Some Thanksgiving thoughts…

As some of you might know I’m in the habit of rambling about something spiritual on major holidays. So I thought it would be nice to write a few words.

This is my first Thanksgiving where on the actual day of the holiday I have done nothing. Last year in South Africa, we had a big meal as a group of Americans (and South Africans), so even though I wasn’t with my family, I celebrated. This year I woke up at my normal hour of 6:30AM, taught 3 classes, ate lunch, took a nap, went running, had pancakes and leftover chili for dinner and went to a normal Thursday night church service in town. And so I sit, not an ounce of turkey in my stomach, thousands of miles from the nearest family member.

I’m really not playing the sympathy card here. I am profoundly blessed. When you live your life you often fail to see the things that others might find extraordinary. I lived for nearly a year in South Africa. It was awesome and cool and all of that but now it’s over and here I am in the Czech Republic. No big deal right? But then I tell someone what I have been up to since college and people generally freak out. “That’s awesome!” “That’s so cool!” “I wish I was doing something like that!”

And then I take a step back and think to myself “Oh crap. I think I need to have a bit more gratitude”

My life is not always easy but it is incredible and I have no one I can thank more than God. He has brought me places I never would have thought. He has worked on my mind and my heart with the precision of a fine craftsman and I am so much the better for it. There is still much I have to do and that I want to accomplish. But today on this national day of thanks (at least in America) it is probably best to pause and simply thank God for everything that he has done, been doing, and will do in my life. If I could be so bold to offer you, the reader, some advice it is this: Perhaps it would be good for you to do the same?

Full Disclosure: I have already enjoyed one giant Thanksgiving meal in Prague two weeks ago and will soon enjoy a second with other American teachers on Saturday. I’m hardly suffering.

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A Baker?

I have never thought of myself as much of a cook or a baker. I really haven’t had to. Growing up food was usually handled by my parents or our good friends at McDonald’s or Burger King or wherever. In college, I was a solid fan of the dining hall. Was it always good? No, but it was open 16-18 hours a day and it was all you can eat. When you are a collegiate cross country runner all you can eat is important, trust me. When I worked at my camp in past summers, one of the best things was you had three squares a day plus many random snacks and other things. Even last year the vast majority of my meals in South Africa were made by a dedicated and delightful cooking staff. So basically I haven’t had to cook a lot in my life compared to some.

Don’t get the wrong idea here though. I’m quite a fan of the food network and when I’m in states (or on youtube) catching a show or two is fun. I like to think I can whip up a delicious (if simple) meal when need be. And of course this year is the first year I am solely responsible for my food. Besides the lunch I buy at the cafeteria in town and unless I go out to eat at a restaurant I am cooking myself. While I haven’t done anything too extraordinary just yet I’m feeling pretty good about it.

Of course some of the female teachers I know here are quite the cooks and bakers and they have piqued my interest in doing more than I have. This past weekend I got extremely domestic and baked cupcakes for the Cheb English club. Kathryn made banana bread cake and Karina made cookies. All were delicious, but it was a nice boost of confidence that I didn’t royally screw up the cupcakes and that people enjoyed them.

So we’ll see what happens. I need to stock up on the basics like baking powder, baking soda, vanilla, and the like but once I do (it might take a while) we’ll see what delicious concoctions I can create. Stay tuned, this teacher may be a baker and a cooker soon enough.

A Smile.

This past weekend I found myself in Cheb. I’m in Cheb many weekends. There are four other teachers with my organization there who are all fun to hang out with and so it gives a nice change of pace when I am not teaching. Cheb is slightly larger than Sokolov and very close to the German border. This location allows it such things as a Tesco, an Alberts, and an Interspar. For those who don’t know these are all large supermarket/department stores with a Super Wal-mart feel. They wouldn’t be that exciting except they have significantly better selection than our two lowly supermarkets in Sokolov, Kaufland and Billa.

All that is to say going to Cheb is a fun time. My fellow teachers there often find out about mission teams that come through. When they can, they like to help out and meet the teams that come in. This past weekend a team from YWAM (Youth with a mission) in Germany visted Cheb. I can’t tell you exactly what all their plans were but what they wanted to do on Monday was hang out and play with poor Roma (aka gypsy) children in the town. Roma are discriminated against here in employment, education and pretty much anything else you can think of. Unsurprisingly, they often live in pretty sad looking blocks of flats in the “wrong” parts of town.

A fellow teacher and I decided to go meet up with the team, bring a GIANT inflatable ball for the kids, and to hang out for a while. So on Monday afternoon in a steady rain I found myself running around a trash-strewn courtyard playing soccer and hanging out with the YWAMers and Roma kids. The main highlight was a cute 6-or-7 year old kept jumping on me and smiling. So I put him on my shoulders. He laughed. I laughed. It was fun for a good three minutes. And then I tried to take him off. He had latched on to me with the grip of death to my jacket. So I proceeded to keep running around and everything until finally I managed to pry him off about fifteen minutes later. This kid was nothing but a pile of smiles and giggles.

I’m a teacher here. I want to teach, meet students. I have no idea how to “fix” the problem of poor Roma. But on some days its just nice to make a kid smile.

Living Intentionally.

Being over here in the Czech Republic is all about living intentionally. That’s a pretty big word so I feel like I should give it a “working definition” so to speak. To me “living intentionally” means being aware of the people, things and situations around you and consciously trying to impact all those things in a positive way. Since I first left for South Africa in January 2008 I have been amazed at how powerful my words or actions can impact someone else for good or ill. Of course, Scripture (in James and other places) backs this up. Here in the Czech Republic living intentionally is all that much more important. Things aren’t just going to fall in my lap. I have to be focused. I have to care. I have to keep my eyes open.

This is not my natural state. I am an American and even worse I’m from the Northeast. Let me explain. We on the East Coast value independence. We work hard, don’t whine and we look out for ourselves alone pretty much. Plus I’m an introvert. I like people but only in the right situations. I would rather sit at home all night than go somewhere with a large group of people I don’t know. I often (consciously and not) value honesty over relationship.

I have a problem. Large parts of my culture and personality fly in the face of the religion and belief system that I claim to profess. Think about it.

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it- Luke 9:24

Christianity flips my values on their head. It’s not about me, it’s about others. If I try to look out only for myself it’s hopeless. And of course this is perfectly exampled in the acts of Jesus: God himself, the Savior of the world, giving himself up to be publicly tortured, ridiculed and killed in a major city. And the crazy thing is this: In this ultimate act of unbridled, unrestrained love and intentionality, the entire World has been given hope and salvation.

Wow. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I think I need to focus on living intentionally more.

Experiencing the Body

I had a long weekend break from school this past week. I wanted to go somewhere and after discovering a cheap bus ticket to Budapest I was on my way. ESI has a number of teachers in Hungary and I was going to stay and meet up with some of them. While I did a fair amount of sight-seeing and this trip cannot not be construed as anything but a vacation I also got to see the body of Christ in action.

It’s neat to visit other teachers not only to see them but to see what their experience and ministry is like where they are. Every city and town with ESI teachers is different. This past Friday myself and another first-year teacher went to a YWAM (Youth with a Mission) supported coffeehouse in central Budapest. It is only open Fridays currently but its vision is to open full-time everyday. The goal of the coffeehouse as I understand it, is to be a place where Christians and non-Christians can come, hang out, enjoy a good cup of coffee and build relationships. ESI teachers in Budapest currently bring interested students here each week. It needs more funding but it looks like it finally has the leadership to push this idea all the way to its completion. When it opens it will start offering 9-month internships to American Christians who want to be a barista and serve people in Hungary.

I would be a terrible barista. Just not the thing for me. I have done a bit of retail and I did fine, but add food into the equation and it would end pretty fast for me. Despite my natural inability to help directly with this effort it was a pleasure to experience. The coffeehouse was bumping the night I was there. There weren’t enough seats for everyone. The cappuccino I had was excellent. I have a good feeling about this endeavor.

God has gifted us to do different things. He put me in Sokolov this year. He has put a bunch of Christians in Budapest. We are doing very different things. But experiencing the body of Christ in all its holy variety is truly a pleasure. And in fact, as I sat relaxing in that coffeehouse, soaking in the atmosphere, the idea nearly crossed my mind, in the small, subconscious part of my brain, and only for a split second: this might be something you might enjoying doing Matt. It was nice.