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!



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.