Monday, May 4, 2015

Spring News

Just a quick note and a couple of links to take you to the website where you can read the current newsletter or order book copies or sign the guest book.

Hope all is well with all of my readers wherever in the world you are.  I am so very thankful for your support and encouragement.

You are a blessing to me!!

Drop a line and let me know how you are and what's news with you.

See you here, there or in the air!

Kris

Here's the link to the newsletter page:  NEWSLETTER
Here's the link to the bookstore page:  BOOKSTORE
Here's the link to the guest book page:  GUESTBOOK



Saturday, April 4, 2015

Hope Springs Eternal

Moscow is teasing us with Spring right now.  Two weeks ago I thought maybe I could retire my snow boots and winter coat.  Today I wake up to the third day of April blanketed in snow.  Ugh.  I literally looked out of the kitchen window today and said, “Come on, God!  Aren’t we done with this mess yet?  Tomorrow is Easter!”

It’s pretty, though, I’ll give it that. 

Each branch of the birch trees outside of my kitchen window is laced with the glistening white making even this grey morning a little easier to look at.  The temperature is hovering around the freezing mark so there is slush, not ice, covering the walking path.  That’s a positive, too.

Yes, I am trying to be optimistic. 

It’s easy to find things to complain about.  The moisture in the air makes it difficult, even dangerous, for me to breathe.  Cold, damp air and asthma are not good friends. The slushy walkways are bothersome and messy.  The students have been cooped up inside the building since October and we are all victims of cabin fever.  The sun has surely gone on vacation somewhere because it is not seen here.  Every day is covered with clouds.  This is the monotonous part of the year when the whole world is just stuck in a rut and done, done, done! 

But it’s Spring.  And Spring is so full of promise I can’t be dreary for long.

Maybe it’s because I’ve lived so many Springs that I can find hope.  I know it won’t always be this way.  The earth will move on its path toward the sun and with the longer days will come more sunshine which will warm the air and put away the snow and make the tulips blooms. Even if we can’t see it shining brightly each day, the sun is there.  I know this because I have seen it time and again.

I know the same thing about God.  Sometimes it seems like God is on vacation.  He has left us in a rut of cold, messy problems and He has gone on vacation taking the light and warmth with Him. 

But He hasn’t left us.  He isn’t unconcerned with our situations.  He is only a whisper away. 

When I was going through a very difficult time in my life and it seemed like all I did was cry, a friend told me something about the closeness of God that gave me great comfort. 

There are several verses that talk about how much God loves us which use the word “ahav” to describe that love.  Bible scholars can feel free to call me out, but this is my interpretation of what I remember being taught.  Ahav means love that is given and received continually.  

For example, “Proverbs 8:17  I love (ahav) them that love (ahav) me; and those that seek me early shall find me.”  This verse looks pretty straight forward full of love from God to anyone who is looking for Him.  But when we add the meaning ahav to the mix, it means that God is so close that when we breathe out, He breathes in.  When we cry, our tears are also on His face.  

He loves us so much and is so close that He feels and sees everything in real time with us. 

When life is difficult, He is there. When life is great, He is there.  Unchanging.  We can’t always see Him, but that’s not because He has distanced Himself from us. 

It might look like it will never be Spring in Moscow today, but be sure you can count on the season to change.  It might look like God is far away today, but be assured He is with you. 

That is the message of Easter.  Hope.  Jesus died on Friday at Calvary.  It looked like all was lost.  But on Sunday morning, He rose again giving us hope beyond this life.  Beyond today’s struggles.  Beyond a life of difficulties. 

Hope. 

I pray you find the same hope in your life.  I pray you see Him offering a hand of grace to you wherever you are.  You might be a lifetime subscriber to Christianity who has lived a good life wondering why a calamity has befallen you.  You might be a lost soul trying to believe that God would forgive you. 

He is there.  Breathing in when you breathe out.  Feeling your tears on His face.

Take a chance.  Believe in Him.  Accept His gift.  Experience Easter.

==================
Visit my website for more information about my Moscow ministry:  Writer's Pages

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Communication. It's a BIG deal.

“Communication.  It’s a big deal.” 

I posted this Facebook status a few days ago in response to some very frustrating communicationless days.  But then I got to thinking about the implications of the words as I preached to the girl in the mirror.

I may be a writer, but I’m not a very good communicator. 

I don’t like the sound of my voice and I often struggle with saying the right words.  When I’m tired, for example, the words in my brain get tangled and I will say one thing when I’m thinking another.  That happens also when I’m solving a problem in my mind, but trying to talk about something else. 

I am capable of speaking in front of a group, but the front is not my favorite place to be.  I like to sit back, observe, consider, analyze.  If I’m going to speak before a group, I like to have good warning.  That way I can map out my words in writing first.

Because to me, writing is so much easier!  I love the delete key, the backspace key, the cut function.  Throw those words and letters into oblivion when they don’t present properly!

But when you’re communicating vocally, you can’t take words back.  Sound waves caused by spoken words resonate forever, unending. 

I struggle with harsh, sharp, uncompromisingly sarcastic words.  I don’t mean to be mean, but it’s hard for me to consider the impact of my words when they are so black and white in my thoughts.  If you do this, then THAT should happen so …. What did you expect to have happen? 

Oy.  Some Christian.  So much for compassion.  *sigh*  

Email and Instant Messaging and Facebook status communication is a whole different level of communication with exaggerated importance when you live on the other side of the planet.  It’s incredible the weight and significance of words becomes when you are waiting for them. 

You find yourself measuring time by wake/sleep cycles.  “They won’t respond to my message now because they are sleeping, but when I get from work, they should be awake and then I can check again.”

And then, when the worst case scenario actually becomes reality and your internet is DOWN for five days, you look for alternatives in a desperate attempt to get information.   That’s when you realize how tightly you cling to words.

Recently my mom had some health issues and the importance of communication resonated loudly in my days.  I am not in Milwaukee.  I cannot ask my own questions.  I must rely on someone else to tell me something.  To them, it’s a routine thing because they are there and can get the answers any time.  For me, it’s a critical, frustrating, cycle of non-communication!!!

That was, of course, when our home internet was down for an entire week-end. 

*sigh* 

It was like a climax in an adventure, thriller where the stalked one screams loudly at the top of their lungs!  AAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!

Screaming is a form of communication that doesn’t really work well, however.

It was as though God was trying to get my attention to make me ponder communication.  And so, of course, I did.

I thought about how I struggle with communicating with my students’ parents who don’t speak English.  I’m always trying to find an interpreter and praying they use the right words to convey my message.  I hope I’m not failing.

I considered how I communicate with my students and whether I’m too harsh, too loud, too strong, too demanding as I try to balance their need to learn academic and spiritual and life lessons in the span of a few short hours a day.   I pray I’m not doing this wrong.

The chaos that comes from miscommunication, misunderstood phrases, unspoken information is the root of all frustration and conflict.  It’s exaggerated when you are trying to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak your language.   This problem is my own fault for not learning Russian.  I shoulder this blame alone.

I reviewed how I communicate with my family in the States through e-mail, IMessages, FaceTime and Skype chats and sought to discover if I put too much – or too little – importance on the frequency and sincerity of these sessions.  I don’t want to interrupt their lives, but I so want to know every detail.  I know I’m missing a lot of their moments.  I struggle with maintaining a right balance for their sake and mine.

I contemplated how I communicate – or fail to communicate – conflicts and disagreements around me.  I am terribly passive/aggressive when it comes to dealing with problems.  I know it’s something I have to work on if I’m going to be in any kind of leadership position.  Another reason I chose to be in the back of the room and not the front.  I would much rather follow than lead.  Age has caught up to me, however, and I’ve become a leader just because I have survived more years than many of my colleagues. 

I thought of how people communicate with me, or not.  The laughter they share in 144 characters, Facebook responses of encouragement, the e-mails of grace showing they think of me.   The resonance of silence.

And then there are the letters and cards and notes from my students.  They wrap me up in kindness blanketing me in their loving phrases. 

Communication is a big deal.  Whether you are near or far.  If the message is good or bad.  Don’t hold your words in.  Communicate. 

Proverbs 25:11 (CEV)
11 The right word at the right time
    is like precious gold set in silver.

Please, God, help me to have the right words.




Sunday, January 25, 2015

Stairing

A long time after I have taken pictures I like to look through them to see if I can find a theme.  Inevitably one item or another will appear again and again.  For example, several years ago when I was going through a period of major changes, I found bridges in my pictures.  The bridge pictures turned into a series of blog posts and then a book.  It seemed I wasn’t the only one having to make changes and my experiences helped others.

It’s not a surprise to find a new series growing in my pictures.  Although I don’t understand the full scope of the metaphor yet, I do see the small picture growing.

The stair photos begin in Minneapolis, appropriately.  In fact, one staircase in particular is connected to a very pertinent bridge, but that story has already been told. 

Those stairs are blue and reach to the sky, daunting, taunting, pulling my bravery from the deeps in my heart until I conquered them.  I found them to be freeing, actually, once I looked from the top to the bottom.  I scanned a cityscape on one side and an art collection on the other. 

Creativity overload almost shorted my circuits!


Another set of blue stairs beckoned me to another art collection.  But this staircase had a blue glass runner down the middle.  Funny, but I hardly noticed the height of the stairs or what lay beneath them.  My eyes were set on the Kandinsky only attained by climbing. 

For many years a Kandinsky print has graced one wall or another in one home or another of mine.  A gift given with a challenge to one day see the original for myself.  “You would love The Hermitage!  So many beautiful pieces of art from so many amazing artists!  I know you’ll go one day.  This is to remind you.” 

And, one day, I did go.  A sense of accomplishment flowed in my veins as I stood there and considered all that had transpired from the time of the gift to that time.  “Thanks, God,” I whispered.

My current situation in Moscow lends itself to constant stair climbing.  I live on the fourth floor and find it is often easier, and faster, to take the stairs then to wait for the elevator.  Four floors of 8 steps plus two to cross a landing, every day up and down I go.  The first climb?  I could hardly get to the second floor.  Out of breath, legs shaking, I thought I would never get to the top!

Now?  I do have to hesitate at the last flight up, but only because of asthma, not because it’s impossible.  I like to walk the stairs now, actually.  It feels good, healthy, productive.

I have met some of my neighbors because of the stair climbing.  They smile, I smile.  I say hello in Russian.  They respond in English.  Small connection reaching across a globe of political uneasiness.

When given my druthers, the Metro stairs I don’t climb.  I don’t even walk down them.  I allow myself the privilege of the escalator.  There are enough staircases to climb to get in and out and around the Metro to spoil myself on the occasional ride. 

Besides, it’s so much easier to people watch when you’re not walking.
 
So many amazing, interesting, curious stories to wonder at in the Metro.  Odd couples, strange juxtapositions, fashion and political statements abound! 

The stairs one must traverse in the Metro are stories of their own.  Marble dipped by the steps of generations of travelers.  I wonder, sometimes, who has been there before me?  What did they think of the Soviet era?  What was their life like?  And Perestroika.  Did it benefit them or only their children?  What did they day dream about as they trudged home each day?

There is a castle wall remnant in Tallin, Estonia with a staircase I managed, also.  Tricky, scary, steep and with one unmarked, uneven step.  Not my cup of tea!

 “Come on!  You can’t stay down there!  This is awesome!  Come on up!”  I drew courage enough from my young friend’s bravado to climb and it was well worth the effort.

Looking over the red roofs of Tallin, I could see forever!  So beautiful and interesting!  I kept watching for Errol Flyn sword in hand to come rushing down the walk or flying in through the window.  Again, I wondered who had touched that stone wall before me.  Whose handprints were joined with mine?


Pushkin’s gallery, also, but the carpet is hardly seen for the grandeur of the white marble.  Picasso, Degas, Renoir and others await your gaze, but only if you care to climb.

It seems to me the climbing is the lesson.  And climbing must be done one step at a time.  Not jumping, lest you fall and have to begin again.  Rather, one step after the other.  Repeating the climb again and again makes you stronger, more capable.  What at first seemed unreasonable, becomes common place. 

Now after the writing, I think I am beginning to see the metaphor unwrap.  I am making progress, slow, but sure progress.  Thirty years ago my life was a completely different story and then Jesus began a good work in me which He continues to this day.  Ten years ago He began another chapter which is still being written.  I see the progress of this new chapter, but it’s so painstakingly slow!  I want to know what this is all about already!  Get to the top!  Avoid the uneven places.  I want to see the sights and revel in my accomplishment! 

But life doesn’t work that way.  Personal growth and spiritual growth cannot be rushed.  Step, step, step… up, up, up.  Miss a step and slide back a couple.  Sigh.  Try again.  Step, step, step.  Reaching new heights.  Going new places.  Becoming the best possible version of myself for His glory.

Yes, I think I see the metaphor now. 


Sunday, November 16, 2014

October News

Hey Readers!

Just wanted you to know I have posted a newsletter to the website.  Some of this and that going on in Moscow these days.

Short version - God is good.  His blessings are enduring.  Lots of good things going on as we finish the first quarter of school and continue the work of the Lord in Bible study and church.

Got questions?  Got information?  Got a praise report?  A prayer request?  I'm good for those, too!  Just shoot me a note:  Miss.Kris.Newman@gmail.com.  I love to hear from you to see who reads my random words.

For now, see you here, there or in the air!

God bless you!
Kris

Oh yeah - here's the link to the website:  OCTOBER NEWSLETTER


Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Right Season

I’m not one of those “everything pumpkin is a special blessing from God” people.  And I wouldn’t say autumn is my favorite time of year for many reasons, but after all the complaining is set aside, I do rather like autumn.

I like the brightness of the skies lit by a harvest moon.  I like the sunshine playing with yellow leaves hanging like golden drops of promise flying from summer’s hold.  Even the chilly rains of October are easier to endure when the walk is carpeted with orange.

The color of it all paints the world cheerfully.  I like that.


Inside, though, autumn is a sad time for me. 

My Grandma’s birthday was in autumn and I am not done missing her yet.  30 years isn’t long enough for me to stop talking about her.  “My Grandma made the best banana bread.”  “If my Grandma were here she would say she loves that!” 

It was autumn when she became sick for the first time.  Autumn when I walked to the hospital to see her after school.  Autumn when I realized I would lose her eventually.  Autumn signifies the end of my childhood. 

And so I don’t like autumn.

I know God understands this as He often places extra blessings in autumn for me so I can think on good things.  New school years start in autumn and I love that.  The leaves, as I said before, decorate the world in paintbrush fashion and I enjoy that.  After summer’s thick, musty air I breathe better in autumn.  And breathing, of course, is a good thing.

And it was autumn when He spoke to me first about going to Russia. 

I will spare you the details, but suffice to say it was on an autumn drive that I was discussing my future with God (some might say praying), when I felt absolutely certain that I was about to get direction.  I waited in anticipation.  Would my writing be picked up by a Christian publishing company and millions would be saved?  Would I somehow skip college and be a teacher who would influence poor, urban children causing them to realize their wildest dreams?  Maybe I would be a missionary to some romantic place like an island?  Oh the possibilities were endless!

I can see a much younger version of myself sitting in the Sunday School classroom.  I hear my friend’s voice repeating words that God and I had spoken of the day before.  I knew it wasn’t coincidence.  The anticipated direction was close at hand….. “Maybe God wants you to go to Russia.  Why not?”

My very spiritual, Christ-like, example-to-others reaction was to look out the window, into the sky and say, “Russia?  You’ve got to be kidding, right?” 

Now here I am 20 some years later enjoying my coffee and looking into my Moscow neighborhood.  Although I’ve not quite been here a year, this feels like home. 

Many autumns were lived between that conversation with God and today.  I find myself measuring my young woman’s expectations against my current reality.  The delay between the call and the answer is entwined in its own story of many chapters.  I often questioned.  I frequently doubted.  Toward the end of the delay I, Peter-like, denied the call when someone reminded me.  “Oh, no, I’m sure that won’t ever happen now.  That was for a different time in my life.  Not now.” 

But you know God is never late.  To Him there was no delay, no hesitation, no change of mind.  It was all right on schedule.  Looking back I can see Him training me, changing me, leading me, preparing me for this very autumn.  I wouldn’t have chosen the path which brought me here, but I’m glad for the knowledge it gave me.  There were some chapters God saw me through that I know were not His preference.   The choices and actions of others may have dragged out the plan, but the Planner didn’t change His plan for me. 

I am so glad that when I was presented with the question again, I had the right answer.  “Yes, I would be interested in teaching in Moscow.”

It’s not without personal cost to me.  I have left the young woman full of energy behind along the way.  I am a grandmother now with enough minor health problems to annoy me. Moscow exaggerates my weaknesses.  My children are grown now, which is good.  It would have been very difficult to raise children here.  But now I want to help raise my grandchildren which is impossible from this side planet.   We freeze joy in quick snapshots in an attempt to share life, but my arms are empty.  They live their daily joys and sadness without me and I miss every moment.

It’s not without cost, it’s true.  But it’s also not without extreme blessings.  Time for teaching and time for writing has opened new doors of ministry for me.  I am confident that the scriptures taught beside addition will make lasting impressions upon my students’ lives.  The older me appreciates this much more than my younger version would have. 

Yesterday I walked along an autumn lane with three of my younger colleagues.  We were given tickets to a ballet at The Bolshoi.  I love ballet!  The grace, the beauty, the strength, the romance, the story of it all!  All of my writer senses come alive in its presence. 

Grandma made sure I took ballet lessons as a child.  It’s an old friend full of lovely memories for me.  I feel the music and the little girl inside wants to twirl, leap, stretch!  For my colleagues, however, experiencing a ballet was something new. 

I watched their reactions with great interest reminded of my younger self.  I was full of words to describe the day, they were speechless.  I re-read previous chapters in my heart’s memories of other ballets.  They were making new notes on fresh pages.  It was nice to share it with them, to see it through fresh eyes again. 

Strolling with them I saw something that reminded me of my Grandma, but the melancholy was held in check by the blessing.  I find I can enjoy this autumn.  This is the day the Lord has made.  I can rejoice and be glad in it.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

New Day


Today is one of those new days. You know, the first day of . . . . whatever. They always start out a little different than ordinary, everyday days. You wake up earlier anticipating something new. Not altogether sure what the day holds, or the week or the month. Your mind is full of possibilities balanced by uncertainty.


The sun shines the same. Not really hazy, not really clear. The birds and the crickets sing the same song. The squirrels chase as if it’s a normal day, nothing new.

But to you?  It’s a new day. The first day of whatever.

Monotonous sounds are fresh today. The cacophony of a city morning  sings a little nicer today. Every chipmunk is cuter. Even the cars seem happier as they drive along to here and there leaving you behind. The train whistle blows as if to announce, “Hey!  It’s the first day!”  Even that makes you smile a little brighter.

Regardless of all that stays the same, something is definitely new in this day. It’s going to start a new season, a new path, a new direction. The air bristles with the static of hope and it charges your actions. You may wear the same clothes you wore last Monday, but they feel different. You might comb your hair in the same fashion, but it looks nicer. Your yard even seems to notice that it’s a new day and has painted a new layer of green on the grass while you slept.

Fresh, clean, clear, new.

You look for a plane in the sky with a banner that says, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”  You 
know it must be there. Everyone knows, don’t they? 

Today is a new day.

Revel in the hope. Drink deeply of the promise. Mark the calendar.

Today is a new day.