Unplugged

Just wanted to pop in with a quick update. I have been mostly missing in action because I currently do not have a working computer. The power supply cord decided that its time of service was completed and died early last week. A friend is hoping to fix it but if that doesn’t work then I will begin the “fun” process of trying to locate one here in Ukraine.

All this to say that I’m pretty unconnected to the media world for now and have no idea when that may change (hopefully soon because most of my work uses the computer!!).

Thanks for understanding!

The Shadow Thief

Day stretches into evening
What was clear and bright
Becomes dark and uncertain

Doubt plays at the corner
Like an old man with a cane
Tripping passersby for fun

Movement in the shadows
A thief or a savior
Who is really sure

“A penny for your thoughts”
The old man cries out
Oh this game he plays

My hands find empty pockets
But he knows my thoughts anyway
This shadow thief

Feeling Inspired?

I was challenged (thank you again Kelly Chadwick) to create a soundtrack of inspiration.

Immediately in my mind I went back to college, back to those days of all night cramming, early morning exams and the freedom that comes with not quite being in the “real” adult world yet.

My good friend Stephanie – no I am not referring to myself but actually a friend who is also named Stephanie… we were on a drama team together and had Steph and Steph skits… it was epic – anyway, she would compile a cd at the end of each year called “Steph’s Motivational Compilation” and several a few years later I still jam out to those cds (or I would if I hadn’t left my iPod in NC in my best friend’s car).

Music is a monumental part of my life and so picking just a few songs to post here is difficult. However these are the ones that today are my inspirational soundtrack. Be warned, I enjoy a very WIDE range of musical styles 🙂

Once and for All/Seize the Day, Newsies

I was going to post the clip from the movie but I just couldn’t pass up the new Broadway Musical version. I’m a huge procrastinator so it’s good to remember to seize the day, plus it’s really catchy.

Waka Waka, Shakira.

What can I say? We are in the middle of EURO2012 here in Ukraine so there’s lots of football fever. Plus this song is just awesome, features Africa, has djembes and the dance moves are fun.

Stronger, Hillsong United – Thank God for Jesus’ sacrifice and that He is stronger than my failures and the sin of this world!

Don’t Waste Your Life,  Lecrae

Another great reminder of the gift of life and to live as God created us to. It isn’t about wealth, status, etc. but all about Him.

I’m Gonna Take That Mountain, Reba McEntire

I love the line, “I was born a stubborn soul, this is just a stumbling block”. I guess this is my southern roots showing, plus it’s Reba.. I’m pretty certain we could be friends.

“Awake and Alive” Skillet

A rocking reminder that you’re awake and alive, don’t be afraid to stand up for your faith. Oh and props for having an amazing girl drummer who also sings. Jen Ledger may be one of my heroes…

What songs inspire you and make you feel like you can conquer the world?

A Heart for Freedom: Book Review

Last week was the 23rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, which shocked the world as tanks rolled in on student demonstrations in Beijing, China killing hundreds. So it seemed only fitting to read A Heart for Freedom by Chai Ling, the former commander-in-chief of the student protestors at the square. Of course, it didn’t hurt that it came up free on Kindle for a short time.

Book Description:
This memoir chronicles Chai Ling’s life before becoming involved in the demonstrations, insight into what it was like on the ground at Tiananmen Square and all the details that developed over the weeks leading up to June 4th, and her life after the massacre as she eluded the government and escaped to America. Over two decades later, Chai Ling is still fighting for freedom in China and now it comes from her faith in God.

My Thoughts:
I wanted to love this book, but I didn’t. In fact, I had to force myself to finish it. I found the details surrounding June 4th fascinating , but overall the book seemed disjointed. It lacked flow. Knowing that Chai Ling learned English as an adult and as someone who works with students trying to learn the language, I understand the difficulties of mastering a language that is not your heart language. The heart of the story is great and I love that decades later she has found hope and a renewed passion for China’s freedom, but it needs some serious editing work.

The Traveler: A Photo Story

I’m taking part in Kelly Chadwick’s creativity project (even though I’m starting like 3 weeks behind which drives me crazy!!). The exercise I’m working on today is from day 5 and challenged participants to create a story using photos. So below is my story:

Once upon a time there was an American who wanted to see the world.

So the American set off and traveled all over the map (well not quite all over since the American never made it to Central/South America or Australia but still the American did a lot of traveling)

The American simply fell in love with the world God created and the many different people and cultures encountered during the grand adventure.

However, when the American met the people of Ukraine it was completely different than all the other places. The hospitality of the people and beautiful land captivated the American who felt that God has great things for this young country.

So the American fell in love with Ukraine and moved there. Still and forever an American, but now also very much Ukrainian too.

The Underdog Wins!

Tonight there is celebration in the air. Shouts and songs declare Ukraine is the best. The pop of fireworks exploding outside my window announces the victorious end of Ukraine’s first EURO2012 match.

The world predicted tonight’s game would be no big deal and that Sweden would easily defeat us. They were wrong.

I’m not really a football fan (soccer for all my American friends), but I had to pull for my country in their first EURO 2012 match. So I enjoyed the game from the comfort of my couch with my roommates while eating potatoes and sausage and trying to get rid of a headache that has plagued me all day. The headache is still with me but admittedly was forgotten a couple of times as we cheered on Ukraine’s football team led by the legendary Shevchenko.

I’m pretty certain the world is surprised by tonight’s turnout, but in some ways I’m not.

Ukraine is accustomed to being the underdog. The history of this nation is filled with people who had to be strong to survive a world that seemed to constantly be out to defeat them. Ukrainians don’t just lie down and take a beating, if they are going down it is with a fight.

Tonight in Kyiv that fight gave them a 2:1 victory over Sweden.

If I were the world I would pay more attention to this nation, and not just in the football arena. Hope is still alive in Ukraine and she’s a fighter.

Getting Out of the Cage

Image by Sias van Schalkwyk

Staff conferences tend to make me feel like a caged animal, surrounded by people I don’t know very well, an inability to effectively communicate, and sprinkled with a few show-stopping highlights. Days of whisper translation and strategic planning are like being tortured by a trainer. A week of sharing a room with others, some going to bed late and others with alarms that ring out too early, brings out the grouch in me (boy am I in trouble whenever I get married…) and if I were a lion I would probably be the one about to bite some unsuspecting visitor.

Originally planning to skip this summer’s staff conference, I was drawn by the fact that it was in Yalta by the Black Sea and decided I could suffer for the sake of being near the sea. (Totally selfish reasons I admit.)

Don’t get me wrong, staff conferences aren’t all bad. They do give the opportunity to to sit around eating ice cream and playing games and sharing life together, there’s a camaraderie that comes from being in the fight together and all needing a bit of R&R. There’s joy that comes in seeing and hearing how God has moved in the different regions throughout the semester/year. There is time to pray together, sing together, laugh together.

Slowly I’m getting to know people but my timidity and lack of Russian skills still holds me back too often. It’s a little overwhelming when there are 4 native English speakers that you work with constantly and don’t really want to spend all your time with and everyone else speaks Ukrainian and Russian. Of course, many speak some English but I know that it’s hard work trying to converse in a language that you are far from fluent in.

One afternoon during this conference one of my roommates, Julia, and I had a great and unexpected discussion as we waited out a nasty thunderstorm safe within our cozy room. She has been a part of CCX long before I came along but we have never talked past the normal, “Hey. How are you?” conversation. I’ve always seen Julia as a strong leader, a bit intimidating, and just never thought she would want to suffer through trying to have a conversation with me. But as the rain poured from dark gray clouds outside trapping our other roommate in the building where meetings were held, it just seemed the perfect time to talk. So a conversation ensued about the differences in Ukrainian culture and American culture and also some ministry joys and woes.

At the end of the week as we were walking to the bus stop to leave, Julia mentioned being glad that we roomed together. It was a sentiment I wholeheartedly shared.

Then she confessed that she had never really interacted with us English speakers because she was afraid we wouldn’t want to deal with her poor English. That shocked me as I explained that I often avoid interaction with her and the other Ukrainian staff because of my poor Russian and feeling that they wouldn’t want to deal with the frustration.

So I discovered that the only barrier between getting to know each other was both of us fearing that we would be a burden to the other. And I began to wonder, how often do we miss out on relationships because of fear, assuming that the other person feels a certain way?

It isn’t just something that happens to those of us living in a foreign land with language differences, I think it happens daily around the world. People refusing to step out of the known comfort and be vulnerable because of a lack of trust, fearing rejection or looking stupid, assuming instead that it will all go badly and avoiding the situation completely. But that isn’t loving others, that is living in fear and self-protection.

That’s not how we are created to live and, hopefully, not how we desire to live.

So how do we move past this fear that grips us and keeps us from reaching out to others?

I think a big part is being willing to step past the fear and speak.
Often my words seem to catch in my throat, or suddenly I can’t seem to breathe very well, I get anxious at the thought of speaking to people I don’t really know and it’s kind of a huge part of my “job”.  Some days I have no problem with this and other days it’s like the courage vanishes, but on those days I can look back and see all the relationships God has given me because one of was willing to bridge the gap and speak.

Start with something simple and safe.
My conversation with Julia started when I decided to take the risk, put down my Kindle, and ask a simple question, “So Julia, how long have you been part of the CCX team?” Who knew it would lead to such great conversation. It wasn’t a deep question but it opened up the door to other questions.

Maybe you have other suggestions for how to get past the fear and start conversations? Maybe there is someone you need to stop running away from and just talk with?

I realized the reason I feel like a caged animal is because I’ve put myself in that cage, it feels safer there but it isn’t where I’m meant to live. It’s not where you are meant to live either.

We’re meant to be free not caged by fear.

Let’s stop letting fear hold us back from getting to know the people God has placed around us. What do you think?

My Favorite Thing About Elementary School Was…

In my attempt to better use the gifts God has given me, it seems I stumbled onto two blog series this past week. One is “Mastering the Habits of Great Writers” by Jeff Goins. I love writing and so I’ve jumped into his challenge for the next couple of weeks to try to bring a little discipline to my erratic habits. If you’re a writer and you are interested then you can click the link above and jump in.

The other blog is by Kelly Chadwick, whom I also know from my time around Adventures in Missions. She has started a blog called Uncaging Creativity and is in the middle of a project that gives some exercise in creativity each day because God created us in His image so we are all creative people. That’s where the rest of this post stems from. Today is writing prompt day… so following is what came out of my 15 minutes of writing (an exercise that I think I should do more often… now if I could start working on the physical exercise part…)  So if you want to stretch your creativity too, then I encourage you to check out her blog.

—————————————-

My favorite thing about elementary school was. . .    BOOKS!

You could give me a stack of books over a television set any day and I would be content. Unless it was time for Punky Brewster or Garfield and Friends.

In third grade my teacher had a bookshelf of books that she checked out from the library. Each month she changed the selection and whenever you finished your work you were allowed to go and read. The problem was that I would finish my work quickly so that I could take in all the beautiful words between those sometimes tattered and worn works. This meant that I finished the bookshelf collection before the end of the month. Before the year ended my teacher got wise and started getting more difficult books like Moby Dick to keep me entertained.

The book I remember the most though was called Born Free. It had a hard-backed mustard yellow cover. It told the story of a rescued lion cub by a lady in Kenya. They had a wonderful relationship but as the cub grew, her rescuer realized that the lion was meant to be free in the wild and, if I remember correctly, took the steps to distance herself and introduce the lion back into the wild. Now that I think about it, it’s probably one of the books that first made me want to travel. It was also probably the catalyst behind organizing one of my classes to raise money and “adopt” a whale named Cat’s Paw a couple of years later.

Then there was the bookmobile. Whoever thought of a mobile library was pure genius in my eyes. I was happier than any kid in a candy store could be. I mean, they brought the library to you, it really doesn’t get much better.

We had a program called Accelerated Reading (do they still do that??) and it only fueled my need to read anything I could get my hands on. In sixth grade I was in a neck and neck race for first place, and honestly I think I’m still harboring a little resentment that I didn’t get to take a test on the last book I read because I’m certain that Ashley wouldn’t have beaten me given that chance. I should probably get over that at some point.

My love for reading helped with a love for spelling too. I still remember winning the Spelling Bee and as my teacher, Mrs. Whitehead, and I drove to the county Spelling Bee the song “Hero” was playing. She told me that I was her hero that day. Funny that I’ve never forgotten that and some days I cannot remember what floor my apartment is on or what my telephone number is.

————————————

Photo taken from http://www.co.nash.nc.us/Departments/PublicUtilities.aspx

Friendship at the Produce Store

Stepping out of the summer’s sunlight and into a dim shop, my nose was overwhelmed with the smell of fresh vegetables and the dirt that comes free with your fresh produce selections in Ukraine.

Boxes lined the walls and floors touting short, stocky carrots; small, round potatoes; leafy cabbages; hearty beets for borscht; red, juicy tomatoes; bright, bumpy green cucumbers and other edibles for sale.

With the sight of fresh cherries, I am almost certain my stomach began to sing for joy. Being with my friend Masha, I thought nothing of conversing in English with her about the find.

That’s when I noticed the shopkeeper.

Her face seemed to light up as a big smile took over and the laugh lines around her eyes deepened. While she weighed the cherries and totaled the cost with her abacus (who knew people still use those things!), she became so excited to find that an American was visiting her tiny store and began asking questions.

As usual I told that I had been traveling the world and fell in love with Ukraine so I came back to live. Her eyes became large and round as she, like most others upon hearing such a statement, struggled with shock that it could be true.

Learning that I would be departing the town the next morning, she lamented that she didn’t have her camera with her to take a picture and insisted on giving me a gift — a large, glass bottle of carrot and apple juice.  I promised to return the next morning to see her if she would like to bring along her camera.

Tuesday morning Masha and I stopped into the little store as promised. Instantly she began to smile and after serving her current customers pulled out a little comb to fix her hair for photos.

Placing her arm around my shoulder, I noticed the lines in her hands were stained with earth. She had strong hands and arms but a gentle touch and we posed as her old, wind-up Soviet camera recharged the flash readying for another photo.

She told us that next time we visit Gaspra to come by her store first. Since she lives nearby, her children are grown and her husband passed away, she has a three room apartment and we could stay with her.

Departing I couldn’t resist buying more cherries and wished I had something with me to give to her.  Putting her arms around me and squeezing, she gave me a hug and two kisses on the cheek.

This is one of the reasons why I love traveling. Friends come in the most unlikely of places, like dark corner produce stores in small towns.

The Allure of Words

As a child my nose was always in a book. I chose reading over watching television. My small arms could never carry away enough bound pages from the bookmobile. Teachers couldn’t keep enough reading material on the classroom shelves to satisfy my curiosity. And Granny constantly reprimanded me with the words, “You’re going to ruin your eyes.”

Decades later I am just as in love with reading as my ten year old self was. Of course responsibilities pull at me now and I must often put the books aside and wait longingly to discover their treasures.

So many books, so little time.

There’s something about words, the power they have in written and spoken form. There is beauty in type and script and black print on thick, white paper. There is an appeal in the smell of a room filled floor to ceiling with tomes of all sizes.

Yet the words of others just isn’t enough for me.

As a child, I sat on a forest green rusty swing and made up songs to the rhythm of the squeaking chains. As a lost and overwhelmed teenager, I poured out my emotions in poetry. As years passed and college came, I found my voice in the campus newspaper and in the Montage literary magazine.

Four years ago my writing turned to painting word pictures of the people and places God sent across my path during the World Race. For a brief time following, I was able to use words to tell stories from Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and to share how God was moving in the midst of such heartbreak and impossibilities.

It seems I’ve always been a writer. For years I dreamed of some day writing a book of my own, creating something others would want to sit down with while curled under blankets and holding coffee.

Honestly, the past couple of years I’ve felt a bit lost in writing. A bit voiceless. My journal lies mostly empty and my blog has become a place of duty. I’ve looked back at my World Race blog and wondered what happened to that writer. It’s like she vanished and I question if she can be found again.

Despite my doubts and fears, I know that I am a writer.

Maybe I just need to sit and start again. Maybe I just need the challenge and the accountability. So I’m joining this challenge by Jeff Goins: 15 Habits of Great Writers. 

Maybe you want to join too?