Guys, I have so much I want to write about, but not enough time to do it. Also I had better keep these posts spread out so you don’t get bored. Coming posts include:
- comments on the Russian language-learning process
- how the semester wrapped up at the elementary school
- an serious evaluation of the Metric vs Standard debate
- pictures and stories from Russian New Year’s celebrations
- thoughts on being an expat in a time of stinky American domestic politics
But for now, I’m going to step away from the russiarussiaexclusivelyrussia theme of this blog for a more general, new-yearsy post. Warning: it is also a long post.
First, reflections on last year:
Wow, 2015. What a doozy. I mean, living with the most amazing goons under the sun, writing a thesis, discovering Sarah Jarosz, rediscovering Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Dorothy Sayers, graduating from university, sending off one of my best friends to get married, sending off my baby sister to college, living with my grandparents, holding employment in a cumulative 8 workplaces, moving to Russia, reading half of Anna Karenina in Russian, learning how to cook, learning how to walk in high heels… it’s been quite a year. I don’t even know how to begin with it.
At times like this I pretend I’m sitting at the Fehsenfelds’ kitchen table on a Sunday evening over peanut butter cheesecake and homemade ice cream. In fact, I remember last year, on the first week back in Michiana after winter break, Deb asked us all: “What are three words you would like to describe you this year?” This was not so much a what do you want to do question as a who do you want to be question, and so I can imagine being back there now and her asking, “Who were you this year?”
The first word I chose last January was generous. I have been historically and habitually frugal-to-the-point-of-stingy, with my time and money and everything else I consider “mine.” I don’t know where this comes from… I have nothing to be afraid of by giving stuff away, but I have a lot to lose by keeping it. Looking over the year, I can see a few steps forward, and a few back (most vividly in the latter category, the time I threw a “Russian dinner” for fellow students at ND and asked people to bring money to help cover the food — I think I began the facepalming over that one pretty much immediately). Still, it’s been coming. I realized recently that generosity is only half responsive; the other half is active. Sometimes the biggest trouble is being mindful enough to plan ahead and have something to give (whether that means withdrawing cash from the bank ahead of time or planning blank spots into your schedule). And that’s hard, but good.
The second word I chose was disciple. Calling yourself a Christian/going to church on Sundays requires intentionality (which I’ve learned especially well living in the secular Russian North), but to be a student of Christ involves the deeper kind of commitment that always comes along with being a student… openness to correction, desire to please your teacher, and understanding that staying static and learning nothing means you aren’t doing your job. Especially as my faith and some of its tenets have become confusing and not-always-natural to me over the last few months, I need the tenacity and courage to keep learning and not drop out.
The third word I chose was open. This one has come at me by no fault of my own. Remember how this whole Russia drama began? The day after conversations started about final interviews for a job in Michigan, I got a call from Fulbright, saying, “You have 24 hours to make up your mind muah ha ha ha” (or something like that). And since then, as I’ve said and will say again, my life has been an exercise in knowing nothing. Knowing nothing is one of the hardest things in the world for me to handle. This has taken a surprising twist over the last few months as I’ve struggled to make sense of American societal issues in which I’m not directly involved–either because I’m, well, not in America, or because I’m not part of the demographic (race, socio-economic class, profession) in question. And for a self-proclaimed know-it-all, that’s hard, because… I know nothing. And as I’ve seen myself struggle to have a voice in the conversation, and not just a voice but a correct voice, I’ve also seen myself cover my ears. That position is hurtful to truth and grace and most other things I value. So openness doesn’t just mean not freaking out in the face of knowing nothing; it also means acknowledging that other people will know things better than I do, and even internet research isn’t going to fix that. Am I more open now than I was a year ago? Getting there. Understanding that I have no other viable options is half the battle 🙂
While not a word I chose last January, another really significant thread I’ve seen through this year is something like sympathy. It actually began last fall when I was reading the book of Job and The Brothers Karamazov simultaneously (why do I do things like that to myself?), and has continued through 2015, which was the year in which the suffering of innocents was impossible to turn away from. And I haven’t made sense of any of it, but I can’t dismiss it, and platitudes don’t answer it. This year was a time to mourn with those who mourn, and I learned to do that a little bit.
I’ve grown in other ways too, of course (for example: my willingness to cook with chili powder), but these are the biggest ones.
And next year? Who do I want to be next year? In the next six months of Russia… in returning to the US… in navigating life as an increasingly independent adult… who will I be? And in as I find a new job, a new city, a new church, a new community, building relationships from the ground up, how will people know me?
Next year, I want to be kind. I want a heart that seeks and sees goodness and, yes, glory in each person around me. I want to speak words that reflect and encourage that goodness and glory. I want to love people gently and sacrificially.
Next year, I want to be focused. I want to harness my mind to a task and not waste time in the middle untying and retying it up every time I want a “break,” or a stray idea to google cookie recipes wanders in. I want to be present with my work when I am working, to be present with people when I am socializing, to be present with God when I am praying.
Next year, I want to be real. I want to love and be loved till my whiskers fall off and my ears turn grey. I want integrity between what I think and how I act, between how I feel and how I speak, between who I am and the impression I try to give those around me.
Pretty much all of my regrets from the past year are related to one of these three things (or, in fact, to one of 2015’s three, but maybe that just means I’ve been paying more attention). Here’s to a new year with many new opportunities, new blessings, and new challenges. May we meet them with mindfulness and joy.