Tuesday, March 28, 2006

my russia in snapshots

if you ever have the opportunity to travel to russia, go. looking through my photos today, i still feel awed by the history, the beauty, the complexity of this country and its people. i'll certainly write more later, but here's a preview in pictures ...

while the students were in committee, i climbed to the top of the bell tower of smolny cathedral (left). i had intentions of taking wonderfully artsy photographs, but the wind is so strong there at the top, that my fingers froze on the buttons and i simply snapped as quickly as i could before rushing down the shaky iron staircase.

it's unreal, really, how beautiful it was up there.

before leaving for moscow on thursday afternoon, we visited the czars' summer palace. one of the rooms (here at right) is available to be rented out, though one can only guess at the price. elton john played for royalty in this room laced with pure gold once upon a time, so i imagine it's not readily accessible to your average joe eager to host his own bar mitzvah and show-up his friends. the room is amazing.

fortunately, after WWII when the nazis had come through and pilfered much of the gold, the russians were able to return the excessive and dramatic decorations to the original summer palace appearance. the palace is extraordinary in its showiness and is complete with a room whose walls are decorated entirely with amber. jaw-dropping, indeed.

st. petersburg i'd compare a lot to beijing, the same way i'd compare moscow to shanghai. st. petersburg feels older, more laid back, more focused on academics and history. moscow feels busy, feels constantly changing. but then you visit the kremlin, and there in red square, you see before you the incredible st. basil's cathedral (below left) commissioned by ivan the terrible and built between 1555 and 1561, and you must pinch yourself to believe you are actually seeing this thing, live and in person. legend has it that on completion of the church, the tsar ordered the architect to be blinded to prevent him from ever creating anything to rival its beauty again.

i stood outside that evening, looking at st. basil's against the backdrop of one of the most gorgeous skies i have ever seen. everything looked created by crayola, like i was flipping pages of a storybook and not standing only feet away from this enormous and breathtaking cathedral in the middle of one of the most historic landmarks in the world.

i expected so little from russia. what a fool i am. i cannot wait to go back.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

[there was some russian text here]

no, i can't read that either. but i know it means, "my name is mary" and that must count for something. of course, when i get to russia, if someone asks me what my name is i'll not even understand the question. i suppose i should work on forgetting that newly learned phrase, but it's one of only five that i now know and i'm not ready to part yet with it.

what else do i know?

how are you
thank you
you are welcome

sure, it's a little late to be trying to work on my russian. but i honestly haven't been excited until now. and to tell you the truth, i'm not even quite thrilled now. yes, i know it's st.petersburg, and i'm crazy lucky to be going. but what with this unidentifiable rash on one side of my face and the hematoma that i got yesterday at the dentist's office ("it'll be a little black and blue," she says. "kind of like someone punched you in the face") on the other side of my face, well, i'm not feeling the yippy-i-o adventure spirit overtaking me.

i miss my old skin. i miss washing my face and feeling like it was me. not rashy, not swollen. just me. i'm trying not to worry about it, but you can imagine how it weighs on my shoulders.

i've asked god if he's trying to make 2006 into a year's worth of lessons about vanity. no response. maybe he thinks i'm kidding.

i'm not.

but anyway, the good news is that i got my debit card PIN reset today so that i can actually take out rubbles at a russian ATM, and that the shoes i bought at DSW yesterday are so deliciously adorable and comfortable that i silently squeal with delight everytime i look down, and that i finally finished my march madness bracket today (and gave connecticut the trophy).

more good news will be waking up to find my rash completely gone, my cheek totally unswollen, and an excitement in my heart about traveling in st. petersburg and moscow.

probably won't post till i get back. feel free to keep me, my fellow chaperone, and our 11 kids in your prayers :)

[there was some russian here]

that means "thank you."

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

le matin

i know it's largely due to the coffee running through my veins at 80 mph, but i am so grateful for this moment. i wish i could wrap my arms around everything.

it started this morning with abby. we met at 7:15 am, which meant that i had to get out of bed at 6 am, which is a glorious time to wake up when it's sunny. i love the el in the morning. and i love the pace at which i walk when it's so chilly you must walk fast, but so sunny that you slow down just enough to enjoy the warmth of those sunbeams.

our conversation revolved around two particular themes - ideas of womanhood and struggles with trust. i spoke on my love of being single in the city, of drinking $3 chocolate martinis with my roommates whenever i feel like it, of shopping only to satisfy my needs and wants, of long conversations with girlfriends that aren't restrained by other demands on my time.

what a glorious thing, to be totally free! to feel like you can do anything! to indulge yourself!

abby suggested that perhaps i enjoy some of this more now because i'm in a relationship. because there's a safety net of someone loving me. instead of drinking martinis with my girlfriends and eyeing the men at the bar, wondering what it would be like to date any of them, i can more fully enjoy my friends and their stories, knowing that i can come home and call jon and feel totally loved and desired.

and then she suggested that perhaps i'm loving the other stuff more now than before because i fear it being taken away - that being in a relationship forces me to concede that perhaps the rest of my life won't be spent making ME happy, and i've done a good job of making that a focal point of my life for the past few years.

she is so right on.

yes, i have trust issues. i'm confident trusting in myself. because i can live with disappointing me. but i fear others disappointing me. i don't want to be upset with them. and if you can give enough distance between you and the people you love most, then you can admire them from afar and love them dearly without letting them close enough to hurt you, which would make you disappointed in them.

and so it is with me and god. i wrestle a lot with him. in the very center of my heart, i am full of love for him. and i want him to have my undivided heart. i know that he is my soul's satisfaction. but what is missing between me and him? is it because i've felt let down or misled by him before? maybe that's it. i still can't quite figure it out.

even without the answer yet, what made the morning extra good was having abby alongside me, saying that she understands. that she feels it too. and that together, we are gonna learn how to be the women both we and god want us to be. to know that we were made with wild personalities, to understand that we are loved just as we are, but to know that there's something more. that at some point in our lives, we encountered a truly living and active god and we cannot be the same.

what does it mean to be a woman after god's own heart? what does it mean to be abby after god's own heart? what does it look like to be mary after god's own heart? what does it look like to be YOU after god's own heart?

i know somewhere in there, it looks like me trusting god (so, god, consider me intent on learning what it means to actively trust you). i know somewhere in there, it looks like me considering others before myself (so, god, consider me intent on learning how to spend my time and my money to love other people). i know somewhere in there, it looks like learning about god (oooh. i think this means humility. so, god, i don't know how else to ask this, but please give me a teachable spirit).

i love being able to share like this with a close friend. how can you not enjoy a morning of coffee-drinking and soul-connecting?

and the last thing, which was the icing on the cake ...

so starbucks (i know, so sue me) was giving away free coffee this morning from 10-12. i mentioned it to my coworkers and ALL of us (yes, even my boss who never goes) responded to my invite to join me on a walk across the street. i don't even care about the free coffee, but to have all of us walk over together in the sunlight, talking and laughing together? lord, yes. that was like the best feeling of family i've had in so long.

it almost made me forget about the rash remnants of my wisdom-tooth debaucle :)

seriously. it was a good morning.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

sorry, cullen.

let's discuss sarcasm for a second.

Main Entry: sar·casm
Pronunciation: 'sär-"ka-z&m
Function: noun
Etymology: French or Late Latin; French sarcasme, from Late Latin sarcasmos, from Greek sarkasmos, from sarkazein to tear flesh, bite the lips in rage, sneer.
1 : a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain
2 : a mode of satirical wit depending for its effect on bitter, caustic, and often ironic language that is usually directed against an individual

is it a bad habit? the robot penguin contends that isn't: "It's called having a sense of humor. And making a joke at someone else's expense is better than no joke at all." gURL.com polled its readers and found 789 "dig" it and only 70 "diss" it. of 459 christian youth workers polled, 53.2% of those polled claimed to "teach youth that sarcasm is bad." so, it's subjective?

when i was a senior in high school, i sat with three others at the most sarcastic table in our english classroom. we spent the afternoons tearing into each other all in good fun. my best friend and i would often team up against lance and cullen, but it almost always came down to me and cullen really pushing each other's buttons. i figured it was because we were just that clever. we liked each other alright. no harm done.

a few weeks before our last day of school, mrs. sinkler asked us to contribute questions about anything we'd read or learned in english class that year and the best would appear on our oral final. naturally, the four of us dreamnt up questions dripping in sarcasm that somehow involved each of us. cullen would reference kafka's the metamorphasis, asking, "if mary were a caterpillar ..." and, well, if you've read the book, you can imagine his questions. i'd retort with something that would cut to the quick of cullen, and we'd all get a good laugh.

fast forward to the last day of school. mrs. sinkler calls me up front and asks me to select a question off the multi-page final. it was very informal, you see, everyone kind of getting a chance to speak off the cuff. i chose, "what is immaturity?" i smiled at cullen, and dug in. i was funny, i was ruthless. and he was laughing. no problem.

and then she called him up. i expected the same thing in return - a sharp, biting, sarcastic response that would rake me over the coals. he smiled at me, and then chose a question to which the answer could be anything BUT sarcastic. i stared at him dumbfounded. he finished without flair, and sat down.

two days later, we graduated.

it's been 8 years, but that moment has stuck with me. i'd been praised for my sarcasm all through high school. i'd engaged in it happily. and in one completely unexpected moment, i'd been made the jerk. i'd cut into someone and no one cut into me. i felt like a punk.

during my freshman year of college, a few of my friends (who remain my best friends to this day) and i made a pact to avoid sarcasm as best we could. if christ had asked us to use our words to encourage, comfort, love, then, well, we were gonna do that.

on the youth group poll site listed above, one of the youth workers claims that he uses sarcasm regularly, noting that jesus employed it often, and citing matthew 16:21-28 as his example. maybe i'm not seeing it. i'll guess he was referencing this:

22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

is that jesus trying to cut into peter? to bring him pain? i don't know.

i guess i think of sarcasm as that satirical or ironic utterance that differentiates itself from wit (astuteness of perception or judgment; the ability to relate seemingly disparate things so as to illuminate or amuse) because sarcasm involves the intent to cut. i know jesus was clever. i know he had a master grasp of every rhetorical tool in the box. but when i read scripture, i just think his intent was always, always, always for the ultimate purpose of LOVING us.

and to me, that translates as ...

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

guest blogger: ryan adams

Two hearts fading, like a flower.
And all this waiting, for the power.
For some answer, to this fire.
Sinking slowly. The water's higher.

With no secrets. No obsession.
This time I'm speeding with no direction.
Without a reason. What is this fire?
Burning slowly. My one and only.

You know me. You don't mind waiting.
You just can't show me, but God I'm praying,
That you'll find me, and that you'll see me,
That you run and never tire.

Monday, March 06, 2006


without going into the details, today finds me working from home. which i love. and which i wish i could do more often. don't get me wrong - i love working with my peers and stopping to take breaks with them, discussing the successes and stories of events from the night before, but there's something about the freedom of working in your own environment.

take today for instance. i got up at 6:15 like i normally would, but decided at 6:40 that i wasn't gonna make it in to work. i sat down at the computer and began working at 7:00. i've already been on two conference calls, answered all the emails i got from the weekend and am now updating our calendar of events before heading into major editing work. i feel so accomplished!

and the best part is that i can play my music as loud as i want and get up for a minute and dance around my house to get all my spastic energy out so i can sit down and be productive at the computer.

this is what i'm missing in my office. i think everyone needs to be able to be spastic for at least a few minutes. instead of trying to ignore the urge to flail my arms and legs a little when a good song pops up on my radio, i can dance around freely. i think suppressing that urge is what contributes to the slow death of my soul at work. having an opportunity to get out of my chair and turn up the cure's "close to me" and "why can't i be you?" gets the blood back to my brain and i find myself enjoying work.

ooh. love it.

alright, back to it now. if you need me, i'll be at my computer, typing in rhythm to "lovesong."

Thursday, March 02, 2006


kotex's recent television ad claims that women are biologically superior.

biologically speaking, women win.
we get amazing curves,
sexy hairless backs,
miraculous ovaries,
but just so we don't get too cocky, women get ... periods.

i don't know what it was, but the whole thing made me laugh out loud. can you imagine god being like, "hmm, she's absolutely beautiful, but to keep her humble, i'll make her uterus shed its lining"?

i mean, what?

but it got me to visit their website, which i admit i was pretty amused by. not only can you download your own period calendar, get desktop downloads (oh the possibilities of grossing out your coworkers), send e-cards, and - not forgetting any possible male visitors - a puberty education booklet for boys (with such helpful hints as "never, ever, ever use an electric razor in the shower! you could electrocute yourself.").

man, i miss sex ed.

Lent: Act One

I haven’t seen my friend Allan in months. Almost a year ago, we were inseparable friends. Time changes things, God prunes, and relationships are never the same.

Yesterday he phoned me at work and we had an opportunity to awkwardly catch up on the past few months of our lives. We swapped work stories: mine about the usual, his about a new venture in ministry to South Africa. The conversation was broken and a bit stiff compared to the old days when we spoke comfortably and easily. I hung up, a bit frustrated and disappointed that our friendship had come to this. I hung up weary that I will always be a disappointment to my closest friends, my parents, you name it.

Last night, I pulled out my purse bible from the bottom of my bag and emptied the gum wrappers from its pages (it’s in my purse should I ever need it, though I’ve rarely opened it in the past few months when I’m out and about. I wonder sometimes if I were hit by a bus and the witnesses rummaged through my purse, if they’d think me really holy having a bible in my purse and what not. Oh, how mistaken they would be). I’ve decided to start reading scripture again for Lent. And I chose Acts. Because.

So I’m reading in chapter one about Jesus saying some goodbyes to his pals and then drifting up to the sky like a little child holding a forcefully hot air balloon. And all these guys below just stand there, jaws dropped, mouths gaping. One of them is scratching his beard. He hears another’s tummy rumble. How long do they stand there? What are they supposed to do now? If they look hard enough, could they find him up amongst the clouds? One stands on his toes and leans towards the sky, squinting up at the sun.

And then suddenly, these two angels appear, right. “Men of Galilee,” they say, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” So they look at each other and turn back to Jerusalem. And they pray. Together.

I’ve spent a lot of time staring up at the sky. Wondering where Jesus went. In college, I spent a couple hours one evening at a retreat kneeling in an open field yards and yards away from the activity of people bustling about, staring up at a big, open, cloudless, star-filled sky, begging Jesus to just let me see him, imagining him appearing as Mufasa did to Simba in the Lion King. That’s what I wanted. I was desperate for him to come back. I’d imagine Jesus walking towards me out of the woods that circled this open field, like how he walked on water towards Peter. Peace now, he’d say to me. Be strong, now. Be strong. I was waiting for that.

I’ve been waiting for that. For him to say anything to me himself. Right from his visible mouth. For him just to appear out of nowhere. JUST. BE. VISIBLE. I tell him all the time I’m waiting for him. In my head, I go out to that field all the time and beg him to show up. I stare at the sky and I wait for him.

So when I read that these guys get a message from these glowing, white-clothed men and are like, well, okay, let’s go back to Jerusalem, I’m thinking, what?!? Why don’t they stay and watch?

I would have. I’m good at that.

I’m a little afraid of going back and disappointing my friends. Of trying to be like Jesus and failing miserably. Of screwing something up with one person and then everyone finding out. Of just not doing it right, period.

I sat in my bed thinking all this. And I fell asleep.

This morning, I read my friend Sara’s blog about her time in South Africa. And I read about Leah and Drew in Cape Town. And I checked out the Jeskes note again about their move to the same place. And my heart remembers why it can’t stand out in the open field, staring up at the sky forever.

I love my friends meeting my friends. Honestly, there is little else in the whole world I love as much as that. It makes me feel alive, like I could jump up and down a la Tom Cruise, but with better rhythm and sweeter moves.

This is FAMILY. And the mess I create among my brothers and sisters is not too big for Him. I don’t have to retreat. I make mistakes. I hurt people. I disappoint them. But I can’t retreat from them. I know in my heart that I love them. And He loves them even, even, even more.

I hope Allan will get in touch with my South African-living friends. I hope they will make connections and see their families grow. Why should my failures forever come in the way of the family that God loves so much?

And I’m part of that family. I don’t belong alone in a field, staring up at the sky, waiting and waiting and waiting. I belong with my family. Waiting together, loving each other, and preparing for acts like only God could do with, through, among, for the people He so abundantly loves.