Wednesday, July 6, 2016

UUUUUUUAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!

Yes, the school year is over!  We made it!  We are tired, happy and thankful.

Last week I did end of the year interviews with our teachers.  The past year had been fairly difficult for all of us.  We made some methodological changes at the onset of the school year and then had to spend a lot of extra time explaining and defending the teaching methods we use and the professional decisions we make.  There was a lot of complaining and negative talk going on about how we do things.  But we also received unbiased outside confirmation that we do good work (our children tests results were very good and an inspection from the Czech Ministry of Education gave us highest marks). 

Ariel, one of our third grade teachers, had an especially difficult class.  At one point during the year there was someone observing her class almost every week.  You can imagine how distracting that is. And it makes teaching stressful too.  I asked Ariel to reflect on the year and how it affected her.  She said that she felt the difficulties helped her become a stronger person and a better teacher.  How so?  The constant commotion forced her to focus on a few voices that really matter to her and to treat the rest of them as white noise.  One of the voices that matter to Ariel is the voice of Jesus.  (why do I always have to bring Jesus into everything?  Because He fills everything in every way!  There.)  What a great way to deal with distractions and keep from being beat down and discouraged.

Yesterday we celebrated the 4th of July.  We put up the flag and listened to Stars and Stripes forever and From Sea to Shining Sea and other patriotic songs, which the children considered funny.  We ate enchiladas and drank apple cider and laughed and made fun of things and then at night we read chapter 5 from Hattie Big Sky (a great book about a 16 year old girl trying to prove up on her claim of land in Northern Montana in 1918 - reading things like this puts our lives into perspective).

This week we are wrapping up a few things at school and preparing for an English camp we'll be leading next week here at Zelivka.  The week after that we'll be in Taize, France.  And right after that we are looking to put some serious distance (including an ocean full of water) between us and school and work in general.  We are planning a trip to the US - Maryland and Illinois.  Everyone is looking forward to this needed time off.  We can't wait to see family and old friends again.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Nearer, My God, to Thee?

I wrote this entry sometime back, but never published it because I wasn't sure things like this should be published.  I am still not sure, but heck... here it is.  And thank you, Jesus, for moving us on to a place where things look..., well.... different.


"The view from here is nothing near to what it is for You..."
Life has been trying to get us down lately.  We are struggling with everything, it seems like.  I am not sure what's happening.  Things that were perfectly fine before now seem too difficult.  It takes all I have to go on with the most routine and ordinary daily things.  It isn't just the drudgery of life.  Relationships are hard too.  Why are they harder now than they used to be?  I wish I knew.  I have a vague sense of having taken a wrong turn somewhere.  I don't recognize it here.   

I feel stuck and isolated somehow - among other people, but strangely disconnected.  The conversations still go on, smiles are exchanged, but the three feet between us feel like a mile-and-a-half of mist, fog, and twisted mirrors.  I wish I could hibernate like the bears and wake up when all is back to normal again. 

All these bothersome questions!  What have you accomplished so far?  And what's the point of it anyway?  What difference does any of this make?  Or the mean one: What difference do you make?  The honest answer is, "I don't know."

Usually I don't mind not knowing.  Neither Elaine or I are comfortable with much attention.  Accomplishing something big and wow-ful is beyond us and brother Paul's words sound good, "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody."  But if we don't make some noise, soon nobody will know we are still alive.  [That must be at least a part of the reason I keep this blog alive.]

The haunting part of all this is that I haven't been able to figure out what is wrong.  Why do things feel so wrong?  Years ago I wrote down a quote from the book Perelandra by C.S. Lewis (it's in chapter 1 if you want to read it).  I believe it points to something similar as what I am trying to express here:

"My fear was now of another kind. I felt sure that the creature was what we call ”good,” but I wasn’t sure whether I liked “goodness” so much as I had supposed. This is a very terrible experience. As long as what you are afraid of is something evil, you may still hope that the good may come to your rescue. But suppose you struggle through to the good and find that it also is dreadful? How if food itself turns out to be the very thing you can’t eat, and home the very place you can’t live, and your very comforter the person who makes you uncomfortable? Then, indeed, there is no rescue possible: the last card has been played."

Jack must have been speaking from his own personal experience of God in whom there is not a trace of darkness, but whose presence is terrifying.  It is written that no one can see God's face and live.  So the presence of Love personified puts you to death?!

I am wondering if these experiences could result from God being in fact nearer?  You know, the Comforter coming uncomfortably close?  On the other hand, we are responsible for our own choices and we reap what we sow.  Am I reaping something from the past? Or maybe my digestion is acting up or maybe some virus is bothering my body and making me feel rotten. 

Where in the world is the time when I had an answer to every question? 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Unsuitable


My friend, Oswald Chambers, keeps talking about becoming broken bread and poured out wine. It sounds right, but who of us is up to that?  I'd rather be going somewhere else, but no, I do not want to leave too, because Jesus has the words of eternal life.  Ozzie also said that the deepest fear a Christian can have is the fear that God will be bested, that Jesus is not going to be able to deliver.  If you look around doesn't it appear like we are losing left and right?  And God seems strangely withdrawn, sort of uninvolved.  To keep believing that He is in fact ever so near is too difficult - at least for me sometimes.  But I still believe, mostly because all the other voices out there, are much less believable.

Below is one of my favorite quotes by C.S. Lewis.  In the original context of the Screwtape Letters it strikes almost a humorous note.  In the present context of where I stand it overflows hope:

"One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans."

Yes, it is invisible, but you know what?  Even with all that I have described above I can almost see it (almost:).  I do believe in the invisible God.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Journey Into Insignificance

I have been singularly failing to chronicle life as it happens.  And I apologize to those of you who visit this blog in hopes that I (or Elaine) will keep our promise and share some news from our part of the world from time to time.   

Just last week I stumbled upon an online course that promised to help bloggers become successful and aspiring writers to become best-selling authors.  I contemplated joining the class for about three minutes, but then decided against it.  The first two prerequisites were to write well and to write regularly.  Hmm.  I think I can, I think I can....

So about the news:
  • The weather has been cold and windy: but we are still hopeful that global warming will grace Czech Republic with more sun and higher temperatures (we've had our fair share of clouds and rain, thank you).  
  • The group of neo-nazis that were disrupting a peaceful pro-immigration rally in Prague last Saturday were supposedly receiving directions from an uder-cover policeman, but nobody knows why.  Otherwise everything is clear as mud on the political scene.
  • Someone has left our front door open again and the dog ran away again, dog-gone-it!  But he was found again.
  • My father turned 80 and he is still alive and well.  Here is a picture of his mom
  • Julia cut her thumb on a new vegetable grater on the very evening we went to a restaurant with our friends from China whom we saw for the first time in 6 years.  (She is ok now and the salad she made was good too, even the second day when I ate it:)
  • We bought two new couches at a used furniture store and while we were there we also noticed an almost brand new piano for $66.  So we bought it as well.  All it needs is a good tuning (and perhaps a few new strings and that little shelf where you put sheet music - and some strong hands to carry up the spiral staircase and into our living room (there are details one tends to overlook while making such a good purchase) otherwise it is in perfect shape.
  • Last Saturday we conducted a cleaning day after three months of hosting visitors and never cleaning once during that entire time (this is a hyperbole - for the effect - but we did take out about four large trash bags full of various things that were laying on the floors here and there).
  • I made a bed (larger than the one we had before, a necessity of sorts since we both gained so much weight over the past years) and finally Elaine can, after years of quiet desperate suffering, get a good night sleep even if I am sleeping next to her.
  • Our youngest child, Hanna, turned nine years old!  And if things keep going on like this  she may turn ten (or more!) before we know it.
  • Oh yes, and we also finished rebuilding another little house on the prairie (I meant on the property) and there is a new family living in it  e v e n  a s  I  w r i t e.  They had us over for dinner last Wednesday just before our village prayer meeting, which was attended by no less than a dozen citizens as well as a few visitors.
  • Since we got a brood of chickens and they became of an egg-laying age we don't need to buy eggs any more!  We do need to buy chicken feed and straw and nets to protect our chickens from birds of prey, though.  So our home grown eggs come to about $2 a piece.  But they are good, hmmm.
  • And, seriously now, our homeless friend, Karel, finally got a semi-permanent place to live.  Too bad he will be spending the next 18 months in as inhospitable a place as prisons tend to be.  If he sends an invitation we'll go visit him.  Would you like to come along?
Yes, it is now time to walk the dog. 
So long!