Sunday, February 28, 2010

Typical Weekend Update


It is Sunday night and it has come to my attention that my blogs have fallen behind. After my caffeine overload I spent Friday night tossing and turning in bed and completely unable to sleep. I woke up early on Saturday morning for church and spent the whole day being groggy from not getting enough sleep. One cup of coffee at a time—lesson learned. In spite of the grogginess, Saturday turned out to be a very fun day. After going to the main Russian-speaking church, I realized that Kazakhstan actually has a real Adventist community, with a big central church. It was a good experience even though I had to try to listen to one of our friends translate through a whisper in the midst of the crowd. Because I couldn’t hear very well, I did not take much from the service, but I loved the good music, and the bright familiar faces. Even though I didn’t really know anyone, you always feel that sort of familiarity when you are surrounded by people who have similar beliefs—at least I do. After church Emily and I headed up to the mountains with a few local friends. We didn’t do any strenuous hiking, just climbed a gigantic flight of stairs, had a picnic on a little bridge, and messed around in this snowy valley and listened to the river. I love the mountains. I was in desperate need of some fresh air and some time away from the city. After getting all wet from playing in the snow we journeyed back into the sea of pollution. We split up near this big hotel and I knew exactly where I was at. Since Steven didn’t come along I was all by myself and was thrilled at the adventure of trekking through the city alone. I made it to a bus stop but I didn’t really feel like waiting for a bus and I wanted to walk. I’ve gotten a very good idea of how this city is laid out and have come to be able to navigate pretty well. I walked all the way down this main road and absorbed all the new surroundings, or things that I hadn’t paid attention to while riding on the crowded bus. I kept quiet and felt like I blended in as a Russian pretty well. I started to get close to Panfilov Park (the park that Steven and I walk through everyday on our way to work—the park that is crawling with police) and it became less of an adventure and more like an everyday walk. Luckily, as I was worrying about the police-saturated park, a 25 bus rolled by and I ran to the bus stop to catch it. I hopped on and after a couple stops I popped out at the far side of the bazaar. So new adventure struck as I meandered through the big and overcrowded market, taking the time to see things that I never paid attention to before. I had fun resisting any sort of rush and just took in my surroundings. As soon as I got home I changed into some dry clothes, washed up, and made pizza! Since we could finally afford cheese we decided to take some Laposhka, and some of our left-over tomato sauce and create a good ol’ taste of America. Once the pizza was ready Steven and I sat down to the final part of our Lord of the Rings trilogy! It was a great night. Afterwards, I was extremely tired and ended up reading and getting to bed until long after I wanted to. It turned out to be a great day.

Today wasn’t filled with grandness like yesterday, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I woke up really late today—around one in the afternoon—which was great in the sense that I caught up on all my lost sleep, but not so great in the sense that I was robbed of a large chunk of my day. I wasn’t too upset though. I woke up and did some reading in the kitchen with a cup of coffee and some corn flakes. After this I felt like cooking so I made some fresh, homemade tortillas, and couldn’t stop there so I went on to make little brown sugar crepes. I love to cook I just wish I knew how to do it a little better. From there I watched an episode of House on the internet, fooled around a bit more, made some soup for dinner, and watched another episode of house. It turned out to be a perfect lazy day. Now, before I go to bed, I will prepare for exam week like I should have done earlier today.

I am going to go ahead and stop here and post this before my internet cuts out again.

Friendship and the Rules of Moderation

(Sorry for the late posting, the internet has not been working right)

The month of February is coming to a close. I can’t believe it. The moments are flying out from beneath me too quick for me to grab hold of them. A friend is someone who you can trust, rely on, be open with, and make memorable moments with. We talked about friendship in Friday club tonight and I was reminded of all the wonderful friends I have scattered across the globe. What would we do without friends? Life would be lacking, that is for sure. Jesus said that He calls me a friend. That’s pretty cool. The God of the universe considers me a friend. That’s what I love about Christianity—Christ.

Today Steven and I bought groceries, lots of them! We were finally able to stock up on some of the essentials. After the supermarket we went to Coffeedelia which is a really nice local café. A comfortable lounge, delicious coffee (which I drank too much of) and good food; it was a lovely experience. I really miss cafés. Just being able to sit, relax, sip coffee and enjoy the tranquility of the ambience. I love cafés. It was a fun day. After the café we walked over to our English center. I forgot the Narnia DVD so I had to walk all the way back to my apartment (Steven tagged along like a good sport) and then all the way back to the center only to have to walk all the way back home again. I definitely got my exercise accomplished for the day.

I mentioned before that I drank too much coffee today. This was the truth. I broke the simple rule of ‘everything in moderation’. The walking paid off—for I had much energy to burn, except it made it difficult to pay attention and facilitate in Friday club. Then when I got home I felt like I had just got hit with a ton of bricks. My mind was like an ocean tempest splashing back and forth. After some frosted flakes and buttered cheese bread (which we made in the dark with my head lamp—the power went out) I put on some calm music, tried to do a little reading, but fell fast asleep on my Bible. It was a nice sleep, one where you feel as though you’ve received some enlightenment—although, it could have been the caffeine talking. Now, I feel as if I’m ready to crash again. There is no English church in the afternoon tomorrow so I will attend the big Russian church and we have planned a picnic in the mountains for the afternoon. Should be a wonderful day, but this means I must wake up early.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Kneeling, Standing, Hugging, Dancing


Money. Finally got paid. We went to the bazaar today and we’re planning a spree at the supermarket tomorrow. We’ll finally be able to stock up on groceries and get more decent stuff. At the bazaar today I went to go get juice from a vendor that we have seen a couple times. As we walked up the big man recognized us and the lady began to laugh. “Sok?” (Juice) she asked. I laughed with her and said “Pajalousta” (Please). It is nice that I am starting to see familiar faces and become a regular. The people here are very friendly. I notice myself getting very comfortable with this country. My Russian is slowly (very slowly) getting better and I am even beginning to cross the street like the locals. Life is good.

My class today was a hoot. I tried to go through the lesson, but everyone was wound up, including me, and we just kept talking, and they kept teaching me Russian. Eventually I just busted out a jeopardy game in preparation for their midterm next week. That, with video class, was just too much fun. My private tutee canceled on me again, I hope he comes back.

Anyways, my thoughts are fairly quiet tonight. A rare occasion that I have learned to appreciate. Since I don’t believe in short blogs (hehe) I will leave you with something I wrote this morning. I was pondering Psalm 23 and decided to rewrite it in my own words, paraphrased it according to what it means to me, and expounded on what I believe to be the main points:

He said that He is my Shepherd.
That I don’t have to live in desire, because He is more than anything I could ever want.
He not only leads me to quiet, serene landscapes,
but He makes me lie down and take in His splendor.
His restoration swallows my soul and reminds me that I am His.
He leads me to goodness, to spread His love, because love like this should not be caged.
It should rage with more power than the greatest fire, it should rage, burn, and shine—all for Him.
I am not afraid. How could I be?
Perfect Love, which stands beside me, casts fear back to the shadows.
His strong arms, His power, His support hold me up and help me to stand in the midst of chaos.
He helps me to love my enemies, to be comfortable in their presence.
He lets us eat together, at a fine table, with the finest food.
He kisses my face and showers me with more good things than I can carry.
His grace sweeps me off my feet, and with His Spirit I dance in praise.
This mercy, this grace and goodness, this love, will never leave.
He will pursue me, like a man pursues the woman He loves.
He will chase me, as one chases after their beloved.
When I am old, dying on my deathbed, His grace will still cover me.
His love will still surround me.
And when my time here is up, when the suffering comes to a close, I will go to Him.
I will live with Him, in Him, and through Him for as long as existence exits.
So why do I resist His love? Why do I fail to embrace its power?
Why do I worry? Why do I let myself fall into a state of panic?
Why do I let this world hold me in chains? Why do I allow it to steal my peace?
Today is the day. I will know my Creator.
I will embrace the love of my Savior.
I will kneel before my King, stand before my Father, hug my Savior, and dance with His Spirit.
Today is the day.
I have fallen in love with the unseen, because the unseen first fell in love with me.
The world cannot stop this dance, it cannot stop this embrace, this reverent passion.
The world cannot stop love, because the weight of Love could crush this world with ease.
This world—although it sometimes presses hard upon our shoulders—is not heavy.
The love that is entrenched in my soul is heavy.
With this love, I will prevail.
Today is the day.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Looking Ahead with Darkened Eyes


I am feeling odd. Normally, I sit down and do lay my fingers on the keys and let blog entries flow out, but tonight I am having a bit of trouble. I am in a mood where I actually feel like writing, but nothing will come. The vast sea of white, blank pages are haunting. Since I am at a loss, I suppose I should just start telling you about my day and the rest should come.

Today was quite good. I had to wake up early, which of course I am not a fan of, especially since everyone knows I didn’t get to bed until an extremely unreasonable hour (It’ll be a quandary readjusting to real life when I go back home, but luckily I don’t have to worry about that quite yet). Today was Wednesday and that means lunch at the girl’s place. Steven and I pranced through the city with ease today. We got on the right bus right away, found seats, didn’t get mashed in a corner by any babushkas, got off at the right stop without asking any intimidating Kazakh man, and got to the girls’ apartment without having to call for a reminder. I feel competent, and it’s a nice feeling to have.

Emily prepared some delicious soup with homemade noodles and Gina brought treats from her recent vacation from Thailand. Mangos! And they were delicious. After enjoying some time together, we headed to our separate centers and did our job. Teaching was pretty typical today, but by the time it was half over I felt uneasy and wanted to go home. It’s already almost time for final exams (next week). That means stress, for me and my students. One thing is for sure—I have an addiction to cookies. Today we got to work early and I was hungry so I went to a nearby shop and but some butter cookies that had some dry fruit (after all, I need something to go with my steaming cup of tea). That may not be bad, but then I came home and ate a third of a box of Oreos (after all, I need something to go with my steaming cup of hot chocolate)! (Thanks again cousin Bob!) And I know tomorrow morning will be filled with coffee, chocolates, and more cookies! I think it’s safe to say—I’m in love with cookies.

But, on a more serious note, I’ve been thinking about time—cursed time who waits for no man—who topples our dreams, dries up our success, and withers our bones—who makes men out of boys and graves out of men—who crumbles buildings and wears away all evidences of things good and things bad. (Sorry for the drama, it just spills out, I’ll move on) I have been thinking recently that I am going to turn 20 this year. My parents are climbing past a half a century, and my brothers are well into their second decade. Age is a frightful melody, but yet it holds no more weight than an ordinary number. I know that 20 is not old, not by any means, and I am thankful to have made it through my young adult years alive thus far. The thing about 20 is that it bears much to think about. In the first two decades of my life I have had so many experiences. Experiences that have changed me, shaped me, molded me, and refined me. I think of my spiritual journey, my romantic journey, my mental and emotional journey. I think of my childhood, my innocence, and my loss of innocence. 20 years is a big milestone. These first two decades bear my childhood, my maturing—they bear my entrance into one reality and my exit out of another. I say all of this, and think about all of this because of what lies ahead. The future is coming. If I live to see the next 20 years of my life, which I pray I will, and if my life follows a somewhat typical human course, this means that I am looking forward to a marriage, the birth/adoption of children, the entrance into a lifetime career, and other events/decisions of colossal proportions. I think that’s why everybody sort of goes crazy in their teenage/young adult years. We are going through great physical and mental growth and we look up only to see the next few years covered with millions of unconnected dots—filled with life-defining decisions, mile-high expectations, and uncertainty that leaves you dazed and dumbfounded. These are my thoughts about youth and my days. Solomon said to enjoy them, because soon they’ll be gone, and they will be vanity just like everything else under the sun (Ecclesiastes 12). So I am going to find someone I love, a career that I love, I am going to invest in the people and the things I love, and I am going to ultimately remember my Creator, Love in all its fullness, Love that defines reality, and I am going to live in this Love. For the moment, I will not worry about the great events that lie ahead, but will stand in awe and fear of the One who is so much greater than I.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Struggling Against the Shutting Eyes


I just finished writing the dialogue for our Friday Club. Basically I write what goes on in the Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe movie so that our students will have a better grasp and be able to really soak in the story as they read and watch the scene afterwards. Normally, Emily does this job and she does it well. I finally offered to do it, and while it proved to be kinda fun, it took a lot of time and a lot of words. So my writing juice is pretty well depleted and my head is spinning with words. Luckily, I don’t have much to say today.

I was tired from not getting enough sleep for a few nights in a row and then from sleeping on the girl’s floor. I didn’t get to bed until really late last night—or maybe I should say this morning—and so it caused me to wake up extremely late this morning—or should I say this afternoon. Anyways, the moral of the story is that today turned out to be a very short day. Steven had a tutee today, I didn’t, but I went to work early with him so that I could make a quiz and continue catching up. In my spare time, I crafted up a little jeopardy game for discussion. It turned out to be a hit. Yelena was giggling as she watched me create it and commented that she loved to watch my creativity at work. I have never really thought of myself as a creative person, so I thought it was funny. I am learning to embrace my God-given gifts, however silly they might be.

Alas, I must wake up early again tomorrow morning. The rooster (my cell phone) will crow in just 6 and a half hours. Wednesday can only mean one thing—lunch at the girl’s place. Talk has started up that I will be paid soon and able to stock up on some real groceries. God gives, sometimes, just because He can. That is the thought I leave you with tonight.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Two Sticks, Some String, and a Giant Box of Excitement

2-22-2010 (Time is flying by!)

About 4 or 5 years ago, around Christmas time, my brother, cousin, and I went to our beautiful and wonderful grandmother (whom I love and adore very much) and asked to be shown instructions on the curious art of knitting. I remember because it was my freshman year of high school and I was a strange kid back then. I returned home and I taught all my friends how to knit and we turned it into a hobby for young men and carried our needles with pride. We once spent 5 hours in a Denny’s. We would have even stayed longer, but they finally politely asked us to leave. I mention this because my friend Emily is a big knitter and she has gotten me back into the game. I forgot how much I enjoy messing with yarn and thread. I never was a big knitter and I can’t even claim to be one now. But, since I have decided to take a break from planning I need something to keep me occupied. I guess it’s like I’m trying to stop smoking. Anyways I sat and bonded with my borrowed pair of needles for quite some time today. I forgot how to finish it off so I am left with one long knitted piece that I am going to use as a belt/necktie/headband. It will be amazing. Emily was talking about how trippy it is that we can sit down with string and two sticks and make all kinds of crazy stuff. She is really good, she throws out mittens and hats and patterned cloths—this girl is creative! I just knit row by row to keep my fingers busy and my mind working. It is as we call it—“meditation in motion.” I know I am feeling especially peaceful today. After all, it was a good day.

There was no blog entry yesterday because I never made it home. We went to the girl’s place in the early afternoon and enjoyed the day eating their food, drinking their tea, and talking about all the things student missionaries have to talk about. By the time we realized the time and got ready to leave it was too late. Steven and I walked to the bus stop, but I knew that we had walked in vain. No buses were going to come. Our options were to either take the girls up on their previous offer to let us stay the night or to take a taxi. Steven and I both hate taxis and we don’t really feel like spending that kind of money on a taxi when we are trying to stretch out our $12.00 lunch money. So it was that we went back to their flat and crashed on their floor (Steven actually got Emily’s “bed” which happens to be a fold out chair). Life is good. We got up early (at least early for me) this morning and set out for home. We were home by 11:00am and I felt like I had the whole day ahead of me, after all, that is about the time I usually get up. Luckily, my private tutee cancelled and I got a little more time to mess around and relax. Today I played catch-up at work. I made quizzes and administered them while I frantically graded their assignments from last week, then we all graded the quizzes together. I plan on doing the same thing with my other levels tomorrow. Maybe that’s cheating, but I take some pride in my genius time management.

I was thinking a lot about God today, a lot about Jesus. Then I thought a lot about life. My baby cousin (he’s two years older than me) reminded me today that one decision can cause a domino effect on your entire life and change your future income, living location and conditions, spouse, and virtually everything. It makes me want to step lightly. I think life is a lot like knitting. God began with virtually nothing, maybe some string and a couple sticks, but with His creative power made a huge and wondrous quilt of life that we call home. My dad is quite the guy. He can look at a pile of dirt and see a brilliant house standing proud on the barren soil, a skill that I have always envied and admired. The neat thing is that I have seen him look at dirt, describe the house he sees, and then actually turn the thought into a real, solid, sturdy home. He always told me that he could do things like this because he was created in God’s image. God creates, and we are made in His image with the ability to create. So as I am twisting this string I am not making anything as cool as a house or really anything cool at all. I am simply keeping my fingers busy, but the truth is a funky little creation comes out. So when I think about life I think it is a lot like knitting. Most of the time we feel like we are just keeping our fingers busy, trying to keep pushing through, feeling worthless much of the time, and like what we’re making is not that special. Perhaps we don’t even know why we’re doing it but we cannot put the string down; we are addicted to life. I think it might all be very fuzzy now, but one day we are going to put down our needles and see this massive quilt that we have produced. A quilt soaked with the tears of our sufferings, stained with the blood evidencing our pain, radiating with the colors of our joy, and the wrinkles of our thrills. I can’t wait to see my quilt when it’s done, but if I don’t keep knitting, there never will be a quilt. So although this life is kind of scary and my existence is quite complex, I am going to pick up the needles of life and start twisting the yarn of experience. I want to make it, and make it I will.

I described to you a part of my day, but now I have to take the time to describe to you the most exciting part of my week. I was about ready to get in the shower this afternoon not too long after getting back home and I hear the phone ring. Steven picks it up and asks me if I am expecting a package from Robert. I said yes and Yelena screams that she has this huge box waiting in her apartment. I was not dressed and already had the water flowing so Steven offered to go down the street for me and pick up this package. I couldn’t imagine it was that big so I took my shower in great anticipation, but trying not to get my hopes too high. When I got out of the shower sure enough there was a giant box sitting my living room. I enjoyed the intense excitement that flowed through my veins and let the rush take me. As I opened the package I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was so much stuff! I got 4 pounds of fresh Starbucks coffee along with unending cookies, candies, crackers, and everything else American you could dream of. So tonight I owe a very special thank-you to Bob Christianson! A man that I don’t know incredibly well, but a man with a heart so big that he wanted to reach out to a random kid like me that is stranded on the other side of the world. I know my friends and my roommate will also be ecstatic as I share all these wonderful treasures. It made my day, brightened up my week, and is something that I will never forget. Thanks Cousin Bob!!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Religious Rants


Today was a restful Sabbath. As I pried my eyes open to turn off my alarm and check the time I noticed the gloomy grey clouds that lingered in the sky and heard the drips of snow melt and/or rain. I find it incredibly difficult to get out of bed when the sun is hiding and no responsibilities are waiting. When I finally did manage to get my feet to the floor, I had a nice breakfast with some frosted flakes, banana bread, a ripe banana that had to be eaten, and of course, a cup of black tea. I ate, I read, and then I got ready for church. Church was a pleasant experience today. I really enjoyed it.

A former Student Missionary who has since chosen to stick around Almaty was the preacher today. He is a good guy and I have been privileged to spend some time with him. He preached a sermon that served as a breath of fresh air to my suffocated soul. He talked about religion, which in our culture and our day in age, has become something of a bad word. He used a text that I have come across a few times and have pondered in vain. James 1:27 says this: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” So often I think of religion as church. How about you? I think of religion as this thing that divides us into our certain belief systems marking us Christians, Buddhists, Atheists (they are probably shuttering at the thought of me calling them a religion), Muslims, or countless other labels. I think of the complex church structures and religious leaders, along with the passionate hand-raisers and conservative knee bowers. Lately I have been getting very tired of the rightness of religion and I just want to be able to be wrong. I’m not saying it’s good to be wrong or that I want to be wrong, I am saying that I want to be able to be wrong. I don’t have all the answers to God, neither do you and neither does your pastor. So why do we continue to pretend that we have it figured out? Why do we parade our ideas and put so much effort into proving that we are more right than other people?

Jesus was a good guy and I like to think of Him as my example although I am terrible at following this incredibly high standard. My friend who preached this morning said correctly that Christianity is the hardest religion one can pick because we choose to become disciples of Christ and this is not an easy task. A disciple of Christ is one who takes His love to the unlovable, acting in the same manner as Christ Himself. Have you done this lately? I haven’t. I may scold Christians for not living up to their name, but I scold myself with the masses. Believe me, I am no better than anyone who reads this blog and the problems I see with the church Christ founded are the problems that I see plaguing my very being.

Evangelism is held to a very high esteem in the Adventist church and to a certain extent, it should be. However, I’ve been thinking about evangelism and I’ve decided to be bold on this little blog because I don’t actually know who reads this stuff. Adventists often quote the great commission which is the incredible important last command of Christ. I speak mainly to the Adventists here because that is what I am most familiar with. Other denominations have their quirks, this I have seen and am sure of. Jesus declared: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” We, as followers of Christ, have a mission to “make disciples,” “baptize them,” and “teach them.” Adventists love to jump to the part about teaching everything Jesus has commanded and they sometimes get to baptize a good crowd, which then translates into church membership. I don’t know if I’ve seen much disciple making and I haven’t actually heard people really talk about this part of the Commission at all. What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ? Jesus said it plainly in John 13:35: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” A couple chapters later Jesus talks about how much He loves us and then tells us how we should love others (John 15:12): “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” So not only are we to “love each other” but we are to love each other as Christ has loved us, and if you ask me I would say that that is a whole lot of love! Christ loved by getting intimate with people, by caring for their physical needs while communicating to their heart and carrying their burdens. Jesus not only loved, but He loved the people society and the church labeled unlovable. That is like us reaching out and loving a bunch of homosexuals and young women who have had abortions. I’m not saying we should hug them and tell them we love them and that everything is fine and dandy. I am saying that Jesus spent time with these people, He worked past the social barriers and the uncomfortable feelings and talked real with these kind of people. He didn’t throw stones or condemn. He knew that it would have done no good. I don’t know if I’ve ever really loved someone with the kind of love Jesus has loved me with and if I have I know that it has been a family member or a best friend, certainly not a mere acquaintance and certainly not a stranger.

Church is nice and I am glad we have it, but it has become the face of religion. I find something wrong with that. Our faith and our experiences with God measure our Spiritual connection. According to the Bible, religion is serving those that are in need of love and giving them a kind of love that penetrates the deepest void in their hearts’. Religion today has become mostly a show, with some good sermons and some nice music thrown in. Once in awhile I see some churches having outreach that happens twice a month, or if we’re lucky, once a week. Something is wrong brothers and sisters and fellow blog readers. The first step in the Great Commission, the primary aspect of evangelism is to make disciples. The only way we can make disciples is if we show people Christ’s love and the only way we can show that love is to witness it, taste it, and experience it. Prophecy is interesting, but it just scratches the surface. Evangelistic campaigns are nice, but our ‘teaching’ becomes more about proving our rightness. It is in serving, in loving the unlovable, in quenching the void in people’s hearts that true religion lays.

Jesus told us that we are His body—that we are His hands and feet—but He never said we were to be His mouth. Why then, is that our favorite part to play? What would happen if Christians started acting more as disciples than believers and more as lovers than teachers? I think Christ would be seen much clearer in this world and we would have a lot less nut-jobs running around. I want to see love spilling from the pores of those marked with the blood of Christ. I borrow the words of my good friend Paul in saying that I have not that I have attained all this brothers and sisters, but I press on, that I may lay hold of the love Christ has for me and share it with every living soul I come into contact with, that this world marked with suffering and darkness can see an illuminating spirit of love that has the power to brighten the hopes of all.

Burnie was right when He said that Christianity is the most difficult religion. I would pick an easier one, but I love this love that I am shown and I want to live in it and share it with the world however difficult this task may be. Burnie also said something else intriguing in his sermon this morning and I will leave you with this thought and retire my rants for the night:

When someone asks you, “What is your religion?” don’t respond with a word.

May the love of Christ consume your entire being for the days to come.

Reach for the Moon!


My mind needs a break. I have found out that I am a compulsive planner to the point where it plagues me like a severe addiction. I like to plan, especially the details. I want to write, but I feel as though I have drowned my creativity in compulsivity. I think Jesus laughs at me a lot of the time. Like seriously laughs as He watches me try to plan things that are far beyond my control and so out of reach. He laughs not out of mockery and insult, but rather at the comical situation of a human trying to be God. It is so impossible that the attempt is just funny. It’s like a 5 year old telling you he can reach the moon and extending his arm towards the sky. As you watched the little boy stretching his arm out and grunting from failed efforts you would probably let out a little chuckle as you try to tell him that he may not be able to physically reach the moon. Jesus is trying to put my arms down and tell me it’s ok and that I can dream big, but I don’t need to physically touch the moon right now. He is trying to remind me that I only need to love people in the present moment and He will take care of the big picture stuff.

It’s Sabbath and I should be in my Hiding Place spending time with God, but I’m struggling. Friday club was good, we talked about the truth. It got very philosophical and I felt bad for my students as they tried to not only think deeply, but think deeply in English rather than their native tongue.

Since my brain is lost in the next few years of my complicated young adult life, I will keep my words brief tonight and try to get where I should be. Life is good, God is good. Let’s all try to live more in the here and now, genuinely and intensely loving those nearest us. Let’s all try to get our minds out of the future, away from the past, and reunited with our present and physical bodies. Jesus said not worry; He said that God is big enough to handle the big picture. I’m going to go try and convert the beautiful words of Matthew 6 into reality. Care to join me?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Above Freezing


I think humans are a lot like water. We tend to flow through much of life and adapt to new situations quite well. Sometimes we are as stubborn as a solid wall of ice and other times we are as clueless and unbound as sweltering vapor. The beautiful thing about humans is that they never remain in one form. If you throw us into a torrid situation we boil, and if we get tossed into frigid circumstances we freeze up, anything in between we are just going with the unstoppable flow of life. If only humans were as predictable as water; we cannot determine the exact “temperatures” at which humans will change form because every person is different. I say this because I have been reflecting on my life and the different situations I’ve gone through. I have been noticing myself materializing to the situations around me and I am trying to be conscience of the quick passing of any form. I like to change my mind; I like to shake things up a bit; I am not ok with static. I also say this because today was the first day in a couple weeks that it has gotten above freezing. It constantly sounds like it’s raining and you have to be careful where you walk because the roofs are dripping and puddles are forming. All the snow has turned to slush and the slush has turned to mud. I think I might want the cold weather back.

Today was a day. I just took my basic form and went with the flow. I woke up late and battled a sore throat, but I think I have successfully fought it off. Today was my busy day with no break from 4-9pm. It is these days when I feel energized. I need pressure in order to do good work. I really enjoyed the time I got to spend with my kids today. We played a game where I laid out pictures of animals and they had to point to the correct animal as I called it out. Whoever got it first would get a point on the board. Then instead of animals I widened the game to include colors (they have to run around the room and find something with the specific color I call out) and body parts. They are making so much progress and I enjoy getting to play around with them.

One of my favorite parts about teaching here is the chances I get to sit down with the local people and drink in their culture. I get to talk with both native Kazakhs and migrant Russians who both know and respect each other’s traditions. I’ve been learning about weddings, the male dominancy of Kazakhs, the craziness of Russians, and the deep roots that run within us all. Culture is a complex code that runs through every person’s veins. It determines how we interpret everything we come into contact with and it continues to fascinate me, especially when I spend time with the locals. I had fun in video class today poking fun of the old 80’s films we watch and discuss. It was a good day, but I’m glad this week is at a close. I need to get out of the city this weekend.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pizza, Cappuccinos, and Secret Projects


From the time my plane landed in Kazakhstan I never went a day without blogging. That changed these past few days. I wish I had a good excuse, but I don’t. I have been distracted with the big picture God is trying to show me. Well, He is at least taunting me with it, because we all know that He never just shows any of us the big picture. But, He is good and He is guiding. I am just trying to get a better grasp on life and of course, help Him do His job (I don’t know about you, but that is something I love to do). I also discovered that I am a compulsive planner, to the point where I can get freakishly obsessive. However, more information on that will have to come at a later time. Let me give you a recap of this week:

Sunday was an amazing day. It was one of those relaxing days (the kind we have every day) but it finished with a glorious occasion. Three men from the General conference Euro-Asian Division of SDA’s came to Almaty and decided to take us out to Pizza Hut. When we got to Pizza Hut they told us they couldn’t seat a group as large as ours and we were all disappointed that we were going to have to go somewhere else. But, hope prevailed and they moved a party just so we could sit together, except we were still kind of divided. They told us to order what we want because the division was paying. Normally when people buy me a meal, I try to be very modest and just order the necessities. All of us SMs looked at each other with shear thrill in our eyes and I knew that modesty was to be thrown out the window. This is American food we’re talking about. So after some spinach rolls, a glass of Pepsi, too much veggie pizza, a bite from the Intergalactic salad bar (you have to see it to understand), and a couple cappuccinos, I wiped the crumbs from my face and beamed with satisfaction. But, the night wasn’t over. We grabbed our coats and went over to the Center (where Steven and I teach) and we had some interrogation time. I don’t mean that it was scary or intimidating because all of these men were bursting with positive spirits and you could tell by being in their presence that they were looking after our best interests. So we told them about the joys of Kazakhstan and shared briefly the troubles we are having. I’m still praying that God handles the little situations here and puts out all the little fires. Anyways, after coming home on Sunday I got to talk to a few people from home and that always puts a smile on my face. Sunday was a happy day.

Monday and Tuesday were pretty typical. I stayed up way too late compulsively planning the rest of my life and so I ended up waking up way too late and the days seemed to be very short. I haven’t had very much peace the last couple days, but God and I have been working on a little project and even though it kind of throws everything in the air, I have secretly been enjoying the newness and excitement. What I remember most about Monday is the lack of patience I had with all my students. I scared my kids because I had to make a very loud noise to get their attention and I almost strangled a couple of my older students because they were making simple mistakes. Being a teacher requires patience, and patience is not a permanent thing that you carry with you every day.

Today the girls came over and we scrounged up some pasta and beans and finally broke into the tomato sauce that Gina gave us. We would have prepared something a little more elaborate, but we were just about out of groceries and the secretaries left yesterday without giving us our lunch money. So broke and out of groceries, we called the girls and together we improvised. Yelena joined us and it was fun as usual. Spirits are not necessarily high right now, but you can’t expect them to stay high all the time. Even optimism needs to get off its tippy toes and rest sometimes.

I feel like a child again. I feel clueless, small, and sometimes even afraid of the complexity of my existence. I sometimes cower at the intensity of life, but even in the cowering I am smiling. My choleric personality secretly loves to worry and plan new things, and I know that God didn’t just bring me around the world for no reason. He had something to say, and I can be a pretty bad listener. So He is revealing new things to me little by little. The Message puts this part of Ephesians 2 in a way that really makes the text come alive. Consider this: “Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It's God's gift from start to finish!”

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Testify to Love


Another Sabbath, another week gone by. Today was a good day. I got to talk to a few good people in the morning via Skype. Then we got ready for church and took off. Yelena had asked me last week to share my testimony. To tell the church how I had come to know Jesus and what not. I was also supposed to be in charge of Sabbath school. When we got to church Yelena told us that the preacher who was scheduled to come preach would not be here. She asked us if anyone could prepare a message in the short time we had before the service. I told her that I was already giving my testimony and that I have some sermons memorized so I could. Burnie also said he could and because both of us didn’t really care either way, we fumbled over it for a few minutes until it was decided that I would preach and Burnie would take next week. So I got in front of the church today, talked about my experience with God and then gave a short message on my favorite passage, John 15:9-12. I talked about the incredible love Jesus has for us, how to remain in that amazing love, and how He commanded us to love each other with the heaven’s love. I’ve talked about that passage in numerous sermons and have given numerous Bible studies on it, but still, every time I talk about it I am newly amazed at God. I think I needed this today, I think I needed to share my testimony and be reminded of how God has worked in my life. It was good for me and where I am at right now.

Everyone had stuff going on tonight so the rest of the night Steven and I spent at our apartment being lazy. I cooked up some stir fry with corn (If you think that’s weird Steven made what I call Bean Burrito Spaghetti for lunch which actually turned out to be quite good, it was made up of beans, cheese, and spaghetti). After that we planned to watch Lord of the Rings 2, but we had problems so we watched House and the internet gave us more problems and irritated me. But, after sitting on my rear for a couple hours, eating some good food and even having ice cream, I feel good.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Father Abraham Had Many Sons


Fridays are usually nice days. Usually then involve laundry, grocery shopping, and maybe some grading. Today we went grocery shopping, but I never got to laundry and I had nothing to grade. I woke up semi-early, at least it was semi-early for me. We went to the bazaar today and I’ve been practicing my Russian numbers so I felt like I was a little more competent. We bought sparingly because we’re poor. Today we got a package from Campus Ministries! Some of the things inside the package I found a bit odd, but it’s always nice to get some familiar things from home, especially chewy sweet tarts.

The main event of today was Friday club. It was a good Friday club. Emily’s computer broke down so she couldn’t type up her regular dialogue and we didn’t have the movie so I couldn’t do it either. Luckily, Yelena had all these ideas about things we could talk about and activities we could do. After preparing a few things for Friday club, I watched The Office, and then we ended up being so late we had to practically run all the way to work and yes, it is still far below freezing. However, we got there with plenty of time to spare and everything was set. I felt like a missionary today. I know, I’m a student missionary, but often times I feel like the only mission work I do is make the local conference money. Most of my “mission” is real mission work which means it’s simply allowing God to shine through me in simple and everyday tasks. I’m not a model of Christian character and would gag at the thought of someone holding me to that esteem, but here it is about all I can do, and I think God is ok with that. But, tonight was good. We split up into groups and talked about the White Witch who calls herself the Queen of Narnia. We talked about evil and what it is. I realized today that everyone, no matter what part of the world you’re in, everyone thinks about God. Nobody can escape the unanswerable questions of our complex existence. Some people try, but they’re fooling themselves. Regardless of belief or practice, everyone at least thinks about God. Yelena pulled quotes out of the Bible and the Quran and we discussed certain aspects of evil and tried to fill in the blanks to some of these quotes without knowing. My group was filling in a blank that said, “Do not repay evil with evil, but rather trust in________________________.” I of course treaded lightly. I am not here to convert everyone I meet, far from it. I am here to try to understand these people and maybe get them thinking about spiritual matters. The people of my group started saying things like “destiny” and “fate” and I encouraged them to be more specific and think about what abstract terms like destiny and fate really mean. Within no time at all they came up with “God.” I looked at everyone to see if they agreed and sure enough everyone there nodded their head in approval. Yesterday in discussion we talked about health and I couldn’t help but pull out the Adventist NEWSTART acronym on them. The “T” stands for trust in God and sure enough everyone in that group nodded their head and vocally approved that trusting in God is very important.

Muslims and Christians really are not that far apart. The problem is the West is completely ignorant of Islam and the East is completely ignorant of Protestant Christianity. It’s sad really, that we misunderstand each other so badly. I, as an ignorant Westerner, have long wondered why true Muslims do not speak out more forcefully against the radicals and try to clear up their “terrorist” reputation. I thought certainly if Christians got radical like that I would be fighting against them and doing everything possible to try and take God’s name off their actions. Christians were once “radical” and “violent” like some Muslims are today. Read about the crusades. This made sense to me today for the first time. The conclusion that I came up with while talking to Yelena (who studies the Quran and Muslims very thoroughly) is this: the reason most Muslims aren’t fighting radicalism is because they simply don’t care enough to get involved. Islam is younger than Christianity by quite a bit. It is a religion and like Christianity, it has and will change more and more as time passes—all religions do. Christianity took over the Western world some hundreds of years after Christ went back home and left us with His Spirit. When Christianity was in charge we called it “The Dark Ages.” Catholicism ruled with a golden scepter and it wasn’t until Martin Luther came along that Christianity actually began (notice I say began) to go back to what Jesus intended it to be. We hear all these things about how Islam is the fastest growing religion and so I thought it would be interesting to look into their “evangelism” tactics. Do you know what they do? They basically tell people, your culture was once Muslim and you need to turn back to your roots. People do, they exclaim the Shahada and start to engage in cultural/religious practices. It’s simple. Now don’t take this the wrong way, especially if you are a Muslim or closely related to Islam, I mean no disrespect. But, Islam is in its “Dark Ages” and yes, they have a few wild horses running around, but it is not as gruesome as the Christian dark ages. It’s like in America, many people (more in the past than today, after all religion is constantly changing) call themselves Christian because that is what most Americans are and our country was founded on Judeo-Christian values and what not. It is the same with Islam. Most Kazakhs I meet are not hardcore Muslims and they will politely admit this to you. They are mostly nominal and they know it. Like America and Christianity. And Islam is filled with many rituals that seem radical for our day and many practices which seem foreign to us Westerners. They are in their ritualistic phase, just like Catholicism in the Dark Ages. I know this sounds bad, especially if you are Catholic, Muslim, or a nominal Christian, but it’s quite true. All I know is that the Quran says beautiful things, many Christians are ignorant of this, but I don’t blame them, because many Muslims are ignorant of this as well and that is why we continue to swim in this pool of unawareness. All I know is that my God is big, too big for cultural differences, too big for religious divides, and too big for my sins and shortcomings to stand in His presence. My God loves, He loves all people, even the ignorant, even the radical. How do I know this? I won’t try to convince you logically because you probably would either find error in the logic or fall asleep. I know this because I have experienced it, I have lived, and this world, this creation, these people scream with evidence of a loving Creator. Yes, something has gone terribly wrong and evil exists, but I know that pretty soon all these walls we have built will crumble and we will live completely naked and completely unashamed in a beautiful place worth living.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Diving In and Looking Back


Today went by really quick. Seeing that I didn’t get out of bed until after noon, the day was short. We went to the center an hour early for private tutees. I had mine yesterday so that means that I had an hour to prepare. I loved teaching today, I felt like a real teacher. My level 3 has many new students and a new book and we had a great time talking about two-word verb synonyms (get back, go in, take off) and I never even opened the text book. Then video class was actually fun for the first time. We enjoyed making fun of the 80’s scenes and horrible actors that these ESL videos had. I love teaching and I love my students, most days. Because there was no suffering, no pain, no fear I have nothing really to write about. Today was a pretty normal day and a pretty normal end of the teaching week. I use the word ‘normal’ lightly seeing that I am an English teacher in Kazakhstan.

Instead of keeping it short today I want to share something I wrote when I first got on the plane to head here to Kazakhstan. It’s a made-up anecdote that I was imagining as I was waiting for the plane to take off. I know God orchestrated it, but it was my own imagination set loose. It was not a “vision” just a scene I was imagining that I decided to dramatize in words. I forgot about it with all the nerves and fear of arriving, but I found it today and it was a nice reminder of what I am doing here and where I was before I left, a nice reminder of how I dove into this adventure with love itself:


As the 4 massive jet engines of our airbus began to grumble and whir, preparing to catapult us 36,000 feet in the air, I closed my eyes and met with my Savior. I admitted to Him that I had no idea what I was getting myself into or what to expect. I admitted that my Spiritual life had completely flat lined and that I had no idea what I was doing entering the mission field. Suddenly, my mind took me to a field and my feet were rapidly moving beneath me. As the engines howled louder and louder the faster I was running through this field. Running next to me was my best friend—Jesus. He was running as fast as I was and laughing like He was having the time of His life. He began to yell, “Don’t worry about having no expectations and feeling powerless. Don’t worry about how much you feel connected to me. You are mind, you’re in my arms and I love you. Where you’re at right now—its right where I want you. You without any preconceived notions, in your lost and confused state of mind, it is now that I can use you. Now that you feel you know nothing, I can reveal myself to you without your silly human thoughts getting in the way. Now that you feel lost and powerless I can show you just how powerful I am.” Suddenly the field ran out beneath our feet and Jesus and I were falling from this cliff and the ground was getting closer in front of us. I smiled and shouted, “Jesus, I love you!” He looked at me with proud eyes that erupted with love and said, “I love you.” We both plummeted to the ground beneath us. It was then that I realized the plane was in the air and that my adventures with love itself had begun. I was running, I dove, now I’m free falling ready to hit the ground as long as Jesus is falling alongside me with that sweet smile ready to take down my preconceived notions and put up His true form—the form of love—the form of God.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Left with Peace


Some people always seem to get lucky. Do you know what I mean? Good things always fly in their doors and they seem to unknowingly step on all the bad that tries to sneak in. I’m not one of those people. David was here 2 years before he ever got stopped by the police. The first time they stopped him, Steven and I were right there with him. Today, on the day we were supposed to have a ride home, on the day that it just happened to be -6 degrees outside (yes, I’m talking Fahrenheit), and on the second day in history Steven and I have walked home alone, we had to run into the police...again! If you don’t know the story behind our first stop by the police I encourage you to look through my blog archives, I wrote about it when it happened during our first week here. But that was in the past, I’m sure you want to know about today.

Today was a busy day. We got up early (early for us is 9:00am, which is early if you consider what time I got to bed), and Steven actually woke me up early due to some morning skyping and his mega-loud skype voice, which he knows angered me quite a bit, but as the lesson 2 idiom sections states, let bygones be bygones, whatever that means. I made lemonade out of it anyways. So we woke up early in order to go to the girl’s apartment for some lunch. We had to take the bus. I’ve decided that buses make me nauseous. We waited for over 30 minutes for a bus that never came and then waited another 10 minutes for a bus that would come. I hate the buses here. When we got on the bus this nice guy leaned sideways so I could squeeze in the seat next to him. The seat was next to the window and the windows were frosted over, it was cold and I knew it was going to be a long bus ride. But, wait, oh yes, a nice, big babushka was getting on the bus and I breathed a sigh of relief that I wouldn’t have to give up my seat because I was in a corner. (A babushka is an old grandma and in Kazakhstan you give your seat to the babushkas or suffer the consequences). What I had overlooked though was the fact that the guy I was sitting next to was a gentleman. Even though he was not a youngling, he quickly got up and offered his seat to the giant babushka. She politely accepted and said thank you and sat next to me. Her giant body squashed me up against the cold window and allowed me no personal space, after all who has ever heard of such a thing as personal space? So I sat there and scraped some ice off the window so I could have a little peephole and make sure I was getting off at the right stop. Every time I wiped the ice off of my peephole, my glove would leave a tiny layer of moisture which would again freeze within seconds. I sat quietly in my little space with the babushka’s body pressing against mine, getting more and more carsick/claustrophobic by the second. I sat there praying to God that He would not let me vomit on the bus, or worse, on the babushka! I told myself that it was just a couple more stops until finally, it was my stop and I was able to get off the bus and walk through the brisk winter air. Nausea didn’t feel like leaving though, not even during lunch, but I ate anyways. The bus ride back certainly didn’t make me feel better although I had to stand the whole time with different bodies pressed against me. So I tried to buy a pepsi, but all the little shops were either unmanned or wouldn’t give me change for a 2000 tenge bill. 2000 tenge is not even a lot of money! I was frustrated. But, I arrived at my center, prepared quizzes and weekend assignments, and met with my private tutee (that’s a funny word, but I don’t know what else to call him). So then came time to go home and here is probably the only part you care about.

It’s Wednesday. Normally one of my older students (who also happens to be the conference treasurer) gives us a ride home every Monday and Wednesday and then Yelena (my boss) is always there to walk home with us on Tuesday and Thursday since she lives one street down. I’m not afraid to walk home alone, but I have to admit that I sure don’t mind having Russian-speaking company or better yet a 4-wheeled contraption that has heating inside. Yesterday, Emily got really sick and Yelena had to substitute for her so it was a Tuesday and Steven I walked home alone. No bother though, everything was fine, but we were sure looking forward to the ride home tonight to escape the -6 degree weather, but I knew that there would be a problem when I saw Oleg (my student) come in late and out of his formal work clothes. Anyways, we began the journey back to our apartment and everything was fine, the cold was hardly a concern as long as we kept our legs pumping. As we ventured through the park we turned the corner and saw a group of camo-suited men and a big, but muzzled, attack dog. Steven and I knew the drill and stopped talking immediately as we tried to make our way around them. But, sure enough they started talking to us and walking towards us so we had to acknowledge them. They began talking to us and Steven uttered, “Niet Ruski” (No Russian) to which I added “Ya Nie Govarru Paruski” (I don’t speak Russian). Of course, they asked for documents, but Steven and I had our certified copies ready, we were completely legal this time, although we’ve learned that doesn’t really matter in this country. They inspected our documents as well as our bags and began questioning us on our business here and where we sleep. I always love when they ask where we sleep because we never understand them and they resort to playing charades and put their hands together and rest their head on their hands while making a snoring sound. It is quite cute coming from camo-suited men. But they continued to talk in Russian and they ended up saying, “Payom” (let’s go) and I was wondering if they planned on walking with us all the way to our apartment, but one of the men managed to say “Station.” Oh yes, we were going to the police station. Without hesitation I said, “Pachimoo?” (Why?) and they said, “Computer.” I inferred that they meant they wanted to check our documents on the computer. I quickly came to grips with the fact that we were going to the police station and without any fear, prepared myself while stubbornly refusing to offer any sort of bribe. I pulled out my dead cell phone and was getting ready to call Yelena to inform her of our upcoming adventure. Either the constant praying in my head punched in or the cell phone scared them. They probably assumed Americans with certified copies of their passports had some connections in the big leagues, although we don’t. They gave us back our papers waved us and said, “Go.” I thanked them in Russian and told them to have a good night in English. We walked away and I just smiled as the adrenaline pumped through my veins. “That’ll make a good story,” I thought to myself. While my heart was pounding and I had to fight to keep my knees from knocking together from the cold, and while my adrenaline was shooting and my nerves were tense, I really can’t say that I felt fear. I was actually annoyed that it had to happen on this night, when I had to go to the bathroom. Bathroom or no bathroom, annoyance or no annoyance, I probably should have been frightened and I probably should have offered the rest of my lunch money, but I remembered some words that were articulated by an incredible Guy. He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” [John 14:27] Those words set in tonight and I was ready to go to the police station. I knew that all would be okay, because I had peace, not just any kind of peace, but the kind of peace that Jesus gives.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Contemplating Love


When I’m at home I love to get a can or a jar of mandarin oranges. They are so small, but so deliciously sweet. Here in Kazakhstan, I go out on the street and get fresh mandarin oranges that hopped the border from China. I can sit down and eat a whole kilogram of the amazing little orange things.

Today was a rough day teaching. I had my level 2 class which as of today is a level 3 class. None of them are really ready to move on, but I didn’t want to make the whole class repeat the level. None of them had prepared because they just got their new books so I felt like an idiot trying to do exercises with them that they just didn’t understand. The good news is that we got paid today. That’s right, a whole 2000 tenge, now we can buy groceries.

I think I’ve mentioned this before; every day we have 2 discussion periods that are a half hour each. Steven teaches one and I teach one, although you don’t really teach, you just discuss things with them. I had a big group yesterday which is quite a rarity for our center. I decided to talk about love and romance, which related to weddings and all that mushy stuff. They were telling me about a typical Kazakh wedding and how it lasts for several days. I asked them the main difference between a Muslim wedding and a Christian wedding. (Here it seems as though every single fair-complexion Russian looking person is Christian Orthodox and every darker, more Kazakh looking person is Muslim.) Most people don’t really seem to question their religion or their beliefs. They just accept them as thought they are genetic and dare not stray from their roots. Anyways, back to the weddings. They told me that the biggest difference between a Christian (Russian Orthodox) wedding and a Muslim (Genuine Kazakh) wedding is that at the Muslim weddings there is no alcohol and a lot of food, while the Christian wedding has a ton of vodka and little salad. Way to go Christians! We have made fools of ourselves once again. It’s just lovely that Muslims view us as alcoholic, lustful, out of control, selfish pigs. But, I can’t say I blame them, most Christians view them as terrorists. That’s the beauty of stereotypes.

So I brought up the love question to my discussion class because it is something that has been on my mind. Deep down, I’m kind of a sappy guy. I like to listen to people’s love stories and I like to hear about tales of hopeless romance. I don’t know why, but I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember. I love love. But, I have to admit, I don’t understand love. It’s more than a feeling, more than a daily choice, more than an element to a good story, more than a force, more than just romance, more than sex, more than kindness and care, so what is it? I had this epiphany today that seems super obvious now. (I have a lot of epiphanies with all this free time). So the Bible says God is love, and my own logic even tells me that the Creator of this world is love. So then I started thinking about love in terms of God. I’ve been writing about how my view of God is expanding, that I keep seeing Him as bigger and bigger and more terrifying, but still good nonetheless. I don’t fully understand God and I don’t suppose I ever will. Maybe it’s the same with love. I have all these big expectations and I believe in love more than anything else, but I don’t understand it. Love is of Godly proportions and I am starting to presume that I will never fully understand it, and you know what? I think I’m ok with that.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Living Without


Do you know what the temperature is outside? 1 degree. 1 is the loneliest number, it is the number of spouses you have, the number of lives you have to live, it was never supposed to be a temperature! But, fortunately I am in a warm and cozy apartment. Today was a pretty typical day. I woke up very late, graded exams, managed without the water (it wasn’t bad at all, it started working but then came out brown, yuck!), and then went to work. I decided that Mondays and Thursdays are not going to be my favorites. I have a private tutee at 4, I have discussion right at 5 and I have kids at 7. My regular classes meet from 5:30-7:00 and from 7:30-9:00. So basically I have to work 5 hours without a break to fill my tea cup, print an assignment, or prepare for the next lesson. I have to actually be prepared! I’m telling you these people are working me to death! Ha, it’s funny how you get used to free time and when its gone you feel like you’ve just been robbed of your most valuable possession.

Steven and I went to the supermarket with the girls the other day. We went to get some groceries. We only had 2,000 tenge left from our “lunch money.” So we got what we needed and headed to the register. We quickly realized that we weren’t going to have enough. We ended up having to put some non-necessities back. It was a humbling experience. We’re poor. I kind of find some adventure in it. Living on 12 bucks a week is definitely one of those things that helps you grow and learn how to live “simply.” Living simply has literally been shoved out of Western culture, especially in America. We like things, it’s not that we mean to be selfish and materialistic, it’s just the way we’re wired. We like things and we don’t have that natural impulse telling us that we could do without. I think George Washington and Thomas Jefferson must have killed it. Don’t get me wrong, many Americans are extremely generous and kind people, but I know some poor people who have really nice flat screen TV’s and nifty gadgets and only in America will you find overweight homeless people. I’ll be the first to admit that living simply is beyond me. I know that Jesus lived simply, but when I think about the whole thing I get uncomfortable. I want my expensive clothes and kitchen appliances. I like my TV and my computer. And I’d be kidding you if I said I wouldn’t like to be “well off.” In my dreams I have a lake house, surrounded by surreal mountains, with a really nice room to sit and write, I have a few jet skies, and no doubt there is a $400 blender in my kitchen. Sure, I plan on giving to charities and funding some ministries, but only as long as I get to keep my blender. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with being rich or even anything wrong with being engrossed in the American lifestyle. It is who we are, but I am being humbled, and I secretly like it under all my disappointment from putting back the brown sugar. Money is money, it is the passionate greed within us that’s the evil one. Whatever you do, just be generous with what you have.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Relax and Enjoy Your Running Water


Do you ever get in bed at the end of the day and take a sigh of relief exclaiming that you had a great day even though nothing particularly special happened to make the day “great”? That’s what I’m doing right now. Today was a great day. We had made plans to go to Kok Tubye which is a big hill from where you can see the entire city and atop this hill is a giant tv/radio tower that is like a little skyscraper that you can go up into and apparently get an even better view. Sounds like a blast, right? Well, we ended up having the girls over and just watching Lord of the Rings instead. I graded a few papers, went to the supermarket and did a load of laundry so it wasn’t a completely unproductive day, but it sure was quiet and relaxing. It’s nice to do “nothing” sometimes, even though we can never do nothing, you know what I mean. I got to talk with many special people today, including my parents, so it was a good day. It was also a good day because I got to watch some good ol’ American TV shows and catch up on The Office. It was a lazy day and even though I haven’t been working hard enough to deserve one of those, it was sure nice. It was nice to put the deep thoughts on hold, to shut up the worries and to just be entertained and enjoy some company.

Tomorrow we are not going to have any water from 9:00am until we get home from work. I was thinking, what exactly do we use water for? I wanted to be able to make some arrangements. As I thought about this question I realized that I use water for washing my hands, taking a shower, flushing the toilet, drinking, making tea and coffee to drink, cooking, washing dishes, and I could go on. The point is that without water, things are going to get dirty. If we go without water long enough, things will get very dirty, and if there was no other way to get water, we would die of thirst. Water cleanses. It cleanses the insides of our bodies and the outsides. It cleanses our dishes and our clothes. Without water things would just be gross. Imagine not being able to flush your toilet for a few days. Yuck. Jesus said He was the water of life. Jesus cleanses, inside and out. So go ahead, flush the toilet of your heart, get rid of that junk and just be clean. Take a shower in His grace and scrub in His forgiveness. There’s a lot to see in this world and a lot to do, but take a lazy day and enjoy your running water. Enjoy the living water that runs through your spiritual veins. Enjoy the fact that God is big enough to be personal.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Mysteriously Exposed


I enjoyed church today. In the morning I got to talk with many friends and reconnect with people all across the globe. The technology we have these days is quite amazing. Veronica (one of the other SMs here) was sick today. Steven is just now getting over his sinus infectious cold thing and Emily came over for some soup and was groaning over a stomach ache. So it’s like 3 out of 4 SMs are sick. I will not get sick! Not here, not now.

On one of the first days of arriving in Almaty I burned my hand pretty bad on a cast iron pan. As I held it under cold water I prayed frantically that it wouldn’t blister and get all nasty because at that point I was sure that it would get infected and I’d be in the hospital. The panic of my mind took my thoughts on a wild adventure of all the horrifying things that would happen because of this burn. But, because of either the cold water or the prayers, or maybe a bit of both, the burn never blistered and never got bad. It just kind of turned into a scar. That was nearly 3 weeks ago now. Today, I woke up and got out of the shower and noticed that my burn from 3 weeks ago had begun to blister except I was able to pop it and peel the skin off to find it perfectly fine. But, I kept thinking why now? After I had forgotten about the burn and accepted the scar, it bubbled up (I’m sorry, I know that sounds gross). Crazy. I could go a many different directions with this illustration, but I’ll let you ponder it yourself today.

From the beginning of my “ministry” I have been quite enthused with getting a clearer picture of the character of God. I wrote and preached a whole series of sermons about getting a clear picture of the character of God, but I have realized that my view of God is still so narrow. At first, I was having a hard time with this, thinking that I was climbing a mountain with no peak, which is essentially what I’m doing. I’m not saying that I thought I had God figured out, because I’ve never been that naïve, I just am realizing as I grow and mature that God is really big, like really, really big. I can’t fit Him into my previous lists and bullet points. He’s bigger than my proof texts and opinions. Today, instead of feeling intimidated by this, I felt freed. I felt like worshipping God more today than I had in a very long time. I felt like worshipping God, not because He had done nice things for me (even though he has) but because He is. He is deep, profound, bottomless, inexplicable, unintelligible, unfathomable, incomprehensible, perplexing, and just a tiny bit exposed. Exposed in us and things surrounding us. Exposed in the majestic mountains South of my apartment, and in the splendor of Yosemite Valley. Exposed in the Arizona sunset and in the face of the ones you love. He is exposed in the longings of my heart, and in the missing pieces of my mind. He is so veiled and mysterious, yet exposed.

When I was young I felt “called” to the “ministry.” Most people, including my old self would say that this means I felt called to be a pastor, evangelist, or theologian of some sort. When you go on a mission like I am on you are not supposed to doubt your calling, you’re supposed to get reinforced. And if I posted on here that I am doubting my calling I would get several emails filled with worry and concern, so I would never do something like that, I would never talk about “doubting” my calling. But, let me say this: I am rethinking what it means to be “called.” What it means to “do ministry.” Because in some sense, every Christian is called to the ministry. Jesus commanded us to love each other and tell others about the love we have. When He commanded that, He wasn’t talking to a specific group of people, He was talking to all His followers. So are you a follower of Christ? If you are then that means that you have been, and are called to ministry in His service. So where does that leave me? What are my goals? What are my plans? What do I want God’s ministry through me to look like? These are all good questions that don’t have a static answer. I want to experience radical love and I want to impart radical love. I want to live and overcome, I want to be able to be wrong, and I want to hear the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Friday, February 5, 2010

Playing Hide and Seek with the Man in the Mirror


It’s 7 degrees outside. Fahrenheit. That is far below freezing. The ground is caked with layers of clean, white powder. It seemed to snow for 2 days straight. I love it outside, everything is so beautiful, but it’s cold. I sat in my kitchen earlier today and watched as the flakes twirled to the ground. I kept trying to focus on one, but as soon as I could focus on it, it would land among the billions of other flakes that were already in heaps on the ground. No matter how hard I tried, I could never get my eyes to focus directly on one little snowflake for more than a second. Then I started to ponder a Being that could. A Being that could sit at this very table and look out that window and be able to focus on all of the falling snowflakes at the same time. That same Being while focusing on each individual flake could know its unique pattern and see exactly where it will land, and exactly where it has come from. Even if I had a million eyes, I couldn’t do that. I don’t have the brain power to focus on millions of objects at a time, and a Being that would have that kind of power would be rather frightening. I started thinking about God and just how big He is. I started thinking about all the power He has. Western culture has done well at turning God into a giant, fluffy teddy bear and if you pull the string attached to his back back and perform the right rituals at the right time, blessings are dispensed out of his mouth like Pez. The God I know in my head and heart is not a teddy bear. Sure, He is loving and good in every sense of the word, but He’s big, He’s powerful and if He breathes on you the wrong way you might be catapulted across the galaxy. I’m amazed at how the world got so narrow-minded about such a wide and wonderful Being.

Friday club went well today, I also got some more clothes washed. I woke up late. I like waking up late sometimes, I mean why not? Who’s to tell me I can’t? I finish everything that needs to be done and I like having my time at night. Some people seem to think that good, godly, successful people go to bed at a decent hour and wake up early. In that sense, I guess I’m not good, or godly, and I never really thought my chances at worldly success were very good.

Most people don’t understand me, and I don’t blame them because I haven’t got to the point where I really understand me either. If you ask me who I am, I have a few bullet points memorized, but they mostly just sound good. I don’t know who I am and I am okay with that for now. I am 19 years old. I don’t have to know exactly who I am and I think I’ve come to the realization that teenagers don’t really search for who they are like they say they do, they rather search for who they want to be. With all these choices we have today, it’s not an easy question to answer. I was hoping to solve this problem while I am on this great adventure, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that all I’m doing is getting more unanswered questions and finding out more about myself that I don’t know how to explain. I think most “young people” go through what I’m going through and have similar thoughts, but some get the lucky pass. They either get the lucky pass or they just never really enter reality, I’m not sure which one it is yet. Many things are happening in my world and I find new things to worry about and new things to think about every day. I admire the complexity of my existence, but at the same time I grieve over the complexity of this world. I realize all of this is getting very deep and a bit blurry, but I am a bit troubled tonight. I don’t understand many things, many people for that matter, but I at least try to be sensitive to what’s around me. I was hit today with a giant blow of insensitivity and rather than stinging, it just made me mad. So I sit here tonight in a less-than-enthusiastic mood feeling quite solemn and trying to regain my optimistic composure. I encourage you all to be sensitive and I long to see the time and place where everyone (including myself) follows the Golden Rule.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Yearning for Euphoric Scars


I woke up late today, and as I staggered to the kitchen for some MacCoffee I noticed the dazzling blanket of white snow that covered the neighboring Soviet flats and the twisty branches of the trees outside our window. Yesterday was quite warm and all the ice was melting. One of my students told me an Almaty proverb that goes something like this: The weather in Almaty changes as fast as a woman changes her mind. I got a good chuckle out of it because it is oh so true. However, regardless of weather, exam week is done. I have a stack of papers that are waiting for my red pen of correction. That’ll take up a good 2 hours of my weekend, but I’m glad the tests are made and have been administered. I really don’t want to have to fail people. That will make me sad because I view my classes as a group and if one or two have to stay behind then I will feel as though I am abandoning them. Plus, once they fail they often get so discouraged that they drop out of the program all together.

On a happier note, my clothes are currently in the washing machine and it seems to be working. The stupid thing is just so doggone confusing and the instruction manual is all in Russian. On another happy note, we got paid this week. Not like our actual stipend, but our lunch money. I am currently living off less than $13 a week. Impressed? You should be. I think one thing I need to work on while I am here is my squandering. I have this thing where I love to spend money. I don’t even care what I spend it on I just like to see it go. Something about paper and numbers seem worthless to me. I like to have something tangible. I have issues.

So I started thinking about what my life will be like when I return to the States today. I was thinking what kind of person I will be and then my mind got off on several tangents until I came to the full realization of my life here. I have settled in. From the beginning my mind new this was going to be semi-permanent (6 months) so my brain went into auto-accustom mode. I like it here. Not enough to stay here for the rest of my days, but I like the situation I’m in. It’s a bit hard to explain. I got frustrated today. I decided that the English language doesn’t have enough words. Sometimes I want to explain things and all the words that are common enough for people not to think you’re a complete loon are just not forming what I want to say. Other languages are highly inflected and it seems as if you could describe things better, but I don’t know. I like language, I like that I’m a language teacher. I like Arizona. I like the mountains, and I like coffee. I like that we have the ability to like things and to dislike other things. Words are how you organize your thoughts and how you communicate. They are the bricks of relationships mortared in by actions. It’s a strange thought to think that there are not enough words to go around.

I was reminded in the middle of the night last night that life is filled with jovial moments of proclamations of good news. But, many people tend to overlook these moments because for some reason the bad news tends to stick out in our mind in a more lucid manner. We all love happiness and joy, but they seem to be so transient while pain and gloom leave scars that we’ll never forget. I don’t know why this is. Why don’t we have euphoric scars marking our overly blissful moments? This doesn’t seem like something that is our fault, it just seems to be how things work. God created this world perfect, but He went through a pain that will never be forgotten to restore perfection. The gospel can really turn me inside out sometimes. I guess it’s like the cliché metaphor of crawling in the valley before knowing the true beauty of the mountain. In order to have lasting happiness, we have to experience unhappiness. I don’t understand all of this, but I do know one thing, I want euphoric scars. So when the bad times roll around and cut me deep I can show them my other, bigger scars that have been engraved by euphoria. I don’t want to live in the middle, monotonous stage where nothing ever really happens; I want to get to extreme joy even if it means I have to travel to extreme misery. Am I sure I want to be saying this? I think am, but I got a feeling I will be kicking myself when that misery kicks in. I know one thing, God is good, and one day I am actually going to be able to understand this goodness. One day the ambiguity of this whole situation will be shaken. For now, I’ll just keep smiling and keep living my story.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Lost Tenge


I found cornflakes at a local supermarket. They’re kind of expensive. Well, they’re not really expensive, but they cost more than other foods. Anyways, I’m addicted. Not just to the plain taste, but to the simplicity and the convenience. I just got home from a long day at work and I don’t know what could be better than a bowl of cornflakes and cup of steaming green tea. Can you think of anything? Didn’t think so. Cold cereal is something of a commodity anywhere you go outside the US. It is often a foreign concept to the indigenous people. When I went to the Dominican Republic I remember them having corn flakes, but they served it with warm milk. Something about that just doesn’t feed my appetite. Most of the time what local people call “cereal” is oatmeal and I am so sick of oatmeal. There is but one problem with cornflakes. I can eat 12 bowls and it feels as though the crispy little flakes evaporate in my esophagus taunting my hunger and making it impossible for me to feel full. But, enough about cornflakes. This week is exam week. I mentioned that earlier. I wrote two exams today and spent 2 ninety minute periods answering questions and grading papers. I have a mountain of papers to grade. Certainly grading is the fallout of all educators. I have yet to meet a teacher that will tell me he or she loves to grade papers. It is tedious, but I do get to see the minor improvements that my students make and that makes me happy. For those of you who don’t know I teach at an English language center. This means anyone can come to the center to learn English. I don’t teach at a typical school. My students are from ages 10-60. I also get to play with a group of 3 kids on Mondays and Thursdays. Starting tomorrow I am also going to be having this private tutee that will come in on Mondays and Thursdays as well. This means I have to go to the center earlier and don’t have all my “relaxation” time. Life is rough here in the ol’ Republic of Kazakhstan.

Today was a long day. I set my alarm for 8 so I could shower and clean things up before Yelena got here at 9. My alarm was playing Fur Elise and instead of hopping out of bed I let it play and enjoyed the nice tune as I quickly drifted back to sleep. I woke to the buzzer. She was at our door and I was not even dressed. I sometimes amaze myself at my ability to rapidly throw things together. People think I move slowly because I am always late, but in reality I am always moving quickly, the reason I am late is because I get distracted easily. So I threw on some clothes and shoved the mess under my bed. I invited Yelena in and of course, had to make her some coffee. The repair guys came to fix our washing machine. Except not all was well. I once went with a friend to the Mac store so she could have this problem with her computer fixed. Of course, once we got there and she showed them the problem there was no problem. That is what happened today. The repair guys came and viola they couldn’t even fix the problem because a problem didn’t exist...until after they left! I hate the washing machine. Underneath my bed lies a sea of dirty clothes, but let’s keep that between you and me. After the laundry incident I went into Dutch mode and started to clean everything. After all, we were having guests and I have turned into my parents in the sense that I cannot have any mess laying out when guests are coming over. After cleaning I immediately started lunch. I decided to venture into the unknown and make a stir fry with some veggie meat that Steven’s mother so graciously snuck into his suitcase. I ended up throwing a bunch of junk into the pan and making it up as I went along, but it came out tasting quite delicious. We had fun hanging out with the girls as usual. It’s nice to be around people from your own culture and by culture I mean country and generation (age). We also use the time to complain and brag about our students. We show off our students’ abilities and chuckle at their innocent blunders, all in good fun of course. In the little bit of time I had between the guests leaving and classes, I wrote the exams!

I dropped a tenge today. Like a one tenge coin fell off my dresser and rolled under my bed. A tenge (remember it's pronounced ten-gay) is worth quite a bit less than a penny. When is the last time you saw somebody even bend down for a penny? Even the locals wonder why they make those shiny, nearly-worthless coins anymore. As I watched this coin sneakily roll under the bed I decided that it would not be worth the effort of crawling underneath the bed to get my un-prized possession, after all I have bills equaling 2000 tenge within arm’s reach. Then my mind started to wander (as it so often does) to Luke 15 and the parable of the lost coin. Jesus told this short parable in this manner:

“Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Some people take the 3 “lost” parables of Luke 15 and tell how Jesus went and saved something valuable like a silver coin, or a sheep, or a precious son. How we are so valuable and Jesus couldn’t help but save a bunch of beautiful people like us. But, I was thinking that the only reason we have any value is because Jesus says we have value, because Jesus’ love gives us value. If we step back and look at the cosmic situation from a culturally independent human standpoint I see it differently. That lost coin wasn’t very valuable. She had 9 others and it was only silver, no gold, and no diamonds. When this world fell into the pain and enticement of sin, Jesus watched a tenge roll under his bed. One tenge, seemingly worthless, and after all He had plenty more tenge within arm’s reach. Quite often, I feel like a tenge, a small, ordinary coin that has seemingly no value. Sometimes I wonder why they even make little coins like me anymore, but then I remember that my owner swept the house and looked in every nook and cranny until He found me. And the coolest part is when He found me, He was excited. So excited that He threw a party. Honestly, who throws a party over one tenge? But, that’s Jesus for you. This Guy is obsessive when it comes to love.

Man Shall Not Live By Bread Alone


For all of those who have been faithfully following my blog, you know that today my greatest desire was to sleep in. My desires were given to me and I slept like a baby until 11:00. But, now I am staying up way too late again and tomorrow I will actually have to wake up early so that we can attempt to have our laundry machine fixed for the 3rd time and have the girls over for lunch. Yelena will call and I will have to wake up. It’s tragic, but I guess real life requires an alarm clock.

So by the time I post this you should see pictures! The reason I am staying up so late is so that I can organize pictures and post them just for you. For this reason I will keep my post short today. (If you haven’t noticed yet, short is a relative term for me). Look on the sidebar and hopefully you will see a nice slide show of pictures!

Jesus once uttered a phrase that went something like this, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” He said this in response to a temptation from the devil. If these blogs aren’t long enough for you and you want to watch some sermons then knock yourself out (Idiom!) ( I preached a sermon on the temptations of Jesus once. I thought I would advertise it. Anyways, I mentioned this phrase because Steven and I went back to the glorious supermarket I told you about earlier. We went for a few things, but mainly for the baguettes! As we arrived and rushed to the bakery section we found ourselves highly disappointed at the absence of any fresh, cheap baguettes. So we lousily moped around the store picking up other items when suddenly it hit me, that heavenly smell of something warm and delicious being pulled from a hot oven. So we went back to the bakery and sure enough, baguettes! Steven and I decided we’d better stock up, so we bought 9 of them plus some regular bread and some amazing looking cheese bread. Mind you that these baguettes are 19 tenge (pronounced ten-gay) each. Seeing that the exchange rate is currently 148:1 that is 13 cents. At those prices why wouldn’t you buy 9 baguettes? So we left the store feeling happy and accomplished. Steven and I discussed Jesus’ famous words and decided that if we read our Bibles it would be ok to just eat bread for awhile.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The God Zone


As I laid in bed last night after my hot shower and call to my family I reveled in the thought of sleeping in. Then I dreaded the thought of the likelihood of my boss calling and being aroused by the blaring telephone sometime around 9:00am. Unfortunately, my fears were brought to fruition and my dreams of sleeping in were shredded into pieces of exhaustion and grumpiness. Yelena called at around 9:15 and said she would be over at around 10. I didn’t actually get out of bed until she was at the door. I threw some clothes on and picked up the mess I had laying around within seconds. Yelena doesn’t like messes. Anyways, she came over because she was expecting to meet a guy who would fix our washing machine. Of course, she brought something to make lunch. Today it was pumpkin. We peeled it, shredded it and put in a pot with some rice and onions. It actually turned out to be quite delicious. After I had started some coffee the laundry machine guy called. He was having car trouble so now he’s not coming till Wednesday. The moral of the story is I got woken up early for no good reason. I was upset. I spent most of the day in a cranky mood and didn’t leave the apartment until it was time to go to work. We left around 4:30pm and barely got there in time. I despised the thought of going to work today. I was just too tired and this week I have to give the students exams. These are exams that will determine whether they move up a level or fail. I feel a lot of pressure because I have to write these tests (well more correctly edit previous tests) and I’ve only been with these students for 2 weeks. I don’t feel that it is fair for me to test them since I am not exactly sure where they should be. So I was miserable at the thought of going to work and I frustratingly took the steps toward the English center, made myself a cup of tea and hurriedly prepared for my classes during the half hour Steven was teaching discussion class (he took 5:00p and I took 7:00p; discussion is a class where you basically just talk to students so they can practice their English). Though I was in a bad mood, once I got in my classroom and in front of my students my torch was lit and my face shined. I was in my zone and I helped them prepare for exams and pretended like I was a real teacher who was qualified for the job. I, like normal days, left the center smiling and my cheerful mood was restored. After a hot cup of tea, some mystery muffins that I bought at the magazine (magazines are convenience stores), and good conversations with some friends back home, I am ready to call this a good day. It’s late, I’m still tired, but I hope tomorrow that the phone will stay silent and that my dreams will be allowed to come to a natural close. I’m hoping tomorrow will be full of rest and relaxation, but who am I kidding. I got exams to write and grocery shopping to do. Steven is feeling a little bit under the weather (Idiom!) and so I am trying to keep an eye on him (Idiom!) and make sure he stays alive while also making sure I don’t get sick.

I can't believe this month is over already! January 2010 will always be one of the most memorable months of my life. A month full of sad goodbyes, happy children, frightening first impressions, and adjusting to different a culture; I'm actually sad to see it go. I'm living a pretty good story and that makes my heart content.

Before I left, I preached a sermon about getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing God in new and different ways. People responded well to that sermon. My boss used to always say, "Going from the comfort zone to the God zone." I watched some video logs that I made when I first got here and all I could say in those logs after seeing my apartment and driving around the city was, “I can’t do this, getting out of your comfort zone is the most miserable thing in the world, I wanna go home...” but then in the video I said that the phrase that was running through my mind was, “Daddy’s got you, Daddy’s got you.” I was freaking out when I first arrived here, but now I feel good about my place here. There is this one woman at prayer meeting who always refers to God as “Daddy.” She is a wonderful Russian lady that I think truly understands the gospel. Any woman who prays to “Daddy” is a woman after my own heart. I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning, but the phone rang anyways. I didn’t want to go to work today, but I took the steps anyways. You may not want to get out of your comfort zone and I don’t blame you because it is terrifying, it is downright miserable, but if Daddy is calling you to get out of your comfort zone then Daddy will be with you the whole time, and I tell you, do it anyways. Next thing you know you might find yourself in an old Soviet apartment, counting your blessings, and appreciating life so much more.