The Glorious Muddle
glimpses of grace in the messiness of life

August 11, 2017

Taking the First Step

Sometimes you just have to take the first step. Even when you don’t know for sure that there will be ground under your feet.

For years now, I’ve talked about quitting my job. It’s a fine job; I’ve met wonderful people and had great opportunities (especially getting my writing degree). But my life’s dream has never been to be an administrative assistant, noble as that can be. Sitting all day surrounded by the same four walls, 8 to 5, Monday to Friday …

I used to hop on a train and meet someone in a café in Bratislava and be back in Budapest for an afternoon meeting. I feel confined.

When I started this job six years ago, I planned my exit date. You may recall that I did resign in the spring, followed by a heart-attack-ack-ack-ack. (Doctors like to call it a Bundle Branch Block). My boss asked me to stay on for a special project. When the bill for my portion of my hospital stay came in the mail, I said yes.

Fear took over.

Why would anyone give up a perfectly fine job that provided insurance and risk never being paid again? It just wasn’t logical. The what ifs became fodder for my nightmares.

So I remained, although I did reduce my hours. Nice as it has been this summer to have a day free, I haven’t been able to keep up with new writing and the business side of writing. Still, every time I thought about setting my termination date, I just couldn’t do it.

One day, as I was praying, a thought came to me. (Funny how that happens.) Maybe I need to stop worrying about insurance and money and just take the first step. Just step out in faith and not cower in fear.

Maybe I’m the one standing in my own way. Maybe my grasping on to the known, as unfulfilling as it is, is holding me back. Maybe I need to release it all before offers from agents pour in.

Maybe my clutching with fists closed was keeping me from receiving with open hands. Maybe ….

Steve and I talked, and I decided to fulfill my promise to help with this one short-term project (which ends mid-September) and then leave. The day before my appointment to set my termination date, it rained.

Literally, it rained. That day was my day reserved for writing. I had an interview scheduled for a position as adjunct English professor at my local community college.

I got the job! My one hour interview turned into a five hour orientation meeting.

During a break, I checked my phone, and read a message about a contract for a paid speaking gig. Now, I’ve spoken oodles of times in my life and only been paid once.

As the other adjuncts and I walked between buildings for the last session, the skies opened up and dumped a river of water on our heads. I sat in a meeting with water cascading down my face, my sandals in tatters, and laughing at the tired yet oh-so-appropriate cliche.

When I got home at 9:00 that evening, I had an email from an agent. She asked for my full manuscript. (Reality check: This doesn’t mean she’ll sign on, and doesn’t mean she’ll find a publisher. But, wow!)

When it rains …

I hit the trifecta of jobs you can do with a master’s in writing. Teaching. Speaking. Having your writing published.

After years of hard work and preparation, I have a glimmer of hope that this could become more than a hobby. Maybe I’ll actually make enough to break even with the insurance costs. 🙂

For the next five weeks, I will have three jobs. One is full-time and two are part-time. My first college class ever is in four days. I may be reduced to babbling incoherently while I rock in a corner of the classroom. But hey, I’m always up for a challenge.

So, what’s my point with all this? Is it to give you a magic formula? To tell you that you have to quit your job for things to go your way? Or maybe you have to pray more, because that’s when these ideas come?

Sorry, there are never magic formulas. Not for anything in life. You can’t follow seven simple steps and voila! It all goes your way.

Good and bad, all mixed together. That’s what life consists of. None of us gets to choose. We just have to learn to deal with whatever comes our way.

God doesn’t give us good things because we’ve suddenly arrived. We will never deserve his gifts. Neither does he punish us by bringing hard things in our lives. We don’t deserve that either. What he does promise is to be right there with us, through all of it.

The one thing I can say for sure is my own story. I let go of my fear. And that’s always a good thing. Whatever happens.

 

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July 19, 2017

Trying to Live the Dream

This summer is one of transition for me. One day per week, I do what I love and what I’ve wanted to do since I was a small child.

The other four days? Not so much.

I feel like one of the Hungarian cowboys I saw last month. Each leg placed firmly on the back of a separate horse, I’m trying my best to keep the horses from snapping me in two.

 

Finally, I get a taste of living the dream that I’ve spent the last decade preparing for. I should be happy, right? Yet I end up more frustrated than before. How much can I really accomplish in one day when my pile of writing projects seems to grow by the minute?

A taste just isn’t enough. Not when it’s your lifelong dream.

I want more.

Shortly after I moved back to the States after ten years away, I returned to the place where my childhood dream was born. And I remembered.

 

That day I sat on a swing just like the one my Grandpop made me, on a rough plank of wood and holding onto rope handles. As I swung out over the Choptank River, I imagined myself doing that thirty years earlier, in the same spot.

I used to fill notebook after notebook with stories on that riverbank, and it was on my swing that I vowed to become a writer when I grew up. I wanted to give back something beautiful to the world in words. I remembered feeling certain that this was what I was born to do. Looking back, I think it was God’s voice calling to me from my river and giving approval to my dream.

When I returned to my river all those years later and remembered, I had to admit I hadn’t done anything to answer that nudge. I knew I hadn’t wasted my life; I had invested it in something significant, worth the deferment of my dream.

But I also knew it was time to make a change. Time to stop deferring and get on with it.

Since then, I’ve plodded towards my goal. Learning. Honing the craft. Writing. Being sharpened by other writers.

Now that I’m poised to start (soon!) to live my dream full-time, I’m filled with questions.

Have I been looking for something that just doesn’t exist? I know there is no ideal situation in life. Good and bad gets shaken together. Our task is to accept it all without losing our equilibrium and authenticity.

Is the dream even possible? Have you ever lived your dream? Or do you still wait for it to come true?

Maybe life is one long preparation for what you hope to do with it. You might catch hold of your dream for a second every so often, but it’s like grabbing a fish. It wriggles out of your grasp.

Sometimes the quest for that elusive dream blinds you so you don’t appreciate all the good things you do have. I know I’m guilty of that.

In the process of preparing for the dreams he gives you, God stretches you and uses you and points you in new directions. Better directions sometimes. You are introduced to new people. People who become so important to you, you can’t imagine life without them.

You find that all along, hidden even to yourself, you’ve been quietly living your dream. Unaware.

I’m not getting ready to start living my dream. Living is my dream. And I’m alive right now.

How do I stay upright on the back of the two horses? I do what I know to do. I do the next thing.

I keep plodding, aiming for the goal. As I go, I try not to miss the disguised blessings in what I have now.

The dream may be elusive, but it’s yours. You still gotta try!

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July 4, 2017

Home: The Place that says Family

It’s been hard for me to come home from Eastern Europe. I leave one home that I rarely get to visit for another. I give up the adventure of travel for the drudgery of routine. I have to remind myself why I love (and why we chose) this place.

Places are like families to me. Your feelings about the place where you live are often complicated, just like your feelings about your family. Sometimes you need to remind yourself that you do love your family, and why.

There’s the home you’re born into. Urban or rural, flat or hilly, tropical or snowy, its geography is forever etched in your mind. Its stature becomes iconic, the place where you feel all is right with the world. You’re not blind to the problems; you know it’s not perfect.  It may embarrass you as much as Uncle Bill does at Thanksgiving and you wish you could change some things about it.

But underneath it all, it’s home. It courses through your veins. When you’ve been away and you return, you feel the love the strongest. As you grow older, you’re willing to accept and even forgive the irritating issues. Your childhood home grows in stature as you grow in understanding.

Many of the important places in your life have an irregular fit. Like an in-law, you may be smitten from the start or your first reaction may be to wince.

You don’t choose your in-law. Or if you do have a say in the matter, you cast your vote for or against with more noble reasons than mere enjoyment in mind. This in-law is thrust upon you by someone’s else choice. Maybe you have to move for your job, for the sake of your children, or for education–but not because you want to.

Whatever brings you and the in-law together, you’re stuck with each other so you may as well try to get along. And so you search for good things to appreciate about the new place, and you end up finding that there’s good and bad in every place.

And then there’s the rare time in life when you get to adopt an entirely new place. You pick the new home for no reason other than that you like it. That’s how Steve and I ended up in western North Carolina.

As a young girl, stories of orphans captivated me. I loved the idea of adopting and being adopted. Choosing and being chosen. When you adopt, you say, “Of all the children in the world, I pick you!”

Steve and I adopted our hometown. We could’ve moved anywhere. There were no workplaces or schools dictating our decision, but that also meant we arrived without any ready-made circle of potential friends. While we lived in the Bay Area, we carefully listed the criteria for a new, more-affordable town. We came up with lots of possibilities, spread all over the country. Then we systematically eliminated them. North Carolina remained.

So we came to visit, zigzagging across the state. Many towns fit our criteria, but the chemistry was missing, that feeling of coming home. When we first saw Morganton, we knew. Our hearts and minds aligned. We chose our new hometown.

People ask if we moved here because we have roots. No, not at all. Does that sound random? I don’t think it was. Could God have orchestrated it all to fit in with his grand design?

Shortly after we moved here, I found out I do have local roots. For generations past, my ancestors lived in three towns encircling my own. They chose this place and immigrated here from Europe. They fought for this land, going back to the Revolutionary Way, and are buried here. And besides that, Steve and I both are proud to have Cherokee in our heritage.

My Cherokee great-great grandmother

We adopted our home. We chose it to love.

Of all the places in the world, we picked western North Carolina.

Or did we?

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June 22, 2017

Thankful in Remembering

Now that we’ve returned from our trip to Eastern Europe, and I’ve knocked a little of the fog from my jet-lagged brain, I want to take a moment to reflect. So many things to be thankful for.

Fun and Inspiring Adventure

My beauty intake tank is pleasantly full after seeing 15 castles/fortresses and 10 cathedrals in five countries. We whizzed around Eastern Europe on planes, trains, taxis, buses, and riverboats.

Castle Corvinilor in Romania

Baroque Church in Osijek, Croatia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My adventure magnet status may have been dormant, but I’m glad to report that I’ve still got it! And there is no one I’d rather have as my adventure partner than my husband. I love showing him the places and people that are so formative in my life.

We marveled at the new skyscrapers and highways that look like the Autobahn, but felt strangely comforted that not everything has changed. Sometimes the new sits juxtaposed right next to the authentic parts, the Eastern Europe I fell in love with.

Reflection of St. Sava church in Beograd

Revolution Square in Bucharest

 

 

 

 

 

There were funny things, too. “Cheesyburger and deeper fries” on a menu, a shuttle driver smoking under a Rauchen Verboten (No Smoking) sign, a Thug Securitate police car, and a kiosk window named Non-Stop bearing an Inchis (Closed) sign.

 

Fruitful and Persevering Friends

But the most important part by far, the part that we will always have with us, is the people. They are what set our trip apart.

For whatever reason, God has orchestrated 2017 to be my year of Romanian reunions. In February, I met with the American women who had served there and returned to the States for a healing time of memories, tears and laughter.

Former teammates and students from Bucharest in 1990

And this trip, we visited friends in Romania and in Hungary. Some were teammates from the 1990s who have stayed all these years, but most were university students during the revolution of 1989. They were introduced to Jesus back then, and they’ve continued to grow in love with him after all this time.

Former Romanian student, married to my former teammate from Hungary

My tears of gratitude were always close to the surface as I leaned in to the memories, with humbleness and wonder. I realize how deeply I miss these people and places. In order to live all out wherever I am, I have to submerge the missing. But it’s still there. Always there. When I allow it to come to the surface, I feel how vast the ache is.

The morning we met my friends in Bucharest, Steve and I mediated on John 15:16. “I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.”

Chosen by God (imagine!) to bear fruit. That fruit has remained for 28 years. It hasn’t been easy for them. They’ve faced difficulties and persecution and disappointments. But they have in turn born fruit that’s also remained and born fruit, that’s born fruit, and on and on.

My time during the decade of the 1990s in Romania and Eastern Europe was worth it. We made a difference. It has lasted.

Kind and Helpful Strangers

And then there are the impressions left by new people in our lives, people we met on every train and at every stop.

In Hungary, a lady who sold me a book of metro tickets, laughed until she cried as we pantomimed turning pages in a book, when I forgot the word könyv. (An easy thing to do.)

A Croatian women tenderly cupped my face when I used my memorized Croatian phrases. (I never showed her they came from my 1986 Serbo-Croatian phrasebook–a language now obsolete.) A Serbian lady kissed me when I did the same thing.

Our tour guide in Bulgaria made me cry when she said, “We do what we can. There’s no shame in any job. No job is too low. The only shame is in laziness.” Her words came after women on our tour complained about the sub-par bathrooms.

In Romania, the woman who sold me a traditional folk blouse, called a ie, asked if I’m a Christian. When I asked her why she thought that, she said from my smile and the light that shines from my face. Before I could feel too

good about that, she added, “Why else would an American come to live in Romania in 1990?” Smart woman.

Yay for the IE

And so I’ll close with the ie (technically pronounced “ee-eh” but it sounds like “yay” to me). This is the first one I’ve ever had and “yay” describes how I feel about it. As we left the Bucharest airport, I read an article about the ie.

Me wearing my IE

June 24 is the universal day to wear a ie. (Worldwide isn’t good enough; Martians need to wear theirs, too.) People will gather in two cities in Romania: Iasi and Hobita (the birthplace of sculptor Constantin Brancusi, my undercover reason to live in Romania all those years ago).

If they reach 10,000 ie wearers, they will break last year’s record of 7,000.  And the IE will be inducted into the UNESCO heritage.

So I shout out a big YAY for the ie! And an even bigger YAY for the privilege of being able to return to the lands I love.

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June 13, 2017

Dreams, Nightmares, Angels

We got off our riverboat (Steve’s idea of a perfect vacation) and started the second half:  Taryn’ s Terrific Transilvanian Train Tour! Since my name is Taryn and my unfulfilled dream is to be a tour guide in Eastern Europe, it’s not hard to guess which way I prefer.

The tour begins in Bucharest’ s Gara de Nord train station

We visited three towns in the Carpathian mountains. Two are part of the seven Medieval fortified Saxon cities in Romania (called Siebenburgen). One was new to me, one I’d visited many times, and one only once.

Our first stop was Sibiu, in the Heart of Romania. I hadn’t been here since February 1991. I like to refer to that as the time I was held hostage, but probably house arrest is more accurate. Here’s what happened all those years ago:

The plane my roommate, Vicki, and I were on was diverted from Bucharest to Sibiu. The best we can figure, with facts being hard to come by in those days, is that the airport was closed because the exiled king tried to return. We foreign passengers were locked into our rooms in a hotel until the crisis passed. It was an exciting, yet at times scary, adventure. (You can read more about it in Chapter 5 of We Wait You.)

Steve and I revisited the location of the crime. I took a moment to reflect.

The scene of my incarceration in Sibiu, now spiffed up

Back in 1991, I could see past the disrepair and barreness of winter to the classic beauty of the old buildings in Sibiu. Now it has become a fun, vibrant destination city, named the Capital of Culture for all of Europe in 2007.

Besides making peace with this gem of a town that once felt like a nightmare to me, I wanted to fulfill a long-standing dream while we were there. Disclaimer:  Kids, what I did is not something I recommend for you to copy.

I asked around and made contact with a stranger who agreed to drive us to a castle out in the middle of nowhere, with one famous proprietor possibly being Dracula. The normal train and bus combo would take 8 hours, not counting time to see the Medieval castle, and we only had one day free.

This dear man agreed to drive us 180 miles round trip and wait there 2 hours for us to return. He only charged us $50. He embodied the essence of the Romanian character, hospitality.

Castle Corvinilor in Hunedoara, Romania

Our driver, Teodor, talked the whole way. I was stretched by speaking and translating Romanian all day, but he was a pleasure. The conversation went something like this. Theodore would talk, I’d say “Wow,” then I’d tell Steve, “He said they got electricity in either 1904 or 1994.” I figured either way, it was Wow-worthy.

He liked us so much, he drove us to another nearby town, Deva, and threw in a second castle, a ruin from Dacian King Decebal, for free. (He refused to take more money, but we insisted more.) We’d just seen Decebal’s likeness carved in stone in the narrow Iron Gorge section of the Danube, so that made it especially fun.

King Decebal, an old Dacian king

The next stop was the new-to-me yet ancient city, Sighisoara. Sighisoara is most famous for being the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, the historical figure Dracula was taken from. We were greeted by a German oompah band as we entered the town that oozes quaint charm.

Nine remaining guild towers circle the Citadel, with a church sitting atop the hill. The towers are for tradesmen such as blacksmiths, tailors, bookmakers, etc. The motto for the city is “The name of God is the strongest tower.” I like that. I felt the presence of God, not vampires.

Center of Sighisoara

Clock Tower in Sighisoara — the yellow building is Dracula’s birthplace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The third stop in our mountain towns tour was the only non-Medieval one. Sinaia is the site of Peles Castle, built for the imported Romanian royal family, the Hohenzollerns, in the 1870s. I have loved this place for 27 years. Steve and I came here together during his only other trip to Romania, 12 years ago.

Peles Castle in Sinaia, Romania

Steve is a trooper, being married to someone who loves to make an adventure out of travel. He never complained as he hauled my over-stuffed luggage up three narrow flights in a spiral staircase in Sibiu, but he did say that once he turns 70, he’d appreciate me booking ground-floor rooms!

And he sure did appreciate the young Czech guy taking the bags from him as we climbed into our train in Sighisoara.

At each stop, we have met helpful, friendly people. Romanians, Hungarians, Aussies, Brits, Moldovans, and Germans.

These strangers have been angels unaware to us.

 

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