This month I am having a hard time finding my place in time.
I find myself falling into memories of the recent past. The last three months of life here in Slovakia have been full.
Then there is the present. At this moment, it is actually snowing, which means that maybe Jeremy and I will find ourselves better able to live “in the present.” Instead, these last few weeks we have been anxiously-hoping-for-snow-and-trying-not-to-whine-about-it, but not-always-succeeding.
Then there is the future: We have come to the point that all long-term ELCA missionaries come to – the time of planning Home Assignment. This means that I find myself spending more time than seems possible or proper with my head in the future, writing emails to sponsoring congregations, calculating travel times (like from Spokane, WA to Sheridan, WY) and otherwise lost in months that do not even exist yet.
So here is my January pastor’s letter, in three parts, following from my addled state.
Part 1: Remembering things past
Esme was baptized on the second Sunday in Advent. To be a part of this powerful rite, her American godmothers, Jennifer and Josie, flew across the ocean. They poured water into the font during the Thanksgiving Prayer. Esme’s Slovak godparents, James and Jana, presented her with her baptismal candle (“Let your light so shine before others”) just before the assembly joined in a rousing “I’ve Just Come From the Fountain,” to welcome our new sister in Christ.
At the Bratislava International Church, we worshipped more than usual throughout Advent – gathering on Wednesday evenings to sing Holden Evening Prayer, and also gathering with the other three English-speaking congregations here in Bratislava (City Lights, Bratislava International Fellowship, and the International Baptist Church) for a special joint service of song and prayer.
Ursula would want me to mention her favorite Advent activities: The BIC Children’s Program at worship on the fourth Sunday of Advent, and (she would add) “don’t forget that we also had the Christmas program at my school!” She and her classmates trilled out Slovak Songs about little (baby Jesus) Jezisko, as well as “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” to finish the show.
Then came Christmas, and with it, many Blyths! Jeremy’s immediate family was (amazingly) able to come for two weeks to Slovakia. We were able to gather for multiple meals in our home with 8 adults and 5 children throughout the Christmas season. Ursula and her two older cousins spent the whole time dressing up, putting on shows, doing art projects, and even managing a little sledding and skiing, in the snow we finally found on a trip to the High Tatras.
Part 2: Living in the Present
There is a delight to returning to simple routines, though perhaps more delight for us who so often get to break them. We wake up; I make coffee; Jeremy drives Ursula to school. At the end of the day, we sit and eat what Jeremy has made for us; we bathe the girls, and put them to bed. I am more than a little excited these days, for I am now reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe to Ursula before bed. (I am not sure that I am reading it so much for her enjoyment as for my own.)
In between dawn and dusk, I meet with congregation members, communicate (a lot) via email, plan worship, prepare to preach, lead Bible Study, write recommendations, meet with the BIC intern, talk with the YAGM in Hungary about their frustrations and joys, go for runs, try to pray – for the unity of the church, for the world in all its need.
But in the middle of the present (which has been rather grey — did I mention? – until today), Jeremy and I are also hard at work planning the future.
Part 3: Planning for the Future
Sometimes it seems simply wrong to spend so much time organizing for the future. If now is the acceptable time, and now is the day of salvation, then we do well to live in the now where Christ is surely coming to meet us, feed us, grace us with the very presence of God. We do well to settle into the flesh and blood reality that is for me life in Bratislava, late January 2014. Shouldn’t I tune my senses to the present? Taste daily bread (now); listen carefully to the people around me (now); hold my daughter’s hand as she toddles around the room (now)? Live today in all its mysterious grace?
But I am a planner by genetic constitution. My head is more often than not in the future. And while I do not always think this trait is altogether healthy, it is at least required in my work as an ELCA missionary. So I can feel so very justified – even if I wonder if this is how the Gospel calls us to live.
All that to say, we are planning trips, right and left:
In February, we will travel once again around Hungary for eight nights, to visit our young adult volunteers, make plans for possible new YAGM sites next year. I will also have my first experience of guest preaching in translation, at the Lutheran church in Szombathely.
In March, we will lead a Lenten retreat for this year’s YAGM’s in the Slovak mountains.
In April, I will leave Jeremy and the kids for 12 whole days (unheard of, for our family, though we know so many families who must deal with separation all the time) to go to California and Chicago. I will visit one of our sponsoring congregations, and take part in the yearly event where young adults interview and discern and are finally placed in YAGM country programs around the world.
In May, after we have worshiped our way through Holy Week and taken a few weeks of Easter to catch our breaths, we will all be off for two months of Home Assignment visits to more supporting congregations and of course, family and friends. The itinerary looks, you might say, brisk. We are hoping to travel thru WA, OR, ID, MT, CO, WY, UT, SD, NE, IA, IL, MN, MI, IN, PA, D.C., NY, NJ, MD, and VA. We ask for your prayers as we prepare for this time: We will need all the health and grace that God can provide us. (Of course we also think that traveling across the country for two months is one of the better ways to spend one’s time.)
I am living in past, present, and future these days. I wonder about all of you, to whom I am writing. I imagine it is a balancing act for you as well, a juggling act with time, wondering how to live in the present, when past and future are both pulling at you?
I am no expert. But these days, I am trying to regain my morning routine of Morning Prayer that has been somewhat disrupted since Esme’s birth:
“Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise.”
And, “ In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us.”
And, “Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
And, “Let us bless the Lord. Thanks be to God.”
I join my lips with the prayers that call me out of my obsession with past or present or future, and root me in Christ. Who was and is and ever shall be world without end.