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We got done teaching around noon at TAT. Todd and I decided to go to McDonald’s. We thought it would be like a taste of home even though neither of us had been to a McDonald’s  in our area for a number of years. Beef is somewhat rare around here. We stood behind several women with children getting happy meals. They got a toy AND a flag to wave. The menu had a smaller selection than in the States. They were really pushing the Big Tasty value meal so we ordered it.

I guess we both of us are glad that McDonald’s is NOT what we are looking forward to coming back to the US. Todd and I  were in agreement that it was McDisgusting. If McDonald’s was the reason for coming back to the states I would be a McExpatriate!

 

I find myself struggling to find the words to write tonight. Today has been a day of transitions, from one time zone to another, from one culture to another, from one city to another, and from sightseer to educator. Transitions take attention and time.

Sleeping schedules and routines disrupted, Todd and I  found ourselves at computer terminals in the Institute at 3 AM. Laying back down at 5 AM, we drifted back to sleep to awaken at 9 AM with a few hours to walk through the walled city of Old Tallinn.

What was light snow the night before now had become heavier. Residents and shop owners armed with snow shovels and rake implements set out to do battle with the drifts, all the while chatting with their neighbors

We slid around parts of the walled city, sightseeing in ankle deep snow. The plows were out piling up snow into large mounds. It seems that the city plows the snow but doesn’t sand very much, so many of the walkways were slick. I saw several Tallinn walkers slip and fall on the ice, doing so with a sense of resignation and grace. They picked themselves up and carried on.

People were everywhere. Families with children were out playing in the drifts left by the snow plows. Smaller children were towed in sled trailers. People were milling around town square, bundled up, playing in the snow and purchasing from vendors. Some of the vendors were dressed in Medieval garb, so it had a slight feel of Renaissance Faire.

People we passed looked similar to our culture in Minnesota, except that heads and bodies were much better protected than in Minnesota. There were a lot of fur lined hats and hoods, coats and boots. As we passed people on the street, eye contact was kept to a minimum. If we were assessed to be English speaking, some would venture phrases like, “Hello, lovely weather” and then keep walking. People here speak Estonian, a soft nordic sounding language, and fortunately for us, many of them speak a bit of English.

Seeking information or looking at price tags indicated that we weren’t in Minnesota any more. While much is familiar, much is foreign as well. Trying to find a mail box to mail a postcard was as challenging as trying to figure out how to insert the postcard into the post box.

We met Siimon, Todd’s contact, at the bus station. He was an energetic man in a long wool coat and a fleece lined hat. Todd and he are friends so it was a warm welcome with hugs. We boarded the bus headed for Tartu. Siimon tutored us in some of the features of the bus, including moving seats and WiFi. Having not had WiFi the last day, it was a luxury to catch up on emails and update Facebook. I tried uploading pictures, but the WiFi feature had its limits. It was nice to spend a few hours with Siimon and get to know him a little bit more.

Arriving at Tartu, there was an orienting process as well for this city. Different restaurants, different street names and different directions to travel. The hotel we are staying at, in Tartu, is very nice and the layout feels familiar. Now preparation is being made to meet the students’ need for knowledge. Tomorrow the teaching starts. I pray that it will be a good time of teaching and learning from students as well.

I first noticed this sign in Frankfurt. Everywhere there was a place that pedestrians were being directed, this sign was there. It was in the place of exit signs as well. To me this looks like a person running, but I think it means walk. However at the Frankfurt airport Todd and I noticed that many people were in fact running.

Run

It seemed to be somewhat the equivalent of our walk sign, but I have to admit that it seems much more active than our walk signs back home. Maybe we could bring this up to the President’s commission on obesity. You have to admit; the sign kind of makes you feel like running.

Tallinn Town Square

When we got to the place we were staying in Tallinn, we stowed our bags and headed towards town square of the walled city. There were vendors with booths, people walking by, and Christmas carols piped in through speakers. With the snow falling, it looked like we were caught in a recently shaken snow globe. I would have to say it looked enchanting.

Todd and I spent the last 24 hours getting to Tallinn. Being men who enjoy a good laugh, we have connected through humor. The last post would be an example of that.

Somewhere, during the multiple flights, I meditated on the story in Mark 8:22-26. A blind man has people who bring him to Jesus. Jesus takes his hand and walks him out of the village, spits in his eyes and touches him. He asks the man, “Can you see anything now?”  The man looked around. “Yes” he said. “I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around,”

Jesus puts his hands on the man’s eyes again and his eyes were opened. His sight was completely restored and he could see everything clearly.

This is a strange story.

We got into Tallinn and took a taxi in the snow from the airport to our destination. The taxi driver was a middle aged, wiry man with thinning hair and a bulky black jacket. He spoke a few halting phrases in English. What was remarkable about his driving abilities was that I have never seen anyone speed up and come to complete stops on snowy roads. It was impressive. Those who got in his way were impressed as well, but for different reasons. As we attempted conversation with him, it was apparent very quickly that we had reached the edge of his English. When we told him we were heading on to Tartu the next day, he chuckled as he volunteered to drive us there. .We chuckled back when we clarified the cost.

Todd and I are creating a story of this adventure. Creating stories helps us connect. Stories create meaning together. The people we have encountered are part of that creation. They are props in our narrative and we use them as backdrops.

And they are doing the same. We could be included in the tale of the taxi driver as he attempts to connect with his fellow cabbies waiting for a fare on a cold winter evening.

“I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around,”, the blind man says.

Stories can be fun. Stories can connect. And in telling stories, it is good to acknowledge that the people are so much more than props for the narrator, that they are valued and loved children of God, and we rely on the second touch of Jesus’ hand.

I thought we would have wireless at the place we are staying tonight, but they do not, so we are sitting at the Institute in the computer room hammering out on keyboards with different symbols, and trying to remepber the order of the drop down menus because they are not in English.  I have some pics that I will hopefully put up tomorrow night. It has been a lot of fun so far. Todd has been patted down by TSA in Mpls, AND Frankfurt, he sat next to a shreiking toddler on the plane from Frankfurt to Estonia, with dirty diapers, In Frankfurt we paid 15 dollars (and I have to write the word dollar out because there is no key on the keyboard with a dollar sign) for a diet Coke, a water and a cappuccino, and then we helplessly watched as our taxi driver played scatter the pedestrians in ankle deep snow. All in all it has been a good day.

I will write more later.

I was asked by Todd Riggs to join him on a teaching trip to Tartu Estonia to assist him in teaching counseling techniques, Interpersonal Relations, and defusing hostile situations.

Stay tuned for updates.

In attempting to reach my goal of participating in a 5K run I have been fighting a voice in my head. This voice starts when I’m in bed, attempting to convince me that I will be in a world of hurt if I pursue my daily exercise goals. I fight the voice when I choose to get in my exercise clothes. I fight the voice in my car driving to the walking track.

My breathing becomes labored as I jog. The voice, sensing weakness, begs me to stop. At this point it is much easier to ignore. It seems to know when to cut its losses and quiet down, dormant in defeat; a spoiled child waiting for the next opportunity to oppress. And it has been oppressive. My body is a testament that I have followed the voice’s bidding far more often than I have resisted it.

It’s not just painful stuff that summons the voice. It comes to life when I am engaged in social activity as well. The voice reminds me how tired I am. It paints a picture of how nice it would be to spend time at home. I could relax. It encourages me away from activities that would benefit me.

The voice proudly proclaims that I am unworthy, and undeserving. When I feel confident, it reminds me of all the reasons why I shouldn’t feel that way. From its vantage point, the voice assures me that I will never measure up, and beats down any effort to better myself. It encourages indulgence and discourages initiative.

I don’t know where this voice comes from? But I do know the voice is not my friend. It is a sniper, patiently waiting to pick off a positive thought or action.

The ancient Hebrews had a word for a being that obstructed, opposed, and accused. They referred to this being as “The Satan.” It could mean the name of a specific person, but most often referred to a title for any entity that behaved in a certain way.

My voice behaves that way.  It obstructs. It opposes. It accuses. It doesn’t affirm my life, it’s intent on destroying it.

Voice, you obstruct, oppose and accuse me. I declare you “The Satan”. And to follow the path of affirmation in my life I must say; “Get away from me, Satan! You are a trap to me. (Mt.16:24)

This summer I attended a mountain bike race that my nephew was in. I watched as hundreds of bikers did battle with the trail, mixing mud with blood. One of my sons ran this year’s Twin Cities Marathon. We waited along the route for a glimpse of him at mile 21. As we waited, people ran by with pleading looks of pain, knowing that relief was still six miles away.

There is only one question I have when I am a witness to these acts of competition. “Why?”

I have come to see that I am pathologically non-competitive. I see nothing wrong with competition. I personally don’t see a need for much of it.

My wife is a BIG Vikings fan. I am a big fan of hers, so I watch games with her, not much caring who wins. The goal of every team is to get to the Superbowl. Whether they get there or not, it all starts over again at the beginning of the next season. The only games I truly enjoyed going to, were ones where my kids were playing. I’m not saying that competition is meaningless I’m only saying that it doesn’t motivate me…or so I thought.

Last year several people I know participated in a 5k run on Thanksgiving. Thousands of people were there, and the goal was to have fun without the worry of who won. We all could be winners. The spirit of festive non-competitiveness hung in the air.

I decided that that was an event I could support. It fit within my philosophy. I started training for the run, realizing that I may have let myself get a little too out of shape. So far I am progressing.

However, I have realized that I am in competition. I am competing with inner voices. They continues to whisper in my ear about how I need to stop, how I can wait until next year, how my back is bothering me, and a myriad of other complaints, both somatic and psychological. There is a fierce competition going on inside me on a daily basis to keep moving forward.

I have discovered that this is a competition I want to win. I want to be able to say “I did it.” So maybe I see value in competition.I guess I’m growing. I acknowledge that I am not a fierce competitor, but I am engaged.

I don’t plan on going overboard. I do have standards. One is that I would rather break a sweat than break skin. And I would rather fight myself than fight you.