Sunday, November 6, 2016

Neighbors

We saw him coming from about 10 yards away, uncontrolled lunges throwing him across the sidewalk, then small steps sending him stumbling into fence and icy overgrowth as we approached, breathing heavy, just having joked about the early winter and its influence on our running speed. “Careful,” I whispered, probably just as much to myself as my two companions. I’d forgotten it was a holiday weekend, or as most Russians joke, just another excuse to drink. The streets' stillness and relative emptiness seemed even more unusual than what we experience most early Saturday mornings and this guy’s drunken gait immediately pushed into my mind the Embassy’s weekend emergency message: “In the past, some rallies celebrating National Unity Day have been marred by violence, including targeting of non-ethnic Russians. In the last week, the U.S. Embassy has received two reports of American citizens being assaulted in what appear to be acts of anti-western/American sentiment.” Probably harmless, I thought, as we swept past him quickly, turning to see him stagger in delayed response. We continued up the hill, returning to our conversation, while in the back of my mind, “I need to get more pepper spray” kept popping onto my to-do list.

We’d wrapped around our block and were beginning the same ascent when I asked, “I wonder if that guy will still be there… we should try to go around.” We exited onto the main road through a lesser used side-street and begin the climb. Glancing back to check for cars, we saw a new guy in a gray sweatsuit, no socks, tennis shoes, and a black synthetic-fill coat, pulling a body out from under a car parked along the main road. “Holidays, good grief,” I thought, “what’s next?” “Is everything ok?” I asked out loud. “No, this person, is he dead?” The slight accent that even I could sense, the black hair and asian features, the central Asian in the gray sweatsuit continued to pull on the collapsed figure’s shoulders. It was impossible to tell if the body was that of a man or woman. The body was face-down, the fur-lined coat collar at first looked like a woman’s blonde hair falling out of the hood, tight jeans, and Converse only more confused the identity. “Wait,” I whispered to the girls, “is that the same guy?” Both nodded, “looks like the same coat,” said Emily. “We just saw him, probably 10 minutes ago, drunk and walking down this street,” I offered. The central Asian nodded, leaving the body and joining us on the sidewalk. “Should we call the police?” “Probably,” I said, “how do you call the police here?” I handed him my phone after two failed attempts on the numbers I thought I’d seen on the side of local ambulances. 

“Don’t touch him!” boomed a new voice from behind. Startled, we turned, a heavy-set Russian man, enormous glasses, prickly gray hair covering only part of his head, cigarette half-smoked in one hand, winter coat unzipped, and snowflakes landing on chest-hair that his button-up shirt could not contain. “You don’t know what he’s on, you don’t know who he is,” thundered the authoritative giant. The central Asian just finished his report and handed me my phone, “We called the police, he was drunk.” They talked for a while. The central Asian had just gotten into work stocking shelves at the mini-market. He’d taken a box of trash to the dumpster when he’d seen the head and arms sticking out from under the parked car. He’d come over to help when we ran up. “If you called the police, then you wait for them, but if he was drunk…” he shrugged, his roar trailing off. He walked back in the direction of the central Asian’s store. We waited.

I though about how easy it’s become to walk by. I thought about how acceptable it is to pass by here. No one expects anyone to help, nobody really needs to get involved. “If he was drunk…” A shrug seems the most culturally accepted response. And three women out for a morning run, nobody would blame them for a moment for just running by. But this guy, this hero in the gray sweatsuit, where did he drum up the compassion? Where did that mercy come from? Ironically, he’s the very kind of person that groups of ethnically proud Russians gather against on Unity day: the holiday, the vodka, the excuse to drink, and he’s the one pulling Russians out from under cars the next morning.

It had been about 15 minutes. Our running clothes were sadly ineffective against the wind and snow. “The police just take their time and people freeze, they die,” said our hero. In the distance, a police car pulled into a gas station across the way. Typically, they send an ambulance on calls like this, and surely, SURELY, they wouldn’t stop for gas on the way to this call. After still more time, our Russian giant thumped back over bellowing, “what still nothing?” He walked over to the body and in just a few clumsy attempts, the giant pulled the body into a sitting position. His head wobbled unsteadily and he numbly and mindlessly tried to shove his frozen hands into his pockets. I could barely feel my own fingers. “He’s going to break his head open on the curb,” Emily said softly. Seeming to sense a similar possibility, the giant gently pushed the guy’s head against the car’s bumper and leaned him safely away from the car, then stomped back to his chosen supervisory location. Just then, the police car reemerged onto the main street, coming our direction. We waved them down and the passenger door popped open a couple inches.

“This guy is drunk and needs help.” I started, hoping my frozen jaw made my speech sound slurred and unrecognizably “foreign.” “We called you half an hour ago,” continued the gray sweat-suited Samaritan. “Well, if you called, I’m sure someone’s on their way.” Not my job, not my responsibility. The two officers looked indifferently at us and the scene, and prepared to drive off. I took two quick steps toward the police car door to prevent it from closing, more motivated by my own coldness than desire to help the drunk at this point, “we’re frozen, don’t you understand? You’re here now.” 

“You girls go back to your little sport time,” boomed a now familiar and welcomed voice. He’ll take it from here, I thought, and nodded to Emily and Haley, our chilled limbs starting numbly up again to a run. Had we not waiting outside in the cold, the hairy giant probably would not have cared either. And had we not seen the shoot of black hair struggling over the collapsed body, we’d have kept running too. He saved a life that was probably at the most indifferent to his own existence, at the least negatively predisposed. 

In Jesus’ parable, there’s a robbery, there’s victimization. Today, just some drunk. In Jesus’ parable, there are legitimate reasons to walk away. Today, we very well would have done just that. In Jesus’ parable, there’s mercy. Thankfully, that has not changed.

Monday, October 24, 2016

World Youth Day

It was a remarkable experience.

Nuns in habits sharing tents in fields.


"Papa Francesco!" chanted at full volume while stampedes of young people followed the Pope-mobile.


Endless bushels of tomatoes and paté donated for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for volunteers.


Small gatherings of mini-masses constantly taking place all over the city.


Sleeping on a gym floor with a hundred of my closest friends.


People and flags stretching beyond what the the eye can see.


It was an incredible two weeks: meeting young people from all over the world, learning about faith from a different viewpoint, and dialoguing openly and earnestly with believers, seekers, and agnostics alike. Our group of volunteers primarily ran charging stations where people could recharge their phones and other devices. While they waited, we explained that we were official evangelists and our job was to talk to pilgrims about the gospel and to ask them if they had made a decision to follow Jesus.



I got to talk about the gospel with students from 33 different countries.  A young man from Pakistan was studying theology in secret by himself.  He had written to a Christian university in Canada to ask if they would send him a textbook and grade his exams.



Sharing the gospel and challenging people to make a decision was so easy since pretty much everyone there was spiritually open.  One of the many great conversations I had was with a group from Hungary.  I explained the gospel and asked if they had ever chosen to follow Christ.  They replied that they hadn't.  After telling them how they could do that I challenged them to not leave World Youth Day without having made a choice for or against Jesus.


One of the most challenging yet enjoyable aspects was leading a group of Russians and Americans. The complicated administrative work all paid off when I got to see Russian students, who were used to being regarded as strange outsiders in their own cities, share the gospel and enjoy a the unique atmosphere.


The atmosphere was, without doubt, the most incredible aspect of World Youth Day.  Krakow for two weeks was completely transformed. Groups of young people roamed the streets singing, laughing, and helping one another. People from radically different places and backgrounds gathered together in joy and hope. You could stand at a bus stop on one side of the street and call out to those waiting on the other side of the street: "Hi! Where are you from? How are you doing?" and the group gathered at the opposite bus stop would answer back with joy and enthusiasm. It was such a distant cry from life back in Moscow where even smiling at strangers is foolish and strange. While sharing about Krakow these two weeks, my teammate Kim asked, "So now do you want to move to Poland?" No! I want everywhere to be like Krakow those two summer weeks of World Youth Day, a small picture of a more joyful, more intentional, more merciful, more friendly, and much, much better place. I want the whole world to be transformed with joy, hope, and mercy.

And that's why we do what we do.

Transformation begins small and grows. A global transformation begins with transformation of nations, which begins with transformation of cultures. And it begins in a city, in a university, in a dorm, in a neighborhood, in a community, in a friendship, in a person. We have to prioritize the small transformations if we want to live in the transformed world.

Blessed are the merciful (people, cultures, and nations.) May it be so.

For more backstory and insight into this incredible experience, please read my Mom's take on it.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Great-Pa



At the time, it tasted like the perfect combination of spicy salsa over scrambled eggs,
just the way I liked it.

But now, I can see, it's not only enduring 8 ruckus cousins piled on the floor for the summer, 
but making their favorite breakfasts for them each day.

At the time, it was glimmer of the holiday decorations around the house; 
the lantern and lights were always bright, inviting, always welcoming to me.

But now, it's a man who fought for the right to celebrate holidays in this country 
whatever way we please, and embraces that right.

At the time, it was the delight of finding the extra few treats on 
Halloween that appeared in my pumpkin and seeing the hand which slipped them in.

But now, it's a man who is generous and kind to his children's children.

At the time, it was the joy of walking from Holly Hills
to have candy with Grandpa after school instead of going home to carrots and apples.

But now, it's a man who enjoys life and enjoys making life more enjoyable.

At the time, it was subtle pointing and the eyebrows sending out hints to find 
the rather difficult locations of Easter eggs given to me and not anybody else.

But now, it's a man who provides for his family, especially the good stuff.

At the time, it was always the right song for the occasion:
from “Grandma spilled the gravy” to “O Holy Night”... right on the tip of his tongue.

But now, it's a song we all should be singing.

At the time, it was a fridge always stocked and brimming with Country Time Lemonade, 
just because Grandpa knew it was my favorite.

But now, it's a man who gives every individual a space in his family, 
gives them a place to be known and loved.

At the time, it was the way he smiled down from the crowd when I graduated high school, 
his eyes alone in the crowd beaming, “that one’s mine.”

But now, it's a man who's opinion and esteem are so highly valued.

At the time, it was enduring incredibly boring commencement speeches and addresses by the 
so-and-so of the dean of the so-and-so departments of such-and-such faculties at CU, 
just to let me know he was proud.

But now, it's a man who has given of himself that I might have something 
as valuable as education, character and hope.

At the time, it was Grandpa, just Grandpa, and all the things that made him Grandpa.

But now, it's a man who, by his 95 years, has made not only 
our country,
but our people, 
our family, 
and ourselves better. 

Grandpa, you have given us, with no small sacrifice, 
stones with which we can build our lives on yours. 


It is a unique honor and privilege to share your name: to be a White with you at our helm. 

Thank you, Grandpa, for these 95 years. 

I love you,

Rachel

Friday, March 27, 2015

More than Margin

Since arriving back in Moscow with 3 little ones in tow, I've been struggling to find a good rhythm for our family.  I often feel as though I have somehow, between child 2 and 3, lost any sense of margin.  It's difficult to explain, but this one new child, despite the fact that she's the easiest baby we've had, feels as though any kind of space or time to catch up, to cover up, or clean up has suddenly vanished. 

Walking home late the other night from a women's day party with our Russian friends and coworkers, I glanced at the time and cringed. I estimated about four hours of sleep that night between feedings for Evie and Peter's joyous, but early, wake up call. The 3rd night in a row. That sleep is gone for good. There is no space to sleep in for another two weeks or so, going to bed early depends mostly on Evie and her evening routine. For perhaps the first time in my mothering life, I have lost control over the basics I didn't realize I had until now. I can no longer hide in long naps, lucky breaks, or even personal ministry. I'm faced with 24/7 of - no, not my children, but my worst self. Never before has my selfishness, my displaced sense of entitlement, and my rusty sense of justice been more on display for 3 pairs of little eyes eagerly soaking in all I say and do.

In an effort to establish some sense of spiritual help in lack of margin, I wrote down some of my new found values on the mirror in the center of our home. They have been so helpful to have close at hand as they encourage me to make wise choices when my reasoning's shot. They remind me that the goal is not margin, rest, or more coffee (though coffee's quickly becoming part of the solution, rather than the problem.) The goal is Christ. The goal is the Spirit-filled life. The goal is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

1.  Kindness.
We have a family motto that "being kind is better than being right." Being kind is probably better than just about anything else. And often, it's the hardest thing to be. That's why it's so important.  One of my mother's most incredible gifts is her kindness.  I cannot remember a time that she even raised her voice to my brother in I when we were young.  I often ask myself, "what would my mom do?"  And the answer is usually "be kind."

2.  Go their speed.
This is a piece of wisdom my mother-in-law gracefully handed down to me even before I needed it; there is not a day that goes by when I either thank her for it, or wish I had taken it. She remembered her time with toddlers and how often it can take up to 30 minutes to put shoes and coats on to go outside. The problem is not the time it takes to get ready, it's the rush to go. I hate the stress of getting somewhere on time, especially because I'm usually the only one who cares where we're going and when we get there. As I can't eliminate all time commitments from our schedule, I try to have as few as possible; and day-to-day, I try to focus on the process of getting out rather than actually getting there. There are days when we spend 45 minutes of our outside play time just getting snowsuits on and preparing to go outside. This can result in just a few minutes actually outside playing, but in reality, the kids are rarely disappointed that this is the case. As my mother-in-law advised me years ago, just enjoy putting on their shoes and all the little things they do along the way to the park. Getting there is not as important as how you get there.

3.  Make priority lists rather than "to-do" lists. 
It's easy to be overwhelmed. And it's easy to fall so far behind, you don't know how to catch back up. If I have 10 minutes before guests are coming over for a big meal, I take my list of all the things that I'd like to get done and narrow it down to the top 2-3 things that I need to do in order to make dinner happen.  Scruffy hospitality - inviting guests into the chaos - has become our new lifestyle.

4.   Thankfulness.
Perspective changes everything and often, a good dose is sufficient to pull myself out of a downward spiritual cycle.  Sadly, I have several friends who have lost children either in the womb or just shortly after.  Good friends of mine struggle with infertility.  Other friends have lost their children tragically and other children friends of my children have lost their parents unexpectedly.  I often think of these friends of mine who would do just about anything to have the problems that I have - who would love to get up for a midnight feeding, who would love to retrieve a fallen pacifier at 3 am, or go in again for just one more hug before turning off the light.  I am fortunate to have the life that I have, to experience the joys that I experience, and to wade through the problems that surface day-by-day.  I have it easy.  And often taking a moment to be thankful can change my attitude about the rest of the hour.

These principles have helped me surface the last few days.  And sometimes, that's all you get.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Evangelina Hope


She's here!

She's beautiful!

And we couldn't be more overjoyed.

Evangelina Hope made her way speedily into the world at 3pm on December 4th. She weighed 7lb 12oz and measured 20".


Evangelina comes from the Greek εὐαγγέλιον (euaggelion) which literally translates to "good news," where we get our word "gospel." Evangelina means "bearer of good news." During this season of Advent, we're daily reminded of the hope we have in Christ's first appearance as a child. Jessica Snell said it well: "In the first coming, when He became human and walked among us and redeemed us, He made us right. And when He comes again, He will make everything right." This is good news indeed! Evangelina Hope, in her Advent birth, reminds us of Christ's beginning and also of His end purpose.

As Evangelina Hope is a rather large name for such a small person, she also goes by Evie or Eva for Russian speakers.

Welcome to our world, little Evie.


You are loved by so many already.

Dan's mother, Carolyn, read a poignant hymn the day of Evangelina's birth: 

"'O'er the hills the angels singing
new, glad tidings of a birth!' 
(From this morning's hymn Come Thou Long Expected Jesus)
What a perfect name for a December baby ~ Evangelina Hope ~ one who brings good news of hope. May it be true of her!"

Amen.



Sunday, June 1, 2014

Whipper Snappers...

Did you know that young people planning to begin their first year of college this year were born in 1994?

1994?

I was a freshman in high school in 1994.  I actually wore the styles that students throw "decades parties" these days to mock.  I listened to music defined as "early rap."  I watched TV shows currently on syndication on Nick at Night.

I was young in 1994.  So what does that make me now?

Working with students these past 5 years, Dan and I have both recently begun to feel our age fairly acutely. Never before has the age gap seemed more apparent than when our adventurous young group of American summer project students invited us to midnight cycling around the city and all we could think about was Anna and Peter’s early morning wake-up music. How did we so quickly become those people? You know the type… those old, boring people, who get up everyday at 6:30 and go to bed around 9, who read books for fun, who don’t know what’s playing at the movie theater, who ask you to turn down your music, who start sentences with phrases like, "10 years ago..." or "15 years ago..."   

We are those people. We're facing the reality that we're no longer as hip or as cool as we once were.

And that's ok.

The positive part of working with young people is constantly being reminded of who we used to be.  I was reflecting on a conversation we had at English club a few years ago.  Our club consists primarily of college students, but also featured a handful of recent graduates, just starting out in the working world.  Just a year out of student life, these grads were reflecting about their years at university:  "when you're a student, anything is possible! But when you begin to work, things change."  Isn't that the truth.  But what are these things that change? Is it us? Or is it the world around us? Is it the way we understand the world around us? Most likely it's all of the above. We become the doers rather than the dreamers. We find our limits. We grow up.

Growing up feels like losing heart at times. What was black and white becomes gray and muddy. What was easy becomes difficult. What was hopeful becomes impossible. And in this process we often find that we are the very ones holding ourselves back, not the world, not our situation, not the dream. This can be a difficult pill to swallow - some choose never to take it.

But then there's that ambitious group of students, ready and willing to change the world, looking to you for hope and guidance, pedaling furiously around the city all.night.long.  

What do you tell them when you yourself know better, when you've tried it already, when you just want to go home and watch a movie instead?  

You say, "let's do this!"  

But this time, you brace yourself for the fall.

Friday, March 28, 2014

I think I can... I think I can... I think I can...

Anna loves books.

It's one of the most common requests in our home, "should we read a book?"

And it's a request that can't often be denied.

She, like most 2 year olds, loves repetition as well.  

She could read the same book over, and over, and over, and over, and over again.

And sadly for Mom and Dad, we don't find "The Little Engine That Could" quite as stimulating as she does.

However, I recently read that repetition for 2 year olds significantly aids development and provides essential stepping stones for learning to read independently.

It's interesting, since reading that, I have renewed motivation to read and re-read like never before.  Simply knowing that repetition is accomplishing a specific and beneficial purpose has made it tolerable:  "Yes, Anna, I think I can read it again."

Reminding myself of the purpose helps to do the hard things, the boring things, the small, seemingly inconsequential things.  

Now if only those things were as easy as turning pages to a child's delight.