Thursday, September 29, 2016

October Scripture Writing

I'm going to jump back in this month and see how it goes! Anyone can start at anytime. I'll be sharing these at least through the end of the year.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Real Cowboy

Many of the stories and details I share publicly are concerning my life in Europe, and I'm guessing are more of interest to those friends and readers back in the Unites States where life is very different.

I love to participate in exchanges of culture though, and while certainly my every day life is one big mish-mash of cultures, I like the fact that my blog could potentially be a platform for just such an exchange. I know that some of you are reading from here in Europe, and today, this one's for you.

All it takes is one person at a social event finding out that my brother is a cowboy.  Then they tell the next person, and suddenly I'm bombarded with questions concerning a lifestyle which is part of my roots but is very far from my lifestyle now. 

"Is he a REAL cowboy?" "Does he wear the hat like in the movies?" "What does a cowboy even do?" "Oh my gosh, does he have a gun?"

Since it's a chance to dwell on and talk about my brother, I'm happy to oblige and answer your questions as best I can. By the way, the majority of you asking questions, and with bright eyes and copious amounts of curiosity, are female. There must be a romantic element of the cowboy life which I've missed somewhere.

I've entertained the thought of going home, tailing him on a cattle drive, and bringing back my photojournalist documentation for you to really get the feel, but since I don't think I would survive even one stinky, dirty cattle drive, I'll just wet your appetite further for the cowboy life by sharing this commercial he was in, which was, believe it or not, filmed for a restaurant called "Burgerville", (Now that wets my appetite!) To me it sounds like it came straight out of a movie. The truth is, the cowboy life is a lifestyle which looks in real life just about the same as it does in the movies. Hat and all.

I may occasionally tease and jest about the job and way of life itself, but my bro has my respect for being one of the hardest working, kindest hearts I know. He's a young man with an old soul, ornery as heck, talks reeeeeeal sloooow with a southern drawl, but with the wisdom to knock your uncle-with-six-letters-after-his-name's intelligence out of the ballpark. 

My brother, Jeb, on the left at 1:19 and 1:59 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Great Distraction

It's something which we all experience, no matter our situation or circumstances, our status in life, our relationships, our adventures, or dreams of adventure, no matter if we're the most blessed person by human definition, or the seemingly most cursed. 

Stemming from just enough negativity to tip our perspective of the world,  it becomes the motion which slides our feelings of security and purpose, right out from under us. Whether we are looking down on ourselves or just our situation, it can be easy on days (weeks, months) like that to feel complete defeat.

I recently read the following, and I expect I'll be returning to it again and again on those days when I'm compelled to look down and forget to look up. It's pretty far from the standard I set on my happiest of days, but a good reminder for those of us wanting to be real world-changers, to get our eyes off of us and on what it actually means to enjoy life and to enjoy Christ.

by Thomas Brooks, a Puritan pastor from the 1600's. Emphasis my own. 


"True grace will enable a soul to sit down satisfied and contented with the naked enjoyments of Christ. The enjoyment of Christ without honor will satisfy the soul; the enjoyment of Christ without riches, the enjoyment of Christ without pleasures, and without the smiles of creatures, will content and satisfy the soul. 'It is enough; Joseph is alive' (Gen. 45:28). So says a gracious soul, though honor is not, and riches are not, and health is not, and friends are not—it is enough that Christ is, that he reigns, conquers, and triumphs. Christ is the pot of manna, the cruse of oil, a bottomless ocean of all comfort, contentment, and satisfaction. He who has him lacks nothing: he who lacks him enjoys nothing. 'Having nothing,' says Paul, 'and yet possessing all things' (2 Cor. 6:10). A contented man cannot be a poor man.

Oh! but a man who has but temporary grace—who has but restraining grace, cannot sit down satisfied and contented, under the lack of outward comforts. Christ is good with honors, says such a soul; and Christ is good with riches, and Christ is good with pleasures, and he is good with such and such outward contents. I must have Christ and the world, or else with the young man in the Gospel, in spite of my soul, I shall forsake Christ to follow the world. Ah! how many shining professors are there in the world, who cannot sit down satisfied and contented, under the lack of this or that outward comfort and convenience—but are like bedlams, fretting and vexing, raging and angry—as if there were no God, no heaven, no hell, nor no Christ—to make up all such outward comforts. 

Luther said, he had rather be in hell with Christ than in heaven without him. 

'None but Christ! none but Christ!' said Lambert the martyr, lifting up his hands and his flaming fingers.

Augustine upon Psalm 12 brings in rebuking a discontented Christian thus: What is your faith? have I promised you these things? What! were you made a Christian that you should flourish here in this world?

Contentment is the deputy of outward felicity, and supplies the place where it is absent. As the Jews throw the book of Esther to the ground before they read it, because the name of God is not in it, as the Rabbis have observed; so do saints in some sense those mercies wherein they do not read Christ's name, and see Christ's heart."

                                                                                  Be blessed,

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Our Third Night of Marriage- Part III

Part III - Lesson Learned (The Bride Gets Put in Her Place)

Read Part I and Part II and then this part will make more sense! This one's the final installment and  especially long, but if you're still following the story at this point, I think you'll find it worthwhile to read 'til the end.


I'm ashamed to say, though I was beginning to relax and possibly soften a little by this point, it took some drastic measures to permanently adjust my over all attitude about the situation, even after I was freed from the giant tortilla.  

Bernat began turning to me and translating the highlights of what the little man with the glasses was telling him. The man explained how he came to be born and raised in Switzerland. He told of how both his parents were Hungarian Jews and had both survived concentration camps during the war before they ever even met each other. His father had survived the infamous Auschwitz, where his first wife had died. 

That information arrested me abruptly in the middle of my pity party. I didn't seem to mind their chatter or even the strange noise of him talking after that, as I was curious what else this man might say. The noise, Bernat explained to me as the man had explained to him, was a symptom of an illness which would likely eventually be terminal.

Finally I began to feel very sober and penitent for my train of cynical thoughts upon arriving in their presence. My inward self-rebuking was cut short though, by the old man continuing on, saying more interesting things. He told us that he had just been in Budapest to go to the theatre. What an adventurous fellow! Perhaps we seemed a little surprised that he had gone all the way there, from Zürich, just to go to the theatre, and noted that he had packed quite a large suitcase for such just a weekend trip. But he explained that too. His suitcase was full of cabbage, which he said, was something he always buys a lot of when he goes to Hungary. (I think maybe he meant cabbage salad which the Hungarians make splendidly). He then all of a sudden, for my sake I suppose, started to speak in a heavily accented English."What is the word for someone who can never get enough of something?" One of us suggested maybe he was looking for the word 'addict'. With a funny grin on his face and of course still squinting he said,"Yes, yes that's it. Addict. I'm a cabbage addict."

I got a good laugh out of that, and that's when Bernat turned to me, probably feeling it was safe to say it now, and said "I know it was strange at first... but I actually really like these guys!" I smiled at him, thinking, "And I really like you, because you always assume the best about people when I assume the worst."

At this point Bernat went to the bathroom to change out of his clothes. While he was gone, the other man pulled out a cell phone and appeared to be trying to fix it. I don't remember what the problem was, but I remember that when Bernat came back, he was able to fix it for him. 

All was quiet for awhile, maybe even a couple of us dozed off. However the ticket man soon came, forcing us all awake. After he left, the other man, the man with the missing teeth asked us if we would like something to eat. I lied and said I was't hungry. He asked again more insistent this time. 

Which for me, just as a side note, the fact that he kept offering it to us after we declined, is a very Hungarian trait, as they (generally speaking) actually expect you to refuse the first time as it's more polite. I have always struggled with this as an American, because if someone offers me food and I am hungry, well, of course I don't hesitate! Not to mention the fact that I often forget to keep offering and insisting on people eating, so Hungarians tend to go hungry at my place... 

Anyway, as he offered food yet again, mentioning the homemade Hungarian paprika sausage known as "kolbász" he had in his bag, Bernat was still politely refusing but started to show interest. I still felt hesitant while hearing my mother's voice in my ears "Never take food from strangers". Eventually we agreed to try some. He had told us that it was his family who had made it and I figured at that point, if God let me die from eating a stranger's sausage just so the stranger wouldn't feel bad, then God would be very unjust, very unjust indeed. The man pulled out an ominous plastic bag with what looked like some fried chicken in the mix. He then pulled out a whole piece of kolbász out of the bag and gave it to us. 

Words utterly fail me to describe what happened next, inside my mouth, after that first bite. What incredible flavour filled my mouth!
 I'm a huge fan of hungarian kolbász. Always have loved it, since the very first time I tasted it. But this, this was what kolbász will most assuredly taste like in heaven. A strong smoky flavour with just enough of a kick of spicy paprika to make your tastebuds dance but not too much so as to scald them. I couldn't keep the happiness inside of me. One moment I was moaning and uttering the words "beeeest kolbász eveeeeer" and the next moment exclaiming in different languages so as to be sure to be understood by everyone in the cabin, "Nagyon finom!" "SO delicious!"

The little man with the glasses, who by the way, had earlier referred to the fact he was a practicing Jew, offered us some of his kosher crackers to eat with our sausage and then made a remark about how his father was no longer kosher after leaving Auschwitz, as he had believed it only right be grateful for every crumb or bit of food placed in front of him. 

I can be rather dense sometimes, so the irony of the situation didn't occur to me until after my exclaiming over the sausage (and Bernat's too, but especially mine) had gone on quite a long time. Finally the little man with the glasses groaned from his corner, "oooh... I wish I wasn't kosher..." As soon as Bernat translated the words back to me, I felt HORRIBLE and was sure the whole evening was out to show me just how selfish I really am. I wondered if it was too late to downplay how good the sausage was or if he would believe me if I said it really wasn't that great. The other gentleman quickly offered him some, again, but he again, refused. The man offering it asked him why he couldn't try it just this once. The little man's answer was, "If I eat it this once, the question is why wouldn't I eat it always?" I successfully held in the words, "Because this is the best dang Kolbász in the world and you will never be tempted by another." Not saying that was pretty much my greatest and possibly only accomplishment of the night.

Something I will never forget nor do I want to, was the man's reaction after we agreed to accept his offer of sharing his sausage. His reaction was so humble, and so grateful, and he literally said that it was his great honour that the newlywedded pair, the beautiful bride and the handsome groom, would accept his humble gift as a token of his well wishes and blessings on their marriage. 

Honestly? I could have burst into tears. I wanted to tell both of them what beautiful, wonderful, splendid souls they are. I wanted to tell them what an ugly bride I was, and how I had judged the gypsy* upon sight and smell, afraid he would steal our things, and I had judged the little old man with the glasses for talking too much. No matter how else I could paint it -- I was tired, the cabin stank, the guys looked weird, whatever-- I had come in there feeling, even if I wasn't actually thinking it, that I was better than them. I am just so glad, that I was given the opportunity 
(trapped into it, in fact) for hearing at least some of their stories. How touched I still am to have experienced their generosity. And of course, how grateful I am to have tasted the most amazing homemade hungarian kolbász.

Shortly after this we all drifted off to sleep again, all waking one by one only as the train made more  frequent stops as it neared Zürich. As we said our goodbyes and stepped off that train on the morning of our fourth day of marriage, I remember praying that I'd not quickly forget the gypsy and the Jew.

I think perhaps I had glimpsed the beauty of what it means, that the last shall be first and the first shall be last. A "princess" bride with expectations and assumptions waltzing in to the quarters of two generous, kind hearted people... You don't even have to wonder who was true royalty in that situation.

As tired as we were, and as colorful as the events of that night were, it all just seemed like a dream. But it was real! A situation which I believe was orchestrated by God- A 'lesson number one', if you will, to begin preparing us both for a life surrounded by many different kinds of people. 

Lesson number one: Approach people with open-hearted curiosity! Give people a chance for more than a first impression, because your assumptions, if incorrect, will reflect only you and what is in your heart when you look at people. And truly, you never know what someone may be going through, or what they may have been through.

Stubborn, thickheaded people, thank God for those moments when He sits you down, tells you you can't get up, tells you He has a lesson for you to learn, brings entertaining, generous people to be your teachers, and even uses your senses, such as smell and taste to make sure you never forget!

*By my use of the word 'gypsy' here, I mean no offense. Here in Europe especially it can be a derogatory term, which I don't intend. However, to paint the mental picture and even perhaps illustrate to the reader how certain things come to mind when one realizes he was a gypsy, my hope is to only clarify the lesson learned.

photos by Ádám Biri

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