Friday, December 5, 2014

#BlackLivesMatter, Part II

As I grow older, I become certain of one thing. It's a dumb idea to post controversial things on Facebook. Which is unfortunate, because if you know me you know I get a kick out of lighting fires and discussing controversial topics. And I guess it's amusing to me because I'm usually not personally invested. I try to avoid speaking about issues important to me unless I'm with like-minded people, because I'm not so good at staying calm when it comes to issues that have captured my heart. 

As a person who is working towards a career in the legal system, and a person who is here out of a conviction that the way immigrants are being represented in our system and in our country is unjust, my heart is already heavy over the ways the legal system is failing the poor, marginalized, and oppressed. But the events of the past few weeks, filtered through the lens of my ongoing legal training, have wrecked the dam of passivity in me.

We spoke in my criminal law class about imprisonment rates in the United States, and in particular the disproportionate representation of minority males in the system. Incarceration of black males has increased 500% since the early 90s, and 1 in 5 black males will spend time in prison in their lifetime. Serving prison time is a higher statistical likelihood for a black male than going to college is. And my classmates recited these facts pulled from our readings with grim looks on their faces, and many expressed hopelessness that they could do anything to change a problem that was inherently systemic.

So it was fitting that as I walked out of my school this evening I walked right into a protest. I've never been to a protest before, like, not a real protest, so curiosity pulled me into the fray, where I stood on the sidelines and took photos along with the other bystanders who had originally wandered onto the Commons for the tree lighting. I called Hannah and told her of the nagging hypocrisy I felt. "Ideologically, I stand with these people, I support them and endorse what they're doing, but I don't want to join them. Is that wrong?" I watched the tree lighting and walked to the train, satisfied that I had witnessed a piece of history unfolding tonight.

But I had a realization.

There is no room for silence here. There is no room for quiet endorsement. There can be no passivity because this is not a small, negotiable issue. This is not right

Luckily I was right there in the middle of an ongoing protest, so it was easy to put my feet where my mind way. And being there, shifting from observer to participant, marching and standing in solidarity with the people willing to shine the light on social injustice, it felt empowering. Class warfare and police brutality and racism are all huge issues, issues that stem directly from the sin that infects this world. Issues that can only be healed by Jesus. But I can be part of His ministry of reconciliation. I can stand with them. I can walk with them and assert that there is injustice and it is real and it is not okay. I can assert that publicly, and boldly, and that's doing something.

I have been embarrassed, embarrassed of my previous blindness, obliviousness, and indifference, embarrassed because of my white privilege, for who am I to speak out against something I know so little about? It's controversial and I don't want to say anything, don't want to make myself a target, don't want to be misunderstood. But if I don't say anything, in my silence I am no so different from an oppressor. If I really believe there is racial discrimination in my country's legal system, and I really believe that's wrong, then I have to say so. I have to.

I have a duty to speak for those who are not being heard. 

This is what the Lord requires. To walk humbly, to love mercy, to do justice. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Recently a friend tweeted about the jury ruling on the Ferguson indictment: "If you don't think racism in America is a problem you're either not paying attention or you're part of it." And when I saw this I thought immediately, "Yes, this." And then shortly following that thought was a second one, "Oh, ouch."

As much as I agree with her charge, it also stings a bit because I was that person just a few months ago. I was the person who preferred to downplay and gloss over race issues, I was the person who naively believed that the crusade against racism was prolonging its existence, I was the person who sighed every time an issue of depraved human nature was construed as an issue of race. 

And as that person, I was defensive and put off by any judgment, implied or actual, that I was part of the problem. 

A former roommate of mine feels very strongly about racism. Living with her meant that I had to listen to rants on race issues on the reg. I remember brushing my teeth and actively tuning her out because it actually made me a little annoyed that she cared so much. I could tell she thought I was part of the problem. I could tell she thought I was racist, or at least ignorant. I think she thought my "color-blind" approach was BS. So I listened to her rants defensively, focused on maintaining indifference and preserving my moral high ground.

I'm a horrible person, guys.

It was on the train ride to work a week after Mike Brown's death that I read a news article about what had happened. That's how insulated I was, that it took me a whole week before the thing hit my radar. But there I was, snot liquifying in my nose, tears dripping down my face, as I read news reports and witness accounts of the unfolding events in Ferguson. And I kept thinking, "Dear Jesus, I can't believe stuff like this still happens in this country, I can't believe I didn't know." He touched my heart and in that moment I saw things differently; I was grieved over the injustice I had denied existed. 

I wouldn't necessarily count myself as one of the enlightened just yet. The pesky part of privilege is that you don't know what you don't know. I gather that I have been ignorant, but I'm still sorting out just how ignorant I've been. And I haven't the foggiest of how I can be part of His ministry of reconciliation in this. All I know is that before my heart was hard to stories of racial injustice systemic in my country, and now I ache with a sorrow I don't fully understand. My indifference is turning to empathy for people who have been systemically wronged.

But I say all of this to say that I get there are people who think "the whole Ferguson thing" is sensationalized, warped, and packaged as propaganda. I get that there are people who don't think that racism is an issue in the USA, and I opine that those people take that stance because they want to believe that racism is a thing of the past, that we're better than that. I get that because I have been and sometimes still am one of those people. And because I've hoed that row all I can say is, "Break our hearts, Oh Lord, for the sin in our land break our hearts."

So I offer this as hope. I see the grief and frustration expressed by friends whose hearts are also broken over this and other demonstrations of the injustice in our society and I aver, take heart! Jesus is softening hearts. He's softening mine. And one day, all will be healed.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Psalm 73 // Never Let Me Go

Surely God is good to those who are pure in heart,
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
    I had nearly lost my foothold.

It's strange to me that living in a distant land doing something I'd never done before was easier for me than "living the dream" that I've had these past few months. But perhaps not so strange. It was easy to admit and surrender that I had no idea what was going on in circumstances where I was helpless to take care of myself. In class, in the grocery store, in the airport, in the post office, on the bus, on the street, in Karaganda I was pummeled by my own helplessness, and it was easy to give in to that. I needed help, of course I did. I think faith is a little like Florence says, "It's over and I'm going under, but I'm not giving up, I'm just giving in."

Here, in my "element", in my home culture, in a city that I love, studying what I love, doing work that I love, here I ought to have been comfortable, here I ought to have been master of myself. Here I should have been strong enough to do as I ought to do. Here I should be others-center, self-disciplined, industrious, composed. But instead here I have hated my helplessness, and I have counted His help as something available only to those who aren't in survival mode. Here I have struggled to duck-and-cover behind the shield of His help, I have resisted trading the shreds of my self-efficacy for His gentle guidance. But what can I say that David hasn't already said better?

When my heart was grieved
    and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;
    I was a brute beast before you.
Yet I am always with you;
    you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

I feel the hunger to testify, to express in some sort of public way that my God is real to me, near to me. That my God is the reason I can face my students with a smile on my face, that my God is the reason I can roll out of bed in the morning. I have felt like a mess, I have burdened myself with the guilt of a hard heart, piled with doubts that I was capable of abiding, recipient of anything more than cheap grace. I am not capable. I am a mess. But my God is my helper, my protector. The only strength I have in my heart is the portion He has given me. It sounds a small offering indeed, but what He is doing in me is a painfully wonderful open-heart surgery. And I love Him, I love Him, I love Him.

But as for me, it is good to be near God.
    I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
    I will tell of all your deeds.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How to follow Jesus

Generally, I know what I'm supposed to believe. Sometimes I just don't believe it. Most of the time I know what I'm supposed to do. Sometimes I just don't do it.

I hear this truth . . .
  • People are a priority.
  • The Lord is always with you.
  • Reach out.
  • Fear not.

Okay, I get it! There are all these things I need to do or not do! Just, tell me how, cos I've been feeling either too empty or too selfish to do those things.

I love this book, Praise Habit by David Crowder, because it's about what Rend Collective calls the art of celebration, of turning your heart to Jesus when things are good and things are not good. It's about putting on the habit of worship, in a monastic sense, and also about making worship a habit. It's not a book about "You should worship Jesus without ceasing." It's a book about how to worship Jesus without ceasing. It's not a list of how-to's, but it shows you what that looks like. It brings you into Crowder's own worship, and in sharing his heart he shows how to worship.

True confessions, I don't like reading the Psalms. I feel like they're a cheap high, like the words are too easy, the feelings too relatable. The Psalms make me feel like I'm deluding myself with a faith that is just feel-good theology. They don't challenge me, they comfort me, and for some reason I feel like comfort is a dessert I haven't earned. Like the Psalms are milk & honey and the rest of the books (especially the minor prophets!) are the meat.

But Crowder reminds me that's total crap.

And I need reminding!

Following Jesus is hard. It demands the sacrifice of everything. It means selfishness isn't an option. It means devotion and dedication of my life: soul, mind, heart, strength. And I'm like, how do I do that? I can't seem to do that?

But I forget that following Jesus is also easy. I focus too much on the "should do" instead of the "how to do". And how do we follow Jesus? By grace. And how do worship in spirit and truth? By grace. No wonder I get overwhelmed by the expensive, expensive cost of following Jesus. I'm not cut out for this; that's why I came to Jesus in the first place. That's why I need grace.

And how do I live by grace again?

Just as He saved us, He will show us.

Grace ain't fair, thank the Lord

Growing older, I hate it. Sure, there's a lot to love about being in one's twenties: freedom and opportunity are at their max, responsibility and cynicism are at their minimum. But the Peter Pan inside me shudders. I don't know how to do this, I don't know how to be this. 



A twenty-three-year-old is an adult. Adults are supposed to be responsible and do the right thing. But I am just so bad at doing the right thing. I feel like I get more broken the older I get.

And there is where I finally see how difficult faith is. 

It doesn't seem fair that there's unending grace for this screw up. It doesn't seem fair that Jesus stands as my substitute though I continue to make a mess of each day. It doesn't seem fair that such a fickle heart should have part in His precious gift.

That's not fair. That's not fair.

That's what grace is, not fair. 

Thank Jesus, my King, my protector and provider, the One who replaces my cynicism with hope, who makes me smile with the start and the close of each new day, for His mercies are new every morning and His love is unrelenting. It's not always easy for me to believe that, that I'm part of it. It's not always easy for me to believe that my particular brand of brokenness is no exception to His promise. That's what makes faith difficult, because it asks you to stake everything on a gift that is entirely free. It asks you to table the obsessive analysis of your own devotion in following Jesus. It asks you to just follow, and all will be healed in its time. 

I am broken. But Jesus makes me whole.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

This ain't no sham, I am what I am

One phone call. If I had know that was all it would take I would have done it weeks ago.

I have been struggling. The tough, independent person I want to be is nowhere to be found. Little things are getting me down. I tried talking about it, or talking around it, I cried in UBurger, I cried every night in my room, but none of that helped. I wondered who this stranger was who had taken over my body.

But someone understands!

Solidarity is such a gift.

It's okay to struggle.

Law school is hard. Moving to a new city is hard. Missing Karaganda is hard. All of the new stuff in my life is hard. I'm not adapting well. I'm struggling to find peace in routine, and I'm not doing the greatest job following Jesus and caring about people right now.

But it's going to be okay.

Lilly understands.

Jesus understands.

All will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Little Gidding

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this

In its own way, teaching gives me joy. Often I'm a good teacher. Sometimes I'm abysmal, and sometimes I'm just okay, but I am good at my job the majority of the time. And that is satisfying. But despite this success, I still feel empty. I am so awkward about seeing my students outside of class, or talking with them about things unrelated to class. I want them to know I care about them, I want to love them, but . . . wanting something isn't the same as doing something.

I'm reading through Acts and it is part of the reason for the heaviness that feels perpetually on my heart. I want what they have. Their singular devotion to building the Church by spreading the gospel. When all that time they spent with Jesus just clicks and the Holy Spirit kicks them into gear, and they are helping people and healing people and introducing people to Truth. 

A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)

It is an unending ache on my heart these days that I am not made of stern enough stuff to follow Jesus. I have tried to give everything, and I have failed. I give lip service to loving others but I just can't do it. Sometimes I don't even want to. I wonder if I am a bit like Simon the sorcerer, who believed, but to whom Peter says, "I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin."

But what can I do? Though I am much afraid of living by "cheap grace" and even more fearful of the challenges of following Jesus, I am terrified of life without Him. What can I do but clench the few strands of assurance I have with all my might, whispering, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful."

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Flu Season

There was this one time my sister got proposed to on the train. That's a great story.

I'll give you the Cliff Notes. We were in Kazakhstan, traveling from our city to the capital, and we took the afternoon train, which is always pretty crowded. We ended up sitting with a former student of one of our friends who heard us speaking English. So he had three hours to figure out my sister is as sweet as she is adorable! But it only took him one hour. The remaining two hours I spent trying to alleviate some of her discomfort and make awkward conversation.

So naturally the topic I chose was death. The poor guy was baffled by my reasoning. He thought I was crazy to prefer a place I'd never been to (that might not even be real or might not let me in!) life on earth. For him it was a morbid way to live, embracing mortality and not living in active avoidance of the things that could do you in.

But the way I see it, when I'm lying there waiting to die, I'm not going to be thinking, "If only I hadn't sat on that concrete, if only I'd worn warmer clothes." Or, to contextualize the example for the western perspective, I'm not going to blame my demise on all the times I microwaved my meals in plastic or ate GMOs or got a vaccine with who knows what kind of preservatives. I won't be regretting the foods I should have avoided or the treatments I shouldn't have gotten. I'll be regretting watching TV instead of investing in people. I'll be regretting the times I closed in when I should have reached out.

You can try and duck the things that are bad for you: smoking, red meat, carcinogens and free radicals. You can eat clean and go homeopathic, and yeah, you might even be healthier for it. But death is still going to come.

I'm not saying it's silly to care about the industrialization of food or the ingredients in our medications, cos it's not. I'm glad people care about that. And I'm not saying you shouldn't care about your health and your safety, because you should. Honor Him with your body.

What I am saying is that we try to stay healthy not to health's own end, but to be of service. You can't visit shut-ins if you're home with a fever. You can't mow your neighbor's lawn if you're heaving over the toilet. Our priority is people. And if we live to serve people in Jesus's name, does it matter what kills us?

For me, admittedly speaking with the naiveté of a relatively healthy youth, I don't care what's going to kill me. Risk a little.

All this to say, it's time to get your flu vaccine, folks.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

But a sojourner

I've been a law student for a week now, so I know just enough law to start obnoxiously analyzing the law's application to my personal life. One question that's been keeping me up most nights is the haunting inquiry of my domicile. Am I domiciled here? In Rhode Island? In Kazakhstan?

What I gather from the Gordon case is that in order to change one's domicile one must be 1) physically present in that place, and 2) intending to stay in that place indefinitely. Given that Gordon  was currently present in Idaho and had no immediate plans to leave, it was ruled that she could be considered a citizen of Idaho.

If you can't prove you're a domiciliary in the place where you currently are, your domicile is the last place you did satisfy conditions for domiciliary, even if you're not living there anymore. 

So what about me? I am currently present in Massachusetts the majority of the time. I have an apartment here. I work here. (So I have MA tax withheld from my paycheck!) I go to school here. But most of my belongings are at my parents' home in RI. My doctors are in RI. My church is in RI. My physical presence seems somewhat split between the two states. Hm.

And then there's the issue of intent to stay in definitely. I will definitely be staying here for the next three years, all year round. But after graduation, who's to say what will happen! It is my hope that I will stay "in the area," but as to whether that constitutes Rhode Island or Boston remains to be seen. I'd be happy with either. Further, I'm conscious of the reality that the future is indeterminable, and faith may draw me back abroad or to the most unexpected of places state-side.So would it really be accurate to say I plan to stay in Massachusetts indefinitely? I may stay, but then, I may not.

Mostly this just makes me feel very insecure and out of control of my future. When I was in Karaganda, anything was fair game. Even before I left Pasadena I was considering the possibility of staying in KZ for an additional year, with the potential for staying maybe longer, if the Spirit led, as they say. Would KZ count as my last domicile, given that I was physically present (no trips home!) and was intending to stay indefinitely, up until my decision to attend law school? The law deals mostly with intent, but the issue here is that, by grace, my intent is not bent towards staying or going, but rather towards following. My intent is definite devotion. Anywhere I domicile, I am but a sojourner.

An (amusing?) addendum:

The class wherein this issue was discussed left me in stitches due to an interesting lexical choice made by our professor and followed by the students, which revealed their unfamiliarity with missiological terminology. The appellate from our case was a Mormon, and considering embarking on some cross-cultural faith work upon graduation. Her intent to go or stay was thus discussed:

"Her goal was to get married or do a missionary." -- "Potentially she could do a missionary in Idaho." -- "But what if all the missionaries are in Africa? She would have to go there to do a missionary." 

It's okay, judge me, I'm immature.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Got class?

I love my neighborhood. I love what Bostonians say about my neighborhood, "Aw yeah, gang problems there some years back but a lot of families now." I love the unpretentious, it-is-what-it-is vibe, where businesses don't worry about looking trendy, they just do what they do. I love that in my two weeks of living here I've gotten more Spanish listening practice than I did in a whole year of living next door to a Mexican. I love that even though it looks kind of groady on the outside, on the inside it's a woven community, where people stop to chat with the mailmen and gossip hanging out their windows. 

Nevertheless, I feel a little bit like I stick out. Maybe I've grown discriminatory in my old age, or maybe I'm just more aware of incongruence after spending a year being the obviously odd one out, but when I see people "like me" in my neighborhood, I notice them because they're different. They're yuppies or they're students. They're dressed business casual, they carry some kind of work bag, often they'll have coffee in their hand. I feel self-conscious because I know I look like they look, with my sun dresses and backpack and travel mug. And if they stick out, I must also stick out. 

My neighborhood isn't the only place I stick out, though. Working downtown has its advantages, even if it means dodging tourists on the street and battling the onslaught of suits on the sidewalk when work lets out. But I didn't realize how little I fit in with this part of town until I went to a glasses boutique on Newbury Street. I gawked a bit when I greeted the receptionist and later the optometrist, both women impeccably dressed, with fastidious makeup/manicures/accessories and flawless personal appearance. 

My vanity flaring, I suddenly felt acutely aware of my scuffed up shoes, my pilled-fabric dress, my free college sunglasses, my bare and sweat-shining face, my six-dollar purse. In that moment I realized how indulgent I was being: I am not the kind of person who can afford to buy designer eyeglasses. I shamed myself for my foolishness in operating outside of my means when there were needy people on every corner asking me to notice them. I wondered briefly, fleetingly, what these women thought of me in all my shlumpiness. Did they wonder what I was doing there like I also was wondering what I was doing there?

I've always thought of myself as rich, and I think I'm accurate in saying that. I must be rich. I've traveled abroad, I've gone to college, I live in one of the more expensive cities in the United States, I'm getting a graduate degree. I may not have a lot of money in my bank account at the moment, but I have resources and opportunities. And that's more than most people have. So it was strange, very strange to me, walking out of the shop on Newbury Street, to feel like a stranger in this upper-crust part of town. 

In my neighborhood there are a handful of immigration law offices or resource centers for foreigners. I see these peeling signs in the dingy windows and I smile with optimism that there may one day be a place for me in one such establishment. And I know it's not the most lucrative of futures, but I am not concerned with upward mobility. I am not concerned with carving a comfortable and stable existence for myself. I assert (oh so naively!) that the security afforded by money is a farce, and I will not put my eggs in a financial basket. (Proverbially-speaking.) 

Living simply sounds like a good idea when you're cozied up in a nice apartment, eating Ben & Jerry's, with a dependable gameplan for how your bills are going to get paid. I clearly don't know what I'm talking about. I'm a privileged and inexperienced yuppie who doesn't know what she's saying. If I knew what I was really saying I probably wouldn't be saying it. Living simply is significantly less attractive to people who have no other choice but to live this way. But I have to remind myself what is important to me, I have to keep my eye on the prize. I am too easily distracted by nice things (like designer eyeglasses . . .), but my heart longs for those things that will never pass away.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Impact > intent

My sister keeps laughing at me, but I have to take sexual harassment training before starting law school. I've periodically had to take this also for working for a government home care agency, so it makes me wonder why it wasn't required for working at the computer store or for university or even at my current job as an English teacher, given that these are both highly cooperative team environments. 

The premise underpinning this training is this: you may be engaging in inappropriate behaviors without even knowing it. There's this subtle judgment running through the whole seminar, that the viewer may believe they're not a perpetrator of sexual harassment, but the viewer is deluding herself, and therefore is a major part of the problem.

And I get that, because why is sexual harrassment such a prevalent problem unless it is, to an extent, condoned by the culture at large?

Inappropriate things were said at my university all the time. If it wasn't dirty jokes in the back room at my campus job, it was ignorant and insensitive things said in group projects or class discussions. Sexual harassment is regularly depicted in the movies, not condoned but not condemned. I think of Bumper tapping Fat Amy's chest with his "Riff Off" trophy; clearly unwelcome behavior, normalized by its appearance in pop culture. Is it an overreaction that my gut feeling here is that that's not okay?

So I initially rolled my eyes as I tucked into this training, but it seems to have accomplished its objective. I'm successfully indoctrinated. 

One thing that particularly surprised me is the principle that impact of an action matters more than the intent behind the action. The guy who slapped my butt at work wasn't intending to make me uncomfortable, the students who showed graphic content for their class presentation were only trying to make a point by way of negative example, and I didn't feel harassed in these instances. It was easy to take them in the spirit that they were meant. But if I had've been offended, if it had've upset me, I would have been perfectly justified in confronting the issue. Because, according to this training, impact matters more than intent

This is wigging me out.

Mostly I'm wondering if this can be a guiding principle for Christian behavior, too. I know how often I seek refuge in my intentions. I absolve myself from so much by pleading that my motives were pure. And yes, man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. He wants our intentions to be the best, He wants our actions to be motivated by love. Having our hearts oriented in the right direction is always the first step.

But what about when our actions aren't taken the way that our hearts meant them? 

My gut feeling is that Jesus would agree with this principle, this idea of impact trumping intent. It messed me up when I read the passage about meat sacrificed to idols more closely. Paul writes, "For if someone with a weak conscience sees you eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? . . . When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ." As a lover of liberty, it offended me to be instructed to restrict my own freedom to protect the (erroneous!) convictions of another, but in the very next chapter Paul goes on to talk about unity in the body, describing how we are responsible for building our brothers and sisters up. 

If I use my freedom without consideration for what it will cause my brothers and sisters to do, I'm sinning. I'm valuing truth over love. I'm putting intentions over impact.

I feel pretty free: to listen to top 40 music, to wear skirts that fall above my fingers hanging at my sides, to drink beer, to disregard both Calvinism and Arminianism, to use colorful language, to speak in church unconscious of my gender, to vote the way I do, to shop the way I do, to eat the way I do. I assume that I have a lot of stuff wrong, and I trust that He is showing me, piece by piece, the difference between the opinions I hold in arrogance and the convictions grounded in His truth. 

My intention is not to offend the consciences of believers who fall opposite my own convictions. My intention is not to persuade them to my way of seeing things. My goal, or rather, my weak but strengthening ambition is to give grace rather than judgment, and count others as more important than myself. (Their "rightness" or "wrongness" aside.) And yet, despite my noble (though admittedly inconsistent) aspirations, I still make people feel judged. I still manage to discourage or offend with my flippant approach in areas where I feel free. In freely doing what I feel is "right," I tell others who feel my actions are "wrong" that it's okay to do things that are "wrong." Oblivious in my freedom, I am baffled (and even angry!) when my great intentions get warped into a negative impact.

To connect the dots for you, I am the frat boy making obscene jokes from the back of the classroom and feeling misunderstood when I get written up for it. I am the person all my "judge not" posts are directed at. I am seeing, little by little, just how much judgment and not grace is part of my worldview. I am the harasser who doesn't realize her behavior is making people uncomfortable. I am hiding behind the intent of my actions rather than owning their impact. I have camped on the side of true, not love, but it's funny, because truth needs no warriors, and love is really short on ambassadors. 

It's a really scary thing, to take on responsibility for how another person perceives the things you say or do. But that's the beauty of grace, isn't it? This heavy responsibility rests on the cross, and not on our shoulders. We can't bear the weight of how our sins and wrongs impact other people, but this is grace, to be responsible but not culpable, to be freed and forgiven so that we may be part of the gospel of reconciliation. There's no one better than Jesus. 

(Caveat: in sexual harassment training, the bright line is the reasonable person standard, and I think that can be adopted with respect to believers, too. Some things are just silly. And carrying guilt for things you are not responsible for can be incredibly damaging. That's a topic unto its own.)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Confessions of a wuss

It has long been a fatal flaw of mine how easily downtrodden I am by failure, or the simple disappointments of living. I don't have a lot of what the psychologists call resilience. I think maybe neuroticism runs in the genes. And lately, more than ever, I can't shake (transcend?) this self-assessment. That teenaged angst is back. And today especially, I feel like a basket case. For whatever reason, today I am overcome by dread, by fear, by defeatism. When I came home I crawled into bed and let the tears I've been holding back all day just sneak out of the corners of my eyes. Today I'm longing for wholeness but feeling so decidedly crooked. I feel as though I can see the tunnel looming ahead. I feel the warning, to hunker down, to take cover, to anchor myself, like a rheumatism lending those first aches before the rain comes. (And, I mean, that's the kind of thinking I keep freaking myself out with.) 

But the dull defeat of today unwittingly gave me a wish list, or maybe more appropriately, two fervent requests, things that I want so very much, with new realness and sincerity. 

The first? Gimme grace. Though I feel like a pansy for being overwhelmed in a life that is just so great right now, the reality is that I am overwhelmed. I'm going through a lot of change, and change is stressful, and there's grace for experiencing that. I'm back from a year in a new culture that changed something inside me. I'm starting a new job and a new school in a beloved but still mostly new city. I'm carving out a new routine and looking for new housing. Is it all great? Yes, I cannot suffer you with a complaint, it is all such a huge privilege. It's not that I'm justified in feeling stressed and overwhelmed. But I do feel that way. Does that make me a wuss, okay, maybe, totally. But so what? I'm a wuss. I am. It's okay. There's grace for that.

Which brings me to the more significant point: gimme Jesus. Though my pride howls, my regenerated heart rejoices in the steady revealing of my weakness. Because I am reminded, oh precious and painful reminder, that I need Jesus. I need Him. I want Him. I want Him so much more than when I feel whole and capable and together. In my wussiness I frantically root around for someone to bail me out, and who is there but Jesus? And oh fickle heart, what joy I have to know that wanting, that panicked and desperate desire for the only One who loves me so unwaveringly. The storm that rumbled around me today crept into every moment, and so in every moment there also was my life-line: Jesus, You are near, thank You for being near.

Lying in bed with the tears leaking out sucks, honestly. I don't like being a wuss, I don't like being neurotic, I don't being so easily buffeted but things that are so insignificant compared to real suffering. I don't like this frailty. I don't like this grim anticipation of a stormy season. But as real as this angst and stress is, so is the trust that it cannot overcome me. I need not fear. For when I am my own worst enemy, His faithfulness will not cease. 

Trouble is always on the horizon, if we're not already in the thick of it. Maybe I'm cynical, or maybe it's true. But, dare I bless the trouble? Dare I thank Him for the angst that has me clinging to Him? As Keith Green sings, "Up comes the strongest wind that He sends to blow me back into his arms again." And so there is peace in the calm before the storm, not that the angst won't ache and not that the darkness won't be difficult, but in the promise that my weakness doesn't change the fact that He loves me and He fights for me and He will never ever leave me.

Gimme more of that Jesus. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Poetry and blogging are totally different though

Hello blog. Why am I still here? For years I've blogged with consistency about nothing in particular, and for what? I don't think of this blog as a creative outlet; I think of it more like therapy, catharsis, my way of pursuing humility in community, as weird as that sounds. But this still reveals the reality that much of what I post here, in a public forum, is deeply personal. And in this respect it is similar to art: personal expression shared with the masses.

I've been thinking about this because of brief snatches of a conversation I overheard between my sister and my friend. She was talking about her fears of sharing her music with me, familiar as she is with my excellent taste (WINK).

"Oh, don't worry," my friend encouraged her, and offered by way of comparison, "Hayley's writing is just mediocre."

And I think what he meant was not so much that I don't say much that's worth saying, but I think he described the biggest pitfall of my blogging, namely, that it's not for anyone else. My writing is self-indulgent; I am decadent in the way I gratify myself through my writing. In more blunt terms, it's selfish. I write for me. My writing is mediocre because its goal is not constructive, I just write, and for what? If I felt any pressure or motivation to write for anyone else, I probably wouldn't write. 

Sure, I hope others are edified by the clumsy way I process reality, and I hope that my struggles to understand faith are an encouragement to others, but I would be dishonest if I claimed this was the reason I blog here. 

But maybe it should be? 

I've been considering this after being spectator to an unexpected conversation inside Grolier Poetry Book Shop between my friend and the artist manning the shop. They compared notes on who they liked, who they didn't like (they disagreed on Billy Collins), and who their "gateway" poets were. During the course of the conversation Elizabeth remarked, "I like poetry that whacks me, that shows me what it is I don't see." And speaking of some poet guy (so many names, guys, I was so out of my depth) Michael said, "I find he really thinks about the reader, like his work is really user-friendly." 

And as a novice when it comes to consuming poetry, I appreciate poets who are conscious of how their art will be experienced, who don't rest on intentions but make their work accessible to the pedestrian reader, who make it clear what they want their work to do for you. And I also like art that lends me awareness, that transfers experience from the artist to the observer, one showing another what each was previously unaware of. It's edifying, and I'm such a junkie for stuff that has that kind of purpose to it.

Apparently, according to this conversation I witnessed, there is a lot of poetry like this! Isn't it wonderful that there are poets like that out there? And not all art ought to be like that; art's variety is its impetus. But I marvel at the thoughtfulness of it, perhaps because my "work" is entirely the opposite of thoughtful, and it seems to me to be a very noble way of creating art, particularly poetry, a medium so well-suited to explaining unexplainable things.

When it comes to art, I instinctively know what I like. And like I said, this blog isn't art and it isn't meant to be anything close. I'm not on that level. It would be silly to aspire to it. But cannot the same spirit be applied here? The servanthood latent in that thoughtfulness and intentionality that artists bring to their crafts, can't I apply that to my self-indulgent bit o' blog? Can I consciously curate my little place on the internet that serves and edifies others even in my own self-expression? (And shouldn't that be the goal of all my words anyway?) 

Jesus shows me new way to follow Him all the time. And He is desirous for every part of me to be devoted to Him.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

FAQ on Teaching in Karaganda

How was it?

The only word that works to describe it is privilege. In the sense that, it was entirely a blessing and it was entirely undeserved. Extended exposure to a different culture gave me an appreciation of the culture that shaped me; it grew in me a patriotism I didn't know I had. The hospitality and warmth we received was baffling; with openness people welcomed us into their lives. I went to this frozen land to serve others, but abundantly I was served. It's funny how these things get turned around. 

Do you speak the language?

Usually I respond, "Я не могу говорить по-русски, потому что я была плохо учился." We took Russian lessons once a week, and . . . yeah. Everyone did their part to help us practice, from strangers at the bus stop to students outside of class, but at the end of the day it was my job to speak English, so, that's what I spoke. So I'm still a beginning in Russian, but I can say a reasonable number of things. And I know some basic phrases in Kazakh. I'm planning to continue studying Russian in the fall.

What was the food like?

Kazakh food is all about the meat. Russian food has a lot of dill and mayonnaise. The Russian definition of salad is very different from the American one: green leafy vegetables are almost entirely absent and brings to mind 1960's cold potluck dishes. GMOs are a hot topic in Kazakhstan, and I think that explains the cabbages bigger than my head and carrots as thick as my arm. It was also great to live in a place where very little of the food was industrialized and for the most part was farm-to-table. I came to really love the cuisine, and now I definitely eat sausage more than I ever did before. I learned how to make lipioshka, plov, and borcht, all really tasty. I'm also an even bigger fan of some more atypical proteins like duck, rabbit, mutton, horse, and dog.

What was the culture like?

The wonderfully reassuring thing about crossing cultures is that people are people, anywhere you go. You will always have basic humanity in common with others. And because I lived in a city and worked with people who had a lot of exposure to foreigners, the cultural divide did not loom as wide as it could have. I noticed mostly little things: the habit of greeting others when entering and leaving a room, the social acceptance of snot rockets, the phenomenon of Russian lines, the scapegoating of exposure to cold temperatures for illness, Kazakh courtesy and hospitality, and grocery store etiquette. Most of all I loved the emphasis and priority placed on community and relationships, on knowing people deeply and growing together through time.

Do you miss it?

At first, no. Not at all. Sure, my heart flip-flopped when I thought of the dear souls I might never see again, and I sighed a little when I watched my students' lives on social media, but I was too contented with being home to possibly want to go back. Now that I've settled back into life in the USA, and am confronting scary things like law school and moving out and The Future, I want to be back in Karaganda so bad. I miss being able to take public transportation everywhere, or grab a cheap taxi where the buses didn't go. I miss discovering new cafes and marveling at a developing country exerting its economy. I miss eavesdropping on conversations around me and rejoicing when I understood snatched phrases. And I miss teaching, a lot, the preparing of lessons and watching my students relish their linguistic acrobatics.

How have you changed?

This is the hardest question for me to answer. I ask it shyly of my family and they don't know how to answer it either. The shift is subtle, and difficult to describe. I was shown in new depths many of my weaknesses over the year, and in cowardice I avoided confronting them. That has changed my soul somehow, but in ways that have yet to finish playing out. I gained some bad habits, sure, and picked up some new recipes, but more substantially, I think I've become more comfortable with uncomfortable social situations. This is the result of exposure therapy: when you're a foreigner your life is one long uncomfortable social situation, and so I've acclimated to it.

What did you learn?

Reflecting on the past year always leaves me wanting to impress upon anyone who will listen this exhortation: just go. I am the opposite of an extraordinary person. I am not brave. I am not wise. I was not the ideal person for this job. I am completely and entirely average. And yet . . . I had an amazing year. I had the opportunity to be a cultural ambassador, to teach eager students a useful skill, to speak the truth about Jesus to people who had never known a follower of His. Just go. These privileges did not come to me because I deserved them, but because in His grace He freely gave them to me. If I learned anything this past year is that His grace never runs out. He gives it so abundantly you can never reach the end of it. And you can't encounter that grace and walk away unchanged. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Suitcase Mood

I was talking with a friend at our language center graduation after-outing (context, man) and he asked the question our students seem so curious about, “So what do you do now that classes are over?” Great question. Dolefully I explained to him the slow death the week is shaping up to be, how I had already done a casual preliminary cleaning and had begun taking decorations down around the flat, and how unpleasant it was to be caught between going and not being home yet.

“Ah,” he says, “Yes, we have a word for this in Russian, suitcase mood.”

“Huh?” I was intrigued.

“Yes, чемоданое настроение. Your feelings when you are preparing to leave.”

“Yup,” I affirmed, “It’s exactly that.”

All these months I have clung to the assumption that these last two weeks would fly by. Full of tying up loose ends, cleaning the flat for the new team, visiting our favorite places for the last time, packing, shopping, saying good-bye to our friends. We are indeed doing all of those things, and yet, time seems to be dragging by slower than it ever has before. And this in-between-y-ness sucks so much.

We’ve been doing some mental preparation for going back. Bet and I listen to Top 40 music when we do the dishes, we’ve been reading American news. We are practicing talking about our experience here, we are guarding against attitudes of comparison and criticism. We’re doing our re-entry homework even though our organization doesn’t exist anymore and nobody’s making us! And while all of this prep is probably wise and a good use of time, it doesn’t help me now

I was overcome with a wave of jealousy when Skyping with some of our friends from here who have arrived in the USA for the summer. They showed a quick view of the ocean (the ocean!) and told about drinking black coffee at McDonald’s. (They didn’t know cream and sugar were on the condiments table, and I feel their pain so much!) I’m so happy that my friends whose culture I experienced all year are now experiencing my culture; it’s cool and it’s awesome and it’s really interesting! But I am so jealous that they are in my country and I’m still here.

But I have these moments. When I step into the shower, when I sit in our reading nook, when I wait at the Tourist bus stop, when I climb the steps in our apartment building. This life has become normal, and in a few days it’s going to stop. It’s going to be a memory. A weird memory of that time life in a different place became normal. I try to remember the former normal, my routines back home. How it felt to step into the shower there, how it felt to walk up the stairs in my house, what Providence Place Mall is like, what walking in the woods behind our house is like. It too is a memory, because even home will not be just the same as when I left it. 

So I have the same problem I always have. Different context, same heart issue. The ache of change. 

I like having a word for it now, though. All week, the answer to the question “How are you?” or “What’s new?” has been the same: “Suitcase mood.” And maybe the all the details and complexities of that mood are difficult to understand, but one thing is understood: leaving is a process, and that process is hard. 

And that’s okay.

Friday, May 23, 2014

"Giving isn't easy, but neither is the rain"

It's been a dreary past few days here in Karaganda. And between wishing I was on vacation with my family in Colorado, and ending my work at the public school I taught at four times week, my mood has borne an uncanny resemblance to the cloudy sky and the drizzly atmosphere. I have been cold and damp almost all week, both emotionally and, you know, literally. 

After a day of struggling through a lesson and struggling through a bank transaction and struggling through a wet walk to the language center, in mix of my pity party I made an "at least" list. You know: at least I had remembered to wear socks, at least I was able to get past the language barrier at the bank, at least got to sit on the bus instead of stand, at least I had a fun lesson planned for my adult students, at least the lilacs had bloomed and were smelling great, at least, at least, at least. 

As I walked I looked up at the sky. It's become a habit, because the sky is usually so beautiful here. Due to obscene amounts of pollution, the sunsets are a ridiculous technicolor display. And during the daytime usually all you can see is a deep, soft, cloud-less blue. But because of all this rain, when I looked up instead I saw blue-gray wall of clouds shielding any sunlight from view. The sky was a curious violet color and the texture of the clouds reminded me of a computer art program I had as a kid, how you could paint the sky in thick, puffy strokes. 

I thought to myself, "Hm, the sky is actually quite beautiful like that." Unbidden, the thought popped into my head from Elsewhere, "I think so, too." 

It reminds me of my favorite Switchfoot song, "Rain, another rainy day / Comes up from the ocean / Give herself away / She comes down easy / On rich and debt the same / And she gives herself away."

I want to pity myself. I want to wrap myself in my hoodie and sweatpants and watch Friends under the covers until I'm warm and toasty and feel medicated enough that I can finish this painful process of saying good-bye (for now?) to this city I love so much. I want license to withdraw, glum and moody, into the comforts of my two favorite vices: chocolate and television. 

But that's dumb. That's so dumb. Why? 

Because good things don't just happen

And yet, somehow, good things happen to me every day. 

It's no crime to be sad. It's normal. Maybe even good. Of course I should miss my family, and grieve leaving Karaganda, and repent of the stupid selfish decisions I indulge each day. And I ought to hurt for a world that is full of broken systems, and broken relationships, and broken people. But in the darkness a light shines. In the steady drip of unrelenting rain, there is still beauty. Grace still waters this broken place. Grace, those undeserved good things that happen every day. Grace, the hope that overpowers cynicism. Grace, the source of the joy that wipes out my self-pity and my lethargy. We don't deserve it, but it comes down everywhere and always. 

Grace like rain. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Posture of a Seeker

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

I've believed that for a long time, but I'm coming into a fresher understanding of it.

In his book Speaking of Jesus, Carl Medeiras shares the testimony of a friend who worked in a tree-planting camp, and how this friend started a group that read the Gospels and talked about Jesus. In essence, a Bible study, but it wasn't called that for semantic reasons. The thesis of his whole book is something like, evangelism is a lot more about loving Jesus, following Jesus, and speaking of Jesus than it is about sharing proofs, doctrine, and a defense of church history. He warns against the danger of leaving Jesus out of the gospel.

I really love Jesus, but I also love ideas, and so I am more often than not more entranced by trying to think about things the right way than I am focused on following a Person who is the Truth, period.

I've been thinking about the disciples.

Peter and Andrew are on the beach, and He says to them, "Follow me."

I take it for granted that Jesus is Jesus, and there was some strange look in His eye or manner about Him that somehow persuaded Peter and Andrew to be crazy and follow Him, but I think it's noteworthy that they didn't get some length theological explanation. Jesus didn't sit with them and lay out His whole plan. There was no, "So, hi, I'm the Son of God, I'm going to die for your sins because I love you, and I'm going to rise again, and if you trust in Me I'll spend eternity with you." Boom, gospel in a sentence, but no, there was none of that. Just, "Follow me."

And they were like, "Sure. Okay. If you say so." Presumably because they saw the power in Him.

Along the way the disciples are always asking questions. And I love this. They are always asking the same questions I'm asking. And sometimes Jesus is like, "C'mon guys, you don't get it?!" I love that the disciples don't understand. I love that Jesus explains stuff to them. And I love that there's still so much He keeps from them. They don't even realize that He's the Son of God until the middle of Matthew. Apologetics emphasizes that that's a pretty important theological point. Jesus has to be God. It's the only way all this atonement stuff adds up. But Jesus doesn't lead with this information. Why?

I'm discovering how much I want my relationship with Jesus to have the posture of a seeker. As in, that Christianese word we use to describe someone who is interested in Jesus and wants to know more. Seekers don't take doctrine for granted. Seekers don't do things because it's the "Christian" thing to do. Seekers are concerned with getting to know Jesus. Maybe because they think He's freaking weird but maybe also because there's just some strange look in His eye or a manner about Him. They don't care about the religion crap or Christianity's baggage, because they are compelled by a Person and they want to know if He's legit.

There's that Misty Edwards song, "I don't wanna talk about You like You're not in the room," and I'm beginning to understand now what she means. I don't believe in Jesus because it makes sense to believe in Him. I believe in Jesus because He has made Himself real to me. And I don't want be a person who calls herself a "Christian" just like she calls herself "libertarian" or "introverted" or "melancholy." Jesus is not another idea that defines me. Ideas are important. But He is more than an idea. He is more than a definition. He is a Person I am seeking, following, and unlike an idea that is a daily equilibrium, I want more and more and more of Him each day.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

How to make lipioshka

I finally did it! After weeks of internet searching, polling the locals, and one failed attempt, I finally successfully made lipioshka! I must've asked every single one of my students the same question, "How do you make lipioshka?" and they all gave the same abstract answer, "My mom knows!" My Russian language teacher, Katya (who is married to Kazakh and a bomb-diggety cook), finally put me out of my misery when she shared with me her method for lipioshka which took some of the guesswork out of the ingredient proportions. (Ask Bethany about that failed first attempt; salty!)

Lipioshka is a round, unleavened Central Asian bread. The kind described below is, I think, a little bit different than Uzbek lipioshka: it's not prepared in a tandr, the center is not thicker than the edges, there's no design in the middle, and it's fluffy, not dense. Maybe this is a Russified version of lipioshka? Nevertheless, it is the kind sold at the magazine next to our language center, the kind my students brought me on Kurban-ait and Easter, and is second only to baursaki in my heart. I'm so excited that I'll be able to recreate this favorite even when I'm back state-side.

You will need . . . !

500g kefir*
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
As much flour as it takes (a little more than 4 cups)
Some amount of cooking oil (I used sunflower)

Then you should . . . !

Empty your kefir into a mixing bowl. Add the salt and the baking soda. Begin mixing in the flour, and continue adding flour until a dough forms. Then let it sit for a half hour or so.

When you come back to it, split the dough into five parts. (Or more, if you'd like, but probably not less.) Roll each segment out on a floured surface into a circle, a little smaller than the diameter of your pan. It shouldn't be so thick.

In your pan, heat the oil on medium-low. When the oil is hot, add one of your discs of dough. Cook around five minutes each side. You'll notice as it cooks it'll puff up; if it doesn't do this then it's possible the dough was too thick. If you don't want to deep fry the lipioshka, you need only a little bit of oil.

*A note about the kefir: Katya, who is well-versed in assisting foreigners with finding specific food products, told me to buy the small green carton. I chose one at random and it worked like a charm, but I'm not sure about a conduit for this kind state-side, as it appeared much thicker than I kind I usually see back home in New England. On the carton it specifies 2.5%, which I think is referring to the fat content. So if possible, opt for kefir that's just a touch runnier than yogurt. 

I doubt I'll be able to master piroshki or pelmeni or manti before I leave (to be frank, stuffed breads and pasta sound like too much work), but I can content myself with the simplicity and the memories this bread conjures up. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Karaganda Restaurants

In general, expats who decide to live in a little-known Central Asian country aren't the kind of people who compulsively google everything. They don't look for answers on western internet. Instead they head to the streets. They take bold forays into the local language and culture, and pull from the vast store of information sourced from their local friends. They are not afraid to duck inside random cafes and make the best of it. They are content with not knowing and with figuring things out as they go.

But you know, I'm not one of those people. I am a I-gotta-know-what-I'm-getting-myself-into kind of person. Whenever I'm sick you know I'm all over WebMD. If someone suggests a movie I look it up on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes before adding it to my list. I use the internet to solve a lot of my day-to-day problems; recent Google searches include "How long should chicken thighs bake", "is mahi mahi really dolphin", and "how to manually flush a toilet." (Friends, my life, you have no idea how exciting it is.)

So when I was trying to find a new place to eat this past week, I quickly exhausted the English resources available on the interwebs and instead decided to step out in faith. And trial-and-error has been a fabulous way to find the good food in this city, but for those who, like me, prefer something a little more premeditated, I've prepared a small guide of good restaurants in Karaganda based on my own experiences. As damdi bolsyn!

So for all you Googlers out there . . .

Uighyr food and some central Asian offerings, as well. Flakey, melt-in-your-mouth samsa! The menu has pictures, which is always appreciated, but you can't go wrong with any of the lagman. Off Bukhar Zhirou, bus stop Shestnasti. (Near to the other Uighyr restaurant, which is also tasty, but Arzu has free wifi and nicer decor.)

Kafe Kirogi
Korean food. It's not on the menu, but they have dog if you ask for it. (I don't know how to do this, but if you speak the language or go with a local, you can make this happen.) I have only had the dog (which was great!), so I can't speak for the rest of the food, but the place is immaculately clean. It's not on the bus route (maybe it's on Street Ermekova?) so you'll have to go by taxi.

Americanized Chinese food. English menu available. Don't get the crispy chicken, it's mostly bones. Everything else is great, though. Tempora cauliflower is outta sight. On Gogol Street (Yogo-Vostock side), across from the German Orthodox church and next Infiniti night club.

Kafe Suliko
A small cafe nestled in Stepnoi 3, this was a favorite. Georgian food! You simply cannot go wrong with Georgian food. Cheesy bread. Enough said. They didn't have an English menu, so we just pointed at random things and were never disappointed. Cheaper and more delicious than the Georgian place on Nurken Abdirova. Within walking distance of the Korzina bus stop.

Italian fare, altered slightly for a Russian palate. (Case in point, there is dill on the Margharita pizza.) English menu available. The horse meat pizza is great. The price is in the middle, not so cheap but not extra expensive. The place has a classy vibe. I always went to the one on the second floor of Korzina in Yugo-Vostock, but there is another location on Alikhanova in Centre.

German food and beer. The menu is in both English and Russian. The decor of this place is incredible. It's like eating inside the basement of a castle. Prices are on the high side (we were conservative but it cost ~3000/person) but the food is excellent. The sausage dishes are only sausage, so, get a side. On the corner of Bulvar Mira and Bukhar Zhirou.

For sushi this place is affordable, clean, and pretty chic. It reminded me a lot of my second favorite sushi place back home. We got a sampler tray and it was plenty for six of us. (They also have this berry tea that is RAD.) The cafe atmosphere makes it a good place for hanging out for an extended period of time, and there's a semi-open kitchen. On Bulvar Mira, close to Stanislovski Theater.

Coffe In
I've never had food here, but their desserts are lovely and their drinks are great! This is my favorite place to go warm up in the dead of winter, especially with their pirate punch. And the decor is adorable, it has such a cozy feel inside. Bright orange on the outside. Menu in both English and Russian. Halfway down Nurken Abdirova, bus stop 1000 Melochey.

Perfecto Coffee
If you're needing a little slice of America, this place feels like a typical western coffee shop. Lots of foreigners hang out here, and the staff usually do what they can to overcome the language barrier. And coffee is a bit cheaper and more delicious than Intercoffee, I think. On Bulvar Mira near the Galleria mall, Dietctolovaya bus stop.

These recommendations are based on my own limited experiences living in Karaganda, Kazakhstan for the 2013-2014 academic year. Corrections or other recommendations welcome!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Cows, though?

It's hard for me to remember a time when my sister Sarah was not one of my favorite people. I have fuzzy memories of coloring a picture of us two with Psalm 133:1 written underneath as a punishment. (Our parents instructed us to reword it to read, "It is good and pleasant when sisters live together in peace.") I can recall sitting next to her at the kitchen island crying because she had gotten a better score on our spelling test than me. And I think there was a time when Hannah and I would play without Sarah because she was, yes, "too little." When I was a kid I thought the 14-month difference between us was oh so important, but now that I'm "grown" I see what a gift I was given.

Sarah is simultaneously the most and least judgmental person I know. She never says anything unkind about a person, never gossips, and is quick to look at a situation from everyone's point of view. She's excellent at perspective-sharing and highly empathetic. She always manages to remind me that no one is exempt from grace, and what a gift it is to extend the same patience to others to has been extended to me. What all this means, however, is that when you start complaining or saying something you shouldn't, she gets on this pitying and tight-lipped silence that makes conviction just shoot right through you. She doesn't even need to say anything to rebuke you, you know it in a moment, you sense that you're being ungracious, because her kindness shines as a bright example.

Photo by Lillian Hathaway, Newport 2012
She reminds me of J3sus, how she managed to be so compassion and so exhorting at the same time. And in this she makes me want to be more like J3sus. I so admire the joy she has: how she can lock her keys in her car on a blustery day and find the humor in the situation. How she digs her heels in on hope, and watches and waits for victory to come through hard situations. How she manages to cope with the insanely busy schedule she keeps, rising to the challenges of being fully present and self-sacrificing in each new setting. It baffles me how she never hesitates at doing the right thing; she follows her convictions and her values unflinchingly. I love her for the kind, kind way she rebukes me.

She's also so freaking competent. She joined staff at our chrch about a year ago and having worked alongside her at youth events and other chrch functions, I have come to marvel at the genuine enjoyment she has for service. The leadership roles she's taken on astound me, probably because I know I could never do what she's doing, and it just makes me so impressed. And I guess it impresses me even more because I know she's grown into the role. She's worked hard to stretch herself and flatten her shortcomings so that she can complete the tasks she's given. She's like the good employee archetype: conscientious, communicative, and dynamic. Whenever I want to hang out with someone I usually ask her to make it happen, because her activities have almost a 100% success rate. (My activities, more like 37%.)

Моя сестра перед президентским дворцом
But she is forever my goofy sister. Nothing makes me laugh like her tweets do. She wears her dorky cow hat in public and doesn't care. She eats on a schedule and food is her love language. She posts adorable pictures of my favorite animals on my Facebook wall. She shares my esteem for puns. She helped me rank the five grossest movie kisses of all time (we're still scarred by the moment of passion from Willow). She is my partner in crime, a fellow J3sus follower, and my best friend.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

"Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me"

I like the risk in theory. I like the idea of stepping out into what is unknown. It’s been a part of my ethos since I was quite young, a middle schooler sitting on the steps of the State House talking to strangers, to do what is difficult. I’m one of those dumb people who reads about stuff on the internet and thinks to themselves, “Hey, I could do that.” How do you think I wound up in Kazakhstan? The trouble is, though my brain is all too eager to sign up for the risk, the challenge, when push comes to shove my heart is a shivering, squishy mess. 

The first time I ever went to a water park (technically it was the second, the first being Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole, but, let’s say first real water park) was at Walt Disney World’s Blizzard Beach. My mom talked us into doing the second-scariest slide in the park, and we waited in line with her, and I was all, “Mhm, mhm, this is a great idea, woo!” The line was long, and as we waited I congratulated myself with how brave I was. That is, until I had to take off my water shoes and position myself in the mouth of the slide. In a moment my courage evaporated in the hot Florida sun, but by then there was no backing out. 

I remember going down the slide very clearly, even though it was over a decade ago. I remember a bunch of water got in my face and I couldn’t breath. I opened my mouth to yell and choked instead. The grooves in the slide where each piece connected with the next burned my shoulder blades, and the force of sliding straight down so fast gave me the most unholy wedgie. I distinctly remember feeling disoriented when I arrived at the bottom, my brain was saying so many things at once. Things like, “YOU ALMOST JUST DROWNED.” -- “Get out of the track, another person’s coming!” -- “Wait, fix your swim suit first!” -- “Cough. COUGH. There’s still water in your lungs!” -- “Where did your water shoes go? HOT PAVEMENT.” -- “Where IS your mother, your vision is so blurry from all that water!” And other panicked, exclamation-marked sentiments. 

I survived, it’s true. But it’s example of how my reach exceeds my grasp. 

Coming to Kazakhstan was a great idea. The plan was almost foolproof. A place most people have never heard of? Check. A job that automatically connects me with locals who speak my language? Check. A year learning about cross-cultural servanthood before attempting to start it stateside? Great idea all around! And it’s been a beautiful time; I cannot overstate how much of a privilege it’s been. Privilege in that, the kindness I’ve been shown has been so great, and my deservingness of this opportunity has been so little. 

The idea of working in a different country is a fantastic one, but there’s something about the pragmatics that makes my stomach flip-flop a little. Sometimes I get to the top of the metaphorical cultural water slide and I want to bail. Every time we invite someone over I have butterflies in my stomach. Every time we go to someone’s house I feel faint. I steel my nerves at so many social interactions, waiting, waiting, to break through the barrier of my own selfishness into active love for these people for whom I harbor such affection. I came to Kazakhstan to challenge myself, to find obedience and discipleship and growth through risk, but many times, with shame I admit, I have baulked in fear.

And now I wonder if I am repeating the same with law school. Stepping still into the unknown because  I like the idea of it, because I perceive a challenge and a risk, but will only come out on the other side shell-shocked, proclaiming, “I ALMOST JUST DROWNED.”

I don’t deserve anyone’s esteem. I’m a coward. I am a fearful young adult who signs her name too confidently on checks she can’t cash. My knees were gelatin at the top of that water slide. My stomach was in knots before my first meeting with a student. I’ve written pages and pages of doubt and fear in my journal about coming to Kazakhstan and going to law school. I have never done anything good without being scared out of my mind before doing it. I like the risk in theory. But in practice it freaks me out. I have nothing to be proud of, because in every risk I have face-planted in fear.  

And how many times does J3sus say to His disciples, or to the people He heals, “Take courage” and “Do not be afraid”? Oh, feeble and fearful heart. Of course you can't. But of course He can.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Lent, Law School, and Practicing the Presence of God

I gave up watching TV for Lent. When Lent ended today, Easter, the day of victory, the day of celebration and joy, I gleefully partook of what I'd abstained from and finished the last season of HIMYM.

When it was finished (okay, I cried a little), I reflected on where the past two hours had gone, how it was 2am, and it was irresponsible to be up that late, and how deadened two hours of television had made me feel after such a wonderful day.

This, I thought, this is why I gave up TV.

I actually gave up TV in order to better practice the presence of God. I don't often observe Lent, just because self-denial for its own sake seems to me something I can only practice selfishly, for example, slipping into the trap of thinking that watching less TV would make me a better person.

But something curious happened.

On April 12th, three days before the response deadline, I sent in a seat deposit to Penn State. I made my decision. I chose a law school. And I had such peace about it. I looked for apartments as I Skyped with Maggie and we spit-balled about visiting Disney over our spring breaks.

But three days later, on April 15th, on the response deadline, I got an email from Suffolk, my first choice law school, offering me a full-tuition scholarship. (PSU had offered me this to begin with, which I why I had chosen them over Suffolk.) When I saw the email frustration seeped through me. "Why. Why. Why." I chanted to myself as I sat at my desk.

Once I got over my initial angst, I launched into advice-seeking, pro-con list-making, general rationalizing. I emailed PSU to see if I could get my deposit back. No dice.

The whole time I questioned, "Why, Father, would You have this happen this way?" All my life my path has been steered by the gentle channel of closed and open doors. I walk forward in my desires, seeking congruence with His will, and trust Him to halt the plans that aren't His. And this has really worked for me. I'm not one of these people who agonizes of the mystery that is knowing the will of God. His personage has a depth I can't fathom, but it seems His will is very simple: seek Him.

This being my paradigm, I was flummoxed by the sudden appears of two doors. The trust I had previously placed in my decision for PSU faltered as Suffolk again became a possibility. But I was also loathe to change my mind after I had already accepted PSU as my fate. I had waited for weeks for an email from Suffolk with such scholarship news; how stunting for it to come just days after I put the money down.

"What do You want me to do," I would inquire of Him sullenly, frustrated that He would have me question my future beyond the next three months, annoyed that He would tease me with something I had desired for so long. I wanted clarity. I wanted an answer. I wanted handwriting on the wall.

And I don't want to elevate myself to put words in His mouth, but in that moment what it seemed He replied was, "I want your attention."

Lent was not about watching television. The scholarship news from Suffolk was not about my law school decision. The choice has made me batty, but it's not about choosing a school. (Either is perfectly fine!) This is about something much more important.

It's about my heart. It's about increasing the proximity of my heart to His.

And it's funny how understanding this doesn't automatically attune me to Him, just like six weeks without television didn't kill my capacity to stay up late binging on episodes that have already aired. It's funny how easy it is to adopt "Seek Him" as your guiding decision-making paradigm and then you forget to actually like, seek Him.

But He won't relent until He has it all, our whole hearts, our complete attention. And how patient He is, and how creative, how He gives us these slow pitches as He teaches us to keep our eyes on the proverbial ball . . .

The baseball metaphor is dripping with cheese, I know, but I have so much joy that I am loved by a G0d who demands my attention and teaches me to give it to Him. That He says to me, "Daughter, I will not abandon the work I began in you." He lives. He leaves us not to follow Him blindly groping, but He will open our eyes and grab our attention.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fact: music motivates learning

It sounds silly to write it here in black and white, but one of the wins I have most appreciated about the laborious task of learning Russian is being able to understand the bit from that Regina Spektor song "Apres Moi." Shockingly, I didn't discover the text for this reprise until just now. It's the first stanza from a poem by Boris Pasternak. I'm not saying I can sing along perfectly just yet, but I will hopefully have something to show for these hours of Russian practice. I'm so delighted to have something small and relevant to my home culture to contextualize what I'm learning.

Words are below in Russian Cyrillic script, Russian Latin script, and English.

Февраль. Достать чернил и плакать!
Писать о феврале навзрыд,
Пока грохочащая слякоть
Весною черною горит.

Fevral'. Dostat' chernil i plakat'!
Pisat' o fevrale navzryd,
Poka grokhochashchaya slyakot'
Vesnoyu chernoyu gorit.

February. Get ink, shed tears.
Write of it, sob your heart out, sing,
While torrential slush that roars
Burns in the blackness of the spring.

(Poem and translation accessed from Discovered thanks to Hope Johnson.)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Food withdrawals

We went to the grocery store this week and what I saw had me geeking out. 

Lettuce, they had lettuce. And not just the wilted and yellowed cellophane-wrapped heads of romaine that they usually had, but also those plastic sealed boxed of baby spinach, radiccio, and arugula. What?!

We've become to accustomed to not eating lettuce that one glance at the high price was enough motivation to pass it up, but I felt a little thrill in my gut at this sign that spring was coming, and that after spring comes summer, and during summer I'd be able to eat all the lettuce I wanted.

I foresee this being a big problem. Starting to think about the summer and being home, making plans, the big thing that's in my mind is what I'm going to eat. Like honestly, I see myself stepping off the plane in Logan and walking straight to Jamba Juice. 

For example . . . garbanzo beans, sweet potatoes, Ritz crackers, Italian sausage, ravioli, tortellini, kale, brown sugar, panko, shellfish, jam (I mean, they have jam here, but, it's so, how do I explain, it's like a syrupy fruit puree), PEANUT BUTTER, peanut butter M&Ms, pita bread, bagels, fresh fish, deboned chicken thighs, cheese (they have cheese here, but it's expensive, and there's no cheddar), quinoa, squash, couscous, Trader Joe's, canned crushed tomatoes (not positive, but I think they're a thing here), canned pumpkin, blueberries, asparagus, cream cheese . . . usual food items that I have missed so much and can't wait to consume again. 

I can't wait for iced coffee and Del's lemonade and Iggy's clamcakes and chicken on the grill and s'mores and not paying $4 for a cafe americano and Pinkberry and American-Chinese takeout and being able to drink the tap water. The chain restaurants I previously disdained, like Applebee's or Olive Garden, I'm looking forward to those, too. Cooking in generally is going to be so much easier once I'm able to read the labels again. Succumbing to gluttony is one of my biggest fears about coming back to the States because I'm such a sucker for making up for lost time.

This is a double edged sword, though. Whenever I slip into a day dream about all the recipes I'm planning on trying once I'm back stateside, I also remember all the food I won't be able to eat once I'm home.

Khachapuri, manti, beshbarmak, pelmeni, Soviet cookies, meat-stuffed blini (I mean, I guess I could make my own, but, I will miss buying the premade ones in the freezer section), horse sausage, plov, baursaki, samsa, laghman, shashlik (I could also probably make this myself, but I'll miss the smoky smell of it cooking in the bazaar), lipioshka, katleti, all the pirozhki, and the extensive tea selection. Oh man, I only just realized now, sitting and reflecting on it, how much good food we've consumed. Before coming I didn't think Russian food (with all its dill, mayonnaise, and pickles) would agree with my palate, but what did I know? 

I will not miss instant coffee, Russian salads, meat jello, or okroshka.

The bread here is amazing. I feel as though each culture has excellent bread (I don't think I've ever had bread I didn't like any place I've ever gone), but it will be really depressing to grab a processed, presliced loaf of Arnold's when I've been eating fresh baked brown bread for like 20 cents. And the candy, I don't understand why a nation as industrialized and sugar-obsessed as the USA hasn't diversified their candy aisle, because the ones in Kazakhstan really put us to shame. I'm going to miss the candy. And I'm bringing a few kilos home, so start putting in your requests.

There is so much good food to be had in this world. Enjoy your meals.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


Every morning when I wake up and every night when I climb into bed, I feel this strange division bubbling up in my chest. I think of driving down route 116 and eating seafood and watching movies with my sisters, and I can't wait for June to be here. And I think of walking through Central Park and eating pelmeni and walking with our friends, and I dread the coming of June and leaving this place. Living in a foreign country is such an enormous privilege and one I am determined not to squander during my remaining time here. 

These are the things I want to take advantage of before concluding this stint:
  • Hit the major cities: Astana, Almaty, Shymkent
  • Go to the banya
  • Sing karaoke
  • Make a real American cheesecake for the office
  • Give purpose to the staff at the Karaganda Region Museum
  • Go to a football game
  • See the view from Bayterek Tower
  • Eat beshbarmak
  • See the museum dedicated to the Karaganda branch of Stalin's gulag, the Karlag
  • Go to a hockey game
  • See a dombra concert
  • Drink kumis
  • Have an entire conversation exclusively in Russian
  • Attend mass at the Catholic church
  • Spot a wild gerbil
  • Ice skating /  Paintball / Rock climbing (not necessarily unique to KZ, but generally new here)
  • Visit Timertau and the Nazerbayev Museum there
  • Get my picture taken with every monument (there are at least 10)
  • See the inside of the Orthodox church
  • Hear stories from someone who lived under the former Soviet Union
  • Ride a camel
  • Catalogue Kazakhstan's vast variety of candy
  • Learn how to make borsch
Lest you think my aspirations are too small, here are some honorable mentions of things I accidentally did without intending to make a goal of it.
  1. Visit the Kyrgyz Republic.
  2. Watch the Hobbit 2 in Russian, and in 3D.
  3. Spill hot oil all over our kitchen.
  4. Drink unfiltered water from the tap. (Our friend remarked, "You shouldn't do that.")
  5. Buy train tickets all by myself. (Myself plus Google Translate.)
  6. Lose my phone. And my wallet.
  7. Overstay my visa by two months and get stopped trying to leave the country.
  8. Watch a Russian serial. (With English subtitles, of course.)
  9. Try vodka.
  10. Make my student cry. 
  11. Eat dog. 
  12. Go to the hospital. (For chest x-rays to prove I didn't have TB.)
  13. Ride a bus to an unknown location. (This has happened more times than I can count.)
  14. Learn how to make crumpets.
  15. Ride a Soviet-era ferris wheel.
  16. Go to a wedding. (Don't worry, we were invited.)
If you ever find yourself in Karaganda (hey, you never know!) and want to soak up every little thing this area offers, these things might be a good starting point. Not that I necessarily recommend getting lost on public transportation or overstaying your visa, but these (mis)adventures are fun in their own way because they let you see the place in a new way. And nothing makes you feel like a local like falling down on the icy sidewalks does. So embrace the humiliation. It's amusing for everyone else.