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?

A year without Good Friday.

Can you imagine having joy without sorrow? The reward without the toil? Celebrating a resurrection with no death? There’s something about walking through pain that allows deep-seated joy to reign supreme.

In the midst of transitioning to a new life, new traditions are created, and holidays are often when those transitions are felt the most. This year has been full of those for me. I’m in Ukraine today and Hungary tomorrow. Things change tomorrow: I change languages, time zones (but ironically not times!), and from an Orthodox holiday schedule to a Gregorian schedule (the one most of us are used to).

You see, last week was Palm Sunday and yesterday was Good Friday in the majority of the Christian world, but in Ukraine, Easter is being celebrated 5 weeks from now. It’s not even on most people’s radars yet. Tomorrow I fly to Hungary and I arrive on Easter for resurrection celebration, food, community and connection with the States.

Because I’ve been in Ukraine, I have the unique experience this year of celebrating Easter without meditating on the time leading up to it. Very little discussion has taken place for me about Palm Sunday, The Last Supper, Good Friday or Peter’s denial. I have missed the part where the pain is felt. Yet, Easter Sunday is the week most people are open to visiting a church, and their experience is quite like mine this year: the climax of human history isn’t hyped up or prepared for. It’s a day where the momentous story is told with an incredible ending, where the pain only lasts a moment.

This situation has me thinking, how different would the story of faith be if there was no Good Friday? Would we know the depths of need? Would there be cause for celebration? Would the Gospel even exist? I think not. The words “it is finished” never would have been uttered.

In our lives, it’s the same. Without the hard work, it’s impossible to celebrate. Without the pain, we can’t experience the healing. Without sin, we can’t grasp forgiveness.

What hope are you looking for this Easter? What pain are you experiencing before the joy?

Today is the Day you fall in Love with Hungary

P2120951On occasion I take a pilgrimage to the Szabadság Hid (Liberty Bridge). Tonight, on a rainy evening after a long week I went to quiet my soul, and gaze at both the flow of water and the flow of people. There are many beautiful bridges in Budapest, each with its unique flare.  While, many argue the chain bridge is most photogenic, this liberty bridge keeps calling my name. (I wonder if it’s my connection to the liberty bell)

My first visit to Hungary was on a sunny July day in 2014, I stepped foot on the bridge and while I was gazing down the Danube, Jonathan turns to me and confidently says “today is the day you fall in love with Hungary.” I stood there photographing, and as a team, we were exploring a new city. When we returned that evening, I didn’t see this city as anything special. I could only focus on one thing: Kyiv, now that’s a beautiful city. My heart was set on one thing and nothing was going to distract me from getting to Ukraine.

There was great tension, many people had told me “Budapest is the most beautiful city in Europe” but I just couldn’t see it. I captured photos that displayed the beauty, the broad strokes and details that make this city shine: golden twilight, cobblestone streets, iconic bridges, breathtaking parliament, and a fascinating tram system. In that moment on the bridge, I refused to accept the invitation to fall in love, and closed my heart to the things my eyes had witnessed.

I can’t put a finger on the day I let my guard down, but once I did something magical happened. I looked at the photos and saw with my heart what my eyes had seen. I neglected to see the beauty. There weren’t towering mountains or skyscrapers, but the city has a flavor of its own. Not better, not worse, just different, and different is beautiful.

P1250639I’d venture to say we all do it: choosing to harden ourselves to something so legitimately attractive right before our eyes. Here’s the thing, being told that you will do something isn’t quite the same thing as it happening organically. I have seen this in so many aspects of my life: faith, community building, professions, and most recently, my attitude towards Hungary. This transformation starts with my attitude I’ve come to learn that when my attitude changes, nothing changes except for the way I see everything. This bridge has been the catalyst for friendships, and has taken one of my camera lenses as victim, but the are everyday moments are just as important. Gazing at the Szabadság blanketed in a thin layer of snow, yellow
carrying people from Buda to Pest and rather than photographing, I stood for a moment with my camera by my side, simply in awe. It amazes me how much difference an attitude makes.

Is there something you are harboring a negative attitude towards? What can you do to change it?

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?

 

 

Exploring the darkness…exposing the light.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Trudge through, you will make it, I promise…” I’ll tell you it’s an honor to be in a a community of people that will stand beside you and say such words, but when you’re in the trenches, sometimes it seems to that you’re there alone.  The reality is I don’t always have the people standing immediately beside me to make life “better” or “easier”, but as Jonathan (my boss) put it the other day, “We are here cheering you on from the edge of the canyon you feel stuck in…there is a way out.”  <<It’s a good thing I appreciate adventure and a good hike>>

A couple weeks ago, I asked my roommate “do you think conversation needs to be painful to be deep?” She said she would have to think about it, but I was immediately sure there is great depth in joy.  I thought of friends being sure I knew “good news” in the most personal way possible, of celebrations I’ve been a part of: births, weddings, art exhibitions, concerts, the dreams of a heart shared for the first time. These are the special moment when another’s soul is laid bare before your own.  On the other hand I thought of the news of death, someone sharing a private shame, or a crumbling marriage.  The moments when core expectations are crushed and there is little that can console.  It got me to thinking… perhaps depth is simply a different word for vulnerability.

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ― Brené Brown,

Over the past few months, I haven’t been myself… I’ve been reluctant to try new things, I’ve spent many nights on the couch falling asleep watching Sherlock. I’ve become predictable to the point that I’ve only been drinking Earl Grey Tea, and binge eating Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and JIF peanut butter (thanks mom).  I just haven’t been myself.   In my last blog, I mentioned the myth that I wouldn’t struggle to adjust.  Here’s the thing, I think Brené’s onto something: over the last week, I believe I “bottomed out”.  What changed?  v u l n e r a b i l i t y.  Admitting difficulties, first to God then to others, and not that people solved it but without truth-telling, there wouldn’t have been a listening ear, a word of encouragement or time spent together.  Sometimes, I think the dark places are self-imposed because we don’t let the light shine in, its like taking a lamp, turning it and instead of putting it in a visible place, putting a black box over the entire unit.  The light can still be shining, but no-one knows it, not even yourself.  Vulnerability can start by exploring that box, asking “what happens if I begin to… ?” as the box is lifted or opened, everything changes, because light has been exposed, and darkness cannot coexist with light.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So friends, there’s probably something difficult in your life, choose today to rise above it. I’m proud to say right now I am drinking “munk” [a black tea with vanilla, bergamott, lavender and jasmine blooms].  Then venturing to a Hungarian movie night where I expect to understand all of 50 words all night.  Four months ago I would be beyond excited for this event… but even a week ago, this would have frightened me… today I’m thankful for the courage to go, rather than stay in a comfortable place. It blows me away to recognize that I could have chosen to stay trapped, but I’m exceedingly thankful for those that have taken initiative to “cheer me on.”

Take a moment to encourage someone, they may not recognize it but you could make a tremendous difference in their life and attitude.  If you’re in the struggle, how can you invite others into these places?

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.

 
622498_597178553948_1251055783_o 705125_602650073978_1848413949_o 1147660_596936224578_829634461_o

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?