The City on Fire

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I’m taking a break from my vacation posts to fill everyone in on some serious happenings in my neck of the woods.  From what I understand from my compadres at home, Bosnia is not leading the six o’clock news each night.  Shocker.  You see, Bosnia is sort of the red headed stepchild of Europe.  So much so that for some time, even many Bosnians have seen themselves that way.  Call it a self fulfilling prophecy.  And as with all such prophecies, people eventually roll over and become that forever, or they rise up and demand more.  I think we are on the cusp of the Bosnian people making that crucial decision.

I am by no means a scholar of the Balkans, the former Yugoslavia or even the Siege.  What I am a scholar of is the people around me.  I love to hear their stories and know their hearts.  That is why Bosnia has become so personal to me.  And that is why when buildings started burning, I got very concerned.  Probably not in the way you might expect.  I have never lived in fear of my life or the lives of my children.  I have lived a charmed life and am very aware of it.  The majority of the world cannot say the same.  I also serve a powerful and awesome God.  I trust Him.  Full stop.  So, I know that as buildings start falling, I have an exit plan.  But not all the people I have come to like, love, respect, admire and cherish do.  So burning buildings in my backyard get my attention.

Depending on which articles you read, Bosnia has an unemployment rate of anywhere between 25% and 50%.  For the record, it’s much closer to 50%.  And that doesn’t include the “underemployed.”  You know, the pharmacist who cleans houses or the engineer who drives a taxi.  So, people are hungry- literally and figuratively.  This is also the single most overgoverned country in the world, that still uses a peace treaty from twenty years ago like it’s a permanent constitution.  And said government is also one of the most corrupt in Europe, if not the world.

Not too far from Sarajevo, is a town called Tuzla.  It is the industrial heart of Bosnia, at one time boasting many factories.  At the beginning of the month, another one of those factories was privatized and closed down, leaving hundreds of workers now unemployed.  They’d finally had enough, and government buildings were stormed and set on fire.  The unrest didn’t stay confined to Tuzla, but bled into Sarajevo, Mostar and Banja Luka.  In the blink of an eye, my city was on fire.  Traffic getting in and out of the city center was abysmal.  Schools closed early, and we were all told to stay home.  When the smoke cleared, this is what we saw.  (photo credits to my lovely husband who went down the next morning to scope out the damage)

Tram stop

Tram stop

Government building

Government building

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Strangely, this was the last of the burning in Sarajevo so far.  I say strange because usually protests of this nature begin peacefully and grow into violence.  Thus far, this has been the opposite.  Don’t get me wrong, there have been protests almost everyday since these pictures were taken.  But they have been peaceful as this group is getting organized and determining what they are actually fighting for.  It is my hope that they do organize and demand more.  That they demand their government serve the people of Bosnia, regardless of what “ethnicity” the leaders want them to attach themselves to.  That they demand a safe country, with jobs, stability and a future.  And more than anything, I hope this momentum continues and the everyday Bosnians that I have come to like, love, respect, admire and cherish will create a new prophecy for themselves.  One that is prosperous and honorable.  One that they can be proud of, free of fear and corruption.  Peace, prosperity and love.

 

 

 

Tell Me I’m Normal

I woke up Sunday morning in a funk.  Like baby blues… only 14 months after giving birth.  I drug myself around all day, annoyed with everything.  Tired of it all.  Ready to throw in the towel, but for no real reason I could pinpoint.  There had been no big fight with the hubs.  My kids were their typical, *ahem* charming selves.  We had just come off of two weeks of fall break, which culminated a neighborhood Halloween party that would rival any small town’s Baptist church fall festival.  So, what was the deal?

Monday night, as we were watching the replay of Sunday’s Colts vs. Texans game, it hit me.  We are in full-on Fall mode.  It is almost Thanksgiving.  The holidays are upon us.  (I’m not sure what about that game struck a chord.  Maybe it’s because J.J. Watt‘s athletic prowess is as magical and unexplainable as Santa.)  Regardless, as subtle as a dump truck, the realization that it is my favorite time of the year smacked me in my gut.  It wasn’t so much that it is the end of Fall that sent me in a downward spiral of moodiness.  It was that it is the end of Fall, and I am living far from family, friends, church, American culture, Christmas, the list goes on and on.  It’s all going on right now, without me.  I am missing it all.

I know I am supposed to relish in this experience 100% of the time.  I am constantly harping on my boys to recognize that they are seeing and experiencing things that most people never even dream of.  But every once in awhile, with all the maturity of a two year old, I want to throw myself on the floor, pound my fists and cry.  And worst of all, not only am I trying to catch my breath in this self-made pit of despair, I feel guilty for feeling it.  For those of you that don’t struggle with guilt and worry on a daily basis, let me let you in on a secret… it sucks.  I have all the emotions of a “normal” person, and then I have extra emotions because I hyper-analyze why I feel that way, and then feel bad for it.  I know.  I need therapy.  But, for the record, it’s in my genes.  Ask anyone in my family.  They can vouch for my kind of crazy.

So, fast forward to today.  I had a sweet chat with one of my favorite people here.  We have this weird habit of walking each other to the door as we leave the other’s home, and then standing there for the next hour talking.  I’m not sure why we don’t just sit down and save ourselves the back ache.  But, I digress.  As we stood in my threshold talking, our conversation headed towards our neurotic shopping right now, as we fear the unknown that is the diplomatic pouch mail service.  Fearing our children will not get Christmas gifts in time for St. Nick (insert writhing and gnashing of teeth here), we spend hours on amazon, feeding our neurosis.  One thing led to another, and before you knew it, we were both teary eyed talking about how sad we were lately.  How we missed our families.  How this time of year makes us feel even further than the thousands of miles that separated us from all that is familiar.  And then my friend said something that resonated with me.  She said that she felt like we all just wanted someone else to say they felt this same way too.  That she wasn’t the only one finding it hard to see the joy in the days right now.  Standing there, with a tingling nose and wet eyes, I felt normal.  I didn’t feel so isolated and lonely.  

So, let me put it out there, to those of you who live a life like mine:  You are normal.  You are normal if you find yourself missing those stupid Christmas commercials that start on November 1st.  You are normal if you are angry because you can’t just pick up a phone and call your mom to say hi, because it’d cost $10/minute and it’s 3am her time.  You are normal if you obsess over the pictures of your friends at a particular 10 day salute to sausage that marks the beginning of the holiday season to you.  You are normal if you resent the fact that you are having to “browse” online stores trying to find something your kids will love for Christmas, knowing that you really have no clue, since they haven’t seen a commercial in months and don’t ever go to stores.  You are normal if your eyes fill up with tears every time you imagine what your BFF is doing right now, without you.  You are normal.  

And if I’m wrong, and you aren’t normal, then at least you know you aren’t alone.  And sometimes, that’s half the battle.  

Open Letter to the World

Now that I’m a seasoned blogger with eight whole posts under my belt (insert sarcasm font here), I thought it was time to enter into a writing contest.  Seems like a natural progression, right?  I really don’t care too much about the competitive side of this exercise, but instead was excited about the challenge of writing an Open Letter to the World.

Dear World-

Remember that time that I promised that I’d be one of The Ones?  You know, The Ones that would make a difference?  The Ones that leave a mark?  The Ones that make you, The World, better?  You know me: the best of intentions, but the shortest of attentions.

But my family has changed.  I have three kids now.  Each one beautiful and quirky in his and her own ways.  They have dreams that need to be fostered.  They have talents that need to be cultivated.  They have spirits that need direction.

Times have changed.  We no longer live in a world where being a good citizen, showing respect, and loving God is enough.  You World, need more intentionality than that.  Being a passively good person won’t cut it anymore.  You require more of me than you used to.

I have changed.  No longer is the young woman who could plead youth and ignorance.  She has been replaced by a woman with experience IN you, World, and, ashamedly, OF you.  I have seen poverty while living in India that made it hard to breathe.  A burden of mourning and sadness fill the streets of Sarajevo.  Two cities with two vastly different histories, people, cultures, and yet both have left scars on my heart that can no longer be hidden.  And those are just two of your cities, World.  Two.  My conclusion:  I know better, so I must be better.

I hear you calling me, World.  I can no longer sit idly by as you plead for me, and others just like me; those of us with first world problems will no longer use our voices for complaints, but rather action.  Am I likely to be an ambassador for human rights that is interviewed by the likes of Anderson Cooper?  Probably not.  Will a building be named after me for bringing awareness to a cause that changed the world?  I doubt it.  So what can I do, World?

On the surface, I don’t have much to offer.  I’m not rich.  My skills and talents might bring me joy, but aren’t worth a lot on paper.  My greatest achievements are peacefully sleeping upstairs as I write this letter to you.  But they are just babies.  New to you.  They are just blank slates, without prejudice, bias, or experiences.  They are blank slates.  Blank.  Slates.

I offer to you my children.  I resolve to raise children who are not so busy living IN you that they forget that they are part OF you.  I won’t toughen them up so they can withstand the storms of life.  I will teach them, no show them, that they can have spirits that calm storms.  I will make it my life’s mission to show them that they ARE ambassadors of goodwill, not only worthy of being interviewed by Anderson Cooper, but worthy of being called sons and daughters of a loving, living God.  I will give them life altering experiences and force them out of their comfort zones.  Show them simultaneously the utter despair of abject poverty and the brilliance of selfless love.  I will allow them to struggle so they value effort.  I will love them unconditionally, so they will always know the feeling and can mirror it to others.  I won’t allow them the excuse of not knowing better.

They are yours.  But know this, World.  I am not me without them.  So if you want them, you’ve got me too.  And I’m not me, without my God.  That’s right, you get Him too.  One big, happy family.  See you at the reunion

East Foundation Reception Desk-2003

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East Foundation Reception Desk-1993

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A Walk to Remember

I think everyone should play the tourist in their own town.  So often, we get wrapped up in “living” that we forget about “experiencing.”  It’s normal.  I do it all the time (and of course, I’m super normal, so you should feel better about yourself!).  I do spend a lot of time walking and driving around with my camera, but I have so many questions about what I am seeing through my lens as I do.  Every city has a story.  Sarajevo has a Greek tragedy, Shakespearean sonnet and redemption of Biblical proportions all wrapped up in one.

In order to spend a little time experiencing our new city, we did what all awesomely attentive parents who want their children to have a well-rounded view of the world would do… we got a babysitter.  Then, we played the tourist, and went on a walking tour of Sarajevo.  It was a little less than two hours, on a dreary Saturday afternoon.  We met our tour guide, Aaron, near the Museum of Sarajevo, a museum set up on the corner where Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated.  Remember them?  Their deaths were just a little thing that started WWI?  Yeah.  That happened in Sarajevo.

I learned a lot of fascinating things on our tour, but as Brady can attest to, I have only 25% of the memory I had on February 19, 2006, the day before Tristan was born.  The miracle of life is wonderful and all.  Blah blah blah.  But it sucks your brain dry.  Next time I will bring a journal to write all the interesting facts down.  For now, you’ll have to settle for the MOST interesting things that decided to linger in my mind.  And please excuse me if I jump around a bit.  It’s just the way my brain works.

One of the first places we went to was the oldest mosque in Sarajevo.  We didn’t actually go into the mosque itself, but we did walk around the grounds a bit.  Part of living in Bosnia means  you have to get used to seeing cemeteries everywhere.  There are small ones around every mosque in the city.  There are also cemeteries or small clusters of grave stones throughout the city, in the middle of parks, next to restaurants, and in back yards.  This mosque had a very old cemetery on its grounds.  I learned some important facts about how Muslims are buried (or at least Muslims in Sarajevo.)  There are two grave markers for each deceased person.  One is at the head, the other is at the feet.  You can tell a man’s grave from a woman’s based on the adornment of the headstone.  The men have a “turban” top on their stones.  The women’s are much plainer.  The body is also always pointed toward Mecca.

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The front grave is a woman’s. The back is a man’s. These are several hundred year old markers.

There was a beautiful courtyard inside the gates of the mosque.  You can see signs of age and war throughout that gives it such amazing character.

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Like I said earlier, it was a yucky, dreary day.  Thankfully, the rain held off for us (mostly).

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So this is the National Library

walking tour-0915-2Besides having a very distinctive look, this building has a long history.  The original building was built well over 100 years ago.  At the time of its construction, there were homes where the city wanted to put the building.  There was no eminent domain, but they did pay everyone for their land.  All but one homeowner agreed to take the money and build somewhere else.  So, this particular person held out for a really long time (not sure how long… remember, I’m only firing at 25% anymore).  Eventually, he was willing to take the money, but under his conditions.  First, he wanted to stay on the river.  The city said, no problem.  Next, he wanted his house to look the same.  The city said, ok.  Oh, and did he mention, he wanted his home moved piece by piece to that new location?  Oh yeah, that too.  So, in order to get this prime real estate, the city agreed and moved his home to the other side of the river.  It is called Inat Kuca, which translates literally into “House of Spite.”  I think that says it all.

Inat Kuca is now a restaurant.

Inat Kuca is now a restaurant.

You may have noticed that I stated earlier that the library’s “original building” was built over 100 years ago.  One of the saddest casualties of any war is when priceless artifacts are lost.  The Siege of Sarajevo devastated this library.  As in, destroyed almost everything in it.  In 1992, the library burnt to the ground, with over 155,000 rare books and manuscripts, amongst many other things.  Only a very few artifacts survived.  But just like the phoenix, out of the ashes something beautiful is reborn. Or shall I say, is in labor for a long while.  When you have the most over-governed country in the world, nothing happens on time.  Proof in point, this library was slated to open over a year ago.  It’s still not open.

We also saw the only clock in Europe (maybe the world, but honestly, I can’t remember that detail) that is set on Islamic time.  If you aren’t familiar, the Islamic calendar is a lunar one, not the Gregorian one that we are all used to.  That’s why Ramadan is at a different time during the year every year.  That also means that even the time of day changes based on the moon.  There is a family that is responsible for changing this clock every day so it is timed appropriately to the Islamic calendar.  Living here, you get used to hearing the call to prayer five times a day, but I never really paid attention to when during the day it happens.  I suppose I could check this clock out to see when it will happen, but since I still have to subtract 12 in my head every time someone gives me the time after noon, I think it’s a lost cause!

 

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So here’s a funny little tidbit… There were several Americans on this tour with us.  Aaron, the tour guide took us by a building and asked us what it meant to us.  Here it is:

 

 

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Of course, I jumped right to Rod Blagojevic, the former mayor of Chicago (and not just because he was on the Celebrity Apprentice).  We then had a short discussion on the corruption that took place.  Aaron told us how the Blagojevic name is synonymous with corruption in Sarajevo as well.  I’m not sure how true that is, because we were clearly getting a one-sided view of the Sarajevo based on Aaron’s views, but it was an interesting tidbit nonetheless.

By far the coolest story we heard was happened during WWII.  Sarajevo is called “Little Jerusalem” for a reason.  For a very long time, Muslims, Jews and Christians lived in peace together here.  During WWII, Hitler was very interested in destroying any and all books/artifacts that were Jewish, amongst other things.  One of the oldest Haggadahs in existence is known as the Sarajevo Haggadah.  The Haggadah is the text that is used in the Passover Seder.  Originally, it was housed in the City Museum.  When Hitler sent his men to retrieve it, the librarian smuggled it out of the city and asked his friend, a Muslim cleric, to hold onto it in his Mosque in Treskavica.  This fourteenth-century Jewish script was kept safe in a Islamic house of worship.  This is a prime example of what I mean when I say the majority of Bosnians are amazing people.

Throughout our walk there were constant reminders of the Siege of Sarajevo.  Like, shelled out buildings.walking tour-0939-2 walking tour-0940-2

And the Sarajevo Rose.

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But perhaps the most poignant reminder are the people.  The ones that struggle every day.  The ones who have had to cope with loss, death and violence in an unimaginable way.  A whole city country with PTSD.  We saw this man at the Eternal Flame, staying warm in the drizzly weather.  He was clearly very drunk.  But to me, he appeared a sad man with a wounded soul.  Every person has a story here.  Some are beautiful stories of redemption and rebirth.  But many are darker stories of loneliness, sadness and despair.  I suspect this man hasn’t found his happy ending yet.  I pray if not for happiness, at least he may find peace.

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The Glorification of Busy

One year can make a huge difference.  This time last year, I was five months pregnant.  We lived on an acre and a half in New Braunfels, Texas, a place Brady and I have come to call “our Eden.”  Tristan was finishing up Kindergarten in the best school in the county, surrounded by his closest friends, playing soccer on the weekends and deeply involved in our church.  Wyatt was going part time to the kind of preschool that I know with 100% confidence was hand-picked and gifted to us by God.  (We miss you terribly, Ms. Kerry!!)

But life wasn’t all it seemed to be.  I have to remind myself of this  point when I get too homesick.

Besides all these beautiful things about our lives, on the inside, we were gasping for air.  Brady worked and traveled constantly.  He had an hour and a half commute each way!  I was knee deep in being the managing owner of a successful small business.  A small business that kept me from my family on EVERY major holiday for the previous five years.  My phone rang constantly, never really allowing for my kids to get my undivided attention.  And I was TIRED!  I didn’t want anyone to miss out on anything, so every night was full of activities.  That meant that I dropped everyone off at school in the morning, worked all day, and the raced home to pick them up, feed them a healthy meal (from the frozen section of HEB of course!) and get us where we needed to be.  That usually entailed a panicked call to my mom who was in all essence the boys’ primary care giver, and absolutely my life saver, telling her how they needed to be dressed, what to have collected and ready to go (and where it might be located in our chaotic house).   On a few occasions, Tristan had a special lunch or party at school at an odd time of day.  So, I’d go to work for an hour.  Drive 30 minutes back to New Braunfels for the event, stay 30 minutes, and then drive 30 minutes back.  I was sure if I didn’t, Tristan would never forgive me.  Afterall, in my mind, all the other kids had stay-at-home moms who made it not only to the class parties and field trips, but helped make copies for the teachers and performed major surgery in the break room in their spare time.

Fast forward to now.  Now, I live in a world where I have someone who comes and watches the baby three mornings a week.  The boys are both in school full time.  Brady’s commute is a solid ten minutes.  I no longer work outside of the home.  We either go to church on Sunday only, or watch last week’s Oakwood sermon streamed from home.  Tristan has French tutoring once a week, and we are trying to get both boys into football (soccer).  Other than that, we lead a much slower paced life. And you know what?  We are happier.  We have dinner with friends at least once a week, if not more.  The boys have play dates.  I have gone to get my hair done and grocery shopped without any kids.  I even got a mani/pedi on a Saturday afternoon (albeit with a baby on my lap!)  Here’s my point: When we stopped running around being busy, we started spending our time more wisely.  We have time for that game of Memory with the boys.  Feeding Lyla is not the chore it was with Wyatt.  I love to see the faces she makes as she tries new foods; the independence she is acquiring as she learns to feed herself.  Brady and I have gone on more dates since we arrived in Bosnia than we did the entire previous year.  And our kids aren’t being raised by day care, or our nanny.  We are just not as busy.

When I first came to the realization that I was no longer busy, I felt guilty.  I felt like I wasn’t doing enough.  My friends work harder than me.  I need to get a job so I have more worth.  It became apparent to me that busyness had become my crown of thorns that I wore like a badge of honor.  Let me say that again, I was miserable, and I wanted extra credit for it.  Sick, right?  Until I really thought about it and came to the conclusion that our American culture glorifies busyness, and I had fallen right into the trap.  If you aren’t constantly on the go, then you are lazy.  And lazy adults breed lazy kids, so be sure to keep them as busy as you.  I remember one time posting on Facebook something about a book I had read, and the first response was from someone loathing how they wished they had time to read.  Really?  We have the same 24 hours.  And I was really busy at that time.  So, what was the logical response?  To question why I had so much free time to read and how could I be spending that time in other “more productive ways,” of course.  I hate to repeat myself, but Really??  

I know my life is unique in a lot of ways.  I have the ability to not work anymore.  I have someone who can come and love on my kids so I can go workout or get some much needed quality time with the hubs.  Not everyone has that.  And when we move back to the states, I likely won’t have it either.  But, what I hope to have is a perspective on what’s important.  I hope to have the ability to say “NO” to things so I won’t be so busy.  And the confidence to be ok with watching everyone around me scuttle about trying to keep all their ducks in a row, while I sit and sip on a cup of coffee and read my book.  Because in reality, this is the only life we get.  I’d hate to look back on it in 50 years and see how much I truly missed when I was trying to do it all.

I don't want to miss a moment of this.

I don’t want to miss a moment of this.