on this day

November 30, 2016

This morning I received an email unlike any others I have received from the mission board I am associated with as an MK. The only emails I usually get are the periodic newsletters. This one was a letter–a quite long one entitled “Letter to all SIM MKs  . . .:
An open letter of gratitude from SIM’s International Director “

Intrigued by both the letter and the serendipitous timing of its arrival, I began to read. I found it immensely moving–unexpectedly so, seeing as how this was a form email message from someone I have never met or had any dealings with. Here are a few snippets from the letter: 

Perhaps you have not been privileged to glimpse the result of your parents’ work, to experience the joy of seeing the fruit of their labour. I assure you that their labour and your sacrifice have never been in vain . . .You were born into a family that, in the course of your life, carried the gospel to others, and this necessitated personal sacrifice, which I acknowledge by this letter. We celebrate with gratitude your service alongside your parents . . .You may be one who has experienced suffering or adversity, perhaps from separation from your parents at an early age . . . Many of you have gone out as missionaries, taking your own children along. Many more have contributed to ministries or to the local communities into which God has placed you. We celebrate your contributions, your resilience, your grace, your hope. Your unique experiences are almost impossible to explain to those who never walked in your shoes. You are often misunderstood in both your host culture and in your parents’ home culture. Yet this you have endured with determination, a sense of humor, and ultimately with renewed grace. We celebrate you today as one of “our” MKs, as one of our masterpieces created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for you to do. I want to personally thank you for the blessings that you and your family have been to many . . .

What this letter said to my heart was, “We remember your father . . . we remember you.” And that is what I feel the need to say tonight, as I share these words yet again.

Daddy, I remember you.

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That said, here it is: the annual post:

I remember, this day–November 30–in 1988. On this day, I awoke excited–no, more than that–I was ecstatic. I was running through lines of the Christmas program in my head, eagerly rehearsing for the program that night. You see, tonight we were performing for our families, for my family. They were on their way by this time, I knew, beginning the drive early that morning that would bring them along many lonely dirt roads, winding through villages and across open plains, to arrive here.

It had been 3 months now since I last saw them, when I boarded the little Cessna on the grass strip of our village, clutching my stuffed bear in one arm and holding my sister’s hand with the other. We stood there waving goodbye one last time on the boarding stairs, and then waved again out the window as we sped along the airstrip and lifted off into the air. I loved that moment of lifting off in the airplane–and have ever since–the exciting rush of becoming airborne and soaring faster and faster through the air.

That day, however, my excitement of the beginning was tinged with the sadness of knowing I would be away from my family for many nights now. The days were always full of learning, fun adventures in the bush with friends and with various creatures to be discovered and trees to be climbed. The nights were the hard part, though, when I fought the tears that often came in spite of my fierce will, silently dampening my pillow while I stifled the shortened breaths that may give away my tears to the classmates sleeping near me in rows of bunk beds.

The 3 months since that last flight had passed quickly–3 months of good books read, math problems solved, geography discovered, play weddings acted out in free time, and all manner of grade 4 activities. I had also turned 9 the previous month, and knew my family would now celebrate my birthday and my brother’s 4th birthday 3 days earlier, as soon as we made it back home. While on a shopping trip in South Africa, my Dad had acquired our first car, so the decided to make the road trip instead of Helen and I flying home as we had always done before. So, I knew they were loaded up in the Isuzu, along with 2 village friends–a teenage student of my Dad’s and the Zambian pastor he worked with in our Church.

So that afternoon, after various activities designed to keep all us boarding students preoccupied so we wouldn’t be bouncing off the walls with the excitement of our families’ arrivals, we all filed out the drive-up area to await the first arrivals. I had in my mind the perfect picture of what to expect, so as each vehicle arrived, I craned my neck to see my mom’s long arm waving out the window and Alex’s goofy grin peering out from her lap. But the cars came, parents claimed their clamoring kids, and my picture-perfect arrival still had not appeared. Finally, a lady I recognized as the mom of some friends who lived fairly near us went over to our Dorm Mother and said something to her, gesturing in our direction. She then came and told us to go ahead and get ready for the program–not to keep waiting for our parents there.

I was disappointed, but assumed they would arrive at any moment, so just kept waiting as we practiced our songs. My mental image just altered itself to adjust to a late clamor of hugs and kisses rushed in before the program started . . . but the program came, began, and ended, and they had not arrived. The next morning we were taken to the Cessna, and told we were going to go back to the village by flight after all. This time I imagined the whole family standing there on the airstrip, coming into focus as the plane landed, with eager smiles and waves–still, no. The parents of a classmate took us in their car instead–so of course I changed my expectation once more, this time thinking they were taking us to our house where the family would be, picture-perfect, waiting in front of our little home.

Instead we arrived at their house. Auntie Elaine (according to British habit, all family friends were “Auntie” and “Uncle” to us kids) finished up dinner preparations while we helped set the table. And then, instead of sitting down to dinner, she asked Helen and I to come and sit with her on the couch–”Anna, Helen–I have some really sad news . . . your Daddy went to heaven . . . ” Before the sentence was finished, I had burst into loud sobs, Helen looked at me and started crying, and Auntie Elaine and her daughter were both crying and hugging us.

I don’t remember any mention of the rest of the family at that point–nor did I wonder, as far as I can remember. The rest of the day, of the week, of the month, passed in a sort of a fog, in which my memories are clear but displaced, as if each memory was plucked from its proper place in the continuum of time and placed instead in some never never land of homeless moments.

I remember falling asleep with fitful dreams, waking up convinced I had dreamed reality, and that Daddy would walk in and comfort me any moment. I remember being reunited with my brothers, staring at Alex’s discolored and misshapen head, and carting Ian around carefully in his body cast, propping him up against walls . . . supporting him and holding his modesty blanket over his midsection as he pinned the tail on the donkey at his belated birthday party. I remember visiting Mom there in the Zambian hospital, horrified at the sight of my strong, active, beautiful mother lying there on the stretcher bed unable to move herself. At one point during a visit, the nurse had to turn her over so that she wouldn’t get a bed sore. As she did so, she let go of the sheet and mom was briefly exposed to us all in the room. I didn’t know whether to blush, sob, or scream–I wanted to just run away, to disappear forever into the endless, dreadfully beautiful African wilderness. I hated seeing mom like that, and dreaded the visits . . . and I hated myself for feeling that way, thinking there must be something wrong with me if I didn’t want to see my mother . . .

Somehow, time passed. My Daddy’s funeral passed in a blur of friends, strangers, languages I didn’t know, and wails I knew only too well. As soon as mom was strong enough to be transported, we were shipped to the U.S., where hospitalization and then physical rehab came for her. I hid in my books–in beautiful worlds of fantasy–to the extent that my grandmother still teases me for always having my “nose stuck in a book” as a child.

And eventually Mom was well enough to take over the care of the 4 of us again. I still don’t know for the life of me how she did it–a paraplegic supporting and caring for a home of her own and 4 not-always-angelic children. She did it well . . . she loved us well.

On this day, during my childhood, Mom beautifully commemorated the anniversary. She would buy what looked to me like hundreds of helium-filled balloons, bringing them home so that the house was bursting with balloons. Then she tied note cards to the string of each one, and told us to write notes on them–as many as we wanted, and whatever we wanted to say to a stranger. I remember writing things like “Jesus loves me this I know . . .” and “My Daddy died on this day, and he is now in heaven with God, because he loved God. I do too.” I wrote silly notes, but meaningful ones, longing, in all my childhood intensity, to somehow tell the world that I had a great Daddy, and that some day I would see him again.

I still catch myself, when I am still enough to listen to the deeper desires of my heart, craving moments of remembrance of my Daddy, and eagerly clasping to memory any tidbits about him that people from his past may be able to share with me. And thankfully my own mind clamped down firmly on all the memories I had of my times with him, out of a personal need for them and, I suspect, out of a nagging suspicion that someday, somehow, there would be a greater use for, outlet for, it all.

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such a time

November 20, 2016

I spent today’s usual after-church swim musing on the book of Esther. This thought-train-focusing endeavor probed to be a surprisingly effective way to distract myself from the periodic dodgings of people, and acrobatics underneath the rope that Sunday swims entail (it being a rather crazy day for attempting to swim laps!). Somehow my mind was consumed enough to focus in spite of all of it, however, and I found myself asking intense questions as I swam, wondering, as Prof Jan asked in the lecture, “What is God asking me to do ‘at such a time as this’?”

I thought about the usual suspects:

my lesson plans for the next week; an overdue email to a family member; a newsletter I’ve been meaning to write . . .

At this point in my line of thinking, a flash of red appeared in my periphery of vision and suddenly I realized my elbow was about to intersect with a small knee. Impact. Oh no! I thought, with a sinking (no pun intended ;-)) feeling. I have just traumatized a little one as he practices his swim techniques . . . he’s going to lose all motivation for learning, if he even survives this impact at all . . . he will spend the rest of his life remembering that moment in which he almost drowned because of a large “obroni” (white person) elbow . . . thus ensued my line of thinking for some time. I tried resuming my productive writing-brain, but the rest of my swim ended up being skewed in that obsessing direction.

After getting out of the water, I assumed I’d rush back to the list of things to be done: stop to check on some new teachers and make sure they were ok with their lesson planning, continue on home start dinner, make sure my husband was recovering from his heat headache, and work on my own lesson plans.

Instead, however, I paused and watched an in-progress swim lesson. That flash of red turned out to be a little one I had observed many times in the past. He had impressed me with his little 5-year-old gumption, but I had never stopped to really process that thought. Doing so now, I realized that he was actually progressing well in his skills, and that he was clearly on track to be quite an accomplished swimmer, if he continued at this rate. Rather than continue on with my own business, I then walked over to where he had paused by the side of the pool. I knelt down and his instructor greeted me. “You know,” I began, “this guy is quite the swimmer.” The boy looked up and I then looked at him. “You know what?” I repeated, “You are amazing! I keep looking at you swimming and wish I could swim that good too! I bet you some day I’m gonna see you in the Olympics!”

I left them to the rest of their lesson and, as I biked on to continue with the day, I realized that God had just showed me my own “such a time as this.” Rather than rush on to the next task, I was meant to stop and tell that little kid how good he was. Why? I have no idea . . . but I know that’s what I was meant to do. And Lord help me, I’ll do the next “such a time” thing as well . . .

extravagance

November 8, 2016

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My most recent seminary lecture was covering the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles. When the lecture moved to talk of the specifics of Solomon’s temple, my mind settled on the lavishness of it, with a thought that moved me. If God allowed such lavish expenditures to be put into His temple, does that mean that He considers us, His people, worthy of extravagance? I tend to think in terms of scrimping and saving, and I am familiar with the feeling of “not enough.”
But I think a lesson God is trying to teach me, through my (marrying late in life) husband of now 2 and a half years, and through a variety of life experiences, is that, in Him, I have enough and, most importantly, I AM enough, in the sense of worth.

Today was a lesson in the same. As work ended, and I closed up the library, I felt guilty about leaving work before the students’ basketball game had ended. A friend told me I could some swim at their pool and, longing for peace and solitude, I went to do so (all the while naggingly suspecting that it was wrong of me to want to be on my own). As I biked over there, the sky suddenly darkened, as it does before an intense and dangerous storm. Desperate for my swim, I continued on my way, knowing that God was going to punish me for continuing.
I should turn back . . . should go back to safety. I am going to get stuck there, and not be able to get home to prep dinner for me husband, or prep classes for tomorrow. I won’t be able to swim, but will end up stranded by the side of the road, drenched and miserable . . .
The whole while these doomsday thoughts ran through my brain, I managed to get to the house, talk to my hostess about whether or not in would rain, get in the pool for a glorious swim, and then emerge to look up at the sky in wonder. A slight sprinkle of rain had fallen while I swam, but the sky was bright and, there in front of me as I dried off, was a beautiful rainbow. I gulped back a teary-eyed sniffle.
Um—I think I get the message . . .
When I arrived back at home, my husband was grinning at me from our front steps. Rather than his usual dash for the shower after a harshly hot run, he explained to me, he was just sitting there, not ready to go into the house to clean up.
I grinned. “Yep—that was amazing!” Mutually relieved, we went in to carry on with the business of the evening in our unusually pleasant and airy home.

Extravagance.

imela

October 23, 2016

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During a recent seminary lecture on the book of 1 Samuel, my professor used an example of building construction, and asked us all, “What size of a 2 x 4 does God have to hit you on the head with?” The question hit hard, considering my own current life issues: basically, after a lifetime of taken-for-granted good health and better-than-average agility, muscles, and energy, I have had a string of physical challenges over the past three years. Some have come as a result of athletic over-training, and others have come, as my husband says, as a result of our decision to live a life that calls us to difficult places and unknown illnesses.

“Where do you live?” is a question I heard recently on an NPR podcast entitled “toxins.” My answer, as I seek out the cause for a painful and unsightly rash that has planted itself on my face, is this: “I live in a land of unknowns.” More often than I’d like, I find my response to all manner of questions to be a shrug combined with an “I don’t know.” I don’t know whether we will have electricity and water tonight (when asked by a house guest if we would be able to cook in my kitchen). I don’t know what’s wrong with my face (when asked innocently, in those exact words, by children passing me by in the hallways where I teach them each day). I don’t know how long I will live in Africa . . . I don’t know how I find it, how I like living here (I just try to fill each day’s responsibilities the best I can). . .

So how big of a 2 x 4 do I need? I pray that it is not so big that I crumble underneath it. But I also suspect that God has a lesson, more directly appropriate for my uniquenesses, tagging alongside the 2 x 4. And I think He showed it to me in a surprising manner, in the throes of one of my usual work week flurries of writing seminary papers, cataloging books at work, and planning teaching lessons for the coming week; in the midst of this juggling act, my subconscious took over my conscious word-processing and began to mull over personal regret. I started to feel the familiar pangs of regret combined with guilt over my past and present failures. I felt like a child before a disapproving parent who has just seen the evidence of transgression, and who is prepared to admonish the fault. But instead of lingering there, I began to talk to myself—to that child. “I did the best I could” is what I said. But the thought continued from there, as I explained, the adult self with experience and hindsight speaking words to truth to the child. “It may not be the best it could be . . . but it was the best I could do at the time. I did the best I could.”

This morning, after telling my running buddy about that image, I arrived for worship practice still in a reflective mood. We walked in to the almost-empty room to find the drummer on his own, jamming to a song I had never heard before, but that instantly carried me away. I grabbed the tambourine and began to dance.

After I had danced for a while, the drummer mentioned to me that the title to the song, “Imela,” meant, simply, “thank you.” I smiled and continued to dance. “IMELA . Imela. Imela. For all you’ve done for me. Imela Imela. If not for your grace Where would I be . . .”

Yes, Lord, thank you. Thank you for the grace you have shown to me, your slow-to-learn child. Thank you that my feet can dance. Thank you that my mouth can sing. Thank you that my heart can rejoice in this moment.

like a dove

September 11, 2016

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“Oh that I had wings like a dove. Then I would fly away and be at rest” (Ps. 55:6)
Lord have mercy. Oh my Lord, have mercy upon me …
Many years ago, as an insecure and immature college student, I stumbled upon this verse during my private devotion. I was, at the time, desperate to find relief from my own troubled soul. I was also functioning behind a facade of put-togetherness, being a stellar student and a Bible study leader with my campus fellowship, and seriously looking towards the future with my boyfriend at the time.
Facade.
Funny thing: a local friend asked me today what the word meant. Here on our annual church retreat, I find myself with just long enough–one weekend–removed from my daily life to be able to put some words to my feelings. I can’t recall the precise wording of my answer, but I find it ironic that the word has made its way into random daily vocabulary, in a similar fashion to the way that it has become a far-too-present reality for my life.
I am battling myself, you see. Battling the onset of a darkening of my inner reality …a “dark night of the soul,” as Mother Teresa so aptly, and boldly, described it, as her own state.
Once again, as I felt when a college student, I feel as if I must go through the motions of my life while desperately hanging on to a semblance of “togetherness.”
I have children coming into my classroom every day, waiting for me to instruct and engage them. I go through the motions.
I have a congregation watching me each Sunday as we gather for worship. I sing the songs.
I have boarding students in my home for after-school activities. I entertain them.
To be fair, there is a joy in each of these activities: as Robert Frost penned in his poem “Birches,” “one could do worse than be a swinger of birches.” Or, in my case, one could do worse than be teaching these classes, singing on a praise team, and leading yoga sessions. I love these things …but only when I love my own life.
I’m afraid that at the moment I feel rather like the paralytic by the healing waters. I see the hope in the distance, but I cannot seem to get my body there. I cannot move fast enough to find my way.
My body has turned against me, and my foot refuses to heal. For a short few weeks, it had been improving and I was getting back to a semblance of mobility-testing the waters again, and thrilled when I was able to run without pain. But then the pain returned with a vengeance, as if it was back to when I first injured it, over 3 months ago. I am back to a painful, and infuriatingly slow, limp. Back to being the gimp.
What scares me now is that I no longer trust the healing process. I fear that I am not just waiting to get back to my usual self, but instead adjusting to a new, broken, existence.
I know this sounds overly dramatic, but I say it, knowing that is the case, because I need to voice the intensity of my fear. It is real.
I must also admit to the shame that I feel as I come to terms with the depth of my reliance upon my coping mechanism of a daily workout routine. Without my runs, I Eeyore my way through each day, with my physical plodding feeling like a mirror of my inner moping.
Yes Lord, have mercy. Give me a hope for the future. Give me a heart that loves. And please, if You see fit, let my feet dance again …

*this retreat happens to be taking place at one of the most beautiful spots I have yet visited in this country. My friend started taking pictures as we stood on a balcony overlooking the city. I felt the irony at the time, of the beauty surrounding me while I struggled to see anything through the cloudy lens of my inner vision.

prepared

August 28, 2016

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As we tested microphones for practice this morning, I realized with a start that I had completely forgotten about one of the songs I had intended to learn before this morning. The other vocalist was leading the Korean lyrics, but I was going to lead the English. This meant learning the song, but also figuring out the phrasing, as English translations often don’t mesh perfectly with the flow of the notes, like they work with the song’s original language. In the business of the workweek and then that of the dorm students come Friday night, I had simply forgotten about this song. Until this morning. Grace abounded for me, and for all of us, when the few minutes before the service ended up being enough to get a feel for it. And then somehow, during the song itself, the rest of it came together and it worked–so far as I could tell, at least.
Now I am in no way attempting to advocate for a lack of preparation…though lord knows life as a teacher involves a fair bit of a learning curve in the art of pant-seat-fly-by-ing ;-)
But the fact of today is that I dropped the ball. I should have been prepared and I was not. I am also, however, grateful that I did; this ball-dropping was a way that God allowed me to see the slippery slope I was heading down, and to give me a check on it before I dropped a more significant “ball.”
I have, since this school year began, been striving. And I have been tired: worn out from pushing to accomplish something-anything-but seeing little fruit for my labor, as far as my own perspective goes. Each day I wonder if I can make it through the business of the day …and I crave a sense of doing it well. But at this point in my job, tangible outcomes are just not a reality. The library is, quite frankly, a mess; it cannot hide years of neglect and the absence of a librarian. And I have not yet figured out a good work flow/balance that will allow me to make sense of the library while teaching all my classes in an effective, and wholehearted manner. Thus far, I’ve had to focus more on the teaching, though the truth is that I’d rather be tackling the library! So when this week ended, and I did not see the results I wanted, I refused to allow myself to feel weary. I figured I should have some tangible results if I was going to be tired from the week. Not seeing those, I began a weekend of attempting to make myself feel worthwhile. When this led me to wear out, and then end up needy for affirmation that wasn’t coming, my husband lovingly called me on it. Instead of profusely thanking me as I busied about with attention-seeking household tasks, he simply commented: “you don’t have to make yourself useful.”
I’d like to say that I immediately slowed down and had a peaceful Saturday evening at home; in fact, however, I let my wounded pride simmer and resented his ability to relax. I made myself miserable and, most likely, this was a large part of the reason for this morning’s issues.
But our lives are so much bigger than how we may feel about them at any given moment. And more was happening yesterday than my own off-kilter emotions.
In the midst of it, I was responsible for a couple of high school girls who actually did “need” me in the midst of, and in spite of, myself. It didn’t even matter to them how I felt: imagine that! They needed me to occupy their afternoon with an excursion in search of a swimming pool. It was a longer walk than either had anticipated, about which they were quite vocal. But once we arrived at a pool that was just for us, after two that were closed, it was all worthwhile. We splashed about in the water. They put flowers in each others’ hair. And I jimmied a sling for my camera phone, using swim goggles and the corner of a pool chair, in order to capture our afternoon. The resulting, off-kilter, photos, seemed quite appropriate, all things considered :-)

a step to hope

July 14, 2016

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Biking home this afternoon, I listened to one of the podcasts I usually listen to while running: Chris Fabry Live! The program was about the times when others do something for you that you were unable to do yourself. One of the examples made me pause; ok, so maybe I did not pause altogether: these days my only method of biking is one in which I do everything possible to not have to stop, knowing that my old biking habit involves stopping myself with my right foot . . . an unwise move at the moment! Yes, I’m afraid my foot is still uncooperative. And yes, I’m afraid I still struggle with patience for the healing process. In fact, I am more than just “struggling,” more often than not. This is, in large part, due to the vague diagnosis given to me 2 and a half weeks ago–basically saying that he saw nothing on the x-ray and, since I was having a nearly pain-free afternoon at the time, I should be fine to start running on it again. More than two weeks later of no-running has seen no noticeable improvement and I am, quite frankly, starting to lose hope. It feels silly, though, in the face of all the great turmoil in the world . . . why should my mobility matter to me so much, when others are losing their homes, loved ones, and lives? Shouldn’t I be able to just let it go, and be grateful for what I have? I should . . .
But back to the podcast: what this caller said was that she was in a severely difficult period in her life and, when some friends from church told her she should have hope, she replied that, quite honestly, that idea made it worse for her. She had lost hope, and did not see any way to manufacture it. At that point, her minister said that it was ok; he asked her permission to simply let them have hope for her. It took some time but, eventually, she was able to find hope again. Now she looks back with the belief that it was knowing they were holding hope that allowed her to find it once again.
No doubt I am poorly paraphrasing the way she told the story, as my story-telling memory sometimes gets carried away in the telling; but no matter. In this case, I suspect that I am likely telling my own story more accurately than I am telling hers anyway. So there you have it.
I spent the day hearing updates on the racial tension issues in this country, and getting passionately hopeful when I heard people who seemed to be campaigning for justice in a wise and loving manner, rather than inciting hate in the process. But I could not seem to manufacture the same hope when it came to my own body’s failings. I fear that I shall never walk pain-free again . . . never mind run! My husband has gotten back into his running game this summer, and I watch with bittersweet pride as he increases his mileage and skill. “Run an extra mile for me!,” I say, smiling cheerfully as I kiss him goodbye. A bit too cheerfully.
Tonight we sit together in the living room, mostly quiet with periodic comments. My husband, living without his usual “toy” that is getting repaired, talks about his ideas for techie projects once reunited with his computer. My father-in-law closes his computer, after reading various news updates, and sighs, “Stop the world, Lord, I want to get off!” I sympathize, but in a different vein. Stop the world, Lord: I want to walk, and run . . . I don’t want to just be along for the ride!

*Photo is of the consistent joy I have while visiting my in-laws: the simple routine of greeting the chickens, closing up the coop for the night, and collecting the day’s eggs is, somehow, a hint of hope . . .

my right foot

July 5, 2016

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Towards the end of his talk, Pastor Rick picked up a leafy branch he had brought in and set on the podium. He held up a pair of clippers and began snipping branches, letting them fall to the ground as he did so. Quietly snipping for a few moments, he then asked, simply, “Are you being pruned?” I gulped. Yes.
So this morning, when leading my small group Bible Study, I followed the intended lesson up to a point and then, convicted, knew I had to say more than the words on the script. The script, based on 1 Peter 1:13-16; 2:11-12 and Romans 12:1-2, was this:

Peter admonishes the resident aliens to:
Prepare their minds for action
Be self-controlled
Stay focused on the hope of God’s eternal purposes
Be obedient
Do not conform
Be holy

As I read this portion, however, I decided to do something slightly different from the intended discussion of each point of the admonishment.
“Let’s camp out for a minute here,” I began. While I read this list of 6 items, I want you to let your heart settle on one of those. Let God speak to you about one of these points. Don’t be afraid to hear His voice to you, as He speaks gently to His children; He will not come after you with a whip and a ‘You better shape up!’ warning; rather, His voice will come as a ‘still, small voice’ of loving refinement, not harsh correction . . .”
Though not necessarily planned beforehand, I realized afterwards that the reason I did this was because I think it can be difficult to take practical action steps when faced with a list of to-dos. Some of us just get overwhelmed too easily to handle more than a couple things at a time! [ok, so maybe some of us can only handle one thing at a time :-)] My hope was that each member of this study would be able to really sit with something that God was speaking to them about in the here and now, and not in some intangible future.
But as so often happens in the world of teaching, be it of the young or the not-so-young, the teacher ends up learning as much, if not more, than the “students.” And as I introduced this exercise, I knew the lesson I was giving was for me.
Stay focused on the hope of God’s eternal purposes
Thanks to the failing of my physical body, I have been focused on about the farthest thing possible from “eternal purposes”; my focus has been squarely resting on my own right foot. Just over a week ago something went wrong in the heel of my foot while I was running: I couldn’t finish the run and had to limp home. After a couple days of this, I went to a doctor who found nothing on the x-ray. At the time of the visit, it was feeling so good that I wondered if it was already better. I congratulated myself on being able to keep from running for 3 days and happily planned the next day’s run when the doctor reassured me that I should be able to run again with no problems. But the next morning it was back to the same level of pain as soon as I attempted to walk, never mind run.
For one in the middle of training for a marathon, with 20 years of running behind me, this present 7-day run of not-running [:-)] is no small thing. I have begun to develop a mopey, and hopeless, mindset of suspecting that I will never again be able to run, that my natural anti-depressant is lost to me, and that I’m being punished for being too reliant on my “earthly” pleasures.
But in this morning’s study, speaking the words, out loud, of my focus, had a cathartic effect. To recognize that I was, in effect, turning my gaze from heaven and directing it straight down to my feet, made me able to laugh at myself in a healing way. Not that I am any less frustrated by my physical frailty, mind you: I am itchy, and impatient, to be able to move as I am accustomed to doing; but the itch is tempered by a realization that my body is out of my hands, and in the hands of the one who created it. Furthermore, this Creator is not someone who is just putting up with my silliness; He loves me. Wow—writing that brings tears. Yes, it is true. He loves His creation: all of us, and all the parts of us . . . whether or not they are performing perfectly.
Tomorrow will bring another day of, most likely, a struggle between my desires and my physical capabilities; but tonight I pray for the ability to redirect that focus, and to draw my eyes away from a foot, and upwards to its Maker.

Bit by bit

June 9, 2016

So much for that event-less arrival to the States. We made it through one day of smooth sailing. Day 2 arrives, which is our departure day for Peter’s weekend IT conference in Charlotte. This morning I head out for a nice get-out-the-antsyness run. The run ranks quite high on running-enjoyment scales, in fact, thanks to a beautiful morning and the lovely ridge. Halfway through I pause to ask a lady working in her yard about the park nearby. She says to wait a sec while she puts one of her barking dogs inside. While she does, her other dog lunges at my right calf, takes a chunk out of it, then heads for the back of my left knee. I’m screaming by this point, having vivid memories of my 16-year-old self in the same position with a different dog. And the crazy part of it is that the two wounds I am now sporting are identical to the two scars underneath them! The lady kindly dressed and bandaged them and I headed back on my way. Thankfully there seem to be no actual medical needs, but I must say that I’m rather stunned by the bizarre injury-duplication. As I walked back down the front steps of the owner’s terraced lawn, I mentioned to her that, if It weren’t for the fact that I believe in a good Father, I’d be tempted to call it karma. But as it is, all I can figure is that it’s a reminder that we really never know: as much as I like to hold on to my illusions of control over the hours, the days, and this life, I really just have no idea what may come. May He grant me the wisdom, and the will, to field what comes with grace …

*the fact that there is no accompanying photo to this blog post is not an oversight: I opt to spare you the visuals :-)

 

be kind

May 7, 2016

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In two separate occasions today I was moved to tears by words I heard. The first came while I was at work, manning a station for a weekend bazaar held by our school. In between “customers”for my lime-on-a-spoon game, I spent a good deal of time just standing and watching people. I was rather melancholy today, and so found it easier than usual to just let my mental to-do lists go while I took in the activities surrounding me. I watched the children, and families, milling about, and I wondered about the lives behind it all . . . wondered about the souls contained by each of these bodies. Periodically, a little one would come up to me for either instructions or, more often, a “request” for another sticker or stamp, as most of my players had already been through the routine numerous times. I would demonstrate the ginger holding-of-the-spoon and then, a few minutes later, would bequeath a smile onto a little hand or wrist, in the form of either a pink circle of ink or a rainbow-hued sticker. I would return to human interaction for a bit, then, kid gone, resume my musings. In the midst of the musing, I was caught off guard by a song that came through the speakers of the background playlist: it was a Carrie Underwood song that I first heard when I was asked to sing it for the troops in Kabul. I was on the worship team at the time, for Camp Eggers. I didn’t think that much of the song at the time but now, suddenly, I realized that it holds surprising power for me. Some combination of the memories surrounding that time of my life along with my present struggles left me instantly teary-eyed at the wafting sounds of “Jesus take the wheel.” I spoke the words to myself for some time after the song finished. It came out as a prayer, which is exactly what it was. “Jesus take the wheel. Take it from my hands. I can’t do this on my own . . .”

Later in the day, once the bazaar was finished, I heard a quote that is simply called an epigraph, due to the uncertain source. Some attribute it Ian McLaren, who would have said the words around the time of World War 1, but as far as I can tell no one is certain. When I heard it mentioned in a podcast, however, the words had a similar effect to the song I’d heard earlier. “Be kind. Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden.” The tears return as I write the words now, fresh with the poignancy of the week.

I have felt broken by my own inadequacies lately, and weary of my inability to do what I want to do, or to be who I want to be. Yet even as I have been feeling that brokenness, I have been overwhelmed by gratitude for people who have stepped into that mess that is me, and who have done great acts of kindness. Hope has been given. Lord help me to pass that hope along. May I bear others’ burdens, as others have born mine. May I be kind.

*This photo came from our Spring Break medical mission in the village. Somehow, it seemed fitting . . .