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. 


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


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:  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!

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.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Summer 2014 Wrap Up

At the end of a project or an event there is always a Wrap Up Session.  It’s the time for reviewing, re-visiting, criticizing, praising, tweaking the reasons for success or failure.  On the agenda will be things like What Went Right and What Went Wrong and Ways to Improve and Things to Repeat. 

Today my brain is in Wrap Up mode.  Me and Jesus have been meeting all morning to discuss this summer’s projects and events.  Subpoints on today’s agenda under What Went Right include Deep Conversations, Meaningful Connections and Solidifying Relationships.  Under What Went Wrong in big, bold, CAPITAL letters are LESS FAT AND MORE FRUIT!  Thankfully flight weight limits will only apply to my baggage and not me.  I might be left behind. 

Truth be told, though, if joy added weight I would be extremely over every limit!  I have reveled in angelbaby kisses, stories and laughter.  I have drank deeply of friendships new and old.  I have been immersed in moments with God until my skin feels saturated.  Family and friends have poured love into me this summer and I feel valued. 

This summer is very interesting to me.  It’s as though my being away has made me realize even more the importance of people in my life.  That’s odd to someone who is alone most of the time.  For many years I drove to work alone, I lived alone, I walked alone, I shopped alone, I ate alone.  If I spent any time with anyone it was on purpose.  Apparently, those purposeful times of connection connected me with strong ties.  The kind of ties that need only an afternoon to tighten, strengthen, freshen.

The conversations I have had this summer were all over the map!  Politics, religion, overcoming deep sadness, sharing great happy moments, God talks and family memories.  Words and phrases danced around topics from every viewpoint.  It was captivating.  It was heartbreaking.  It was uplifting. It was transparent. It was real. 

Someone asked me once where I like to vacation.  I realized I didn’t have a favorite WHERE, but lots of favorite WHO to vacation with.  Time spent with someone invigorates me.  And so this summer I have VACATIONED with almost all of my favorite people.  I didn’t get to see my sister face-to-face, but we chatted randomly many times about everything and nothing.  I woke almost every morning to one angelbaby face or another.  My relationship with my daughter-in-law grew exponentially when she opened her house, and her heart, to me.  I enjoyed normal, every-day family time with my sons.  I strolled, drank coffee, shopped, pedicured, cooked, cleaned, sat in the sun with amazing friends in many different seasons of life.  We cried some, laughed some, intellectualized some. 

In conclusion I find I don’t mind being alone, but I am glad to not be alone, too.  I have looked deep into the eyes of myself through my friends’ views.  I have seen doubts removed, watched fears subside, and built courage while the summer slipped away.  Bridges were built and tended many times over.

All of this has strengthened me.  I am resolved to do more, be better, stretch further to share Jesus with someone in Moscow.  I am convinced I am compassionate enough, grace-full enough, loving enough to get the job done.  A difficult life has given me strong resources to draw from and I am ready to give. 

The summer in America is quickly wrapping up.  The hours are counting down.  I am looking forward to this school year.  Amazed by all God has privileged me to experience.  Full to bursting with happy memories. 

Ah, excuse me, back to the business at hand. 

The Chairman has a final statement:  It is determined this summer vacation project has been very successful.  We will repeat all events marked with a smile beginning next June.  Those marked with tears will be reviewed on an ongoing basis to determine advancement of healing.  Prayers of gratitude and notification of needs will be ongoing.  This meeting is adjourned.

It’s time.  Let’s write this next chapter:  Moscow – The Second Year.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Partnering Post

I am currently luxuriating in home.  Hugging a lot.  Smiling a lot.  Sleeping a lot.  Eating a lot.  Reveling in Americanisms.  It's wonderful.  But I can feel myself getting quickly saturated and know it won't be long before I am full enough and rested enough and ready enough to begin the work of Moscow again.

It's hard to have my heart in two places.  I am thoroughly enjoying my time at home. But I miss my Moscow life - my students, colleagues, church friends.  I know I'm not quite done there.

Some people have asked how they can partner with me financially in Moscow.  As an Associate in Missions with the United Pentecostal Church International, donation receipts can be provided for tax purposes.  I have added a page to my website with links to my home church in Thorp, Wisconsin where partners can send donations.  I also included a link to the United Pentecostal Church website where donations can be made online.

Equally important to finances, I need prayer cover.  Each day there is a new challenge with new opportunities to share Christ in so many ways.  Pray that I see the open doors and seize the moments I'm given.  Pray for the church to continue to grow in faith.  Pray for the International School of Tomorrow to be a place where grace and truth flourish.  Pray for peace in the Ukraine.

If you want to be included on the email list, please stop by the website and let me know.  I will gladly add you.  We are, after all, in this together.

Here's the link to the Moscow Ministry Partner page:  MOSCOW MINISTRY

I will also be speaking at two churches on August 3rd
   Calvary UPC in Bloomington, Minnesota at 10:30 a.m.
   Pentecostal Assembly in Eau Claire, Wisconsin at 6:30 p.m.

Hope to see you here, there or in the air!