Tuesday, March 24, 2015

We Eat Rice (and other communal observations of a life in solitude)

It's been a while since my last post (nearly a month!) and no, I really don't have a good excuse for not writing. I've been working away on an online Master in Education, hosting pastors from all over South America, and most recently, enduring round two of the flu. All this to say, my life is a bit lonelier than I would prefer (being bedridden yesterday was not fun), and I have been reading Frankenstein and spending way too much time on facebook, which should explain the oogles of 'likes' you may be seeing  from me.

While there are perks to this solitude (productivity, telling the negative/perfectionist/guilt-tripping voice in my head to kindly shut up), my highlights have been time spent in community, both improvised and intentional. So I thought I'd share them with you.

1) We eat rice. I went grocery shopping with my neighbors Abner and Salomon at a buy-in-bulk place, which is interesting not only because none of us knew where to find anything or calculate the real price (what DO you read when there are four labels?) or that they are guys and immediately gravitate towards toilet paper and salami, but also because they are northern South Americans and felt that 20 pounds of rice for three people was a reasonable amount for "oh, a week or so." They might not have been exaggerating too much- we've been eating a lot of rice. Fried rice, chaufa rice, cheesy rice, boiled rice, orange rice, chicken and rice...conclusion: if it has no rice, it's not a meal!

2) Silent music. A few days ago, I took my guitar to the park and started quietly playing to myself. A 3 year old toddled up to me and started swaying in time, gasping in sheer delight. He looked curiously at his mom and then at me, and so I let him strum while I changed the chords. He would gently strum, then immediately press his curly head against the body of the guitar to hear the echo. He was clearly enthralled, and kept making that funny gasping noise. When he leaned away from the guitar, I saw the reason for the gasps: a hole in his throat (tracheostomy?). "He sure likes music, huh?" I asked his mom. "Oh yeah! His dad plays a bunch of instruments and I sing. Someday he'll take after us both".

3) Waffles like from the movies! I made waffles one Sunday afternoon, and sold one of my first to a group of high schoolers. Five minutes later one of the girls came running towards me (at which I started running towards her): "we want another one- they are good!" They ended up buying 3 more waffles, and got talking about English after they remarked that I talk funny. "I've seen waffles in movies from your country," one said, "but this is the first time I've tried one. Is this why- no offense- people there are so fat?"

4) And now it is time to say goodbye. While I've been at a loss as to how to define my purpose for this brief extended time in Argentina, I believe part of it is God's gracious way of letting me say a good goodbye to many of my friends/family here. This is not to say it has been easy- it is no easier to hold back tears with a hug than it is to allow any door to close- but it has been necessary. "I'm glad you are here," several have told me, "but I will be happy to know you are home". Me too, dear friends, me too. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Quick Newsy Note

Hey everyone!

I am spaciously installed in my new quarters (with kitchen and bathroom- more on that later!) and have enjoyed my "lazy days" of settling in to the new swing of things. Abner (remember him?) is here at the seminary for another few days until he moves closer to his church in province*. Then a few other friends are coming in and out to visit (2 will stay in capital*!) and hopefully a university student will be moving in with me in a few weeks- can't wait to meet her! Once I get everyone's permission to do so I'll try to do an update on what all the seminarians are up to these days- moves, marriage, ministries- it's all pretty exciting =)

In the meantime, I am starting online classes for a Master in Education, making rather mushy and burned pumpkin fries (they really don't work), celebrating first birthday parties in style, keeping the seminary clean and comfortable, organizing curriculum, discovering a bilingual sitcom from the 1970's, getting an Argentine phone number, calculating a good selling price for waffles, and seeing what all I can do in these next few months (teaching, preaching, helping) in the Kingdom (Almagro and to the ends of the earth). Not necessarily in that order ;)

In other news, you will be starting to see ads on my blog- clicks and cents are heady bait to a student income. I'm doing what I can to filter the sort of advertisements that may show up, but if you see something sketchy/unworthy, please do NOT click it. If, however, it's for something cool/worthwhile/neutral and you think "huh, let's take a closer look", by all means. Use your internet savvy!

*Buenos Aires is divided into province and capital (technically "Autonomous City"). Capital, where where I live, is the central hub; province is the outskirts and what some might call the suburbs.

This is all I have to say about #thedress. Because it is clearly
yellow, dark blue, and white. 

Cute car for sale down the block

A good reminder

Ain't no party like a first birthday party!
Feliz cumple, Santi!

Franco, Santiago, and Irene

Somewhere under the dictionary entry for "joy", I
am sure this baby in a bounce house shows up. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Retrospective Hope

As many of you know by now, I head back to Argentina tomorrow.

How long will you be there this time?

I don’t know (probably a couple of months)

What will you be doing?

I don’t really know that, either (teaching and helping out in some capacity or another).

Has the uncertainty got to you yet? It has certainly got to me a time or two.

Since I left Buenos Aires in December, there’s been a couple of game changers. The seminary building is getting sold/demolished. The graduates obviously won’t be coming back, but neither will my first-year English class students. Courses will be done online until a new building can be found. I will be living in the seminary, Thief Lord style and mostly alone, until it gets razed. I will be helping- not entirely sure with what, or how- during this transition time.

Doubts and questions crowd my mind tighter than an overflowing suitcase. Not only what I’m supposed to be doing, but why…and why not do something else entirely? Why not save up money in the months before I start a Master in Teaching (surprise- don’t know where that will be, either)? Why not stay home? Why not go off the grid for a while and hike? Why not avoid final farewells? Why not ignore that Voice that sometimes I hear with my ears but more often lately in the pit of my stomach?

Why not? When will I be home? Where is home? What will I be doing? And why?

I remember my fears roughly this time last year, too.

Will I be able to function 24/7 in my second language? Who will my roommate be? What about the guy I’m dating? How will I balance being a student, friend, and teacher?

They seem small now because I lived through them, and God walked with me every step of the way. I was able to function in Spanish from the start and quickly found a best friend in Lucy, who helped me get through the long distance and break-up blues. I found more than a community in the 20 people I shared the seminary with; I found family. In hindsight, I can see absolute provision, faithfulness, and goodness shining brightly in the mist of every uncertainty.

In the words of a dear friend, “hasn’t God been good to you so far? So what’s to stop Him from being good tomorrow as well?”

And those rhetorical questions I can answer with absolute certainty: yes and nothing!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


If you looked under my bed, you would find boxes. There are a few photos in them, even fewer scraps of cloth and ribbon and paper, and dozens of journals. Dog-eared spirals, lavender-bound little tomes, folders of loose paper for special events. There are a few factual snatches- if I look hard sometimes I can find what I was up to on a certain day in 1998- but mostly imaginings: poems, fairy tales, beginnings of stories with no endings, cynical parodies, dictionary entries for some invented language, and sketches of characters that, no matter how hard I tried, always looked too much like me. 

When caught journaling, I've often responded that writing is my way of making sense of the world. It's how I order my thoughts and ideas line after line, how I process, how I remember. As I look back through my writings, though, I'm coming to realize that it's not the only way.  

More than any original thoughts (if there is such a thing), I discover that most of what I write- and think- is a product of what I read. My bookshelf is as much a way of processing the chaotic, the unexpected, and the loneliness as the boxes of journals that rest beside it. They are both ways of encoding and decoding life, and the most important bits I memorize and pull out when life seems particularly agnostic or dull or disappointing. 

   "There is a way to be good again..."

   "One foot on sea, and one on shore, to one thing constant never. 
     Then sigh not so, and let them go..."

   "Donde aprendimos a vivir sin lagrimas"

   "I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it"

   "Where else does a turtle crossing the road make all the difference in the world?"

You may not realize this, but if you've ever written me anything- particularly if it's anything meaningful- your words form their own (metaphorical) book. I think there's an entire volume of "I love you"s somewhere in my memory, and I pull it out whenever I need to know. I try to incinerate the unkind words (which unfortunately have the nasty habit of sticking longer otherwise), keep the kind ones, remember your stories and reference them. Some of them are under my bed, all of them are in my heart. 

There is another book, too, that reads me as much as I read it. The annotations don't quite outnumber the original words yet, but in more than one instance it looks like a hybrid of book and journal. It's an odd collection of stories and poetry, more alike and unlike my own writing than any other book on the shelf. It is a portal and a mirror, mysterious and terribly frank. Its were some of the first words I referenced in my own thoughts, and the more I read and study it, the more I realize I didn't quite understand it in the first place and don't entirely understand it now. It, more than any, is the one that shapes my thoughts and these letters. 

   "Who can truly be innocent?"

   "The kingdom is like the pinch of yeast that a woman mixed into her bread"

   "Now we see through a mirror dimly, then we will see face to face"

So here's to the books, and to that book, that make writing (and thinking, remembering, and hoping) possible. 

Selected quotes (memorized) from:
-The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
-Much Ado About Nothing (William Shakespeare)
-"En Paz", Defensa Propia (Mario Benedetti) 'where we learned to live without tears'
-The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)
-All the Places to Love (Patricia MacLahan)
-Psalm 143:2
-Matthew 13:33
-1 Corinthians 13:12

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Brand new shiny toy gift phone!

Meet my new phone. It is granny-smith apple green. It is sleek. It is not edible. I've been asked for many years now if I had one (when I didn't). And now I do.

The apple is not edible
Meet my i-phone (no. 5, currently nameless).

I'm not quite sure what to make of the "everyone has one" argument I'd been hearing. Will it be handy to have a camera again? Most certainly. Is it nifty to be able to see previous texts? Oh yes. Can I use it in my classroom? You'd better believe I will (audio recording, hello!)

But does everyone have one?  Taking a quick glance at most of the world, that'll be a resounding nope.

Then again, not everyone has parents who are still together, a bed, enough money for plane tickets to visit family, Bibles in my two languages, the promise of a hot dinner tomorrow (and two other meals, plus snacks), a bachelors degree, a healthy body and plenty of things to clothe it, a faithful computer (who turns 6 this year!), or even access to clean water.

I'm so ridiculously privileged I don't even realize it until I have a brand new shiny toy gift phone to make me remember.

I don't mean to sound like a downer about these things, but I guess this is where my mind goes when I'm thankful. I'm happily reminded that everything- like this phone- is a gift not meant to be hoarded but shared to bless others and bring the Kingdom a little bit closer to home. I'm humbly challenged that this phone (along with everything else) is an investment, and I am responsible to its true Owner. I may be taking this a bit too grandiosely, but after all, it's an i-phone. It can do stuff.

Okay, enough seriousness and Siri-ousness. I mentioned briefly that this brand new shiny toy gift phone is currently nameless; this puts it at odds with my other pricey possessions, which all have names (Mechitas the Mac, Eddy the car, Lucy the deceased camera, Enoch the trombone...etc.)

....Any suggestions?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The mud on our jeans

Tears are not uncommon on 2nd grade recess. Skinned knees, hurt feelings, accidental (?) pushes and reports that "she's not my friend anymore" swarm 2 feet below me, all of them wondering if I can fix it and asking in one way or another a fundamentally human question: am I going to be okay?

Sometimes, thought, the teary-eyed ones don't come to me, and I find myself drawn, like today, to the boy on the lonely bench. His hood is up because it's cold and because he doesn't want anyone to bother, or even see, him. 

I ask him what the matter is and he replies, shoulders shaking, that he tripped and got mud on his pants. 

"Oh kiddo, it'll wash!" I told him, repeating almost instinctually the advice my mom once gave me and likely my grandma once gave her (I wonder how many generations these phrases go back, but that's beside the point). 

He shook his head rather violently. "My mom will yell at me."

I bit my tongue a moment or two. He has mud on his jeans and is distraught at the idea of getting scolded and hurt for the sin of getting them dirty. 

Last night I woke up during a dreamed conversation with my cousin Ethan. He said he was going to preach about sin (this is what seminary has done to me, I guess, since he's never preached, although he is one of my favorite people to talk with...I'm guessing that's my dormant brain's connection), and so I asked him what his main point was and advised him to talk about sin in the light of grace and forgiveness. This is pretty profound, now that I think about it, and in line with Jesus' teachings. He talked an awful lot about what to do with the sister who sins against us (forgive as many times as it takes), the tax collector who can't even raise his head as he prays with his hood up in humble honesty and yet goes home right with God, the wasteful son who stumbles homeward with muddy jeans, destined to be a servant but welcomed into his Dad's arms. 


I turn again to the boy, and ask him a question I ought to ask myself more often: "what's more important- you, or the mud on your jeans? Which one matters most to your mom?"

Hiccup. "Me."

Of course, but how easily we forget it. The jeans will till have to be scrubbed, but they will wash. There is a way to be good again*, there is forgiveness, there are even new squelchy mud puddles to discover tomorrow. But under it all, there is the assurance that we are loved so much more than the mud on our jeans. 

And that means we are going to be okay. 

*A quote from one of my favorite books: The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

**The pictures are not mine, they are respectively heisted from an outdoor clothing site (http://www.muddyfaces.co.uk/being_outdoors.php) and a random article about God's love (http://escapetoreality.org/2010/12/01/love-of-god/). I don't officially endorse either, although I enjoyed the article and definitely use clothes outdoors. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Re-entry, or maybe I'm crazy sometimes

I'm sure the comparison has been made before, but there is something about culture adjustment (going from one country/culture to another) that is uncomfortably like being mentally, well, off. I won't say mental illness, which is a separate issue and way too heavy to compare to any plight of mine, present or past. But mentally off in the sense that most of my points of reference for what is normal/expected are suddenly shifted- ever so slightly- but just enough to throw me for an emotional loop.

There are the mornings I wake up and go downstairs for breakfast, and stand, somewhat overwhelmed, at the well-stocked kitchen shelves in front of me with no fewer than 6 kinds of tea (I'm indecisive even when faced between black and green tea). Then there are the mornings when I don't even leave my room before I'm astounded at the size of my room and the softness of the carpet and the smell of my books and the clothes in my closet (the ones I'd forgotten I'd had these past ten months). And there are even mornings when I don't even make it out of bed before I remember that I'm not on the top bunk and that my friends are thousands of miles away and in spite of the fact that I'm "home" I don't quite feel home.

And then there are mornings like today when I hear the lyrics "people are strange when you're a stranger" on the radio and start crying in the restaurant for no apparent reason, much to my (and my Dad's) bewilderment.

Like I said, re-entry = mentally off.

Or maybe I'm just "home" nowhere and everywhere at the same time.