Monday, November 24, 2008

Day 16 and 17: Snow and Heat

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

I had a marvelous time this weekend in the first fluffy, juicy, beautiful snows of Budapest. When I saw the flakes swirling, I grabbed my coat and hat and headed downtown. There is no way I looked like a native in the snowfall; an idiotic and totally sincere smile was beaming from my face even as flakes flew into my eyes. I strolled around in the dying sunlight until the glow of streetlights against the snow amplified my silly grin. St. Istvan's Bascilica was a vision blanketed in white. Fellow pedestrians' images were softer as the snow diffused their silhouettes. The only component missing from this winter wonderland was the Christmas lights that are as yet unlit around town. Soon enough, they will add even more charm to the city.

Sunday, as I recovered from my icy outing, I appreciated the heat filling our flat. First, I recognized that many people do not have this luxury, and I needed to continue giving away coupons to the local shelter. Second, I enjoyed how cozy it got without becoming stifling. In these communist-era buildings, the heat for the whole building is turned on by one master switch, however, I can adjust the level in my room.

Wow, I'm almost finished with these 20 days of gratitude. May the attitude of thanksgiving continue after the holiday has passed!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Day 15: My Laptop

As students were presenting some great projects that required technology today, I was reminded of how thankful I am for my laptop. Not only did it facilitate my lesson, but it allows me to keep up with friends and family (though I'm terribly behind with some dear folks in Carthage), get media for news and entertainment, and do my work on the road. It is a great laptop that my cousin, Doug, recommended. It serves me well.

And I typed this entry from my bed: another benefit of the laptop!

Happy Friday everyone.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Day 14: Silent Students

I love to hear my students talk. In fact, fewer things bring me as much joy in the classroom as students with insightful comments during discussions. Today during a fire drill, though, my 8th grade students' silence was the truest herald of joy (hm, stole that from Shakespeare. Sorry, Will.).

Why? Because after hearing the exciting news of a fire drill during class by which they could avoid class, these kids followed directions and the request to "lead the younger students out" perfectly. They were silent out of the classroom, silent down the hall and stairs, silent across the street, silent walking by a cute dog, silent in the mass of high school students. Silent as asked.

Today, I'm thankful for the amazing students we have at ICSB--silent in the hall, singing in the musical, or otherwise. The quiet fire drill was just a reminder.

Day 12 and 13: Bus rides and Indian food

Tuesday, I was so thankful for a pleasant bus ride home. The twenty-two (ish) minute commute back into the edges of the city to my flat is never a rough one. Typically, I'm going the opposite direction of rush hour, so I can always find a seat and relax. My iPod is in constant use(thanks yet again to my family for contributing to that gift!!) with the latest sermon, day-old news, or--lately--Christmas music. The morning ride offers a distraction-free jaunt for Bible reading unless I happen to ride with a student who'd like to chat. Either way, my day starts and ends well.

Tuesday, I enjoyed the ride home with a fellow citydwelling teacher. In the scope of those twenty-two minutes, we dove into an honest, introspective, and lively conversation. We discussed relationships, the joys and tensions of living overseas from our passport countries, and plans for the coming day. Ahhh, and home I go.

Wednesday, I ran into the same friend at an Indian restuarant. That's right: indian cuisine in Hungary. We live in a small world. Anyway, I got to share dinner with five other teachers from ICSB as we celebrated one's birthday. Not only was the company and the atmosphere just charming, but so was my adventure getting there.

We met up in a section of town that I had never discovered before. It was so fun to arrive on my own after a bit of exploring in the dark. No worries, the streets are well lit; they have to be since it's dark at 4:00 these days! Christmas displays were in a lot of decor shop windows (another thing I've never seen before) and the street light poles are wrapped with unlit lights that promised a beautiful season to come. The Indian restaurant we went to was gorgeously decorated with silk-like pillows with beading, etc in Indian style on the benches around the walls. Our group got this little loft area to ourselves. Ordering was fairly comical, because the waiter didn't really speak a lot of Hungarian (most of our group has studied quite a bit of the language) or English. The menu was in HU and English with Indian names for the dishes. It worked out in the end with pointing. :) What a great evening.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Day 11: New Life

The miracle of life amazes me more and more all the time. As Edit's stomach jumped around with a baby's movements and Michelle announced her brand new pregnancy, life became more precious, delicate, and joyful. Today, we celebrated these beautiful women and the miracles within them.

Last week as I gave my testimony, a story of God's work in my life, the details of my extremely premature birth came to light again. It is always good to be reminded of God's faithful care over me and his perfect plan these 27 years.

Just as I marvel at the biology of babies, I'm reminded of the true life, the new life that my Heavenly Father gave me: a life without condemnation, a life with power and purpose, a life with joy and love, a life for eternity all possible because of Jesus' sacrifice and Lordship. It's a miracle.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 1 Peter 1:3-4

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." Revelation 21:4-5

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Day 10: Humor in the Little Things

I love chuckling at little moments in life. Just today, for example, some friends and I looked up from our coffee and books to laugh together when a ridiculous song played for the fourth time in a row. On the way home, a grin spread across my face as I watched a young couple "walk" their snow white ferret down the street with a leash, and by walk I mean slide. Young children who glance up at me from the sidewalk and whisper, "szia," evoke a smile. My friends' quick wit can brighten any day. And catching myself totally missing a point, even if no one else notices, is usually good for a laugh.

Humor is a great gift for which I am grateful today.

A cheerful heart is good medicine... Proverbs 17:22a

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Day 9: Zsuzsi, my flatmate

I have lived alone for a long time. Though involved in the Residence Life office at Millikin University and in close community with lots of people, I often lived in my own apartment or room. While teaching in Carthage, IL, I lived alone as well: sole voice in decor choices, laundry and shower schedules, remote control possession, life.

Since moving to Budapest, I've lived with a family, a nursing professor, and now--more permanently--a young Hungarian woman. My, how things change when you add another human being to the mix! There have been moments of rough transition, cultural misunderstandings or assumptions, and surprise as I adjust to sharing life with Zsuzsi. I can only imagine her perspective as she has welcomed this American into her quiet flat.

Zsuzsi has offered so much as I settle into this life. Her presence--though sometimes still a surprise--encourages me and teaches me. She is a bridge to the Hungarian culture and a fellow traveler on this narrow road (how's that for a mixed metaphor?). I hope to offer the same edifying friendship to her, too.

As difficult as it is from time to time to live in close proximity to other human beings, I value and respect Zsuzsi and the life lessons I'm learning from sharing a flat with her. For her, I'm thankful.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Day 8: An Up-Close Savior

On Friday, I was reminded by several different sources--a blog, Bible study, and my Christmas music--that "the Lord is near" (Philippians 4:5). The simplicity of such a declaration belies its enormity. The LORD is near! The Creator God is also Immanuel: God with us.

In the broken relationship between a holy God and people who chose their own mistakes over His better plan, the only one with the position and power to fix it was God Himself. Jesus Christ--God the Son--came into the world of men to live among us, to experience the same struggles, to offer himself as the innocent "guilty" one in our stead, to die a terrible death, to come to life again victoriously, and to be the totally understanding and perfect representative in Heaven.

He has not chosen to save me from a distance, brush off my hurts or struggles with the cosmic sweep of a hand, and pretend everything is fine. Jesus is my intimate redeemer. He knows and loves me. He has saved me completely, powerfully, personally and will continue to deal with the real life issues with me. What a marvel!

It is such intimacy, closeness, reality with God that gives me comfort, identity, power and purpose in this life. The passage in Philippians 4 continues with the admonition not to be anxious. How is that possible? Remember, "the Lord is near." There is the security, the comfort, the foundation to combat worry.

The greatest gift and most profound truth for which I can be thankful is such a personal God, an up-close savior.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Day 7: Resolution

So, the overwhelmingly-good-but-painfully-simultaneous opportunities and responsibilities of this week were resolved today. I am in awe of the grace and mercy God extends to help us in our time of need. He really does have it all under control! The Holy Spirit taught me what to say during several classes and speaking opportunities. Grading got done--and whatever didn't will wait for the weekend--so that I can rest a bit this evening. The 9th grade girls' Bible study started successfully today. All is well because God is good. It is really exciting to see how He worked it out. I'm thankful for the resolution of this week's activities!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Day 6: Letters from Family and Peace

I got off by a day, so I'm reflecting on two days in one, but--hey--there's no such thing as too much gratitude, right?

Today, Wednesday, there was a sweet surprise in my school mailbox: a letter from my maternal grandparents! How sweet they are to send me news from home, reflections of daily life, and words of encouragement. I've rarely seen these grandparents as often as I'd like, but they are so faithful to check in with me.

I am thankful for the enduring love of family and the perfect timing of a letter.

And why was this morning the perfect moment to receive a note? Well, responsibilities and opportunities rarely spread themselves out evenly in life. So many great things are coming up in the next couple of days, that when I thought of all I needed to do this morning, a wave of panic threatened to capsize my little life.

I have so much to do! How will I be most effective in a specific class today? How was I during that evaluation? What if I can't get it all done? I have to be better. Notice a pattern in the panic? I was the center of the problem.

But then, the reality of God struck me. He is the amazing King of the Universe. He calls me his child. He has given me life and his very Spirit. He brought me to Budapest. He created me to be an English teacher. He knew what today and tomorrow would hold before time began. He loves my students and colleagues more than I do and will not let me mess things up too badly. He asks me to join him in life, not to do it alone. He walks beside me in the "yoke". He has a plan that will not fail.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Matthew 11:29

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

I am so very thankful for the peace that he gave today and the hope he gives for tomorrow.

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3

Day 5: Public Transportation and Scarves

As simple as it sounds, I am thankful for the abundant buses of Budapest and for stylish winter gear. Part of practicing a lifestyle of gratitude is noticing the small things for which to be thankful.

Today, as I stood at the bus stop and the temperature dropped, I was very thankful for my scarf and all the others like it in my drawer at home. :) Friends have made me these scarves. One is a souvenir of Andrew's and my trip this past summer. All of them keep out the brisk, cool breeze. They are nice to have (and fairly "European-" looking).

And then I got out of the cold weather and onto a warm bus that took me exactly where I needed to go. Public transportation is a marvel to this small town girl.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Day 4: ICSB and Hot Chocolate

Ahhh. My entire Monday was refreshing. First, I got to share a bit of my heart during teachers' devotions this morning. God always uses opportunities I have to speak to teach ME things. (Whether he teaches others anything, that is not up to me.) How exciting it is to work in a place with a biblical foundation! The International Christian School of Budapest is a marvelous place because God is at work. The people are not perfect, but the Lord is.

I am thankful for the chance to teach at ICSB.

More refreshment came as Kristen invited me over for dinner. Fellowship, humor, and really good food were topped off with absolutely fantastic cinnamon hot chocolate and apple crisp. I haven't eaten so much or so well in quite a while. Thanks, Kristen and Kacie!

And so, the second point of gratitude? Chocolate, of course.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Day 3: Mercy and Christmas Lights

Okay, so there is absolutely NO relationship between the two things for which I'm grateful today. Ah well.

First, I was studying Isaiah 2:1 through 4:6 at Gloria Jean's today (per my new Sunday tradition), and was extremely moved by the mercy of God. Isaiah is a book of the Bible that addresses the future of Jerusalem and Judah in particular as well as the (then)future Messiah. Isaiah chapters 2-4 deal with how people try to build up their own security, vanity, power, and even their own gods but how when the true God's majesty is displayed everything else will be embarrassingly ridiculous. People will be brought low; now how could I be grateful for that? Well, in chapter 4, I see that God offers a judgment that cleanses those who trust him. His discipline brings holiness, fruit (a biblical word for the produce or result of something), and true security beyond the things of men. I am so thankful for a God who accepts me as his child. I haven't earned his love--in fact, he loved me before I knew him--and now he is cleaning me up.

I'm thankful for a God who sees my flaws, loves me in spite of them, and loves me too much to ignore them. He's offering mercy that cleanses, strips away the junk, and makes me new. That's real love!

Second, and without any graceful transition other than after the study of Isaiah at Gloria Jean's, I got off the tram and was instantly surrounded by...Christmas lights!! I know, it is really early for Christmas lights. Sorry--I LOVE white lights. The körút (a main street that forms a ring around Budapest, literally the "round road") is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. One whole block is twinkling with soft white lights around trees and hanging from light poles. A scene like this is so charming and inviting and magical and romantic. The joy that was in my heart from the love of God just overflowed into raw happiness as I turned slowly in a circle and took in the lovely scene.

I am thankful for Christmas lights!

Okay, I'm three days in. Practicing the lifestyle of thankfulness is great! What are you thankful for?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Day 2: Cloudy, Cozy Saturdays and Culinary Korean families

Rest is such a good concept! Thanks, God, for the idea of being still and spending time with you! I've enjoyed this cloudy, cozy Saturday from my bed/the couch thanks to the portability of books and a wireless laptop. This is a great city, but I enjoy the occasional day at home in silence and candlelight with a whiff of coffee in the air.

The first thing for which I'm thankful on this, the second day of my "20 Days of Gratitude" is the opportunity for rest and reflection. (I'm thankful for the smaller things, too, like coffee, candles, a laptop, a couch, books, etc.)

Secondly, I'll soon be enjoying the amazing hospitality and culinary skills of several families from the International Christian School of Budapest. A group of families has gotten together and planned a lovely Korean dinner for the teachers tonight. Since this is my first year, I am eagerly anticipating my introduction to this particular cuisine.

Thank you, thank you, Korean families for loving us in this way! Jó étvágyat! (Enjoy the meal!)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Day 1: Enthusiastic Students and Faithful Friends

I've really enjoyed myself today! My freshmen finished presenting their original short stories--always a crowd pleaser as I sneakily take a test grade--and moved on to the beloved novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Few things make me smile more during school hours than hilarious and insightful comments from students as they engage with the material.

I'm thankful for my enthusiastic students: 8th graders, freshmen, and seniors.

Three friends from the States sent e-mail this week. They are faithfully checking in with me, sharing life, and letting me know that I'm loved. God has made us to need each other and work better together; these friends contribute to the work that happens here in Hungary.

I'm thankful for faithful friends and ministry partners.

God provides for my every need at just the right time. Just this week, I was a bit overwhelmed with the amount and significance of work for which I was responsible and feeling a bit disconnected from friends. At this time, as I surrendered control and asked for supernatural assistance, God delivered big time! He always accomplishes the work He starts--in me, in relationships, and in my students.

I'm so thankful for these gifts from a loving Heavenly Father.

And you? What are you thankful for today?

20 Days of Gratitude

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

The American holiday and tradition of Thanksgiving is in 20 days! As I try to be more intentional about living a life of gratitude and prayer as well as posting on my blog, I've decided to adopt twenty days of gratitude. Each day leading up to Thanksgiving, I'll post a few things for which I'm thankful. You are very welcome to join me!
Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Psalm 105:1