Hungarians know how to celebrate!

What do Pink Floyd, flowers, flames and fireworks have in common?

No, it’s not the letter F, they’re each a symbol of the graduation celebration I attended this evening. It’s fascinating to me that this “ballagás”occurs before the students take their final exams. It’s almost like an encouragement to press on until completion.

I couldn’t understand much, and didn’t come with a translator for the evening, but fortunately it was in an open square where people were roaming there weren’t long lecturers, and there was plenty that was visually stimulating. I want to share the interesting moments with you and compare them to the graduations I’ve been to in the states!
The ceremony began inside of the school as the students walked through the classrooms that have enriched their lives over the past few years. Then, class by class they exit the build in a line. Instead of walking to “pomp and circumstance” these students walked through a “torch tunnel” to the beat of “auld lang syne”, everyone carrying a balloon in one hand and the other on the shoulder of the person in front of them in line (It almost felt like a tribal council from survivor). As they were walking, family members and friends would hand them flowers or balloons.
The next bit was all in Hungarian and I understood a few words, like “work” but that was about it.

Then the fun began.

A band made up of graduates covered “wish you were here” by Pink Floyd from the podium which happened to be about 20 feet up on the school’s balcony. After the song, the lights go out and the balloons glow because of a small light inside, out come students come with LED

juggling clubs and put on a color-guard/bluemangroup-esque light show performance to the song “drive by”. Since were no caps to throw in the air, the balloons floated off into the sky as the students look forward to the next season in their lives. To close the evening with a bang, there was a short fireworks show, the lights came back on and the students were free to leave, and presumably begin studying for their final exams!

This evening will long be a time of memories,

not just because of how creative it was or how much I enjoyed the cultural experience. Namely it’s special because it signifies the relationships that I am growing here. It’s an honor to be invited to such a milestone event in a young persons life, and for that, I’m thankful. It seems that months of being present are continuing to bring to a season of integration.

Have you experienced any cross cultural celebrations? How was it different than your ‘norm’? Would you please share a story or photo?

Failing to see True Beauty

Have you ever taken a photo and been frustrated with it because it cannot capture the immense beauty of what is in front of you at the moment; only to discover that months later that same photo brings a small portion of that awe back to you, and equips you to step back into the moment? You can share what was before you and describe something so powerful without words.

I’m a wanderer, community builder and missionary; my deepest passion is sharing life, goodness and beauty through my camera. When I can’t adequately photograph what my eyes see, I have to step back, meditate on the moment and work with the photo weeks or months, in some cases years later. (So much for instant gratification!) Beauty is it sticks with us in surprising ways, and sometimes you can’t see the core until time has passed, and you remember.

One of my favorite films is The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, because there’s a scene that has haunted me since the first time I saw it. A photographer happens upon a moment he’s been anticipating, turns to Walter and says, “Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.”  Stop and think about that because as a photographer I really need to consider this: What about the majestic mountain, standing thousands of meters above it’s surroundings…the ice crystals forming on a frozen lake… a waterfall pounding against rocks…the fire in the sky as night falls … ?  My list could continue as I consider the beauty I have seen with my own eyes.

beautifultogetherThis world is full of beauty but when my eyes are not open, the most beautiful things are easily overlooked. Much like the photos that can’t do justice to what is before our eyes, could it be that we should begin to look at the deeper beauty? That mountain didn’t just appear for our viewing pleasure and its not screaming “look at me, look at me” can you hear it say “I reflect the majesty of my creator”. The ice crystals, can you hear them say, “we are all different, but in this community we are beautiful together” The waterfall says to the rocks, “I will continue to pour onto you, but you will not be moved, you are strong”. That burning sky closes the day with promise that light will overcome the imminent darkness.

Today, consider the world around you. You might not be in a place full of serene nature (I moved from a cabin in the woods to an urban wonderland; I get it), but there is beauty everywhere, and it doesn’t always look the way we expect it to. An elderly couple walking hand in hand, a song that stills your soul, an image drawn by a child. These are moments we happen upon every day, and they are all beautiful and meant to be shared.

 

What have you observed today that is beautiful?

 

 

Enter, Experience, Embrace

I’m not sure why I didn’t think it would be hard.  Life in a new place, a new language, a new culture.  Here, literally EVERYTHING is new, well… except me!  Perhaps I bought into the myth that the well-traveled expat wouldn’t struggle to adjust.  Its one thing to enter a culture, another to experience it and life-changing to embrace it.  For those of you that don’t know, my passport has stamps… lots of stamps: China, Australia, Nicaragua, Rwanda, Switzerland, Peru, Ukraine, and now the longest standing one: Hungary. I could make a coffee table photo book about these trips, but this time I’d like to share words (and a couple photos) on three of them.

IMG_9988 IMG_9756IMG_4000 I visited Rwanda in 2009 where my friends Lindsey and Blake live.  They not only invited me into their world but I entered homes of families touched by genocide, cooked in the outdoor kitchen, pumped for water at a well, walked through dimly lit dirt roads in a “city” and ate avocados off trees and was fitted for clothing in a local market.  In the same breath, we visited a beautiful lake, went on a safari and visited a genocide museum.  I had a glimpse of “real life” but only as an outsider, I merely entered the culture.

 
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In 2013 I experienced a culture for the first time.  A 3 month time in Ukraine, I sat in an office as the only English speaker, taught photography classes through an interpreter and traveled on non-climate controlled trains throughout the country. My sense of adventure was fresh and many Ukrainians not only invited me into their homes, but most importantly into their lives. I traveled to Peru for 2 weeks during that time and even became “homesick” not for America but for Ukraine. Riding marshrutkas, refilling my cell phone at the ATM and wandering through streets full of cyrillic letters (and taking medicine) I barely could read became a way of life.  These moments I will not forget, but while three months is a long time I knew Chipotle, family & friends were waiting for me and the end of my 90 days abroad.

Since arriving in Budapest 5 1/2 months ago, it surely hasn’t been all joy [but maybe in the end I can see it as all joy], because embracing a culture, thats something altogether different.  Here I stand with a foot in two different Budapests.  One is the Budapest most Americans enter: the city of enchantment: golden lights, fine wines, a thousand years of history, and of course paprika.  The other foot is in a simple city: predictable public transit, shops closed on Sundays, clean streets, langos, and daydreams of lake Balaton.  These are all on the surface.  To embrace the culture is to embrace the people.  Its hard to make a friend here, yet once you’ve made one, there’s an air of faithfulness.  Coming from a world where friends are instant and can be lost just as quickly, I’ve needed to change my attitude and actions. While on one hand, its incredibly difficult; as an extrovert, it has challenged me to not take people for granted but rather to relish every moment.

In fact, you’ll notice no pictures from Hungary in this post.  Why?  Because now, I choose to take my fingers off the keys and celebrate in the city.  Today, we all stand on the verge of a New Year, it’s a time where resolutions are made, and the past is easily put behind.  Look at where you are, wether that be a University, Germany, Africa, America, or anywhere else in this beautiful world.  Examine yourself and ask: Am I embracing where I am living, or simply here for a visit?  Lets live wholly in 2016 friends, what are you going to do about that?

Why We Build Fences

Fences are incredibly common in Hungary.  Nearly every house has a fence with a well secured gate around it. Here fences are used to keep some people in and other people out. In the past 2 months, I’ve seen two fences built before my eyes. 

This past October, I traveled to Zákány, Hungary and observed weary migrants as they crossed the border from Croatia into Hungary.  When we arrived, the military was constructing a towering chain link and razor wire fence.  I heard the rumble of the truck, the ping of the nail gun and the groans of hard working men and women.  Clearly, this fence was designed to keep people out.  Yet that day, an opening was left in the fence.  After the day turned to night, I watched men, women and children walk a well worn path through that opening, then they lined up like cattle, to be boarded onto a train.  The joy and weariness was evident in their eyes.  Men in wheelchairs, babies swaddled in their parent’s arms, children smiling in the midst of exhaustion.  But they were soon to be on a train to a new life.  They were moving from a place where they were afraid to live.  With the hopes of being integrated into a new life.


While many refugees are moving from a life full of fear, they are moving into a place where their presence is now inciting fear.  This is the second fence I’ve seen built, it’s a fence built with fear. It’s not something that you tangibly see, but it is dividing.  Today, our words which are magnified and displayed for the world to see on social media are often being published without much thought given to the repercussions.  The desire for comfort is often manifest in fear.  Likely because we don’t know how else to respond.  I want to live a nice life so I best pad my retirement account rather than be generous… I want to maintain my friendships so I won’t call you out on gluttony… I want to be safe, so I’m not going to let anyone new inside my fence. This fear has an opportunity to be more lethal than any razor wire fence being built, and has the potential to divide.  It’s shrewd, because most of the time we don’t recognise it’s it is growing. 

LEP_0784 If you know me personally, I’m not one for politics so I’m not going there.  But what I can’t ignore is sharing the strain I’ve seen in friends arguing over this issue. It’s a bit more “real” to me here because I’ve seen snippets of their trek with my own eyes, I’ve heard heart breaking stories and recognise it’s only a portion.  Do we know intentions of others?  Certainly not, and honestly, I don’t even know my own intentions half the time.

But here’s the deal, there is one call: love.  What does love look like?  If someone is hungry, you give them food.  Thirsty?  Give them water.  Naked?  Share clothes.  And you know what, I believe “perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:12)  So, dear friends, let’s let go of fear, and embrace love.  The world is changing and we can stand by and watch it change or we can be a part of transforming lives.  We build fences to keep people out, but what if we let them in?

Personal Training…

Over the past 3 years or so, I’ve had a shortage of free time.  Moments of solace have been treasured and were often found in the woods or in a boat.  Now, I’m joyfully living a life where my vocation are the very things I was doing with my free time.  Which in a strange turn of events has afforded me some free time!  One thing I have chosen to spend my “extra” time on is exercise.  I’ve been one for the outdoors and going on occasional bike rides, but never have I had the discipline (or time) to follow a training plan. This is  coming from the girl that hiked the Inca Trail while I admittedly have never done a pull-up in my life!  Well, a few weeks ago I decided to tackle this issue!

I’ve had gym memberships on and off and would exercise with friends, but as is typical of my personality, it would be rather haphazardly, and never really gave me strengthening results (I’m so bad with numbers at moments I forget to count reps!).  So this time I decided to do something different, because clearly a self-plan wasn’t working.  I searched nearby gyms online, went to a couple different places to check out membership plans and conditions, and decided I liked one at the nearby mall.  As I was at the desk hoping the woman spoke English, I asked for more details  and how much training was because I wanted to have a plan to follow!  It turns out right behind me was one of the 3 English speaking trainers, Daniel.  We discussed  a price, and arranged a time.   It couldn’t have been smoother.  We set a plan, for me to meet with him once a week and ride my bike or run at least 3 times a week.  I’ve been faithfully encouraged by his presence and accountability.

Now, why do I even mention this?   Well as I look at the way the past 3 weeks have shaped my understanding of how muscles work, how to exercise properly, and even understanding a proper eating routine, I can’t help but compare the role of the personal trainer to the Holy Spirit.  Stick with me here. It’s a fascinating picture to me, Daniel encourages me, pushes me to become stronger, to have more endurance and to be healthier. He knows what I can do and doesn’t let me stop if he knows I can do more.  More than that, he checks that I am exercising properly, that the right muscles are experiencing the tension; most of the time when I try the exercise the first time by mimicking him, it is not working the right muscle, because I’m doing it wrong.  Through a relationship, through questions and humility, my improper technique is corrected.

You see, I’m learning too about the importance of communing with God.  Sitting in my big yellow chair, and exercising my spiritual muscles, but without the guidance of the Spirit, it’s likely that I’d be working out the wrong “muscles” just focusing on what is easiest rather than what is best.  While the fruit of a personal trainer is a lean body, more energy, and greater strength, we know the fruit of the spirit is:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness & self-control…

 

So, how is your soul training going?  Are you allowing the Holy Spirit to be your personal trainer?

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The Dirty Duck

On Wednesday I watched an international crisis with my own eyes. I held weary hands, walked alongside feet that walked 3,000 miles, laughed with children, listened to stories of pain, and was present for just a moment in many lives on a life changing journey.

One of those moments I will never forget.  

After hours of sorting trash from useful items as people abandoned belongings at the “catching point” to head towards a refugee camp, I watched as a young girl saw this stuffed duck in a pile of rubbish.  When she saw it her eyes lit up and she had the biggest, most genuine smile I have ever seen.   This excited girl picked it up, and ran to her family, squeezing it.  I think many parents would see a toy ground in the dirt and hay in a strange place and immediately chastise their child for touching such a thing, wash their hands and get along with life.  As the day progressed, we continued to work, and out of the corner of my eye, I didn’t recognize the girl, but I recognized the dirty duck, still in firm grip of her hands.

When you’re in crisis, everything is different. 

The truth is this girl probably didn’t take the duck onto the next part of the journey, when your family has one backpack for all your personal belongings, unfortunately a toy won’t make the cut.  But for that moment, she had a companion, she loved it and it brought her joy.

You see, as I was at the “catching point” for a moment that day, it’s our hope that much like the dirty duck we brought joy to the lives we touched.

Would you share about there a moment when a stranger brought joy into your life?

Now, go and do likewise.