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to the mountains, again.

All of a sudden it’s October, the richest season, but I haven’t gotten used to the words around me, the words that make perfect sense. Outside my window I am greeted with red leaves, overcast skies – the first signs of a ripe season coming to a close, ready to be picked. Change is in the wind, the cold time you’re not used to (yet it thrills you in an overwhelming and beautiful way).

Only two months and a few days ago, I was still in Romania, and I felt like there wasn’t enough time to tell all the things I wanted to. I couldn’t stop seeing faces at home pass through my dreams, and wanting to share with them what all I saw and was learning. Now, what do I say, after all?

One day in Romania sticks out to me, vibrantly as if I had never left it. I was in the mountains, surrounded by the beautiful countryside. It had been a mere twist of circumstances that had led me to that place.

I was sitting alone, for the first time in a sum of time. The sun was setting, golden grass hiding me from the rest of the world. Voices echoed nearby, ones I couldn’t understand yet ones I longed to listen to forever. I pondered what had gotten me there, to that place, and I could barely find words.

“This is it,” I remember thinking, “This is the ‘wherever, whenever’ I’ve prayed so many times.'” There I was, somewhere only a sovereign God could bring me. So far, yet it felt completely right as if I had planned it my whole life.

What was there for me, in that valley, was perfect. It was promised. It was His will. I felt every vibrant confirmation of that looking out to the sky. It was very, very good.

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A lot’s changed since then, and I haven’t quite grasped it all. I’ve watched life unfold in front of my eyes. I’ve rejoiced with people I love, and sorrowfully watched people abandon truth. News articles have spread tragedies to disasters, one after the other. I’ve personally fought the daily faith-testing trials of my own from car troubles to living four hours from my family for the first time. I’ve felt completely, and recklessly alone and I’ve felt the most full: looking out to the city lights and the mountain tops in abundance.

All of it: it never quite goes the way you think, or plan, assume, or dream. I’ve been learning that’s okay for a while now. Yet sometimes it’s easy to rest in the nod of a head. Answering questions with “yeah, life’s good” because you feel ashamed to say otherwise when you have nothing to complain about in the grand scheme of things. But inside, you miss too many things and even good things can feel crowded and confusing.

But God always brings you back, and reminds you what’s it all about.

Last weekend, I went back to the mountains, back to a stretch of land I’m particularly fond of and I’ve gone back to many times throughout my life. The moment I looked out the window of the car, and smelled the air, I was brought back to that  hillside at golden hour two months previous.

Those glorious moments I was reminded of, tucked in the mountains of Brasov, where nothing seemed untouchable. Those are the moments when your heart cries: “This is it. This is what you prayed for those years. Don’t you see it?”

Those aren’t every day. But God is good every day. And every day he answers those “wherever, whenever” prayers. Some days, he calls us to the mountain tops. Some days, he calls us to the long and lonely drive home. He is ever present there, ever completing his will.

While in the mountains this past weekend, I sat on the bridge where God first broke my heart, and I first wept over my sin. I sat in the room where I first encountered grace and found myself singing some of the same songs I first sang that night and meant them.

Long ago, in that wooden room, I prayed for the first time that God do as he will with this life of mine: not sure what I was saying but knowing it was true. Whatever he requires, whatever he chooses to give or take away, I pray it still. Wherever, whenever: the mountains, or the in-between.

When Jonah believed he was running from God, God was not afraid to follow him through the rough waters of the ocean in order His will may be complete. He will not let his children forsake the places he wants us to go, even if they’re the ones we want to go the very least.

That’s where I’ve been and where I’ll be: somewhere, drinking a cup of coffee while trying to write something, resting in the knowledge that the grace that has led me safe thus far, through the mountains and back again, will lead me safely home. Resting in contentment, resting in grace. Resting while looking at the sky above, wondering what will be revealed to me next in that imperceivable expanse above us all.

a good last day // the eclipse, 2017.

The day before:

Everyone was talking about the roads, all day. Reports running up and down every news source on how it was expected to be the worst day of traffic history. My phone lit up in my pocket, messages of people looking for glasses as if they were necessary for survival.

The eclipse, the phenomenon my Mom had always talked about since it swept her skies in her junior year of high school. It had been a year since I had first heard it was coming myself, before the world went wild, before eclipse glasses were being sold on the streets for $30 a piece, before the interstate was blocked as early as Sunday morning. Where had the time gone?

There had been plans to travel far but those plans had turned into wonderings – was two minutes of totality worth an entire day of driving? Of course it would be, if it hadn’t been our last day.

Moving boxes, among other piles, had been filling up spare spaces for a while now. Change was inevitable, and had been for nearly nine months, ever since the wintertime, ever since New Years. Change that held promise, but was creeping up in a way that was unfamiliar.

The past year had been making familiar out of unfamiliar: getting used to certain brick buildings and crowded walkways, getting used to faces and stories they held, getting used to writing longer essays and carrying heavier books. The past year, ever since last August, when I first heard about the eclipse, and I first wrote about space; life before a year of calculating light years and studying eclipses by lights and objects in labs. Then came the summer, a whole summer abroad, driving down mountain roads, getting used to feeling the mass of darkness and the mass of a greater Glory; a summer of learning, of being changed, and coming home to nothing at all the same (inside and around). And now here we were, my parents driving five hours to their new home, and a second year starting for me.

That’s why a whole day seemed to take up more than a simple sum of 24 hours. A day just for the eclipse, just for driving, seemed a sum of certain eternities.

One year ago, last week:

Freshman year, the first week, and there I was writing about space. A book on my lap, full of thoughts about a universe and what space travel means (or if it means anything anymore). The subject of my essay: magnificent desolation, the two words Buzz Aldrin spoke of when he stepped onto the moon’s cold surface for the first time.

That’s how it all felt that summer, something mighty and something terrifying. A large mass of everything that could be twisted into poetry or be looked at as darkness. What waited, when the leaves turned from fresh and hopeful? What was lurking, there, in the coming shorter days? It felt horrifying, vast, unknown. Desolation.

The first day, my professor looked out to the group of students: Astronomy 151, a white room, kids wearing NASA t-shirts.

“There’s going to be a solar eclipse, a total one, this time next year, make plans to drive somewhere,” he said before syllabuses were passed out, before we talked about the sky.

Space was humbling, he said. The sky is humbling when you look at it, when you think about how it’s all so vast, how we’re always moving, how the stars we trace into constellations are always exploding light years away.

Plans, go ahead and make your plans, he had said. I imagined driving, somewhere. Quilts  stuffed in a car, the windows open, driving somewhere to see the sky turn dark. But a year was long enough to make plans. There would be an autumn soon enough, followed by a winter, followed by a spring, followed by a hot, long summer. All of that would be days upon days, full of hours all to plan something, somewhere. I could imagine it then: the sky growing darker, our voices mumbling. So much time. Magnificence.

The day of: 

9:05: Today, I woke up to light streaming through the windows and the day felt weighty.

There had been the plans but the traffic talk kept going. We made new plans in the morning, to drive up to the Church, to watch it all unfold on the top of the hill. A ten minute drive, a few hours of a day, not twenty four hours. That would be enough, we told ourselves.

Everyone was still talking about the traffic.

Everyone was talking about the end times, the signs in the sky regarding prophecies, as if solar eclipses were new, as if the world was never tinted by darkness. “This is the first time an eclipse has swept over just America, and the whole if it, so surely it means something,” I read on several occasions. If only America was the only country, I laughed to myself, if only this meant something because of it being in America.

1:04: We arrived, looking out from the safety of the grassy hill, looking to the neighborhoods below. Glasses beheld eyes to see the sun overlapped with a sliver of moon. You cannot see the moon in the light, yet there it, a piece bitten off the sun growing larger seemingly by five minute increments.

It was hot, not yet cool, so we ate watermelon, oranges, and various drinks (only ones with ‘sun’ somewhere in the title, my Dad’s doing) and hid in the shadows, while keeping eyes visible to the sun.

“I never realized how we never look at the sun,” my brother said. You don’t realize, until a day as today.

2:30: “LOOK, no not even at the sun, look behind!” The sun was setting, the sky was pink – the lights of the houses below were twinkling. Everything was lost in a shadow that passed over us all, yet there was nothing above – only the celestial, only the most ordinary. The crickets started up, for nothing indicated such a change, except for night.

And there it was: what everyone had marveled at, why people had rambled about traffic and bought thousands of dollars worth of t-shirts months in advance. All the talk that I once had been the first to share to people, after that first Astronomy lecture, and yet eventually had gotten tired of even thinking about myself.

I looked at everyone. I looked at myself, and my feet were running. We were all lost: lost in the sky, lost in something.

The darkness lasted for but a moment, and that moment seemed longer than the twenty four hours that seemed too long to waste.

You see the world dip into nothing, a ring of light remaining, and the light peaking out is illuminated by the darkness, and then the light is gone. The light is then within: you notice it is among the children’s voices, among the words that escape our mouths we forget soon after. The light suddenly is all around, again, no longer only voices, no longer nonsensical, no longer hidden by shadows and sunset.

There is much present darkness, and many incredible things: such a moment is no different, yet I do think it’s the rarity of it all. If perhaps, only once in 40 years the earth swallowed the sun in the golden rays of sunset, we’d rejoice over that too. We’d be crammed in parks, piled in groups of gathered camping chairs, we’d be looking up. We would marvel. Then we would back up our chairs, get back on the interstate, and resume.

A whole year, where things had been unfamiliar and now here we were again, another August, and it was over. Something new was beginning, for I could hear others talking through the next one – seven years from now. What would be the sum of the days, the hours, that would fill not one year – but seven? Many winters, many New Years. Surely, I would be faced with change again, a different change. Many Augusts to come and to go, and many lengths of darkness. A God, up in the heavens, who gives up darkness so we may see the light inside of us – even if just for 40 seconds.

Was it worth a day? Perhaps not. Yes, it was worth something, that minute: it was our own plan in our own place, down the road, our own sum of hours. I think back to that essay, back to the concept of magnificent desolation, of this life and the bulk of it among the changing seasons, the changing skies, the light among our darkness.

A good, good last day.

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things I want to remember, thus far.

It’s a quiet evening, a stack of books by my side, a mug balancing on top of them. It’s on still days, such as this, my thoughts have time to settle. What is there to say? What observations, what moments should form poetry, form memoirs? What do I want to cherish my whole life long?

These are the things I want to remember:

I. A question, and an answer. The question I’ve received the most is, “Were you scared to come alone?”  (or “Wow, you’re so brave to do so!”). At first, I kind of just smiled and made some comments about how it was a little scary but I’ve been fine since.

But no, in all truth it wasn’t scary. Leaving was one of the easiest things I’ve ever done, and gladly would do again. I don’t remember a time in my life where traveling wasn’t my happy place from each new skyline, airplane, hotel rooms, or tiny cafe. Packing your life into suitcase, and knowing you’re going to be a new person is profoundly thrilling. Especially this time, the longest I’ve traveled; I’ve loved every airport, every free weak cup of airplane coffee, every new sight, every time I’ve gotten lost and had to find my way, every new taste of a new food I’d never seen before. Newness like that has always been my very fuel for living. Bravery, for me, is never needed in leaving.

So, my answer? I’ll say this. There is little bravery is gladly going, in the adventure, in the grand scheme of it all, but there is much needed in the staying, in the settling of one’s feet, in the creation of the familiar paths you’ve walked before. There is much bravery in a lifetime of not just going wherever He may call, but staying there and standing firm. Yes, it is scary on the days that lack, the days I feel unworthy, the days I doubt providence, the days where I am full of false believed strength, yet those are the days that I am being made brave – so I shall glad continue to keep on leaving, and keep on staying.

II. The words of a particular hymn. How many times I’ve sung or listened to “Come Thou Fount” and now on this trip, it’s been my anchor. Often I’ve walked, or fallen asleep at night with the words echoing within my head. I think it will be intertwined with this trip in my memories for a very long time.

Recently I was introduced to an old verse of the song, lost to recent versions I’m particularly fond of:

// Hallelujah! I have found it,
The full cleansing I had craved,
And to all the world I’ll sound it:
They too may be wholly saved.
I am sealed by Thy sweet Spirit,
Prone no longer now to roam;
And Thy voice, I’ll humbly hear it,
For Thy presence is my home //

III. Scraps of good days: wandering beneath the city lights at dusk starting the long walk home as music starts to play, the smell of smoke and the feeling of my feet walking against the cobblestone street, the thrill of just the right amount of wind blowing through my hair, a bouquet of camomile tucked away in my bag, tickets and folded up letters, familiar faces and new ones I’ve already felt as if I’ve known my whole life long, conversations with people from another place entirely yet who share so much of my heart. These things are the things I choose to treasure, to collect, to carry with me as gold.

IV. The bliss of realizing teaching is surely the job with the most joy is one I don’t want to lose, or grow old in thirty years when I am exhausted of classrooms and English papers.

Being apart of the English school here has truly opened my eyes to how much I love lessons, how much I love meeting new faces and knowing what goes on in learning minds. Students open up, the fumble with English, they ask questions, and they keep too silent.

I’ve laughed to tears at students’ jokes, and teared up at their sweet words. I’ve planned out workshops and changed things at the last second. I’ve learned to go with the flow, to always look for the best idea for the moment. I have so much to learn, but certainly I am learning more than every student I’m supposed to teach!

V. A knowledge of providence I have longed for my whole life long. If the Lord has revealed to me anything on this trip, it’s a deeper knowledge of such provision and foreknowledge. When the Lord first put this summer on my heart last year while in Romania, I could barely imagine the faithfulness I’ve seen.

When I was in middle school, I marveled often at when in Genesis, the Lord promised Abraham an inheritance greater than the stars. Last fall, I was humbled by how God gave  Abraham his promise then called him up a mountain to sacrifice that gift at an altar (yet provided, still). This summer, my eyes have been opened to another page of that story, personally: that promise to Abraham, for an inheritance, for provision for every calling is also mine.

As Paul wrote in Romans 4, “But the words ‘it was counted to him [Abraham]’ were not written for his sake alone, but for outs also. It will be counted to us who believe in him” (23), and earlier, “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed” (16).

Yes, as I sit in the country that has been a part of my whole life, with every need accounted for, and faith that every unspoken need will come to completion: I do believe his promises are guaranteed, for the next six weeks and for the rest of this life (and if I can only remember one thing, let it be that!).

“And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord has led you” // Deuteronomy 8

 

theres’s so much I’d tell you.

A car honked window around 8:45 in the evening, and I looked up from the book in my lap. Startled, I quickly realized I wasn’t home. It feels hard to grasp I haven’t been here for very long, yet small things still startle me: a weird combination of discovering and settling in.

It’s been two years this week since I first stepped foot in Romania, and today while walking, I passed the building where I spent many hours of my first trip here and it silenced my thoughts a bit: what a journey it’s been, what love I’ve known in this city. This city has seen me in many different hours, hours of lacking, and hours of feeling as if I didn’t lack one single thing in the world.

A year ago I knew, sitting on a bench watching the sunlight glaze the mountains in the morning, that there would be more time for me in this country yet. I didn’t know then that by the end of the day, I would already be talking to people about this summer – still an abstract idea, but I knew then there was no mistake in thinking it. The Lord certainly led me here, years before and his purposes are still unfolding today. This trip has been the greatest means of grace in my life in learning to follow him, and I can barely comprehend I have a lifetime ahead of continuing to listen and to follow, by grace and grace alone.

How to describe this trip, so waited and prayed for, so lengthly written about in short letters and long journal entries, so perfectly orchestrated from every tiny detail I couldn’t even consider myself – seems impossible. There’s so much I want to tell, so much, and to so many people in particular; faces cross my mind constantly sunset after sunset, people who have been here with me, and who have prayed for overwhelming faithfulness for this country and for my time in it, which I can now write and say I have known.

I arrived in Romania on Saturday, after the quickest and easiest day of traveling. Navigating airports is surprisingly peaceful, quiet, and uneventful. The nine hour plane ride consisted of the guy beside me sleeping the entire trip as I didn’t sleep a second, but instead watched and cried over a movie for the first in years (the tears were about many things, I’m certain), drank lots of  water, tried to sleep, eagerly waited for the lights to return so I could read properly, and watched the flight tracker for too long. I arrived early to Bucharest, exhausted, and after a day of slowly getting back to Craiova, I made it to see the first sunset of my trip. Moments after arriving, I was welcomed into the sweetest surprise of my life with my dear friends from previous trips (words from missionary Adoniram Judson come to mind: “If such exquisite delights as we have enjoyed with these now in paradise, and with one another, are allowed to sinful creatures on earth, what must the joys of heaven be?”).

Monday, I started at the school where I’m instructing. I met students, who have already given me a thousand stories to tell (yes, there’s so much I’d tell so many, so much), and teachers who have been nothing but helpful in helping me learn the ways of the English school from showing me where to pour coffee to how to walk home. Following school, I come home to the young couple I’m living with asking me to join them for dinner. On free days, I’ve had such sweet meetings with some of the girls I met at the student camp last year, letting them show me around the city and tell me all that is happening in their lives.

“There’s so much I want to tell you,” several of them have said, and yes, I understand.

And that’s life: life here, which is not a list of accomplishments or highlights from a two week trip. Living here, if only for a summer, is different but in a way that is crafted morning by morning. Two weeks here, and I’ve just begun. I’ve just found the shortest walk home from work, and the prettiest. I now recognize the smell of the flowers that line the sidewalks. I’m learning what water to drink, the different names for different common foods.

Of all the things I so want to tell so many people, one stands out most of all that I’m discovering: the best thing you can do is to go somewhere far from the streets you’ve always known, not just for the views, and live there. Let it not be what you planned, but everything you hoped for. Learn what trees to pick fruit from, pick up words of the language from conversations. Keep your eyes plastered on the windows, as you drive through countryside and take note of every grand house and every lowly shack. Never forget how the sun rises, and sets, at different times. Listen to people of another tongue speak and sing of this grace. Go with little, come back with less, don’t take much anything for yourself, but come back with everything stored up in a far more precious way.

Not even two weeks in, and there’s much more to lose, so much more to gain.

the city in may.

Manhattan has always been sort of a mecca for me, a place I go not only with the intent of visiting but with the hope it’ll capture me up.

The last time I was in the city, it was a profoundly healing time. It was the end of my senior year of High School, the year I more or less discovered a whole lot of who I wanted to be through much redemption of two years fighting myself and doubting the very thoughts that uphold my life. Being in the city and learning to navigate the streets, I found peace in one of the busiest places in the world.

Now, more than a year later, I was anxious to visit to see what else I could find, what new revelations would resonate.  Like many trips, the trip striped back the surpassed layer of life that I often forget to peel away, burdening me with the bitter cup of this world. Yet it was such a time to be alive: to see my nine year old brother (the same age I was when I first visited) have his eyes excitedly lit with the lights of the city, to spend time with my family – whom I love with such a deep, overwhelming love that no time cannot make up for – before some time apart, to hear the wisdom of my Father who knows the city and life in a way I long to, and to walk the streets with my older brother discussing all things from the fine art that lines the walls of the MET to hip-hop.

Here is New York, captured by my camera in the way I choose to see it: bold, brave, tender, and wild:

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