: check. Large quantity of blood: check.

I get in bed and eat some of my prepacked lunch and drink the spring water. Brandusa and Georgiana stay with me for a while before continuing on the plimbare, but Anca stays with me. Anca and I talk in Romanian, and we keep reaching words I don't understand so Google Translate helps us out. We talk and then retreat into our music. I can feel my stomach gurgling over and over, irritated by the acid in the blood that I swallowed. I write out the events of the morning in my journal, and I reach the last page and conclude with, "I am listening to 'Chicago' by Sufjan Stevens, and this is the end." The two others return and we all fall asleep. I dream that Anca is speaking English, and she is giving me several pairs of colorful shoes as gifts, and a machine that can spit out whatever color Fruit Loops I want, all hues of the rainbow. I wake myself up from this dream and lie in bed, listening to the soft sounds of snoring.

The others get back from hiking to the top of the mountain, and their pictures are incredible. They were above the clouds at the top, snow blanketing the ground. When they climbed back down below the clouds, it was raining. It all sounds incredible. But as Joe tells me, it was a very, very good thing I didn't go with them. If I had, since they left earlier, I would have been on the side of the mountain when my nose would have sprung its leak. That would have been even more of a disaster. I tell Joe the one piece of good news: Even after all that blood, after I got it all over my hands and even got spots of it on my glasses, I didn't get one drop on any of the pieces of clothing I was borrowing, not even on the gloves or the jacket. Hurray for silver linings.


All the mountain climbers eat a hurried meal of pate on bread with condiments, which I do not partake in, and we pack up our things and leave. In the Zafira, I sit next to Anca again, and again she holds my hand between hers, and rubs warmth into it, and then she rests her head on my shoulder and then takes both of my hands in hers. I lean my head on top of hers. I think about leaving. I plan to visit the center on Tuesday, to say goodbye. Mi e dor de tine. I am missing from you. Soon this will be true.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

This City

Piatra Neamt is not a smooth city. It is a rough, gritty, yellowed city. "German Stone." It is a city of rust-colored trees on the mountains and hills, in the fall. It is a place where dogs and cats roam the yards and sidewalks, occasionally meandering into the street, though no one bothers to honk at them. Birds fly down from the trees to the ground, where nuts and fruits have fallen. Old buildings shed paint and plaster, revealing reddish bricks underneath. Clouds cover the sky, the rain having stopped, though if you look in the distance you can see a smattering of snow on a mountainside. The Soviet style apartment buildings are painted orange, maroon, yellow in places. The sidewalk is crumbled. Paving stones have come loose, and shift beneath the feet of the many pedestrians. People walk to cafes, to markets, to restaurants, to the mall. A billboard still advertises back-to-school merchandise. Children on an excursion hold hands, bundled in colorful coats, hats on their heads. Cars traverse roundabouts, turning down side streets to park in gravel lots. People emerge from Lidls, Billas, Adridan, Kaufland with bags in their hands, full of groceries. Bread, sausage, chicken, pork, peppers, onions, potatoes, cookies, sour cream, yogurt, cheese, juice, milk. Churches are scattered throughout the city, one with blue, green and yellow tiles, one with a metallic gold roof. People sell corn on the streets. The lake is dotted with swans. The ground is littered with yellow leaves. The teenagers steal small, sour, purple grapes hanging over the fences. The city moves with an unconscious rhythm, every day much the same as the last, but never identical, always shifting with the passage of the weeks, months, seasons. Autumn suits this city, the clouds bringing out the saturation of the painted buildings, the gaudy advertisements. This city is textured. Its inhabitants are young, old, dark, pale. There is a world within this city. It is a city within the world.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Poezie (Poetry)

I have a bit of a writer's block, which is a nice way of saying that everything that I've been writing lately has been overly detailed garbage. So as I've been meaning to do, I've sifted through my personal papers to find a few poems that I can share with the entire internet--or, you know, the six of you who read my blog.

Don't let the title mislead you; these poems aren't written in Romanian. I'm not quite at Eminescu's level yet, but when I get to that point I guess they'll have to name me Romania's new national poet. Anyway, I'll shut up and let you peruse a few pages of my brain.

Tiny apple cores. The ground is
littered with bottle caps, a button.
We're eating corn for horses.
"20 pieces?" "Do you think I am
joking?" 20 worthless ears of
too-dry corn. Gina receives all
four of my cheesy mushrooms. I
eat an extra piece of bread. I'm
enjoying it now. All of it.

I know the language of children
and of pianos,
of cornflakes pressed into
the carpet by little fingers,
of espresso in a white cup
and the stain on my skirt.
I do not speak, but I understand.
I half-listen to the jokes, in English,
and taste the cake I feed
my ravenous stomach with full
comprehension. I do not speak.

I've cut myself with a dull knife
across my fingertips
& I haven't been dreaming
(too much) & when I do, I don't
like it because I ache
for things that are true, the
way I hate television, the
way the only story I am able
to tell is my own. I've been
so hungry for junk food & I
finally ate a cheeseburger & now
I never want to eat again.
My knee stopped popping & I
hate how people sink beneath
my grasp in the edges of my memory.

The yogurt here is better
and the cookies have men's
names, ice cream is a gamble
(unless it's gelato) & coffee has
shrunk. Water usually costs
as much as soda but more than
beer, there's always bread (though
it stales within a day) & you
better like potatoes (& I guess
most people do). Vegetarians
need not apply, food can
miraculously keep on the stove
overnight & I've had a happy
stomach throughout but what
I wouldn't do for an eight-
piece California roll.

"Let's assemble a demigod,"
they said, so they took
boards & nails in their hands
& grabbed spite & malice
to reinforce the structure
while outfitting the contraption
with half-truths & heresy,
pride jutting high as ramparts
on a cardboard foundation
& framework as brittle
as glass. They built their tower
grandly, boastfully. They called it
master, conqueror. They built it
the only way they knew how.

My hands dig up brown, white,
green, blue sea glass, lit by the sun.
And the whole Black Sea is

a blue, green, white, brown shard
illuminated, crashing into pieces,
shattering in the surf. We jump
and swim and I scream for the cold.
But soon it is not and we stay,
half afloat, while waves break
around us and carry us a little,
but we wade back out, until we're
pulled again, and on it repeats.

And I hate what she'd said, that
I would forget about this
(as if I could) but now
once more I am a free being,
and anyway these breakers
remind me that I am, and
that we are, and I will
remember, and remember.

Ioana knows a good picture
when she sees one, she says
"frumoasa," and smiles each time
she sees a picture of herself--
though the camera makes her
nervous, when aimed at her--her
voice so soft, so mild you might
have a hard time understanding her, 
even if she spoke English. But here
she is, engaged in the moment, in
each picture even more so than at
the time the photo was snapped. She
reminds me of Colin, the same
quiet murmuring, little questions
asked with big eyes, and it is all
I can do to understand, but
nevertheless, I do.

I have a penchant for originality,
for things I've never heard before,
and in that I am completely average.
I tire of cliches, of the expected,
of beating the proverbial dead horse.
Tell me something new, show me
the parts of life I've never considered.
Repeat them for me. But only a little.

Lots of ampersands and food references. You can see exactly how wide my journal is and how large I write. Thanks for reading.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Weekend Rundown

"Good morning, princess."

So begins a busy Saturday, as I drag myself out of bed, my alarm having failed to wake me up, take a shower, and get ready to walk to Club Next.

"You know the way to the Club, right?" Joe asks. "Yeah..." I say but Joe runs through the route with me. A left turn at the Orthodox church, and then a right.

I make the left at the blue and yellowed tiled church and then take the road that diverts to the right but I soon realize I turned right too soon. Eventually I come upon the steps up to the park and hurry up them, turning back the way I came, passing the home for the elderly, until I come to the zoo, and across from it, Club Next.

Today is the weekly English class. I'm not late at all, but there are kids here already, playing music on their phones, sitting at the table and drawing on the white board. Rachel arrives with her husband Florin and almost three-month-old baby Ellie. Rachel is our teacher, but Ellie has a tummy ache so she must tend to her baby while teaching.
 


 



I'm on photo duty. I take pictures once we get far enough into the lesson that the kids look busy and not distracted. I try to get pictures of everyone, something I need to do with conscious effort, otherwise I'd only take pictures of the most flamboyant ones. The kids write sentences on the board, translating Romanian into English. They write in their notebooks. Rachel holds Ellie as she guides the class through the translations. Eventually, small children' books are brought out, and the kids read them in pairs.

After the class, I get a message from my friend Brandusa, asking me if I'd like to take a plimbare, a walk, to the Strand to see the horses again. Of course, I agree. I bring my camera and I was glad I did because autumn is settling over Piatra Neamt and the mountains and trees and apartment buildings were saturated in rich colors because of the cloudy day. I take pictures and we enter the Strand. We see a large dog, a German Shepard, lying in the grass. At first we are afraid, but Brandusa asks a lady if the dog is friendly and she says that it is. The dog follows us on our way to the stable and then three cats come out of the woodwork and apparently are friends with the dog. We go in the stable and greet the horses. My favorite horse is a gray one that liked me last time we were here, and it still likes me, pushing its nose into my chest when I hold its face. I don't know if it's male or female or what its name is. The girl in the stable thinks its name begins with a "b." Some of the horses are friendly, some are too busy eating and some I am afraid to pet because they seem a little aggressive, like they might bite me. One brown horse licks the length of my hand, its big, slobbery tongue leaving my palm all wet and shiny. After a while, we say our goodbyes to the horses and leave. Brandusa picks through the leaves on the ground to recover walnuts that have fallen on the ground. I crack a few open the way that Nadia taught me, with my shoe, and eat some. We talk about photography, and America, and how if Trump becomes president we might as well expect World War III. On our way back to our apartments we pass a small white dog with the fur on its feet dyed pink and a sad, drunk man talking to no one. I bid Brandusa goodbye and thank her for the walk.

The next day I go to the Baptist church, luckily meeting Rachel and Florin in the little room outside of the sanctuary. We go in and the youth sing some songs, and then I am lucky enough to get to listen to a sermon in English because George, a British man, is preaching with a translator. He preaches from Genesis 3, about the way things were turned upside down after the fall.

After church I go with Joe to Kaufland, the largest grocery store in the city, to pick up some food for the dinner with the kids that we will have later in the day. I tell Joe about the time I went to a feminist punk conference. I am wearing handmade button earrings that I had bought from a girl at that grassroots gathering. "Feminists don't make earrings out of buttons," Joe exclaimed, but I insisted that it was so. We talked about the politics of feminists and of punks.

Later, I ride with Kendra and two of the girls to the Club, to get ready for the meal. There are a total of eleven kids once everyone arrives. I take pictures, of course. We have pasta with red sauce and pasta with white sauce. I haven't eaten lunch (or breakfast, for that matter) so I take a large plate of both kinds and eat all of it. I mess around with the kids. Colin suddenly becomes camera shy and I head against me. Some kids leave a pile of red sauce by the steps for the kitten to eat, but of course it doesn't even touch it. Eventually we run out of things to do and after we clean everything up, stack the chairs and sweep, we leave.



can't take any pictures of him. He grabs me and picks me up from behind even though he is smaller than me. I manage to get a picture of the elusive Vasile. He actually lets me take the picture, and smiles. Some kids and Kendra are playing Uno. Kids pile on the air mattress that they moved onto the floor from where it was inexplicably located in the bathroom. I supervise the horseplay, and try to keep Colin from popping the mattress. Girls pick up a kitten that has been meandering around outside and squeeze it despite its struggle to be free. I crouch by it and it climbs onto my lap, rubbing its little

At home, I try and fail to upload all of the photos from English class to Facebook. It's driving me crazy but thankfully I wash dishes for a while and think about how I don't know how to write about all the things we do in a way that evokes the feelings of it or is laced with meaning. I can't make a tidy entry, an entry that concludes with one solid point or concrete moral. So I wrote this.

Romania update: I am planning to return next summer, in July, hopefully. I will let you all know when I start fundraising. Thanks for reading!

Friday, September 16, 2016

A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities

In the old days, learned men used to collect various medical curiosities and display them in cabinets, you know, curio cabinets, like how people today show off souvenir spoons from their vacations, or trinkets like swans made of blown glass. I know this because I read A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities by Jan Bondeson back when I was a teenager, because that's exactly the kind of book everyone my age was pining after back in the Twilight heyday. All sarcasm aside, that was a fascinating book, and if you can't get enough of it, don't worry, there's a sequel: The Two-Headed Boy, and Other Medical Marvels. Great stuff. Seriously, if you ever watched all those semi-trashy medical shows on TLC or even Little People, Big World, well, then these informative, extensively researched volumes may just satiate your curiosity the way only dense nonfiction can. They're actually very readable, and you can be like me and skip over everything you don't want to read without losing out on much.

Where in the name of all that is holy is this blog post going? I suppose you may be thinking. This could turn into additional book recommendations, but if I started on that topic I'd be writing all night long and you would be reading all evening (assuming you're in the US of A). So what I am on about right now is my own medical history. I'll spare you the gory details but I have recognized over the years that I have the absolute worst luck medically. Okay, not the worst luck. But my variety of maladies is sort of astounding, and since I already relayed a lot of it to some friends today (and since I am in the mood to write and hopefully amuse you) I figured it was worth penning a rundown of my more memorable incidents, conditions, disorders, and syndromes. So here we go.

I clearly remember being two years old. Okay, I clearly remember five minutes during which I was two years old. I recall standing on the floor, as one does, and wanting to see a Halloween card my dad was looking at while he sat at the dining room table. For some reason he refused to hand it to me, or show it to me down below where I was standing. So I did what any self-respecting toddler would do. I climbed onto the table. Standing on the table, I now had a much better view of the card. I even remember what it looked like: it had a bunch of children on it, trick or treating, and when you pushed the doorbell on the card, it made a delightful ding-dong sound. Marvelous! Did I mention I was standing on the table? I must have been because my very next memory is of me falling off the table headfirst and my mom's sewing machine on the floor coming closer and closer to my blonde head. Yeah. I fell headfirst onto my mom's sewing machine, although my dad claims I "jumped." Whatever I did, I ended up a bloody mess and required being rushed to the hospital (through the Omaha snow) where I received a few stitches. No concussion, no brain damage (as far as I can tell...). My health record was off to a great start. Oh yeah, it was also discovered that I had an allergy to penicillin around this time, after coming down with a rash after taking it. Penicillin allergy. Remember that, there will be a test later...

Next: flash-forward to when I am about nine or ten years old. I ask my mom if everyone sees static everywhere all the time, like I do. Obviously, if your child asked you that, what would you think? Oh my Lord, what is wrong with my child??  But no, my mom didn't overreact, but she was concerned. And so began a wild goose chase in which we drove from ophthalmologist to eye doctor to eye specialist, including a memorable trip (or two) to a place in San Diego that I recall being mainly populated by elderly people seeking help for their cataracts. I was by far the youngest patient. And the thing was, NO ONE knew what the heck was up with my eyes. For all they knew, I could even just be making it up, because none of their tests could find anything. I had 20/20 vision when my nearsightedness was corrected. This "static" problem, as I called it, was then not really a problem because I could see just fine with it. I had a scan done of my eye and got to see the inside of my eyeball, all the veins and everything, and I was told I was lucky because not many people got to see the inside of their eyeball. But they couldn't tell me what was wrong. "Some people can just see things others can't," the kindest doctor told me, so then I wondered if maybe I was seeing atoms or maybe the fabric of the universe itself. The last thing the very last doctor told us on our last visit to an eye doctor's was that, maybe, I had a form of night blindness, since my symptoms were worse at night. And that was all she felt she needed to say. Night blindness is incurable, after all.

Everyone in the seventh grade at my middle school got checked by a nurse for scoliosis, de rigur, every year. I was checked and had to take a note back to my mom that said that I had a slight curvature in my spine that might be mild scoliosis, so I should see my pediatrician. So I did. And she said that, yes, it seemed to be a mild problem, but I should see a specialist, just in case. But I was probably fine. Okay. Alright. My mom and I drive to Loma Linda to see the specialist, I take some x-rays with my shirt and bra off, and we wait in the little examination room. The doctor walks in, and it's the first time I've ever seen him, and he is accompanied by two med students. After a brief introduction, he dives right in: I will need surgery. Invasive, major surgery on my spinal column, because I have Scheuermann's kyphosis. I burst out crying. The doctor, along with the two med students, awkwardly files out of the tiny room while my mom tries to console me and we try to figure out where to go from here. So I had the surgery. When I was fourteen, after I came back from my first visit to Romania, I spent five days in the hospital after having two titanium (or maybe stainless steel) pencil-thin rods attached to either side of my spinal column, to straighten it out from the hunched-over shape it formerly had. We had gotten a second opinion from a doctor in Los Angeles who had actually said that I could live a happy life with my back bent over the way it was, but I didn't want the possible resulting health problems, like respiratory or cardiovascular issues, so I decided to go big. And at the time of the surgery, my back had a balmy 80 degrees curvature. So it really was necessary. The worst part of the surgery, actually, wasn't the complete overhaul of the shape of most of my body but my adverse reaction to morphine. I had been told, preop, that I would either be a) weepy or b) irritable, but after I came to and was put on said narcotic I was both EXTREMELY weepy and INCREDIBLY irritable. So they took me off that and put me on Percocet. I remember, while still on morphine, that the doctor came in to see me and figure out exactly why I was doing so poorly, and how I had no words to explain to him why I felt so bad. I didn't know why. Wasn't he the doctor? But they put me right on Percocet and from there I could resume recovery, relearn how to walk, and all that.

 Next stop: psychological problems! I've told my story enough times that putting it here only gives me slight pause, but I am leaving out the meat, as it were, you know, the really juicy secrets, so don't for one second think that I am actually spilling all of my guts. Just some of them. All through high school, I subconsciously struggled with a low-grade depression, the way some people fight a low-grade fever for a day. But this was about three, maybe four years of not really being myself, and only my mom could really tell. I didn't have much perception of it, although I knew I didn't really feel fulfilled in any area of my life. And there was the end of junior year, when I cried during not one, not two, but three class presentations (the fourth one I rocked, though). So all was not right in my life, and then I started college. This college was only an hour away from home, so going to live in the dorms was not a huge deal. Except a tropical storm of circumstances conspired to leave me deeply, morbidly depressed, so lost in my depression I was have physical symptoms (leaden paralysis, psychomotor retardation. tl;dr, you can google it) and, as you can imagine, I was suicidal at times. I am rightfully proud to say that I never hurt myself, although I did have a very specific plan for how I could kill myself. I didn't want to kill myself, though, so every time I had that feeling I would call my mom. But I had that feeling that only those who have been deeply, uncontrollably depressed can understand: I thought I was evil. Bible-thumping professors know humanity is wicked in one way, but I believed I was akin to Satan in a completely different way. I was in too deep. It was like I was no longer me, even less myself than I was in high school. My only escape came with Christmas, and I got a few blessed, restful months at home. Before spring semester began...

...and I came down with the literal opposite problem. Mania. Bipolar disorder is made up of two "poles," depression, or extreme sadness, and mania, extreme happiness. This is the compact way of describing the disorder, because I want to spare you the 500-page volume I could also write on the subject of just what is this complicated psychological condition. I am fortunate enough to have gotten the complete, deluxe, everything-included version of this illness, known as bipolar 1 (there is also a bipolar 2 and some people are also claiming there is a bipolar 3, why not). Basically, this means I get to have all-consuming delusions while manic. I believed the world was ending, I was seeing symbolic meaning in the most insignificant places, I was having hallucinations. What fun! Really, if you ever have a chance to go bipolar 1 manic, by all means, it will change your life. It definitely changed mine. My world came crashing down mostly because of the dozen or more friends I lost. And some of them were good friends. But they weren't good enough to give me the benefit of the doubt. I didn't get mercy or grace from some of the strongest proponents of these qualities, didn't receive actual, genuine, Christ-like love from these people. I do understand, though. I really should add that I rode almost the same exact manic roller coaster exactly one year later. My bipolar is very seasonal (winter: depression, spring: mania). I went through the same relational distress that second year, and I can empathize that whoever else was still "on my side" no longer was after that second episode. What really matters? The ones who didn't give up on me. Even though we've all carried on, those ones that did give me the benefit of the doubt will always have my loyalty, whatever it matters. Meanwhile, thanks to the miracle that is modern medicine I am basically symptom-free. Medication works, people, and there is no shame in finding wellness, so take courage and we can fight stigma together.

So I claimed I wouldn't be "writing all night long" here and I want to keep my promise, since I really do value sincerity, so let me try to wrap this up. It was about two years ago that I returned from India. This requires riding on a plane, believe it or not. Duh. So I get on the plane that will take me from London Heathrow to the US and some time after sitting down I realize it hurts a little to swallow. Okay, it begins to hurt a lot to swallow. Oh my word, I can barely swallow because my throat is in so much pain, what is happening?? Worse plane ride ever (it still beats that time I puked as I landed in Raleigh...). Thus begins a sore throat that I will need to see my trusty doctor about, so that she can prescribe me an antibiotic. I take the antibiotic. The sore throat goes away, but then it returns. Great. I see her again, she prescribes me something else, so I take that for about a week before I even read the label. And when I read it, I read: amoxicillin. Yeah. Penicillin. I took penicillin, which I was purportedly allergic to, for a week and nothing happened. What is more, my trusty doctor prescribed it to me. A few months later I go to see her, and she more or less congratulates me on testing myself for a penicillin allergy that I don't have. I walk away happy with this information, though a little curious as to why she offered no explanation nor an apology. Regardless, that is one less thing wrong with me.

Last anecdote, I promise: February of this year. As I sit on my bed in Raleigh, maybe after a long day at one or both of my jobs, the weather pretty cold, I idly google the phrase static vision. That is what I had taken to calling my eye condition, which, yes, I still had and which had not changed. I wasn't sure I realized what I would find, but when I saw the two words on the google page, I knew I had an answer at last: visual snow. It had a name. It has a name. It's an actual thing, it has a diagnosis. All those trips to San Diego, all those doctors who didn't know a thing. Now we know. Now I know, and there are estimated thousands of other people who have it, too. There is no cure. They believe it is caused by some malfunction in a certain part of the brain. It is a syndrome. It explains why I have floaters, after-images, and tinnitus besides the static, or "snow." There is a fund to do research into curing it. I almost offered to contribute information to the research but it was so involved and took so much time I backed out. I don't really mind my visual snow, since I've had it all my life. I don't know what it is like to see without it. What does a smooth wall really look like? The clear sky? The palm of my hand? Maybe someday, there will be a pill I can take and someone will film me seeing the world static-free for the first time. Maybe I will break down in tears. But for now, visual snow is really the least of my problems.

Kudos to you if you've read this whole thing. Don't be afraid to leave a comment!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Special Concert

"The stars sing all through the night..."

The teenagers on the stage wear different colored tee shirts, some blue, some white, many red and purple, burgundy and plum. But they all have the same logo: YOUNG Continentals! They must have all been allowed to provide their own shirt, I think. I shift my attention back to the screen in the center of the wall facing the audience. The words are almost too small to read, but it wouldn't matter even if I could see them clearly. I don't understand most Romanian, anyway.

Their voices carry well through the large, four-story sanctuary. All hard surfaces and smooth walls. The girl leading the song, standing in front of her peers, has a resonant voice, the best I've heard so far, at least in my estimation. This pleases me, because when they'd each said their names and where they were from, this girl, in a black shirt, had noticeably stuttered. And the thing was, it was all too familiar to me, the way she did it. She came after about half of the group, each person quickly and precisely following the other. "Eu sunt..." "Ma numesc..." "Sunt..." "Ma numesc..." like clockwork. Until it was her turn. She stuttered for a few seconds, maybe milliseconds, but that kind of mistake feels much bigger than the space it actually takes up. But the way she reacted...a resigned smile, like she was used to this, like it happened all the time, like she shouldn't really have expected it to happen any other way. It was a sheepish look I had often expressed, but now here I was seeing it on someone else's face, for the same sort of reason. Stuttering. At least it doesn't affect singing.

And it doesn't affect her singing, as she belts out the lines confidently and with strength. She is the best singer here, in my opinion. I am proud of her, though I don't know her or even recall her name. Her voice isn't the only one I'm listening to, though.

"'Your praise will always be on my lips,'" Rachel translates. "The word for always, mereu."

The sun is setting outside. A woman in our row is holding Ellie, Rachel's baby. I can't see the woman's face but I can see how she holds Ellie's hands in hers as Ellie lies on her lap. She is a quiet baby, but Rachel is attentive to her coos and slight fussiness, and soon she tells me she needs to feed Ellie again and she bids me to enjoy the rest of the concert as she takes the tiny thing with her out of the sonorous sanctuary.

I content myself with listening to the music, to the piano and the vocals, and I try to cherry-pick words that I know out of the tiny print on the screen.

Fiecare. Every.
Minunat. Wonderful.
Inima. Rachel just taught that to me: heart.
Bucur. Glad.

And, Isus. Jesus.
Dumnezeu. God.
Hristos. Christ.

I wonder, with a somewhat quiet sort of distress, what the point was of going to a church service when I could understand so little. I had had Rachel to translate for me today, but ordinarily I had no translation for most of the three hour church service I usually attended. Today, I had gone with Rachel and her husband to their church, for a change of pace. Rachel is an American, who has somehow managed to become fluent in Romanian over the years she has spent in Romania, though the years haven't been many. I really appreciated her translation, marveling that she could express even complex ideas. I noticed that she knew how to translate the word for "incomparable." Indeed, her skills were incomparable.

So I try to pay attention to the tiny words on the screen. I guess this is how learning is. Trying to absorb fire hoses of information. Like nailing jello to a wall.

My pessimism is lifted only by the change in song, and by watching the way the light is dimming in this immense room, women swirling the stagnant air with fans. There is a certain smell of soap in the air that is the exact smell of soap that I associate with my time in the hospital. I am reminded, again and again, each time a waft of it comes to me, riding on the oriental fans. For some reason this smell carries with it pleasant notions. I always wonder why my memory of that place is so positive.

It is dark now. The lights over the left side of the room, where I am seated, turn on suddenly. A man gets up to speak, and I am only able to cherry-pick his words, which of course do not appear on the screen.  

Isus. Jesus. Salvat. Saved. Pacat. Sin. And, inima. Heart.

Thanks for reading a digest of my evening. I hope you enjoy yours.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Light in Your Eyes

This past week, I had the privilege of spending four days in Vama Veche, a beach town in Romania on the Black Sea, near the border of Bulgaria, along with a bunch of the Next Generation Capital teens and a few adults. To say we had fun would be an understatement. We swam in the warm sea every day, and hit the town in the evenings. We jumped on trampolines and walked to Bulgaria. I got to have shawarma and moussaka for the first time (both were great). We all got very tan being in the sun all day and tried not to freeze in our tents at night. I found a fistful of sea glass that I collected piece by piece, digging my hands into the sand and pebbles and bringing up handfuls of the stuff which I would search for a glint of green, white, brown or blue. I sat on the beach when not braving the waves and wrote poetry, or listened to music. I dozed off and on but came away without any sunburns. I took photographs of every outing so now I have a lot of photos to go through. I could be doing that now, I guess, but an idea for a blog post was put on my mind as I tried to sleep on the all-night train ride home, last night. I hope you will be content with words for now, rather than pictures.

On this trip, I began to see a few things more clearly. One, that these kids that are part of NGC are special. Yes, all kids are special. But these kids really have become a family, just as much as they are friends. No, they don't all get along all the time. Yes, there can be drama. But there was no fighting, no screaming, no ostracizing.

This is remarkable because of another thing I began to see: some of these kids are broken. Painfully shy, crying easily, desperate for attention but unsure of how to get it. Some of these kids seem lost in orbit. They all have one thing in common, though: they need love. They are lost without it, drifting along, a few of them. It's that awkward teenage phase but it is also something more, something more difficult to "fix," even over time. It's the weight of being an orphan.

"When all we needed was love
We got caught up and burned
But there's a light in your eyes
And it tells me that God is on our side."

We have seen it multiple times: kids at the center are happy, connecting with the others, living life and talking easily. Then they go back home. Whatever their situation at home is like, I am not sure. But they come back different. Silent, reserved, muted. Not as affectionate or outgoing, afraid, subdued. What happens to them when they go back to their parents, or whoever is their guardian when they are not at the center? Girls come back afraid of men, with a stuttering problem, isolated. Dear God, what kind of world is this where our kids lose all headway in life when they go back to their families?

Somehow, there remains a light in their eyes. I try to give hugs away easily, a hand on someone's hair, using their names. I look them directly in the eyes. I try to understand. And somehow, I do. Maybe because, in my own way, I've been where they are.

I remember going to summer camp one year, maybe when I was in the fifth grade. It was with some members of my youth group, and it lasted for a week. I really enjoyed it. But for some reason, I cried just about every day, sometimes multiple times in a day. I was incredibly introverted, away from the people I was most comfortable with, and trying to deal with the popularity battles and drama that came with living in a large tent with girls my age who seemed to be much more in control of their lives than I was. For years, if you asked someone who "knew" me what I was like, the very first word that would come to their mind would be "quiet." I had a difficult time relying on anyone to understand why I was the way I was. Even my girls' small group leader didn't really know how to console me when my parents were purportedly going to get a divorce. I was alone and adrift. The only person I had, the only one who knew what went on in my mind, was God.

"All we need now is love
We've been through enough
Can't run just 'cause we're scared
We've come this far
We're not giving up."

Joe had a message for the kids each evening of our Vama Veche trip, on the subject of how Jesus reigns differently than a human would. I really got a lot out of his last talk. He mentioned a phrase that Nadia likes, "The power belongs to those who use it." In our world, we often seem to be at the mercy of the "big people." The politicians and presidents and warmongers and people who control who on this earth is next to die. The people with weapons and agendas and who argue over the right to life. But what about a different sort of people? The creators and inventors and artists and scholars, the ones who bring life into the world instead of taking it out? What if the power resides with those who create rather than destroy?

Maybe we don't need to worry so much about what the "big people" are doing. Maybe we can be content with our own contributions to the world, contributions that bring light into the world instead of darkness. We can be content with waiting, rather than in bringing things to pass that are out of our control. And we can rely on God to bring the really important things into fruition. After all, we know the end of the story.

This is what I hope for our kids. That they would learn not to worry about their lives, or the world, or anything, really. That they would be able to relax around others, without fear and without trying to control anything. I pray that they find the joy in creating, and in waiting.

I've discovered that I have a heart for these damaged kids. The girl I sponsor in India is similar. She hardly ever spoke a word to me. But somehow, with her, and with a new girl I have met in Romania, communication goes beyond words, beyond language. Love has a way of triumphing even in the face of tragedy. Love takes weakness and makes it an avenue. The quiet ones, the wild ones, the disobedient ones, the lost ones, they all deserve the love we so readily give to the ones we consider whole. May Jesus show you, and me, even more clearly how to see the light in the eyes of all children.

All song lyrics from "Light in Your Eyes" by Flyleaf

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Fire Refines

I have been in Romania for well over a month now, so I decided to dedicate this post to some updates on how I have been doing, to document some changes as I have been adjusting to the cultural differences. I spent a good chunk of my college life learning about the differences between cultures, how to adapt to them, how to work within a foreign culture to share Jesus in the most effective way, and how to really just figure out how to survive while on the field. Those classes and lectures were beneficial but there is really nothing like being thrown into the middle of a country halfway around the world. So what is it like?

First things first: my level of tolerance for being grossed out has increased. Whether it's petting stray animals, using the men's room in an emergency, picking and eating fruit that is somewhat dirty (or may have a worm in it), drinking from a well--you just figure out that there is a reason that we all have immune systems. And guess what? I haven't gotten sick at all. I'm just as healthy as I usually am in the States (and much, much healthier than when I was in India). I know many Americans would be hesitant to do a lot of the things we have been doing, like climbing over fences and eating with unwashed hands, but when you are regularly doing these things, you get used to it. And anyway, aren't fences built to be climbed?

Another change has been taking shape in the way that I speak. Yes, my Romanian is improving, especially my comprehension of it, but there has been another, unexpected alteration. Sometimes I speak like English is my second language. The funny thing about viewing English as a tool instead of as a default setting is that you begin to notice all the deficiencies of English. There simply are not enough acceptable ways to use English, like in order to phrase something in the best way possible. English can be awkward, so as I have learned from Nadia and all the other people I have met who are basically fluent in English but not native speakers, why not use English in your own way? Let me try to think of an example..."If you get more creative with English you can sound more uneducated but at least you can say exactly the kinds of things you want to say." Or something like that. I know that since I have been here my English has changed but unfortunately I usually forget exactly what it is I say now that I never would have said before.

Perhaps the biggest change has been that I am becoming more comfortable with people. Talking with people, attempting to communicate in nonverbal ways, touching and being touched by people, living with people--these all sound like ordinary things that are experienced on a daily basis anywhere, but it's all magnified when you're in a different culture. It amazes me how love can be communicated regardless of what language you speak. Yesterday, we arrived at the center to pick up the kids to take them to the monasteries. "Katie, Katie!" little Daniel called to me. He ran up to me, but then started calling my name again, as if I was hiding somewhere and he was trying to look for me. "Katie! Unde Katie?" He ran off to the side of the center, climbed a tree while still calling for me, and shook the branches, as if I might fall out of them. There's something special about being called for, searched for, sought after, even if it is just a silly game. Sometimes love catches you by surprise. I don't feel like I've done enough to warrant the acceptance I have received. But that is the very nature of love.

One last change--I am eating a much larger variety of things. I have eaten 95% of the things that have been placed in front of me. The remaining 5% constitutes 1) mushrooms and 2) certain kinds of cheese. I used to basically be a picky eater, when I was younger. This was partially because at home, I ate the same types of things over and over again and, especially when I was a small child, I didn't like sauces or certain textures of foods. I feel like now, however, I have reached the point of fearlessness in trying new foods. And I have liked the majority of things I have eaten, like ciorba (Romanian sour soup) and polenta, Joe's jambalaya and Kendra's potato soup. So much good food.

Each period of my life has been like a different sort of fire. High school really sucked, but it refined me, and then college also sucked (most of the time) and that was like a new fire, and I was refined again, and then India happened, and then I lived in Raleigh, in the best fire yet, and I was refined again and after that I really felt like I was beginning to shine. Romania is the newest fire yet, and although all these things might sound trivial, like the parts about drinking from wells and eating soup, they add up.

"Refined, I'll become the most dazzling, precious treasure. I'll be treasured over all the earth." -Flyleaf, "Treasure"

But it's really not about me. I still pray I can be content with my role in the story. Because it's not about me. Some (and perhaps, most) of the stuff that happens in my head and in my life I can't share on this public of a platform but I hope that by giving you these glimpses into my world that you will be inspired to let God lead you on your own adventure. Let the fire refine you.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Wishful Thinking

A few days ago Joe, Nadia and I set out on an all-night road trip to Bucharest to pick up Nadia's friend Karolis from the airport. They both studied at the university in Poland together and have continued to be friends. Karolis is from Lithuania and aside from Poland Romania is the only other country he has now been to.

But we began our road trip the right way: by stopping at Lidl and picking up a bunch of unhealthy snacks, like two kinds of paprika flavored chips, Haribo gummy bears and sour gummy bears, some bananas, and bread and sausages for a more substantial meal. We indulged in these provisions as we drove that evening, me enjoying being in the backseat while trying to write something worthwhile. I eventually wrote a poem about how we were passing field after field of dying sunflowers, their heads browning and drooping down as if they too hated that this was their end.

I love car rides. I love driving, too, but being in a backseat gives you a freedom to get lost in your thoughts without worrying about navigating or driving safely. "I like the peace/ in the backseat/ I don't have to drive/ I don't have to speak/ I can watch the countryside/ And I can fall asleep." "In the Backseat" is one of Arcade Fire's more underrated songs. Anyway, I didn't fall asleep right away, and this was a good thing because we made our first stop alongside the road to stretch and there was a grand surprise waiting for us.

We had scarcely gotten out of the the car when a small gray and black striped kitten appeared out of the brush. It wanted to take shelter under our car but obviously this would have made it difficult to leave so I shooed it away from the car and eventually got it to let me pet it. Nadia and I pet the little kitten and I even picked it up. It had some stickers in its fur but otherwise it was not dirty. We could not see its mother anywhere. Nadia fed it a sausage so that it would stay away from the car and we got back in. I wish we could have taken that cat with us, rather than leaving it by the side of the road. But Joe is allergic to cats, so that wouldn't have jived very well.

We continued on our way into the night, listening to the radio and looking out the windows. I noticed that I could see a lot of stars. Like, a TON of them. I could see more stars than I had ever seen before, which struck me as odd, that I have lived 24 years and done somewhat adventurous things and never witnessed a sky full of this many blazing stars. I immediately recognized the Big Dipper, which I had never done so easily before. It was right in front of me, and so clear. Usually all I can find is Orion, because of his belt, but I couldn't see him at all. We pulled over to the side of the road to get a better look. Joe was looking one way and I was looking the other, and then Joe saw a shooting star. I turned around and we waited for another one, and sure enough, we saw a faint one fly past off to the left. But I saw it! My first shooting star...I think. I can't remember if I've ever seen one myself or if I'm thinking of all those movies (it's a good thing I'm writing this stuff down or I'd forget everything). We got back in the car after seeing that second shooting star and we were driving away when I realized I hadn't made a wish yet. I made one quickly (did you really think I'd tell you what it was?) since I figured there must be some sort of 5 minute grace period for making wishes on shooting stars. Hopefully.

We got to the airport and Nadia and I went in to wait for Karolis. He arrived and we took pictures. It was early in the morning, so we were all tired and met up with Joe, who had been sleeping in the car, to head home. I sat in the front passenger seat and fell asleep for a little while while Nadia and Karolis talked in the back and Joe drove. The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful, and we arrived back home at about 5 am. But what a great time! Playing with a kitten, seeing a shooting star and meeting Karolis. Good things do happen after midnight.

If you'd like to see some pictures of our other adventures and of the kids, check out my Facebook albums! Thanks.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Seek Me and Live

I haven't written an introspective post in a while, so I felt that I was overdue to produce something of relative depth and insight. I guess we will see if this piece lives up to that hype, but let me begin: in the middle of what I am doing here in Romania, where is God? In the day-to-day, what can I tell you that will show you how God is working? I have realized that many missions can be wasted in the doing, in busy-ness. What am I doing here of importance?

Long-term missions is a different animal than short-term. There is less frenzy, less frantic buzzing from place to place, doing VBS here and then rushing to visit the elderly and then build a library, and on and on. Long-term missions has two focuses that differentiate it from the short-term. These are 1) language learning and 2) doing life with people. If you are seeking God in these things, then your faith seeps into both areas. You learn the language to tell people about Jesus. You do life with people because preaching at them can only be done, really, on Sunday morning by one person in the church in their language. Telling people about Jesus and preaching are two different things, and you can do the former successfully through, yes, doing life with them just as well as if you preached to them (perhaps even better).

So the nature of both language learning and doing life is that they take time. Lots and lots of time. That's why it's called long-term (no surprise here). I can't produce a list for you of the people I have converted while in Romania, but I can show you pictures of children, of teenagers that I have loved and I hope that this will be enough, but for some people I know it won't be. If I tried to tell my testimony to one of the kids in Romanian all they would be able to understand is "Jesus" and maybe the word for "death." So I am learning the language, slowly. I think I have "I'm thirsty" down and of course the word for ice cream, among other things. But it takes time.

Where is Jesus? Does he approve of what I have done so far? What we do is both fun and draining but I think that this is exactly the kind of thing Jesus would really be into. Feeding teenagers, getting to know them individually, and on a deeper level, finding out where their hearts are. No one else is doing this ministry in this city, maybe not even in the surrounding areas. Why are we here with these kids, living life with them and messing around? I think it's because Jesus said these kids are worth it. They are worth flying halfway across the world for. They are worth all my struggle to learn this language and adapt. Jesus is worth it.

"Seek me and live" is the one phrase I have underlined in the entire book of Amos (you can tell I'm extremely thorough in my exegesis). But really, Amos 5:4 contains a nugget that reminds me of all I need to do to survive, no matter where I am. Seek God. Seek Christ. Wherever you are, whether you can speak the language or not, whether you are resting or trying to convey to your supporters that this is in fact Jesus stuff, that God is moving, that you are growing closer to the children and after all it has been less than a month of ministry, seek the Lord. In the seeking, living becomes possible.

Yes, even when I am in the country of my dreams, doing missions like I always wanted to do in Romania since I was fourteen years old, I feel like it is not enough. It's enough for me, but I suppose I worry too much about what people think of what I'm doing. Maybe it's because I spent the last year working 2+ jobs that had concrete results, deadlines, responsibilities and expectations. This new gig is very fluid. I have time to read my Bible and edit photos, more time than I thought I'd have. I worry that if people saw what I'm doing, they would want me to produce results. Conversions. Miracles, even. How many people have I healed? How many mountains have I moved? Isn't that what missions is for, moving mountains and performing signs and wonders?

God is in this. And I have seen miracles in my own life that would have convinced me of his presence if I hadn't already been completely convinced. God loves these kids and I won't give up on them even if I can't speak Romanian, even if they follow the world and even if no one else believes in what I am doing. I won't give up until God redirects me, if he so chooses.

I'm sort of an open book. I really don't know how to tell any story other than my own. Sometimes this is extremely irritating, like when every poem I produced for my poetry class was autobiographical. But I believe God has given me a story to share as I seek him and find my life in the process. I am very glad I get to share this story with you. You are indeed a part of it.

Much love and care,
Katie

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Recap

On Tuesday we took a bunch of kids to Club Next, our new building across from the zoo, in order to clean it up. And man, did it need it. A big part of the job was also cleaning out this shed that was full of a bunch of junk, and I was proud of the kids for not being completely grossed out by it.

Among the items we found as we cleaned: old tires, empty bottles, old clothing covered in filth, an agenda hearkening back to 1987, a good sized bag of human hair clippings (!), old pens which Gabby happily confiscated, spiders, wood, bricks, a TV, and plenty of other stuff. Ciprian found a five lei note inside an old purse, which was probably the best find of all.

All this cleaning took a few hours and we got a lot done. I'm still confused about the bag of hair we found but I'm slowly recovering.

Yesterday I went with Nadia to the center, and with a few girls (Gabby, Elena, and Valentina) we walked to their school so that Nadia could request that allowances could be made so that a few of our kids could come with us to the Black Sea at the end of the month and let them take their math test at a different time. Nadia was stunning in a flowy white dress and must have made a good impression because the administrators she spoke to did in fact allow the students to take the test at a different time. I didn't fully realize how important this was until we walked out the gates of the school and once we could talk freely, everyone started tearing up. It was suddenly clear how much this trip means to all the kids. I can't wait for it.

Today we went to the center where Nadia was cutting hair for a bunch of kids and just hung out in the big room. I played chess with Mutu. He beat me in 2 minutes at first, but then he went easier on me and I actually stood my ground during our second game, although he was still victorious in the end. Then I played foosball with Daniel and the other younger boys, which was a lot of fun, only I had to be careful not to impale any of them with the poles. We also played with a tennis ball, which made things more exciting because sometimes the ball would jump out of the table.

Daniel is a very interesting kid. He's friendly and agreeable, but wants to get his way and can be trouble. He's ten but looks like he's seven. He knows my name and there is something about him that prevents me from being angry at him, even when he refuses to share. As he gets older and his cuteness wears off, he'll have to learn how to play better with others. I played catch with him as Nadia finished her fourteenth haircut of the day and then we left to get a late lunch of pizza. Nadia left the bag of hair clippings in the large room, to be thrown away later. So at least there was one less mystery to be solved.