Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Unlovables

I've worked hard this year on a novel manuscript about some homeless people. I wanted to humanize them, to make people see them as ordinary people in unfortunate circumstances. But the truth is, there are some people-- not just the homeless-- who are completely unlovable.

Saddam Hussein was hanged last night for killing 148 people in Dujail. His trial for killing 100,000 more has been suspended.

Maybe it's because Hussein's cruelty, his arrest and trial have taken so long that I've been more deeply affected this morning by the story of another unlovable.

If you are squeamish, please don't read on.

A woman in Togo has been arrested and imprisoned for killing, cooking and eating her own baby. The horror of it sends jolts of repulsion through my limbs. It's a crime beyond my comprehension.

And yet it's the next part of the story that shocks me more.

Hammer, a man who has always reached out to the unlovable, is doing it once again. "She'll die if she stays in prison," he says. "I've arranged to take her to a mental hospital to get her help." Some one in the States has already promised the money it will take to get her installed with clothing, soaps and other necessities at the hospital.

Hammer and his family live on a higher level than I do. The unlovables, to them, are the ones who need love most. They give up their own bedrooms so the homeless will have a place to sleep. They take in children who have epilepsy, teens who have been kicked out of the house. When one of the Christians in their church was accused of murder, Dela not only provided meals at the prison, she also slept on the floor of the cell at night so the accused woman would not be frightened.

In a recent discussion, I was asked who was an inspiration to me. I said it was Dela. I'd like to add Hammer to that list. Their love for people calls me to a higher standard.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

New Hat

The beginning of a new year seems like a fitting time to take on a new endeavor. I'm excited about the possibilities in 2007, especially my new role as magazine editor. I'm a bottom of the totem pole editor, but with the best position I can imagine.

My job will be to read as much fiction as I can, pick out the best novels, and write about why I like them. Those of you who know that I used to sleep with books instead of dolls will understand how much this means to me.

If you've read any FANTASTIC fiction, especially something that might have an impact on modern Christians, let me know. And watch for the new fiction review section at beginning in March.

So, with only a few more days left in 2006, I hope you're enjoying the hats you wear as much as I'm enjoying mine.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Jesse's Branch

Christmas in the 1970's was, to me, an example of how American Christians can draw lines between their walk of faith and their rational side. We very neatly drew a line between secular Christmas with its trees and stockings and gifts, and religious Christmas which was the sad result of misinterpretation of scriptures. I wonder now if the message we were meant to receive really was, "We don't know what day Jesus was born, but we know for sure it was NOT December 25." But that's the message I heard at church.

I see a lot of people in our fellowship embracing the religious side of Christmas now. We celebrate the birth of Jesus regardless of his actual birthday. We relish the opportunity to talk about God's arrival on earth. We relax in the knowledge that during this one season of the year, it's not totally taboo to talk about our savior. At least not yet.

In an effort to integrate secular and spiritual aspects of Christmas, we have adopted a new tradition in our family-- the Jesse Tree. Each day from Thanksgiving to Christmas, one of the children places an ornament on a small tree as I read a scripture and tell a story.

From the moment God and his son spoke the world into existence, they were preparing the mankind for Jesus' arrival. Each day we follow the story from the fall of man, to God's promises to Abraham, Judah and Jesse, to the prophets' predictions. Each day we draw a little closer to the time of his coming and each day I am reminded of how perfectly he works his plans.

Even now he's working his plans, preparing things for when he will come again.

Friday, December 22, 2006

So Quickly Forgotten

It was cold last week... Icy windows, numb fingers, chapped lips kind of cold. But every time I wanted to complain, I thought about the three men lost up on Mount Hood.

I didn't see the mountain every day, especially because of winter storms that shrouded it from view, but the rescue effort was never far from my mind, never out of my prayers for more than a few minutes.

Maybe it was because of the death of James Kim in the Oregon wilderness only weeks ago that the story of Kelly James, Brian Hall, and Jerry Cooke captivated us so much. Or maybe the face and voice of Kelly James' brother giving information to the press lent reality to news that is usually fraught with fluff.
The families of the three climbers spoke with assurance even in the midst of their uncertainty. They didn't turn to prayer only in desperation. They were people of prayer before tragedy ever struck. And they will remain people of prayer though their husbands and brothers were not found alive.
It's been two days since the rescue effort changed to a recovery effort. Instead of 45 minute breaking news press conferences, the story of these climbers now only warrants a fifteen second blip after we've seen interviews of the people stranded at the airport, a cute piece on a plastic baby Jesus that was kidnapped and returned, and another inane report by a journalist standing in the middle of the road warning us that the rain she's standing in has no chance of turning to snow, but if it did, think about the news story we'd have then.
And the families mourn.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Half a Lifetime

Whenever anyone asks how long we've been married, I joke, "Forever."

Well, I think we're officially on the way there.

I hit a milestone today.

I've been married half my life.

A lot can happen in half a lifetime...10 houses, 3 children, 7 cars, 6 dogs.

We've gone to bed angry a few times, though I think it's been years since I slept on the couch. We still have our misunderstandings from time to time, but not as often as before. And I'm still thrilled to see him come through the door after work.

Half a life and counting.

It's a great journey.

Monday, December 18, 2006

In the Living Room

Life plays out in the living rooms of America. In ours right now, six children are building card houses and knocking them down with rubber bands. In a friend's this morning, the children shared games of Battleship and dinosaurs while I sipped tea with my friend. We do our reading in the living room, we pet the dog, we dump our coats on our way in the door and put on our shoes on the way out.

Some living rooms, though, are quiet and lonely. We took the opportunity to take part in a lost piece of our culture - visitation. The kids and I, along with another family carried cookies and Christmas cheer to several houses that don't have much cheer. Strokes, age, sickness and cancer keep so many home, cocooned away in their own little worlds where the rest of us don't have to think about them.

It was good for the children to greet and sing and good for us moms to remember that not everyone has the blessing of constant chatter in the house.

Catherine, Bill, Barb and others have given me so much over the years. A smile, a song and a kiss on the cheek are such a small return, but they rewarded me again with the twinkle in their eyes.

God bless those who can't get out like they used to. May he touch their lives with loved ones and children who will grace their living rooms with joy.

Friday, December 15, 2006

2006 in Review

2006 has been, incredibly, a year of stability for us. We’ve lived in the same house all year, Edwin has had the same job, and we’ve settled into a schedule that works for us.

As a family, we’ve been part of a home study group that has blessed us. We attend Vancouver Church of Christ most of the time, but we also like to help out at Renovatus, a new church plant, when we can. We’ve been attending a TaeKwondo class and Edwin, Patty, Jessica and Bethany all earned yellow belts this year. It has been fun living close to Patty’s parents and enjoying their company and their love for the children (not to mention free babysitters!) And we got a dog, a basset hound named Missy, who just loves to be loved.

Edwin works as a superintendent. The construction business has really taken off and Edwin is currently running 8 projects while his boss is out of the country. He also does side jobs on weekends and some evenings. Edwin took a week this spring to help with reconstruction in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. He also built a shed and is working to clear out the garage so he can do some personal projects. He is currently in the selection process to be a deacon at Vancouver Church of Christ. If you want a somewhat twisted view of what Edwin’s up to, follow his blog at

Patty still home schools the kids. She taught French, Poetry and assisted in a Sign Language class at Friday School, our home school co-op. She enjoyed tending a garden this summer that produced actual food. She completed another novel manuscript, but has not yet found a publisher interested in her work. Patty attended 3 writers’ conferences this year, including one that lasted 4 days. She led education time in the writers’ critique group she and her mom started last year. She helped develop a web site for the Vancouver church ( and tried to keep up with writing this blog at least 3 times a week. Patty also found a wonderful prayer group that has blessed her beyond measure.

Jessica has shot up this year and hopes to be taller than Patty by the end of next year. She still loves doing little girl things like playing with her horses and leading pack of wild lions and wolves (comprised of other kids from church). Jessica started with a new harp teacher in January and loves to show off her musical ability. She took classes in flag twirling, shorthand and drama this fall.

Bethany has also grown and matured this year. She started piano lessons and loves to sing with her sisters and with the radio. She’s totally into space exploration and took some classes on astronomy and the history of space exploration. She also loves to play and would spend every day with friends if she could.

Tabitha is working hard to educate herself. She practices her letters and counting every day and has recently decided she’d like to learn to play violin, so she practices with Patty from time to time. She loves all things frilly and girly, wears a dress every day, and is particularly fond of her curly hair which makes her different from the rest of us.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I couldn't resist

You know I can't resist a chance to answer questions and to ask them of you. AND, when this activity includes a new vocabulary word, I'm SOLD!

So, when Cheryl Cash posted this meme (pronounced meem), I had to look up the word and then respond.

1. Egg nog or hot chocolate?
Anything but egg nog. Mom's hot chocolate is the best.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just set them under the tree?
Sets them under the tree. When I was a kid, he set the big one under the tree unwrapped and had smaller presents wrapped, but now he only brings one gift for each kid (and a stocking full of goodies for everyone).

3. Colored lights or white?
White. Colored lights bring back memories of the 1970's. One year we had a 3 foot tree with a rotating lighted base that made the whole room glow in technicolored glory. What could Mom have been thinking?

4. Do you hang mistletoe?
No, though I always think it would be a nice touch. Mistletoe brings back memories of climbing trees in northern CA to collect the bunches of fungus. I couldn't believe mistletoe was a real plant, not just a piece of beribboned plastic.

5. When do you decorate for Christmas?
About a week after Thanksgiving. If I pull out the stuff too early, I start feeling crowded way before the holiday is over. I love taking out my angel collection and arranging each one. And this year I did something I've wanted to do for years. I bought a pre-lit tree. Gone are the temptations to succumb to swearing at the wads of tangled lights!

6. What is your favorite holiday dish, excluding dessert?
Fondue... and Mom's cinnamon rolls, a Christmas morning must.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child?
Not my favorite at the time, but we used to tape our Christmas for Grandma Alta. Audio cassette tape. It was brutal. each package had to be described in detail before, during and after opening, then photos were taken and the gift was described again before anyone could move on to the next gift. After that, the time Santa left ashy footprints from the fireplace to the tree.

8. When and how, did you learn the truth about Santa?
What are you talking about?

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
The kids open one gift on Christmas Eve after BEGGING their dad to remember this tradition. Begging is part of the tradition, as is the father's apparent memory lapse that it's always been done this way.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree?
Every ornament has a meaning-- most are handmade by the kids. Others are mementoes of places we've been (a seashell for our 10th anniversary cruise, Togolese carvings, a few from my childhood). Lots of felt and foam shapes and handprints cut from cardstock, each more beautiful than the last.

11. Snow. Love it or hate it?
Love it. Except when it gets balled up on the end of your corduroys and drips down inside your boots.

12. Can you ice skate?
Last time I tried skating was at the Olympic ice rink in Albertville, France. At the time, I'm sure someone asked me to never do that again, though I think I could still make my way around the ice.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
It's a tie between the hamster and the violin (but since the $ for the violin came from my own bank account, I guess I'll have to go with the hamster).

14. What is the most important thing about the holidays to you?
Jesus. Family. Secrets. and Fun.

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert?
What isn't? I love them all.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
Fondue on Christmas Eve. Hot chocolate. Stockings.

17. What tops your tree?
This year, a golden wire angel playing violin. I keep saying she's only temporary, but she's been up there for several years now.

18. Which do you prefer, giving or receiving?
Giving... no question. Though I love to get a thoughtful gift, too.

19. What is your favorite Christmas song?
We're all humming "I Want a Hippopatamus for Christmas" this year, though I doubt it will stand the test of time. Kind of like "the 12 Days After Christmas". I'll have to go with "Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel."

20. Candy canes. Yuck or yum?
Ho-Hum. I'll eat them, but there's no great pleasure there. There are plenty of other super delicious treats to have.

So there you go... a meme from me to you. Wanna send one back?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Thank God for the Essenes

They may have been religious fanatics. They may have lived in a dry, desolate land, perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking an inhospitable sea. But they produced one of the greatest treasures in the world and stored it, ironically, in jars of clay.

The Essenes, in their cloistered existence, were writers - scribes really - who painstakingly copied laws, histories, and scriptures. Thanks to their mission to preserve the written word of God and their care in secreting the writings away, we now have the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of 900 documents transcribed around the time of Christ.

Prophecies, laws, psalms, and histories, even a treasure map, are part of this collection. And now a tiny piece of the collection is on public display in Seattle. 10 manuscripts, 4 of them never seen by the public before, stand in hermetically sealed, dimly lit cases.

As I ran my fingertips over the plastic case and gazed at the fine, perfect handwriting of Psalm 119... as I leaned in for a closer look at the fragments of Genesis 1 and Hosea... I was struck by two things. One, the Dead Sea Scrolls are a treasure, a tangible proof of the accuracy of canonized scripture. And two, the Word of God has been written on my heart and the hearts of all his people. While it also is carried in jars of clay, it will never fade or fragment or deteriorate. It does not break down in light. Rather, it radiates light.
*photo from

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I Have...

I have a super husband who works hard and doesn't complain.
I have three beautiful daughters who are growing faster than I can believe.
I have a basset hound.
I have three library cards.
I have lived in 4 states and 3 countries.
I have touched the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Arctic Oceans.
I have worked as a preschool teacher.
I have been a speech therapist for migrant workers' children.
I have tutored online.
I have been a missionary.
I have ridden a camel.
I have swum with stingrays.
I have a wonderful prayer group.
I have many loyal friends.
I have visited 40 states.
I have traveled to 23 countries.
I have learned 3 languages other than English.
I have walked on a glacier.
I have hiked the Chilkoot trail.
I have written 2 novels (unpublished as yet).
I have a mother whose book has sold 500 copies so far.
I have about 30 kinds of tea in my cupboard.
I have a heart for missions.
I have friends all over the world.
I have waterskied in Alaska with no wetsuit.
I have been pregnant twice.
I have given birth to three children.
I have a budding harpist, a beginning pianist and an eager-to-be-a violinist at my house.
I have a very small garden.
I have had hot chocolate in an igloo.
I have met President Reagan.
I have given blood.
I have exercised my right to vote.
I have read a gob of books.
I have feet the same size as my 11-year old daughter.
I have a craving for dark chocolate.
I have a major sweet tooth.
I have plans to go book shopping in the morning.
I have made a mess of the office while trying to clean it.
I have a computer that thinks it lives in France.
I have walked through the tree tops in the Ghana jungle.
I have almost finished a Christmas stocking for my youngest just in time for her 5th Christmas.
I have several other unfinished projects to get to.
I have a huge stack of gingerbread cookies to frost.
I have been married almost 19 years.
I have a yellow belt in TaeKwonDo.
I have 2 terrific brothers and a loving set of parents.
I have only one more thing to think of after this.
I have tagged whoever is willing to play along.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Archimedes and Advent

Did you know that most of the most impressive accomplishments in Ancient Greece took place during a fifty year period known as the Golden Age of Athens?

The golden boys of Athens - Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Alexander the Great - all lived and did their work during that time. Just after them came Archimedes, who did enough discovering on his own to put Einstein to shame. Pi, specific gravity, the archimedes screw for irrigation, a new model of the solar system, displacement and more were all ideas born from the mind of this brilliant man. Unfortunately, he tended to get so wrapped up in the problems he was working that he forgot the fundamentals of life like getting dressed, bathing, and eating. In fact, his death came as the result of his wandering absent-mindedly about the streets while the city was under attack.

The things Archimedes and his friends knew and discovered were long forgotten. And though we knew they were brilliant, we had no idea how brilliant until just this week.

According to CNN, a device recovered from an ancient Greek shipwreck back in 1901 has just been determined to be an incredibly intricate astronomical device, the first mechanical calculator we know of. It could add, subtract. multiply, divide, track eclipses and the route of the moon. Much of this amazing machine had to be based on the work and study Archimedes had done earlier in the same century.

For one man to be remembered for his accomplishments so long after he died speaks to the importance of his work. I wonder how many people know about Archimedes and his discoveries compared to how many know about another man who lived not long after?

Archimedes explained small parts of the world and he is remembered as a great mind. But Jesus Christ changed the world forever.