31 December, 2005

A Long December

It has been a wild ride, and now we get to start fresh with a new year.

Katie Walsh mailing a postcard home

Students at the Chronicles of Narnia English Workshop: Maja, Tomislav, and Kamelija

Sara, Tim, and Pete at the English Workshop

Andy on "Santa's" lap at the Christmas party

Taylor, John, and Pete hard at work on a rad gingerbread house

Come On Feel The Illinoise...

All kinds of people are listing Sufjan Stevens’ newest release, Illinois, as one of (if not THE) top album of 2005. It is a great batch of songs that I am still absorbing. Some of my personal favorites for the year are:
Plans- Death Cab for Cutie. For some reason I cannot stop listening to this!
Cold Roses- Ryan Adams. Again, strangely addictive.
The Essential: Bob Dylan. Clearly, these songs have been around since long before 2005, but it was only this year that I really fully appreciated ‘The Bob’, as my brother calls him.

Side note: I have not grown more fond of country music this year, though Pete keeps forcing it on us. Gosh. How inconsiderate.

On a completely different note altogether: My most recent language blunder- I was trying to say ‘often’ (često/chesto) and instead said češko/cheshko, which means ‘person from the Czech Republic.’

29 December, 2005

Ultimum: A Numbers Game

Yesterday John was going to visit a friend from church, and since this particular friend is married with two small children I decided to tag along to meet the family. John called for some basic directions, and we headed out into the sleet. After stopping by the store for some chocolate covered cherries to present to our hosts (yes, we are in fact experts in this culture), we turned our attention to 5 tall skyscraper-esque (soviet bloc-esque might be more accurate) apartment buildings, one of which housed our visitees. Knowing only that we were looking for the building named (I know: named?) ‘Ultimum,’ we continued on. None of them appeared to have names or signs, and John thought his friend might have said the first building, so we started there.
Upon entering, we were confronted with 4 or 5 different elevators to choose from. Having a mind like a steel trap, John was fairly certain that the apartment number we were looking for was 6- and he remembered this even though it wasn’t written down. The elevator is nearly impossible to describe, so I will only say that it was small and had roughly 30 floor-buttons to choose from. The thing is, the numbers were in almost completely random order! Thankfully, the number 2 was where it should have been anyway, and that was the floor we planned to start with.
After pushing it a few times to get it to work (and trying the number 3 button, too), the elevator whooshed into motion and promptly carried us to the 14th floor, at which point we were immediately joined by a woman, which also meant that, due to the small size of the elevator and slightly complicated door situation, we were pretty much forced to remain on our chariot of the sky, and that was fine since we didn’t want the 14th floor anyway. From what I could tell, our new lift-mate pressed the button for the 11th floor. This (logically) got us to the basement. Then she pressed the 2nd or 3rd floor button, which got us to floor 26. Of course, I was doing everything in my power not to laugh out loud or snort or something, though a few small gasps did escape. Eye contact with John was completely out of the question. Finally she got out of the elevator and we managed to get to the 3rd floor and get out.
We were too high (not a drug reference, I only mean that we were past apt. #6), and tried pressing the button to summon several different elevators, with no luck. We also noticed that some of these had no ‘up’ option at all, only down- perhaps a metaphor? Thankfully, we located a sketchy looking door that we hoped would lead to stairs. And it kind of did. Scary, rusty outdoor-fire-escape-ladder-stairs. But they were functional and we made it to the 2nd floor, which was still too high. Back to the tetanus/chlamydia stairs. Finally we found apartment #6! Nobody answered. We took the elevator down one floor to the exit and stood out in the rain while John called and confirmed that we should go to the 4th skyscraper. Excellent- only 15 minutes late and we didn’t waste any time searching the 2nd and 3rd skyscrapers.
Still no sign that said Ultimum, but this time apartment #6 was easy to find. And the door swung open to reveal…a non-English speaking grandma. With the help of her grandchildren we successfully determined that our friend did not live in apartment #6. Another phone call later and we were on our way to the 16th floor. We spent a very enjoyable few hours in apartment #100 talking and making faces at the baby and tasting blueberry schnapps (the baby had some, too…not kidding). Ahhhh, Croatia, how I love thee. I also have a new appreciation for cell phones.

27 December, 2005

Post-Christmas Post

Did you have a good Christmas? I hope so. Ours was great. We sang songs and ate food and played games and made gingerbread houses and read the Bible and watched movies and laughed a lot. To tell the truth, I expected this Christmas to be difficult. But instead it was one of the best I have ever had. Of course, I still missed my family and all of the familiar home-y-ness of the holidays. Having that taken away, however, allowed me to focus more on Christ and the true meaning of Christmas. That sounds cheesy, but in some indescribable way (and only by God’s grace), I think that right now I love God as much as, if not more than, I ever have, and that has given me more peace and joy than I could have hoped for.

Currently listening to: Ben Folds Five- Whatever and Ever Amen

I Love Music

But not just any music. Not, for instance, the current selection of adult soft-rock classics playing in this café. Not that there’s anything wrong with Carole King, Peabo Bryson, Whitney Houston, or Celine Dion. It’s just that the songs they sing hurt and deeply defile my soul. It’s funny, though, because there are people that I love who would disagree, and that is okay.

More to the point, though, recently I found some Sufjan Stevens Christmas songs that have made me very happy (thank you to this guy for being the catalyst in this discovery). I’m not sure that was correct usage of the word ‘catalyst,’ so if it was incorrect, I apologize to anyone who noticed. Sufjan Stevens is fantastic in general (thank you to this guy for originally suggesting his music). The internet is great for discovering new music and learning about the music community. I miss KEXP (my favorite radio station), though, and having more constant exposure to new and varied music. We don’t have an internet connection at our apartment, so no online listening for me this year.

[This post was written a week before Christmas but not posted until now…]
Currently listening to: Sigur Ros- ()

23 December, 2005

Christmas Eve Eve!

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve! I am excited. We get to eat Mexican food :-) and hang out. I went skating on plastic imitation ice twice this week, it was great. We played tag and fell down a lot and now have many bruises to show off. Tons of people are out doing last minute Christmas shopping, rendering the Korzo an obstacle course of sorts. Walking in these parts seems to be a cross between an interpretive dance and a contact sport.

As far as Christmas movies go, I agree that White Christmas isn't the only good one. Some other personal favorites are: A Christmas Story, Home Alone, and somewhat surprisingly to me, Elf. Every time I see that movie I laugh harder and longer and more often. Amazing.

17 December, 2005

Christmas Time

If some of the recent posts were too whiny, or I complained too much, I sincerely apologize. It is important to be honest about my struggles, I think (and I truly appreciate everyone’s prayers and encouragement), but at the same time there is so very much to be grateful for. This last week was fantastic. Our Christmas party was even better than I hoped for, and as we sat there with a few dozen friends laughing and talking and making plans to hang out again next week and thinking of how we had met each of them and all that God has done here so far, I felt overwhelmingly blessed. I don’t deserve this life and these friends, but by God’s grace He has given them to me.

Our friend/boss Carolyn came all the way from Washington to spend a few days with us this week. She is amazing. Funny and energetic and kind and compassionate and extremely wise, she played a huge part in making this week good for all of us. Thank you to her and her family for sacrificing time and more for her to be able to be here with us.

So, there is this Santa train-type-vehicle that drives around the Korzo (this long plaza thing lined with shops and buildings in the center of the city that everyone walks through all the time) and kids ride on it. There are loud speakers attached that blast Christmas music for all to hear. Well, mainly Christmas music. They also play a few random Johnny Cash songs, and Pete said he heard DMX (!) the other day, too. I’d like to ride on it sometime.

Last night Taylor and Michelle and I watched ‘White Christmas’ – also known as the best Christmas movie of all time. Is anyone with me on this?

Matt, one of our bosses and perhaps the funniest person many of us have ever met, created a blog for John. Hopefully he will keep updating it with increasingly scandalous and bizarre content until, at last, John is motivated enough to start one of his own.

Currently listening to: Christmas music by Nat King Cole

An Open Letter To My Brother Tobin

Hey Tobe-
The soundtrack to this letter is the Paul Simon Collection, starting with “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard” (you know why I start with that song). It is a bit chilly outside, and it is one week and one day until Christmas. Our Christmas party was on Thursday, and it was great. Tim bought a $4 Santa outfit so thin you could see through it and stuffed it with pillows to make him look fatter. We ate loads of cookies and sang Christmas carols, and heard the Croatian versions of some of them (Jingle Bells became “Zlon chi-chi!, zlon chi-chi!” etc.). Much later there were rousing renditions of Father Abraham and, yes, the Hokey Pokey. [I must admit here that I personally was not involved in either of these dances, as I was deep in important philosophical conversation about Star Trek, ‘24’, and, later, the French spiritual meditative practice known as Taize; but, in all honesty, I kind of wish I had been in the other room participating because I really don’t foresee another opportunity like that coming my way any time soon…] You may wonder if the Croatians think we are crazy, and the answer is a resounding ‘absolutely, more than you can imagine!’ Seriously, who busts out with the hokey pokey in their mid-twenties, especially without alcohol or other mind-altering chemicals involved? I do not know, but it was fun and memorable, and more people came on Thursday than have ever come to any event we have had all year. It was a great way to end the semester.
At this point I must remind you of our soundtrack as the current song is ’50 Ways to Leave Your Lover’, and I recall fondly your tendency to try to remember enough of the lyrics to sing a few lines from time to time in the kitchen or car or elsewhere. Paul Simon is truly amazing, I mean, ‘coy’ and ‘Roy’, ‘Stan’ and ‘plan’, ‘key’ and ‘Lee’ – very clever. He’s even better with Garfunkel, though.

At this point I would like to ask how Sunny the dog and Bob the cat are doing, and how our business Seven Seas Services is going, and if you have seen the hermit recently, and how David and the Caseys are, and about the rest of the family, of course, but you can’t answer me and this forum is a bit too public to ask anything more personal, so I will sign off now. Talk to you soon.

12 December, 2005

What a weird life...

Faruk is our landlord. He is not all we had hoped for. Apparently he is a high-powered war crimes judge and works in the Hague. He does not speak English and does not live in Croatia. This makes him rather inaccessible. Although several metric tons of his belongings are quite accessible, as they are being stored in our apartment. Charming. Most recently, his personal manservant (not a joke) dropped off some nice photographs of Faruk with the Croatian president. We have not hung them yet. He also dropped off an older dishwasher to replace our broken one. The installation of said appliance resulted in a flooded kitchen, the flooding of our downstairs neighbor’s apartment, and a visit from a plumber (who I am told was quite attractive with no visible crack due to functional coveralls…). We have never had a working dishwasher. Our window is broken, our shower is breaking, our washing machine was broken, our ceiling remains broken, and we still don’t have internet. Did I forget to mention that he conned us into paying 50 euros more per month than we originally agreed to? Oh, Faruk. Why, why, why…

*If you are John's mom or know John's mom, please don't read this next part.* The other night John almost got jumped. He crossed paths with a short gypsy and a tall, dumb fellow. His shifty adversaries tried talking to him in Croatian first, then they started to come at him, and proceeded to chase him. He ran for about 10 minutes or so before his own Croatian posse showed up in his defense. John should really get his own blog so he can tell the full story (it's pretty amazing). All in favor of this say ‘Aye’. At any rate, we are glad that he didn’t get knifed.

On Friday evening we all got together to celebrate Andy and Taylor’s birthdays. It was glorious- we played this awesome card game called Bang!, ate lots of spaghetti and homemade pie, and watched the Three Amigos. It was a good time (as it always is when Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Jon Lovitz are involved). Except the meat that we got from super-ghetto-local-grocery-store had chunks of mold-ish looking nastiness ground throughout all 2 kilos of it. Who doesn’t like vegetarian spaghetti sauce?

If you hadn’t noticed, I seem to be stomping around in the far reaches of the negative end of cultural adjustment this week. I miss Seattle tremendously. I keep lapsing into catatonic periods of recollection and fantasy about all of my favorite people, places, and things in the blessed Northwest. I am pretty sure I will snap out of it soon, but for those of you who are there, know that I miss you and am jealous. How I long for the overpriced, evilly-corporate godsend that is Starbucks. Though my real favorites are Caffe Ladro, Zoka, Victor’s, Solstice…maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to start listing them.

07 December, 2005

Katie Walsh: 12.21.78-12.03.05

Katie Walsh was only in my life for a short while. She loved Jesus and served Him with her life. She was energetic, fun, funny, strong, and persevering. She was a very good friend to some very good friends of mine. We miss her.

Though we didn't know it was the end at the time, it was a privilege to be able to serve her and care for her in a small way as she neared the end of her race. I praise God for her life and for His purposes in her death, and rejoice in knowing that she is with Him now.

You will fail this test.

Here are some thoughts I wrote out on Saturday. Warning: this is a bit self-involved and dramatic, more of a journal entry than anything. If you’re not into that kind of thing, consider yourself informed.

I have embarked on a journey, and have started a race. I have entered into a test, one that spans the spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional realms. Starting out, it was clear that it would be challenging, even perilous. Undeniably, various mistakes, missteps, and stumbles were expected. But I knew that it was possible to push through the brambles and rough spots and come out victorious and strong in the end.

And I was wrong. 3 months in and 8 to go and I am spent. I wish that someone would have sat me down in the beginning and slowly and sternly stated “You will fail this test.” I would not have believed this or understood it- I still don’t understand it. But maybe if it were repeated again and again and again it would have started to sink in.

There is no possible way that I could have NOT come to this point. And I’m not talking about normal, “small” failures and mistakes- like an unkind word or poor decision. Things like that trip you up and take some clarification, backtracking, or apology, but in general can be repaired or let go of.

What I mean by ‘failure’ is not so much an event, but more of a state. Total, complete, I’ve-fallen-on-my-face-in-the-mud-and-am-having-a-nervous-breakdown style failure. The type of malfunction that is irreparable, inexcusable, seriously noticeable and disastrous. The sort of thing that you can’t explain, ignore, or recover from alone. Some helpful thoughts from the dictionary on the concept of failure are: to be unsuccessful in trying to do something; to be incapable of doing something, or choose not to do something; to fall short of the standard required to pass an examination or course; to stop working, or not perform or grow as expected; to let somebody down by not doing what is expected or needed, or abandon or forsake somebody; to lose strength, loudness, or brightness. Pretty much everything written there describes the state that I am in.

Why was this inevitable? Why must I have failed? And so spectacularly? Because this year isn’t a game I can win. It is only a journey that can be experienced, and I think that coming undone is an essential part of it. It’s not so much about falling down and getting back up as it is about absolutely falling apart and being remade. And I have come undone.

The weekly schedule needs to be revamped. We need to come up with a campus plan or something for this year. My monthly letter is late. I have hurt or offended or pissed off or annoyed every single person on the team at some point in the last week. I haven’t even thought about my Croatian language homework. There are literally hundreds of emails in my inbox to reply to. Taylor, Michelle, and I are sleeping in one bed and the ceiling is leaking. We don’t know how to pay our electric bill. There is a mouse living in our kitchen. There are dozens of students I still need to meet with. The team is exhausted and disconnected and certainly not refreshed. Andy’s birthday is tomorrow and Taylor’s is on Wednesday. Three people are going to Zagreb in the morning, two or three more have to go to Trieste on Monday to get a prescription filled before our tourist visas expire, and the remnant will limp along here.

And Katie died today.

In all of this, the Lord my God is Good and Just and Sovereign and Majestic and Holy and Compassionate and this is truly where hope is found. As Paul says: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
And when I am here in this place, I hear God saying to me:
“For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O little Israel, for I myself will help you,” declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.

Praise Him.

03 December, 2005

Take Two

So, 7 people from Montana are here this week visiting and encouraging us. I hadn't met any of them before, but they are pretty cool and it is fun to meet other Americans. They brought us marshmallows, peanut butter, and various other essentials from home.

Unfortunately, Katie arrived feeling sick. She was diagnosed with tonsilitis 2-3 weeks ago, and decided to come to Croatia armed with amoxicillin and prednazone (spelling??). Her condition worsened over the week, and yesterday we went back to our favorite hospital in Rijeka. We didn't know if she had mono, pneumonia, or something else. Last night she went to a bigger hospital in Zagreb and spent the night in intensive care, and today she is in serious condition and has been moved to yet a third hospital.

This is no fun for her. Please pray. Thanks.