Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Thief

As I’ve mentioned in other posts here, we play soccer (aka football) at Aristotle Square A LOT. One day we arrived at the park to play football and noticed a large dog sleeping where we usually have our “goal”. The Afghani kids we play with made these funny Greek gestures (that they’ve obviously picked up in this culture: imagine an exaggerated sad face - lips turned way down - and add dramatic shrugging shoulders with hands up in the air). They wanted to play on the other side of the square, away from the dog.

Well the West side of the square is a little more shady. Not as in “there is more shade from the sun”, what I mean is that we used to play football over there, but stopped when we were harassed by Roma (aka Gypsies). So Kolby and I told them to chill out and just play where we were. The children really didn’t like this idea, but went with it since we’re the cool ones (being older has a lot of perks in Middle Eastern cultures).

So we arranged our “field” to where the “goal” was at a slightly different angle, so we could enjoy our game while the dog enjoyed its nap.

First kick from one child to the next, the dog was awake and up on its legs.

Next kick, the dog was barking and wagging its tail.

And the next kick, the dog was running after the ball while everyone was backing away from the animal.

Yes, within three kicks, this dog had taken the ball from us.

All the kids were freaking out, so my heroic husband decided he was going to get the ball back. As he ran toward the dog to get the ball, the dog snatched it up with his teeth and ran in circles around us.

He wanted to play.

Of course none of the children, including the owner of the ball, was brave enough to try and take it away from the crazy animal. After about 20 minutes of Kolby barking at and chasing the dog around the park, the ball had been popped. Thankfully the kid who owned the ball had another one, but he was still pretty ticked off. It didn’t help that even after we had given up, the dog teased us with it. He would run over to a spot in the grass, sink his teeth into the ball for a second, then get up and leave the ball where it was so he could proudly stand by us. Of course anytime someone tried to walk over to the ball while the dog was strutting around us he would quickly run back, snatch the ball up before anyone could get to it, and run around us in circles again. Some children were terrified of the dog, some were very angry with the crazy animal, and some were laughing hysterically at the whole situation.

I have to say that from the very first bark I was one of the laughers. J What a memory!

I just don't know

So I’m a person who likes to know things. Even the word nosy could describe me at points.

I like to know the lyrics to that song that’s stuck in my head, interesting facts about the lives of past followers of Christ, how to fix my hair to flatter my round face, why the sky is purple when the sun is setting, how to fit into a culture without conforming to the world, where the best place is to get black olives from… I really like to know stuff about the world around me.

And more than just the desire to “know what’s going on”, I really want to be fully aware of all the possibilities, the coulds, shoulds, wills…

I’m a complicated person. I don’t like to think that I am, but my husband tells me I am and if I’m honest with myself I can’t disagree.

I’m young, but I’m old enough to know that this world is constantly changing around me and there is nothing I can do to freeze it. Sometimes I really REALLY want to though. I want to freeze a moment, a day, a smile, or an atmosphere. But you can’t really do that. You can try to recreate things, but even then things have changed so much that it just isn’t the same.

So what can I do? How can I know what’s going on around me if there is so much that is going to change? How am I supposed to stay stable? How can I emotionally, physically, and spiritually stand still in a world that is spinning?

Nothing. I can’t. I’m not supposed to do it by myself. There is someone who will stand for me.

Of course these answers don't come from myself...

Change is hard for me.

Before I came here to Thess I was struggling with this same thing and during a moment of openness when I shared these thoughts and fears a friend spoke the truth into me that God is my stability. He never changes, He never moves. And hallelujah there is even more than that to Him! He knows it all! He is strong! He is good! He is everything I’m not.

I just don’t know, but He does… so I’m going to be ok.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What kind of fool are you?

Being a follower of Jesus and working with many people who come from different religious backgrounds every day since late January, has made me dig deep into myself to find what I think about religions, God, and this world around me. I’ve been a follower of Christ for about 5 years now and I think working with Islamic people has made me look at the reality of my faith more than ever before. When you are having lots of conversations with people who have dramatically different ideas about God and the Jesus you follow, you begin to realize how important it is to figure out what you really believe.

For example, one of my closest friends here in Greece is from Iran and he is a Muslim. He is so fun, picks up language quickly, and spends all of his free time with us. He believes in a different god than I do and has a whole set of beliefs that come with this god. If what I say I believe about Jesus is true, then this friend who does not follow Jesus is not only spiritually dead right now, but also is going to hell when he dies. How can I look at my always-smiling friend every day and believe that he is dead and separated from God?? It’s hard to make sense of all this…

Coming up over and over again in my mind has been a tempting offer:

What if there is no God at all? What if when we die we all just disappear? What if this life is all there is? That would mean that you and your Muslim friend would both be alright in the end. So why don’t you both stop focusing on religion and just do what you want to in life?

The one book that has shaped me like nothing else has is the Word of God. As I was processing these things a few verses would pop into my heart. So to figure out what I think about it all that’s where I turned, and God showed me two types of fools.

Fool #1
The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good. Psalm 14:1

So obviously by God’s standards, I’m a fool if I believe there is no God.

Fool #2
Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. 1 Corinthians 3:18

And I have to become a fool in the world’s eyes to actually be wise in God’s eyes.

So there are two types of fools - one in the sight of God and one in the sight of man.

Because I cannot deny the things that I have seen and heard, I believe His Word. And because I believe His Word, I look at these verses and decide that I would rather be a fool in the sight of man than in the sight of God.

There are a lot of preachers that I have heard who focus on how different we are supposed to be than the world. And of course I know this is biblical and true. But working daily with Muslims has taught me that I have to go even deeper than just simply doing ‘this’ or ‘that’ to make the world see that I’m different.

I have to decide now whether I want to be a fool in God’s eyes or in man’s. Because this decision will directly affect all of my actions, words, everything…

Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before me, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. Matthew 10:32-33

We either confess or deny. These verses make it clear that even silence is denying Christ. It’s hard to boldly share what we believe about Jesus because to the world we look like fools. But how great it is to know that this “foolish” confessing means obedience to the one true God!

What kind of fool are you?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Starbucks: why I'm just another junkie

It is my escape into a world of relaxation swirled with caffeine. You would think that these two things would repel each other,

but oh they don’t.

Greeks love coffee. I don't think they would know how to survive if the coffee supply here was taken away. All stores would be closed, the roads wouldn’t have a single car on them, people would be crying in the streets…

Maybe that’s a little dramatic, but if you walked down any street here in Thessaloniki and saw how they drink frappes ALL DAY LONG then you would understand. I have to admit though, frappes have grown on me to the point where I view them as a comfort food now…

I don’t know that I had ever actually sat down in a Starbucks until we came to Greece. Of course I’ve gotten lots of drinks from this café chain, but they were always To-Go in my busy American lifestyle. Since we’ve been in Greece I’ve consumed more Starbucks drinks than I have altogether in my life.

When I was younger, my mom and I would go on shopping trips to “big cities” where there were Starbucks and we’d always treat ourselves with Grande Mocha Frappucinos. We always felt like it was Christmas, not because of the bags of clothes in the back seat of the car, but because we were getting STARBUCKS. It’s funny to look back on that now. I think she was trying to get me addicted all along.

(It worked)

I usually have about 2 Grande-sized-pieces-of-heaven a week here. I’m switching to a smaller size these days, so I don’t get fat (ter). As I’ve mentioned before, I’m pretty horrible at just “chilling out” but the atmosphere of Starbucks is perfect for calming me down and making me want to dive into the Word for an hour or so. Even though it can be an expensive habit, I hope to continue it in some form when I return to the States.

If you have any ideas about how I can do that, comment on this post and let me know! Maybe you know just how to create that vibe in your house (maybe with just the right music and a nice paint color for the walls). Maybe you live in New Orleans and know the perfect coffee shop for this woman and her husband to chill in. Or you know of a bench by the water and a nice drink mix that I can take with me to watch the sunset and feel a cool breeze on my face. Give me your ideas! I’m going to be back on a tight budget soon, but I have got to recreate my love for Starbucks somehow! J

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Brooke, Mandi, & Shanes

For "down time" I like to play spider solitaire while listening to my downloads on iTunes. My mind likes to constantly be doing something, so while I'm clicking away on cards my brain is doing it's best.

Three artists play over and over during this down time.

Kolby's fave is Shane & Shane so we have around 50 songs of theirs on our computer. Their songs are full of the Word of God. They teach us how to pray and think in a biblical way. Songs like Psalm 145 let us rest in God's Word even when we are crying out to Him. Other songs like Over the Sun touch my spirit because I'm enthralled by the book of Ecclesiastes. I have been taught so much about the everlasting Word through these songs. I'm challenged when I hear the songs to dive into it more because if God would give them that much out of a few verses, He is willing to give that wisdom to me too! The songs make me long for Him and I believe that's what music is made for.

Mandi Mapes is pretty new in the iTunes music world, but we have every song of hers so far. She is young, a little older than me, and extremely talented. She's been discipled at the Church at Brook Hills (where David Platt is pastor), so of course her music is filled with truths about going to the nations. Story of Love is a beautiful song about the book of Ruth that makes it so clear how it is all a picture of God's love for us. This Love is a song about adoption that makes me want to run around this world until I find a child that needs a mama... which isn't that hard to do (hopefully soon God will allow us to adopt!). Mandi's lyrics are fresh, I don't know what other word to describe them. They comfort me because the lyrics of all the songs remind me that I'm not alone in this crazy Christian life.

Brooke Fraser is the most brilliant song writer and vocalist I have ever heard, so I have many random songs from random albums of hers. Her old stuff is packed with her heart (Albertine, Love Where is Your Fire?). She is so real and open from the beginning about her faith, her calling, and her God. Her new album is about real faith through others eyes (Who are We Fooling?, Crows & Locusts) She uses deep, poetic lyrics to draw the audience into a state of relaxation. While at the same time using biblical truths to make that captive audience examine their lives and see if they are missing something. By the end of every song, the audience knows that there is a Hope if they would only cry out for it.

I seriously encourage you to check out these artists!

Before Christ music had a huge impact on me. It made me feel like I wasn't alone in my sin... everyone else was joining me, so that made it ok. When I began to follow Jesus I realized that music had a huge pull on my view of the world. I had to throw away a lot of CDs and stop listening to certain radio stations. I still love Kelly Clarkson's voice and the lyrics to Adele's songs just like anyone else, but I have to be careful how much I let that stuff go into my heart. Not cheesy, but really great, followers-of-Jesus-music has been a big part of my growing in Christ and God uses it daily to form my view of the world.

Has God changed your view of music recently? What kind of music do you like?

If you check out these artists, come back here and tell me what you think of them!

Friday, May 6, 2011

English is an international language.

The more I travel, the more I see how important it is in our day to have a language that goes in between cultures. English is the first language in my culture, so you can imagine how strange it feels to travel all over and see so many different people groups yearning to learn my native language.

When I first started traveling I thought it was funny and kind of laughed at how many people wanted to speak English, because they usually have such thick accents when they make an attempt. Then I got kind of prideful and thought “Well, why wouldn’t they want to speak English? Who doesn’t want to be like America?” I knew these attitudes couldn’t be right, but I really wasn’t sure how I should feel about my language being an international tool.

Things that come naturally to me, like speaking and writing in English, are tools that the world wants to get its hands on. When we got the opportunity to come teach English here in Greece I knew that I had to get a firm grip on how I felt about people learning my language before I came, so I focused on praying that I would be a great teacher to people who are willing to learn.

Being here I’ve realized that I’m not really a great teacher.

Teaching English overseas in my experience so far mainly consists of pointing to objects or pictures for vocabulary, correcting grammar as the student is talking, and constantly encouraging the student to go further and practice what they already know. This isn’t the teaching I’ve experienced in school.

In the past month I have had the beautiful opportunity of teaching a Nigerian woman, Doris, how to read and write. Doris speaks Nigerian-English, but has never learned how to read. A friend here gave me a great book to begin teaching Doris, but if I’m honest I was very intimidated at first. I’ve never taught an illiterate person how to read! And I definitely have never taught an illiterate Nigerian how to read! So at first I didn’t pursue the lesson time very much, but it fell into place last week and I met with her for an hour. Of course, being Paige, I totally forgot to bring the book so we focused on learned some punctuation so she could understand what kind of sentence she was reading. When I tried to get her to write a few things I had shown her, she kept mentioning that she really just wanted to read. After a couple times of trying to explain that writing and reading go hand in hand, I decided to ask her why she wants to read. It sounds like a silly question to ask an illiterate person, but I could tell that there was something she wanted to read and that this was more important to her than writing. Doris took out a rough looking little bible and opened it up to Psalms. She told me that she is a believer of Jesus and she loves Psalms because it teaches her to pray (something that is so precious to my own heart!), but she can’t read them for herself. She told me she knew that it was important for her to read the Word of God and that this was her goal. I can’t explain the emotions that covered me at this point in the lesson, but I can tell you that I was humbled.

Doris wants to know how to read so she can read the Word of God.

I looked Doris in the eyes and told her that this an amazing goal and I would love to help her accomplish it. This week we met again and it again was humbling to see the joy on her face as she read a full sentence all by herself. I cannot explain the excitement that swells up in me when I think about how God chose me to be a part of Doris’ life right now. I can’t believe that He would want me, a young woman who doesn’t know how to teach, to help Doris learn to read so she can read His Word.

So far this experience has been challenging on so many levels, but I know that this specific time with Doris will stick with me forever.

Today, I want you to think about the natural gifts and abilities our Father has given you and dwell on ways you can use them for His glory. Be open to what He tells you to do as you are praying through this, and be obedient when He tells you to go and do it! Maybe you're like me and it’s as simple as using your English language as a tool in other parts of the world.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Ahhh Train Memories

Train ride #1 – 8AM from Thessaloniki to Athens (arrived in Athens at 1PM)

Train ride #2 – 12AM from Athens to Thessaloniki (arrived back in Thessaloniki at 7AM the next morning)

  • On the first train ride, Friday morning, we thought we would be able to buy food on the train. None of us ate breakfast, so we were hungry… for 5 hours. We took naps and made jokes to distract us from our hunger, but it wasn’t helping. Yeah, we ate at the first restaurant we came to in Athens. On the second bus ride back to Thessaloniki later that night, we found out that if we would have walked up and down the train we would have found the restaurant.
  • On the 2nd train ride there were 2 creepy men who wouldn’t stop staring at Sara and Holly. So Sara got really stylish and put on sweatpants with her dress so that they wouldn’t stare at her butt anymore. It didn’t really work so Kolby stayed up most of the ride home so he could glare at them. Kolby was pretty tired by the time we got back.
  • Kolby, Sara, Holly, and I all talked ghetto the whole way to Athens. I don’t know why. But I do know it’s extremely contagious. And after 5 hours, it’s obnoxious.
  • On the midnight train there was a family of 3 Greeks who had a little boy (couldn’t have been older than 3) riding on their lap. He made silly faces at us for a while until he basically fell over and went to sleep on his mom. We were praising God for the baby going to sleep… that could have been bad. Definitely a culture shock moment for me… I can’t imagine an American mom taking a child that young on a train that late!
  • Every 20 minutes, when the train would stop at a station to pick up or drop off people, the driver would come over the intercom and basically scream so that people who were sleeping would hear that it was their stop. Yeah, this made it really easy to sleep. Not.
  • On the train ride back to Thessaloniki, Holly was sleeping on two seats with the arm rests up so she would have room to lay down. When the security officer walked by, he accidentally knocked one of the metal arm rests down and it hit Holly on the back of the head, waking her up at 5 in the morning. She gave him a nasty look and when he walked back by 20 minutes later he asked her in Greek if she was ok. Of course Holly doesn’t know Greek so she just looked at him like he was crazy until he walked on. I was awake and laughing at the whole situation. J

Train rides may be beautiful and a ‘neat’ experience, but I definitely wouldn’t ever call them ‘fun’. I’d be ok with never riding a train again… it is pretty close on my scale to plane rides. And I think everyone knows how I feel about those.

trying not to look like a TOURIST

What an interesting week! This past week two American friends came to visit us here in Thess. These girls are always full of randomness so it wasn’t surprising that they decided to take a Friday trip to Athens. Of course my husband couldn’t resist a spontaneous trip so he convinced me to join them on their travel by train (one leaving for Athens at 8AM and then another train -that same day- at midnight to get back to Thessaloniki).

We took lots of pictures, rode the Metro, drank lemonade and coffee, laughed at tourists with Greeks, and ate at Hard Rock Café Athens for dinner. Although it was strange and annoying to be able to understand everyone around us again (SO MANY SNOBBY AMERICAN TOURISTS!!!) it was honestly a really exciting city to see!

As I walked around I couldn’t help but be reminded of how different Europeans are from Americans. Even if an American was dressed like a European, it was easy to point them out! Europeans are really relaxed about… well, a lot of things. They are passionate about what they are passionate about, but in everyday life they generally seem to “go with the flow” much better than the average American.

European children were climbing the Parthenon rocks when their parents were gazing into the beautiful blue sky, while American children were clinging to their parent’s sides and getting fussed at if they walked over 10 feet away. European teens were lounging around with coffee while American teens looked lost in all the culture happening around them. European YaYas were slowly strolling along the cobblestone streets while American Grandmas seemed to be running their next destination. Needless to say, it was pretty entertaining to see both people groups in action at the same time in the same place. Of course there were other continents represented, such as Asians, but I focused on the ones that I personally connect with on a daily basis. I hope I don’t sound like I’m bashing American culture. I promise I’m not! I am actually forced to turn these observations into an examination of my own self. You see, God uses these interesting experiences to have me look inward. I am a woman of anxiety. As much as I hate this and wish it would just go away in a flash, it won’t. It’s a sin that I struggle with off and on, and I have faith that one day God will completely finish healing me from fear and anxiousness (whether that’s in heaven or here on earth, I know He will). In my American culture, it’s almost applauded at times to be a person of anxiety. I was actually taught in college that, “Stress makes you see something as important. It is good to stress about exams because then you take them more seriously!” Yeah, I don’t agree with that at all. But instead of describing why I think that view is wrong, let’s focus on what we know is right.

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

“Finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Colossians 4:8-9

I’m writing directly to my American audience when I say this…

Just because our culture tells us that it’s good to stay busy and get overwhelmed with all kinds of stuff in this life, that doesn’t mean that this is right! While working, we should work hard and with integrity, but there is a time to work and there is also a time to enjoy the day! If there is anything I have learned here in Europe, it’s that I need to chill. Take a nap, read a book, hang out with friends in the sunshine, go to a coffee shop, listen to music, do whatever it takes to have some significant down time. This is so important! If we don’t stop, then we can’t get away from the noise around us to listen to our Father who wants to whisper in His children’s ears about His plans and His peace.

So today I want to challenge you to chill. Then I want you to leave a comment, let me know how you relaxed, and tell me what God showed you during this time!