Monday, February 27, 2006

Let's start at the very beginning

I was shocked the other day when one of the twins asked, "What's grace?" and the other said, "You know, it's like graceful, like a swan." How, in ten years of Bible stories and Sunday school and everything, have they failed to pick up on the meaning of grace? I guess they're not soaking in as much as I thought. Or maybe the concept is too abstract for them to grasp.

"Grace is being given something you don't deserve," I explained.

"You mean like a spanking?"

"No, no, not exactly. Grace means Jesus took away all the punishment we deserved so we can stand perfect before God."

"As long as we obey him for the rest of our lives, right?"

"No, honey. Grace doesn't depend on what we do. It depends on what God does for us."

"But if I killed someone, I would go to hell. Right?"

"Well, let's not test that theory. But no. God tells us that there is no sin so bad he won't forgive it. There's nothing so shameful Jesus' love can't cover it."

To know and believe those words-- that's true freedom.

This morning we read the first chapter of Luke. "I know you've heard this before," I said. "But you can always learn something new. Try to listen for the things you don't understand and we'll talk about them."

"What's a virgin?" (I should have seen that one coming!) "If Zechariah was prophesying, why did he tell the past and the future?" "Was Gabriel the only angel who ever talked to people? What does it mean that he stands between God and man?" "What is circumcision? What does it mean?" "Why did the people sign to Zechariah if God only made it so he couldn't speak? Couldn't he still hear?" "Did John's dad know that his son would be beheaded?"

It was fun going back to the beginning of the story. I'm looking forward to reading it with fresh eyes.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Late Bloomer

I opened the front door and was reaching for the screen door when I saw something fall to the ground. A cardboard box. I picked it up.

"Jessica! Bethany! There's something here for you. I think it's your caterpillars."

The girls came running. Sure enough, inside the box were 5 tiny caterpillars, just like the order form had promised.

"I don't know if they'll live," I said. "There's no telling how long they were out in the cold."

By the next day, it was easy to see that all 5 caterpillars were, indeed, alive. And apparently very hungry. They started to grow... and grow... and grow. At first we could barely see them, but after a couple of weeks, they were almost 2 inches long and, as Jessica observed, hairy and a little creepy.

A week ago, they started jockeying for position on the jar lid. "Me first! No me!" Four fat caterpillars anchored themselves to the lid and set to work shedding their skin and forming their chrysalises. One didn't do a good job of anchoring and fell in his sleeping bag to the floor.

"He's dead," said Tabitha, matter of factly.

"Maybe." I said. "Maybe not. We'll wait and see."

"Why doesn't that one want to be a butterfly?" she asked. One of the caterpillars was still roaming around.

"He will," I said. "He just might be a day or two behind."

He's more than a day behind. It's been 7 days since the other 4 went dormant and that fat, spiky dude is still wandering around. He likes to push the others while they're hanging there.

"Nanny, nanny, boo boo!" he seems to say. "I get to play and you don't!"

We've taken to calling him Late Bloomer, as a name, not a description. I'm starting to wonder if he ever will do what it takes to become a butterfly. Will he live out God's intention for his life?

It makes me think-- now this might be a stretch-- but it makes me think about people. How we often want to run around and have fun. How we don't want to be still, we don't want to change, we don't want to give up what we are to become something completely different, completely unknown. We think that we have freedom, but we'll never know real freedom because we don't do what it takes to grow wings that we could soar free with... if only.

I'll keep you posted on Late Bloomer. There still may be hope for him. Each in his own time.

and the verdict is...

I taught the backwards poetry class last week and the hands-down winner was poem #2 (the confusing one where the first letters of words were all mixed up). Here's the poem my class wrote together.

Once upon a pily lad
A tog said to a froad,
"I flear the hies are natching how
So let's hop nown the doad."

Today was limerick day and Bethany wrote this beauty:

There once was a girl named B. Slack
Who was constantly itching her back.
Then suddenly BOOM!
She was out of the room
And she carried her house in a sack.

Okay, so it doesn't make a lot of sense, but she wrote it herself and I think she did a brilliant job on rhythm and rhyme. Kudos to Bethany.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Good-bye Mr. Edwards

It was a 10 minute walk from my house to Floyd Dryden Junior High School. Rain, shine, or snow. Down the bike path past the Baptist church, across the street and cut through the woods by Petrolane. Not a long walk, really, but the same path every day. It sure seemed a lot shorter once I met Missy. The new kid at school lived right on my way. We started walking together every day.

We got to be good friends. She hung out at my house. I hung out at hers. Missy, Patty and Kathy. The 3 musketeers. In fact, it was a purposeful plot by our physics teacher to split the 3 of us up that stuck me on the same science team with another new kid at school, a scruffy-lookin' kid named Edwin.

Missy was great to hang out with. She got me out of the library into the Alaskan outdoors. Hiking, swimming, beachcombing, boating, skiing-- we did it all together. A sailing trip where Kathy and I crammed as many marshmallows into Missy's mouth as we could earned her the nickname "the Rabid Captain." We took all our classes together, went to youth group activities together. Her mom taught me to tat. Her dad taught me basic Coast Guard patrol regs.

We lost touch with each other after my wedding. I haven't seen her or heard from her for over 15 years.

15 years, maybe more.

Last week I wrote to her parents to try to get her address.

And 10 minutes ago, I got the news that her father died. Probably on the very day that I wrote to him.

Good-bye, Bill Edwards. You were a good dad, and a good friend's dad. You touched a lot of lives. God bless your soul.

Monday, February 20, 2006

my own

For the first time in my life, I have my very own computer. (Well, technically I had my own for a couple of weeks in the 90s that we bought used and that conked out right about the time the store we bought it from went out of business, but that's another story) Now I have my very own, honest to goodness, brand spankin' new laptop and I can take my writing wherever I go.

It's also the first time I've owned anything with wireless capability. I unpacked it from its box on the way home and every time we passed a Starbucks, it wanted to connect! What a smart little thing.

I spent the evening installing all the programs I'll need. Did I mention this is my first computer? It's also the first one I've set up all by myself. I've already installed anti-virus software, internet browser, anti-virus, and photo software and downloaded tons of updates. Edwin usually does all that, but I'm venturing out on my own this time.

This purchase didn't come with the high I often get when making a big purchase. It just felt right. Edwin buys the tools he needs for woodworking to help him get the job done. It's time for me to have my own tools.

One of the reasons I wanted a laptop was so I could carry it to writers conferences and keep everything together. Funny that at the one day conference on Saturday I wrote with a wooden pen Edwin turned for me and it felt right, too-- solid and smooth. I'm so thankful that Edwin is supporting me in this quest.


Yesterday was Sunday, the day we meet together in groups all around the world to remember Christ's death and resurrection. "The Lord's Supper is the reason we meet together." I've heard that all my life, but it hasn't always been my experience. Often it feels like communion gets tucked away in the middle of the service as a point of business. The focus of our time together shifts between the singing and the sermon.

But not yesterday.

Instead of a time of quiet introspection, we were asked to recognize the other members of Christ's body. We spent about 10 minutes answering this question--

"What has Jesus been doing in your life lately?"

And you know what I found? It was easy for me to talk about what is going on. It was easy for me to talk about what I've seen happening in other people's live. It was easy for me to say, "God is working." But to talk about Jesus in a present, personal way was hard.

Why is that? I think I've let the world dictate to me, even in my walk of faith, what is acceptable and unacceptable to say out loud. It's OK to say that God is working in his world. That's a given among people of many faiths. Even those who worship many gods agree with that statements. But as soon as I say the name Jesus, I've narrowed things down to one path, one faith, one hope.

Jesus is not about closing doors. He's about opening the door to eternal possibilities. That's good news. It's news worth saying out loud.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


"A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue."

Proverbs 17:27-28

Our Bible study topic this week is self-control. Now there's a fruit of the spirit that takes some time to ripen.

On Saturday night, Missy, our basset hound, found a bag of chocolate chips that were in her reach. She tore into the bag and ate over a pound of chocolate. Toxic! I spent the rest of the night rushing her to the vet, picking up a carpet steamer and trying to put things back together again.

She came home from the vet a humbler, more cautious dog. Lesson learned, right? Wrong. Now that she knows delicious things come hidden in plastic bags, we have to put garbage bags, potato sacks, even book bags out of her reach.

How many times have I come out of a situation saying lesson learned only to let myself fall back into the same toxic situations again and again. When do I learn that the purging is more painful than actually avoiding the temptation in the first place? Oh Lord, may your spirit fill me with all of its fruits.

Monday, February 13, 2006

testing your loyalty

Enough of this heavy introspection. Time to be silly.

I'm helping teach a class on poetry and I'm supposed to teach about backwards poems this week. I wrote one poem in the tradition of "Old Dan Tucker" and another in the tradition of Shel Silverstein's Runny Babbit. Let me know which one you like better... or which one a 4th grader would like better.

When I was Old so Long Ago

When I was old so long ago,
I brushed my teeth with my big toe.
I washed my face with mud and grime
I woke right up when they said, “Bedtime!”

But now I’m young and I know much less
Don’t use my toe, I must confess.
It’s much too hard to use my toe,
So now I brush with my left elbow.

Giddlywinks and Ogres

Once upon a tackward bime in an ancient lairy fand
There lived a giendly friant and his berry ogre mand.
No angry raids or ugly wars for these frood giends, they say.
For games were more their tup of cea, and every eve they’d play.

They partied every afternoon until the neak of bright
But every tame of giddlywinks would end up in a fight.
“No Fair!” ”Stop that!” “You’re pushing me!” the priant would goclaim.
The ogres would just push bight rack and go on with the game.

“If you don’t settle down right now,” the giant said one night,
“I’ll kick you out and call the game and send you fome to hight.”
“It’s all in fun,” the ogres cried. “It’s all just for a lark.
So please don’t send us home at night. You see, we dear the fark!”

je suis née comme ça

I wrote last about feeling like I don't belong in my own element. Some of the comments I got started me thinking...

Is there something God plants in us as children that make us predisposed to feel more comfortable with different people?

Sandi wrote about being in a crowd of Americans and feeling out of place until she found an African to talk to.

Jeff had a deep down love for the people of Ft. Portal before he ever met them, and an adventurous spirit to take him there.

Anthony calls his family the "poster family for diversity" but he loved all different kinds of people before he ever met Maureen.

Papa John worshipped with a Japanese congregation in LA in the 1960's and it changed his life, and his legacy.

Cheryl has a heart of gold and her feet firmly planted at the feet of Jesus' throne. Her place and her circumstance on earth seem almost irrelevant. But she chose to go with Jeff even though there were no other American women there.

I look back over my life before Togo and think of the people I "clicked" with-- Sumi, Emiko, Brenda, Mariya, Marie-Claire-- many of my most natural friendships were with people not like me. It's like I was born with the desire to be with people from other places. I wonder if a lot of other missionaries were, too.

I think it's a gift and I thank God for it. It sure has made life interesting.

Friday, February 10, 2006

My life as a Fish

Considering I started out living 17 years in the same house, I've lived a lot of different places in my life. 3 countries and 4 states so far. Yet no matter how often we move, it's always uncomfortable getting to know a new place and a new way of doing things.

We joined a new co-op today. Everyone was friendly, I jumped right in helping in one class and teaching another, and, still, I felt that "I'm new, I don't know what's going on" feeling.

Big Fish in a Small Pond
I grew up in a small town in a state with a low population. If I wanted to be the best at something, all I had to do was apply myself and I was pretty sure to get recognized. Scholarships, good grades, state awards-- things were easy for me.

Medium Fish in a Medium Pond
Then I went to college. It was a good school with a lot of really good people. More people than I was used to but, still, it was pretty easy for my to find my niche and carve out a life there.

Purple Fish in a Green Pond
It was actually more like being a fish out of water. Moving overseas really stretched my limits. Not only was I not the smartest one anymore, I talked like a child. My first sentence? "Baba le nake la me." The termite is in the firewood. Now that was practical. I grew to love Togo and its people, but I never got over the feeling that people were watching me because of the color of my skin or because I was doing things differently or because I was doing things the same.

Purple Fish in a Purple Pond that Feels like it Belongs in a Green Pond
Moving back to the States is, in a way, harder than going overseas. We did it without all the build-up and hype, and without the company of teammates. Edwin went straight into a training program, which helped us both feel some purpose. But it took about 4 years before I started feeling like I knew what was going on. I still tend to over-analyse and look for the American-ness in a situation. I have to bite my tongue to keep from saying how I see things. It's not that I have a better idea, it's just that I know the way we do things is not always the best.

Little Fish in a Big Pond
So now we're in the city. There's a lot going on. There are more opportunities to plug into activities than anyone could ever do. I'm the new girl. I know I'll adjust, but it might take a while. Meanwhile, I'd like to hide behind some algae and rest for a bit. There were 400 fish in the co-op sea today and I'm exhausted.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


As I suspected, the way to coax the sun out from behind the clouds is to resign myself to eternal grayness. I'm not saying anything about my plans to go outside lest I force Mr. Golden Sun back into hiding!


Reports of sunshine today were greatly exaggerated. At least we get a break from the rain.


... wettest January in 30 years...
... double the normal amount of precipitation...
... flooding, landslides...
... high winds...
... nearly ten inches of rain...
... swelling rivers...
... rain for 44 of the last 45 days...

Let me just say that this has been a soggy winter. Rain, showers, more rain, more showers. Even the natives were getting restless. Their webbed toes were starting to mildew. It has been dark and gloomy for more than two months.

And this week... the sun came out! Lo and behold, there are colors out there. I was starting to think everything is the world was gray. But yesterday I saw green and yellow and even a little pink. I know it's only the begining of February, but I might have to go outside and plot out a garden.

So to those of you who live in Botswana or Uganda or New Mexico, I'm sorry about the drought. But I'm going to enjoy the sunshine before it goes away.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

How do you see yourself?

I've been thinking about this lately since Tabitha has been drawing family pictures. According to her pictures, I have long, thin legs, one hair, and arms growing out of the sides of my head. In the pictures, Tabitha is always small-- very, very small. When she draws the family, Edwin, the twins and I are all about the same size. Tabitha and the dog are about the same size. You can only tell them apart because Tabitha has 2 legs and the dog has 4. And Tabitha has messy hair.

She is seeing what makes her different from the rest of us.
At 6 years younger than the twins, she's small, but not less than 18" tall. Her hair is messy, but it's cute. She came to me yesterday with a comb and scissors and asked me to cut her hair so it would be like Daddy's. She wants to be like everyone else in the family. But we want her to be different. It's her uniqueness that makes her special. And we love her-- not because of who or what she is, but because she's ours.

People see themselves as fat or thin, tall or short, smart or not-so-smart, good or bad, worthwhile or worthless. Wouldn't it be great if we could see that God loves us, not because of who we are or what we do, but because we are his children?

He loves us even if we have arms growing out of the sides of our heads.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Out there

Sometimes, without even noticing, I get focused in on my own life and family and what is happening with us. I lose track of the bigger world. Other times, God impresses on me the far-reaching arms of his kingdom. This is one of those times when he is whispering, "I'm working out there. Don't forget."

Part of the reason for our move down to the "big city" was that we wanted to place ourselves back in the loop for missions. We don't know when, we don't know where, but we're willing and we're listening. These are a few things that have happened in the last four days.

  • We got a letter and then a phone call from Mark. We hadn't talked to him in 3 years or so. He's making his first trip to Africa in 6 years next month.
  • We got a phone call from Chad in Japan. Exciting things are happening there and the Christians are starting to reach out to other Asian countries.
  • Elaine leaves this morning for India. She will be teaching classes on Christian writing in a country where Christians are being mobbed and attacked.
  • Barb handed me a letter from Dave yesterday. They're looking for teachers for a new school in Kigali.
  • I've been in touch with Jeff and Cheryl in Uganda because of this blog. (By the way, blogging is a mystery to me. How do people find in each in this vast cyber world? Yet they do. It gives me a great sense of responsibility to be a wise ambassador.)

Is this just coincidence? Or a call for us to be praying for our missionary friends? Or a deeper call to rekindle the fire in our hearts? It's easy to say we'll go someday. It's incredibly hard to say send me now.