Today is the first of December.

If you checked Google today, as so many of us do, then you would have seen the picture of people dancing representing the National Day of Romania!  It is a day to celebrate the unification of Romania, which used to be divided in separate and distinct regions.  I celebrated by going to the parade here in Bucharest, the capital city.  Praise God for a bright and sunny day!!  A perfect day for a parade.  It was like the Santa Claus parade except that instead of floats with giant gingerbread men and dancing clowns, there were large tanks and soldiers and helicopters and horses.  And while I didn’t see Santa, who’s to say he wasn’t hiding in one of the tanks.  I had so much fun seeing the soldiers and other military men and women marching while fathers hoisted their children up onto their shoulders to see the exciting sites go by.  The more daring children climbed surrounding trees and sat on branches for a better view.  It was like the scene from “The Sound of Music” when they go on their first big adventure with Maria.  We cheered when the horses came, and children oooed and ahhhed at the helicopters and jets zooming over us.  And the best part was at the end, after the parade finished when all the children climbed up onto the parked tanks to take pictures with the soldiers.  I did a little climbing myself, haha.

The first of December also marks another event.  It is the first day of the last month for my time here in Romania.  27 days more.  27 days to live and enjoy and serve.

It has been an amazing past month!  I am thoroughly enjoying my time at the orphanage.  One of my favourite things to do at the orphanage is take Alin on an afternoon walk around the centre.  Alin is 14 years old, but about the size of a 9 or 10 year old.  I am not entirely sure about his story, but I know that he has spent almost his entire life in orphanages, and only learned to walk a few years ago.  He doesn’t speak, but he isn’t shy about expressing what he wants with screams, and grunts, and pulling of arms.  At first it was really hard to understand what he wanted, but now after getting to know him more and showing him that I care and want to know what he is trying to communicate, I am amazed at how smart and aware he is of what is going on around him.  The best part about working with him is hearing his laugh.  He is so sweet and so adorable, and he makes me laugh.  When we can’t find any trucks or work being done around the centre to capture his attention, I try to find other things to make him smile.  Recently, we started playing a game.  It’s simple.  I pick up leaves and throw them into the air and we watch them fall.  He loves it!!  We take turns picking up leaves and throwing them.  It often lasts for ten minutes, or until my hands get too cold.  It’s been amazing to see the growth in him over the last two months.  Seeing him learn to eat on his own, put away his own hat, scarf, and jacket after our walks, and walk more often, rather than crawl.  And did I mention he can dance : )

Looking back at my first day at the orphanage, and the shock I felt seeing the children with so many different disabilities, I can see how God has been softening my heart more and more each day towards these children.  I love the way love grows in us.  Spending time with this group of children each day, seeing their personalities come out, watching as Ana sneaks cookies from the yellow drawer beside the sink, spoon-feeding Adi his lunch making sure to put the meat at the front of the spoon to ensure he lets it in, it has been amazing! Just the other day, at snack time we were eating chocolate pudding.  Alin was eating on his own, but with only a few spoonfuls left in the bowl he was finding it hard to get the pudding onto the spoon.  Alesandru, five years old, came to the table, walking slowly with his walker, and carefully moved his chair close next to Alin.  I was watching, thinking that Alesandru was just having a hard time getting his chair into the right position.  But before he even took a bite of his own pudding which I had placed at the table for him, he picked up Alin’s spoon and started feeding Alin the last few bites of pudding.  Instinctively I wanted to jump in and tell Alesandru to let Alin feed himself, but then I stopped myself.  This was an act of selfless love.  Neither one of them made a sound.

These simple moments are huge.  They are the moments that make us remember how beautiful life is.  I remember seeing an elderly man stoop over to pick up some garbage on the ground in his neighbourhood park.  It made my day.  To see how he cared for his community in such a tangible way.  Today at the parade, an older woman wanted her grandson to have a better view and so she asked a friend of mine to hold him.  My friend held the little boy up, happy to lend a helping hand.  Just seeing the woman’s face made my day.  We have to have our eyes open to these moments because life doesn’t typically highlight them for us.  Watch for the man on the bus who silently gives up his seat for the woman.  Be attentive to the one who holds the door for others during rush hour as people storm through.  Look for people who stand out.  And perhaps you will find yourself standing out too.

Two weeks ago I went on a fabulous adventure with my housemates.  It was Nico’s birthday, and so we all went to Transylvania, to a village called Balomir near a city called Hateg (Hatzeg).  Balomir is charming and quiet and full of life.  Both Nico and Chiva grew up there, neighbours in the village between the valleys.  There is a lake, and a river, and something in between a mountain and a hill.  Rolling hills, and valleys dotted with villages.  Cows leaving in the morning to go feed in the open land.  Chickens flapping about, each family with at least three or four it seems.  An occasional horse, and pigs that are being fattened in preparation for Christmas feasts!  The smell of wood burning, keeping homes and fingers and toes warm.  Men of all ages, accompanied by their sons, chopping wood, and women preparing sarmale and mamaliga. Nico, Chiva, and I arrived in the village at nearly 2:00am, and I was thinking we would go straight to bed.  But Nico’s amazing mom had a different idea.  We came in, warmed up by the fire, and then we ate. And ate.  And ate and ate.  She  put blankets on us, and tucked them around our toes to keep in all the warmth.  We were given chicken, and potatoes, and homemade pickles, pate, and tomatoes and cucumbers.  Then, just when I thought it was over, the cake came out.  It wasn’t even Nico’s birthday yet, and already we were eating two slices each of her birthday cakes.  Yes, that’s right…cakeS!  One tiramisu cake…soooo good!! And one fruit cake…yummmm!!  We ate and ate and ate some more, watching endless movies that come on TV all the time here in Romania.  I love it.  As we sat under the blankets, watching TV and eating amazing food, I felt so loved and so happy to be where I am.  Nico and her family took me in and made my feel completely at home.  Her parents made sure we were always being taken care of, and her grandparents gave us company.  Throughout that weekend, I experienced a new lifestyle living in a more traditional countryside village, met new people, and saw breathtaking sites.  I’m even happy that my camera ran of out battery because it challenged me to simply appreciate the beauty in the moment.  Sometimes it’s better to have a memory stored in our minds rather than on a photograph.  It’s like a secret that we can treasure in our mind’s eye.

Christmas is fast approaching.  I had my first Christmas moment today.  My friend and I did some baking for an upcoming ladies’ breakfast.  The lights were dim, and Christmas music played in the background.  There is something about the smell of cinnamon that makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.  It is exciting to think about what my first Christmas in another country will be like.  But I already know it is going to be something special.  A few years ago, I would not even consider spending Christmas anywhere but home with my family.  Things had to be exactly the same.  I got upset if even one part of our tradition changed.  But slowly, God worked away on me, each year changing something else.  Last year, my family went to visit my brother in Thailand and I stayed back, spending Christmas with other members of my family.  It was so nice, and I can see now how God was preparing me for this Christmas, and so much more.

It is so reassuring to see how God is always steps ahead of us, preparing the way and preparing us to walk in that way.  When my mind drifts to questions of “what’s next” and “where am I going” I have to step and back and look at the proof of God’s love and guidance in my life.  He has never left me unprepared.  He is faithful.  Sometimes I lose sight of this, and I start to listen to the voice of the enemy that wants me hopeless and anxious and fearful.  But I thank God for never losing sight of me.  My life belongs to Him, and it is the most thrilling and exciting way to live.  I was so excited the other day I made a timeline of my more recent years.   Yes, I’m a geek.  But as I looked over my messy timeline, etched out in blue ink on a paper filled with my doodles of dresses and faces and other silly things, I realized that I am living this exciting life not because of any of my own strengths or talents.  The most amazing adventures I’ve had have been a result of failed attempts, and my stumbling into something completely unexpected.

In high-school I wanted to be on student council so in grade 9 I ran for class representative and failed.  However, soon after I joined the Art Council as grade 9 rep, and one year later became president, which led to many other amazing opportunities.

Preparing to go to university, I had my mind set on going to Ryerson for fashion design.  But before I even sent in my application, I felt like a stressed-out failure. I was having such a hard time with the application and I realized I didn’t even like sewing that much.  I don’t even remember how it happened, but soon after I applied to Philosophy at the University of Toronto, Victoria College.  Four years later, I graduated and I couldn’t be happier about my time at UofT.

During my first summer not working at the church, I thought it would be fun to try nannying in Toronto.  But after what seemed like endless searching, and a failed interview, I was ready to give up on my idea of nannying.  But then, soon after, a friend of a sister of a friend of mine contacted me, interviewed me, and hired me as her nanny for the summer…in Germany.  It was an experience that changed me in so many ways, and is still very close to my heart.

In my final year of University, after applying to teacher’s college, I was in the waiting zone.  Friends were hearing back, but I wasn’t.  Then I heard, and both schools I applied to rejected my application.  I was shocked and sad, and yet, strangely excited.  That was the spring that God put it on my heart to go into full time ministry.  It was at that time that my passion to serve God in a creative way was reignited.

There are many other failures in between, but these ones stand out to me because of the way that each one has helped prepare me for the next big adventure.  I am where I am because of God.  Each failure stands to show His glory, and His power.  When we are broken, He is able to build us up. When we fall down, He is able to pick us up.  When we are humbled, He can then lift us up.  Don’t be afraid to fall…you’ll be surprised and delighted to see where you are standing when He picks you back up.  It is always beyond anything we could ask or imagine.

In this last month of my time here in Romania, there is a vast sea of unknown before me.  But even though I cannot see the future, I can take confidence in knowing that the one who is holding it has a perfect track record and loves me more than anyone else in the universe.  Yup, my God is pretty cool : )

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

2 Corinthians 9:8