Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Thoughts During Nap Time

Spending the week in Memphis with my family, and enjoying this rare chance that we all have to be together. Playing games and puzzles with Noah, watching movies with Andrew, visiting with Amanda as she cooks... I wish the world was smaller. I wish my nephew could just run down the street to visit Auntie Connie's house in Fort Wayne, and then go around the corner at have play time at Grammie and Poppa's house in Winston-Salem. Maybe that's how heaven will be? It is Noah's naptime right now, so I'm taking a few moments to catch up on emails and read other people's blogs, and all of a sudden I realize it is the last day of the year. Where did this year go??

Last year at this time I was in St. Louis for the Urbana conference. I had no idea what the year would hold, had no clue what I would find if I ever got to Indiana and if I would survive two months there, and no reason to believe it would be so great that I would want to stay a whole year. I didn't make any New Year resolutions last year... I was too busy getting excited about all the plans God had for me. I didn't know what they were, but I knew they were good (Jer. 29:11). So at the end of the year - instead of being frustrated at the promises I didn't keep and my plans that didn't work out - I can reflect back on how some of God's plans were revealed and how I got to experience the blessings he had stored up for me.

I think I'll do that again in 2011... no resolutions, just eager anticipation of what God will do! Oh, I have goals... I'm developing a reading list, I'd like to learn to do something that is domestically useful and something that is just crazy fun, I'd like to make a new friend - "a real kindred spirit," and I'd like to travel to a new place. And as always, I want to make a difference somewhere, somehow, in someone's life. But how these things play out, we'll just wait and see! And I'm trusting that in the midst of learning and growing in the next twelve months, God will continue to lead me step-by-step in his will.

Happy New Year to you all!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Happiness is...

Sugar Cookies!
A Beau puppy by your side

Christmas feast with family

Cherry pie and tea smothered in whipped cream

Mounds of gravy

Magical snowflakes


A best friend

Waking up to this view out the window


Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Chandler Family Christmas

Hugs and kisses and merry Christmas!
The day has begun and all is bright,
With a Christmas tree glowing with lights
Peering out the window in
Anticipation of a possible dusting of snow
Stockings stuffed with candy and other necessities
And packages spread all around
So full of love that they remind us
Of the indescribable gifts God has lavished on us

Hugs and kisses and merry Christmas!
The gifts are opened and all is calm,
And the fire crackles and cackles over
The wrapping paper now cast aside
Instrumental renditions of "Greensleeves"
Accompany the traditional baking of pies
And memories are recycled and enjoyed again
As we share in this moment together as a family
With hugs and kisses and a merry Christmas to you!

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Christmas Eve blessing

Last night Kevan and I were listening to Christmas music while driving home under a clear midnight sky. An old familiar song came on - one that I think has been sadly overplayed and nearly killed through its millions of renditions - but for some reason, last night this verse rang true and clear in my heart and touched my soul in a new way.

Maybe it was because of the time I've spent this year in international ministry, because the words made me think of the faces of my friends from all over the world, who  have been oppressed in so many ways and who now know first-hand the power and glory of the Lord who has set them free. But I know there are still so many who are oppressed - economically, socially, and spiritually - who need to experience that power and glory in their lives.

So I sing this song on this Christmas Eve as a blessing on those who are free and those who are not yet free - claiming for them the promises and hope and the gospel of peace of Christ the Lord. May those who know him today praise his name forever!

"Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.

Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother,
And in his name all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord! Oh praise his name forever - 
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!"

Sunday, December 19, 2010

TCF Interview, Part 2

This morning in church Alan did a little interview with Hannah and I about our time in Fort Wayne. It is a good way to keep the church informed about what's happening, and I do appreciate and love how Alan takes the time to highlight mission work in a personal way. Yet I always feel like I need more time... as in, can I just do the sermon one day and really dig deep into what God's teaching me? Because once I start talking about it, it's very hard for me to find a good place to stop! And I always have this feeling as I go back to my spot in the congregation: "Oh man, I forgot to say that!" which is a feeling I hate to feel. Hannah had some great things to say this morning, and I have a feeling she could have taken a whole sermon too. On our trip home she shared a lot with me that was powerful and challenging and beautiful. So, I'm turning my blog into a Q&A space for a few days... if any of my readers have a question for me or Hannah about what God is up to in Fort Wayne, please write it in my comment box, and I'll work on posting answers.

One of the questions Alan asked this morning was, "How can the Church be more involved in refugee ministry?" I talked about prayer and giving as two big ways, really thinking of "our church" and "my refugee ministry" specifically, rather than the general things. But Hannah and I had talked about that on our trip too, and how important it is to get the Church more involved in refugee ministry because we see it as something that is close to the heart of God. So in addition to praying for and giving to refugee ministries...

Make friends with an international person near you - at work, at the store, in your classes, in your neighborhood. Find out where they or their family are from originally, and if they have immigrated to the States from another country, welcome them to America and introduce yourself. If language seems to be a barrier, smile a lot and use charades as you talk (do not shout - they aren't deaf) to communicate that you want to be their friend. Ask them if you can do anything to help them (do not assume their needs), and think of ways you can ask them to help you. Offer them American foods that you make, and graciously receive the food they may offer to you. Ask them to do things with you and your family, and do not take an initial "no" as true rejection. In many countries it is rude to accept an offer the first time, and even the second time. Ask them about their culture and tell them funny or important things about American culture. If they have immigrated here, they will need to know, and they appreciate you taking the time to teach them. You do not need to be a linguist or an expert in world cultures - just be sincere and humble, and be willing to look a little foolish for the sake of new experiences and new friendships. The beauty of the ministry in Fort Wayne is that it began with one person reaching out to an international neighbor and asking how she could help.

In your hometown, you can love people of all nations the way Jesus does. In Matthew 25, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." So when you welcome an international, you welcome Jesus. When you give them a hand, you give Jesus a hand. When you honor and esteem them as valuable members of your society, you honor Jesus. When you invite them into your home, you invite Jesus in. That is how the Church can be involved in international ministry.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Do what is true.

Today I just finished reading a book called, No Graven Image. It's the only novel Elisabeth Elliot ever had published... didn't even know until recently that she had written a novel, did you? It's an amazing and powerful story, and I highly recommend it. But I don't want this post to turn into a book critique or plot summary, so I'll just let you read it for yourself, and if you want to talk about it when you've read it let me know and we'll get together and share.

There was a phrase used several times throughout the book: "Do what is true." I've been thinking a lot about what that means, and how to apply it to my life. "True" signifies authenticity, I'm sure, but what does it look like? When I live authentically, what are my motives and intents? And are they "pure" because they are good or because I am being honest? Sometimes when I am honest with myself I see that my motives are not good. Are my actions just means to an end that I anticipate, or are they truly an overflow of God's love in me? How do I distinguish between doing things with a purpose and doing things with an agenda... or is there a difference?

Jesus always did what is true. His responses to people were always linked directly to the attitude of his heart toward them and toward God's will. Why did he teach people? To show them the Father. Why did he do miracles? To give glory to the Father. Why did he love people? ...For me, that is hard to answer. It is a mystery to me why he loves me. The Bible doesn't say why he loves me, just that he does. Does he need a reason? I'm guessing that the reason is hidden in the Father, too, and his divine purposes.

So I teach people English so they can communicate and thrive in America, their new home. I teach people Bible stories through pictures and gestures to show them my friend and Lord, Jesus. I tutor students so they can learn and grow and gain confidence in their abilities. I pray for miracles so as to give glory to the Father before all people. But why do I love? Why do I spend time building friendships and investing time in relationships? Why do I hang out and play games and eat food with others? Sometimes I wonder if my love has an agenda, or if it really is as selfless and unconditional as I want it to be. I think I need to let go of my preconceptions of where my love will lead, and just love for the sake of loving. Love is patient and kind, which makes me think that Love does not press for a result. It continues to love whether or not a result is reached. It may cause heartbreak and pain on the Lover's part when response is delayed or denied, but it doesn't stop loving.

I think this is true: God has his own plan, and so he calls me to love. I don't need to manipulate or plot ulterior motives, because he doesn't need my help in accomplishing his purposes. But maybe if I am faithful in "Doing what is true" - that is, Love, then He can work through that Love to do his will.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Written on my heart

"Why do I like this place so much? Why don't I want to leave?" I asked Pam as we prepared to leave Fort Wayne to come home on Sunday. "It's not like I love the city, and I certainly don't care for the weather. And I could teach ESL anywhere..."

"Oh, you know why you love it here," she replied, with the frankness only a dear, trusted friend could get away with. "There are lots of reasons, and you know their names."

Jo Lien, Michael, Moi Sang, Deborah, Thang Ngaih, Lian, Fatuma, Rahmo, San Nu, Abdis 1, 2, and 3...... The names started to scroll through my mind like credits in a movie. Yes, they are the reasons I love Fort Wayne. They are the blessings God has used this year to show me what love looks like, and to challenge me in my willingness to give and share and serve and receive with humility. Because of them, I understand more about Jesus' heart for all of us who were or are refugees, spiritually, socially, and physically, and what he meant when he said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God."

I went to Fort Wayne thinking that God's purpose for me was to love and minister to those who could not reciprocate, but I think he wanted me to see that the ability to express real love and grace are not limited to financial means, multi-linguistic skills, or social circumstances. I am so thankful for the part I have gotten to play in their lives and in the ministry of International House, but I am overwhelmed by the impact my international friends have had on me. Their lives are a testimony of God's faithfulness, and they are forever written on my heart. 

"You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." - 2 Corinthians 3:2-3

Monday, December 13, 2010

Greetings from Lothlorien

Well, praise the Lord! We managed to get safely through the snow/ice/slush of Indiana and Ohio yesterday, and God answered our prayers for clear roads and clear weather from Columbus to Winston-Salem, despite the threatening road signs that warned of "Snowy Conditions" through the mountains. It was a long day, but Pam and Hannah were real troopers and got us home safe and sound, where Mom was waiting with homemade cookies, and Kevan surprised me by just being there at the dining room table with crazy Kevan-stories and Mystery Science Theater jokes.

I fear my old concept of snow and all its wonder has been ruined forever. In just two weeks in Indiana, I've seen "real" snow... it became a regular part of every-day life, in which schools and businesses are not closed and ministry programs are still a go even when there are several inches of snow on the ground, the scarf-hat-and-mittens are a normal part of my going-out routine, and I automatically wipe my wet wheels off on the front rug when I come in the house. What I consider "snow" is no longer the same as what my native Southern friends call "snow," and terms like "flurries" and "blizzards" conjure up different pictures in my mind than they once did. I have been inducted - even if only just barely - into the mystical phenomenon of "lake effect snow." Yes, in just two weeks I feel as though I am older and wiser in the ways of winter.

And now I am back in the relatively mild and brown South. My family is here, many of my friends are here, and I realized last night that most of my growing-up memories are here too. I had a story for nearly every exit we passed on 52-South, about the Mayor of Tobaccoville, my kids from my church youth group, graduate school, and favorite hot spots downtown. There is something quite nostalgic about coming home for Christmas.

Right now I'm sitting in my lovely green Lothlorien room, surrounded by pictures and books and poetry and music. I got to have my morning tea in my golden rose tea cup and got to read Lemony Snicket with Kevan. I'm comforted just knowing mom is in the next room and dad will be home from work soon. And even though I know it is cliche, I must say... for the holidays you can't beat home sweet home.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A few of my favorite things

Yesterday I had one of Wendy's famous happy-thoughts teas (yes, I still have a few left!). It was a Mixed Berry tea, and the happy thought was: "Snowflakes that stay on your nose and eyelashes." Which is awesome, because earlier this week I got to experience the cold, tickling joy of snowflakes actually doing that. It reminded me of a song I've heard before, and that was only the beginning...

Later last evening, Hannah and I went out to buy wrapping paper, and heard the honking of a massive flock of geese flying low overhead... shall we say, "Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings"?

When we got home from the store, Jo Lien presented to me a little brown paper package with a sweet Christmas ornament gift inside.

No crisp apple strudels, but Hannah's family sent us blondies and hot chocolate which we thoroughly enjoyed last night while watching one of our favorite movies, Ever After. What a great day!

Packing up today for a 4-week vacation back home in the South. We leave tomorrow, so please pray for safety on the road and good weather. I'll write again from my little Lothlorien room at home... Until then, simply remember your favorite things!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Youth love and hugs

Last night was our last youth night for the semester. We gave the kids "Youth Night" t-shirts, and we wrote them personal letters to let them know how much we love them. We did have a Hungry Hippos tournament in the basement, and we played a new version of the mousetrap game, and of course the kids did some homework too... but there seemed to be a special, sweet spirit about the evening. Everyone got along, I don't think there were any fights, and the kids and volunteers played the games together in teams.

Usually, the end of the evening is the most chaotic, trying to corral everyone onto the van with their bags and coats and shoes... once I wave good-bye, I give a big exhausted sigh. But last night, we got all the kids in the living room to give them their gifts, then Jared said, "Ok, everyone on the van!" - and no one moved! It was a beautiful picture, everyone sitting around with their gifts and talking and happy. It hit me that I won't see any of them for four weeks, and suddenly I didn't want to press them to leave... I wanted them to stay!

When they finally got moving, I got a dozen hugs from the kids. Problem was that my body had been really tired and weak all evening, and I couldn't lift my arms to hug them back. I hate when that happens, because I absolutely love giving and getting hugs. But all I could do last night was receive their love. 

I hope they know that I really love them too. I hope they feel Love when they are here with us. Pray that they do, and that they hang on to that Love over the Christmas break.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Busy busy snow weekend!

It is still snowing here in Fort Wayne, and I am still refusing to buy myself a brush and scraper for my car! Hannah and I are surviving on hot tea and lots o' love! Here's what we did this weekend...

Big Christmas mailing for I-House - about 600 envelopes!

My Sunday ESL assistants illustrated the Christmas story as I taught.

Sunday School ESL Christmas party - a huge success!
Lots of food and music and good conversation

Hannah's beautiful lattice-work crust on her homemade apple pie

Point of Grace Christmas concert - doing "Candy Cane Lane"

At the POG concert, Hannah and I got to
write a note in the front of a Bible that will be sent
to a US soldier who is overseas -
a project called "A Soldier's Hope"

Friday, December 3, 2010

Mousetrap minefield

Who'd have thought that a game called "Mousetrap Minefield" would be the youth groups' favorite bonding time? With a name like that, it's hard to know if it is a good idea or a bad idea... no, actually it's pretty easy to see that it's probably a bad idea, the hard part is trying to find a good reason to justify playing it anyway. There are 20 springloaded and set mousetraps scattered on the floor, a blindfold, and some thick houseslippers... let your imagination take you where it will. There is also lot of noise going on... a lot of shouting directions and squealing and jumping around and laughing, and oh did we laugh. The kids had a great time, and it is always good to see our kids having a great time.

I was watching videos tonight of the action, and realized that everyone was shouting directions at the same time. Some of the directions were helpful and some of them weren't, but it was too loud and confusing for the blindfolded person to really follow any of it, and some of the kids ended up setting off all 20 of the mousetraps because of bad council or too much noise. Others were too afraid to even take a step.

Isn't that how life is for teenagers (actually, for most of us)?  We've got a lot of noise in our lives - music, TV, social networks, peers, teachers and professors, and all the rest. It may be good or bad, but it's all noise. And when I fill my life with a lot of noise, it's harder for me to hear from God and a lot easier for me to stumble into traps. I have to really focus in, turn down the volume of life, and tune in to his still small voice.

When I do that, it's like he's taking me by the shoulders and slowly, steadily leading me through the minefield. He says to me, "Alright now, just stay close to me, move with me, follow my directions, and we'll get through this together." What a comfort it is when I hear him speak and I feel his touch! I know I have nothing to fear. I can step out boldly and with confidence, knowing that the path may be treacherous but I have a Guide who is faithful and true.

Going through the minefield with my Jesus is not a death trap - it is a grand adventure, and together we have the victory.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Snow in Indiana

Well yesterday's adventures started when my morning attendant came in my room and said, "It is snowing like crazy out there!" Really? I didn't even know we should expect snow! So I did what any southern girl would do in this situation - I texted my brother and a few of my closest friends, I woke up Hannah, and I posted it on Facebook: "It's snowing!"

Hannah and I got bundled up and went outside and tromped through the little bit of powder that was on the sidewalk, letting snowflakes tickle our noses and eyelashes. We ran to see Jayne, and she came outside with us to get some pictures. Then, since we were really cold, we went back to our house and made hot tea - Celestial Seasonings Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride - and split this massive caramel, chocolate and toffee apple that Maelynn made for us. What a breakfast! We realized what G.R.I.T.S. we really are, because we giggled and squealed like little kids all day at our winter wonderland.

What was amazing to me was that life actually went on as normal for most of Fort Wayne. We didn't even cancel youth night! In North Carolina, schools and businesses would have closed and everyone would have made a mad dash to the grocery store for bread and milk and then would have stayed home the rest of the day. Not here! Thang Ngaih and Hau Lun made their official move to their apartment, and Hannah and I even braved the weather to run errands at the church and Walmart... where there was still plenty of bread on the shelves.

It continued to snow all day, and although there wasn't a lot of accumulation is was pretty to watch from the windows. And there's more snow in the forecast for the weekend! We took some pictures that I posted below - hope you enjoy them, especially you southerners! :)

The view of my house from the 711 office.
My room is the window to the far right.

Two southern girls enjoying their first northern snow!

My snow art,
using powdered snow, asphalt, and my own four wheels.

Back window view of snow.

Front window view of snow.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Many, many love

My favorite international quote of today came from Lian, during our snack break at Women's Club. Hannah has really hit it off with Lian's seven-month-old baby boy, Moi Sang, since she came, and Lian is quite fond of her too. As I talked with Lian today about Hannah, I said, "Yes, she really loves Jesus."

Lian's response was, "Oh, yes, I see... in her..." she gestured a circle around her face, so I offered the English word, "Face?" "Yes, in her face... many, many love.... Love Jesus, love Moi Sang, love Connie..." She proceeded to express how she knows Hannah will be a good mother and that she should have ten children. :) 

But that phrase - no matter how grammatically incorrect it may be - stuck with me: "Many, many love." And she could see it in her face! What a beautiful compliment that brings such glory to God! I bet that's what drew so many people to Jesus - the love in his face, and I hope that's what people see in all of us as followers of Jesus... I hope it's what they see in me. Many, many love.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Fuzzy thoughts of thankfulness and joy

I'm borrowing Jayne's computer tonight, as well as her humidifier and the box of tissues. Jayne and Hannah are decorating the house with silk poinsiettas, garland, and twinkle lights, and I'm admiring their work and giving an occasional opinion about interior design. I'm just thankful I'm not coughing right now. Two days and nights of coughing can really wear a person down. I've decided my pitiful lungs are happiest when they have the pamper package of extra-strength Mucinex, extra-strength Wal-tussin, and a good humidifier. My head feels a bit like mush, though. It's hard to collect my thoughts and form a coherent sentence, but the thoughts and words that are coming to my mind are sheer joy and thankfulness.

Praising my Jesus tonight for once again providing for my needs. He always does, so it shouldn't come as a surprise to me... it's just that sometimes he lets me sweat a little and cry a lot just so I can be reminded that he is in control and I am not. And I constantly need that reminder.

Thankful also for Hannah being here with me. She's a great support and encouragement and comfort, and has the sweetest, dearest heart. So blessed by her companionship this week already.

In the words of Meg Ryan, "My head is getting fuzzy," so I think I'll take my last dose of Wal-tussin for the night and head to bed.

Friday, November 26, 2010

My Psalm 27

(v. 1-3, 13-14)

The Lord is my light and my salvation -
what shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life -
why shall I be worried?
When my well-laid plans turn to mush
and I have no really good back-up plan,
God will guide me.
Though I have no clue how to get through the next week,
my heart will not fear;
though none of the answers I need are clear,
even then I will be confident...

I am still confident of this:
God is good, his plans for me are good,
and I will see that goodness
in the next week of my life - and beyond!
So I will wait for the Lord;
I will be strong and I will take heart,
and I will wait for the Lord.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It's the little things...

Here's some little things that I'm really thankful for today, here at home...

~ Reading a good book in a comfy chair.
~ Having Kevan read to me while I crochet.
~ Eating homemade rolls with cherry preserves.
~ Working on a great jigsaw puzzle with my dad.
~ Listening to, singing, and playing Christmas music.
~ Smelling the smells that come from mom's crockpot.
~ Watching my family's favorite movie again and still laughing.
~ Feeling big Beau puppy kisses on my cheek to wake me up.
~ Enjoying the colors of fall all over again in the mild, late changing South.
~ Sitting with my family around the table, laughing and telling stories long after we're done eating.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

fake trees covered in sparkly things

Last night Jayne asked me to come over and help her put up some Christmas decorations. Now, that doesn't sound like something anyone would ask of me, given my limited range of motion and strength, but I think she wanted companionship more than anything, which is something I can provide. It's just not any fun decorating for Christmas alone, is it?

I did help drag the fake Christmas tree in from the garage, and after she pieced it together I helped "fluff" out the branches so it wouldn't look so... fake? This was a stretch for me, as I've been spoiled by my family's tradition of having real trees every year. At any rate, it didn't look too bad, it just needed some... sparkle! So on went the twinkling white lights, that I held in a bundle in my lap as Jayne strung them around. Jayne has these cool silver-sparkly boughs that she put in the bare spots to fill the branches out more, and it looked like there was frost or snow all over the tree. Then she had sparkly red bunches of cranberries and ribbons that she filled in the remaining empty spots. I sat back and directed her where to put things, because sometimes it is easier to see clearly from a distance where you have the big picture.

I wanted to listen to Christmas music to get in the mood, and Jayne wanted to listen to African worship music, as she usually does... so our compromise was the album Rose of Bethlehem, by Selah, which I hadn't heard before but it was absolutely beautiful. I waltzed with myself to their rendition of "What Child is This?" and spun and twirled to "O Holy Night." With the main lights off, the glow and twinkle of the tree was so enchanting, and the room felt so full of peace and joy. I really love one song on the album I'd never heard before, called "Mystery":

"The child was born on Christmas Day, Born to save the world
But long before the world began, He knew His death was sure
The pain and strife secured...
The Christmas trees They glow so bright With presents all around
But Christmas brought A tree of life With blood that sacrificed
The greatest gift in life...

Mystery, how He came to be a man
But greater still how His death was in His plan
God predestined that His Son would die
And He still created man
Oh, what love is this
That His death was in His hands..."

I was sitting still during this song, quietly praying and listening and admiring the tree, and it made me see some great symbolism and a powerful message that our Christmas tree proclaims...

"Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." -Isaiah 1:18.

And how is this possible? Because the only one who was pure - the Spotless Lamb of God - shed his blood for us and took on our crimson sin, "so that we might become the righteousness of Christ."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Celebrating Sacrifice

Women's Club was fairly quiet and empty today. Many of our regular attendees are our Muslim friends, who were celebrating today one of their biggest holidays of the year, Eid al-Adha: The Festival of Sacrifice.

This festival is actually based on the story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son. The story is a little different in Muslim culture than it is in Christianity: for one thing, Abraham's only son is Ishmael... Isaac was born after this testing time as a reward for Abraham's willingness to obey God. Also in this version of the story, Ishmael gave full consent to being made a sacrifice. But the basic story is the same: God tells Abraham to sacrifice on an altar his most precious possession, his only son, and Abraham obeys God, and at the last minute God tells Abraham he passed the test and he provided a ram to sacrifice instead.

The Muslim community remembers this story and celebrates it by sacrificing a spotless goat, sheep, cow, or camel. They split the meat up into three parts - one to have with their family, one to share with friends and neighbors, and one to give to the poor.

I can't help but wonder: Why, out of all the things they could recognize, do they celebrate this historical event? Why is it significant to them? What hope do they have in it?

For me, growing up in a Christian home, the story of Abraham sacrificing his son was always a picture - a symbol - of greater things to come. In fact, every Old Testament story that involves sacrifice is a foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice made by the Lamb of God, who came to take away the sin of the world. As a follower of Jesus (Isa), I praise God and have great joy and hope in that gift of a ram in the bushes... because that ram reminds me of Jesus, who came to be sacrificed so I would not have to be. He took my place and chose to give me life instead.

The wages - the rightful earnings - of sin is death. It is what I deserve and there is nothing in myself that could make that right. So God told his people to sacrifice animals as sin and guilt offerings for many years to remind them of this. Death is the consequence of sin, but from the time Adam and Eve received animal skin tunics from God himself, he has reminded his people that the consequence could be transferred to an innocent life that is sacrificed to cover our sin. But there really isn't power in a sheep or goat's blood, so the sacrifice had to be made over and over... Until the perfect Lamb of God came, and through his blood we all can receive the gift of complete forgiveness, freedom from sin and death, full assurance of eternal life with God in heaven, abundance of hope, joy, peace, and love... such amazing love from the Father who longs to know us deeply and personally. The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

That is something to truly celebrate! How can the people of Islam really celebrate a story like this if they haven't accepted the ending, the punchline, the reality of this shadowy symbolic parable? What is there to celebrate if there isn't the gift of the assurance of eternal life through grace and faith in Jesus?

Oh God, as our Muslim friends take part in this sacrificial celebration, please open their eyes and hearts to the beautiful truth of this story and its incredible happy ending!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Watching Steven

I was zooming through the living room and heading for the front door to go to a meeting today when I heard massive explosions and screeching tires... not outside, but from the television behind me. Last time I checked there were no bombs or car chases in The Little Mermaid. "Thang Ngaih, what are you watching?" I asked my sweet friend. "Oh! It's Steven... you know Steven?" Thoroughly confused, I turned back around in time to see Steven Seagall run around a firey corner in a black jacket and toting two big guns. I half laughed, half rolled my eyes and said, "Yeah, I know Steven... sort of." I think the underwater Disney classic has finally taken its toll on my poor housemate.

When I returned after my meeting, she was still there watching a movie that wasn't animated, enjoying her temporary freedom while the kids were sleeping soundly on the couch. Only in passing I noticed she was no longer watching "Steven," or at least I didn't think so. I sat with her a minute trying to figure out what it was. The U.S. army was working hard to plan a big trap in the middle of New York City, and I kept recognizing actors from other movies I've seen - Matthew Broderik? Jean Reno? For the second time today and in the same tone I asked, "Thang Ngaih, what  are you watching?" She just said she didn't know, and she handed me the case. Godzilla! Oh my... My eyes travelled to the top of the television, where a pile of videos sat waiting to be watched. All action. Two "Steven" movies among them. I don't know who brought them home, but I'm pretty sure it was someone who had heard "Shalalala, kiss de girl" one too many times.

So I decided to stay and hang out with Thang Ngaih and watch the rest of Godzilla. It was sort of English practice too, because Thang Ngaih would repeat punchlines throughout the movie in her best American accent: "That's alotta fish!" and "Running would be a good idea." and "We're in his mouth!" It was absolutely hilarious for both of us, and yes, now many of you will probably want to go watch the movie, won't you? Well if you do, be sure to watch it with a Burmese friend.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ginger-Peach Tea and Chestnuts

I had one of those days... those days when all I want to wear is my comfiest sweatsuit and fuzziest socks, and all I have an appetite for is ramen and tea. Jayne's back from her 2-week pilgrimage, so I'm at her house, listening to Pam's iPod shuffle of Christmas music. Yes, Christmas music... being flooded with nostalgia from the many renditions of "Chestnuts," and lulled into peaceful half-consciousness by "O Come, O Come Emmanual." It's so soothing to my anxious spirit.

I think God's been working really hard on soothing my spirit today, now that I think about it... This morning, Prince Michael ran to me and hugged my legs, so I leaned over and kissed the top of his curly head. His sweet affection is so precious to me, but this time after I kissed him, I realized my lips felt slightly greasy and menthol-ated... cool and refreshing... what did his parents put in his hair?? Whatever it was, I patted his cheek and he rewarded me with the sweetest smile that warmed my heart. A little later, the families went out, and my computer wasn't working, so I leaned back and enjoyed the silence with my book. Then in the afternoon it started to rain, which is very relaxing, too. And then tonight was ramen noodle dinner and two cups of hot ginger peach tea while listening to music in a house that smells like pumpkin spice.

It feels like I've been trying to be anxious and worried about things all day, and God keeps kissing me on the top of my head and saying, "Just relax! I'm in control, and I love you enough to take care of all the details. So let go, let me do my thing, and peace, be still!"

Well it's 9:30pm, and the tea, the music, and the assurances of my Father are finally helping me to do just that... And so I'm offering this simple phrase, to kids from 1 to 92: Peace, be still!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

As "The Little Mermaid" plays for the hundredth time...

Prince Michael has this funny obsession with running into the kitchen, scrambling around noisily for a while, and then coming back to the living room brandishing a fork. Sometimes they are regular dinner-sized forks, sometimes they are baby forks and sometimes he manages to uphold one of those big, two-pronged forks that you use to check steaks on a grill... not sure why we even have those kinds of forks, as no one in our house grills out or eats steak... Anyway, tonight I realized that this obsession was born out of another obsession, one I like to call "The Never-Ending Little Mermaid." This Disney classic plays constantly at our house all hours of the day and night. As Ariel swims defiantly to the surface to show Scuttle her new treasures, he explains that the fork she found is actually a "Dinglehopper" that makes great hairdos. So Michael loves to go in search of - not merely a fork, but - the world's most fantastic Dinglehopper. Thank you, Disney. I hold you fully responsible if this kid pokes out an eye.

I have very mixed feelings about The Little Mermaid, and the more I watch it and hear it, the more mixed my feelings become.

On the one hand, I realize the themes of the movie actually encourage
1. Teenage rebellion against parents - but hey, it's because she's in love, right? She's sixteen years old, and she's attracted to a population that eats her friends!
2. Making stupid selfish and impulsive decisions - but hey, it's because of love, right? Never mind that she will completely cut herself off from her family and friends forever, never mind that she is making a deal with the enemy of her family...
3. Jumping right to kissing a guy as fast as you can - three days? Three days?! The poor guy is trying to be a decent gentleman and just find out her name, and she's frustrated because he hasn't kissed her yet!
Not good things for kids to grow up on! Parents, pay attention! Sheesh.

On the other hand, I can't ignore the obvious picture of the gospel and of reconciliation in the movie...
1. When Ursela captures Ariel in her own selfish choices (which was her plan to begin with), the result cannot be undone - it is a legal contract that condemns her forever. But Ariel's father knows there is one way to save his daughter - to take her place, to write his name over her own. I love that the whirlpool thing is sucking Ariel down when he makes this move, and it instantly takes him down instead. Isn't that what Jesus did for us?
2. Ariel tried to find joy and love her own way and made a royal mess that almost took her life. But when it was all over and her father took her place in punishment and then was restored to his power, he was the one who was able to give her what she was looking for in a far better way. We are all looking for love and joy, and it can only be found in knowing Jesus.
3. There are undertones of racial prejudices  and stereotypes that lead to divisions and hatred - the merpeople versus human world thing is more than it appears. So Ariel could be considered a hero in that she broke through the stereotypes, reached out to love someone who was different from herself, and in the end brought reconciliation to the two groups (as is evident in King Triton and Eric bowing honorably to one another at the wedding).

Wow, that explanation was long... Obviously I have spent too much time with Ariel, Flounder, and Sabastian lately. But at least I have the comic relief of watching Michael play with his Dinglehopper and hearing Lian in the kitchen in the mornings singing "Under the Sea" with a great Burmese-Jamaican accent!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Crochet Club

My Chin-Zo family came home last night to find me at the dining room table with my latest blanket-making project spread out, alternating between feeling proud, exhausted, and doubtful.

Lian and Thang Ngaih generously praised my work and then looked over my stitches closely. I know they are both experts - at least much more experienced than I am - in crocheting, so I asked them what they would recommend for a certain part of the project I was struggling with. Thang Ngaih showed me what she would do, and I said, "I did that! But it comes apart!" She laughed her sweet loving laugh and patted my shoulder, "Oh, you, you not strong!" She spoke the truth as kindly as humanly possible. Then she proceeded to rip apart my flimsy seams (with my consent, of course) and then offered to redo it for me. My pride wouldn't let me, so I asked her to show me and then I would do it.

I worked at it for another hour, re-stitching as best as I could and kicking myself for giving myself a project that highlighted my weakness. Couldn't I have thought of an easier way to express my love? Thang Ngaih was gracious enough to let me struggle until I was ready to surrender, and I really struggled. Finally I stopped, my hands shaking, my arms aching. Thang Ngaih gently came over and said, "You want help now?" I nodded, and she took my project from me and sat down.

In half an hour she did twice as much as I did and it looked better than mine. But she smiled and visited with me while she worked and I rested. Little Esther was visiting, and she made little pom-poms and braids with our scraps of yarn. When Thang Ngaih finished, I thanked her, and she sweetly said, "We do together?" meaning the rest of the blanket.

I think she really likes having something to do with me, and it's nice for me to have someone to crochet with too. Maybe I can do the parts that don't require much strength while she does the heavy-duty work. The job will get done faster and more efficiently, and we will have some special times to spend together. I might just called it my "Crochet Club"...

Friday, November 5, 2010

A day of silver and gold

I can tell God is doing a new thing in my heart today, and I am praising him for it. This is a very overcast day, the sky rolling in varying shades of grey. The yard is full of fallen leaves, with a few brownish-yellowish bits clinging to nearly-bare branches above. The Connie of earlier this week... or from pretty much any earlier day like this would have been down and negative, classifying it as "gloomy" and "dead." But today as I look out my window, I see silver and gold - a beauty that is found in stillness and surrender. Learning about that beauty and growing through it this week.

As I ponder life, my deep thoughts are lightened by a busy squirrel, digging through the three-inch pile of leaves, surely wondering, "Where did I put that confounded acorn?!" I laugh at him and smile at the peace and joy I feel right now, for no other reason than that I am certain of God's love for me in this moment.

And then something catches my eye... a feather? No, too little to be a feather... wait, there's more! Bits of white, floating down, thicker now! It's snowing! Not much, just some flurries, but definitely snow and my first sighting in Indiana! It's rather exciting for a southern girl like me. :)

As I write this, the flurries are fading, and I wonder how many other people in this town got the glimpse of it that I did. The squirrel has moved on to another part of the yard, hoping to recover his lost treasure. And I am still here, still feeling peace and joy beyond understanding. Still praising the Lord.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Facebook vs. Fellowship

Last week after youth night, I was talking to Jayne about my ideals. It went something like this:

"Wouldn't it be great if our teenagers just wanted to be with us? We use computer time to do Facebook as a reward and incintive, because it seems to be their highest motivator... but I'd love it if we could say: 'When you get finished with your homework we all get to hang out and tell stories and goof off together!' and then have them rush through their homework to get to this amazing opportunity. I know it's unrealistic and naive to think that would ever happen... but it's cool to think about."

Deep in my heart, I believe that everyone longs for authentic relationship and quality fellowship. And I think it is a great need, especially in the lives of our teenagers. But I wonder if the world's messages of high-tech junk and social networking has dulled kids' realization of this longing and need. Can we get back to that? And how do we do it? I have no idea, so I just prayed a lot this week.

Fast forward to this Wednesday night... There's a Scrabble game going on between three volunteers and four students, and an Uno game between four volunteers and four students. I look out the window and two guys are dancing on the blacktop to music blasting from an ipod. There's even a penmanship contest going on! Is this what I think it is? Is it students engaging with volunteers - kids just wanting to hang out with us for fun??

I love that God works outside of our realm of possibilities. And I love when he shows that off in situations like this. Pray for our volunteers, and pray for our kids... God's doing a really cool thing on Wednesday nights.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Burmese Cinderella

Today Thang Ngaih made my day. She came down stairs with her hands behind her back, looking sweet as usual. "Oh hello," she said, as though she was surprised to see me. "Are you ok?"

Well, truthfully, I wasn't ok. I'd just had a difficult conversation that ended awkwardly and I was a bit shaken because I hate conflict, no matter how controlled it is. But that was not a really good time to discuss it with Thang Ngaih so I just gave a weak smile and said yes, and started to go to my room.

As I passed her, she said, "I have something for you!" and she followed me into my room. From behind her back, she brought out the most elegant shoes - black velvety material covered in silver sequence. "I bought for you!" she exclaimed with a big smile. My mouth dropped open and I was genuinely speechless. But she continued, "They are from Burma... for you! Want to try?" Still speechless and even more so, with tears welling up, I nodded. Thang Ngaih knelt down and very carefully took off my shoes, and then slipped on these new ones... which - amazingly, for my feet - fit perfectly! My first words of recovery were, "I feel like Cinderella!" And then the thank yous and praises and admiration poured forth.

When I went out to the kitchen, Jo Lien ran by me and stopped in his tracks, pointed at my feet, and with big eyes said, "Ooooo!"  They are so soft and comfortable, and so so lovely. They remind me a little bit of Cinderella's slippers in the movie Ever After:

Very elegant! I feel like such a princess - and apparently a Burmese princess at that! Thank you, dear dear Thang Ngaih for such a special and precious gift!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Wheelchair Update

Well after going to an O'Reiley Auto Part store and three different Radio Shacks, Pam and I managed to get a switch for my chair that... sort of works. Her engineer friend, Chris (same one who built the state-of-the-art ramps), had a lot of fun for three hours in his garage Saturday night taking apart and reassembling my control box.

There was saudering involved, and a sparkler show with a dremel, and of course electrical tape. And in the end, we had a working contol switch and no major injuries! It was fascinating and entertaining to watch him work, and I'm pretty sure he enjoyed every minute of it. 

Since he is the handiest man I know in Fort Wayne... actually, in the whole state of Indiana... I decided to create a certificate of honor for him - the HARE Award: Handicap Access and Repair Extraordinaire. My chair is very happy now, and so am I. Thanks, Chris!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Let the Christmas shopping begin!

Last night, Jayne invited me to go on our first Christmas shopping adventure of the year - to fill two shoeboxes from Operation Christmas Child. We made quite a pair - she is a world-traveller who knows cultures and climates from all over, and I am a box stuffing veteran who knows the packaging dos and don'ts; she is practical and thoughtful, and I am sentimental. My biggest concern was: Would a little boy prefer squishy fish toys or jelly lizard toys? Her biggest concern was: Which will my girl need more - a towel or a blanket? After three hours of comparing, analyzing, and deciding, we managed to get a great pile of loot home and strewn out all over the table.

Now to make it fit... hmmm... Well, the blankets did not fit. Actually, they could fit, but it would have been the only thing that fit. And neither of us felt really good about just saying, "Merry Christmas, have a blanket, and never you mind about all the other cool stuff that wouldn't fit." So we decided to give the blankets to the families at my house, who bundle up in their winter coats if I put the thermostat on 72F.

Jayne's most frustrating aspect of this shopping trip was that she didn't know what country her package was going to, so she couldn't make the perfect decision about anything - gloves or sandals? or rain coat? I tried to explain that the good people at Samaritan's Purse do go through the boxes and sort them out to their proper destinations - in other words, they would not send scarf-and-hat boxes to Ecuador. Still, this not-knowing was a damper on our experience. Imagine our excitement when we learned that we could print out barcodes to tape on our boxes so we can keep track of where our boxes go! So we did that, and now anxiously await the delivery date.

So I say our first Christmas shopping trip was a true success! It was tons of fun and put me in a spirit of giving. My church at home is really big into OCC, and it was exciting to continue to be involved even while I'm here in Fort Wayne. Thanks to OCC for all they do!

Friday, October 29, 2010

I've Seen Worse

In the midst of searching the floorboards and the niches of my wheelchair this morning for a small but vital piece of metal, the immortal words of Miracle Max came to me and made an otherwise-humorless situation bearable: "I've seen worse." It's true, the situation could be - and has been - a lot worse. My chair could have been turned off when the power switch broke off, leaving me with no power... or a fuse could have blown out... or my chair could have stopped on the sidewalk in some random new place when I was alone... or my finger could have broken off, for that matter. Yes, I have seen worse... oh, the stories I could tell! But I'll just focus on the latest story...

I've thought it over and over, and really the situation was so impressive that I don't think I could do it again as perfectly if I really tried. Elsa and I were just sitting at the breakfast table, when we heard a beeping sound from the kitchen, which I thought was the smoke alarm finally admitting it can't take the Burmese cooking anymore. So I decided to just swing around and peek in the kitchen to make sure nothing was on fire... little did I know, the kitchen door was opened out toward me, so when I swung around to look, my control box caught the edge of the door. The door did not like that rude action very much, and decided to teach me a lesson - to look before I turn - by snapping off my power on/off switch in one clean "POP." I think the door decided then to eat my power switch out of spite, because a long and thorough search did not yield any bit of the switch anywhere on the premesis.

I called the wheelchair repair people, but since Medicaid takes a few weeks to transfer from state-to-state (and I just started the process this week), repairs won't be covered. Talked to my dad and he gave me some good ideas, so soon I will be heading to the auto-parts store to see if they can help me. I've been wondering two things today: 1) How many missionaries have to deal with wheelchair repairs on the field? Sure, it doesn't rank up there with snake bite or food poisoning or malaria or guerilla warfare, but still... and 2) Why didn't I look before I turned? That seems like such a basic, elementary common-sense thing... especially for someone who's been driving for 20 years. It seems to be my downfall a lot, though. Many door ways and people's shins give testimony to this, and for that I am sorry.

By the way, the kitchen is still in tact, so I guess there was no fire. I just now thought of that... four hours later.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Family Time

It's a beautiful fall day - windy and full of colorful leaves outside, and I'm inside, in my sweater and house slippers, having a cup of tea with a friend. So life is better today, and since I'm done feeling sorry for myself, I wanted to share some sweet pictures with you from my weekend with my mom...

Mom just couldn't wait to hold baby Deborah, who is now six months old.
Don't you just love the bows on her shoes?!

Thang Ngaih asked us to take a family photo for them.
I was so impressed that the kids looked at the camera!

I realized that I'm usually the one taking pictures,
so I didn't have any of me with the family.
So while the kids were still attentive, and the parents were still smiling,
Mom got a picture of me with my Angaying Inn family.

And since we were on a role with the family pictures,
Hau Lun offered to take one of mom and I...
Actually, Thang Ngaih offered and told him to do it. :)

 I took Mom down to Jefferson Pointe Saturday night for some window shopping and dinner. Sunday we went to church together and afterward we went grocery shopping and came home and made caramel apples and hot chocolate. Monday I took her to Turnstone, the gym and pool I go to, and then we went to Panara for our old traditional bagel-and-Bible time. Then we took a nap and then helped kids with their homework. It was a simple weekend, quiet and relaxing and full of stories and reading outloud to each other. It was wonderful! Thanks, mom, for coming so far just to be with me! I love you!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A morning full of greys and grace

It's 8:45AM and the sun is delayed in rising-and-shining because of persistent grey clouds. The beautiful colors of the leaves outside my window seem dull and grey too, as the wind picks them off the trees one by one and spins them into a pile on the driveway. Raking is a counter-productive sport here. As the wind plays in the leaves it also swings the back screen door open and shut, tricking me into thinking for a moment that I have a surprise guest who just wanted to pop in for a cup of tea. I love those kinds of guests, but they aren't here today. The women woke up about a half hour ago and came downstairs and promptly started the two rice cookers... kind of with the ritual-ness of how Americans make coffee. And so the day begins.

Mom had to leave early this morning. She came up on Saturday to stay for a few days, and we had a really nice time together. I really felt like I needed some time with her, and it was good to have it. But now I feel lonely and homesick, and the world just seems so grey. Starting to count the days til I'm home for Thanksgiving, and wondering why I ever thought I could be so adventurous and brave as to live ten hours away from home and how I'm going to be able to do this for another eight months. I love what I'm doing here, and I love these people, I just wish the world wasn't quite so big and spread out.

I'm praying for grace this morning. I'm praying for God to help me sing his praises, to fill me with his joy and delight, to give me strength and courage to live out his purpose for me today. I have to pray for these things, because I know I'm not strong enough to conjure them up myself, but He is. I am so thankful that I have Jesus to walk through this day with me, and that he is my hope.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Prince Michael

The families I live with love Disney movies. They will watch one Disney movie over and over again until the video tape is worn out, and then they'll keep watching the parts they can get to play.

Their favorite right now is Sleeping Beauty, which happens to be one of my favorites too. The boys just sit on the coffee table, transfixed by the magic and charm, the color and the music, the danger and humor. And they love Prince Phillip. They want to be Prince Phillip. I don't know what exactly it is about him, but I've known lots of little boys who want to be like him. They have imaginary sword fights, they ride their trusty steeds, they save the day... and they dance.

Yesterday, Michael ran up to me and in his typical adorable way, threw his little arms around my legs and buried his face in my lap. I bent down and kissed the top of his head and returned the hug. Then he took both of my hands in his and started swinging my arms around and humming. I realized he was humming the song, "Once Upon a Dream," from the forest scene in the movie, and that he was trying to dance with me - something very few men have ever attempted with me. So I sang the song in my best Briar Rose voice and Michael giggled and danced with me.

So I've dubbed him my little "Prince Michael," because his is becoming a very good little prince. He is about as charming, heroic, and gentlemanly as an 18-month old can possibly be. And some day he will meet a beauty who he will dream about, dance with, and fight for... and they will live happily ever after...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Youth Night Kodak moments

I don't have any pictures to post today, but I sure wish I did. Last night's Youth Night was full of Kodak moments, such as...

- when the girls raked a big pile of leaves together and then the guys dove head-first into them... and promptly got buried alive by the girls, who were upset that the guys stole their idea.

- when the boys v. girls soccer game turned into more of a tackle-football game.

- when one of the volunteers actually had three of the boys reading science books for fun.

- when the kids sat down at study tables and asked for help from their "favorite" tutors... and every tutor was picked by some kid.

- when one volunteer spontaneously started a game of "duck, duck, goose" that everyone got in on.

- when the adults all helped herd the kids on the bus at the end of the night, hugging the kids and telling them they loved them, and then stood by and waved good-bye as they drove away.

We actually have a great, strong core group of about eight voluteers who come out to help now - thank you to those of you who prayed for that! They are such a blessing because they are full of energy, really smart, really fun, and they really do love the youth.

As the "director" with lots of helpers, I find myself not needing to do a whole lot, so I have been praying for opportunities to talk with the youth more personally. Last night, my favorite time was when I was in the kitchen, and kids came in to have a snack or drink. They aren't allowed to wander around the house with such things, so while they munched, I got to be Auntie Connie and ask about their homework, their day, their friends, and their life. I'm really enjoying them, and so glad for the time we have together.

And next time, I'll try to take some pictures!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Packages, packages!

This has been my jackpot week for packages! Every day I have been pleasantly surprised by a new box with my name on it beside my porch door.

First came my mom's package of purple pajamas and pumpkin cookies (which the boys just LOVED)... and tea!

Then came Zoe's handcrafted quilt and pillow set... the material was a pattern of tea cups and tea pots!

Today the box said "From the Vincent Ladies," and contained homemade cookies, some fun crocheted pieces, chocolate, and a tea mug... filled with tea!

Anyone sensing a pattern here? :) My entire room motif will be ruined if I ever turn to drinking coffee!

Thank you to all of you wonderful people for cheering up my week. It was tons of fun to be surprised and get to open new things made or bought just because you were thinking of me - I feel so loved!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Supergirl Vs. Culture Shock

At training in Illinois, we talked about an inevitable monster that would take the best of us eventually - Culture Shock. I naively thought this monster wouldn't find me... that I had bested him with sheer cleverness by staying stateside in a major all-American city. Sure, I'd be completely surrounded by internationals, but they are from so many different countries and cultures that I didn't feel like I'd feel steeped in anything too much... it would just be like participating in a "World Cultures Festival" every day, and who wouldn't love that?

Last week, I noticed I was getting irritated by one of my friends going on and on about what "they" do in "their country" that is so much superior to the way "we" Americans do it. I was puzzled by my own feelings, because I have always been so fascinated and open to learning about other cultures before, yet now I suddenly feel offended and this urge rises up in me to defend my own culture. I know my culture doesn't do many things right, but there are certain things - especially hygenic things - that make more sense to me in America than in many other places. And it's the way I've always done it and my family has done it and all my friends have done it, and I don't want to be told it's all wrong! I try to be sensitive of others' cultures, so why can't they do the same? 

Over the weekend, I got totally sick from food poisoning... it was awful. And even though it only really lasted 24 hours, for three days the smell of garlic and fish and curry wherever I went made me wish never to eat another international dish again.

Yesterday I got flustered (ok, I just broke down and cried) everytime anyone questioned or criticized me about the way I did things. I know that is vague, but it pretty much touched on every aspect of my daily routine, including the fact that I microwave leftovers instead of putting them in the oven.

And last night when I was tutoring my favorite kids (international by ethnicity, but fluent in English), I got mad because they kept talking at me in Arabic (which they know I can't speak) and laughing. Why would they do that? Don't they know that is so rude?

And this morning I got frustrated because I heard my families hanging out in the living room and I went out to sit and visit with them, and they thought I was trying to leave the house, so they got up and opened the door for me and scolded the kids for being in my way. I just wanted to be with them, and couldn't seem to even communicate that to them!

I have never felt so out of place and disconnected, and as I thought about all these symptoms today - irritability, inexplicable weeping, sickness, homesickness, patriotism, exhaustion, hostility toward other cultures - I could here Jim Miller's voice in my head saying, "It's gonna happen - just recognize it for what it is." Culture Shock. Somehow the monster found me - in the home of Vera Bradley and DeBrands Fine Chocolates! How did it find me?

Of course, my training also taught me that I have two choices at this point: I can be critical and withdraw, or I can take a deep breath and get back to learning - observing, asking questions, engaging. It's not easy - my spirit's been a bit bruised this week and my tummy is still recovering - but I know God put me here, and I know the people I love, love me too. And as inevitable as Culture Shock is, it is also possible to overcome it - to grow and become stronger through it, if I keep following the Lord. So pray for me as I face the epic showdown: Supergirl Vs. Culture Shock!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Continuing to dispell misconceptions...

"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." - John 9:3

Had another long and emotionally exhausting conversation today on the topic of "Healing." A new friend is determined to pray for God to heal me and she is sure healing will happen. I tried all my usual points (see entries from July 29-30) but she was convinced that God wants me "healed."

Before I go further, can I just say that I do not think being in a wheelchair is the worst thing that could happen to a person? Disabilities get such a bad rap from the general public...

This friend refered me to John 9:3, and told story after story of healings that she has witnessed. If God could restore an entirely cancer-rotted body, why shouldn't he make me walk? My question in return is, why should he make me walk? Why does he owe me anything at all? I have actually spent a lot of time with the verse in John 9, and this is the conclusion I have come up with:

Whatever God does, he does for his own glory. If he heals a person, it is for his glory. If he blesses a person with a disability (yes, I just said blesses), then it is for his glory. Some people need to receive a physical healing or witness a great obvious miracle in order to believe that God is good, powerful, and present. God knows each person's heart, and he grants those kinds of healings if it is what is needed to turn their hearts toward him and give him worship.

Thing is, I already know that God is good, powerful, and present in my life. And I have tried to share the stories of this evidence my whole life, to anyone who will listen. I believe it is a very powerful message when someone with a disability testifies to the faithfulness and love of God, because it means our faith isn't contingent on our own circumstances. I am so encouraged and challenged by the words of three brave men in Daniel 3: "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." Even if he does not... In my own life, this message has a similar translation: I know the God I serve is able to make my muscles strong and loose and make me walk. But even if he does not, I will not turn against him - I will continue to worship and follow him.

Back to my original conclusion: Whatever God does, he does for his glory. My life is hidden in him, so my weakness no longer matters or has any power over me. I think he receives more glory out of my disability than he would in my ability. This is a timeless theme with God: from the beginning of the Bible until the end, he delights to choose the weak things of this world, so that his power may be evident and that his glory will shine. 

Why would I demand that my sovereign God give me a few years of human strength when I can do what he asked me to - deny myself - and give him a lifetime (actually, an eternity) of glory and honor that he deserves?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A typical lovely day in the life of Connie

As I reflect tonight on the day I had today, I'm amazed at how typical and yet how lovely it was. This morning I had breakfast and Bible study with Elsa, and then we went grocery shopping. When we got back, I played with Michael and Jo Lien a while, which was fun because they were both in really sweet and silly moods. I fed them crackers and cookies, and taught them how to blow kisses, and it's their new favorite game. Watched part of "The Little Mermaid" with Thang Ngaih and Lian, who have watched it enough now to quote parts of it in a hilarious Jamaican-Burmese accent. Then Thang Ngaih asked me to help her with her English homework for about an hour while the kids napped, and she was so excited to learn (among other things) how to write a check (though she laughed because she said she has "No money to write on check!").

Then I worked on my Ruth lesson for a bit, but I was sitting by my window (here below for you to see), so I was slightly distracted by the beauty of the fall colors and the activities of the volunteers outside... This wonderful group of people from Ohio are here this week to serve, and they chose this day to rake the leaves under the massive trees surrounding I-House. This ended up being a full-day task, because it was a crisp and windy day, and leaves were falling constantly, so every time they cleared the lawn, they had to do it again an hour later. I spent a good part of my day being highly entertained at the sight of the volunteers toting the rakes from the front yard to the backyard... and to the front yard again... and then to the backyard again... and "rinse and repeat." Nature was not their friend today.

Finally, the great autumnal outdoors beckoned me enough to make me put on a sweater and venture forth. To my delight, I found some Somali friends in the backyard - a woman and four of her six kids. She was checking out her corner of the community garden and the kids were making grass-and-leaf huts "for tiny people." I explored the acre with them, searching for the brightest and prettiest leaves to decorate the huts with. When our noses got too cold, "Mama Jayne" called us inside for pumpkin sugar cookies and hot cocoa. Then more kids showed up and I talked with them (even got a hug!) and helped them work on their homework for a while, and helped their mom with an official government letter she needed to write.

Came back home and everyone was upstairs, so I had dinner and tea (my fourth cup of the day), and went back to Jayne's to color a picture of Sally Brown (as in, Charlie's sister) in a sparkly princess dress - yes, I have sparkly crayons - and read a book that I just can't seem to put down this week.

Can't say every day is this wonderful... I've talked with some of you about some real challenges that have come up in the past few weeks, and everyone has difficult days. But I am so glad that this is my life right now... I'm so glad God has me here, and that I get to do life with the internationals and ministry staff here in Fort Wayne.