Layers

It’s been a while, but that doesn’t have anything to do with lack of things to share. My eyes are being opened and my heart is being moved and shaped by the humbling signs that God is in everything. Eh-Vreee-Thing. I don’t just think it because that’s what you’re supposed to say when you believe, but I say it because he has revealed himself in ways that have woken up my mind from dark depths of a routine life. The one where you can’t tell the difference between Monday and Thursday because its all mushed into one-and-the-same. He is, at the moment gripping my heart with His hands so that I might stop turning from Him and begin to open my eyes to the beauty that is Him among my every simple day.

My art class is full of people, mostly women who gather on tuesday mornings to let their creativity expand into the limitless world of imagination. Then ceramics class on wednesday nights, where your age, gender, or cultural background doesn’t seem to matter, as long as you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, and leaving the class with bits of it under your fingernails, or smeared on your face.

Be it paintbrush or clay, the lessons are the same. Not just art lessons, but life lessons. It’s all about Layers.

I sat there with a big lump of clay in front of me. “today we’re making masks”, she said. “Pick your design and just go for it”. Uhh, what? Right, somewhere inside this messy grey brick there is a mask waiting to come out. if only I could find it… “So you start with a base”, she says. “And after that you can add more clay on top”, you can always add and take away. The photo I had in front of me was textured and complex, and the base of my creation was flat as the Manitoba farm land. Overwhelmed and lacking the much-needed patience I trudged on, literally dragging my fingers through the clay every step of the way.

If Cyprus has taught me one thing that I will forever carry in my soul, it is “siga siga” – slowly slowly. Piece by piece I started to add clay. Layer by layer, never all at once. I didn’t realize until I was about half way through that the project is manageable only if and when it is taken step by step. My eyes can only see so much at a time, and even then, my hands can handle even less while they are still learning to crawl.

So, one by one, first the left cheek, then the right. The mouth, the nose, and the teeth. Layer by layer my creation was turning into something that resembled the image I saw on the page in front of me. And it wasn’t until the very end of the project, when all of the layers began to form a whole, that I started to fall in love with my mask. It is a mediocre mask at best, but it was frustrating to make and I honestly didn’t feel like I would ever be able to finish it based on the large amounts of anxiety I felt every time I sat back down in my chair after giving myself a 30 second “be-patient-with-yourself” pep talk, and tried to tackle the overwhelming task once more.

What came out of the fire was the awesome face of a goofy monster that I am totally and completely in love with. Could I sell it for money? Maybe to my grandma, because even though there are cracks all over it due my lack of ceramic understanding and ability, grandmas are always willing to love the stuff you make just as much as they love you.

Then there are the layer that come in the paint. We moved on from pastels and started working with oil paints. What I’ve learned is the thing that makes ‘pictures’ look real, is the amount of shading and contrast that is used. You are never allowed to just use pink. There MUST be four different kinds of pink, or else your painting just looks flat. The same thing happened when I started my last painting. I had been working for about 20 minutes, pulling colours from every which way, adding white, then more orange, but it’s still not quite right, needs more yellow… there. Got it. 1/16th of the way done. Yikes. Even then, I finished my painting, all the blending done and the colours mixed just how I wanted them, only to hear my teacher say “great, now you’ve just gotta do it all again and then you’re finished. The second layer of oil paints is what really makes it come alive.” -Face Palm- Do it again? You’re joking right? I just spent a freaking week meticulously blending all of the colours together, and now I’m just supposed to paint over top of them and do it the exact same way?

But that’s the beauty of the art I guess. It’s up to me how I want my painting to look. If I want it to be a nice painting with pretty colours, I can leave it how it is. But if I want to give it life, if I want it to achieve the beauty that it is capable of, well honestly that is a beauty that is more than one layer deep.

Any mask moulded with only one layer of clay lacks texture, lacks detail, lacks any sort of depth. Any painting blended with only one layer of paint is just scratching the surface of beauty. There is no breath of life inside, it’s missing the mark on it’s true potential.

The most amazing thing about all of this is Jesus works in the exact same way. It’s easy enough to know God on the surface, one layer deep. Maybe you have some friends like this. The ones you like being around but you don’t really let them in past what you made for dinner last night. But the thing is, God doesn’t just want the surface you. He.Wants.It.All. Sometimes it is scary to think about letting anything get beneath our protective shells. The twists and turns of life that leave us bruised and scarred make us think twice before letting anyone see what’s really going on in there. But the beauty of this comes in the healing that Jesus brings, and He heals, and it’s real. But the process is slow. Piece by piece. One layer at a time. As we peel back one layer- give it up to God, and please oh please just let Him love you. That person that always takes, and never gives, one layer off. That lie that satan told you about not being good enough, the one you’ve believed for far too long, one more layer deep. There is nothing that you could show God that He hasn’t already seen. You want to talk about pain, well man he’s already felt it. In every muscle, in every pore, he felt the pain because He didn’t want you to have to feel it alone. Let Him get to know the real you, so that you can get to know the real Him. One layer deeper, but another one exposed in the process, because this stuff is deep, and it doesn’t really ever stop. But the deeper we go, the more depth we find. And just like those oil paints, more layers means more life. As we let God go deeper we start to be beautiful from the inside out. That surface beauty that we cling to so dearly will start to fade away, and maybe, just maybe, out of the rubble will come a person who knows they are the perfect creation of a potter that moulded His clay exactly the way He intended to.

Home Sweet Home

Every week it feels like more and more happens. Every week I feel like I have so much to say; so much to tell you.

We had another game last week. It’s tough getting used to playing on Tuesday night and honestly it kind of throws my whole week off. If it’s a tough game, we get Wednesdays off completely, if it’s an easy match (which is more often than not), then we practice. Then Thursday/Friday comes along and before I know it, it’s Saturday, and the day-and-a-half weekend is here.

Our game this match was a bit of a weird one. We wont the first set, off to a slow start 25-20. The next two were blow-outs and we ended up winning something like 25-14 and 25-7. It feels good when you can come together as a team and just get the job done.

The best things about the game this week was not the volleyball, but instead the people that came out to watch. It was our first home game and Kendra (our coach’s wife) was able to pack up the kids and bring everyone to the game. This is what it looked like afterwards…Image

There were also some unexpected fans there.

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Meet Neil and Angela. When I first arrived in Cyprus, I told you about how I amazingly got hooked up with a church through a friend of a friend who knew someone who knew of someone that lived in my village. Neil and Angela are the lovely people that offered me a ride to church without having ever met me, because we lived close to each other. They made my week by coming out to our game on Tuesday. I had no idea they were coming and I looked up in the stands to see two smiling with hands waving at me from up top! I was so excited that they had taken time out of their week to come see what had brought me to Cyprus and what it was all about. When the game was over Angela said to me, “we are just so proud of you. You know your kids will always be well behaved because no one would want to get a whack from that arm of yours.” We all laughed at the fact that that had been the first thing she thought of. They have lovingly become my adopted parents here and every sunday they greet me at church with big smiles and it always settles my heart just a little bit more knowing that if I ever needed somewhere to go, Neil and Angela would happily be there in a moment.

My team is lucky enough to have not only one, but two massage therapists. This is lucky because I know that some teams don’t have any staff on hand other than a coach which leaves athletes to tape their own ankles, and give themselves a back massage. Is that even possible? Although technically one of them belongs to the football (soccer) team, and the other works for another club entirely, we are still lucky enough to have access to them two mornings a week. We walked into the room and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I told him about the pain in my feet and he immediately began working on my calves, and I mean working. No less than 5 minutes in he was sweating the same amount I would sweat during a practice, and I thought oh no, what have I done. I’ve never had a massage that painful before. Digging into all the little muscles way down deep that I didn’t even know I had. the worst didn’t even come until I turned over and he moved his focus to my shins. Ok so I knew there were muscles there, but I had never really entertained the idea of having a shin massage. I literally couldn’t breathe, and I didn’t even know those muscles were tight! In order to take some of my focus off the pain, I decided to try and make some conversation. I asked where they were from, and I learned that they were both from Bulgaria, had come to Cyprus seperately, and met here because they had the same job. I always am so curious as to why people who aren’t from Cyprus ended up here. I feel as though I’ve met more people that aren’t from here than are. So I asked, what brought you to Cyprus? and the one many responded, I’m on holiday here. Oh. Well that makes sense because a lot of people come here for that, but who works while they’re on vacation? Ok so, “how long have you been on holiday in Cyprus?”… “10 years.” Haha. My mind was definitely taken off of the pain, and I so appreciated the chance to laugh in that moment. When I got off the table I felt like I might not be able to walk for days, and I was expecting there to be two large bruises running down the outside of my shins. He said, “you might have pain tomorrow, I make strong masage.” The next week was the same thing, but the other guy.  I was probably being a little bit dramatic because I could walk, and the bruises never showed up. In the end even though those massages hurt like a you-know-what, they definitely did my body good.

Side-Note: Photo intermission.

People in Cyprus do what they want. Particularly in terms of driving, more-so in term of parking…
Case And Point:

IMG_0019 This is normal.

Cyprus knows what’s up, they’ve already got their tree in the town center

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This is the restaurant that I am lucky enough to eat at every day

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restaurant on the beach

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beach photo: don’t be fooled, you have to pay if you wanna sit on a chair,
and an umbrella’s gonna cost you extra.

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I haven’t had the chance to try a honey puff yet, but when I do I’ll get them from here.
They’re not sure but they think they’re “probably the best in Cyprus”

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Little taste of the team:

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I have been trying to figure out whether or not the infamous ‘Movember’ is something that exists here. Mostly I can’t tell because a lot of people here have a mustache (and only a mustache) all the time. I know that for a lot of you significant others out there, november is a month of uncomfortable kisses and embarrassing looking husbands/boyfriends. So I make the request on behalf of all of those women who have to be seen with you in public, if you’re gonna ‘grow your mo’, at least try to raise a little bit of money for the cause? (Unless your Brett Taylor because your mustache is sweet and you should keep it all year…sorry Christina)

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The weather is starting to shift. What used to feel like summer now feels like a mild and perfect fall. In Cyprus this season is called winter. The clouds are starting to roll in and oddly enough I really love that. Don’t get me wrong I have really enjoyed the sunshine, but something about grey skies just makes me feel at home. The farming season here is different than home, and the little I know about the lifestyle of a Cyprus farmer is something that I really admire. The dry season is supposed to end any day now. The farmers have already done the work, they’ve plowed the fields full of dust (the same dust that gets all over my room when I leave the window open, and all over my computer when I sit outside), and now they wait. The amount of faith that it takes to wait for the rains to come and give life to the seeds you have planted, after not seeing a drop from the sky for 7 months is something unimaginableto someone who comes from a place where one month rain-free is record-breaking, and here it rains less than 60 days a year.

Living in Cyprus, I am blessed with the rare and unique gift of enough time. This past year I read the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. Her writing -although sometimes difficult to interpret- is beautiful and poetic, and I learned so much about finding ways to give thanks amidst every situation life brings your way. Here is what she had to say about time (not directly quoted):

I know you, those seeking eyes. You’re the one in dire need of time,
that thing we can’t buy, what we sell of ourselves to get more of what we think we want,
what we sacrifice to seemingly gain. They say time is money, but that’s not true.
Time is life, I need to find the fullest time.

Biggest regret?
Being in a hurry, getting to the next thing without fully entering the thing in front of me,
I cannot think of a single advantage I’ve ever gained from being in a hurry.
But a thousand broken and missed things, tens of thousands lie in the wake of rushing.
Through all that haste I thought I was making up time.

Turns out I was throwing it away.

I know that I’ve talked about this before but it is becoming clear to me that learning this lesson has a lot to do with why God chose Cyprus for me. I read these words and my heart can’t help but break a little bit as I think back to all of the moments in my life where I wish I had more time, or when I wish I had been more present and just enjoyed what was around me, instead of building my relationship with my phone. And how the not having enough time then translated into rushrushrush. Rushing is something I am good at; I’ve been doing it my whole life. From leaving school early to get to a voice lesson, to showing up late to piano lessons because I couldn’t drag myself out of volleyball in the middle of a drill; and the list goes on and on rushing from one thing to another. Watching the clock, always keeping track of the time. Don’t be late for what comes next, but pack the day full so you don’t miss out. But in all the rushing you miss out on everything, never able to fully invest in what you are doing now. This habit is so hard to break and it hit me yesterday when I realized that I was worried about getting this post done. So far I’ve posted once a week, sunday or monday, and this one was ‘late’. So I was trying to rush rush rush to get it finished and online, and perfectly enough, I lost half of the post with one click of a mouse – because “through all that haste I thought I was making up time. Turns out I was throwing it all away.” Funny how God works, teaching me to slow down, by making me do it over, teaching me to be patient by putting me in a frustrating situation. But then I remembered, this is my blog. It’s ok if a post is late, because late doesn’t really exists when you’re running on your own time.

With all of that in mind, thinking about all of that mess that comes with not having enough time, what an awesome feeling it is to feel like I finally have enough. Because I understand that this is an opportunity I may never come across again, I came here with the intention of taking full advantage. Being out here is teaching me so much, and I wish you all could see it. Life is finally moving slowly enough for me to feel free enough to lend my eyes to Jesus and have them opened to all that is around me. And what I see is God in more places than I have ever experienced before. The hard days have dwindled into hard moments only every few days. I really am starting to love -yes, love– life here in Cyprus. The home-sick moments -when they do manage to come around- usually surface in the middle of my day, when everyone at home is sleeping. I stumbled across another song this week that I have heard a thousand times before, but somehow continuously neglected to let the lyrics get past my ears and into my thoughts. CS Lewis Song by Brooke Fraser… “If I find in myself, a desire nothing in this world can satisfy, I can only conclude that I was not made for here.” I didn’t think too much of it at the time, other than the fact that I had never really heard the song past the melody before then, and how that line really related to how I was feeling about being here. Later that day I listened to a sermon by Tim Keller in an attempt to remedy my home-sick heart titled, ‘The longing for home’ (cliché I know). In the sermon he outlined how this world is not meant to be our home forever, and until we realize and accept that heaven is the home we are really looking for, we will spend our entire lives chasing will-o’ the wisp, a comfort that we will never find. I started listening to the sermon thinking that I would find an answer for how to feel less longing for Canada and more content in Cyprus, but what I got instead was a whole other can of worms opened in my hands. Never had it crossed my mind that the only way to really cure the home-sick feeling was to build my home in Jesus. I thought the only answer was ‘I’ll keep feeling homesick until I’m home.’ Near the end he said, your relationship to God is the only thing that can truly be home to you, and as long as you keep searching for something else, your life will feel like you’re always traveling, never arriving; always winter, and never a Christmas. You know how awful traveling can be; never feeling settled, consistently uncomfortable, and how amazing it feels when you finally get to where you’re going. And what a sad thought it is to have to endure an entire winter (maybe not a Cyprus winter but for sure a Canadian one) and never experience the joy of the Christmas season; cold weather and no christmas lights. So I had my answer. In the middle of the day (while all at home are asleep), when I would usually make a phone call to seek out comfort in a familiar voice, I now have no choice but to turn to Jesus. I am so thankful for the lack of choice I have in the matter, because I would almost always choose the easy way, almost always choose the quick-fix. Instead I am learning how to press into Jesus when I am feeling lonely. I’m learning how to find comfort in Him always. There is still so much I don’t know, but that fact itself is exciting because I have been amazed at all I have learned so far and as I continue my life away from home, the lessons will only keep coming.

Little hands

Another week down (27 to go) and this one went by fast.

Ok so we need to talk about the weather. We are heading into the last week of October, and I spent the last day and a half on the beach and in the water. Every day ranges from about a low of 16 and high of 27. The sun is always shining and clouds are a pretty hard thing to come by. I guess that’s the product of that they call a ‘dry season’. I’m not telling you this to rub it in, but more so you can understand what’s coming next. It’s extremely easy to pick out the vacationers/tourists in comparison to the locals. All of the foreigners are still on the beaches, and the locals are walking around in jeans and sweaters like it’s cold out. I’m not exaggerating, literally, long pants, long sleeve shirts, in +27. The locals won’t touch the beach. It’s pretty funny to me because I keep explaining that this really is like a Canadian summer. On a good day at home we make our way into the 30’s, and they all laugh and can’t even comprehend what it would be like to spend a day in sub-zero temperatures let alone ‘minus fordy’. Every time I say how cold it gets in the winter, jaw drops, eyes open wide, and the expression “I would die”, or something like it comes out of the mouth. I quite enjoy it.

One thing, I realized, that I have neglected to talk about thus far is ironically the only reason I am here in Cyprus on this 7 month journey. The Volleyball. Part of me feels like that is because I know I am here for so much more than to just play volleyball; I’m doing my best to pay attention to what those other things are. At the same time I’ve just been trying to get a grip on how the team works, what makes it tick, and allow it to unfold a bit more before I passed my biased view onto all of you readers at home. To put it in a few words, I couldn’t have asked to be a part of a better group of girls. When I first arrived I was surprised at how young the team was. The average age of our team is a precise 20.9 years old, ranging from 15 to 33-ish… When I arrived, everyone was warm and friendly right away. I had heard some horror stories of girls that went to go play pro and had to deal with some pretty unpleasant teammates, and right away my heart was relieved that I wouldn’t have to deal with any of that. The sports over here work a little bit differently than they do at home. The professional teams here are more-or-less equivalent to our University teams at home. They do have university sports, but the level isn’t very high, because most of the athletes opt to play for the pro teams; that way they make a little bit of money. Most of the local girls on my team are full time students either in high school or university, and then much like at home, spend their evenings at practice and then home to hit the books. Two of the girls on our team have graciously stepped into playing a new position this year to fill the teams need for middles. Now, if you know volleyball, you will understand that middle is a difficult position to play. There is a lot to think about. You have to make decisions quickly, and react even faster. As you can imagine, at time this can be frustrating for both Pola and Nicoletta who had to go from being comfortable and feeling confident in their abilities in their previous positions, to starting at ground zero and having to re-learn the game completely. It has been so awesome for me to see them improve and get more comfortable every day. As a setter, my connection with my middles is something that is important to me. We work closely together and the timing of their approach and my set is important. We both need to know that the other is doing at every given moment, so it has given me an awesome excuse to get to know these two girls better.

The other girl that has been thrown into the fire as a starter for us is Mary. She is a fearless 16 year old outside hitter who has to be at school every morning for a 7:30am, drives 45 minutes to and from practice, and does her homework in the car. All of that while still being able to maintain an average grade that puts her somewhere in the top 6 of her class. I don’t know how she does it. She has been patient with me as I have been learning how to set her (along with all the other players).

Every year before the league games start there is a match called the supercup; the winner of the league championship vs. the cup winner from the previous year. Our first match was on Tuesday, we played the winner of the supercup; the no.1 ranked team (Apollo, I think). Last year our team finished 4th so we were ready for a good game. We came out strong in the first set, leading 8-2. We ended up losing the first set by a close two points; 25-23. The second se we were behind and we came back to win it 27-25. In the end, they were just a bit more experienced than we were and it showed. We ended up losing the net two sets and in turn, losing the match 4 games to 1.

Even though we lost the game, it is still a contender for the one of the ‘funnest’ matches I’ve ever played in. The team had been together as a whole for a total of two weeks before we played. The way that the group was able to come together and pull out a team effort the way we did on tuesday night was something we could all be proud of. I watch these girls in practice -partiularly the three mentioned above, but the other girls on the team also- and I see them put so much pressure on themselves to perform (at times maybe too much), I see the frustration that hits when things don’t go the way they ‘should’, and the small victories that come in process of learning and improving. Playing beside these girls on the court, and seeing them succeed; seeing the excitement, the relief in their eyes, and the pride that comes with ‘getting it right’, scoring the point, or getting the block, is something that has brought me so much joy. I’ve only known them for a short time, and already my heart has so much love for all of them. I couldn’t be more proud of the heart that everyone showed, and the impression that we left as we left the gym on Tuesday night. We made some noise on Tuesday night. We did it together, and people know that we’re not looking for another 4th place finish this season.

During my ride from the airport to my new apartment at 5:30am when I first arrived, my coach informed me that him and his wife had an open door policy; “come whenever you’d like.” They had a spare bedroom, and room enough for three extra beds in their home, along with three young girls that loved getting to know the foreign players. A few e mails back and forth with his wife, it was arranged that I would go and spend the next two nights at their house on Tuesday after the game, because Wednesday was a day off. We didn’t get home until after midnight so it was straight to bed and a sleep-in the next morning. I woke up to a quiet house with a ten-month-old just down for her nap. The sun is always shining in Cyprus and it felt so good to be in a home.

Kendra and I started the cookie-making-process and got the dough in the fridge to chill before we picked up the two girls from school. They knew I was coming but they had only met me once before so they were a little apprehensive at first to show excitement of seeing the stranger with their mom. But I bet you already guessed that it disappeared as soon as the dough rolled out of the fridge and the cookie cutters were placed on the table.  The joy of little hands that aren’t quite strong enough to push the cutter through the dough, but don’t need any help. The antsy fingers that want to squish the star that’s already been perfectly cut. The wide eyes that only want to use the ghost cookie cutter because it’s the biggest. All of these things were exactly what I needed to take the edge off of my heart that often wonders about what I left at home. To be reminded that in a child’s world, there is no ‘should-be’, there is only what is. Right now. And that it’s ok if your star only has 4 points because you wanted to eat the fifth before it had the chance to become a real cookie. And it’s ok if part of your circle cutter falls off the edge of your dough, because then, it’s the moon instead. There is so much to be learned about enjoying the moment you are currently in. Something that I seriously struggle with at home, always distracted, always thinking about what comes next on the list of ‘today’. Being without a cell phone is helping me to do exactly that. Having the better part of my day take place while you are all asleep and unavailable is helping me to do that.

I saw those same three little girls at church this morning and what a difference a day and a half makes. The apprehension was gone and I was welcomed with one little smile waiting anxiously for me outside the doors saying ‘mom!, look!, there she is!”, the other standing on a chair inside with arms stretched high in hopes of a little bear hug. Finally I came to learn that the smallest had taken her first steps the night before and she was as smiley as could be. There is something so great, so healing, that comes with hugs from little arms. So thankful to have somewhere to go that allows me to feel the love of family, even if it’s not my own.

On Thursday it was my roommates birthday. I had been playing games with kids and so concentrated on making cookies that I completely dropped the ball and forgot all about it. I know I know, worst roommate ever. Luckily for me, the custom on your birthday is that YOU bring treats for everyone else. What? How does that make sense? I feel like a birthday is the day where people are supposed to make you feel special, but instead you’re spending money buying sweets for your friends, or baking something sweet. In any case, I was thankful for the tradition because even thought I forgot, I still got to eat the cake!

Happy birthday to my Mom this week. You have spent a lifetime of sharing your birthday with trick-or-treating and handing out candy to other kids on your birthday. With Tanner and Maddie still being young, and the number of grandchildren only increasing… it looks like you’ll be doing it for a while longer. Maybe one day you’ll get a birthday that really is all about you. Love you lots, hopefully I’ll be able to spend your birthday with you sometime soon.

Auntie Liesel I bet you’ve felt the same way, but I hope that you have a great birthday too!

I thought it would be fun to play a little game. This blog gives me the opportunity to share my life and what’s happening in it with all of you, but it’s starting to feel a little bit one-sided, and I don’t want to be the only one putting effort into this relationship 😉
I would LOVE to hear about what’s going on in your life. So, if you send me a letter, I’ll send you something from Cyprus 🙂
7 Kilkis street
P.O. Box 40060
6015-Larnaca
Cyprus
(This is not my home address, but I will get any mail you send here)