Settling in (Week 2)

 

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Lettering piece of the week // I’ve been challenged when I consider all the things I gave up back home to spend my summer in Romania, including Young Adult events, 5Ks with friends, and typical summer activities like parties and beach days. This has been my reminder each time jealousy strikes; there’s a reason I’m here, and I am thankful.

I’ve been struggling with figuring out what to write this week since my brain has been wrought with a tough decision. I’m already being challenged and stretched. I know it’s all good, but I’ve definitely had moments of wanting to go home and hide in a bubble. Overall, I’m starting to settle in and feel more comfortable here in Cluj, so that’s all good! I ultimately decided that I would continue with the virtual tour of Romania, along with some observations over the last two weeks.

Up first: last Sunday I went to small church back in Târgu-Mureș. It felt more like a Bible study than a Sunday service, but I still enjoyed the intimate gathering. I had forgotten how strange it was to listen to the preaching through a translator. Also, I made lunch for everyone, and it was a great success! I was later told that it was also a secret test to see if I was ready for marriage … and I passed!

Monday afternoon, I hopped on a bus to Cluj-Napoca. After arriving, we went to the mall for dinner at the food court. Everyone points out to me every KFC and McDonald’s around. I appreciate the sentiment, but it does make me chuckle. I’m trying my best to eat European food whenever possible. We did, however, go to Starbucks after to discuss potential projects for my time here; I didn’t complain about that visit since I was desperately craving a chai latte.

Tuesday was a day off, thankfully, since the staff was recuperating from the previous week serving with a German team. I had lunch out and then started catching up on the class I’m taking for my lettering business. We spent the evening at the director’s house playing board games. Fun, but he always wins.

Wednesday we got back into action with breakfast and a team meeting to establish a plan for the week. I’m really excited about all the artsy things I’m doing! I’m currently creating watercolor displays for each of the 18 foundational values of YWAM in preparation for the Discipleship Training School (DTS) that’s starting in two weeks.

Thursday and Friday mornings we had meetings again, lunch together, and then did our own things in the afternoons. We all take turns cooking lunch, so Thursday I made chicken and veggies to share. All the girls in my house are finishing up their exams for university, so the schedule is rather relaxed. I usually work on a project, exercise, eat dinner, and then socialize until bed.

Last night, my roommate Miream took me into the city to meet some friends. After, she showed me a beautiful park, the city center, and a few other sites in downtown Cluj.

We live in a village, so we have to travel by car or bus for a lot of the bigger attractions. Luckily, little shops are everywhere, so I can buy groceries whenever I decide to spontaneously cook a certain dish I’m craving. A little earlier today, I went to one store to grab ingredients for pancakes tonight with Miream. I’m pretty excited to try Romanian pancakes 🙂

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It’s SO nice to be able to walk down the street to grab groceries whenever I want! || (notice all the cars parked on the sidewalks)

Yesterday I decided to go for a run. Running is my favorite way to explore a new place. However, because the location is unfamiliar, I don’t always know what I’m getting myself into. I ended up hiking a crazy hill for the first half mile … oops! However, the view was totally worth it! And the remainder of the loop was a nice, gradual downhill path. There was a moment where I thought maybe I was trespassing since I was running on a dirt track through fields and I saw a sign in Romanian that I couldn’t read. Thankfully, Miream later reassured me that I’m allowed to be up there. So, I’ll try it again next week!

And finally, today has been spent sleeping in and relaxing. With the way my brain has been processing nonstop, I needed that time to myself. Plus it’s a gloomy day with intermittent rain showers, so all I want to do is cuddle up with tea, chocolate, and a good book. I’m incredibly thankful that I have the ability to do all this.

Coming up next week: We have more preparatory work for the DTS, including setting up the classroom, arranging the bedrooms, installing a coffee maker, and finishing artwork. Also, we’ll make a trip to visit a few gypsy families that the students will support; I’ll take photos and then write a little description of each. I may get to spend a few afternoons doing dance-related activities with local children since school ended yesterday, and the parents will appreciate a break. It’s going to be busy yet rewarding!

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Welcome to Romania (Week 1)

 

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I finally saw the new Beauty & the Beast last weekend, and I couldn’t resist lettering this quote before my trip!

My, the last week has been a whirlwind! I spent nearly three full days traveling; I left Harrisburg Monday morning and finally arrived in Târgu Mureș Wednesday evening. The jetlag is strong, but I am still able to enjoy my time here.

There’s not much to share from the traveling, other than that it was super smooth. The airline I flew is my new favorite international airline! It was as pleasant as an overnight flight could be! I was also able to successfully find my way to my hotel in Bucharest on Tuesday and ride the bus to Târgu Mureș on Wednesday. The combination of exhaustion and language barrier had me a little on edge, but I was able to figure it all out with a little help from a few kind individuals. I’m so thankful this is not my first international trip; I would not feel nearly this competent and self-confident without learning these skills while studying abroad in Lithuania.

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Caught stepping off the bus in Târgu Mureș.

Thursday was a rainy day, so we drove to the mall and got lunch and groceries. The rest of the day was laid-back, thankfully. I met one girl on staff, Marianna. Alex is another guy, but he’s currently on a trip to Norway. Marianna is a super sweet Ukranian with a heart full of joy at the Lord’s work. The directors of the base, Florin and Florina, are very sweet and have great plans to use my art in the coming weeks. They have an adorable daughter named Nadia.

Yesterday, the sun decided to show up, and it was beautiful! Marianna showed me around town. Of course, stop #1 was the local art store. I just might end up with a few new pens 😉

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Art Store #1. I hear there is an even bigger one somewhere nearby!

We walked through the courtyard of an old castle, which led to a yellow brick road. I felt like I was in Oz, but apparently many Romanians are unfamiliar with the story. Those stones led us to this alley. Marianna says this is her favorite street in town, and I can see why! (Click on photos to read caption)

Once we arrived in the town center, we climbed a tower next to the mayor’s house for quite the view! We also got to see some old photos of Targu-Mures throughout the last century.

Aside from that, Marianna showed me some second-hand stores I could visit if I need clothing, the best coffee shops and bakeries, and a fabulous new donut shop.

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This looks like a fabulous place to socialize or work on my next blog post!

After Marianna’s tour, Florin and Nadia took me to the plateau. This is one of the biggest and best parks in Romania, so people come from all over … and I can see why! There is this great little outdoor gym space, a zoo, an amazing playground, food stands, mountain biking/cross country skiing/jogging trails, carnival rides, mini golf, go carts, and a trolley to transport you around (though walking is perfectly reasonable). I loved it so much that I went back again today to test out the jogging loop. I imagine it will be within reason to begin training this summer for a marathon.

This morning we spent time cleaning the base, and then Nadia and I played together. They’re all off at a wedding now, so I ventured to the grocery store and bought chicken and veggies to roast for our big meal tomorrow. I’ll spend the rest of tonight relaxing so I can hopefully sleep at a normal hour.

Coming up next week: I head to another YWAM base in Cluj-Napoca. I will travel by bus on Monday and stay there for two weeks. I was informed that they have a Discipleship Training School (DTS) beginning soon, so I will help prepare for that. Most likely, that will involve my art skills in some way. Cluj is a much larger city, so I’m excited to explore on Tuesday!

Romania!

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I’ve been asked a multitude of questions about my trip to Romania this summer, so here’s my compilation of an FAQ of sorts in honor of the 3-week countdown!

1. What will you be doing?

I am heading to Romania with Youth With A Mission (YWAM). YWAM “is an evangelical inter-denominational, non-profit Christian, missionary organization”. For the majority of my time, I’ll be at a base near Cluj-Napoca. This trip is independently-organized; though I will be working with a YWAM base, I am not going with a team or through the organization. The best way to describe my role is as an intern. But really, it’s a mission trip that I have planned and executed mostly on my own.

The project I’m most excited for is an arts camp as an outreach to local youth in July. Many of you know about my passion for hand-lettering. I’ve been teaching workshops recently, so I imagine my involvement in the camp will be similar to the classes I’ve been hosting here! There has been discussion of a dance and worship camp in June, but I’m not sure if that was ever made official.

Aside from that, I’ll get the opportunity to visit two other YWAM bases for a week each so I can get a feel for other parts of the country. I don’t know yet what I’ll be doing there, but I am looking forward to it!

And finally, for the rest of the time at my “home” base, I’ll be participating in daily ministry and helping out with tasks as needed. I’ve been told that there are some blank walls that I can paint and letter on. Oh, I am SO excited for that!

2. Why Romania?

I studied abroad in Lithuania three years ago in Spring 2014. That semester, I fell in love with Eastern European culture and history. Once I decided that I wanted to do a mission trip this summer, I brainstormed with my mom and future sister-in-law while out for a drive. In a matter of minutes, one of them suggested Romania, and I knew in my heart that this was the right country for me. It’s a location I have not yet visited but has similar elements to some countries that I dearly love.

I contacted family friends who used to run a YWAM base in Romania, and they helped set it in motion! In December, I met the current directors of the base while they were visiting the US. They shared some of their plans for the summer, like the art camp, which only served to reinforce my commitment. We seemed to connect quite well and have similar passions. There are no red flags, so I’m trusting that this is an open door and will help me discern how to incorporate ministry, my passions, and my career in the future!

3. Why 2 months?

On vacation last summer, I was chatting with a dear friend about her month-long mission trip to South Africa. It was very inspiring to me. Hearing her talk about it encouraged me to consider the possibility of taking a month (or more!) to travel and serve. I’ve gone on seven mission trips that have been a week or less in length. They’ve all been meaningful, but I wanted to try something different. It takes time to understand the culture and connect with the people I am ministering to. I’ve always said that if I didn’t need to be State-side for grad school interviews, there is nothing else holding me back from teaching English abroad or working with another international organization. Thus, I decided that spending the summer before grad school serving internationally would still be a powerful experience. I no longer have grad school waiting for me when I return home, but I am still choosing to serve in Romania because God has given me this passion and cleared this time in my schedule.

4. How can I be praying?

  • I’ve gone through a good deal of trauma and hurt in the two years since graduation/starting life on my own. Some days I struggle to get out bed because I don’t want to deal with all the pain. Pray that the time away provides relief, healing, and perspective.
  • I’ve been so busy with grad school applications and turning my lettering hobby into a business that I’ve slacked on fundraising. Pray that God provides the funds for my trip. He’s given me this passion, and He’ll also make it happen. (If you want to donate, visit my fundraising page HERE or send me an email)
  • Pray for safety and health while abroad. When I was in Lithuania, I had migraines every day for three months straight as a result of culture shock. That made it incredibly challenging to engage. Also, I have an uncanny propensity to injure myself. Case in point: my hair caught on fire my first night in Lithuania. Also, I sprained my toe while using a slip-and-slide last Memorial Day. I would love to be able to exercise, dance, and walk freely while in Romania.
  • Pray that I have employment lined up when I return home. I’m not sure if I want to find another research job, focus on my lettering business, or something else entirely. I’m leaving my current job in order to go on this trip, so I have nothing awaiting me. I’m flexible, so I’m trusting God to provide, as usual.

Thanks so much for reading! I’m excited that you want to support me in my time serving in Romania! Keep checking back here for updates, or join my email list by leaving a comment or sending me an email.

February Fasting

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Three years ago, I was sitting at a coffee table in Lithuania with some new friends.  One girl boldly stated, “I have an idea.  I’m going to start ‘February Fasting.’  Let’s each pick something to fast from for the next four weeks.”  Some of the girls shrugged her off.  I, however, began to ponder this concept.

I decided to try something abstract and fast from my time.

Most people look at me like I have two heads when I present that concept.  But I found it to be wonderfully challenging and life-changing.  Every single day, I went to a quiet couch, turned off notifications, set a timer for 10 minutes, and closed my eyes as I entered into my secret place with Jesus.

It was hard at first.  As a college student, I never really felt like I had time to sit around.  The first week, my brain rarely quieted down in those 10 minutes, so I felt like I spent more time pushing away thoughts than I did connecting with Jesus.

But then my brain got used to the concept of meditation.  I began to look forward to those moments of peace and rest, away from the crazy reality of life in a foreign country.  Eventually, I sat there for 30 minutes on occasion, savoring the sweetness of His presence. I never thought that was possible at the beginning of the month.

Unfortunately, I dropped that habit shortly after the end of February 2014.  However, I recently avowed to resume February Fasting again this year.

I am presently involved in a Bible study that looks at the spiritual disciplines and how we can practically apply them to our lives.  The most important one is spending time in God’s word.  I already read through the entire Bible in 2013, but I’ve been wanting to do it again – just differently.  I was pondering buying a journaling Bible or a chronological Bible or a study Bible targeted towards someone in my life stage.  Then at Passion 2017, every single attendee was handed a free Bible!  It’s called The Jesus Bible, and it illustrates how various passages point towards Jesus’ coming and what he sacrificed for all humanity.  Plus the margins are extra wide, so I can totally journal in my Bible.  I’m pretty excited.

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A sample page from a journaling Bible.

My tangible plan is to wake up half an hour earlier every day this month to spend time working through a Bible reading plan (if I fail to get up early one morning, I won’t let myself watch Netflix until after I’ve spent time with my Bible).  David Mathis writes that we should find something to apply to our lives, however small, from every encounter with the Word.  To make sure I’m not rushing through, I’m going to creatively illustrate or letter a verse that stood out to me or a concept I’m taking away.

I remember the last time I completed this challenge, I began to experience incredibly painful tension headaches every single day, starting February 2nd.  Coincidence?  I think not. I am definitely hesitant about what challenges will come my way this month, but I am also eager to delve into God’s word and get to know his character better as I discern His will.  That is a far greater reward and completely worth the temporary pain.

What do you think?  Are you willing to fast from something this month in order to grow closer to God?  Let me know!

“fake it ’til you become it”: BRAVE

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What do you think of when someone mentions brave people?

Firefighters?

A knight in shining armor?

Yourself??

Lately I’ve been realizing that we don’t have to wear a uniform to be brave. There are plenty of daily tasks that we each face that require bravery. Recently, I have begun to see just how much fear is in my life. I’ll admit it: I am scared of everything. I was scared to graduate. I was scared to invest in relationships at home. I was scared when asked to interview for jobs. I was scared to accept my job offer. I was scared to move. I’m still scared to deepen relationships, meet new people, socialize, make phone calls, and be alone in the dark.

But then I was pointed toward this wonderful TED talk. (Don’t feel obligated to watch it, but it’s one of my favorites)

Amy Cuddy’s talk completely revolutionized how I approached situations from that point on. It takes effort to pretend to be something you think you aren’t. But as I reflect, I realize that I made it through the last few months for a few reasons. First, I had to; there really was no other option. Second, I chose to focus on the results of my pretend bravery over the last nine months and recognize God’s faithfulness through it all. I might not have felt brave then, and I may not always feel brave now, but when I look at where my life was a year ago, I would not have been able to face the things I am facing now.

As I write this, I am facing pain in many areas of my life: family, friends, and the struggle to forgive and move on. It’s so easy to listen to the world and just give up on things that don’t work out for us. But I’m not built that way, and neither are you. Relationships matter. Plus, as Christians, we are compelled to work at these things.

It takes bravery to have that difficult conversation.

It takes bravery to admit your shortcomings.

It takes bravery to find humility and seek forgiveness.

It takes bravery to live graciously.

It takes bravery to offer vulnerability–trusting God and others with your heart: the most treasured, intimate piece of your being.

And you know what? It’s not easy. The Christian life is a hard one, wrought with challenges and trials of all sorts. You might not think you can have that conversation or ever move on from the pain of that broken relationship.

But you can.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7). He makes us brave. Eventually everything will work out by God’s standards. He has a divine plan that is infinitely better than anything we can ask for or imagine. Jesus said to Peter, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:7). What a powerful thought to meditate on!

Or in the words of Mandisa, “He’s not gonna let it get the best of you.”

It takes baby steps. You won’t become brave overnight. Chances are, you’ll be more like me: pretending to be brave in the littlest of situations–reaching out to a long lost friend, saying “I’m sorry” to a sibling…. And then one day you’ll take a step back and realize just how far you’ve come. You gotta fake it ’til you become it! Trust me, your brain will catch on.

Until then, let us take comfort in this truth:

The reward of saying yes is greater than the fear of saying no.

May we live daily as forgiven beings who bravely face the challenges of life, blanketed in the grace of God.

P.S. Amanda Cook’s song “You Make Me Brave” has been the anthem of my heart for months now. Check it out!

Understanding Jesus

Okay, I know that sounds a bit far fetched. But, my faith has flourished over the last four years. Coming to college really forced me to step outside my comfort zone and adopt my own faith rather than clinging to that of my parents. About a year ago, as I was going through my headache battle, I realized that with each trial I walk through, I learn a little bit more about God and myself as framed by the fruits of the Spirit. So let’s take a look!

Love.  We all know the David Crowder song “He Loves Us.” This song gets me every time.  God’s love is so great that it overpowers us like hurricane winds, and all we can do is bend under the wight of his mercy. What’s challenging, however, is realizing the role of “afflictions eclipsed by glory.” It can be hard to see God’s love when we’re sick or grieving or stressed. But it’s there. And it’s overwhelming!

Joy.  This is an interesting one. Joy is an attitude of the heart – a choice to be optimistic and see God in every circumstance. Sometimes, it directly counters everything going on in life at that time. But it’s pretty incredible to see how a heart focused on bringing glory to God can thrive and bless others in times of suffering…simply by choosing joy!

Peace.  Again, this tends to oppose our external circumstances. I think of the hymn “It is Well With My Soul.” Jesus offers us peace that surpasses understanding if we only ask. Our world can be crashing down all around us, but God is right there, offering peace to carry us through. Right now, as I’m fighting anxiety about graduation, I continue to find supernatural peace awaiting me in my quiet times. Jesus has left his peace with us (John 14:27).

Patience.  I have most definitely learned how to be patient with myself and with others as I learn new things and work through challenging situations. We have a tendency to want immediacy, but that’s simply not how God works when He teaches us certain lessons. Especially now, as I’m anticipating what comes next after graduation, I clearly sense God telling me that the reason I don’t know is that it’s not time to know. All I can do is patiently wait and continue to pray.

Kindness.  God is kind. Sure, He’ll place us in situations that seem overwhelming or impossible, but nothing is too great for Him to carry us through. Everything He does furthers His kingdom, and His plans are infinitely more glorious than ours.

Goodness.  God is also really really good to us. I have found over the last two years that many of my Facebook statuses in some way reference my thankfulness to God for His goodness. Of all of my trials, I don’t think there is a single one that left me a worse person. God’s goodness has allowed me to learn about grace and how to show that same grace to others.

Faithfulness.  I certainly fail in my faithfulness to God, but He promises to never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). In the big and in the mundane, God sticks with us through the end. God has carried me through some of the toughest months of my life, including camp in summer 2013. And sometimes, when I rest in God’s faithfulness, I end up thriving even more than I could have ever imagined on my own.

Gentleness.  Just last week, I really began to understand what it means for God to be gentle. I was presented with a vision. I am holding on to my sense of control with clenched fists. This makes me confident, but it also means that I am missing out on all the good God has planned for me. Luckily, God is gentle and will not pry open my fingers. So now I’m learning how to trust that God really does have better plans for me, even when I have no plans at all.

Self-Control.  This is the one I have experienced the least so far. Although, I think that God definitely shows up in those moments when I bite my tongue and show grace to individuals who hurt me. Sometimes this is much harder than others, but it’s a necessary discipline. Again, God will give me the grace to show others grace. And sometimes I need to show myself a little grace, too.

The last four years have brought many trials into my life, but I consistently see God working to grow me, especially when my heart is open and willing. I began to truly sink my teeth into all that Jesus is the summer after my sophomore year, and that has placed me in a position to flourish and thrive over the past two years. God is pretty awesome that way! 🙂

Understanding Relationships

Relationships. They’re crucial to humanity. Relationships bring us some of the greatest joys in life. How wonderful to be able to share in successes, triumphs, and glee! But then again, relationships can also cause of some of the deepest pains in life. Confusion, heartache, and stressful rumination leave us feeling lost and discouraged.

In October, I made a declaration:

“I am bad at relationships.”

What I didn’t realize is just how much the other person would jump all over this remark. She said that it was a bit of a generalization and that while there may be certain areas that are not my strengths, surely I couldn’t be absolutely awful since I do have friends. In the six months since this conversation, I have been pondering what exactly I meant by this statement and how I might go about rectifying it.

I began by writing down all the relational areas in which I struggle. It was quite a list! And then I shared the list so that I might go about actively changing certain behaviors and thought processes in an attempt to be less stressed about this area of life. Through this process I have learned a number of things about myself and about relationships in general.

First, there’s a fundamental error in my original statement. “I’m bad at relationships.” Think about it. In four words, I have transformed a condition of being into a condition of doing. Relationships are not a mathematical problem to be solved, much to the dismay of my scientific mind. Sure, relationships take effort, but there’s also a beauty to simply living a life intertwined with other lives.

Second, you can’t “fix” relationships, which is something I struggled with this year. Some relationships are prone to attrition, and you have to ask yourself why you’re even bothering to invest, change yourself, and resolve conflict that only you feel. Who are you trying to benefit? Relational growth takes effort on both ends. Plus, I don’t think a relationship can ever be “fixed.” It can be improved, reconciled, etc., but relationships cannot be broken and repaired in the same manner as a clock or a bicycle. They’re more like bones that will forever carry the scar of injury but will eventually grow stronger than before as the osteoblasts reconnect the fragments with fervor.

I gave a speech in my Communications class last October about resolving cross-cultural conflict. Many of those concepts can be adapted to any conflict situation, not just one of culture clash. I don’t think anyone caught the irony. But I certainly felt like I should have a better handle on my own relational distress if I am informing others how to manage theirs.

This year, I have seen broken relationships mend and grow deeper than ever before. There’s something about collectively working through hurt that grows relationships like nothing else. This is something I’ve never experienced before now. Normally I’m more than willing to end a relationship because I cannot foresee the joy of reconciliation as being worth the pain of forgiveness and healing.

Third, I’ve learned that sometimes you have to “fake it till you become it.” At first this frightened me with respect to relationships. What if I’m only pretending that I’m okay and then the next time something happens I’ll explode? Nope. Forgiveness is a way of living, and sometimes you just have to force your brain to move to the same place your heart has already reached.

I’ve also seen this idea worked out in terms of developing new relationships. By the end of the fall semester, I sensed a budding closeness with one of my professors, and I was terrified. I was nervous to begin a new relationship when I knew I would be graduating in a few months. Plus, I found it scarily easy to open up to her and seek advice, even if I had no idea how she would handle my trust. Luckily, all is well. But still, I had to convince myself that it’s okay to trust people. It’s okay to let them into those deepest, darkest parts of my heart. If people are engaged in meaningful relationships, then they do not mind helping each other out. They want to be involved in the stuff or life together!

And finally, I’ve learned that relational struggles will always exist. Everyone is human, which means that everyone makes mistakes. But, life is a journey of occasionally stepping over boundaries too far and allowing God’s grace to fill you and draw you back. With the help of wise mentors, I have been able to discern how to act in various conflict situations. I have learned from the mistakes I make now, and I feel more equipped to handle relational difficulties as they arise in the future.

Relationships are not easy, but they are certainly a mess worth making!