8/18/2017

The eye saga continues.

My left eye started hurting on Monday evening. I had just come from the clinic where I had the protective lenses taken out which I had had to wear during the first week, and my eye wasn't happy. It actually kept me awake half the night which, given the amount of time, gave me an opportunity to go over all possible scenarios that might happen. By 2 a.m. I had come to the perfectly sound conclusion that my left eye was most likely going to, you know, explode. So I called the clinic first thing in the morning and explained my situation (I did leave out the exploding bit though) and they arranged me an appointment right away. There a very kind nurse with a very kind smile explained to me patiently why my eye was feeling the way it (she?) was. She looked like she gets those nervous patients coming twice a day. Anyway, she gave me another medicine (now they have taken up a whole shelf in my fridge) and another kind smile and dismissed me. I did feel a little bit embarrassed for turning into a drama queen like that but A. called ma that night and told me that I have paid these people so much money that I could go for check-ups daily if I wanted to, and that indeed made me feel a bit better.

The annoying thing is that I can't work properly, which would be ok if I didn't have to. I didn't get everything done before Valencia and annual leave so I'm having to do stuff now. I was putting together the Greek exam on Wednesday morning in my office and I looked absolutely ridiculous, trying to see all those little breathing marks. I will look equally ridiculous today, trying to grade the exams. Double vision is not fun.

Which, really, brings me to the other topic. With yesterday's exam being over, I can say that the Greek semester is done. One semester down, two more to go. I went to Riga on Wednesday evening and as it turned out to be the warmest and loveliest of all evenings, I sat in an old town restaurant and thought about the whole thing. I recalled how two years ago Newbold guys got in touch with me and knocked me breathless with their offer. We need someone to teach Greek and Homiletics and we thought you could do it, they said. I remember jumping up and down and screaming my head off, I was so happy. And I remember how I pictured it all - that I would descend on Riga with some star dust around me and I would do all this with effortless elegance. Now, sitting in that restaurant, I realised how differently everthing had turned out. There was no star dust, there was no effortless elegance. No. There were sleeping pills and there was hard work. And yet, the fact that I have been able to do it while going through the toughest time of my life - I'm surprised I came through this spring more or less sane and intact - it all makes it so much more valuable. In fact, I felt like celebrating on Wednesday evening. If it had all been effortless, I would not have appreciated that experience much. It would have been just another task. But now it all felt like an achievement. And again I came to the age old conclusion that going through difficult times does something to us - it shapes and grows us.

And this brought me to a text. Last Saturday I made an attempt to read the Bible, I didn't succeed but what little I was able to read was from John 15. Jesus talks about branches there and how there are two experiences that a branch can possibly go through. One is being cut down, the other one is being pruned. Both of them must hurt really bad, and there must be a moment when the branch is not sure which one of these experiences it is going through. It hurts like hell. God seems to be given up on me. I think I'm done, I'm being cut down. And yet, how many times, looking back on our darkest of times and toughest of experiences, we actually realise that God was not cutting us off but instead, He was pruning, He was taking extra care of us because He saw the potential of fruit, and He knew that only by pruning the branch it has a chance of bearing better fruit.

I'm still not sure what God was trying to do or teach me or grow in me that past spring. But in any case, it felt really good to be in Riga, to take a late evening stroll and to think about the past semester. I could still use some elegance and star dust for the coming semesters, but even with things being the way they are - I'm grateful.

8/14/2017

Brand New World

I had barely touched down after Spain when a new adventure was waiting for me. It was a kind of an adventure I didn’t want to talk about beforehand, there are things one feels more comfortable talking about in retrospect, when everything has gone nicely and smoothly.

So. Last Tuesday, after a long time of waiting and after some serious consultation with my bank account and doctors I had an eye surgery. I got rid of my -4,5 glasses, once and for all, hopefully.

Medicine and technology these days... they are a rocket science. They are not almighty, I know that all too well, but some things have been made very easy and painless. To have a touch-free, cut-free and pain-free laser surgery which takes about 15 minutes and after which you walk out on your own two feet and with your own two eyes seems almost too good to be true. But it’s true. I can confirm.

The surgery itself turned out to be hilarious – not quite what one would expect of such serious business. Here’s why. I had had two very thorough check-ups on my eyes over the past six months and in that process I also had to fill up a dozen or so forms with all sorts of information about myself and my medical history. So I walk into the doctor’s office on Tuesday morning - the doctor being clearly a very successful and confident young man - and he casually sits me down for the last brief check up. He glances at the papers I have filled and suddenly gets raving excited about the fact that a pastor has walked into his office. „Oh, what a pleasure!” he exclaims. „I’ve just recently had a Buddhist monk come in for a surgery, it is so lovely to have such spiritual people coming to our clinic. OK, the lights are going to be blinding for a moment. Did you say you’re from the Lutheran church? No? An Adventist? Keep looking straight now, I need to check your eyes with this machine. So in two sentences, what’s the difference between Lutherans and Adventists? By the way, I’ll show you the selfie I took with the monk later.” And I’m sitting there, thinking, „Is this for real?!”

It was for real. And later, having been taken to the surgery room, the nurse joined in: „So, doc, were you baptised as a child?” „No, I wasn’t, I wonder why people don’t get baptised much any more. Is it because the life is too good and we don’t feel a need for a greater power? Oh, you’re so lucky to have your faith. By the way, is there, like, a Bible verse or a book you could recommend me if I wanted to know more about Christianity? A Christian minister right here, can you believe!” And I’m doing my very best to stay in the conversation but having one of your eyes taped shut and the other kept open with some gross braces and having stuff done to it, it can really be a bit of a conversation killer. So I let them talk. But the hilarity of the moment is not lost on me and I don’t even have time to get nervous and get my palms sweaty before the whole business is done and over and they help me up. I feel a bit dizzy and disoriented after the surgery so they let me sit there for a few minutes and keep talking to me. The doctor goes to his office and comes back in a second and says, „Hey, I sort of believe in a more holistic approach to health, so here’s a CD for you if you want to watch it later. It’s pretty good.” It’s Forks over Knives. And I’m like, „Let’s talk about holistic approach to health, after all, I’m an Adventist!” Haha! So we do. It turns out he has heard of Loma Linda, and of the fact that Loma Linda Adventists are the longest living urban community in the world. You don’t run into people like this in Estonia every day. Anyway, once I feel I can leave without bumping into doors and walls and am on my way out, he gives me his business card and asks me to let him know when I’m next preaching in Tallinn’s church. „We like to do cultural stuff with our staff occasionally, so let me know, we’ll be there.” Deal, brother.

It doesn’t matter how good the doctor or the technology, the recovery is still slow and rather painful. During the first days I would get serious headaches, the eyes would be sore and itchy. On the third day I had such a strong doudoubleble visivisionon I could barely do anything. I have had to take 6 or 7 medicines daily so my bedroom looks a lot like hospital. My left eye feels weird at times and that worries me. There is no gym, no sauna, and no books available for a while and I miss them all. Some moments I get impatient and am sure my recovery is much slower than it should.

But in between those times I would still have some moments of amazing clarity. I dared to leave the city on Friday and spent a lazy double-visioned weekend at my cousin’s place in Tartu. When sipping my morning tea out on the porch, I would look at the birch tree they have in their back yard and suddenly I would see leaves, and I mean, distinct individual leaves, not one big green mass I’m used to see. It’s amazing. Or I would look at my kitchen curtain and it would have all those delicate lines and shades which, I swear, weren’t there last week. So even now I get a glimpse or two of the world that is clear and sharp and detailed. I had completely forgotten that the world could look like that. It’s as if the world is brand new.

Two more months and I should have perfect eyesight.

And I literally don’t know where my glasses are. I haven’t seen them for a week, and frankly, I haven’t looked for them either. For all I know, I might have left them in the surgery room. And for all I care, they can stay there. It is an euphoric feeling not to know and not to care. Because for the past million years, for every second of the past million years I have always had to know where my glasses were. So this feels like freedom.

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There is no news about books today haha. But as I’ve had to spend a lot of time listening to music, I can say that nothing nothing can beat Adele’s Hello these days.

8/07/2017

I’ve been home for less than 24 hours so all the emotions and memories are one big mess right now. I have not had time to systematise them. So this is a random collection of my thoughts in an order just as random.

I have been to two other youth congresses before and the realisation that this one was very different took me by surprise. The difference was not due to different speakers or location or worship styles, it was the fact that I was working there that made all the difference in the world. During the first days I hardly participated in any of the activities (except for the worship services). I had only my talk and my workshops on my mind. When others took part in all the fun activities, I would spend time pacing in my hotel room practicing my talk or would spend some sweet hours at the hotel pool going over my workshop materials. Even the fact that we lived in a hotel a couple of hundred meters away from the congress venue made it all feel like I wasn’t really part of the congress life. And I was okay with it. I guess I’m getting used to work and to give at places to which others come to relax and receive – at camp meetings, worship services etc. So it actually took me by surprise that once I was done with my workshops and the stress level dropped, the congress emotion hit me hard. Suddenly I found myself sitting there in the big meeting hall on Friday night and on Saturday night service and crying my eyes out during the worship and the baptism service because everything was just so beautiful and emotional. Then I finally felt that I was part of the crowd of 4000 youth, part of the emotion, part of the uniting faith. It was beautiful.

It was a wonderful feeling to go to the hotel restaurant every morning and to see the most dedicated and talented group of people our church has here in Europe all around me. There is this special energy when a large group of wonderfully talented and dedicated people come together. Some of the sound technicians were up and running for 18 hours a day. One evening late I sat in the lobby with K. and P. who were putting together the program for the next evening, discussing thoroughly and seriously the order of songs. Every tiny detail needed to be thought through. I saw the band members lying on the stage floor during a pause in their practice. I saw the hosts practicing their lines backstage. I saw Newbold and Friedensau lecturers getting ready for their workshops. It was the most inspiring thing to see.

And then the talk. I am clearly not the most objective person to talk about it but from my biased and subjective viewpoint I can say that I did my best and I have no reason to feel ashamed. What I was the proudest of was the preparation, the constant practising. I really did know it by heart. And this was the only reason why I was able to speak without any notes and without going blank in front of the crowd. It was a pity I didn’t really see people – the lights were blinding so I only saw people who were sitting right in front of the stage. But maybe it was good, maybe it would have been too intimidating to see them, I don’t know. But I do know that I will watch my beloved TED Talks in a different way from now on. These presenters all look effortlessly cool and elegant and smart but the truth is there is a lot of sweating and hard work and even insecurity behind the facade. But these things make the success even sweeter.

I also learnt a simple equasion I didn’t know before: a modestly pink lipstick + blinding lights + cameras = raging neon pink. I will be wiser next time.

+37'C is a terrible temperature to endure.

And meeting my people! Oh, what a sweet sweet thing. For example, I was hanging out with Dr M. P. a lot. He’s one of those people who has amazing amount of life experience, I don't think I could ever get tired of listening to him. It was on Saturday morning that we happened to eat breakfast together and we got so carried away that once we realised, everyone else had left the hotel and we were late for the Sabbath morning service. But honestly, marriage, absurdity of life and Camus really needed to be discussed.

They were wonderful days, they really were. I’m richer, I’m more experienced, I’m refreshed. And I think I'm being taken more seriously. I couldn’t ask for more.

Q/A session after the talks.
The main speaker, pastor S. L. did a great job.
The place was massive.
We broke the world record for the biggest nail mosaic. 100 000 nails.

With Dr M. P. Some reunions are sweeter than others.
The talk.

7/25/2017

My desk in the office is a big mess. But it is not a random mess, it's the mess of my job.

If you were to come by, you would find these items on my desk:
- a Bible
- two Bible commentaries
- plane tickets to Valencia
- a pile of essays I need to grade
- my TED Talk (or, as they call them, Journey Talk) for Valencia
- my Bible study workshop text for Valencia
- Greek text book
- Greek 'let's get ready for the exam' excercises
- a book titled Women and Ordination. Biblical and Historical Studies (not quite sure why this is here)
- time table of Valencia programme
- a birthday card from my cousin
- a bag with gym clothes under the desk

There is clearly too much going on, and at moments it's suffocating. On other moments it's exhilirating because that pile tells me I'm getting closer and closer to my dreams. (Or maybe I'm living them already?)

The youth congress in Valencia - which starts in a week's time - is obviously the big looming event which takes up most of my mental and desk space these days. I don't remember any event in recent past which I both dreaded and looked forward to with such intensity. I am well aware of the fact that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. The list of plenary speakers is short, the speakers come both from Europe and the US, and in some mysterious way I'm on it too. This must be the doing of the Almighty, no doubt. At the same time I don't know if my prep is enough. For about two weeks now I have practiced my talk daily, I know it by heart by now. But my insecurities, those ugly little monsters, are in the back of my head and they too are working hard these days. But it's also good for me - to be thrown out of my comfort zone like that. There's an immense potential of growth for me here. The air is thick with opportunity. There's a chance the courage and hard work will pay off and will create something that's bigger than I am.

Last week my desk was clean though. I spent 4 days in a bush with our conference's youth, camping. It happened so that one of the two ladies who were asked to cook for the camp couldn't come, and I volunteered to cover for her. So for the better part of the last week I chopped carrots and cucumbers and washed dishes, from early morning til late in the evening. It was a good break from the usual desk mess (although I did walk around my tiny room during kitchen duty breaks, practicing my Talk every day).

I think there must be a balance between being a Mary and being a Martha. Sometimes kitchen duty does good to you, it keeps your feet firmly on the ground. Keeps you real. But I did get a little bit anxious by the end of these four days because the Mary stuff was waiting again. And honestly, I really can't cook. :P

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Ah, here's one picture of me preaching at the Pathfinders camp two weeks ago. I think it's a lovely picture. You can tell from that photo I love preaching.


7/11/2017

I'm thinking about a song - Lana Del Rey's Summertime Sadness. In a way it pretty much describes the summer feeling of these past weeks, on the other hand there's really nothing to be sad about so I'm not quite sure why this song came to my mind. But even if there is no sadness, there sure is a lot of summertime melancholy. Days go by slowly and without much fuss, I'm stuck in my patterns and circles, which, again, isn't necessarily a bad thing. It feels like this summer has lasted forever and will continue to last forever. It's a still life, that's what it is.

There has been some family business. I've visited my dad, I've visited my auntie, just this past Sunday morning I visited my uncle whom I don't see that often (we had pancakes and a long conversation which really was more of a monologue from his part and I left with quiet sadness, knowing that we see life from very different viewpoints). I've visited my mum's grave for the first time since Christmas Eve and I've taken some long walks in the tiny town of Türi where my mum grew up and where she is now resting. And all these pictures and memories from my early childhood flooded back, and I thought a great deal about my mum and my granny, and how my identity and self are firmly grounded in their love. Oh, and we celebrated my little brother's 30th birthday in the beginning of July, and that added more melancholy still - to see your brother you've always thought as small all grown up and manned up is awesome and yet equally perplexing.

It's quiet at work. Everyone else is either on their annual leave or camping in the bush with our pathfinders or they're just not coming to the office these days. So I'm here all by myself and I don't get that much work done. The conference's library is still waiting to be sorted out, there's always a sermon that needs to be written, preparations for Valencia need to get done soon. This morning I'm translating Greek sentences and going through the text book word by word as I am teaching in Riga again on Thursday. It is strange how even the Riga lecturing trips have quietly become the part of my usual summer routine. I go once every three weeks and although they are long and tough days, I enjoy them very much. Later today, when I'm done with translations, I reward myself with Anne Lamott's TED Talk. Little treats like this do good to one's soul. There were some things I had become very excited about over my traveling weeks - new contacts, possibilities of new opportunities. But nothing has come of them, the emails I was so impatiently waiting for after returning home never arrived, new initiatives never took off. I guess it's one of those seasons.

I'm reading Kathleen Norris' book The Cloister Walk and even that book fits in the general mood perfectly. It's slow and deep and beautiful, that book. And when I'm not reading that, I'm reading the book of Revelation in the evenings, and although Revelation is anything but quiet and calm, even this book can tear me up these days with its beautiful opening and closing chapters.

Some evenings I'm meeting up with friends, and when I'm not doing it I either go to the seaside or to a new nearby market to get fresh local strawberries and tomatoes.

It's a still life alright.

At K.'s birthday bash.
Visiting the pathfinders camp last weekend. I preached there on Sabbath.
Tea at A.'s.

6/22/2017

I had been traveling so much I had somehow forgotten what the usual, non-traveling everyday life looked and felt like. But once I had settled again and unpacked my suitcase and was also back emotionally, I realised – with a rather unpleasant surprise – that everything was really same old, same old. And that all the things that had triggered my breakdown in April were still very much present and actual. None of these things had miraculously evaporated over the traveling weeks. So these past weeks I’ve done my best to balance between the light and the shadows, between joy and sorrow. Sometimes I’m doing well, sometimes not so well, the most important thing is that I’m balancing.

And so it was that I looked forward to Dr A. N.’s visit excitedly, almost impatiently. She’s one of those people who has always managed to speak light into my life, and I was hoping for it to happen again. So on Monday when I knew she’d arrive, I could barely sit still during the conference’s executive board marathon meeting. She did come, she sat me down in an Old Town restaurant, and she spoke a lot of life and light and sense into my existence. Again. But we didn’t just sit in restaurants for three days (although we did a fair amount of that too) but we also went to an art museum, looked around Tallinn, and then headed to Pärnu for about two days. I had so organised things that my dad would join us for a day and take us to the best bird watching locations on the Western coast. Both my dad and A. N. are fanatical bird watchers. So yesterday we drove around the coast from early morning until late afternoon and it was rather funny to see how both of them switched on the bird watching mode and ran around with binoculars and consulted the books and were totally excited about seeing this or that bird. I tagged along, kicked stones, and took pictures. I was clearly left out of their world haha! A. N. would joke that not all people are lucky enough to be born with the bird watching gene. I suppose she’s right. But it was a lot of fun still to hang out with them and have a little glimpse of this hobby of theirs. Great times. And then we would do some more restaurant visiting and would endlessly talk about life and academia and people and Newbold and GC and books. 

A. N. just left an hour ago, heading back to Newbold. It all feels like a deep breath of fresh air. 




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And here’s the traditional blog news: music and books. I’ve been listening to Kirk Franklin a lot, especially on those days when I’m not doing very well. His music helps, My Life Is In Your Hands in particular (and it’s not only the song itself that I like but also the unfading memory that goes with it – how me and B. would blast this song on Thursday evenings in Newbold student centre when setting up for yet another Experience). Book wise – I’ve just finished Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark (book no 22 this year). I had seen the movie – Schindler's List – a long time ago but I wasn’t quite prepared for the book. The book is so much more detailed and intense and sickening than the movie (although I think Ralph Fiennes did an excellent job playing the Nazi lunatic Goeth) but it is also somehow more inspirational – the audacity and absurdity of the idea of saving lives and the elegance with which Herr Schindler pulled it off against all odds is just breathtaking. It’s equally terrible and terrific book.

6/01/2017

I think I've met more new people over these two weeks than I usually do in a year. It's been intense.

Last week I was in Denmark, preaching and teaching at their Union's camp meeting. It was the first time for me to speak at a bigger gathering like this, so it was all wonderfully new to me. I realised somewhere half way through the camp meeting that when you're the invited speaker, you have a full-time job. It's not only about preaching sermons and having workshops, it's equally much about being aroud people, socialising, listening, smiling. For someone as introverted as me, it can be terribly tiring. I was glad we stayed in a rented summer house with M. and A. a couple of kilometers away from the camp site so I could escape there every now and then and just be alone.

But I'm not complaining, don't get me wrong. It was also immensely rewarding, being with people, getting to know them a little and seeing their heart-felt gratitude. I don't think I've ever heard so many kind words and thank yous as I did there. Something really seemed to touch their hearts, and if you asked me, that something was a miracle of God. Given the state of my health as well as my limited preparations plus the never ending sleeping problems, it must have been magic that happened. I didn't feel I had much to give, but people seemed to receive a whole lot more than I gave. It reminds me of the story of five loaves of bread and two fish. I gave crumbles, people seemed to receive a whole meal. It was the invisible miracle of the Kingdom of God that must have happened.

I also had a privilege of meeting two other guest speakers, pastor Bill Knott and pastor Matthew Gamble from the US. M. G. was the speaker in the youth tent, he's the kind of guy who can make anyone laugh at any time. Unfortunately I never got to hear him as we spoke in different tents to different audiences and also our workshops overlapped, but I heard good things about him. But I got to spend more time with pastor B. K. who must be one of the kindest and friendliest people I've ever met. We could sit in the dining hall during the lunch time and discuss homiletics and literature and women's ordination endlessly. He also encouraged me to take writing more seriously, and I'm infinitely grateful for this encouragement. Just today I happened to pick up an issue of Adventist World magazine, and this time I read its editorial differently. Suddenly there was a real living person behind the title of the executive editor, a person I dare to call my new friend.

With B. K., M. and M. G. Or as we joked - ABBA
And this week it's Slovenia. I'm attending the GC's Education Summit. Part of it is interesting and useful, part of it not so much. But I guess that's always like this with conferences. I'm staying in the same hotel where I stayed a number of years ago at the European Pastors Counsil. Memories flooded back that evening I got here - I remember that event so clearly. It was the summer when I was half way through my MA program in Newbold, the last summer my mum was well, the last summer life was easy-breezy-beautiful. It has been bittersweet being back here. But what once again balances the sadness is people, inspiring and wonderful people. It's the first time for me to meet the real power ladies of the SDA church. Today I had lunch with Ella Simmons, I sat very quietly and listened carefully to this graceful and fierce lady who, against all odds, has made her way right to the top of the church's administrative hierarchy. I've also met Andrea Luxton and Lisa Beardsley-Hardy, the president of Andrews University and director of Education at the GC. Truly admirable ladies both. It is so good to have people to look up to, people who inspire and make you realise - everything is possible. Everything is possible for those who work their butt off and stand their ground.

So again and again I come back to the realisation - I have been blessed with wonderful people in my life. Some contacts are brief, some grow into friendships, but all of them are appreciated.