Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Word for 2014

As few and as far between as my posts have been lately, I thought now would be as good a time as any to announce my word and song for 2014.

I assume that people who read my blog have read previous blogs I've written about my weird tradition, but let me explain for any possible new readers.  For the past several years, around Christmas, I have been choosing a word from the Biblical account of Christmas that will set the tone for the following year.  The first word I chose was Joy, then Peace, then Hope, and last Christmas, this year, my word was Glory.  Three years ago, I also added a song to the mix--my "Year of Hope" had a theme song--"My Hope is in You" as performed by Aaron Shust.  This year, my "Year of Glory," my theme song was Jason Gray's "It's Good to Be Alive" which is about giving God glory for your life just by living to the fullest. 

I focus on words from Christmas because, well, Christmas is kind of a big deal for me.  It's kind of my focal point of the whole year.

Honestly, all year I've been kind of worried about my word and song for 2014.  Last Christmas season (and keep in mind, my Christmas season starts in September and runs through about March), I knew exactly what my word was going to be.  I knew what it was going to be all year.  Almost as soon as I picked "Hope" for my  word for 2012, I knew that "Glory" was going to be my word for 2013.  But this year, I had no clue.  I kept thinking, "Well, it will come to me," but by August, I was starting to get worried. 

Then September came, and I was really worried.  I had no clue what the word was going to be.  October came, and I was starting to think that maybe the tradition was over.

...but then one October morning on the way to church, I heard a song on the radio.  It was a newly released song that I'd never heard before.  Usually, when I hear a song, I have to hear it a few times before the lyrics sink in and I decide I like it.  But I only had to hear this song once, and I knew.  I knew this was going to be my song of the year. 

Because one line of the song really stood out to me, and suddenly I also knew what my word of 2014 was going to be.

And actually, a "word" for 2014 isn't really an appropriate description, because it's not a word.  It's a phrase.  It's one of my favorite phrases in all of Scripture, and it's said on multiple occasions in the Biblical Christmas story.

"Don't Be Afraid."

And when I think about it, God's been weaving that theme through so much of my life this past year.  I'd read about God calling Joshua and Israel to be strong and courageous.  I even wrote a blog back near Easter about not being afraid, relating back to the Christmas story.  You would think I'd get the memo then, but it takes me awhile.

I'm afraid of a lot of things--and new fears pop up all the time.  But 2014 is the year I really focus on the command "Don't Be Afraid."  The angels always gave reasons we don't have to fear--and all of those reasons point back to Jesus and what He has done so that we can fully live for God's glory.

The song for 2014?  "Love Alone is Worth the Fight" by Switchfoot. 

"And we'll find what we're made of through the open door.  Is it fear you're afraid of?  What are you waiting for?  Love alone is worth the fight!"

It's a powerful song, but so full of hope.  And that's where I want to be as this year closes and the next year begins.  I want to fight the things that I fear, because the life God is calling me to live is so worth living.  I don't know if I'll succeed in making some long-suffered dreams come true.  I don't know if I'll just keep struggling through with what I have now (which is already more than I deserve--a wonderful life).  I do believe I'll choose joy.  I do believe I'll pursue peace.  I do believe there will be so much hope.  I do believe God will be glorified.  And I do believe it's time to be strong and courageous, to face the Dragons again, to be who God is making me to be just as hard as I can be.  Love is worth it.  Life is worth it.  He is worth it. 

So merry Christmas, maybe a little early for you--but I feel like it's right on time.  "Don't Be Afraid." I gotta make a Christmas decoration with that phrase, because I don't think I'll be able to find one, at least not for cheap.

Oh here.  Enjoy this song, my song of 2014.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


Well, it finally happened. 

When the Disney movie, "Beauty and the Beast" came out when I was 11, it changed my young life.  Obsession is too small a word for what I experienced.  I didn't just love Belle; I wanted to be Belle.  I didn't just want to watch the movie and listen to the soundtrack over and over and over, I wanted to live the story as my own personal story.  I would pray at night that God would let me grow up and be just like Belle.  And when my 11-12 year old brain, which was, even then, prone to realism, understood that I could never actually BE Belle, I would pray that I could at least go to sleep and dream that I was Belle every night. 

To my recollection, God never let me have that kind of a dream.

But that didn't stop me from dreaming about being Belle while I was awake. 

Now, I had other obsessions.  I still have lots of obsessions.  I have one of those annoying personalities that is either disinterested in something or OHMYGOSHTHISISTHEBESTTHINGEVER.  But Belle and "Beauty and the Beast" always held a dear, dear place in my heart.  And I used to wish and pray that there would be a play version, which eventually became a reality.

Now, the reason I wanted a stage play version was that I could go into musical theater and BE Belle.  And even when reality struck again and I realized that being in musical theater was just NOT going to happen for me (for several reasons--mainly because I just don't have the right kind of personality to be a successful actress), I was still obsessed with the stage musical.  But first it was only in New York.  Then it was touring, but not near me.  Then it was touring near me, but I was too broke to go. 

Then something miraculous happened.

The mom of the kids I watch called me and said, "I won two tickets to 'Beauty and the Beast,' and I can't use them.  I thought of you first!"

And 22 years after I first saw the movie, I finally got to see the stage play.  And you'd better believe I was excited.

I only found out I had the tickets the day before the performance, so I didn't have too much time to get myself psyched up.  I mainly couldn't believe it was finally happening.  I just figuratively started pinching myself on the way there, as we entered the theater, as we took our seats. 

Now, since the tickets were freebies, I thought we might be getting some really good seats.  But...we were in the last possible row of seats, in the second balcony, of the theater.  But no matter.  I was about to realize a dream, about to fulfill a fantasy, about to start an obsession all over again. 

I was a little bit afraid of what would happen.

But here is what actually happened.

I watched the show.  And the show was good.  The show was amazingly, awesomely, good.

But it was just a show.

I remember feeling a little bit deflated during the intermission.  I thought perhaps that it was the fact that we were so far away from the stage that I could hardly see what was going on.  I thought perhaps it was the fact that I'd put on good-smelly lotion right before the show and was self-conscious about how strong the smell was.  I wasn't really sure why I wasn't as deliriously happy as I thought I should be.

Now, when the stage musical first came out, sometime in the late 1990s, I immediately bought the soundtrack.  I memorized the songs.  I knew them all by heart.

But a funny thing happens to musicals when they've been out for a while.  Some songs get cut out.  Other songs get added in.  So I was surprised when near the end of the play, Belle sang a song I'd never heard before.  It was one of those haunting melodies that makes your soul wake up and pay attention, but the words really made me think.

It was called "A Change in Me," and ironically enough, this song--a song from this musical that I'd been dreaming of seeing and LIVING for years and years and years--explained why that childhood dream was no longer at all important to me.

Here are the lyrics:

There's been a change in me
A kind of moving on
Though what I used to be
I still depend on
For now I realize
That good can come from bad
That may not make me wise
But oh it makes me glad

And I-- I never thought I'd leave behind
My childhood dreams
But I don't mind
For now I love the world I see
No change of heart a change in me

For in my dark despair
I slowly understood
My perfect world out there
Had disappeared for good
But in it's place I feel
A truer life begin
And it's so good and real
It must come from within

And I-- I never thought I'd leave behind
My childhood dreams but I don't mind
I'm where and who I want to be
No change of heart
A change in me

I had all these crazy dreams of being in musical theater, of pretending to be different people, of escaping reality to temporarily become someone else.  But the thing is, I love my reality so much, now.  I love teaching my preschoolers.  I love writing.  I love singing in church and writing songs about God.  I love the work God has called me to do.  My life isn't perfect and there is so much I still long to pursue, but there's been a change in me, too.  It doesn't come from within as much as it comes from God--but it's because God is within.

My childhood wasn't always happy (not because of my family, but because I never fit in with others in school, etc.).  I wanted "so much more than that provincial life," and I got it, but not at all in the way I expected.  And that's okay.  In fact, it's actually pretty good. 

I'm really grateful I finally had the opportunity to see that play.  It was a great play.  I had a great time, but then I went back to my house and lay my head on my pillow and thanked God for the life I have, the life He's given and is giving to me. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Silly Superfluous Saturday Stew

I missed the last two Fiction Fridays.  To make up for that, I'm going to stir you up a little Silly Superfluous Saturday Stew.

So, I recently moved into a new house.  I also obtained a new housemate, in addition to my previous flatmate, who moved from the flat to the house with me.  I'm not British, but flat sounds so much cooler than apartment.  So there's extra estrogen in my life with all the female housemates, which can only be amplified by the new PINK bedroom, in which I currently sleep and keep my stuff.  And, due to the fact that mummy dearest sells Mary Kay (you need a consultant?  She ships anywhere in the continental USA, my friends...and maybe even further, but probably not to the moon.  Yet.), I have acquired lots of PINK stuff which I can use to decorate my new PINK room.  In addition to that, my good friend Dianna got me one of those shiny metallic balloons that is PINK, looks like a tiara, and says, "Princess" in large princessy letters.  This balloon remained airborne, floating near the ceiling, for over six months.  And in fact, it was still floating on its side a few inches off the floor, like a dying fish, flipping its little special fin, fighting until the end, when I took a pair of scissors to that sucka, let all the air out, and folded it up to pack to the new house and the new PINK room.  Because when a balloon lasts THAT long, it deserves to come with you wherever you go and add PINKness to your life.

So now I have a PINK room with PINK stuffs with a PINK tiara to hang up somewhere...and well, pretty much, I have the bedroom of five-year-old me's dreams. 

Thirty-three year old me is coping.  Just fine.

The jobs are all going well.  My stuff is slowly finding its way out of boxes and into places on shelves or in closets or somewhere inside the depths of my tiny PINK room.  I'm hoping to start writing again.  And...maybe find some gumption somewhere so that I can start trying to SELL some of my writing...again.

Also, I've had a discovery lately that if Grumpy Cat were a human being, she would pretty much look just like me.

We're practically identical.  Also, I taught one of my barely two-year-old preschoolers how to use a banana phone this week.  He used his sippy cup, but he still got the general idea.  I'm teaching my preschoolers lots of important things, I am. 

And speaking of Grumpy Cat and Banana Phones, I'm thinking about going to see Beauty and the Beast--the Broadway musical version.  It's coming to a nearby city next week, and I really want to go.  This has pretty much been a dream of mine since before Beauty and the Beast--the Broadway musical version--was even a thing.  Because about 1991 or so, when the animated Disney flick came out, I was 11 and I was OBSESSED.  I would run out into my back yard and start singing "I want adventure in the great wide somewhere!  I want it more than I can tell!"  Only Philippe would never come and tell me that my Papa had been captured by a Beast in a scary magical castle.  And I didn't live in a French village.  And I wasn't being pursued by a burly attractive chauvinistic idiot.  But who cares, no big deal, I wanted MORE.  ...wait, wrong Disney movie....

I wanted to be Belle.  And when reality set in and I realized I could never ACTUALLY be Belle (and that Stockholm Syndrome isn't all its cracked up to be), I started praying for a Broadway musical version of Beauty and the Beast so that I could grow up and portray Belle. 

Only...musical theater and I could never happen.  I can sing all right, but I can't dance.  Plus, I'm allergic to rehearsals.  And I doubt my acting is as great as I once imagined it was...but I digress.

So basically, I just try to live as much like Belle as possible, and I pray that some day I'll find me a big hairy guy to marry.  And maybe a talking tea pot. 

And until then, I'll at least try to go see the musical.  And try not to sing along with all the songs.  Even though I know them all.  And probably could sing them rather well.

I still can't dance.

I'm also thinking about seeing the Christian guy group, "Tenth Avenue North" this month, but I have never had any dreams of being a Christian guy group.

Well, until I get my act together and start blogging like a real blogger again, stay PINK, my friends.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Romania Part Six: Angel Face

*Edit: I wrote the following blog a few weeks ago, and for some reason, just wasn't ready to share it.  I think I am now.  Today marks a month that I've been back in the states, so I guess it's as good a time as any*

This will most likely be the final post about Romania.  It requires a little bit of introduction.

I have weird dreams sometimes.  Some of them are long and detailed.  Others are short.  They happen when I'm in that state between wake and sleep.  They're sometimes just a few words or images, and when I hear and them, they're so intense and real that they wake me up.  And the memory of the word or image is so clear and present in my mind after waking that it takes me sometimes several moments to stop thinking about it.  I try not to read too much into dreams, but when they're dreams like this--I at least pay attention.  It could be nothing, but I don't want to miss it if it turns out to be something.

I had one of these dreams on one of the flights to Romania.  It was a very odd waking dream.  I just dreamed a color.  The color red just flashed before my eyes in such a vibrant way that I couldn't stop thinking about it after it woke me up.  I was trying not to read too much into things, but the whole time I was in Romania, I kept wondering if there was something I was supposed to be looking for with the color red. 

It's kind of funny because the prepaid phone services in Romania have names of different colors.  I noticed orange phone plans and blue phone plans.  There was also a RED phone plan, and I considered briefly stopping our team to go into one of the phone stores that was advertising RED phone plans, just because of that dream.  But I knew that probably wasn't really all that wise, and the Holy Spirit didn't seem in that decision.  And I didn't want to force a meaning out of a dream that might have just been me being half-delirious on a plane.

So the week in Romania went on, and I just kind of forgot about the RED dream. 

The last night in Romania, my pastor, the pastor we were working with there, the pastor's youngest son, the missionary who had come from Switzerland, and I all piled up into the van and started driving out to a village.  I was pretty apprehensive about this village visit, for a couple of reasons.  Two of our team members were not coming--they had stayed to cook dinner for the pastor's family, which was a very nice gesture.  I didn't know I was going to be accompanying the others out into the village either, but they wanted me to come.  And I didn't know what to expect, and neither did any of us, really.  This wasn't a typical church service, even by Romanian village standards.

A man in one of the villages, not a pastor, but a bachelor in his sixties, wanted to have an evangelistic service for several of his neighbors--many who were unsaved.  We pretty much didn't know what that would look like until we got there.

And I wish I had taken a few pictures, because this place was interesting.  We had a few benches and plastic chairs all gathered round this guy's back yard.  The guy kept a LOT of chickens.  He also kept bees.  So we were sitting there listening to chickens "amen" our pastor as he preached an evangelistic message, and we were constantly swatting bees out of our hair--not that they were threatening at all.  They were pretty "tame," as bees go, and weren't going to sting anyone without good reason.  It was a pretty remarkable experience being there.

Before the service had even started, this very old woman with a walker had come.  The man's back yard was on a very sharp incline.  It took this lady, with help, about twenty minutes to come down the hill.  It was obvious how badly she had wanted to come.

Well, my pastor preached, the other pastor translated, and the service was over.  I felt pretty useless being there, so I tried to talk to some of the young ladies who had attended.  But small talk is just not my thing.  After saying hello and "I'm glad you came," I ran out of things to say, and my brain froze up.  That happens quite frequently.  So I just walked away in awkward defeat and figured the night was a bust.

But then, as I was gathering my things, the elderly lady called me over.  She started talking and talking, and the guy who was translating for me really didn't have much of an opportunity to get a word in edgewise to tell me what she was saying.  He did manage to tell me that she had been injured and a lady had come to take care of her.  She said that this lady had read the Scriptures to her while taking care of her.  Through the ministry of her caretaker, the old lady had become a Believer, but she wanted to be baptized.  I looked into this dear lady's face and was mesmorized.  She just kept talking, and I felt as though I had met a long-lost sister.  I felt as though I was looking into the face of an angel...perhaps, as the writer of Hebrews described, I was entertaining an angel unaware.

And right after I thought that, the Swiss missionary, the one translating for us said, "She says you have the face of an angel, and that you remind her of the lady who took care of her and read the Scriptures to her."

About that time, another lady came near.  I don't know her exact relation to the older lady, but I could tell that she was either a really close friend or a family member.  She knew a few words in English, enough to learn my name was Ruth.  For some reason that I never learned, this caused an emotional reaction in her.  So I asked her what her name was.  She didn't understand.

The Swiss missionary was still listening to the older woman, so I called the pastor's son over.  I knew his English was good enough to at least ask what someone's name was.  So he did his first translating work and I found out the woman's name was Maria.  Then I asked what the older lady's name was.

It was Elizabeth. 

Elizabeth is a strong name in my family.  It's my oldest niece's name, my sister's middle name, my mother's first name (she goes by her middle name, as I do), my grandmother's middle name, my great-grandmother's middle name, and I don't even know how far it goes back after that.  But I had been sitting there, looking at that dear lady, feeling as though she was my sister, a close part of my family.  Upon learning her name, I also had a very emotional reaction.  I was in tears, just so blessed by that encounter.  And Maria and I wept together, even though we couldn't understand one anothers' language, even though we had just met. 

I spoke with and listened to Elizabeth for a few more minutes, gazing into that dear woman's face.  It really did seem to be the face of an angel, wrinkled and aged as it was.  And I couldn't help but rejoice in the knowledge that One Day I'm going to get to see her again, not bent over in age, not needing a walker.  We'll be able to talk to one another without an interpreter.  And I even felt a little jealous of her, because most-likely, the wait for her won't be nearly as long.  But I'll see her again.  It was such a joyous thing.

After many hugs, we parted, and I was riding back in the van, away from that wonderful village with those wonderful people.  The pastor's son was being funny, as he tends to be quite often.  And I realized he was wearing this bright RED shirt--a baseball shirt.  The team name?  Angels.  I laughed to myself, treasuring the memories I'd just made.  The waking-dream made sense now. 

There's a lot of experiences I'll treasure from Romania, but the people.  It's all about the people.  These are people so different, and yet so similar to us.  I have brothers and sisters a world away, but they are my family.  And I'm praying for them as I also pray for those who are not in my family. 

I don't know what would happen to you if you went on a trip to Romania, to Thailand, to wherever.  But if you've never been out of your country of origin, then you really should go.  There are experiences, places, and people who will change your life.  I'm so glad I went to Romania.  I didn't know why I was going, but I know now. 

I'll never forget the people I met.  They've changed my life forever.  I'm so grateful for the opportunity to have gone.  All glory to the Giver.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Make the Voices Go Away!

The title of this post probably makes me sound like a crazy person, and lately, I've felt a bit like a crazy person.  More than usual, I mean.  This year has been awesome and has been full of a lot of interesting experiences, but it's also been full of a lot of Spiritual Warfare.  I have mentioned that in other posts, and I'm mentioning it again because I'm still very much dealing with it.  Sometimes I deal better than others.

Satan is a subtle guy.  I've written before about how he likes to deal in half-truths, in things that might have a small basis in reality, but he makes them seem bigger, or he twists and distorts them somehow, or he only tells the part of the story that condemns and not the part that redeems.  Satan is a crafty, subtle guy.  And he's got a lot of tricks.  And I haven't always been on guard as much as I really need to be this year.

His newest attack has been distraction, but not in a way I've really been used to before.  The distraction has been cleverly combined with a lot of his previous attacks--mostly ones that have been attacks on my insecurities.  I have a lot of insecurities.  And Satan has cleverly taken those insecurities and used them to put my attention on things that don't really matter.  The trick in this is that if I'm dealing with things that don't really matter, then I'm robbing myself of time that could be better spent on things that really do matter.  And right now, with all that I've got going on, there's a LOT in my life that really matters.

The other day, I let myself get really upset over some comments from someone who I barely know. It was on Facebook, which was also unwise of me. Basically, I just posted a vague, semi-comical statement about how God's teaching me using "helpful people" who aren't really helpful. But suddenly, I had people attacking me because I won't let people help me and I don't like advice. I did state that I wasn't asking for advice in a follow up comment, but that comment should not have been enough to trigger the ridiculousness that followed. There were many incorrect assumptions, many misplaced accusations, even a few insults, and I was sobbing, crying until my eyes were dry, completely broken down by the end of that night.

I kept wondering if there really was something wrong with me (insecurities), wondering if I was doing something to provoke these attacks (it was the second such Facebook encounter in a week--the first one was even more ridiculous). I was hurt because I felt completely ignored when I had tried to state my case. I just was so sick of everything being blown completely out of proportion, sick of fighting with people who had no clue what was really going on.

And I had to really pray through all that, and I realized my sin wasn't that I'd posted vague stuff on Facebook or been honest about not wanting unasked for advice (though I really do need to learn to word things better--I meant no offense, but can see how it might have looked to others). My sin was that I cared too much about what others thought.

I don't like being misunderstood, but people are going to misunderstand, sometimes even after I've explained things a couple times. And in that particular encounter, it would have been prudent to have just stopped talking to the individual who was arguing with me. I spent an evening fretting, stressing over what she and a few others thought, when I could have been doing so many other worthwhile things.  And I barely know this woman. And even if I did know her, that's no reason to keep stating my case over and over and over. There's a point when ridiculousness becomes too ridiculous. I wasn't wise in finding that point, but I'm grateful I found it eventually.

I did start thinking more about why I feel the need to tell people I don't like unasked for advice. It frustrates me, and I guess I never thought about why. I figured it's like door issues-I know I don't like car doors being opened for me, but I can't tell you why. But if someone doesn't respect my right to dislike it, they're going to hear about it.

But I found there is a reason I don't like unasked for advice--especially on social media, where just about anyone can see and answer. I'm insecure. I also think WAY too much about everything. I also read WAY too much into innocent comments. If I've got a conflict or issue, chances are, I've already thought that thing through to death. The LAST thing I need is a bunch of people, some who don't know me well, most who only see the smallest fraction of the whole situation, throwing opinions in my direction.

Satan has been speaking against me, and he's used a lot of well-meaning people. Voices are everywhere, telling me what I should do. And Truth is getting lost in this sea of voices.

So while I'm planning for my important work commitments that I love, I'm getting several odd job offers that are so much worse paying than what I've already committed to do. And people, people with such good intentions, hear just a fraction of the whole story and give me advice that God must be calling me to quit my jobs.

So while I'm struggling to find time and resources to work on the writing God has given me to do, I'm getting suggestions from SO many well-meaning people that I should use my precious time to try to "write" some puff book that no editor would want and that I would never DREAM of "writing."

So while I'm honestly crying out for people to stop adding to the cacophony of voices that are distracting me, I'm getting concern from well-meaning people that I'm wrong for not soliciting everyone on Facebook for advice.

Oh. It's so very, very frustrating.

Don't get me wrong. Counsel is good, if it is good counsel. But if I want advice, if I want counsel, I'm going to go to someone in person. I'm not going to post a vague status on Facebook and let it be a free-for-all. That's just not at all prudent, especially when what I'm needing isn't a lot of opinions from various sources. I need Truth. And, I'm sorry, but just because an opinion is popular, even among Christians, that doesn't necessarily make it true.

So I'm sorry for letting things get to me.  I'm sorry for not always being gracious.  Other people are dealing with Spiritual attacks and insecurity, too.  And I suspect God really is allowing these attacks to help me learn more about being gracious, about learning when to just let things go, even when I'm misunderstood. I want to be respected, but if I want that too much, it's also sinful.

I'm praying God will continue to work in all of us. These aren't easy times, but He is so good. He's walking us through.  Thanks for reading.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Romania Part Five: Not in Kansas Anymore

The pastor at the church we worked with in Romania is a VERY hard-working man who is constantly helping others.  Whenever we were out with him, either visiting families or driving to villages or just going to the grocery, his phone would ring multiple times.  He was constantly getting calls from someone who needed him for something.  One time he even got an URGENT call to pick out new floor/wall tiles for the church restrooms.  You haven't LIVED until you've helped pick out tile in the Romanian Home Depot, let me tell you.  I think that Pastor Bill (our pastor from America) found a new Spiritual Gift--he's got a great eye for tiles.

The pastor in Romania is also kind of the go-to guy for all of the pastors in the area.  So he has connections to many different people and churches in nearby villages.  And some of the greatest, most humbling, most memorable experiences from my trip was getting to see some of these village churches.

Even just getting to the villages was an experience.  We piled up in the pastor's van and rode out to remote places, sometimes about 45 minutes to an hour away.  The countryside was just beautiful.  The rolling hills and distant mountains, the fields and livestock, well, it reminded me of where I grew up in Kentucky--only prettier.  I can't tell you how many pictures I took just of the Romanian countryside.  Oh, I guess I could show a few pics, though.

I should have also taken some pictures of the actual villages, but I didn't want to look like a crazy American tourist.  But it was interesting.  There were a few times when we had to stop and wait for goat or sheep herds to cross the road.  I mean, it was stuff you see in movies and don't realize it's real until you're right there.  And then it's right there.  And you realize it's someone's normal life, every single day. That's more than a little bit mind blowing.
The first village we visited (and I'm probably going to spell it wrong) was called Hernova.  About 80 people showed up to their small, but very nice little church building.  There was a little stove to heat the building in winter.  During the service, a guy played the accordion.  It was so beautiful and quaint and amazing--I almost pinched myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming.
It all was even more remarkable when I learned that just two years ago when my pastor and other team members went, that little village church only had about 16 people.  The lovely little building was only a concrete slab foundation.  But God is at work in that little village and in the church.  I gave my testimony there, which is just a story about how God has used all my weaknesses as opportunities to show His strength.  I'm not sure how well that went over in that culture, in that place that is so different from everything I've ever experienced, but it was real and true, and I hope God used it to at least encourage those beautiful people.
And there was also something magical (the C.S. Lewis type, not the Harry Potter type) about worshipping with those people.  I was reminded of Revelation, where every tribe and nation and tongue is going to be bowing before the Throne, singing "Holy, Holy, Holy" and "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain."  Mmm.
The next village we visited didn't even have a building for their church.  We met on benches outside.  A missionary named Gabriel travels to that village and others with a keyboard and small sound system.  There he preaches and sings and even does some songs with the kids.  The kids performed a couple of songs for us.  I couldn't understand their words, but one of them had hand motions--it was obvious they were saying that "Jesus loves me, Jesus loves you, Jesus loves everyone" or something very close to that. 
I also gave my testimony there, which was nerve-racking, but it would have been even more so had I realized I was speaking to a lot of the Roma Gypsies who had attended that service.  We tried talking to a few of them after the service, but only a few seemed interested.  They like to keep to themselves because society treats them as outsiders (to put it mildly).  I'm not sure, but I also think my general paleness was shocking and offensive to them :-). We did manage to speak to one lady (with the help of a translator).  She told us she was not a Believer, but she likes coming to hear from God's Word.  I think many of the people who came that night, who come to many of the services, are unsaved.  But they like coming to hear the Word.  Please keep them in your prayers.

There is another village we visited, but that's for another blog post.

Before I log off this one though, I want to mention one other experience.

One of the families we visited was very poor, as is the case with many families in Romania.  This family had 12 children, some of which were grown and had moved away to work, but still.  Twelve children!  The dad worked, but he had been injured (and I don't think the injury was going to keep him from going back to work, even though it really should have--his foot was completely black and blue).  The family lived in what I would describe as a glorified concrete slab.  It was a house in that it had doors and windows--fairly standard ones, but it was basically a concrete slab.

They welcomed us inside it and talked to us (in Romanian, with translation) about how their family had lost their other home in a fire.  They described how one child had woken up and alerted the rest of the family.  They described how one child hadn't made it out, and how another one of their children had run back inside and rescued her.  They were so grateful they had all made it out safely.  The mother and father were both in tears over how God had given the family safety, how God continued to give them all health.  The dad wasn't complaining about his injury; he was praising God that he was healthy in other ways.  He and his wife were praising God that they had all they needed.  They were so, so grateful.  Living in a concrete slab with so many mouths to feed, they didn't stop praising God from the moment we entered their home.

It's another world.  It's one I am grateful I got to see, just for a moment.  I got to see into the everyday lives of people who have so little, of people who are grateful for what little they have.  Here in America, we have so many resources, and yet we are so lazy.  And I'm not trying to be judgmental, an I'm talking to myself as much as I am to anyone.  But God allowed me a little window into this remarkable world, and I'll never be the same.  I hope you have the opportunity to go sometime, to Romania, to another place where people live so differently, where people have so little, but are grateful for it.  It will change your life.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Romania Part 4: Meeting the Missionaries

I have mentioned in the past few blogs that one of the things we did in Romania was lead little Bible Schools.  We did the first one of these at the church in the little courtyard.  The second and third ones we did at a nearby park.  I liked having it at the park because other people who were just visiting the park came to see what we were doing.  A lot of them came to play the games, listen to the Bible stories, and make crafts.

The crafts were pretty lame, actually.  We had only brought some limited supplies with us--index cards and stickers being the main things.  I had also brought my knitting bag with me, you know, to knit stuff if I got bored, so we had yarn to use.  And my sharpest knitting needles made a pretty good impromptu hole punch. 

Yeah.  Actually it didn't.  But we made do with what we had.  And the lameness of our crafts really didn't matter.  The kids still wanted to make them.  I'm not just talking about 3 year old kids who are impressed by glitter crayons.  Ok.  Honestly.  I'm impressed by glitter crayons, too.  But my point is, kids of ALL ages--teenagers included--wanted to participate in the crafts, in the stories, in the silly songs, in everything that we were doing. 

They wanted to meet the missionaries. 

They wanted to sing our songs and hear us speak.  They wanted to do whatever we were doing.  There was something magical to them about being around people who had come to them from another country.  It really was almost like we were celebrities.

Ashley, a member of our team, signing autographs for the children.

I think I also mentioned in a previous blog that I'm shy and awkward.  I mean, I do better with children because I work with them for a living, and I'm around them all the time.  But meeting and getting along with new people isn't really high up on my skill set. 

The thing is, when I really really try to push myself to talk to people, that's when things go really badly.  I've tried in the past to push myself to talk to strangers, and I even tried on this trip.  It always leads to awkward failure. 

But the thing about being an "American celebrity," a missionary that people wanted to meet, was that I usually didn't have to try too hard to meet people.  Kids wanted to talk to me.  Adults wanted to talk to me.  Young adults wanted to talk to me.

One young woman in particular made a pretty big impact on me.  After our last Bible school, I was putting my knitting needles away and cleaning up some of the scrap yarn and note cards that the kids had scattered all over the park, when a sixteen year old girl called me over to talk to her.  I wasn't making any effort to be social or anything.  She just wanted to talk to me (and she spoke very good English, which made things a bit easier :-D).

So I sat down and talked to her for a few minutes.  And when I'm not forcing the situation, really amazing things tend to happen. 

As I talked to this remarkable young woman, she told me about her heart.  She reminded me a little of myself when I was her age.  She talked about some anxieties she had about starting a new school, but mostly, she talked about wanting to know God's will for her life.  Throughout our brief conversation, she mentioned several times about how she wanted to follow God and know Him better.  She even mentioned that she wanted to be a missionary, and she pointed to me.  I really didn't think about myself as a missionary, even though I was on a "mission trip."  But the thing is, every Christian should be a missionary, no matter where he or she is.  And I think I was able to offer up a little encouragement.  I remember being sixteen, unable to sleep, staring at the ceiling in my bedroom at night, begging God to show me His will for my life.  I wanted to know His will--some big thing that I was meant to do forever. 

But life doesn't work like that and God doesn't work like that.  And I was able to communicate a little of my experiences to her.  If we're faithful in the little things we know we're supposed to be doing, like reading our Bibles and praying, like loving your neighbor, etc., then God would be faithful to lead in the bigger things.  I think that was a little bit of an encouragement to her, and I know her sweet willing spirit was a blessing to me.

She had one more thing she wanted to say that was very encouraging.  She asked me specifically to bring a prayer request back to the Church in America.

If you're a Christian in America, this prayer request was for you.  This young woman asked for the Church in America to pray that there will be more opportunities for adult and young adult Bible studies in Romanian churches.  At the church she attends (the one we were working with), there are no Bible study classes for adults or teenagers.  And she was asking for prayer that more would be available, because she wants herself and others to be closer to God.

I think her request shows that she has a lot of vision for the Romanian church, which was refreshing, because it seems like the vast majority of the young adults in Romania just want out.  They want out of the country.  They want to move away somewhere else.  They don't see that there's much of a future for Romania.  But this young lady seemed to have a different, refreshing perspective.  She seems to see that God isn't done with Romania or the churches in Romania.  And I think that she might very well be one of the future leaders in her church.

In fact, she's already leading.  She and several of the other young adults at the church did an incredible job leading the music on the Sunday night that we were there.  And also on that Sunday night, after the service, she and another young lady ran up excitedly to me and Ashley (another member of our team).  They said that they were about to go to a meeting about an upcoming evangelistic trip across the Danube River into Serbia. 

She said, smiling ear-to-ear, "We're going to be missionaries!"

And, as far as I know, this amazing young leader went off last weekend to tell other people about Jesus.  And, as far as I know, she's going again this upcoming weekend.  I ask that you would keep her and the team from her church in your prayers as they strive to reach others and tell them about Jesus.  And I ask that you would keep her and the churches in Romania in your prayers as she and others strive to know God better. 

It was interesting and fun to see how many people in Romania wanted to meet the American missionaries.  But that was nothing compared to actually being an America, going to Romania, and meeting these young, willing Romanian missionaries.  Please keep them in your prayers.  While God isn't done with Romania, the people are willing, but the resources are small.  They covet our prayers!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Romania Part 3: Not Lost in Translation

There are a few universal truths: Everybody dies. Taxes are evil. Childcare workers don't make a lot of money. 

I work in childcare.  I can vouch for that last one.  But I learned something interesting during my time in Romania.  Many Americans would CRINGE if they learned how little I actually make in a month.  But the thing is, in one month, on my pathetic childcare worker's salary, I make about 3-4 times the amount that a typical Romanian family makes in a month. 


That's the average amount that most Romanian families make in a month.  And that's a huge improvement over what it used to be.  I guess the economy there is slowly improving.  But I'm pretty sure the childcare workers in Romania make next to nothing.

So with all this in mind, it's pretty remarkable how hardworking the people are.  One hardworking lady in particular made a big impact on me.

This lady, for lack of a better term, is the children's director at the church we worked with in Turnu-Severin.  She leads the Sunday School class.  Which one?  Oh.  THE Sunday School class.  The only one.  In the whole church.

My church has so many Sunday morning Bible study classes (as well as Bible studies that meet other days of the week) that I can't even begin to count them.  This church has one.  One.  I can count that on one hand.  One finger, really.  It's a children's class, with children ranging from 3 years old to probably around 11 or 12.  All in the same class.  And the children's director lady leads it.

She also leads a "kindergarten" there at the church that meets during the week.  In reality, I think it's a little more like a preschool, but whatever you want to call it, this lady does a phenomenal job.  And I don't even know if she makes any money at all for it.  If she does, it's certainly not anything like what I make for working at my church's preschool--which has multiple classes for multiple ages. 

The kids all flocked to this lady.  And she responded with hugs and kisses, with open arms and hands, ready to love them.  And honestly, that's why they flocked to her.  And while I was there, the children flocked to me.  Why?  Because most kids have a natural ability to be able to tell who actually loves them and who is just pretending.  When they know someone loves them, they want to be around that person.  They wanted to be around me, around the other lady on our team from America.  But they mostly wanted to be around their children's leader.  Because she loved them, and they knew it.  Love is never lost in translation. 

One thing I definitely noticed in Romania is that there are a lot of willing people.  There are a lot of people, definitely including this remarkable woman, who are so so very willing to serve, to give of themselves to others in the name of Jesus.  But as willing as they are, their resources are just so limited. 

The children's director loved using English materials with the children, learning English songs.  But the English material she had was mostly falling apart.  One of the materials we used in Sunday school was probably originally published in the 1950s.  I got the impression that someone from America had brought it there, probably because they didn't want it anymore.  But she was so thankful for what she had!

And playgrounds?  Forgedduhboutit.

The church had a lovely small, gated courtyard outside the church where the children could play.  But it was very small, and the gate opened up into a fairly busy street.   Again, she was thankful for it.

The church's courtyard, as seen through the "cross" gate.

But even with the limited resources, the lack of financial incentives and other support, this woman was an example of a hard-worker who strove to give of herself to these children in the name of Jesus.  It was a joy to be able to lighten her load a little and to be able to say a few words of encouragement to her. 

Our last day in Turnu-Severin, the children's director brought photos of children she'd taught in the church preschool for the past fifteen years.  Her son and the pastor's son were in the first class she taught, and they were both about to go off to college.  It was good to see those pictures.  It was good to see the work she had done, the work she was still doing, the legacy she was leaving.

It was a legacy of love.  Everything the woman did was to show Jesus to the children she taught.  She also showed that love to me, and I was thankful to be able to return some of that love to her.  Love isn't lost in translation, and I have a dear, dear sister on the other side of the world.  One Day, she's going to have a huge reward, and it won't be taken away from her.  For inasmuch as she's serving the least of these, she's serving Jesus.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Romania Part 2: The Reason I Came

In my last post, I briefly mentioned that I had awoken from a short, fitful nap in the airport in Frankfurt, Germany.  I was on the verge of a mini-tantrum (that I think I managed to completely internalize) because I had so many questions in my head.  Why Romania?  Why me?  What am I doing being completely exhausted in an airport in Germany instead of safely tucked away in my quiet little bedroom in my quiet little apartment in America, sleeping or wasting time on Facebook.  That's comfortable and normal.  That's safe.  I like safe.  This doesn't feel safe.  What am I doing here?  Why Romania?  Why me?  What reason could there possibly be for me coming to Romania?

The questions continued to float in my head during the next relatively short flight to Bucharest (when I wasn't passed out asleep having more fitful dreams) and on the six hour train ride to Turnu-Severin (which was also full of more fitful dreams).  Then we arrived in Turnu-Severin.  We ate.  We slept.  The next morning, we hit the ground running with a Bible School.  It's amazing how food and sleep improved my mood.  The questions were still there, but as I met the pastor and his family, as I met more of the wonderful people at the church, and as I began to actually work a little bit, the questions began to fade. 

But it wasn't until the second day that I really had an AHA! moment.   I think I had secretly been waiting for such a moment ever since arriving, and when I had it, everything started to change.

Our first three days in Romania had a format.  We did Bible school in the morning with the kids.  We would do visitations with church members in the afternoon.  Then we would go to a church service--either at the church in town, or in a village church, in the evenings. 

Well, the visitations were a little nerve-wrecking for me.  I'm shy.  I don't talk to strangers.  I don't have good conversational skills.  I'm crazy awkward.  Add to that a language barrier, and well, yeah.  Recipe for disaster. 

Well, not a disaster really.  More of just a really, really painfully awkward silence. 

We did go as a group to the visitations.  So the pastors talked a lot.  And the rest of us just smiled and nodded and tried our best to listen whenever the translators got a chance to get a word in edgewise.

I didn't feel particularly useful on the visitations the first day.

The second day was different. 

We went into the home of a lady and her daughter.  I don't want to go into too many details, because the internet is very public, and these stories are somewhat private.  But the family had some emotional and financial needs, and they could use some encouragement.

I didn't know what to expect when I walked in.  The mother didn't know English, but then the daughter started talking to us in unbelievably good English.  She started talking about school, about things she was working on.  And it was very evident that this girl was extremely intelligent and talented.

The more she talked, the more I felt a connection with this remarkable young lady.  The pastors were talking to her, but bless them, for all their training and all their skills, they had never been 14 year old girls.  It was obvious she wasn't really all that eager to talk to them.  But me?  I remember being 14.  Sometimes it doesn't feel like it was almost TWO decades ago (ouch).  I remember being young and insecure about so many things.  I remember having dreams and plans and hopes.  I had never experienced a lot of the pains this girl had experienced in her young life, but still, I couldn't help but just think that God had put me there in that time to encourage her.

I couldn't help but be amazed that I, an American lady, was sitting there in the kitchen of this Romanian family, sitting there with this Romanian teenager who, in normal circumstances, I'd never have the chance to meet--or even know she existed.  And I realized that this was one of the reasons I had come.  She was one of the reasons God had called me out of my own little comfortable world and sent me on a journey.  He wanted me to meet her.  He wanted me to encourage her.  He wanted me to be likewise blessed by her.

I don't even remember what I said to her as I left that day.  It was something along the lines of, "God has given you some amazing talents.  Don't be afraid to use them for His glory."  And, well, that's been a message I've been telling myself A LOT over the past year.  And maybe I'd have gotten it a little sooner if someone had told the fourteen year old me the same thing.

Or maybe not.

All I know is that the following Sunday, that young lady came to church.  She ended up translating for us as we helped out with the children's Sunday school class.  When we had met her before, in her home, she was guarded.  But the following Sunday, she was glowing.  She was radiant!  She was alive!  God's presence in her was just so evident.

And I believe God has some amazing plans for that young woman.  She is so talented, so intelligent.  I think He's got some big things in store for her.

And it was such an honor to get to meet her, to be part of her life for just a little while.  I pray we continue to bless and encourage one another even though we're many, many miles apart. 

And I thank God so much for the blessing, for the amazing opportunity to meet her.  She was the first reason I came to Romania--and I will never forget her.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Romania Part 1: Why Romania?

I've been back from Romania almost a week now, and people have asked me why I haven't blogged yet.  There are several reasons. First, I really just haven't had a chance to sit down at a computer and spend the time blogging.  Second, I'm not really sure how to begin blogging about my experiences.  Third, if I did start blogging about my experiences, it would most likely be a very long blog. 

So, what I think I'm going to do is blog my Romania encounters in several parts.  I was only there a week, but so much happened.  I met so many amazing people.  There's too much to say in just one blog post.  There are too many people I want to blog about, too many one-on-one encounters.  Basically--my world was changed.  When that happens, it's kind of impossible to just sum it all up in one blog.

Now, my life-changing experience began rather unusually.  It was October of last year.  We were having some business type meeting at the church.  My pastor announced an upcoming mission trip.  He was talking about Romania. He was talking about a women's conference.  As far as I was concerned, he was talking to someone else.

All I really knew about Romania is that it was somewhere in Europe.  It was not on the list of top ten countries I wanted to visit.  But then my pastor said five little words that caught my attention and changed my life.  He was saying women should sign up to go.  He said, "You've Got Something to Say."

On the way to church that night, I'd been listening, on repeating loop, the Matthew West song, "You've Got Something to Say."  I'd been praying that very day for God to show me exactly what that meant for me.  And when my pastor said those words, I realized I had better start praying about going to Romania.

Now, originally, the trip was supposed to be to both Hungary and Romania.  It was supposed to be a women's conference.  Well, not many people signed up, and several details changed.  We were no longer doing women's conferences.  We were no longer going to Hungary.  We were just going to Romania.  But I prayed through it and still knew that I was supposed to go. 

I had raised funds.  I had garnered a lot of support.  It was clear that God was in the plans for me to go to Romania.  We had our training meetings.  Everything was set.  I knew I was meant to go.

Yet, in an airport in Frankfurt, Germany, on the way to Romania, I remember waking up from a brief nap.  I woke up in a really bad mood.  If I hadn't been there with our very small team, composed of three other people that didn't know me well, I might have had a mini freak-out session.  Because I was just overwhelmed with the one question that had been in the back of my mind ever since I first knew I was supposed to go on the trip.

"God, why Romania?"

What was so special about Romania that God would want me to go? 

The question was answered pretty quickly after I arrived.

Why Romania?  What's in Romania?

People.  There are people in Romania.  There are people God wanted me to meet in Romania.  They are beautiful, wonderful people whom, if I were left to my own understanding and resources, I would have never met.  And in the majority of these blogs about my time in Romania, I want to focus on these people, on my encounters with them.  I've spoken about some of these encounters in church, and I've posted pictures online and written on scrapbooking pages.  But let's face it, three minutes of anxiety-ridden talk time in church can't cover the true heart of my experiences (though I was definitely grateful to have those three minutes to share--and I pray God used that time to also give me "something to say").  A picture is worth a thousand words, but the images are as fleeting as a glance if the story behind them isn't told.  And there is at least one story I'd like to tell about one remarkable woman, and well, that's too powerful to be shared in a three minute talk.  It's too precious to be shared in a picture. 

So in the next week or so I hope to be blogging a little more than usual.  I want to share these stories.  I want to share about these encounters with these people.  Because even though I'd never given a second thought to this little country in Eastern Europe, the Romanian people have stolen my heart.  And I want other people to have just a glimpse into their world, seeing through my eyes, though my vision is far from perfect.

The reflection is always going to be poor on this side of heaven, but if anything, Romania has shown me that there are brothers and sisters I have on the other side of the world.  By all practicality, I should have never been able to see these brothers and sisters face to face in this limited lifetime.  But I have seen them face to face, and even if I don't again see them face to face in this life, I will see them face to face again One Day. 

And we'll all see Jesus face to face, and know as fully as we are known. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

INTERACTIVE Fiction Friday

So, last Fiction Friday, I interviewed the awesome mystery author, Jay Mims.  The interview was conducted in the style of an old text-based adventure game.  I realized several things after this interview. 

1) I realized that some of my readers might not have been raised on text adventures and other various forms of interactive fiction (IF). 2) I, consequently, realized that some if my readers had really sad childhoods. 3) I realized that some if my readers might not even really know what IF is. 4) I, consequently, realized that it is my duty to enlighten these poor souls. 5) I, ultimately, realized that I am a huge nerd.

I was born in 1980. I missed the age of Disco by about three months and was thrust right onto the heart of break dancing, Michael Jackson before he was lame before he was cool again, leg warmers, bad perms, trapper keepers, synthesizers, tight rolled jeans, and MTV. I really wonder how any of us made it out of the 80s alive.

My parents were both teachers, and so I think they felt the need to get all the latest technology to help educate their children (plus, all that technology was WAY COOL), so one of my earliest memories was of waiting for a long boring amount of hours while my parents talked to the guys at the computer store. These were like the ancestors of the Apple Geniuses or the Geek Squad or whatever. These were the Geek Neanderthals. One day, there will be museums with cave paintings depicting Geek Neanderthals and their primitive knowledge of large boxes that only remotely resemble the flatscreen PCs of today. 

This is a computer.
No really.
People went to the moon and back with less-advanced technology.
Is your mind boggled?  My mind is totally boggled.
Also, I want to play Boggle now....

Does anyone even still call them PCs anymore?  I don't know.

My parents bought one of those computer-like boxes and brought it into our home. It was beautiful, monochromatic, flashing brilliant shades of black, green, and even a somewhat LIGHTER GREEN. I was four, and this computer-like box was my new true love.

When the state of the art Apple IIC found itself in my home, the only game I remember it having (and by having, I mean it came with the computer in the form of a black squarish floppy piece of plastic that is called a disk) was this maze with a bunny. You would use the arrows (or the standard I, J, K, M) to maneuver the bunny through the maze to find a carrot. If you ran the bunny into a wall, he would scrunch up his little pixellated face and ears and angrily stamp his foot.

I stinkin' loved that bunny.

But honestly, I think he starved to death and/or died of multiple head injuries, because I kept running him into walls and never getting him to that carrot.  At any rate, I have no clue what ever happened to him, so I had to move on to other games.

BEHOLD!  My childhood!  In all its geeky glory!

I'm not sure how old I was, probably five or six, when my parents spent a small fortune subscribing to something called Microzine. It was put out by Scholastic as a "computer learning library on a disk."  Microzine had several boring adult programs, like "make your own stationary," but every issue also included several educational games, and usually a featured game that was some kind of an adventure.

Is that a St. Bernard in a lab coat in the upper right one? 
Why, yes!  It appears to be....
I miss you, the 80s.

This was my introduction to IF.

Now, during this time, there was a lot of IF floating around, but I only really knew about what was on Microzine. I didn't discover that Microzine had ripped off "Oregon Trail" with their own knock off version. I am probably so wrong, but for some reason, I really want to say it was called, "Wagons Ho!" 

Ok, so it was ACTUALLY called "Wagons West!"
but I'mma still call it Wagons Ho! 
Why? Cuz it makes me laugh.

Wagons Ho! All the Oregon Trail action you enjoy, now with 30% less dysentery!


Even if some games were knock offs, there were actually some really interesting and original games, too--all with little to no graphics to get in the way of IMAGINATION!

While some kids played Pac Man or pong or some nintendo 64 junk, I was playing text games or turn based rpgs with less beeping and blinking lights, more interactive adventure!

My personal favorites from Microzine? "Malice in Wonderland," "Escape from Antcatraz," "Zazzoo Come Home," and "Mission: Mix Up."  Seriously.  Those were actual games.  And they actually rocked like Cleveland.  I played these games over and over and over. I wish they were still available.  Mine was the greatest childhood eeevvvvveeerrrrrrr.

But Microzine vanished away like all good childhood dreams. Either that or it was eaten by a bear out on the trail.  WAGONS HO!

I vaguely remember from my preadolescence my parents getting something called "Up Time," which may or may not have been connected to Microzine.  It had a very similar concept--educational games, combined with boring grown up software, and all on the same disk!  You could even FLIP THE DISK OVER for more programs.  So exciting, I tell you. 

Grandma's House, Font Editor, AND Dangerous Dave!
Plus, a Blood Alcohol Calculator...
 to make sure you're just drunk enough to enjoy these programs!

I remember Up Time having a lot of games that were just text adventures, with no graphics whatsoever.  I thought it was brilliant.  My favorite game from this collection was called "School Daze," an all text adventure that took the player through a typical day of school.  That sounds boring, only it had talking frogs and such.  There was also a text adventure with a castle and a jester that spoke only in rhyme and told you to drink potions and stuff.  I don't remember anything else about it, but doesn't that just sound epic?

But all good things must come to an end, and sadly, Microzine and Up Time went the way of their technological fathers.

Then, in high school, circa 1996, suddenly everyone was like, hey...interwebz, awesome graphics, technology, whaaaaat???!!!  It took me awhile, but I eventually moved on. I realized that IF was a thing of the past.

...or was it?

In my early twenties, after I dropped out of college, I got the hankering for some old school games and started searching the wonderful World Wide Web. I expected to find some brief mention of some obscure gaming style in some dark corner of the internet that no one ever talks about.

Instead, I discovered a movement. A movement, I tell you.

Not only did I discover that people still play IF, not only did I discover that a WIDE variety of old school IF is available to play right on your PC's browser (including some of the original text adventure games like ZORK and Colossal Cave, which I had never played, and thus were totally new to me), BUT ALSO, people are still writing IF.

Oh. My. Gorgeous.

There were competitions. New games being put out all the time, from new and experienced authors, constantly experimenting with the genre, creating genres within the genre...

Many games can be found to play online at  There's also much info there that might be useful to you if you're just starting out. Believe me, I've just scratched the surface of what IF encompasses (there are whole multiplayer text-gaming virtual worlds out there, folks.  I can't allow myself to get sucked into that, but it so exists.  It's ridiculous!)--but just scratching the surface is enough to make one really quite obsessed.

So in the months that followed, I became an addict and probably needed therapy. Instead, I went back to college and forfeited all my game playing time for socialization. Uh. Studying. I mean studying.

Well, I know I'm technically not allowed to play IF, because I tend to get addicted and forget to eat and sleep and go to work and stuff, but after that text adventure/interview in my last Fiction Friday blog, I have to admit I wanted to play again, and...okay, okay.  So I got back into it.  A little.  I'm not addicted.  I can quit any time.  SHUT UP.

For the time being, I only have internet (that isn't borrowed) in the a phone, a barely smart phone that probably rode the short bus, but that didn't stop me. There are several free apps available that interpret text based games for you to play on your phone.  I highly recommend that you try, because it's a lot of retro fun.

Twisty is a popular and highly downloaded app, but it gave me problems on my phone. I downloaded ZMPP Free from Google Play. It still has some issues, but it mostly behaves itself.  AND it includes a large library of games you can download, that are accessible from the app itself without having to go searching online for them (as you do with Twisty).

If you're interested, some games I recommend are ZORK (I never made it through, and honestly prefer shorter games, but some of the ridiculously hard classics are fun even if you can't find your way out of the twisty mazes), Shade (this one is seriously weird, but it's an interesting take on IF), Pick Up The Phone Booth and Die, The Forgotten Nightmare (it's Christian IF, and unfortunately in a way that annoys me, but the actual puzzles and such are fun and not extremely difficult-I downloaded this straight from Google Play, not through ZMPP), Aisle (another weird, but fun, take on IF, Curses (another one I'll never make it all the way through), Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (which was co written by Douglas Adams, himself), and Violet.

Just so you know, walkthrus are available for most games if you're stuck (just Google for them, or perhaps find something on the website I listed above), and I almost always have to cheat by using them. A lot of games also have hints included if you type "hints" or "help" into the command prompt.

Happy retro adventuring!  WAGONS HO!

I just had to say it one more time, because apparently, I'm still a four year old.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sin, Grace, and the False Dilemma

The other day, the Christian band "Among the Thirsty" had a quote posted on their Facebook timeline. No one was credited, so I'm assuming it was one of their musicians, but I could be wrong.  Anyway, I liked this quote because it perfectly summarized a thought I've been having lately.

This is what was posted:

"The depravity of man and God's unconditional love for man are merely opposing truths without the bridge that Christ creates."

Lately, it seems I've been bombarded with this idea that EITHER we are dirty, worthless, weak sinners, OR we are redeemed, beautiful, beloved children of God.  I've been gently chided by well-meaning people for suggesting that I'm weak or worthless. I've heard people talking about this either-or scenario, seen people post about it on social media. And honestly, I have wanted to speak up about it for awhile.

Now, I get where some people are coming from (to a point). There are those that can't believe God would love them or that Christ would die for them because they believe the lie that they're too dirty or too far gone. There are also people who have gone through situations that make it oppressively difficult for them to refer to themselves or others as "dirty" or "worthless." I'm trying to be sensitive to that, but I'm coming from a different place. I can't keep quiet about it.

I'm coming from a place where I realize how sinful, weak, and worthless I really am. I'm coming from a place where I know the depravity of my heart, the way it can be quickly turned, the way it seeks the idol of self, the way it always has sought the idol of self. I know how weak I am, that I fear so much, that I want to hide away from the world. I know my worthlessness, that I've corrupted myself for the sake of such temporal things, that I don't have anything of my own to give.

In the perspective of the either-or philosophy on redemption that I've seen so often lately, things don't look so good for me.

Good thing I don't buy into the false dilemma, either-or philosophy.

It's not an either-or; it's a BOTH-AND. It's the most remarkable both-and scenario that ever existed, will ever exist. It's the both-and that changes everything.

I can't grasp how remarkable it is that God loves me unless I know how unlovable I am. I can't grasp how powerful God is unless I know how weak I am. I can't grasp how remarkable it is that Christ would die for me while I was still a sinner, unless I have some minute knowledge of how totally depraved I am.

I'm not wallowing in sin and worthlessness.  That's not where I am at all.  I'm understanding (as much as I can) how hopeless I would be without Christ so that I can appreciate (as much as I can) how much hope I have with Christ.

I'm no longer worthless, not because of some innate worth, but because Christ has given me worth and restored me to the purposes for which I was fearfully and wonderfully made-the God works which were prepared in advance for me to do, to the glory of God. I'm no longer weak because Christ's power is made perfect in my weakness. I'm no longer dirty because Christ literally went through hell to clean me up.

But I can't forget who I would be if God decided to leave me as I was, without Him. I can't act as if I were (and I quote a "Sidewalk Prophets" song that has great intent, and yet, I believe, misses the point) "someone worth dying for." I'm NOT someone worth dying for. But God, because He IS worthy, became a man and died for me. It's not because I am lovable, but because HE IS LOVING.

That is the point.

And while others might find the both-and scenario oppressive, I find that this truth frees me up.  My time and talents aren't mine. They were freely given to me, so I can freely give to others. My worth isn't by my own merit, so I don't have to be afraid that I'm going to mess up and somehow lose my worth. My weaknesses are just opportunities for Christ to reveal His strength. I can truly love my Father because I know how much He loves me. I can truly serve my Father because I know what He has done to adopt me as His child--not just a servant (though I don't even deserve to be that) BUT HIS CHILD.

I'm not wallowing in sin here at all. I'm realizing the remarkable, wonderful, incredible truth that Christ has done the impossible. He bridged the dilemma, the gap, the chasm of our sin, ever keeping us from God's holiness.  He's brought us back to God, made us whole again, and made us children of God.  No, I'm not wallowing. I'm rejoicing!

All glory to God.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Gift of Weakness

Beth Lutz, a friend of Rich Mullins, gave this account of something the late Christian musician had once said:

"...he was very emotional. He was crying. He said, 'I don't want to run from the experience of the pain because I would miss what God is trying to teach me through it.'"

I'm not going to write about pain, although I can CERTAINLY relate to what Rich Mullins was talking about there.  Pain has definitely been a gift in my life, but I'm going to talk about a different gift.  I'm going to talk about how God has used weakness in my life to teach me and to lead me to trust Him more.

I've noticed lately that I've been a little more on edge than usual. I don't want to say that I've been anxious, since I don't feel particularly anxious unless I'm right smack dab in the middle of something that typically causes me anxiety. For example, being around unfamiliar people might cause me to suddenly find myself unable to form coherent sentences--or even speak at all without getting visibly agitated, but I'm not sitting around worrying about this sort of thing when I'm not actually dealing with it.  At least, not usually.

I have been extra jumpy lately. Since having a panic episode (wasn't quite an attack) back in May, I've noticed that I've had to work harder at keeping calm at work when the kids get loud or when they make multiple demands for my attention.  I am rather tense when there are sudden noises.

So while I don't think "anxiety" is quite the right word fit what I've been dealing with, it is fair to say that I've been struggling lately.

And with my trip to Romania now less than two weeks away, I've started to become legitimately anxious about that.  With as tense as I've been lately, I am even more fearful of what could happen on the trip.  I'll have to talk in front of strangers, in front if groups of people, have to initiate conversations, and all with a translator.  Knowing me, knowing the way I can get sometimes, the world would tell me that I have every right to be anxious.

Some of you might already know this, but the thing about me is, when I get nervous and anxious right in the midst of a situation, like when I have to talk in front of people, or interview for something (no really-yikes), sometimes my nervous system goes really crazy and I start crying and/or just generally freaking out. I'm not sad. I'm not emotional because of subject matter. I'm just really, really nervous, and the way my body copes is by turning me into a teary, shaky mess until I can go find a quiet place to calm down for a good half hour or so. With chocolate.

Now that I think of it, that sounds almost like one of my panic episodes.

If you had asked me ten years ago, I might have said that there was something wrong or sinful with the way my body reacts (sometimes) when I get nervous. If you had asked me ten years ago, I would have said that it would be a blessing for God to take that anxious reaction away.

I did pray for that.

God said, and apparently is still saying, "no" to that prayer I used to pray.

Only, I'm not praying it anymore.

I've blogged so much about weakness lately, but I keep coming back to this point. I am weak. I am so very weak.  I don't know what to say or how to say it, and sometimes my body shuts down so that I'm unable to say things even if I do have something to say.  And people wonder why I say I communicate so much more clearly in writing....

It's absolutely terrifying to lose control like that, in front of people, with everyone misinterpreting the situation, because apparently it's not normal for people to just start hysterically crying in the middle of a speech.  And in losing control, in realizing I'm never truly in control, that at any second I could be reduced to a sniveling, shaking, small little girl--well, I have no trouble realizing I'm weak.

But here's the thing. God is not weak, and God has given me something to say. This mission trip has changed in so many details since I originally signed up for it, but one thing that hasn't changed is that God called me to go on it because He has given me something to say.

I've had some frustrations in preparing my salvation story in a way that won't offend people in Romanian culture. That's just one more obstacle, one more thing that should deter me. But I'm not deterred.

Because if God has called me to go, then He will give me words to speak, and knowing how He usually works in me, it will be right when I (and others) need them and not a moment sooner.
I am planning. I am preparing. I am praying and praying and praying. Because in the end, it's really not going to matter how many preparations I've made (though the better prepared I am, the better things should go). The thing is, if God doesn't go with me, then I might as well not go. Because if I have anything to say, it's got to be from Him. Why? Because I'm weak; He is strong.

And honestly, it's really freeing to know that. It's so freeing to know that there's nothing I can do. It takes the pressure off me. The choice I have is to just go off somewhere alone and wallow in my worthlessness, or to accept the worth my Father lavishes on me, and go out, trusting Him in faith to work through me. I'm not important on my own; I've just gotta trust Him and be willing.

God never promised to take away the thorns in my flesh. He just promised to provide me with sufficient grace, and that's a HUGE promise. And honestly, having panic episodes and basically just being a basket case has been something God has used to help me trust Him. My weaknesses have been a gift.  I'm grateful for them, for being awkward, for struggling, for just HAVING to rely on Christ, because I surely can't rely on me.  I can't do this on my own, but His power is made perfect in my weakness.

If you're just hearing me say "I'm weak" and not hearing the BIGGER, MORE IMPORTANT, INFINITELY MORE AMAZING NEWS that "HE IS STRONG," then you are missing what I'm saying.

Because I'm not wallowing.  I'm not hiding.  He's given me something to say, and somehow He's going to use me to say it-even though I'm not at all good at speaking.

Neither was Moses.

Look what God did through him?  It wasn't Moses.  It won't be me.  It's always God.

Please continue to pray that God will do great things on this trip, that He will go with our small team. I won't ask you to pray that He'll prevent me from breaking down crying in front of a church so that the translator can't hear through my sobs (though I really hope that doesn't happen-unless there's a reason for it that I can't see) but I will ask you to ask that He gives me what I need when I need it.
But He's pretty good at that.

Pray for those we'll meet. Pray for clear communication of both truth and love. Pray that God changes hearts and lives. Pray that He will be glorified.

 Soli Deo Gloria!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Restless (The Holy Tension)

The following is a definition I pulled from, because I'm lazy (hence my problem) and that was the easiest way to get a definition posted:



1. characterized by or showing inability to remain at rest: a restless mood. 
2. unquiet or uneasy, as a person, the mind, or the heart.
3. never at rest; perpetually agitated or in motion: the restless sea. 
4. without rest; without restful sleep: a restless night. 
5. unceasingly active; averse to quiet or inaction, as persons: a restless crowd.
When most people hear the word restless, they seem to think about something negative.  It's easy to see why when the definitions use descriptions like "inability to remain at rest," "unquiet," "perpetually agitated," "without restful sleep," "averse to quiet," etc.  The emotion that accompanies restlessness seems to be one of angst, of disquiet, of a lack of peace.
Last week, I went to a training meeting for my upcoming mission trip.  My pastor, in greeting, asked how my day had gone.  I had gotten that particular day off.  While I did spend a little bit of that day working on preparations for the meeting (and the mission trip in general), I spent a great deal more of that day playing games on my phone, sleeping, or just wasting time.
So when my pastor asked me how my day had gone, I had a one-word reply: "Restful."
My pastor said that was "good" or "nice" or something, and then the meeting began.  And I remember just briefly thinking, before focusing on the meeting, that my day hadn't been all that nice or good.  Even though I had spent most of the day resting, I didn't really feel all that rested. 
And though I was feeling angsty and unsettled at the time, I really don't think I was in a restless mood. 

I was just lazy.
There's a song by Switchfoot that's been out for a couple of years I guess.  It's called "Restless."  The first few times I listened to it, I was both confused and curious about it.  After all, wasn't it a BAD thing, particularly for a Christian, to feel restless?  Didn't that indicate a lack of peace?  Didn't that indicate that we weren't satisfied or content with life?
What if the answer is YES.  What if restlessness does mean a lack of peace, a lack of satisfaction?  But what if that weren't a bad thing, after all.
What I'm NOT saying is that we shouldn't be content.  I'm not saying that we shouldn't have peace with God. and be grateful for all the blessings He gives us.  But I am saying that there is something we should be pursuing, and honestly, on that wasted day off, most of what I was pursuing was not really something worth pursuing.
I'm also NOT saying that we shouldn't have rest.  God created the Sabbath and placed pretty high importance upon it.  Humans were created to NEED rest; that's part of who we are.  There's nothing wrong with taking a day off. 
There's also nothing wrong with playing games, watching a good movie or television show, reading a good book, etc.  Art is also something God created, and He created us to be creative.  As a writer, I would think it pretty awful if I wrote things that would never be read and appreciated.  Art is meant to be appreciated.  So I'm also NOT saying that it's sinful to watch a good movie or play or to read a good book or even play a silly game every so often.
But what I forget all too often is that there are things that are worth pursuing, and if I stop pursuing these things in order to chase the frivolous, if my passion is for my worthless addictions and not for the things of God, then I'm creating an idol, and that idol is ME. 
The more I started listening to that song by Switchfoot, the more I realized what it was talking about., and it quickly became a favorite song.  In the song, "Restless," the beginning illustration is a drop of water pursuing something more.  The drop seeks the stream.  The stream chases the river.  The river chases the ocean.  The ocean seeks the shore.  And for the stream, for the Christian, to be stagnant is to be dying. 
No, there's nothing wrong with taking a day off or with relaxing, but we can never allow ourselves to believe the LIE that this world is a place where we can be comfortable.  This world isn't our home.  In fact, we are aliens living as strangers in a strange land.  Spiritual battles rage around us.  And sometimes I just want to kick off my shoes and stretch out and rest a good long while in the things that make me happy.  We can visit that, but never live there for more than a little while.  We weren't meant to live like that, and I think it's "restfulness" like that which causes the "restlessness" we don't want. 
I also think that sometimes we all want to be happy and carefree that we pretend that a lack of struggle is a good thing.  So we believe the LIE that if we're struggling, that must necessarily mean there's something wrong.  If we're wrestling, then that must necessarily mean our heart isn't right.  Certainly a lack of Spiritual peace can cause struggle, but I have a different perspective.  If we're not struggling, if we're not actively striving for something more, if we're not experiencing any hardship, then it could mean that Satan has us right where he wants us.
There are people who are dying in their sin, not even believing or caring that there's a Savior waiting to save them.  We need to wrestle in prayer for the lost of this world.  The enemy is all around us, trying to find a foothold into our lives, seeking a way to devour us.  We need to equip ourselves for battle--including more prayer.  There are evils and injustices all around us--we need to fight.  We need to seek.  We need to ask and knock.  We need to strive with God.
And more than that, we need to pursue the God of the universe, the One who created us, the One who knows us and loves us so completely.  He created us to need Him.  We need to pursue Him if only for the simple fact that He is perfectly pursuing us.
This is the restlessness I want, the restlessness I need.  I call it the holy tension, the knowledge that while we need to seek peace and rest in our Father, we also need to live in the reality that this world is not quite right, and that the days are evil.  We need God.  We can't be stagnant.  We have to keep seeking that deeper ground.
"...until the Sea of Glass we meet
At last completed and complete
Where tide and tear and pain subside
And laughter drinks them dry
I'll be waiting, anticipating
All that I aim for
What I was made for
With every heart beat
All of my blood bleeds
Running inside me
Looking for you..."