Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Dancing with Spring

Sometimes words follow me around.  I can’t seem to get away from them.  They crawl out of my heart before my hands are ready. 
I’m walking around or working or hanging out with a friend and the words start to push out.  “HEY!  Stop a minute and get a pen!  You can’t even believe what we just saw!  Didn’t you see that?  Didn’t you hear it?  The smell of those colors!!  Write this down quick before the words run away.”

Sometimes they do, run away, that is.  Like a rainbow dancing on a rain puddle, they dry up, float away, and are gone in the mist of the morning. 

Sometimes they don’t. They stay.  They walk along my veins waiting for me to sit still long enough to let them fall onto the paper. 

I see words everywhere and hear them calling to me.

I see them on the branches of a spring birch dappled with sunlight and raindrops. 

“Isn’t that beautiful?” she said.

“What?”  he answered.

“The tree.  The light.  The branches.  The Springiness of it.  All the new hope and promise of Spring is dancing in that tree.”

“Yeah.  Sure.” 

I know that my eyes are different, but I didn’t make them that way.  I know that my ideas are odd.  But life just grabs me.  I see the moment in a snatch of time and I do my best to live it.  Sometimes the moments are golden and take my breath away.  Sometimes they are deeply sad and I have to fight the tears to just carry on. 

The words of these experiences pile up in my veins until I let them breathe.  I’m not sure why I was made this way, but I was.  I can’t anymore stop the words from living than I can stop myself from breathing.  It’s how I see things.  How I feel.

If there is ever someone who will understand the words and be drawn to my side, he will understand. 

Until then, I will do my best to help others to stop, smell the roses, and see Spring dancing in the trees. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Watching Russian Sunsets

I enjoyed a slice of time in St. Petersburg, Russia over the New Year holidays.  On the train home, I was caught in the middle of others’ journeys.  Here is what I saw.

There were three particular Russian couples around me.  All three silver-haired men with much younger looking wives.  Not trophy wives, but younger.

One couple was actively engaged in each other.  Talking.  Smiling.  She was watching everything out the window like she had never been on a train before.  He was talking softly with her.  Precious sunset love.

Another seated in front of me did not even look at each other more than once except when she got up to use the restroom.  And then only because she had to get past him.  Otherwise she slept or looked out the window.  She simply dismissed him out of her path.  The end of the day brought a welcome dark for them.

The final couple shared movies together for the entire four hours.  He was in charge of the sound and the iPad, but they are clearly sharing.  Every once in awhile one or the other would forget their earbuds and comment very loudly about what they are watching.  They would say a few words or laugh together.  Co-conspirators oblivious to the sun or season.

The differences and similarities were interesting to me.  Each gentleman was wearing a suit coat and trousers.  No casual jeans or golf shirts for them.  All three women were wearing nice outfits.  Traveling clothes, my Grandma would call them.  “If you’re traveling, you should look like you’re going somewhere.” These people clearly followed that adage. 

I know this sense of style and carriage is very Russian, especially for the older generation.  Still, it catches me by surprise all of the time.  It takes me back to a more formal day when relationships seemed to carry more weight.  I want to respect the longevity of their love based on their appearance, but history is exposed in their movements.

I would guess the women to be in their 50s or 60s, maybe.  It’s hard to tell with the dyed hair, but their skin and style make me guess older than younger.  The men all look to be 70 something, again judging by hair and style.  I could be wrong, but that is my guess.

Their body language and physical connections tell the story of their relationships.  Regardless of life season, their love, or lack of, is evident.

The happiest man was probably the oldest.  He was the one sitting across the aisle from me.  He was clearly the kindest, the most engaged in the world around him.  I’m not saying this because he went out of his way to help me when no one else would at the start of our trip, but because of something I saw in his eyes.  It was a sense of wonder, of reaching out, of living that emanated from him.  His face was kind, his eyes smiled, he owned a gentle voice.  The woman with him was similar.  The sense of wonder in her constant tourist picture taking.  The pleasant tap of her fingers along his arm.  Peacefully the sun is setting on their journey together. 

I see the three relationships as three potential outcomes, three degrees of potential.  Those who invested in each other, those who shared laughter and those who lived separate lives beside each other.  I want to make some grand comparison between Russia and America here.  I would like to share some deep Bible revelation from this epiphany moment.  Rather, I’ll let you do that on your own. 

As for me, I’m just watching from the outside through a writer’s eyes.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Getting through the 10/40 Window

Several years ago the American Christians were very concerned about the 10/40 window.  It was a calculated view of where on the planet the fewest Christians lived and where the greatest need to share the gospel could be found.  We thought if we all just pooled our resources and really jumped into the fray we could make the biggest impact.  It’s not that we wanted to forget the rest of the world and their need to know about Jesus, but it seemed to suddenly occur to us that there was a part of the world we had forgotten. 

The 10/40 window is the part of the globe between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator.  It stretches from Africa to Asia.  When it became a topic for discussion, it was said that 97% of the world’s unevangelized population lived in that space. 
I remember very vividly hearing a preacher preach about the need for missionaries and prayer warriors and dollars to reach into this part of the world.  I remember vividly talking to God about it.  I told Him I didn’t really want to go to those places, but couldn’t I somehow be connected?  Could my prayers matter?  Could I help someone else who was brave enough to go?  I can see my younger self looking at the map of the 10/40 window hung before me and feeling a great sense of responsibility, but having no idea how I could meet this need.  I’m just a German/Polish girl from the south side of Milwaukee, what could I do?

Many, many times after that I had deep prayer times talking with God about the children in those nations.  I didn’t know any of them, but I could see their faces.  I had no ideas what their names might be.  I couldn’t imagine their living conditions – were they comfortable like my children?  Did they have safe playgrounds in their neighborhoods? 

You must understand that I have very strong convictions about the things I believe about the Bible, but I came to those conclusions on my own from reading the Bible,
from discussing the Bible, from learning about God through strong teachers who had read and learned from the Bible.  Because of all that God has done for me, I want everyone to have the option to know God.  Whether they chose to follow Him or not is not my responsibility.  I feel that very strongly.   I am only responsible to share His Word and his goodness.  He will do the rest.  And they will make their choice.  That is my simple view of personal evangelism. 

I think that’s why I was so burdened for the people of the 10/40 Window.  It’s that I felt as if they didn’t have a choice.  They couldn’t learn about the Bible perspectives about God because the Bible wasn’t available to them.  At all.  They are Communist or Muslim countries where the Bible simply isn’t an option.  I have no idea how God will judge them. And I’m not trying to stir an argument.  In my heart of hearts I was very sad to know there were people living day-to-day without a way to know God like I do.  Maybe that sounds simplistic to you, but my views are really quite simple when it comes to religion.

It bothered me and I talked with God about it a lot.  I asked Him to help them.  I asked Him to send people to them.  I asked Him to protect those brave enough to go there.  Every time I heard of a missionary going into that field, I followed their work very closely. 

And then life happened.  A lot of it.  I got distracted from the rest of the world’s problems as I dealt with my own.  Months and years were taken off the calendar and then one day I was offered an opportunity to teach in Moscow.  I jumped at it!  All of a sudden I found myself living like a missionary with the official title of Associate in Missions and classroom teacher at an international school.

I’ve been in Moscow for two solid years now.  I’ve just begun my third school year.  The students here are from around the world.  I think the latest total is 35 countries.  In my classroom there are 25 students from 10 countries.  The classroom staff represents 3 more so in total we are 28 people from 13 parts of the world.  It’s a wonderful mix.  It’s an English language immersion program so we communicate fully in English.  For which I’m very thankful.

We use a Bible-based curriculum and talk a lot about the goodness of God.  It’s my favorite thing about being here.  I am required to teach from the Book which changed my life and talk about how it impacts my every day.  I love it. 

Many of my students are Christians, but not all.  Their parents have them at our school because of the English language.  They overlook or explain away or ignore the Bible and hope their children are not affected by it.  But they are, of course, affected by it.  It’s the Bible.  It’s the Word of God.  It will give them the tools to make their own choices about God. 

Yesterday as I was looking around the room I was reminded of the 10/40 window.  Of my 25 students, 12 of them are from eight different 10/40 countries.   If I were to include the countries of previous students, I would add four more countries to the list.  That means I have “traveled” and shared the Bible in 12 of the 10/40 countries. 

Sometimes God is almost sneaky with the way He works His plan in our lives.  I guess He is showing me now how He will use me to reach into the 10/40 Window.  Twenty years is nothing in God’s timing.  If you’re one of my prayer and financial supporters, He is using you, too.  Together we are sharing the Book that changes lives.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

No Strangers

I had a quick writer moment recently at a coffee shop.  They strike me at the oddest times: these words that grow from sentence to paragraph to story.

My colleague and I had ducked in for a quick purchase when we ran into mutual friends.  A very pleasant exchange set a friendly mood which carried over to the coffee order.  The clerk picked up on it, and our English language, and cordially joined the chatter.  In the minute it took to order, I learned he had just been promoted to Manager of the store. 

To me, the conversation was normal.  People sharing the path of life for a short moment.

To my young colleague, however, it was something new.  People divulging personal information in an odd setting.  She assumed for the clerk to tell me his news we must be familiar.

“I see they know you here, as well.”   

“No, not at all.”  I answered.

The phrase turned in my mind the rest of the day.  “I see they know you here.” 

It’s not the first time I have heard something similar, especially here in Moscow.  To me it’s natural to make a friend wherever I go.  If not a friend, at least an accomplice in hilarity or a co-conspirator in joy or, sometimes, just a fellow traveler to share the weariness of the path. 

These bridges are constructed in the simplest of forms.  A smile, a hand gesture, a soft word, a reaching across from my side of the human experience into theirs. 

I didn’t know everyone didn’t do this and I don’t know where I learned it.  I think it was my dad, actually, and my Grandma.  Yes, definitely those two.

My dad wasn’t always a nice man and not often a good man, actually.  But he had friends wherever he went.  Every financial transaction he made began as business and ended with friendship. 

I can hear his voice at the corner store.  “Can I get a pack of Big Red gum, too?” 

A tired clerk would reach for it, throw it on the counter, say the amount, wait for cash.

My dad would respond with, “Need to make sure I’m ready in case I meet a beautiful blonde.” 

The clerk (male or female) would smile in complicity.  A friend was made.

My Grandma had a different approach.  “Just bring them with you.”  She was often heard saying.   And if they would come (whoever they were), she would set out the best of the day for them.  It wasn’t always society’s best, but it was her best of whatever with a main ingredient of love. 

“Do you want some soup?  I made it today.  Oh, it’s so good!  Here let me get you some.  And here’s coffee, too.  Did you want some coffee?  Sit down.  Here.  I’m glad you’re here.  Now.  Tell me about you.”

She would sit in her corner rocking chair and listen.  Sometimes throwing out a word or a question, but always listening. 

And the people came from everywhere to talk to her.  I watched it my whole life. 

Every day it seemed someone’s cousin or uncle or co-worker would have been at the table while I was at school.  If I was out and my friends stopped by, they would leave before I got home because they hadn’t come to see me, but to see her!  Tough teen-age, knife carrying punks would stop in for coffee and soup and to talk. 

It wasn’t only for a day, sometimes also for a night.  More than once concerned parents were on the phone or at our door and I would hear Grandma say, “Come in.  Yes, he was here.  I made sure he was safe last night and I gave him a good breakfast before school, but then I don’t know where he went.” 

Then a counseling session would begin with Grandma trying to help another frustrated parent figure out how to parent a strong-willed child. 

So to me, it’s natural to make family-friends and casual-friends and clerk-friends and to not meet a stranger.  I guess it’s my super power.

My siblings are the same.  It’s most fun when we are together meeting strangers. 

One of my favorite memories is of walking in New York City with my sister.  It was autumn and the world was aglow with yellow and orange leaves.  We had spent the day roaming Manhattan and were almost finished with that chapter when we came upon street vendors selling hats, sweatshirts and trinkets.  I knew I wanted a sweat shirt for my son and she knew she wanted a hat so we kind of took over the two tables before us. 

The vendors tried to begin with their usual sales pitch, but quickly realized it wasn’t necessary.  We didn’t need to be convinced.   Banter replaced pitch and before they knew it they were giving us discounts and free items.   We left laughter and genuine memories behind as we bustled to the ferry.

Later that day we shared our news with a native New Yorker friend.

“I bought these two sweatshirts for $20.  I made such a mess of his table searching for this XXL.  Poor guy.  I was trying to fix things as I found them and he gave me a free key chain.  Can you believe it?  Wasn’t that nice?’ I said.

Tina added, “My guy was hilarious!  You should have heard me when he asked if I wanted a princess hat!  Princess?  Oh my word!  I think this hat was $15, but I think I paid $10.  I’m not even sure.  He said I got the blonde discount!  Isn’t that hilarious?” 

My New Yorker friend just shook his head.  “I don’t know what it is about you two, but that doesn’t happen in New York.  If anyone else told me that story, I wouldn’t believe them.  Prices get raised for tourists, not lowered.  But you?  I don’t doubt it at all.

It happens to me all the time.  I think it’s not me that feels familiar.  It’s the presence of God in my life.  Me, I’m so far from good enough.  But with Him working in my life, there is an extra ingredient that makes people comfortable, casual, friendly.

I’m glad for it.  It means that God is answering my prayers.

I pray for an open home and an open heart.  I pray that God will take away the caustic, jagged side of my words and attitude daily.  I pray for eyes to see the world like He does.  I pray for hands to reach with gentleness and grace.  

“May all who enter as guests leave as friends” is the motto for my home and my heart.
“I see they know You here, as well.”  It’s a compliment. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Here we go again!

Sitting here at the kitchen table in my son’s house.  Listening to the quiet hum of suburbia USA.  Gentle, clean air rifles the curtains and the leaves.  The stillness punctured with the staccato rhythm of my typing.

Last day in America for awhile.  Last day of jump in the car and go trips.  Last day of aisles and aisles of convenience. 

Last day of family a quick call or drive away.

That’s really the trick of it.  Managing the last day of family. 

You try not to think about it and push more important tasks to the front of your mind.  Swallow the distance with some menial job. 

It doesn’t change the fact, but makes it more bearable. 

You constantly weigh the balance of your own self-importance here and there.  “But what if something happens while I’m gone?”  You argue with God.  “What if this calamity or that difficulty or that challenge rises?  Who will help them?”

I’m sure God smiles in response.  “Yeah, I’ll be sure to call you if I can’t handle it.”

You definitely don’t think about the good things you will be missing.  You won’t hear about the mundane daily blessings and accomplishments.  Those things don’t seem important enough to mention on a scheduled Skype call.  Backyard baseball heroics don’t come up when there is only one hour to say everything. 

Children of all ages will grow while you’re gone.  Your sons will become taller and stronger men.  
Your daughter-in-law will become an even better woman.  Your mother will deteriorate a little bit more.  Time holds still for none of us. 

All the while they think you are leaving for a grand adventure.  They see you packing bags and smiling and laughing on the outside. 

But inside?  You are tearing yourself away from smothering them with love.

Why would someone do such an awful thing as leaving on purpose?

I can’t answer for other grandmas or mothers or sisters out there, but this one has a simple, complicated answer:  The Will of God.  The call from One who asks me to do something that will have a lasting impact on the world.  The One who has set a legacy in place for me.

My family knows there is only one person I love more than them: God. 

I owe my life, and theirs, to Him.  The many times I should have died, been in jail, been destitute, but God had other plans. 

I believe this, truly.  God has some purpose in keeping me alive and I aim to do whatever He sets in my hands to do to fulfill that purpose.  Right now that means teaching academics and Bible on the other side of the planet.

I don’t believe this only for me, by the way, but for whoever is reading this.  I think the real answer to the question “Why am I here?” is found in following Jesus. 

But I digress.  See?  It’s so much easier to argue theology than to think about the last American morning. 

I am looking forward to the many blessings Moscow holds for me.  I have made friends there, good friends, life long friends.  I look forward to the bustle of the city.  It keeps me from being lazy.  I am excited to see what this school year holds.  I love watching my students advance. 

All that remains to be done is the flying.  One lifestyle trades for another.

Now you know how leaving looks through a writer's eyes.                                                                                                                                                

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Summertime....Summertime.... summ...summ...summertime!

Summertime, summertime, sum-summ-summertime….

The American days are singing past me!  I can hardly believe we are reaching the crescendo already.  It seems like yesterday I was watching the Maestro tap the baton that sent me leaving on a jet plane from Moscow to Chicago. 

And now?  The visa is approved and received.  The return trip tickets are reserved.  The clothes packing awaits.

With a little over two weeks remaining, there are a lot of loose ends to tie up.  I fear the unraveling of the whole kit-and-kaboodle because it seems there just aren’t enough hours left!  Who knew a rummage sale would be so much work? 

Thankfully I have friends who see the opportunity for visiting and working in the same sentence.  My new renters want to buy my house and so I am selling or storing or otherwise getting rid of everything I’ve collected.  Pooling resources, they have helped me to sell off bits and pieces of unnecessary stuff.  Having friends to laugh me through the process has made it much more pleasant.

In between all of that I have tried to stuff as many angel baby kisses as possible into the summer.  Like a picnic basket opened on the lawn, their joy fills the corners of my days.   It’s impossible to catalog the moments we’ve shared. 

Eli making up a song with lyrics like, “I love my Bapka!  She is the best one!  She is my Bapka and I love her!”  I’m sure it’s going to be an award winner.

Anna’s dance performance was also pretty stellar.  My kitchen became the stage she burst upon with the title, “I sewed something!  I sewed something!  Look!  I made this!”  Her bouncing accentuating each word as she showcased the newly fashioned pillow in her victorious hands.

Not to be outdone, Mavrik’s understated growing up graced the turning calendar pages.  Seeing him playing and praying with new friends at camp was memorable.  “This is my friend Dylan.”  Little did the new friends know their parents grew up together sharing the same kind of memories because their grandparents are long-established friends.  I love how God intertwines our stories.

And then Arthur.  My king.  Circling his bike back to wait for me with the disclaimer.  “I will ride next to you.  You’re my grandma and I have to take care of you.  It’s my job.”  I’m not sure who gave him that crown, but I will gladly let him wear it.

I live on the cusp of two lives it seems.  I am looking forward to working in Moscow another year, but hang on to each touch in America.  I wish I could mix them together.  To share the wonders of each with the other. 

But each song has its own measures, its own musicians and must be played one at a time.  For today, I am soaking up the notes drawn upon the staff.  I listen to its cadence and hum along. 

Thanks, God, for the music of life.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summer Schedule of a Ramblin' Writer

I was quite surprised to see that I have not logged on to blog since May.  Oh my word!  I am so sorry!

I have been caught in a whirl of angel baby kisses, chatting friends, house packing and the general activity of taking care of business that can't be done long distance.

Today I have carved out a slice of time to sit at a coffee shop and write.  It's a lovely hidden corner of Chippewa Falls at a place call High Bridge Coffee Shop.  I am listening to quiet conversations buzzing around me about local celebs.  Outside the shiney sun is cooled by a gentle breeze.

It's wonderful. Simply wonderful! I'm not sure which is my current favorite - hearing the English language or seeing the abundant sun!

But I didn't interrupt your day to tell you that.  Some of my friends have asked about my travel and speaking schedule for this summer while I'm in the U.S.  Here are the particulars:

June 30 to July 2 - Wisconsin District Family Camp, Shawano, Wisconsin
    I will have books and things available in the tent out side of the main tabernacle

July 12 - Calvary Church, Bloomington, MN
       Both Morning Services

July 19 - Pentecostal Assembly, Eau Claire, WI
     Morning Service - 10:00 a.m.

July 19 - Abundant Life Church, Thorp, WI
      Evening Service - 6:30 p.m.

I will also be back in Milwaukee the first week-end of August before I fly out again, but I don't know any particulars.
I will have books and Russian trinkets available for sale at the various churches which have invited me.  Some of you may have heard some of the stories which I will be sharing, but some things cannot be written well and must be shared with pictures.

I do hope to see you there.

I also wanted to thank you, my friends and supporters, again for all of your help and encouragement.  Prayers are amplified when they reach across the world.  I know that sounds cliche.  But it's honestly true.  And I appreciate you.

I am going back to Moscow in August.  One more year of miracles, grace and seed sowing.

If you would like more information or would like to become a financial partner with my ministry, please email me at miss.kris.newman@gmail.com.

In the meantime, if you're looking for me, I am likely the granny typing frantically on a keyboard in the corner at High Ground Coffee Shop.  Or the granny trailing behind a group of bikes on the way to the library.  You might even see me basking in the sunlight soaking up Vitamin D and thanking God for another present to unwrap.

Stop by and say HEY if you get the chance!