2/08/2017

I'm sitting in a cafe near my home with my laptop and a book and a cup of chai latte, and I'm not sure what I should or shouldn't do with myself. I have a free day today. I can't be sure but I think it's the first day completely without work related obligations in three weeks. Sometime last week I began to confuse days because they had started to look identical and - I'm ashamed to say - the weekends didn't differ much from the weekdays. I was always attending meetings, organising events, or preaching sermons.

It's not a healthy way of living, they say. It's not balanced. People who care are concerned and I'm grateful to them for it. Dr A. N. tells me I should go away from Tallinn every now and then to rest. A., the secretary of our conference's ministerial association, talked to me last week after the executive board's meeting and asked me about how I was doing hobbies wise. I. asked... no, he didn't ask much, he just told me to take two days off and not to deal with work email until Friday.

But I have a couple of questions. And they're not rhetorical questions neither do I throw them in the air with arrogance. They're real questions. Why is balanced life important? Why do we think balance is something we ought to pursue? Is it an ideal? Why?

If I read the Old Testament, the people God called hardly ever lived a life we could call balanced. Heavens, there were some prophets who, I have a feeling, were driven to the brink of insanity and depression. Jesus was so mission and purpose driven it consumed all His waking hours - and maybe those of sleeping as well. Disciples, once they actually got what Jesus had been all about, weren't much different. And Paul was maybe the worst of the lot, he rode a donkey across Asia and planted churches everywhere, he got beaten by Jews, got beaten by Romans, got thrown out of cities, survived shipwrecks, and he never seemed to stop for a day. Only when in prison and unable to go on, he would write letters to his friends that smelled of melancholy and reflections.

Maybe these people didn't have anything in their lives that would have been nearly as weighty as their calling so whatever they put on the other scale pan, it just didn't weight as much so the life remained unbalanced. Now, I'm not comparing myself to the Old Testament prophets or the apostles of the early Christianity, but I think the same principle can be alive and lived also today. I really don't have anything in my life to compare to my work and to what I think God has called me to do. Nada. So I keep wondering about these questions, not knowing the answers.

If you have an answer, do let me know also.

There is one more thing besides the never ending working hours which has kept me wondering. I've begun to act in a peculiar way, I've noticed these past weeks. And it has something to do with this whole balancing issue. I know well what is ought to be or what usually is on the other scale pan - a family. And I know just as well that I haven't got a family of my own. So to avoid the emptiness and loneliness or just to be able to put something on the other balancing scale pan I have become much more active socially. I hang out with friends every other night. I have a small Facebook chat group called бабы в кафе which we mostly use for deciding which cafe we should go to next. I invite people to my place, a thing I seldom do. I call brother K. after a long and tough Sabbath and eat mountains of Indian food late in the evening - probably the first occasion of comfort eating in my life. I stand in the middle of an old graveyard late at night with my dad, trying to spot some owls in the darkness. Yesterday evening I went ice skating with our church planting group (it was -15'C outside and I wasn't exactly thrilled about the prospect of freezing to death but it actually turned out to be a fun evening although it did take a while for toes and fingers to melt afterward). This coming Sunday I'm going to a birthday party, not that of a friend, but that of a friend's dog (taking things to a totally new level here).

I'm reading Elisabeth Elliot's Loneliness at the moment. Reading that book is like taking cough medicine - I hate it but I know it's good for me in the long run. She talks about how our loneliness can be turned into a gift, into something you bless the world with. I don't know if I agree with her completely but it does help me to give purpose and meaning to my own experience. In loneliness calling can be clearly heard, out of loneliness many meaningful contacts and friendships can be born.

So I keep living the life of imbalance. It really isn't a bad way of living. 

And the good thing is that when my time is over, the world won't remember me by my loneliness or by my unanswered questions about balanced/unbalanced life but by my serving of God and church and by friendships and shared memories. 

1/22/2017

Here is the first update on my writing project. This update serves as a my inner reality check and accountability meeting but as I know that you guys are reading this post, in a way I can include you in that accountability circle and make the whole thing more real. If I'm left only by myself, not much will happen or progress.

Actually, now that I think of it, I can't say I've been left all by myself. It was about 1,5 weeks ago when I received a lovely message from M. She has lived and worked in Germany for a long time and although she remembers me from the time I was a child, I don't have any recollections of her from that time so it is purely a social media based friendship for me. I know she used to be a regular reader of my Estonian blog which I wrote during my Newbold years, and now she has switched to my English blog, and every now and then I hear from her. She wrote me and told me she was very happy to read about my New Year's writing resolution (which I still try to deny as such haha) and that she's looking forward to reading whatever it is I come up with in the end. It really brightened up my day and encouraged me to take this writing thing seriously.

Oh, and J. has made at least one comment on it and has asked me how I was doing. So I'm not alone after all.

This is how things are - I try to find a couple of hours of uninterrupted time each weekend for writing. It's not much so the progress is rather slow but it seems to me that I will be able to finish the first, uhmm, chapter by the end of this month. I have no idea how long a chapter ought to be but I'm aiming at 5000 words. (Newbold years trained me to think of any text I produce in terms of numbers - the word counting was pretty terrible sometimes in Newbold, I'm hoping things to be more relaxed now but one still needs a goal of a sort.) I know there are different styles out there, style-wise I'm keeping my eye on Rob Bell, Annie Dillard and Anne Lamott. And the blogging experience comes in handy too. If I took William Faulkner as my role model, 5000 words would make about 10 sentences. That's definitely not my goal lol.

I think the most challenging thing will be the regularity - sooner or later there will come a Sunday morning when I think I've got nothing decent to say or when I just run out of topics. How do you deal wih such a mental block and how do you keep working then, I have no idea. I guess it will be all about finding the inner discipline and a reason for continuing then - not worrying about the style or depth or quality of writing. There must be something that will make me sit down and open my laptop even during such a day. I am dreading that day but it is already on its way so all I can hope and pray for is endurance.

I visited M. a couple of weeks ago, we sat in her penthouse kitchen, drank tea and ate cake and had a truly lovely time. She's one of my few friends who has actually written and published a book. A successful one, too. Among other things we talked about books because for me she's a priceless guide to the world of writing - she has been to that world, done her thing, and come out with a precious experience. And she said something that got stuck in my mind - "If you don't enjoy the process, the writing itself, there's no point of writing a book. The most important thing about the whole thing is enjoying writing." My guts tell me it's true. I try to take this advice and really enjoy the process. Fortunately, these couple of weeks I've been to it, the writing really has delighted me. I hope it will last.

--

As to more mundane things, some plans for this year have changed. I remember telling you about the plan to go to Lebanon to see the refugee camps and to learn from their experience. Well, that trip has been postponed, partly for financial reasons, partly for security concerns. But as I got the news about it last week, it only took a couple of days for another trip to fill its place. The Danish Union will have their annual camp meeting in the end of May and the Union president has written me and has invited me to be one of the speakers there. There will be 800-900 people, he says, and I'm also expected to lead a workshop there. So even though I'm sad about Lebanon and hope this trip will take place some other time, I'm glad to accept the Danes' invite and preach there. And hang out with my dearest A. - it has been way way too long since we had proper time to talk and be together. It will also be a good practice before I have to stand on the big stage in Valencia in August and speak there.

Which reminds me that I really need to get down to the Youth Congress talk. That thing is starting to freak me out.

--

As to books, I've just finished Andrei Makine's Dreams of My Russian Summers. I didn't know it was possible to write so beautifully about countries. About people or God or experiences, yes, but about countries! It's a miraculous book about France and Soviet Russia. Beautiful and dreamy and at times excruciatingly tough (WWII and Stalinist Russia cannot possibly be a pleasant or easy topic).

I'm starting to run out of Dr. A. N.'s books.

--

And here's a picture of my favourite girls. We had a cake date last week.


1/14/2017

Sometimes I wonder why anyone should care to read my blog. From my viewpoint I rarely ever do anything extraordinary or have anything fundamental to say. Life is just a succession of ordinary days and ordinary events. But then I remember M.'s blog which I love to read, and I remind myself that I never leave her blog thinking it was boring, even if she describes the most usual and mundane things in her life. So here's another ordinary post about my ordinary life.

Once again I've dragged my suitcase back to my apartment after three days in Tartu. It was a good trip as it marked the end of the Greek course in the Seminary. The students (well, those who did show up) took the exam and now I can sigh with relief - it all ended well. I was rather worried after the classes finished in December as there seemed to be so much confusion and frustration among them and I started thinking that maybe I had indeed pushed them too hard or demanded too much. But the exam went well, thank heavens. The statistics was what it ought to be - out of fourteen students there were three people who have to give the exam another shot, four people (would it be mean if I mentioned that all these four were women?) aced the exam, the rest were somewhere in the middle. A classical example of Gaussian distribution. If they had all failed, I would have been the one to blame. If they had all got straight A's, well, then things would have been fishy too. But the results calmed me down, I did alright after all. Or maybe a bit better than alright - in the bottom of the last exam paper I graded I found a message that was meant for me - the student had written "Thank you for the excellent course" there. It sounded a nice cadence in the end of the semester. Now I can catch my breath and then start getting ready for the next Greek course, which I will start teaching in the end of April in Riga for Newbold Licence students. Long live Greek!

Other than teaching business, it's been, well, life. There have been good moments and moments I'd rather erase with a magical rubber if I had one. On Friday afternoon I had a longish conversation with a friend and in the end of the conversation we were both in the danger or drowning as I was crying a river for... I don't even know for what or whom. It felt a like a small breakdown. Out of the blue. Oh schucks. But then again, there were wonderfully good moments as well. On Friday evening I was invited to some friends place who had just recently moved to a new apartment and who wanted me to share the Word with them and other friends on the occasion. I had never done anything like this before and I was still recovering from my 'cry me a river' afternoon but it all seemed to go well and my friends appreciated my little dedication sermonette.

(Which made me think about how much we actually know about our pastors and what is going on in their lives. How many pastors have cried their eyes out and have then had to pick themselves up and go help someone else or share the Word with their congregation? Would we even want to know how often it happens? I don't know. Maybe not.)

Or the other moment - my cousin's little boys got table tennis bats for Christmas. They don't have the table though so in the evenings we had to use all of the floors and walls in order to play. They're all crazy about table tennis now and I had a blast playing with them. Again I left their place this morning with their hugs to warm my heart and with a kind invitation to go to their summer house again. My cousin cooked up a plan of a weekend with a lot of skiing and icehole dipping in it. I checked my schedule - my first free weekend is in the end of February and if we actually manage to make this idea happen, it would be a historical weekend. I have not touched skies since the last skiing lesson in high school - I absolutely dreaded and hated these lessons. They were one of my worst childhood (or high school) traumas, these PE classes. But if my cousin manages to make me ski again (he suggested downhill, not cross country which might make a big difference as I've never tried downhill skiing), he deserves a gold medal.

And here's the most common ending - an overview of books and music. I'm finishing Nevil Shute's novel A Town Like Alice tonight and I'm absolutely loving it. It's a very unusual love story, brilliantly written, an easy read in the middle of more serious stuff. And music wise - classical music! They have excellent play lists in those buses which I use to commute between Tallinn and Tartu, and it has long since become a habit for me to read a book and listen to classical music which makes these 2,5 hours go by as if it was just a blink of an eye. Today I enjoyed these two pieces the best: Puccini's Nessun Dorma by Jose Carreras and Gregorio Allegri's Miserere by the Claire College Choir, Cambridge.

1/03/2017

I don't remember making many new year's resolutions in my life and keeping any I remember even less. It could be either due to the lack of memory or the lack of character. I've always thought real change has to stem from something deeper than the change of date and calendar. And I'm slow - I can't implement changes that I've thought about for two days. Or a week. I need more time.

I do remember one resolution which I made a couple of years ago and where I failed miserably. I promised myself I would start writing. Something. Anything. I ended that year with a realisation I hadn't written anything. Well, I had written plenty, articles and blog posts and such, but not anything I had thought could take the form of a book one day.

This time I didn't make any resolutions but the idea that I really should start writing hasn't let go, on the contrary, it has crept closer and grown bigger. And so it felt really natural - when I realised I was going to spend the New Year's Eve at home and by myself - that I could use a nice free evening to battle my fear and feeling of inadequacy, and well, start writing. I took my laptop home from my office on the previous day, I made some tea and ate an eye-wateringly expensive chocolate (always helps with inspiration!), opened my laptop and wrote with shaking fingers some paragraphs on a topic that is very close to my heart right now. I don't know what it will turn into or whether it will turn into anything, I don't know if anyone else but me will ever lay their eyes on it. To show it to someone else requires courage I don't yet have. But I have started. It feels equally exhilarating and scary.

Yesterday after work I realised I can't write just any moment a thought crosses my mind because I usually keep my laptop at work. So I found a beautiful little golden and black notebook which my dearest A. had given me a while ago, and started scribbling my thoughts there.

If mom was still around, she'd probably smile and say nothing. When seeing a fisherman standing somewhere for hours on end or seeing anyone else doing something she didn't think was overtly meaningful, she would gently smile and say, "Well, at least they're not harmful."

So let me walk around with my golden notebook and write down my thoughts. At least I'm not harmful.

But the real reason I tell you this is that I'd be very grateful if any of you cared to ask me, say, in March (or better still, in October) how I'm doing with this writing thing. I could use some accountability. Truly.

--

I would post some heartrending new year's music here but all I can think of it this. I'm sorry.

--

Happy new year!

12/26/2016


I did find Christmas in the end. I found it in an obvious place. And yet it didn't occur to me to look for it there first.

I found Christmas in music.

There were three moments in particular that made this past weekend memorable to me.

First. On Saturday afternoon me and brother K. went to a Christmas service in one of the Old Town churches, the Holy Spirit's church. Brother S. is singing in that church choir and we thought it'd be nice to go and listen to him sing. The Holy Spirit's church is the only one in Tallinn - as far as I know - that has their Christmas services in English. It's a church that follows a high church service tradition. I thought about it quite a bit when sitting there and also later on our way to dad's place - in our church everyone's expected to be involved in the service in a way or another, mentally and emotionally and intellectually involved. When I preach I always look for - consciously or unonsciously - people's responses, for a nod, for a smile, even for a tear, anything that tells me that people are 'on board with me'. It is a strange thing to suddenly find yourself in the middle of a different mindset and tradition. The whole Christmas service consisted of choral and congregational songs and Scripture readings. No sermon, no nothing. Everyone is left to mind their own minds in the pew. I found it very refreshing and relaxing. So about half of the service time we just sang with the other churchgoers, we sang all the old Christmas classics from Hark! The Herald Angels Sing to Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem to Silent Night. And we stood and sang with K. as if our lives depended on it, inventing three part harmonies on the go and beaming with delight when they turned out well. As if we've heard those songs before, K. commented quietly after another one of those carols. It was the first time I could really sing my heart out this Christmas time and it really bought Christmas home to me. Despite the weather.

Second. After we had arrived at dad's place and had the Christmas dinner, we needed to start practising for our care home visit the next morning. Once again, Christmas songs came out and sounds of singing and instrumental music filled the apartment. It was way beyond little E.'s bed time so H. tried to put her to sleep in the next room but as there was so much noise and interesing sounds coming from the living room, she just didn't fall asleep. H. came back with her as putting her to sleep didn't seem to be working out so E. could closely observe different instruments being played. The piano was cool, the flute also, but the violin seemed to top everything else. When I played the violin, she just stared at the instrument for a long time with her eyes like saucers, occasionally making funny faces. I think she's hooked. The violin it will be! :)

Third. On Sunday morning we went to give a little Christmas concert in a care home not far from where my dad now lives. We sang and played and dad shared the Word. It wasn't a long concert, just a little longer than half an hour. But it filled my heart with the kind of satisfaction neither Christmas dinner not presents could fill. It was good to go out and make someone else's Christmas a little brighter. Even the weather helped us - we had had no sunshine for almost two weeks, but just as we were playing and singing, the sun came out and made the little care home communal room light up. The elderly people who came to hear us were very grateful, both for the songs as well as for the sunshine. So were we.

The magic of music did it again.

12/23/2016

Has anyone seen the Christmas feeling on the run? No? Sigh. Me neither.

It just doesn't seem to be around this year. I suspect there are two main reasons for it. One is very simple - we still don't have snow. December without snow looks like late October in Estonia. Christmases need to be white in this part of the world - and they usually are. Only the few couple of years we have had problems with it, as far as I can remember. Even the Christmas lights don't help that much when it's dark and damp outside.

It was only for a couple of hours yesterday evening that the true Christmas feeling took over. We went to hear Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir's Christmas concert with my dad and there, in the windowless concert hall, it did begin to feel a lot like Christmas. They sang Christmas songs with their angelic voices and everyone's spirit seemed to be lifted. But it was strange to step outside after the concert and face the rainy weather again.

But the second reason is more complex. It has to do with my dad having moved from Pärnu to Türi. I will go and visit him there for the first time tomorrow but it hardly feels like going home for Christmas. The concept of home has lost some of its meaning and as Christmas is so closely connected with (going) home, my Christmases have lost some of its essence. It's not overtly tragic, we still get together and share food and presents, and we'll go sing in a care home on Sunday morning just to make Christmas a little bit more about other people and less about ourselves. But the thrill of going home is lost.

But at the same time I'm getting more and more excited about the new year. Again, I'm not quite sure where the reason lies but I'm really looking forward to 2017. It will be filled with a good amount of teaching and traveling, and a terrible amount of working. But there is hope and expectation in my heart. Good things are yet to happen!

--

Today it's three years since my mum passed away. It was a day just as windy and damp as today. In some way, not much has changed, on the other hand, plenty has changed. I've long since realised that both life goes on and death goes on. This will never change. I will always have to live with her death and with the longing (which sometimes is rather intense) for the touch of a mother's hand. But the pain has lessened a great deal. I no longer cry myself to sleep. I can talk about her without getting emotional. I can go to the cemetery and leave it, knowing that there is still so much life to be lived and loved and experienced. And with the pain slowly decreasing some other emotions have a chance to grow stronger - the gratitude and the sheer astonishment and the sense of undeserved luck sometimes wash over me like a wave. I had the most wonderful, the smartest and the kindest woman as my mother for 28 years. That's no small thing. That's huge.


--

I was too eager to write about my Booker Prize last week. I should have waited a little longer - because the book count is up to 36 now. And I suspect the top 5 would have been slightly different too because Wild Swans was such an inspirational and emotional read - it would have made it to the top list. There probably wasn't an evening during the past two weeks when I didn't read the book. 660 pages just melted away somehow. For any history lovers - Wild Swans is the book for you!

12/16/2016

I was invited to a school this week. I don't have good memories from my school years, especially my high school years, so I haven't really been interested in visiting one. But a teenage girl from my church invited me, she's taking a religious study class and they're going through the biggest world religions there. They got to Christianity now and she asked me whether I would come and speak about it to her classmates. Phew, that's a big one, I thought. I'm sort of scared of teenagers, to be honest. I teach grown-ups, people who are studying not because they have to but because they want to (I know it's not always as simple as that lol but in principle it should be), people who don't have to report to their teachers and parents about how they're doing. Would I know how to speak to teenagers? Because, you know, it's kind of a decade and plus years since I was one myself. But on the other hand, you don't turn down these kind of invites either. In the end of a day, someone will have to tell them about Christianity and maybe I would do it, using slightly simpler words that someone else. So I took the challenge. I paced back and forth in my kitcen that morning, trying to practice my "Christianity talk" in my head. And then I went.

I put on my big nerdy glasses and some lipstick and I went and stood in front of a bunch of teenagers and told them about Christians and why I'm one of them. I don't know what went on in their minds but I could see what went on on their faces. For almost 45 minutes they looked at me with their eyes wide open and steadily fixed on me. Not one of them fidgeted. And I switched on my lecturer's mode and told them everything I know about Christianity. Well, maybe not everything, but about the main things. And about my own lifestyle - why I rest one day each week (I simply wouldn't survive without a Sabbath, I told them), why I respect ten commandments, why I think making healthy lifestyle choices is important, why I think there's a calling and a passion in each of our lives planted in us by God. In the end of the class they asked really good and sharp questions, some of which I had a ready answer to, some of which I didn't have an answer to. And in the very end when the class was over, I was like, "Can I give you some life advice that doesn't have to do with this class? Read books, study hard, go study abroad, and always respect people who are different from you."

They clapped in the end of the class. Maybe I shouldn't be afraid of teenagers after all?

I thought about the impact one can have later when I left. And about the power of inventing oneself. They didn't know me before. Well, in a way, they still don't. They don't know what kind of **** I have to deal with in my own life. But all they needed to know and all they needed to see was a young woman with nerdy glasses and some lipstick who passionately believed in the message and lifestyle of Christianity. The word is out that Christians are mostly old people who don't have any hopes left for this life and this world, so they have to invent an imaginary world they can look forward to after they die. Don't buy into this lie, I told the teenagers, it's simply not true, and in a modest way I try to be the proof of this being a lie. I think they believed me.