August 20, 2018

A story of impact and kindness

A screenshot from a very special video. Scroll down to view...after you read my post, of course!
This post is a long time coming, as you'll understand in a minute. I don't know why I haven't posted it until now...other than life just being busy and distracting and what not. But last night, I dreamt that I posted it and it feels like maybe now is the time.

As many of you know, I was in the States this past spring to see family and friends, share about Romania in various places, recruit students for internships, and so much more. On my second Sunday back at my home church, they announced that they had a video to show, which I was eager to see because they're usually related to missions or hearing about someone's story. Well, guess what...the video was about about a piece of my story in missions!

Before I give you any other information, let's back up a few weeks. Before I left Romania to spend a few months in the States, one of the teens in the It Takes Courage 2.0 program asked me what I say when I talk about Romania. I told her that I try to talk about all of the different programs I'm involved in like It Takes Courage, the children's program in Tigmandru, the Romanian Studies Program, etc. I also try to share about the beauty and diversity of Romania and it's people and culture, among other things.

After saying all of that, she asked me a question that left me kind of stunned. She asked, "But don't you tell you them about the impact that you've had on us (and others)?" and honestly, I didn't really know what to say to that. I think I said something to the effect of, "Well, I mean, yeah...I think that kind of comes out when I'm describing the different things that I do." We said a few other things, and that was the end of the conversation...or so I thought.

Now, let's fast forward back to that Sunday morning at my home church. The video began, and I knew instantly what it was. It was full of kind words shared by some of my closest people in Romania. I was surprised, humbled, encouraged...and about a billion other things. A few of the teens in the 2.0 program had secretly worked on this video right after I left in order to finish it time for me to use it as I shared about what I do in Romania. I spoke in churches, I made sure to honor them (and their hard work) by showing this video. And, even though it's almost 6 months later, I want to share it with all of you.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to give you the opportunity to support (or continue to support) my work in Romania. I still feel very strongly that this is the place that I'm meant to be...and I continue to see the ways that God has equipped me for the work that I do here.

There are a few different ways that you can support me, if you feel led to do so...

Mission support: You can click here to give through the Church of the Nazarene for living and ministry expenses. One of the best ways to support me in this way is to select the monthly giving option as it allows me to plan better for the long term of my ministry here in Romania.

Personal support: Another way that you can support me is by giving to me personally via PayPal, which covers expenses such as food, toiletries, student loan payments, etc. As many of you know, I came onto the mission field with student loan debt, and God continues to provide for me...through your that I can make those payments.

Prayer support: One of the biggest ways that you can support me is through prayer. As we all know, fall is a time of new beginnings, and here in Romania, it's no different. Please pray for a smooth start/transition back into a "new year" of ministries, programs, students, etc. Pray that I'll be able to find a new routine and rhythm that includes both service and rest.

A few more things before I end this post...

Timea - I cannot thank you enough for the kindness you've shown me in creating this video. I still get teary-eyed every single time I watch it. It truly was (and is) one of the best gifts I've ever been given.

Adela, Larisa, Caroline, Emi, Sheri, Raul, Roberta, Betina - Even though I've already talked to each of you, I have to thank you, yet again, for your kind words. You'll never know just how much they mean to me.

YOU: Go tell someone about the impact that they've had on your life today. Send a text message, write a letter, make a phone call, invite someone out for a coffee...or whatever way is most comfortable to you. But just go and do it...spread some kindness. You'll both feel better because of it.

May 6, 2018

If we were having coffee...v4

I miss my "usual" coffee order at the International Cafe at home (my Romanian home).

You know what to do...grab your favorite mug full of coffee (or tea, if you'd prefer) and let's chat!

If we were having coffee...I'd probably talk the whole time because I have SO much to say. I've actually been avoiding blogging for awhile because I've been so full of thoughts lately and I don't know what to share! Not only have the last few months been a bit of a whirlwind, but I also feel like I've been learning so much and taking in so much information (books, podcasts, music, conversations, etc).

As you all know, the last two months, specifically, were a bit more than a whirlwind. While I thoroughly enjoyed being home, I felt like I was all over the place (physically and mentally). I traveled to Grand Rapids, Kansas City (MO), Lenexa (KS), Indianapolis and St. Louis. In Illinois, I made my way to Lewistown, Smithfield, Galesburg, Bourbonnais, Rosemont, Lena, Ashton, Shannon, Dakota, Rockford, Madison (WI)...and I'm sure a few other places that I can't remember at this moment.

I spent quality time with family and friends, met lots of new people and even reconnected with a few people I haven't seen in years! Overall, it was a very successful and enjoyable visit but if I'm honest, it's no surprise that this introverted homebody is ready to be back in her apartment with her "normal" routine. For those of you who have been following #CBtakesRomania for three years now, you know that I tend to put normal in quotes because even my "normal" routine is far from normal!

If we were having coffee...You might like to know that I'm not back to my apartment in Sighisoara just yet. I arrived back in Romania yesterday (Saturday) evening, but I'm staying in Bucharest until tomorrow morning. I'm going to a conference in Hungary for a week so rather than taking a 5 hour bus ride from Bucharest to Sighisoara twice in 24 hours, it worked out for me to stay in Bucharest.

The conference that I'm going to is called Reaching Europe's Children so although I'll be a bit tired, I'm looking forward to it! I'm a bit of a conference/workshop nerd. I love taking notes and observing people so I'm usually pretty content at conferences!

If we were having coffee...I'd definitely be recommending the last few books and podcasts that I've
been reading and listening to lately. So here's your list...
- 100 Days to Brave by Annie F. Downs...I started this devotional at the beginning of the year and finished around mid-April. And let me tell ya, it's literally the best. It serves as an encouragement, but it also comes with lots of practical challenges. The subtitle is "Devotions for Unlocking Your Most Courageous Self", which I think we all need. I want to start it over already, but I'm going to lend it to others first because it needs to be shared!
- Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis...If you're not already on this train, get on it. The subtitle for this one is "Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Are Meant to Be", which is spot on. It's a quick read, and yet you'll want to read it slowly to really take it all in! Sadly, this book didn't make the cut when I was packing so if anyone at home (America) wants to borrow it, it's on my shelf. But, just as a warning, I underlined A LOT of stuff so if that type of thing distracts you then you might want to check it out at your local library :)
- For the Love podcast with Jen Hatmaker - Never Leave the Gospel Behind: Lisa Sharon Harper...I don't even know where to begin with this one. This is the first episode of Jen's new series called For the Love of Exploring our Faith, which follows another great series called For the Love of Women Who Built It. Anyways, this episode talks about race, the gospel, and so so so much more. Honestly, if you only take one thing away from this blog post, let it be this podcast episode! 
If we were having coffee...I'd probably stop while I was ahead because neither of us currently have time for me to go on and on. And I might stop because I have to get up at 6:00 am to catch my flight to Budapest. So, until next time...enjoy your coffee :)

February 25, 2018

A letter to my 15 year old self

Little baby Casey
Well, ladies and gentlemen, here we are. I am 30 years old. Yep, 30....even though everyone always thinks I'm anywhere from 18 to 25 years old! I'll appreciate looking younger than I am when I'm 50 and everyone thinks I'm 40 :) Anyways...

I've been thinking about writing a big "30" blog post for awhile, but I haven't been able to decide how to write it. I thought about sharing another list like I did with 27 Before 28 and 28 Before 29, which I might still do a little later. I thought about writing out 30 things I've learned in my first 30 years, which again I still might do at some point. But what I've decided to do is to write a letter to my 15 year old self. And good grief, it's going to be interesting...

Also, I've also decided to give you the immense privilege of seeing Casey over the years. I hope you'll enjoy the old photos of me as a child and teen, and also photos of all my birthdays in my twenties. Prepare yourselves!

Yes, I did play baby Jesus in my first Christmas program.
Dear 15 year old Casey, 

Take a deep breath because you are never going to believe what I am going to tell you. You are turning 30 years old in Romania. Right?! I knew you wouldn't believe it. You're probably wondering what the heck you are doing in Romania, which is a country you know almost nothing about. 

Well, you finally decided to stop being stubborn. You finally decided to listen to God and His still, small voice as He called you into missions. You have been living and serving in Romania for almost three years now, and it's been a wilder and more incredible ride than you ever could have imagined.  

I know you've only just now begun to think about missions, and I know that you're afraid to even really admit that to yourself. I know that your heart beats fast whenever someone talks about missions or when missionaries come visit at church. I know that you shut down and don't allow yourself to take even the slightest interest in the topic. I know that you don't dream very big dreams, whether they're related to missions or not. And I know why...

15 year old Casey is on the top left.
I know that you don't think much of yourself these days. And I know that you will roll your eyes when you read that. (You're very good at rolling your eyes...even now, at 30 years old.) I know that you have a very low self-esteem...and I know that you don't really understand why that is since you come from a loving have a solid have an incredible group of friends...etc. And yet, there you are...not believing that you're capable of doing anything great. 

I know that you don't think that you're brave, which is actually the meaning of your name. You don't think that you're courageous or funny or smart or kind or beautiful. But let me tell you something. You are all of these things and so much more. 

Ugh, I want to reach through that photo of you in the red shirt to both whisper and yell all of these things to you. But I also know that doing so won't make you believe me. You need time. And you'll get there, even if it takes another 10-15 years. 

(Not to disappoint you, but it's still a work in progress as you turn 30 years old :) But guess what, that's okay!)

I know that your family and friends are telling you all of these things about yourself, and I also know that you don't believe them. But do me a favor, when they tell you these things about yourself, just say thank you. Just listen. Don't argue. Don't roll your eyes. Just accept that they see these things in you. Accept that God sees these things in you. 

Spend more time with your family. Don't be so mean to your little sister. Work on your attitude with your parents. Try to talk to your parents instead of saying "I know" and rolling your eyes. Don't slam your bedroom door so often. Take more pictures with your friends, family and of your bedroom walls full of pictures, posters and art. Take more selfies...oh wait, you don't know what that is yet...take more pictures of yourself. Journal more. Use your creativity.

Thank your friends for being your friends. Tell them how much they mean to you. I know you like to write notes and give gifts so do those things as often as you possibly can. Again, take more pictures...and try to organize them. You'll thank me later. Try to be a friend to people who need a friend. I know you don't think that you have much to offer, but you do. You are a good listener and a loyal friend.

I don't necessarily want to tell you to put yourself out there more or to be something that you're not. But what I will tell you is to try. Try new things. And if you don't like something, that's fine...but at least try. I know you're afraid...afraid to fail, afraid to stand out, afraid to be noticed. But trust me, it's not nearly as scary as you think it is (to fail, stand out, or be noticed). You might be surprised at what can happen when you embrace those things. 

Okay...I know that I've given you a lot of information...and a lot of "commands". I'm still pretty bossy. Don't roll your know you're kind of bossy. 

I'll leave you with these last words, 15 year old Casey. Love Jesus. Love people. Be yourself and to others. Don't be afraid to let other people see who you are...even if who you are is messy and insecure. Embrace those parts of yourself. Spend more time with your family and friends because one day you'll live thousands of miles away from them and wish you had spent more time with them when you had the chance...even though you know you are where you are supposed to be, in Romania. 

Remember that you are Jesus, by your family and friends, and by me - your 30 year old self. 

30 year old Casey

Switching it up with photos from birthdays in my twenties
It's funny because as I re-read what I wrote to my 15 year old self, a lot of it still applies to my 30 year old self. But I think that's okay. I don't think we ever reach a point where we have everything figured out. Life would actually be quite boring if that was the case.

Obviously, I've learned a lot in the last 15 years, and it actually feels like I've learned just as much in the last 2-3 years as I have in the last 15 years. But I think that's just what happens naturally when you're approaching a milestone age like 30. You start to look back to reflect while also looking forward.

And I've been asking myself a few questions lately as I approach this milestone birthday. What have you done in the last 15 years that you want to do more of in the next 15 years? What have you done in the last 15 years that you want to do less of? Here's just a sneak peek at two of my answers to these questions...

I want to love more. I want to love Jesus more because that's where true love comes from in the first place. I want to continue to learn to love myself. I want to love others, both "my people" as in my family and friends, but also people I may not know.

And I don't just want to love people. I want to recklessly love people. I've been listening to Cory Asbury's Reckless Love album and there's such an amazing story behind the song Reckless Love. If you haven't heard the song or album, I would strongly encourage you to do so. In the video I just linked, he starts telling the story at 5:35, but I'd like to share a few of his words about reckless love...
"When I use the phrase 'the reckless love of God'...we're not saying that God himself is reckless. We are, however, saying that the way He loves is, in many regards, quite so...He's utterly unconcerned with the consequences of His actions, with regard to His own safety, comfort and well-being...(His love) is quite childlike, and might I even suggest, sometimes downright ridiculous. His love doesn't consider Himself first. It isn't selfish or self-serving. He doesn't wonder what He'll gain or lose by putting Himself on the line. He simply puts himself out there, on the off chance that you and I might look back at Him and give Him that love in return...His love isn't cautious...There's no Plan B with the love of God."
 So yeah, I don't think I need to say much else on that topic. Here's to that reckless love!

I couldn't decide between the photos of my 27th birthday so I put both. This is my blog and I can do what I want.
What do I want to do less of in the next 15 years? Well, I think the main answer would be that I want to be less afraid...less afraid of failing, of standing out, of being noticed, of being messy, of being unsure, etc. I don't want to be 45 years old and writing a letter to my 30 year self saying the same things that I just wrote to my 15 year old self.

I have to constantly remind myself that it's completely normal and natural to fail. I'm well aware that I learn so much every time I fail...and yet, too often, I let fear win. I let fear stop me from even trying something that could result in failure. I let fear tell me that I'm too messy and too insecure and too unsure, and that I should just keep that all to myself.

I definitely know that it won't be easy to overcome these fears, or fear in general, but I at least want to make more of a solid effort in these next 15 years.

My first birthday spent in Romania
I have no idea where the next 15 years will take me. Heck, I don't even know where the next year will take me...and not in the sense of physical location. Obviously, I hope that I'm still doing my thing in Romania. However, I also know that God's plan is the best plan and if that means I'm doing something else, then that's that!

Last year's birthday fun
If you're still reading at this point, I should be giving you a gift. Oh wait, I have one more set of little Casey photos that I think you'll enjoy. That shall be my gift to you!

But first, I want to say thank you. This feels a bit like an award speech, but I'm going to go with it. I truly would not be the person that I am today without each and every one of you who are reading this blog post. My 15 year old self might have taken you for granted, and for that, I am sorry. But let me tell you, my 30 year old self is beyond thankful for this community of people who I endearingly refer to as "my people".

February 5, 2018

A story about bread.

Photo by Karolina Szczur on Unsplash
Let me tell you a quick story about bread. Yes, you read that right, bread. And no, this isn't becoming a food blog. Don't worry.

Last Wednesday, I made chili for our weekly Wednesday Night Supper, which is attended by a handful of ex-pats working and living in Romania. I had some really delicious bread leftover so I brought it with me on a quick trip to Cluj-Napoca on Thursday and Friday. I knew I'd need a snack on the 3.5 hour bus ride and this bread is too delicious to be wasted. So I carried it with me on the bus, but I didn't eat it. I carried it around town, thinking I'd get hungry along the way, but I didn't eat it. On the second day, I knew I probably needed to throw it away, but for some reason, I couldn't. Again, I thought I'd eat some of it throughout the day, but I didn't. I thought that I might encounter someone who needed a bit more than I did, but I didn't.

Finally, after carrying this bread around for a day and a half, I saw a trash can and decided that it was probably time to let the bread go. As Adela and I walked towards the trash can, I remarked on how I felt so bad to be throwing this perfectly good bread away when I was sure that someone needed it. Well, as we approached the trash can, I joked about whether I should put it in the trash can or on the trash can. I opted to set it on the lid of the trash can so that someone who might need it could see it as they walked by.

Well, guess what?! As we were walking away from the trash can, an older gentleman was walking by us. As we walked away, I could see, out of the corner of my eye, that he was slowing down to look at what I had set on the lid of the trash can. I kept walking, but I tried to subtly look back to see what he was going to do. Sure enough, he kind of smiled at me (I wasn't so subtle after all) and took the bread. Maybe he smiled because he thought that only a crazy person would throw away such good bread...or maybe he smiled as a thank you. I'll never know.

I could have just dropped to the ground right then and there. I had carried this bread around for a day and a half, just waiting for an opportunity to use it. I had a bit of a weird attachment to this bread, but I think it's because I knew that God wanted to do something with it. Again, that can sound a little odd, but that's really how I felt. But once I finally let go of using it in the way that I thought I'd use it (eating it myself or giving it to a beggar that might approach me), He did use it. And man, if that doesn't get into some real deep stuff, then I don't know what does?! I keep laughing to myself as I write this because who knew that an experience with bread would cause me to reflect in such a serious way!

What do I have that God wants to use, but I just won't let Him because I want to do things my way? The answers would make this into a really, really long blog post, and I wouldn't do that to you. Is there something (physical or otherwise) that I'm holding on to instead of letting Him use? It might even be something that I'm holding on to with good intentions, much like this bread, but I'm holding on to it because I want to use it in a way that I think is best. I could go on and on with different questions and thoughts based on this whole concept (of letting go, of using what you have to serve others, etc), but I'll leave it at this.

Side note: It should be made clear that I am very stubborn, and everyone who knows me, knows this to be true. I like to do things my way. I like to be in control. I feel like I can say that I've gotten better about this since moving to Romania, but I definitely still have my moments. This relates to things both big and small, like what volume the tv should be at (answer: always an even number), how a conflict should be dealt with or how to lead a program. Basically, I like to do things my way.

I think I'm getting to a point, with my life in Romania, where the newness is wearing off. Yes, just now, after almost 3 years. And I'm starting to wonder what God really wants to do with me here. He's definitely already done so, so much. He's used me in ways that I could not have imagined, but I know He's got more planned for me. And I can feel it. There's something about 2018 in Romania that feels very different from my life here in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

So maybe I made something out of nothing with this bread experience. Or maybe this is something that God wants me to be thinking more about as I continue on into 2018. And/or maybe it's something that you needed to hear. So, whatever the reason, I hope you gained something from a seemingly silly blog post about bread.

January 6, 2018

2018 - One Little Word

Created with Canva. Image from Unsplash
As I mentioned in my last Currently post, I was going to try to choose One Little Word for 2018. I tossed around a few ideas, and even tried to think of what words I would retroactively assign to the last few years. The words that came to mind for the last few years are brave, peace and courage. These three words mean so much to me, and although I don't feel like I fully embody any of them, they stand out to me when I think about 2015, 2016 and 2017.

After reflecting for a little while, it was time to look 2018. I looked on Instagram and Pinterest for examples and inspiration. I thought about what I wanted more of in 2018, and even what I wished there was less of in 2017, for me personally. This past year was a very different kind of year for me.

It's easy for me to watch my One Second Everyday video and feel like it was an amazing year, full of joy and fun...but I'll be 100% honest with you and say that it wasn't full of joy and fun. Obviously, there were lots of positive moments, and I recorded as many of them as I could. I don't think it's a coincidence that 2017 was the year that I recorded a short video every single day. I think God gave me that app, as weird as it may sound, at the perfect time.

If I think about 2017 (without my fun little video) the word that immediately comes to mind, for me personally, is darkness. Honestly, I felt like I was in the dark. As I've started to talk to some friends about this, I often say that I was sitting in "my dark corner" most of the time. It effected my work and productivity. It effected my relationships. It effected my attitude.

Did I still enjoy parts of 2017? Yes.
Did I have amazing moments with some of my favorite people? Yes.
Do I still feel like Romania is where I'm supposed to be? Yes.
Do I still love the work that I'm doing? Yes.

And yet, the darkness was present. It still is present. As we all know, things don't drastically change as the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve. But the light is starting to emerge. In the first six days of 2018, the word light has already shown up more times than I can count. Obviously, it's on my radar now so I'm noticing more, but I've been hearing it in songs and seeing it in books and articles.

What do I wish there was less of in 2017? Darkness. What do I want more of in 2018? Light. Even as I answer that first question, I'm reminded of a quote by Leonard Cohen that I came across as I was researching what light means to me.
"There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." 
Let me tell you, folks, that's good stuff right there. Personally, I think there's power in brokenness, and I've thought that for a long time. So, as you can imagine, when this quote popped up on my computer screen, I almost lost it. I broke a bit in 2017, but that's what has allowed this light to get in and shine...

New apartment decor for 2018
When I was looking for ideas and saw light on a few idea lists, I knew I had found my One Little Word. I've spent the last few days thinking about this word and what it meant for me to choose this word. I decided to break it down, and apply it in different ways in 2018...and beyond.

  • Seek light: Jesus is light. He is the light of the world. I want to be in His light. I want to better understand His light. This one is pretty simple. Now, is it just me or did anyone else start singing In the Light by DC Talk when they read this bullet point? 
  • Be a light: I want to share that light, His light. Can we go back to how emotional I got when we lit the candles placed in the oranges at the Tigmandru Christmas service? The picture that I took that night still gets me. All of those sweet kiddos in the background are exactly who I want to be a light for. My teens in the It Takes Courage groups are who I want to be a light for. My coworkers are who I want to be a light for. My Romanian Studies Program students are who I want to be a light for. My family and friends are who I want to be a light for. 
  • Lighten up: This one is a little lighter, no pun intended. Sometimes, I take things too seriously. I need to chill. Case closed. 
  • Lighten the load: I say "yes" a lot, and so, as you can imagine, saying "no" is extremely difficult for me. I want to do and help and serve and be...but that comes at a cost. I do too much and then withdraw into my dark corner. Here's to hoping that I can say "no" more often. And here's to knowing that being more selective with a "yes" will make it mean more. 
So there you have it. Light. My word of the year. I know it's not going to be easy. I know the darkness will still linger, but I am encouraged by a quote I recently came across. Frances of Assisi once wrote, "All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle." Light is a powerful, powerful thing. 

One final thing to share with you. I received the book God Calling (comparable to My Utmost for His Highest) for Christmas from some American friends here in Romania. This book has a reading for every day of the year. Would you like to take a wild guess as to what the very first day's reading was about...?
I stand between the years. The Light of My Presence is flung across the year to come - the radiance of the Sun of Righteousness. Backward, over the past year, is My Shadow thrown, hiding trouble and sorrow and disappointment. 
Dwell not on the past - only on the present. Only use the past as the trees use My Sunlight to absorb it, to make from it in after days the warming fire-rays. So store only the blessings from Me, the Light of the World. Encourage yourselves by the thought of these. 
I mean...seriously?! "The Light of My Presence is flung across the year to come...". January 1, 2018. The year of light, and this is the first reading. Coincidence? I think not.

January 2, 2018

One Second Everyday in 2017

I am so insanely excited to share this special video with you. I first learned about the app 1 Second Everyday from a blogger that I've been following for years. I tried to do it in 2016...and failed, only making it through February. Oops.

When 2017 rolled around, I decided that I'd try again and I am SO glad that I did. At first, it was a challenge to find something to film every day, but after awhile it became a habit. It was fun to look for something to document every day, whether it was recording the kids singing out in Tigmandru or setting up the phone to record myself enjoying a cup of coffee at home.

So...this is my 2017, and I'm obsessed with it.

I thought about trying do something more/different in 2018, but as they say, "if it's not broke, don't fix it". So please enjoy my 2017 in just over six minutes...