The Glorious Muddle
glimpses of grace in the messiness of life

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 Exciting 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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June 11, 2017

Telling the truth

Ceausescu’ s house, called the House of the People

We ended our cruise tour in Bucharest, my first real home away from my home country. I felt a thrill once I stepped off the boat, and as our bus drove past familiar, yet vastly spruced-up sights, I swelled with pride.

Around every corner, I see memories. Good memories that make me laugh. Some that make me sad, missing friends and a world that no longer exists.

I remember how God met me and watched over me in this place. I get goosebumps thinking of how He cut through the iron bars that held people captive and set them free.

However, our tour guide’s commentary made me livid. She is 27 years old, born one year before the revolution. She said, “Ceausescu was good to Romania. He loved his people.”

I sat up and stared. Maybe my mouth dropped open. I’m not sure. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“He was paranoid and so he didn’t let his people speak their minds. So they turned on him and killed him.” With that in-depth history lesson, she  moved on to the next topic. Case closed.

When we got off the bus for lunch, I pulled her aside. I wanted to know why she thought that.

I reminded her of the fear and suspicion. Nobody knew who was an informant. Nobody knew who to trust. People were imprisoned, tortured, or killed.

I told her that Ceausescu’s model was North Korea. No heat, no water, empty store shelves, long bread lines. Typewriters were illegal, same as speaking to foreigners.

We’d just toured one of the few remaining parts of Bucharest that show why it used to be called the Paris of the East. The so-called lover of Romania destroyed the beautiful districts and whole villages, all to build ghastly concrete apartment blocks, resettling people to the city. He tried to destroy religion and knowledge of God.

Lipscani district — what all of Bucharest used to look like

She told me she had heard all that, but she wanted to put a positive spin on things so Western tourists would want to come back. I gave her a hint about Western values. I said we love stories, TRUE stories of people who have everything going against them and yet they overcome. They rise from the ashes.

I told her to tell the truth.

When we got back on the bus, she did talk about the economic oppression. That was a start and I thanked her. But it isn’t the whole truth.

It reminded me of the old days in this part of the world. Truth has always been elusive.  Communist leaders often withheld negative news, news of their leaders’ deaths or space shuttle crashes. They spread propaganda with only their particular slant and kept people sheltered from any contradictory voices.

I hope the tour guide listens. Because Romanians have achieved so much, against all odds. And that makes me proud.

 

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June 5, 2017

The Need to Get Along

Popular meeting spot in Beograd – the horse statue

The countries of former Yugoslavia are dear to me. The first time I left the U.S., I went to Belgrade in the Serbian republic and Dubrovnik in the Croatian one.

I fell in love with the people, so full of life, so easy to talk with, even about long-forbidden spiritual topics.

That was 1986.  After many more visits to Yugoslavia and a bloody civil war, I hadn’t returned to what is now the country of Serbia since the NATO bombings of 1999. Until this week.

At first, Belgrade seemed unchanged, as lively as ever. Young people still fill sidewalk cafes with laughter and cigarette smoke.

A lady spontaneously kissed me when I bought her art work made from dried flower petals (and tried out some Serbian phrases). The concierge at the Hotel Moskva proudly gave Steve and I a private tour when I asked about famous guests. Sofia, our guide, peppered her commentary for our ship’s excursion with humor and history.

The South Slavs are passionate people who like spicy food and strong opinions. Croats and Serbs are the same people. I love them both.

Their disagreements, brewing for centuries, led to many deaths and much destruction. Reminders are everywhere. The issues are complicated and I don’t claim special insight. All I know is neither side was faultless.

Bombed out buildings in Belgrade, Serbia

Crucifix made out of empty shell casings outside a church in Osijek, Croatia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

People on our cruise heard from Croat guides the day we visited Vukovar, probably confirming what most of them already thought about the conflict of 20 years ago.

The next day, we heard from Serbs. I could sense the other passengers’ conflict. They were beginning to see that there is more than one side.

I thought of my own country. We’re also the same people, now sharply divided. I have friends with definite opinions on both sides of our great political divide. I had friends on both side of the Balkan conflict.

Some of my American friends are so angry, I wonder if they could ever be friends with someone who doesn’t agree. Someone they used to like.

If we look hard enough, aren’t we certain to find some common ground? If we focus on our similarities, maybe that will be a starting point to rebuild friendships and love our neighbors.

How do we love our neighbor exactly? Jesus said the only thing more important is to love the Lord. He said to love your neighbor as yourself. That means putting their interests above your own. It involves caring for their well-being before yours.

I wonder what will happen to my country. Will we ever learn from the mistakes of the Serbs and Croats?

If I asked people in either country if it was worth it, I doubt anyone would say yes. There’s been too much loss.

Our Croatian guide gave the simple answer. He said, “We just need to get along.”

So do we all.  So do we all.

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June 2, 2017

Free to be Rich or Poor

Budapest Parliament

We made it! Back to the lands I love. I’m having a grand time–except for one thing. I feel conflicted.

It’s time I come clean. I’m having a hard time with one area of my life.

There’s something that I wish I could keep to myself but I can’t. I need to be authentic. And I’m too excited about this trip to keep it in any longer.

What’s my secret?

We came here for a river cruise.

Steve and I are cruising down the Danube, connecting two cities I lived in:  Budapest, Hungary and Bucharest, Romania.

What’s hard about that?

We’re not just on a fishing boat. It’s a very nice ship. (If you watched Downton Abbey, imagine the ads of people cruising in front of Budapest’ s Parliament and you’ve got the picture.)

Of course, we got a stupendous deal and we are down in steerage with tiny little windows.

But why do I feel compelled to tell you that?

When I lived here, I tried to live simply. As an American, I realize I’m stinkin’ rich compared to most of the world, but I’ve never thought of myself that way. At least, not compared to my compatriots.

But in Eastern Europe in the 1990s, as much as I tried to live like the nationals did, I had options that nationals only dreamed of. I was different.

Yet I was single and I started life here in a dorm room, moved to a small flat, then a larger flat. My flats here never felt extravagant. Oodles of students and staff members were ministered to and filled my home with life and love and laughter.

When I’ve returned for visits with Steve, we’ve taken trains around Europe and trams in the cities. That’s my M.O.

But not Steve’s. His tastes are more expensive than mine, but he’s a good sport and is adventurous. My M.O. became our M.O.

Now we’re on a very nice ship.

So here’s my internal dilemma. We want to visit my friends. People who knew me in the old days.

How do I be content to be myself and not apologize that I seem like a wealthy American now?  Why can’t I be free to be me, whether I’m rich or poor or somewhere in between?

The apostle Paul learned the secret of being content with a little or a lot. I desperately need to learn the secret of being content with whether people think I have a little, or whether people think I have a lot.

Why do others’ opinions still matter to me, or what I perceive their opinions to be?

Some of the best and most generous people I know are wealthy. There’s nothing wrong with that. Money is neutral. It’s only the love of it that can cause problems.

I guess being a rich woman who takes European river cruises is not who I am. At least it’s not who my national friends know me to be.

However, Steve and I are having a lot of fun. I’ve assimilated to life back in the States. Maybe I’ve changed.

If you’re still thinking, What’s the big deal? Let me illustrate.

When we set sail, our cruise director cautioned us to excuse the Eastern Europeans’ backwardness. She said they’re poor and they don’t have the infrastructure to provide the comfort we’re accustomed to.

I wanted to barf!

She’s criticizing the people I love about something out of their control that is totally insignificant and only matters to people who feel entitled. Not me!

Maybe I just need to trust my friends to know the difference. Trust them to trust my heart. And stop worrying about how I might be perceived and just show them I love them.

Because I do. I always will.

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