Paris: Poems & Pictures

(Can we all just pause for a moment and bask in the alliterative glory of that title? Okay, thanks.) 

So two weeks ago we visited Paris. It was entirely spontaneous, and I’m still kind of reeling from the fact that it actually happened. I was going to do a big picture & general itinerary post for it like I did with London and Scotland, but while there, my thoughts kept running off to deep pools of metaphysical musings. Maybe the spontaneity shook up my linear thinking or it’s just the effect of Paris. For whatever reason, I’m glad, and I figured I’d share some of those thoughts with you. Whether they all constitute poetry or not you can decide. And never fear, I included plenty of photos as well. I couldn’t resist. =D As always, click on one photo in the slideshow to see them all bigger. 


The Trip Itself

We were planning on visiting Paris

 

But then we found out that train tickets for seven people 

__Were way too expensive

____And we figured that London was more than enough

 

But then my mom was reading a book about the Impressionists

__And she mentioned to my dad how sad she was

____That she wouldn’t get to see their paintings in person

 

So then my dad started thinking that trains aren’t the only way to go places

__And how maybe driving for six hours would be worth it

____And we could stay at a cheap military hotel

 

And then my dad remembered that he had a long weekend

__And our plan-a-year-in-advance mom suggested

____Why don’t we go this weekend?

 

And just like that

All of a sudden

We’re going to Paris!

 

There is so much about my life right now that hurts,

So many dreams in little piles of ash around the perimeter of these past two years,

But don’t let me forget this,

That we can just drive—

To Paris!

* * * 

Giverny

Before heading into the city itself, we stop at Giverny, the home of the famous Impressionist painter Claude Monet. We’ve been here before, nine or ten years ago when we were living in Germany for the first time. We took photos of my mom on the green bridge in his Japanese garden––you know, the bridge that’s the subject of his most famous painting. The bridge over the water lily pond. My mom loves that painting so much she has a tapestry of it. So anyway, we uploaded those precious photos onto the computer and then–– you guessed it––the computer crashed. We couldn’t salvage anything, and all the Paris and Giverny photos disappeared into the void of irretrievable computer data.

But now we’re back, this unexpected gift, and the sun is shining on this late April day. Tulip season is almost over, but there are many, many more flowers in Monet’s gardens than tulips. I’m snapping pictures madly, feeling that familiar frustration of not being able to capture what my eyes see. I want to remember—but if that whole losing-the-photos fiasco from last time taught me anything, it’s that you can remember without any pictures. Still, I rush around to record what I can. Photos may not be necessary for memory, but they sure do enhance it. And this time, we’ll back them up in iCloud. 

In Monet’s house, we step into the room where he painted many of his works. I get a little chill, inhabiting the same space he did as he brushed into being such masterpieces. Maybe some spark of his genius and creativity still resides in these walls. Maybe some of it will rub off on me.

Back in the gardens, the sun is bright and the colors brighter, and I grab my phone to record the words spinning around in my head. A riot. A riot of—of color, of beauty. A riot of life. A celebration of life. I’ve been to many gardens in Europe but I’ve never seen any like Monet’s. There is something special here, in the long rows laden with flowers upon flowers of all different kinds. It was like he couldn’t get enough, like he just kept tossing seeds, wanting more. More color, more variety, more beauty, more life. I keep coming back to that word riot. And the word celebration. Something not quite tame and certainly not prim and proper.

I tap onto my phone: exuberant, not taming nature but doing just enough to bring out its fullest potential. If I ever have a garden, I wanted to be like this: Nothing manicured or pruned to perfection. I want my hand be barely visible. I want the plants to dance together in this wild way. Exuberant. Joyous.

* * * 

Musée du Louvre

At the Louvre I walk around and look at all the paintings. Duh. Of course. What else do you look at in an art gallery?

Ah, well, there’s the question. I find myself looking at far more than paintings. My attention keeps getting drawn away from the people in the portraits to the people in this present moment, pressing around me. Sometimes, I’m aware of them because of how they annoy me. I mean, you are at least six feet tall, what on earth would possess you to stand in front of the pygmies like me?? If you stood behind me, you’d be able to see the painting just fine. And so would I.

But other times, when I’m tucked away in a corner and safely out of reach of bumping bodies, I feel kinder. I notice their faces, I notice who is in a group and who is alone. I try to notice, at least. It’s hard to truly notice anything.

Forget the mysteries behind Mona’s smile and the backstory to that crumbling statue over there. What I want to know is:

Which paintings catch your eye?

Why do you stop at the pieces you do and what do you see there? 

How will what you see here change you, inspire you? 

What other pieces of art will be birthed from this experience? 

How will you remember this place? 

What kind of mark will it leave on you? Will it leave a mark at all?

I want to know the story behind every closer look, behind every brisk gait, behind all the glazed tourist eyes, the rapt expressions, the bored-to-tears slouches. I want to know what you will do when you leave this place, out to a nearby café, back to your hotel room or house, into the coming years.

I want to know if any of this matters. I want to know how these smears of oil and chunks of rock touch living beings and invisible souls. I want to know what it means to leave a legacy, to change the world, to live abundantly.

I keep looking.

* * *  

Dôme des Invalides 

It is starting to drizzle when we enter the lofty church that houses Napoleon’s tomb. Inside, it is like most cathedrals—a soaring dome, grand pillars, smooth marble floors, a gold-encrusted alter at the back. But right beneath the highest point of the dome in the very center, where ordinarily rows of pews would sit, the floor gapes open.

We lean against the railing and peer down into a large circular pit, a well from which you can draw not water but history and legend. In the center of the crypt is a huge wooden coffin on a granite dias, all of it probably more than twice my height. The tiles around it are painted to look like a laurel wreath, and twelve tall statues of Grecian-looking figures face the coffin with somber, reverent faces.

I’m not prepared for how massive the coffin is, for how massive all of it is. Four huge, winding pillars of blue and white marble that looks like foam tossed on a windy sea surround the altar in the back, gold gleaming from their tops and bases. It’s just so…much. I hadn’t realized how highly the French people still hold him.

My shoes make small noises on the marble floor that get lost quickly in the vast dome above me. The weight of history hangs majestic here in the spaciousness. There is a reason why the Latin word for serious—gravis—also means heavy. We mortals rush about in jeans and sneakers clutching our Nikons and Canons, wondering what makes a human worthy of these tall temples, worthy of remembering in this way, worthy of remembering at all.

Napoleon is still very much remembered. Will he still be in 500 years? Does he deserve to be? Do I want to be remembered like this? Will there even be 500 more years?

We long for splendor, for legends, for heroes. I do not think those are wrong desires. But we also long to be gods. To be God. Do we know when we have crossed the line?

We exit the hushed solemnity, crawling like ants under the looming doors. No one pressed about the wall staring into the crypt notices us leave. Outside, rain stains the streets, and we hurry to catch the metro to have dinner with some friends who happen to be staying here for a while. They are studying the language to be missionaries here. We talk about what it’s like to live overseas and how God has a habit of disrupting our plans, to our discomfort—and to his glory.

Maybe Napoleon was glorious, but even he could not weave the fate of the world into a banner that displays his glory forever.

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Going on an Adventure: London

Last week my family and I went to London, and I had so much fun compiling pictures of our trips to Keukenhof and Scotland that I thought I’d do the same thing this time.

But wait. Let me backtrack and repeat that first statement: I got to visit London. I don’t know, that just feels really crazy and exciting?? I’ve never been a Great Britain fangirl, but London is one of the most famous cities in the world and it’s got so much amazing history.

We were only there for three full days, and we packed in a lot. Shoutout to my little sisters for keeping up with us and never complaining as we dragged them all over the city. Another one to the London Underground which was a whole lot of fun (except for that one time) and cemented my love for big cities and public transportation.

Although I was dealing with a nasty bout of food poisoning at the beginning of the trip, I healed in time to enjoy afternoon tea at a fancy restaurant. Honestly, guys, the scones were my favorite part of the entire trip. People always gripe about the food in the UK, but both times I’ve been there, I actually really enjoyed the food. For one thing, there are warm scones with lemon curd and clotted cream melting inside (okay, I know lemon curd and clotted cream don’t have the most appetizing names, but they really are SO. GOOD.). Then there are meat pies, shortbread, homemade stovies, and all things toffee. And I personally like fish and chips, as long as it’s not too greasy. All that to say: give the food in the UK a chance, folks. And if you can, do an afternoon tea somewhere. I recommend mint tea; it was delicious (and quite kind to my recently healed stomach). Also, life hack: Starbucks, bless them, sells amazing gingerbread biscuits which are a lifesaver if you ever get a stomach bug while traveling.

Besides the scones, another highlight was Westminster Abbey. It feels annoyingly cliché to say that, but I truly loved it. We went to Evensong there one night, and we got to sit in the elevated pews right next to the choir. The next day, we took the tour. It was a zoo, and the bathrooms are right next to the exit, so I had to walk through the maze twice. However, it’s quite pretty and it gave me a chance to read as many grave markers is possible. (Maybe that’s why I liked it so much––all the morbidity. Mwahaha.) My heart literally skipped a beat when I saw the William Wilberforce statue, and I read his entire epigraph even though I got some glares from more pragmatic and less sentimental tourists. WILLIAM WILBERFORCE, guys. If you were to ask me who one of my heroes is, I would immediately say him. I freaked out (internally, don’t worry) again when I got to Poet’s Corner and saw names like Dickens, Austin, Handel, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Robert Louis Stevenson, T. S. Eliot, Kipling, and more. I felt proper American pride that there was even a bust of Longfellow, put there apparently by “the English admirers of an American poet.” Plus, I got to see the tombs of Isaac Newton and Lord Kelvin and Ernest Rutherford and all these amazing scientists!? Also David Livingstone, who has a cool last name. Westminster Abbey made my simultaneously nerdy and artsy heart happy.

Other highlights: the statue of John Donne in St. Paul’s Cathedral; spending one evening eating in a bookstore café and then browsing the store (we ended up adding at least 50 pounds to our suitcases); van Gogh paintings in the National Gallery; wandering around little side streets, the best part of every big city, honestly; shopping with my mom in Greenwich Market; and straddling the line of the prime meridian. The one big downside: they were renovating Big Ben, so the whole thing was covered in scaffolding. Oh well. It gives me an excuse to go back someday.

But enough chitchat. Here are the photos. *insert plug for iPhones and their awesome cameras* Click on them to see them bigger and read the captions. =D

Have you ever been to London? If you have, what was your favorite thing about it? If not, what do you dream of seeing or doing there (if you dream about London at all, I don’t want to assume)?

i want to know your story

so we were traveling a few weeks back and one thing I love about touring cities and just being in new places (or old ones, for that matter) is people-watching.

and no, I’m not a Whovian but I have friends who are (which I guess is almost the same thing?). 

peoplewalkingcity

I look down from the bus, see one gray-sleeved arm hanging out of the car window next to us

draped casually, holding a cigarette

one seat over, two pale hands clasped, thumbs moving nervously, restlessly

shiny black leather coat, teal scarf, blonde hair in a messy bun, glasses, green-blue eyes, narrow chin, clear skin

looking out her window, face turned slightly away

he has a gray sweater, short “hair-colored” hair, staring out straight ahead

calm but not peaceful

the car is a black BMW, very nice, shiny silver controls on a black dashboard, pulling a trailer behind it

dirty old trailer behind shiny new car

what is going on behind your calm face, casual arm?

why do your fingers fidget and fret for peace?


in the square, I see a girl in a blue coat, smooth, sleek, felt-like, above her black tights

her face, hidden deep within the hood, is very pale

she stands, hands shoved in that lovely coat’s pockets, looking off to the side

I think, “Aloof. Affected.”

then, she smiles

eyes light up, bright blue, like her coat, the smile sliding across her whole face like a sunbeam across a polished wood floor

I look for who or what her eyes have lit upon, and I think I see her, a friend

laughing as she crosses the square

brown hair, round face, joyful

does she know how she makes the other girl’s face, once cold, even frightened, light up like that?

does she know she has the power to part the clouds over a human soul?


who are you

where do you come from

what is your name

what do you seek

why do you cry

what makes you laugh

what fears flood you at night

why do you get out of bed each day

who are you

i want to know your story

after all,

we are all stories in the end

Coming Home

belltower

I wasn’t prepared for this feeling of awkwardness, for the insecurity not knowing a language would bring. Last time we were here, I was young, too young to be self-conscious or care what people thought of me. Now I care. Now I want to have it all together, to say just the right thing. But of course I can’t. Of course I’ll make mistakes, ask for a table when I mean a bag. No one even expects me to be perfect—except me.

We enter the room filled with all the other newcomers, and I feel even more out of place. Now it’s not just German, it’s Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch. There’s even a Norwegian family. I feel bad, because they can all speak my language, at least a little, and I don’t know anything of theirs. I hate feeling pampered, like I owe something to everyone. Here they all are, bilingual, and I’m here stumbling along with my dankes and entschuldigungs. It’s my pride, I know, and it smears over everything in its putrid black haze.

But as we begin to tour the city, as we all experience things together, laugh about the city’s legends together, I begin to relax. To realize that they don’t have it all together—the Italians especially, they struggle with my language, and that heartens me. We are all new together, and few of us (except the Dutch, who seem to be fluent in everything) speak any German. I feel bonds strengthening between us, small ones because we still cannot really communicate—but then, what is language when you meet each other’s eyes and smile and laugh at what the tour guide says?

Yes, we can do this.

And I begin to realize too the beauty of the differences. The sound of the different languages sing in my ear, these varied tunes blending together into a rich harmony. Look around, look around, I tell myself, as I walk with Italians and Spaniards and French through the cobblestone streets of a German town, at how lucky you are to be alive right now. Who else gets to stand at this intersection of cultures, this gathering of people from all over, united in purpose, laughing as one under the sun?


As we leave the restaurant, the bells begin to ring. 7:00. They toll on and on, some deep fairy tune, constant like the strength of the cathedral’s old stones.

In Kansas, there was a bell tower right near our house, less than a block away. We called it the bell clock. I remember when it broke and stood silent for months on end. I mourned it. It was like the loss of a beloved friend. When they finally fixed it, I couldn’t stop smiling.

And here, now, here it is again. The bells are singing to me. The song of the bell back home mingles with the bells here, and I can almost see it, a trail of gold glory, of divine love, crossing the ocean, from home to home, and that is it:

This is home.

Home is where the heart is, they say. For me, home is where He is, and He is here. He is proving that to me in every garden I pass, in every breath of clear wind, in every delicious chocolate.

The bells ring, and I hear Him sing: I am here. I am with you.

Come home.

{Monthly Miscellany} August

What a month, folks, what a month. I began it in Kansas, spent parts of it in various states in the East Coast, and am now ending it in Germany. But more on that later. Let’s start at the right place—with books. Of course.

{reading} 

I’m still trying to refine how I want this section to go, and because I didn’t read that many books this month (better than July, though!), I figured I have room to write a little summary of each. Here we go:

amazinggracecover

Amazing Grace // Eric Metaxas

This is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read. Ever. I’d skimmed it once before, but actually reading it this time was incredibly rewarding. William Wilberforce is one of my heroes, and his story actually helped me make some big decisions as I looked at my future.

riserebellionshaara

Rise to Rebellion // Jeff Shaara

Rise to Rebellion was fantastic, as all Jeff Shaara books are. Plus, it was amazing to be reading about the American Revolution while I was visiting places like Boston and just after I’d read Alexander Hamilton’s biography.

originalscover

Originals // Adam Grant

Originals was another top-notch non-fiction read. Its subtitle is “How Non-Conformists Move the World”—right up my alley, with tons of fascinating stories and practical advice about how to literally change the world.

ToGetYou

To Get to You // Joanne Bischof

This doesn’t look like a book I’d normally read, but after I blogger I respect enjoyed it, I decided to give it a try. It was a great vacation read and so much more than just romance. I loved seeing the main character and his relationship with his father grow and heal.

twofromgalilee

Two From Galilee // Marjorie Holmes

This is an old book I picked up at my grandparents’. It’s the story of Mary and Joseph. Like many Bible retellings, some parts made me uncomfortable, but I did enjoy journeying with them through the crazy adventure God set them on.

Jerry_Spinelli_-_Stargirl

Stargirl // Jerry Spinelli

Ah, Stargirl. It’s about being yourself, being different, being shackled by desire for people’s approval. It’s challenging and beautiful and inspiring.

whenyoureachme

When You Reach Me (reread) // Rebecca Stead

Here’s an old favorite of mine, and if any of you have not read it yet, you must. Simple as that. It’s mind-bending and fascinating and powerful. I love the humanity of the characters and how it challenges the way we think about time and how the world works.

And the million-dollar question: Have you read any of these? What did you think of them?

{writing} 

*maniacal laughing that fades away as I flee this question*

Okay, I did do one thing: I created a Stuff-to-Keep-Track-of-So-I-Stay-Sane document for Phoenix and listed characters, places, and words/phrases that I made up for that world. I also wrote down some notes about things I want to change or include when I go back through it and edit. Although, now that I think about it, that might have happened at the end of July. I’m not sure. Heh.

Anyway, I did enjoy blogging on here, and I’m thankful that I was able to keep it up while traveling. I love interacting with you guys, and sticking to my blogging schedule helped me feel more stable and normal in the midst of the craziness.

{music}

Oh, it was a good music month, folks. I discovered two amazing new songs (look below), plus Switchfoot came out with a new album. Ahhhhh, so much happiness. So much goodness. I may have to devote a whole separate post to it later. We’ll see. Anyhow, you gotta love friends who introduce you to masterpieces like these:

“To the Dreamers” // For King & Country

The music is catchy and the lyrics are perfect—what more could you ask for?

“Saturn” // Sleeping at Last

This song, guys. This song. Oh my storms, I love it so much. I’ve played it on repeat basically this whole vacation. The cello + piano sound is absolutely gorgeous, and the lyrics literally stopped my heartbeat when I first listened to them. Please, please listen to it. Look up the lyrics. And watch its amazing video.

{life}

Whoo, boy. Okay. So my family is moving, which I’m pretty sure you all know by now, but just to clarify. From Kansas to Germany. Yeah. I’m terribly excited, but it’s been crazy and a tiny bit stressful all the same. Thank God for bringing us out safely on the other side.

We left Kansas early August and spent several weeks touring colleges, visiting friends and family, and—most importantly—going to the beach. The colleges thing was super exciting and also a little freaky, like ohmywordthisisreallyhappening?! It also stressed me out a little, but I’m trying to remember that I don’t have to make any decisions until this spring—and you never know, God might make it easy for me by not letting me get in to some places. Anyway, I’m so thankful for those opportunities.

And the beach! The beach. I’m in love with the beach. The ocean, the sand, the horizon, the shells, the waves … the beach. I saw God’s love for me so clearly in letting me go back and have several good days there.

And now? Now I’m in Germany, a little majorly jet-lagged, overwhelmed, and excited. I can’t wait to live in a house again, ditch the suitcase, and settle into normal life.

{blogging}

Hello and Goodbye and All the Moments in Between // on moving and relationships

{Fireside Fridays} My Favorite Settings in Fiction Books // basically … that

Star-making // a haiku

{Fireside Fridays} The Book That Terrified Me // art and faith and terrible choices I might face

I Am the Girl With the To-Do List // and why that isn’t a good thing

{Fireside Fridays} My Five Favorite Books for Teen Girls // book reviews

Into the Mist  // a memoir musing sketch thing

{Fireside Fridays} 5 Reasons Why Ebooks Help You Read More // pretty self-explanatory

{quotes} 

Ooh, let’s see. Several of the books I read had some great quotes. Here’s a sampling:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

~ Margaret Mead in Adam Grant’s Originals 


She’s alone, they kept telling themselves, and surely she danced in no one’s arms, yet somehow that seemed to matter less and less. As the night went on, and clarinet and coyote call mingled beyond the lantern light, the magic of their own powder-blue jackets and orchids seemed to fade, and it came to them in small sensations that they were more alone than she was.

~ Jerry Spinelli, Stargirl


[George Whitefield] saw that the Bible didn’t teach that we must work harder at booming perfect and holy, but that we must instead throw ourselves on God’s mercy. Moral perfection wasn’t the answer: Jesus was the answer. Jesus had been morally perfect and we weren’t supposed to save ourselves—we were supposed to ask him to save us.

~ Eric Metaxas, Amazing Grace

So, good readers—how was your August? What does September hold for you? What did you think of the songs? Let’s have one last summertime chat!

10 Ways South Africa is Different From America

One of the coolest—and hardest—parts of my trip was experiencing a different culture. I’ve lived in Europe, so I know what culture shock is like, but I have to say that South Africa is far more different from America than Germany is. Sure, they speak English (which really was a huge blessing), but it’s a whole different world. Here are ten differences, big and small and in no particular order, that stood out to me.

10 Ways South Africa is Different From America

 

1. They have a British accent.

So it’s not a pure British accent, but it’s way closer to British than it is to American. I loved listening to it. It was also pretty strange to be the one with the accent. I’d open my mouth, and people would look at me funny and say, “You sound like you’re from America.”

There’s a reason for that.

2. They drive on the left side of the road. 

This reveals my embarrassing lack of research, but I was not expecting this. I could not for the life of me figure out which side my seat buckle was on, and I kept freaking out when we turned onto the left side of the road. Actually, the driving there in general was freaky. Everybody is a bad driver, and I won’t even go into the terrors called taxis. Let’s just say if they got fined for running red lights, they’d be bankrupt in a day.

3. Everything is gated. 

Because the level of crime is so much higher there, everything—homes, stores, you name it—is gated. The sight adds to the atmosphere of fear there. No one walks too close to each other, everyone’s clasping their purses tightly, and when you ask someone anything about themselves, they get a wary expression and answer guardedly. It’d be an obvious lie to say America’s anywhere close to crime-free, but I know I at least take for granted how safe I feel in day to day life. If I avoid sketchy parts of town, I can into any store and not even think about getting stolen from or hurt in any way. But in South Africa, threats of theft and danger are a fact of life.

4. Whites are the minority. 

I have to admit, this was strange. It was also really, really good for me to be in the minority. And honestly, after a few days it didn’t feel that abnormal anymore. But it was eye-opening to live in a place where I was by far in the racial minority and to realize that that’s perfectly okay. I loved the racial diversity of South Africa. I’m realistic enough to realize it causes a lot tension and trouble, but it’s also a beautiful thing everyone should experience.

5. They have no insulation or central heating. 

Yeeeeah. And we happened to go during their winter. It’s not like their winters are all that bad—it was sixty-ish degrees Fahrenheit during the day while we were there—but there’s nowhere you can get warm. It’s nice in the sun during the day, but the minute the sun sets, it’s freezing again. And I mean freezing: At night, it gets in the low thirties. Fortunately, the missionaries gave us a space heater and tons of blankets, so we got through those chilly nights just fine.

6. Apple sauce is baby food.

No kidding, this was one of the first questions South African teens asked us: Do you guys really eat apple sauce? Some Americans had visited them a few years ago and wanted some apple sauce. And apparently, apple sauce is baby-only food for South Africans, like those mushy carrots and peas in glass jars in American stores. They thought it was hilarious that adults in America still eat it.

They also thought our obsession with pumpkins was strange (I wasn’t aware we had one, but they couldn’t believe we ate pumpkin pie and cookies and carved pumpkins for fun).

7. Robots = stoplights 

And jelly is jello and jam is jelly and flat phones are dead phones and serviettes are napkins and pacifiers are dummies and chips are fries and biscuits are cookies and buggies are shopping carts. Et cetera.

8. People clean your car while you shop at the mall. 

Because poverty is so rampant, they create jobs wherever they can. You pay people to watch the parking lot so people won’t steal your car. You pay people to walk your shopping cart—excuse me, buggy—to the car and then someone else to load the groceries into your car. And when you’re in the parking garage about to go shopping, people ask you if they can wash your car while you’re at the mall.

9. They have eleven national languages. 

Okay, but this is so cool. Here they are (thank you, Wikipedia): Afrikaans (basically African Dutch), English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu. Most South Africans can speak more than one language, which is so impressive. Traveling always makes me wish English wasn’t my first language, because then I’d have to learn it in addition to my native language. If your first language is English, it’s so hard to learn another one fluently because you usually don’t really need to.

10. They are good at dancing.

I’m not saying Americans aren’t good at dancing, but everybody there—well, blacks primarily but they’re the majority, so—has amazing rhythm and moves. As I’m stiffly trying to shift from side to side, they’re shaking their hips and clapping and stomping their feet and just … moving in such a cool, graceful way. Ugh, it makes me so jealous. It was amazing to watch, and I love the energy and spirit they put into singing.


and pictures:

 

scenery from a game reserve
scenery from a game reserve
at the camp we went to
at the camp we went to
a real live zebra (they pronounce it zeh - bruh)
a real live zebra (they pronounce it zeh – bruh)
at camp
at camp

There you go! Ten (of many more) differences between America and South Africa. Let me know which ones surprised you or interested you most!

Mission Trip Musings

Last week, I journeyed to a Native American reservation in South Dakota, like last year. We lived in a town with an inner city atmosphere, unlike last year’s decidedly rural feel.

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This year, we had showers, bathrooms in the church where we were staying, a sink to wash thedishes in, and a place to do laundry. The town where we stayed had a gas station, grocery store, and Dairy Queen. It was paradise, compared to last year.

Don’t get me wrong, it was still a third-world country. Trailer parks, kids with lice, shocking percentages of the population involved in drugs and alcohol, most girls sexually abused by the time they are teens. Don’t worry—the week went fine, and God protected us. I honestly didn’t expect anything bad to happen, but the statistics and stories and sights of so much depravity did sober me. I realized then how broken this world is and how blessed I am.

But there was still beauty.

A group of siblings followed us around for the last few days. They lived in a run-down trailer, the girl had lice, and their parents didn’t care that much about them. They had nothing, really.

But one day we were eating at a little picnic table in the church parking lot, and they looked across the street and noticed a man sitting on the sidewalk. He’d been there most of the day, but none of us had thought anything of it. These kids, though, immediately turned to us and asked, “Can we give him some food?”

Can we give him some food? Don’t you want more food? I doubt you get half this much at home. You should be gobbling it up, hoarding it. But you want to give it away?

So another teen on the team, the kids, and I brought him food and a tract. He smiled at us, and we chatted about his tribe and where we were from. It hit me hard, that these kids would think to give food away, when I didn’t—I, who am rich and spoiled and well-fed every day. It struck me, too, how the man smiled as he sat on the side of the dirty street.

At the beginning of the week, we did VBSes in two outlying villages, tiny clusters of houses nestled among South Dakota’s buttes. One produced only four children on the best day, one of whom had a mental disorder and was abused at home, as his brother informed us. The other boasted an average of eight kids. But that’s something I learned from this trip: numbers don’t matter.

No one had gone to those settlements before. We asked the kids if anyone else had put on a VBS for them. They shook their heads shyly. When we started planning this trip, our pastor had asked the pastor there where he wanted us to go. The pastor replied, to the places no one else goes.

See, everyone stays in the larger city where the church is, because more people will come to their outreaches. Lots of numbers look good on reports back home. Lots of numbers seem to mean success. Lots of numbers make you feel like all your efforts weren’t wasted. But numbers don’t matter, ultimately. People do. If you were to ask the most important lesson I gleaned, it would be this: your money, time, and effort are not wasted if you spend it on just one child, and not fifty. Should we forgo sharing the gospel with the kids in small villages simply because there aren’t enough of them?

So, yes, the VBSes went well. The other teens and I planned it all, basing it off of the Wordless Book. I taught Gold Day, about God, His holiness, and heaven, and I co-wrote the puppet scripts. Others planned the crafts, games, and snacks, worked on the puppet team, and taught memory verses. I really felt God’s hand on those VBSes.

Later in the week, we had community meals in the villages. Less adults came than we would have liked, but again: it’s not about the numbers. I loved being able to connect with the kids one last time. That was one hard part about the trip—we didn’t live with the kids. Last year, we lived in the town where we ministering, so the kids who came to the VBS were the kids we played with all day long. This year, we had to travel forty-five minutes to the settlements, so we only saw those kids for an hour or two each day. Still, God has a plan, and I do think we blessed them.

Then there were work projects, when we weren’t doing VBSes. I found that I really enjoyed those and was good at organizing. We re-organized the church (oh, those awful cabinets!), removed some graffiti, painted a porch, organized school curricula, and did a giveaway of clothes and other items the church had amassed.

But it wasn’t all work. After one of the community meals, the local kids took us to a river. I found the guts to climb a rocky cliff-side and jump off it, sliding down loose gravel into the river. By that time—our fifth day there—we were all in desperate need of a break. I think the long drives in crowded vans each day made us irritable. However, spending an afternoon outside, the fresh air of the South Dakota plains filling our lungs, helped our spirits immensely, and we finished the week strong.

Sunday morning, we worshipped in the local church where we’d stayed all week. Last year, it had hurt so badly to leave those kids. There was no one to remind them of what we’d taught them. But this time, I felt comforted. There was a church that could minister to those we had, a body of Christians that would continue what we had done. I realized what a beautiful treasure the church is. I so often take churches for granted. But when you go to a place where few exist, you realize how important they are.

{Thanks so much for all your prayers and support this past month, everyone. I should be getting back to my normal schedule, so expect a Miscellaneous Mondays post in a few days!} 

NaPoWriMo 2015 ~ Fenweh

I found this amazing article the other day—“25 Words of Different Languages You’ll Wish We Had in English”—that I’m sure I’ll be using often this month. Yesterday’s poem is based off of a word I found there. 

April 7, 2015 ~ Fenweh

fenweh (German) ~  crave for travel; “farsickness”; being homesick for a place you’ve never been 

My fingers trail across the globe,

brushing countries I’ll never see.

My eyes dance across photographs,

exploring places where I’ll never be.

 

My mind absorbs page after page,

discovering lands too far away.

My heart yearns for a nameless dream,

burning with hope of “someday”.

 

holdingworld

I want to uncover this world,

want to cradle it in my hand.

I want to leave no stone unturned,

want to be embraced by every land.

 

I ache to discover something new,

ache to inhale untouched air.

I ache to watch a thousand sunsets,

each one from a different lair.

 

I yearn to meet my long-lost siblings,

scattered across this twirling sphere.

I yearn to hear the ancient songs

of every people, ringing clear.

 

This is what I want, and it’s not what I want,

there are no words for this desire.

Sometimes I stare at the sky at night

And feel in my soul a nameless fire.

 

holdingsunsilhouette

What does the sun look like,

from a mountaintop across the sea?

What kind of winds could I feel,

in a village worlds away from me?

 

What does the ocean whisper,

to children on a foreign coast?

What kind of colors could I see,

gazing out from a desert outpost?

 

If asked to frame this yearning

with best word that I posses,

I would be lost, overwhelmed,

but finally choose homesickness. 

 

Yes, I beg, just bring me home,

though I know not where that is.

To find my belonging place, I vow,

I will tear this earth to bits.

 

But until I am given wings to fly

and begin this journey of the heart,

I will spin the globe and watch the stars

And dream of when I can finally depart.

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