"looking ahead: soaring on hope"

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April 21 , 2004

The past month and a half has been a month of looking ahead in many different directions. At the beginning of March, I was looking ahead and wishing for the arrival of sunshine and temperatures a normal human being could bear. As March flew by and April began, decision time arrived for my future plans and my gaze turned to next year’s plans. The end of the university semester then rapidly descended, and I began to look ahead to the summer and what it might entail. Finally, above all, I have continually been reminded this month to look ahead to the Lord, to keep my eyes focused on Him and attempt to see Him more and more clearly each day in order to anchor the hope at the center of my being.

These past two months have been some of my busiest, but also some of my most gloriously beautiful and fulfilling months. In March, my time chiefly dedicated itself to teaching in the university, continuing our Study Center class on World Religions, and entertaining and helping my visitors. My older sister arrived in Kyiv for a week in early March, and then my mother, accompanied by Karen Speake from Otter Creek Church, landed a couple weeks later. Nicole stayed in my apartment and tagged along to my classes and duties, a welcome companion, while Mom and Karen stayed in rented apartment very near my house for a shorter period of time. Most people don’t realize the utter helplessness of a person visiting Kyiv who has no knowledge of Russian, and all of my visitors commented on what a unique, humbling experience they had confronted with their own ineptness. Acting as tour guide and severely limited translator, I relished having two of the people I love most in the world here to share in my life and gain firsthand understanding of my life in Kyiv. My mom and Karen threw a “fake” birthday celebration for me (a week early) that brought me to tears to part of my idea of home (good food, including a banana pound cake, included) together in one place with my new life here, my second home. We also spent many hours over lunch and in the depths of night talking over my life here and my plans for the future.

Wrapping up my university classes and Study Center classes has left a void now in my life. Occupying so much of my time in preparation and actual teaching before, now I am looking ahead and seeking to understand with what I can best fill these gaps. In the Study Center, I concluded our World Religions class, jointly taught by myself and two Ukrainians, with a discussion of postmodernism and the sea of metanarratives in which the world now finds itself swimming. We discussed new age religions and cults and tried to understand why it is even important to study other religions and religious people in the modern world. In my composition classes, although they complained first about the volume of reading, most students ended up enjoying, or at least saying they did, reading Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces. Our last meetings, I lectured on the similarities of seeking the self in these two books, of narrators telling a story of their life in order to demonstrate their own personal self-images, and then encouraged each of my students to do the same. To truly seek what is true within them, their true faces, and not be content to sail on the surface their entire lives.

One of the highlights of these months has been our weekly Soup Group meeting. Chris and I have alternated teaching and preparing the soup de jour, and our audience has continually grown. We have been reading Mere Christianity as well as having an open forum for questions of religion and Christianity. Online at the UEC site you can read an article I wrote about two of our regular Soup Group attendees and the affect it has had in their lives. Young Christians and non-Christians entirely compose this group, so it has been an amazing view of the blooming of faith and the power of the seed once planted. After a short pause between the winter and summer semesters, while students go home (and I go to Russia!), we plan to resume our “souping” during May and June.

In Kyiv now, all signs of the winter chill and ugliness have vanished. When Nicole, Mom and Karen were here, I kept telling them how beautiful the city is in the summer, or even in winter under blankets of snow (although these aren’t the warmest blankets). When they were here, all the snows had melted and left behind a brown barrenness in the city. Now the numerous green trees and gorgeous whites are blooming, the sun shines on people lounging outdoors, and people seem to have a quicker step and smile. The burden of the cold no longer weighs heavily on shoulders. I have struggled this month, not in the chilly way I did in February, but in this bright, spring type way. My adult life is blooming, and I have been trying to decide what shape and color it will take. Seeing the blooms, I know each option would contain its own unique beauty and fullness, which is why it has been a struggle to choose.

Above all this month, I have been convicted by study and experience that God desires me to seek to see the reality of His glory and spirit in daily life. Hope can be called looking ahead, but I prefer to think of it as looking through. Heaven is ahead and union with God, but His beauty is within and underneath everything in our lives. Through our cell meetings and reading, God has reminded me that the more I strive to see this reality, the more I understand its infinitude, power, and magnitude, then the more my soul is anchored in God. This anchoring allows me soar on wings like an eagle because I am continually uplifted by the reality of God in my life. I have been undeservedly happy so many times these last two months. I had a birthday, and my friends here showed me by their thoughtful gifts, cards, and words how much I love people here and how much I am loved in return. I had the chance to go on two day trips, to Odessa on the Black Sea and to Chernihiv, a city with ancient roots a couple hours from Kyiv, and I soaked up every minute of a new place, but also the time spent with different groups of people and the interaction between us (two 12 hour train rides in two days allow plenty of time for this). Seeing my students respond to what I was teaching, young people seeking, analyzing, discovering, and probing, the mysteries and wonders of life, history, and education contagiously inflamed me with those same desires that at times suffer from disillusionment.

With the sunshine out and spring arriving, the world is a beautiful place. These last two months many things here have come to an end and the seedlings of what will be are starting to appear. Looking ahead, I am trying to nurture these blooms into what they best should be. The sight of them, though, the beauty of young life and the excitement for growth has filled me with hope for the future. My prayer recently has been that God put more and more in front of my eyes the reality of Him. The hints of earthly happiness and beauty have led me to desire to see the actuality of infinite happiness and beauty. The more I can keep this before my eyes, and strive for what is ahead and inside, then the more I can soar as an eagle on hope in God’s spirit. Eagles can see much farther ahead than I can on the ground.

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