Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Looking back and looking ahead

Last year at this time,  I set forth for myself some goals, and I am proud to say I accomplished them all!

1. To learn something that is domestically useful: I learned that you can spruce up an antique living room by simply getting rid of unattractive knickknacks! You can replace an awkward statue and with candles, and the room is much warmer and cozier. Also, photographs of people you love, framed and placed on shelves and mantles, instantly turns a rented house into a home. Valuable tidbits for a couple of missionaries on a dollar store decorating budget.

2. To learn something that is just crazy fun: I'm sure there are multiple things I learned, especially from Kelsey and Tall Hannah, but one thing that stands out tonight is something Pam taught me - the pure joy of wearing long, brightly colored, striped, extra-fluffy socks all. the. time. Can't live without them anymore!

3. To make a new friend: Well I've made lots of friends, but two of the most significant this year were Meng Pu and Kelsey.

4. To have a real kindred spirit: Small Hannah has definitely become that most of all.

5. To travel to a new place: Going to Geneva, Indiana, on the Limberlost adventure in October, with the Hannahs and Kelsey.

The final goal was to make a difference. It's kind of a life goal for me, so I can't say if I've accomplished it this year, but I hope I have.

I got an interesting email/blog challenge today: If God were to give you a picture in anticipation of 2012, what would it be? So I went back through the photos I took this year, and I think maybe this is the picture God's given me for 2012:


I took this picture during one of the best weeks of the year - when the team from my home church came up to serve at I-House. One of the I-House teens wrote the word "Miracle" on the black top at I-House, while the rest of the group was swimming, eating popsicles, playing soccer, and sharing life. The time I have been able to spend with these kids this year is a miracle.
That I got to share it with my home church family, and see on their faces that they got it is a miracle.
That the youth program is still growing and bursting at the seams is a miracle.
That hearts and lives are being transformed right before our eyes is a miracle.
That I get to spend another year learning from and pouring into this group is a miracle.
And I fully believe and expect that God has many more miracles in store for the youth at I-House.

I want to go into the coming year with confidence and anticipation that I serve a Saviour who is in the miracle-making business, and his miracles are always wonderful!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Gift to Jesus

Tonight, Pastor Alan asked us, what gift can we give to Jesus this Christmas?

As I started to think about it, my first answers were things I struggle with, like pride and control. But those aren't very nice gifts, are they? And they aren't really gifts, anyway, because they are sacrifices I need to surrender at his feet for him to destroy and overcome. I wouldn't want to receive for Christmas the gift of the very worst mess someone has, that I have to fix or throw away.

I tried to decide if I had a really good thing in me that I could give to him, but I realized that any good thing I have is from him and for him and belongs to him already. It would be like someone coming into my room and taking something off my desk, wrapping it up and giving it to me.

So is there anything I have that is truly mine that isn't a mess that I can offer? Um, not really.... no. What could I give, then? I thought a bit longer, and came to this thought: if I had a child who was unable to buy or make me anything without my help, what would I cherish from them? Personally, I love thoughtful, creative gifts. So I would probably consider a gift precious if I first gave something simple and the person took the simple thing and made it beautiful - like making a block of wood into a carved statue, or a piece of paper into origami, or a ball of yarn into a hat. Ok, so something simple I can transform into something beautiful... for Jesus.

One of the biggest struggles I faced this year was being unable to breathe. It was just for ten days, but it was profound - I understood how simple a breath of air is, and how valuable and necessary it is to life. Simple... a breath is a simple gift I have received from Jesus - my block of wood, my ball of yarn. My breathing is not the greatest in the world. I don't have powerful lungs, I have been diagnosed with asthma, and I use two assistive breathing machines each day. By no means can I boast of my amazing capacity for oxygen.

But... breathing is something that I can do. And with each breath, I have the choice to sing or scream, to laugh or moan, to encourage or criticize, to promote peace or to provoke conflict, to share the good news of Jesus' love or to complain, to talk about Him or talk about me. Each breath helps to pump blood through my heart and gives me another moment to live, and each moment matters. So this Christmas, I am gift wrapping and presenting to my Savior every breath I breathe until my very last. I commit each word spoken and noise made to his glory, that each breath will proclaim his mercy and grace and love.

I know this will not be a perfectly preserved gift... I will no doubt mess it up more often than I wish. But when I do, I will ask forgiveness, dust it off and give it again. Every time I give it, I will remember that it is only by his grace that I have a breath to breathe, and it is only by his power that I can make it something beautiful for Him.

Merry Christmas, Jesus. Please accept this gift as a response of my love and gratitude for your gift of Life to me.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Denominations.

My weekly theological discussion witn Meng Pu this week was about a difficult subject both to pronounce and to explain: Denominations. Let me preface this by saying that in my experience and opinion, "denominations" are highly overrated, and have in modern history done more harm than good to the unity of the body of Christ. I understand that people have different ways of worshipping, and different views on hierarchy and leadership, and emphasize different minor aspects of theology, and I see the value in associating yourself with a specific church family, but when labels other than "disciples of Christ" become people's primary identity, we lose the thing Jesus prayed for in John 17. So, with this as my beginning point, here's how our conversation unfolded...

Meng Pu asked me the name of my home church, which I told him is Triad Christian Fellowship. He wondered what denomination it belongs to, and if there are other "Christian Fellowships" around the country, like there are Assemblies of God, Baptist, and Episcopalian. I smiled as I considered all the Christian fellowships I have been connected with in some way and thanked God for each one. Then I explained that we say that my church is non-denominational - that the people who come have backgrounds in various denominations, and that we just try to keep our focus on the way the New Testament church lived, and we read Acts 2:42-47 together. Meng Pu nodded and said thoughtfully, "I think this is very good..."

He asked about our view on the Holy Spirit and Pentacost, among other things that sadly seem to divide so many Christians. I said that while our church body doesn't often respond charismatically to the movement of the Holy Spirit, that we are not opposed to it, and we very much believe he is active and present among us, and the evidence of that is through the ways we learn and grow, and the changes we see in people's lives. Again he nodded and repeated, "I think this is very good..."

His next question was how TCF could connect with other churches if we aren't part of a denominational family. I thought about the times we've worked with other community churches through Operation Christmas Child, Vacation Bible School, Child Evangelism Fellowship, and the Rescue Mission, and how beautiful it is that it doesn't matter what church buildings or names we have, we can still fellowship and serve in love because of our common hope in Christ Jesus. Once more, Meng Pu was amazed.

Then he said, "This is not like my country. In my country, missionaries come from different denominations and plant churches in their denomination. We become members of a church and do not worship with others." Even now in the states, he has not thought before about the possibility of visiting a church outside of his denomination. He said that as a child, he met a missionary from a different denomination from his own, who told Meng Pu that because of a difference of opinion regarding the Holy Spirit's role in believer's lives, he was not truly a Christian. Other divisions came up among missionaries in the area, concerning baptism and Old Testament laws and church government. So this information about how the body of Christ could work together as one in the name of our Saviour was very exciting to him. It's like he wished and prayed that the Church could be like that but didn't realize that in many places it is.

I was saddened and angered by the experiences that Meng Pu and his people (and probably many people around the world) have had with Christian missionaries. Why are churches sending out people who are only promoting and expanding a denomination? Why is anything at all being preached besides salvation and redemption through Jesus Christ? Isn't that the point - isn't that the message all disciples of Christ have been given - isn't it the only message in all the world that matters? Don't we believe that if people surrender their lives to Him that He can change hearts and make the difference? Don't we believe that the Holy Spirit still has the power to convict and reconcile and council? Who cares how we worship, as long as we are worshipping the one and only God in Spirit and in Truth? Why do we carry any other name or title but Jesus, when his life is the one we are to be devoted to following and living out?

Followers of Jesus, Disciples of Christ, Members of the Way - I pray that we remember that we have in common the forgiveness of sins, freedom from the laws of sin and death, and the hope of eternal life, and that we commit ourselves to sharing these things with those around us.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Seeds

Thinking about seeds today... because they are something Jesus thought about a lot. I was reading the gospel according to Mark today, and chapter 4 is mostly about seeds, and how they are like the kingdom of God: the story of the Sower, the story of growing seeds, and the story of the mustard seed are all there. So below is a somewhat poetic expression of my thoughts on the subject.



The kingdom of God is like a seed.

It began with One Man -
not impressive to behold
but powerful.

He is the fullness of the kingdom of God
and He brought that kingdom to earth -
the kingdom of God is here and now
And he lived it out
lived out zoe
demonstrated life as God intended it to be 
His will on earth as it is in heaven.

He sowed himself among us
made his dwelling among us
planted and rooted himself among us
God with us
Emmanuel.

And then...

He spoke truth
He promised peace
He brought healing
He offered hope
He lavished love.

He broke open his life and poured it out
so others could live -
really live.

And what began as an unassuming seed pod
grows.

Twelve men listened and responded -
they followed and obeyed
they learned and tried to live the way He did.

He said, "Watch and listen -
This is how we grow,
This is how we live."

The Living Water flows
The Light shines and dispels the darkness
and the seed becomes sprouting leaves.

Three-hundred more
and then five-thousand
from many tribes and tongues
were added to the kingdom
through the Spirit and Truth.

The word spreads
the gospel enriches
and the sprouts become branches -
men and women shared the stories
to study and remember
and pattern their lives after the Seed.

And branches grow
they thicken
they strengthen
they stretch farther and wider
the kingdom expands to the ends of the earth.

People are amazed that
the more they study
and live the life of the Seed,
the more the seed becomes a tree -
taller and broader
mightier and fuller
more beautiful
more bounteous
more alive than they ever imagined.

But the truth is
the tree is not more than the Seed -
it is the Seed
the fulfillment and fullness of all the seed contains and holds.

It is the outward image and product
of the planted and rooted and very much alive seed -
the Church is the picture and body of Christ
living life to the fullest
living life as He intended it
the kingdom of God on earth
here and now
a tree
a seed.

~ C.L. Chandler

Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmas treats!

It's beginning to look... and sound... and smell a lot like Christmas around our house, thanks to our awesome international friends! On Saturday, we had some of the teen girls over to do some baking and preparing some treats. When we finished, the Zo church family came in and sang some Christmas carols for us!

Muddy Buddies - peanut butter and chocolate coated Chex mix,
powdered with sugar and sprinkles

Tidings of comfort -
Pretzels with chunks of Carmello bars and walnuts

Tidings of joy -
Pretzels with melted Hugs and M&Ms

Christmas cake - two-layer vanilla cake with whipped vanilla topping, sprinkles, and M&Ms

Zo church Christmas caroling

The best thing about the Christmas holiday is that we get to spend the whole month finding ways to share love and peace and joy with others! How can you do that today?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Bilingual Bible theology

Two things I've learned recently about spending time with Pastor Meng Pu: First, never show up without my Bible. Second, settle in for a long and challenging conversation when he begins by saying, "Oh, my teacher Kah Ni... I have question." Because inevitably the question will be about some specific, confusing, hard-to-reasearch detail in Biblical history, or a complex theological concept that is hard to understand even in your own language, much less trying to discuss it bilingually.

"Oh, my teacher Kah Ni... I have a question." This came again yesterday, and I took a deep breath of preparation - more like anticipation - of something really big and really good. We're sitting together at the dining room table, with our Bibles open and waiting, his in Burmese and mine in English. We "synchronize" our texts by finding a common passage we both know well as a starting point, and turn forward or backward together to keep our place. He'll say, "Chaptah two, vahs twenty-seex," and then go on, half reading and half quoting from memory the passage, and I follow along in my Bible and give him the English words and a sketch pad and pencil, so he can express his thoughts and responses to me. It's pretty cool, actually.

His question yesterday led us into a discussion about the old law and the new law, flipping around from Genesis to Leviticus to Hebrews to Matthew to Ephesians. He said that his people seem to think that if they become Christians they have to bind themselves to all the old laws, but he wants them to know that in Christ they have freedom and forgiveness and grace, that Jesus abolished the old law and the condemnation that it brought, and established this new law.

Of course, gathering this much information from Meng Pu in English took an hour of broken phrases and mixed-up vocabulary and lots of penciled illustrations.We weren't exactly working with concrete vocabulary we could act out or draw out well... try communicating abstract concepts to someone who doesn't speak your language sometime! And a few times, I could tell the words were right on the edge of his tongue and he could not figure out how to get me to understand them, so he would close his eyes, shake his head, smile really big, and lean back for a breath, and say, "I no know... how to say... oh, Holy Spirit, I need..." I could feel his frustration, and I was frustrated too because we both wanted to learn and share with each other so much and were trying every way we could. But that quick moment of prayer strengthened us both, and he tried again and I grasped his meaning, and smiling together we said, "Thank you, Holy Spirit, Hallelujah!"

These are my favorite English lessons... when I am not really the teacher, but the Holy Spirit is - the Holy Spirit, who garbled and confused the communication of pride and power in the sons of man at Babel, only to redeem and restore them to communication of truth and hope at Pentacost; the Holy Spirit who speaks and understands every language and longs for his family to be united still through the gospel across borders and boundaries; the Holy Spirit who always makes his message and purpose known to the blessing of his people and the glory of his name.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Showers of blessings and continued thanksgiving


Yesterday my friend and student, Nadia, came over for English lesson. She has a rolling French lilt, and a demeanor that fits exactly with my idea of an angel of heaven... so full of love for everyone, and sincere worship and adoration of Jesus Christ.

She met Kevan and Hayden, as they were visiting and I put them to work, helping Nadia with her dictation exercises. Before she went home, she just glowed and gushed to me: "I am so thankful I know you and you are here, and that I came here today to learn English, because I met your wonderful brother and his friend, and I know God is blessing them, and He will bless Hayden because He sees how he helps your brother, just like He sees your friends the two Hannans, and He will bless them because they help you - may God bless your friends!"

I smiled at her sweet enthtusiasm and agreed with her, just loving the way she showers blessings so generously. Then she got more serious and said, "Sometimes I am sad and disappointed, and I have to say, 'God, I thank you.' I ask God to give me strength to be thankful for everything, in good and bad times."

I was silent, humbled by this because I had been sad and disappointed all day and had chosen to complain and criticize, rather than give thanks. It was so easy last week - on vacation at home with my family and friends and a dozen desserts - to think of all the things I am thankful for. But Nadia is right, we need to thank God in good and bad times, because he can use the hard times to draw us closer to Him and bring glory to His name.

Thankfulness is a lot like love, in that at its truest and purest level, it isn't contingent on feelings or circumstances. It's a response that we consciously choose to make. And sometimes it isn't easy, and from our perspective it might not make sense. But God really loves it when we decide to do things His way, to walk in his will, and give him the glory.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A new perspective on thanksgiving

A funny thing about Thanksgiving that I've been thinking a lot about recently....

As Americans, we think of the story of Thanksgiving like this: "The English pilgrims came to the New World, the winter was very hard, the Indians helped them, and they all gave thanks." From our perspective, the New World is one the white people discovered, and the Indians are kind of the foreigners with the strange costumes and customs, aren't they? At least, that's how I always envisioned it before.

But let's think on it a little longer and deeper, maybe from a new perspective:

A group of people, persecuted and oppressed in their own home country, without freedom to worship as they chose, in danger if they crossed the king... escaped their home country and found some safety in a refugee haven in a neighboring country, and then were given the chance to start over in a new home across the sea... families arrived in a world that is new to them, where they were wholly unfamiliar with the language or the methods of survival. They were lost and frustrated by their lack of understanding, and they came in the dead of winter. They had no experience or resources to offer the locals, much less to sustain them. They only had two things to depend on and trust - the faithfulness and care of God, and the compassion of the native people who had learned how to live and thrive here. The first, they were certain of... the second was still to be determined.

And what about the natives... how did they feel about this intrusion? Did they expect the new comers to conform to their way of life, learn their language, dress like them, build homes like theirs, contribute to their society? Did they secretly hope these dirty, poor creatures would get discouraged and go home, or that they wouldn't make it through the winter and come spring things would be back to normal?

However they might have felt initially, their choice of goodwill towards the refugees is evident by the celebration they shared a year later... eating food that the natives and refugees grew together, wearing warm coats they hunted together... brown and white children playing together in the harvested cornfields, women with long, braided black and blonde hair sharing stories through broken language phrases and laughter, men carving turkies with stone and steel knives...  What an awesome cross-cultural experience it must have been!

And they thanked God together... thanked God for health and family and food and new friends... thanked God for his provision and grace and mercy... thanked God for his heart for people of all languages and cultures, for those who are in need and those he has prepared to come to the aid of those in need... thanked God for his passion for relationship and the concern and attention he gives to every person, every family, in every corner of the world.

So much to be thankful for, whether we are the natives or the refugees... so thank God.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My really awesome weekend

"Sounded like you were having a fun English lesson," Hannah commented on our way home from my student's house. I figured she was referring to the level of giggles she overheard for most of an hour. "Oh, it's fun alright, trying to explain the purpose of the English future-perfect-progressive tense... Do you realize how confusing it is when we use a future reference point to talk about an event that hasn't happened yet but will happen at some point and will continue on to another point in the future and then stop so that it will be in the past for an even further future point?!" Poor Hannah replied, "Well, when you put it that way, it doesn't sound as fun..."

I felt bad for snapping at my kindred spirit friend, and for complaining about grammar nuances, a topic I really do enjoy. But by that point, on Friday evening at 5:30, I realized I'd spent 18 hours this week trying to explain grammar, and it was starting to annoy me. I felt stressed and overwhelmed, and needed a break - a really good break, without lesson plans or short simple sentences or reasons why we talk the way we do. And Thanksgiving break was still three days away... how could God redeem and bless those three days?

Friday night, Hannah and I attended a four-course banquet for local Christian arts programs. During each course, the programs would give a sample of what they do - dancing, singing, acting, and mime-ing. It was really quite enjoyable - the food was delicious and the performances were very well-done. And I love local community stuff, so it was fun to see what sort of things Fort Wayne has to offer.

Saturday, some of the youth night boys came over and raked my yard at Little Burma. They were so wonderful - they worked hard and had a terrific attitude! The best part was that they came in our house when they were finished, sat around our table with us, and enjoyed dessert and hot chocolate. They were really fun to hang out with, and we got to know them a little more personally, which totally made my day.

That night, we got to go to church as Gospel Community, which I really love. The message was powerful and challenging and encouraging, and just exactly what I needed. And afterward, we got to talk for about an hour with several great people who are becoming new friends.

Today we attended Restoration Church, a predominantly African church that does awesome worship. After a service that was truly an act of thanksgiving to God, we stayed and had a big lunch with our African friends. There were brand new babies to hold, six kinds of rice to eat, and plenty of French phrases to mimic! Love and blessings abound and overflow when we are with our international friends.

I've gotta go now to pack, because the best is yet to come - tomorrow a roadtrip to North Carolina and a week with my family!!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Reincarnation

One of my students told me recently that she believes in reincarnation. She even went to a "specialist," who helped her "see" other lives that she's had, and how those previous experiences have affected who she is now. She is convinced it is all true. She said she knew I was a Christian and that I didn't believe that, but that I should research it anyway, and gave me the name "Dr. Brian Weiss" to refer to.

I had no idea how to respond to that.

I talked with Pam about this, because I really have no desire to research this field, and yet I want to be able to use this topic to somehow share the gospel with her. Pam, being thoughtful and brilliant as she is, said, "Well you know, in a way, Christians do believe in reincarnation."

Wha-a-a-a-t??

She explained quickly, before I could call her a heretic, that she was thinking of three distinct lives - our life before Christ, our life now in Christ, and our life in heaven one day with Christ. I love this. So I decided to research it more. Dr. Brian Weiss could wait... a brief reading about him on his homepage was enough for me.

First, I remembered God's promise to his people in the Old Testament, to make them new - to not just change their heart, but give them a completely new heart and a new spirit - a new life.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 -
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

And the idea of spiritual reincarnation was the way Jesus told Nicodemus the gospel! It's the most well-known and most commonly used story in Christian evangelism.

John 3:3-7 -Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’

I love Paul's description of our spiritual reincarnation, the contrast in our first life and our second life... and the love and mercy of Jesus makes all the difference!

Ephesians 2:1-7 -
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air... All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus...

Or, more simply put:

2 Corinthians 5:17 -
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

This description of our final reincarnation is the most exciting to me. As thankful as I am for the change and the new life God has given me on earth, my heart beats and aches for eternity - the life that is promised to me, full of pure joy and empty of weakness and pain. It will be a life so completely full of Christ that it will not only transform my heart and soul, but my body as well!

1 Corinthians 15:50-57 -
I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Praise God for his gift of new birth, true life, transformation - the ultimate reincarnation!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Fall leaf party

Yesterday the youth came over to I-House for their first service project - leaf raking! We've been praying for opportunities for the kids to help and give back to the community, and they talk about how thankful they are for the people at I-House, so we thought it might be the best place for them to start. I don't know what I expected, but I was completely overwhelmed with joy and pride for all the kids by the end.

Fifteen teenagers and ten leaders came, and in two hours they raked and cleaned the front and back yards of I-House, put away all the toys, soccer and basketball goals, furniture, and playsets, cleaned up the garages, and swept the driveway and parking lot. For those who have visited and seen the extensive property here - more than an acre - you know this is no small project!

But besides the impressiveness of the amount of work accomplished, I was really proud of the quality of their work and character. The kids worked together in teams, without arguing, complaining, or fighting, and they worked hard and steady (with a few playful jumps into mounds of leaves), with a wonderful attitude and big smiles on their faces. Whether they were sweeping, pushing the leave blower, riding the tractor, dragging a tarp full of leaves, or lugging tables to the back pavilion shelter, they were the picture of "cheerful givers" and "joyful servants." There was love and joy and life, and I am so thankful for each and every one of them!


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Nuances of the English language

It all started the other day after ESL class, when my brain was still in grammar mode, and I saw my favorite Bible verse on my wall: "Look at the nations and watch, and be utterly amazed, for I am going to do something in your day that you wouldn't believe, even if you were told." My grammar-focused thoughts were: why does God make a distinction between "look at" and "watch," and why does he tell Habbakkuk to do both? After some careful pondering, I determined that "look at" is a first impression, to notice and acknowledge something... "to watch" demands your full attention and focus on something that is happening. So God wanted Habbakkuk to acknowledge the nations - not ignore them or reject them - and give his full attention to the work God was about to do in them. Should we not continue to live in this command and its promise?

This led me to ponder other pairs of words in the English language that we tend to assume are interchangeable, but are in fact quite distinct and unique in meaning and intent. I have my friend, Brie, to thank for a lot of these revelations, as she popped in tonight to sit and visit with me and this is the conversation we ended up having...

hear/listen to - You may have considered this one before, but consider again how we hear so many things throughout the day, and we have little control over most of what touches our ears. But listening is a conscious decision we make. Like "watching," "listening" takes focus, and when we truly listen, we interact with the sound and the meaning behind the sound. We take it in, and usually we have an emotional response to it.

touch/feel - How many things do we touch throughout the day? And how many of those things have a lasting impact on us? A touch is a momentary thing that does not require or demand an analysis. Yet when we "feel" something, we interact with it and draw conclusions. I feel a sweater and decide if it is scratchy or fluffy, thin or thick, smooth or bumpy. Feeling something takes a little more time and concentration. Even emotionally, when we consider "feelings" we analyze and describe our emotions.

talk/speak - I think this is Brie's and my favorite pair of words. The concept of talking is pretty casual and personal, but speaking... speaking is much weighter. When a person speaks, they are talking with deep intension and purpose, usually to stir others to action or provoke some emotion or change. It is not about "you and me" anymore - it is about something greater than ourselves. In Brie's words, "The universe is involved." Why do we say that we "speak" English? Because it it our intentional mode of communicating with spoken language... I can talk in Burmese and Spanish, but it's just some words that may or may not have purpose or meaning, but because I am not fluent in those languages, I can't express fully the depths of communication - I can't "speak" Burmese or Spanish.

tell/say - This was the most complicated pair for us to figure out. But what we concluded was that when you "say" something, you are inviting a response. Think about how most dialogues in books use "He said... she said..." On the other hand, to "tell" someone something is more of a command or information that does not request or require a response. Of course, we do use this word when relaying some discussions: "She told me... and I told her..." But this sort of discussion tends to be an argument, and that is just two one-sided conversations, neither side requesting the response of the other.


The pattern we see is that one word references our senses - which God gave us and we should not disregard. But our senses are not essential to our communion and relationship with one another. A person can be blind or deaf or paralyzed, and still be able to interact and relate with others. But the sad truth is that people who have perfect 20/20 vision and perfect hearing can go through life without truly seeing or listening. God built into us this capacity for a deeper layer of sensitivity because He designed us for relationship and community.

And one of the great beauties of the Word of God is that it is alive and active, and speaks to that deeper layer of who we are. When we watch and listen, we see his hand move and we sense his heart beat and his voice resonates across time and space and into our very souls.


At the end of the Habbakkuk verse, God says, "you wouldn't believe, even if you were told." Brie pointed out that if we were told what God is about to do among the nations, we would be so in awe, so overwhelmed, that we could not respond. And we don't need to... we only need to look and watch.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Tea Time!

In case you haven't heard yet... this year my first book was published! It's simple and small and sweet, "without any high-faluting mumbo-jumbo," but it's mine, and I'm so excited to share it with you. It's a collection of short stories and poems and devotional thoughts I've written over a span of about five years, about my family, friends, international experiences, fun memories, and special moments with God.


http://www.publishamerica.net/sc/productsearch.cgi?search_field=tea+time&storeid=*244418b8a4d4d3cc24ffc141fbae7811634e60e7


It is currently available to order for $10, if you click on the link above. After Thanksgiving, the publishing company is doubling the price, so I wanted to give you an opportunity to order your own copy - and get lots more as holiday gifts - before then! And if you get it and read it, please write to me and give me some feedback. I hope that it is a blessing and encouragement to you!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

"You breathe too"

“This crud in my lungs reminds me of your love, when I breathe in and out, You breathe too. And I hear it resonating through the chambers of my chest, shaking out my heart and my soul. And I wonder why you even let it happen, but when I breathe, you breathe too…” – Peter, Peter, Peter, by Innocent Smith

Kevan came last week to visit, and I'm so glad he did. And I'll tell you why in a minute...

My week contained three doctor visits, plus a new diagnosis and a long-term medication. Dr. Israbian was the respiratory doctor who took care of me and in a way saved my life when I was in the hospital, and he wanted to see me on Monday. So Pam and I went together early in the morning for x-rays and a chat with him. X-rays were clear and reported good things, but when he said "Deep breath in!" I was surprised and discouraged to hear a long slow wheeze. I cleared my throat and tried again, but had the same result. I'm glad he didn't ask me to try a third time, because I was just trying not to sob at that moment. I have breathed so clearly since I left the hospital! Why on earth did my stupid lungs decide today to act like this? A few strategic questions followed, and then the conclusion: "I'm going to go ahead and tell you that you have asthma." *sigh* Another diagnosis to add to the list, another star add to my collection. He wrote a prescription for a nebulizer treatment that he wants me to use daily. Then he scheduled me to come back in three days for a breathing test. And he wanted to assign me a neurologist to see regularly. And asked me to come back in four months.

So the reason I didn't plummet into a self-pity funk is that Kevan was here, and when he's around life takes on a sort of magical charm. The week danced by in hues of joy and bliss and fun. Just eating together, bashing around Fort Wayne, telling stories, playing music, and singing...

The test wasn't such a big deal. Fifteen minutes of, "Just breathe normally, nice and easy, in and out, aaaand deep breath in, now... blast it out - push push push push, keep going keep going, aaaand, suck it back in! Gooood. Now, with Albuterol!" It was just so the doctor would have a baseline to refer to.

It was really special to me to get to share my life here with Kevan. At Computer Cafe, he helped a Burmese teenager write an essay on "why the human body is a miracle." At Youth Night, he researched Japanese philosophers and high fived one of our most troubled teens. He joined our "mailing team" and sealed 400 envelopes and Pastor Meng Pu prayed with him. The morning he left, I could see that expression on his face and his friend Hayden's face - they get it, what we do here and why we do it, and they love it.

I got home from the test, and two hours later this neurology department called me to set up an appointment. I told them "the sooner, the better," and the secretary took me literally and suggested 10:00 the next day. I was surprised at how soon they could see me, but figured I might as well get it over it. As a general rule I don't like neurologists and avoid them when I can. So next day, I went to the neurologist office and met the nicest, most soft-spoken, gentle doctor I've ever been to. He did his check-up, with his reflex hammer thingy in his belt like a pistol, and invited me to come back any time I had questions or concerns... I kind of want to take him up on it, just go visit and have a cup of tea with him. I'm scheduled to see him again in six months.

Kevan was gone before my last appointment, but he wrote a new song and the lyrics stuck in my head the past few days. Some of the lyrics are at the top of this entry, and they've been a comfort and encouragement to me. It's good to know I have a kindred spirit in Kevan, that he truly understands what I am dealing with in a way few other people do. But it's even better to be reminded that God understands me better than anyone. He knows my heart, my mind, my soul, and my lungs. And when I breathe - whether it's clear, rattly, or wheezy, He breathes too.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Gospel Community

Red-bearded Joe approached us with a cup of coffee, introducing himself and asking who we were and how we'd heard about their little Christian fellowship called Gospel Community. Kelsey, Hannah and I introduced ourselves and since Joe's hair and glasses reminded me of Kevan, I felt comfortable carrying the conversation a bit further...

"So, we don't really know anything about GC. Can you tell us a bit about what you do here and what you're about?"

He swaggered slightly and sipped his coffee and said something like, "Well, we just basically live in community and think the most important thing is to share the gospel with others."

...

"Well," I concluded, "I guess we're in the right place then!" Ok, I'll admit I was pretty skeptical of our new friend's oversimplified redundant rephrasing of their church's name. It sounds good... in fact, it sounds great. I think many true Christians, particularly in my generation, want to be a part of a church like that. But as often as I've heard similar creeds, there are very few churches I've been to that actually live this out in reality. I settled in for a one-night stand with another trendy - sorry - "culturally relevant" church service. You know the kind I mean.

But then... people were hanging out, talking in small groups, and no one was sitting alone or being ignored. There was this group of skater boys outside playing together and they all came in and sat on the front row with a guy who apparently sought them out and is mentoring them, someone told me. That just makes me smile. People did more than just shake our hands; they asked us about ourselves and warmly invited us to come again.

And then... the pastor got up. Skepticism again tingled my spine, as he looks eerily like Rob Bell. But when he prayed, his voice was gentle and quiet and unimpressive... kind of like Rich Mullins... and he prayed for God to change him in the course of the sermon. And guess what his sermon was? It was Peter's sermon in Acts 2. And guess what that sermon was?

You got it... the gospel. And that's all. No moral lessons, no interpretations, no fluff. It is basically this: Repent and believe in Jesus. Receive full and unconditional forgiveness of your sins. Show the world the change Jesus has made in your life through baptism. He said that what the world needs is Jesus, and a gospel message that hasn't changed in 2,000 years. "Bring the gospel that never changes to a culture that always does." So simple, yet it is exactly what the church claims to do - preach the gospel.

At the end of the sermon, the pastor said in the most loving and imploring way, "Please, please repent. Please believe. One day everyone will bow a knee and proclaim Jesus as Lord, but he would rather you choose him now. He would rather be in relationship with you now. So please, listen to him and repent." I think that's how John the Baptist must have said it. I think that's how Jesus said it too. That heart-wrenching plea from a person who loves you so much they can't bear the thought of you missing out on the best thing in life. That's how the gospel should be preached.

Ok, so worship and prayer time was awesome too, beautifully handled without the light shows and endless choruses. And I look forward to that time again. But the thing that stuck with me - that sold me on this church - was that they are doing exactly what they claim. They are living in community and sharing the gospel.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Day at Little Burma

Yesterday was cold and very rainy, so I resolved to spend as much of the day as possible inside my house, in my biggest and fluffiest sweatshirt and comfiest socks. I did some singing, writing, and reading in my room for a while, and then my housemate, Ciin, came downstairs with baby Sammy. She set him in his swing in the dining room and then went in the kitchen to start cooking.

This is my chance! I thought, and ran in to the dining room.

It's been very difficult for me to get to know my new housemates... they are very nice, but very private people, preferring to spend most of their time upstairs in their room. Granted, I was gone for most of the summer, then I was in the hospital, then Ciin had her baby, then I went home. Not a lot of time for us to form a special bond. So any amount of time we share together on the main level of our house is time I hope will be good for relationship building.

Back to Ciin in the kitchen... I tried to strike up a conversation, but giggles and one-word responses don't lend themselves to long or detailed dialogues. So I decided to talk with Sammy. I sat by his swing and gave him an occasional push to keep him going. From our short visits together, I have learned a few things: he likes to swing high, he likes to wave his arms around, and he loves music. So I tucked his blanket under his little elbows, rocked him, and sang to him. I also prayed for him... Once he was asleep, I got my book and kept reading and humming, keeping an eye on his sweet little face.

Ciin came in the dining room with a bowl of ramen for me, and asked, "You like?" Ok, sure, why not. Actually, ramen is a wonderful rainy-day meal! She also gave me a steaming cup of Burmese tea. We laughed together over how I tried to wind the eternally-long noodles around my fork... chopsticks would be much more practical, if we had some.

Pastor Meng Pu came over soon after lunch, and we studied the Bible together. I had given him an ESL version of the story of Abraham and Isaac on Monday (which he absolutely loved), and yesterday he quoted the whole thing to me from memory. Then he went back over it in his own words - beautifully broken and mismatched English - as a sermon, explaining how Abraham must have felt and yet chose to obey God, and how the lamb was a picture of Jesus. It was so cool. He asked about my home church, and he said some day when he can speak enough English he wants to visit it! Oh, I can't wait!

After our study, he went upstairs to visit with Ciin (his sister), and I realized baby Sammy was still downstairs with me. So I got to babysit! When he woke up, I talked and sang to him a while and he waved his arms around and smiled in response.

Days like this make me remember how much I love the taste, the sounds, the smell, and the people of our Little Burma...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Looking for answers, listening to God

"Listen to God," I said. "When you listen, God will speak. He speaks in dreams, and through other people, and in the Bible." This is the message I was teaching to the women yesterday, as we read the story of Joseph and his dreams. But I can't do all the talking, I thought, so... "Kim Nu, you listen to God! What does God say to you?" Shy and sweet, the gentle Burmese woman smiled and said, "God say he love me." "Yes, God says he loves you!" I replied as affirmation and subtle grammatical correction. "And Reyna, tell me, what does God say to you?" With the quiet strength I've come to love and admire, my Mexican friend said, "He says when hard time comes, I am with you. Be ready... be strong." As I listen to these messages from God to international Christian women, I smile at the thought of the Holy Spirit, who is fluent in every language, speaking truth to those who want to listen and obey.

During tea break, one of the ladies - a private student of mine who is not yet a follower of Jesus - asked me, "Do you teach other Bible classes?" Yes, I told her about Sunday school, and asked if she was interested in learning from the Bible. "Yes, I am very interested now," she replied thoughtfully. So we agreed to study the Bible together during our private classes. "I think I need to read the Bible. I think if I close my eyes and open the book and then read, it will give me the answers I need." While I don't think that's the best Bible study strategy, I did agree with her that the Bible has many answers for all of us. She asked if we had Bibles here at I-House, so I told her we did and showed her the shelf where we keep them.

During second session, my friend Katie was helping the women study English in the computer lab, and she noticed that this woman was sitting quietly in the corner, reading a Bible! Katie went to her and asked what she was reading. She was looking at 1 Peter 1, and wanted to understand more about "the living hope." So Katie shared with her the gospel from that passage.

After the women all left for the day, my friend Margie came to me, bubbling over with joy and excitement. "I don't know what you taught today in your class," she said, "but this woman asked me to help her understand 1 Peter! She said it was very beautiful, and she wanted to know more and that she wanted to 'be pure.' I talked with her a while, and she took the Bible home with her."

This woman is very thirsty! She is looking for answers, and praise the Lord - she's looking to Him to give the answers to her! I don't know if she used her "open the book and read" strategy, but if she did, God led her to that very passage. It makes me wonder if that's how it happened for the Ethiopian eunich in the chariot, too... The truth stands: if a person seeks the truth and chooses to listen to God, He will speak, He will make his message known to them. Pray for this woman, as she looks for answers and listens to God.

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened..." - A faithful promise from Jesus, in Matthew 7:7-8

Monday, October 10, 2011

Meng Pu's story

"I no need many food, I no need money. I need talk to people, 'God is good, Jesus love you,'" Meng Pu said this with a strong and passionate tone of voice, waving his hands and shaking his head. Translation, for those who aren't sure of his broken English: "I don't need much food or money. I need to tell people the gospel." Wow. What a perspective.

For two hours today, I sat with Meng Pu, and using a sketchpad and pencil and his 200 English-word vocabulary, he told me his God story. I'm hoping he will let me record him speaking sometime, and then translate and write it down. For now, I'm going to write a brief summary of it, but I warn you it won't capture the richness of the story, the way he expressed it. If you ever have the opportunity, ask him to tell you the story.

Thirteen years ago in Burma, Meng Pu was a heavy drinker, and it nearly killed him. But God came to him and told him to stop drinking, ask the Holy Spirit to come in and get rid of all the evil inside, and surrender his life to the work of God. So he did. He became a Christian and has not drunk since, though he now has a pacemaker because of damage done to his heart even then. When the Holy Spirit came in, his whole family fasted and prayed, and he went out and travelled over all of the Chin state for six years, preaching the gospel, healing the sick, and casting out demons. Every time a miracle occurred, people asked him to stay and tell them about Jesus, and everywhere he went, people became Christians. And they paid him with fish.

I'm still working out the details of how he came to America, but he said that life in Burma was very dangerous and his family was scared. Now they live in a house and have next to nothing, and yet they are so thankful to be here. Meng Pu continues to preach the gospel among his people here in the states, and he would like to share it with Americans too. I call him our "Burmese missionary," whom God brought to share his love with my people in a fresher, deeper way.

He really did surrender his life to God - it shows in the way he doesn't cling to or cherish anything but the truth of the gospel.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Girls of the Limberlost


Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny, warm, autumn day, so we girls went on an adventure. We drove down about an hour south to Geneva, the setting of the Limberlost, and the inspiration for the book, Freckles,  that I just finished reading. This was an adventure, because it was one of my spontaneous romantic ideas that had no real guarentee of being exciting or interesting. Fortunately, the other girls - the two Hannahs and a Kelsey - didn't mind taking the risk. And fortunately, it turned out to be a marvelous adventure!

First stop was the historic home of the author, Gene Stratton-Porter. It was gorgeous and elegant, and full of natural specimens of butterflys and stuffed birds, and photos and paintings made by the author.


I got tons of ideas for my own "House of Dreams," one of them being this garden gazebo attached to the side of the house, accessed by a private door from the daughter's bedroom.


The trees were perfect... I love this golden one in the front lawn.


 Second stop was the bird sanctuary, which was basically a wooded and marshy trail...


... that got more wooded and more marshy and more buggy...


...until we were forced to turn back, because going further would mean certain peril by either mud bog or mosquito. This was the moment we realized what sissy city girls we really are.


Last stop was the Loblolly Marsh, which was a huge open field/marsh of lovely wild flowers.



There were butterflies everywhere! And the grasshoppers on the path that sprang out of the way as we moved looked a lot like fairies... so magical!

In conclusion, we all decided it is the perfect place for pictures, and we can't wait to read more books from the Limberlost...

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Life in Narnia, Signs of Love

Mom and I got back to Fort Wayne last night, and I was warmly greeted by a few special things...

Kelsey "and Friends" painted a mural on my bedroom wall that I've been dreaming of for a while. There's a lamp-sconse on my wall that I have always thought could be made to look like the lamppost in the woods in Narnia, especially given it's proximity to my closet... So the girls thought my absense from Little Burma was a grand excuse to bring a bit of Narnian magic to my room.





Also waiting for me was a big "Welcome Back Connie" banner and a "Welcome Back Connie" poster from the youth group. It's so fun to read all the little notes and see the different ways the kids and volunteers expressed their love.


This morning, one if my dear friends and students, Reyna, brought me a special bouqet of flowers. That, along with a thousand warm hugs and kisses from all the ESL students, made it a really wonderful day!


It's good to be back. :)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Freckles, ruby slippers, and oatmeal cookies

Good news - I'm feeling stronger and more energetic, and needing fewer naps! Also enjoying some of my favorite things more... this is when retreats get better. :)

Reading a charming book named Freckles, an old favorite of my Aunt Ruth, who gave it to me this summer. It's set in Indiana in the early 1900s, in the Limberlost - which is around Decatur, not an hour from where I live! Definitely a day-trip exploration this fall (hint, Hannah!)... though I sadly doubt that the fairyland garden that Freckles created is still there... more to come on that.

The other night I went out for ice cream with my dear friend, Leigh Ann, and as we sat on the patio deep in conversation, I let the last couple bites of my ice cream melt into creamy soup in the bottom of my cup, with the cherry stem floating lazily inside. I use my hands a lot when I talk (a habit which I think developed as an ESL teacher, more than anything), and at  one point, knocked my cup over, spilling ice cream soup on my pants and into my ruby slippers. Leigh Ann and I have had just about every adventure imaginable together, so we laughed this one off as I carried my shoes into the restroom and she helped me clean up. With my weird imagination, I couldn't help but think there should be an alternate backstory - a much more entertaining, and perhaps even romatic story - to having ice cream-filled ruby slippers... more to come on that one, too.

And now I must sign off, because the smell of freshly-baked homemade cookies is far too distracting... Mom seems to think it necessary to have homemade baked goods always on hand at The Spoon-Drop Inn, which I don't mind, except that it is making me very spoiled, and well... any weight I lost in the hospital has been generously redeemed. Oh, well. I can't resist, because they are my favorite: oatmeal cookies with dark chocolate chips and craisins!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Special guest post

This was written last night by 14-year-old Jessica, my friend and summer intern at I-House, as a reflection on what she learned during her time there:

In America, especially in these economic times, it's easy to see poor families. This mission trip, however, really put it into perspective that poverty is relative. Not only that, but the magnitude of your faith and happiness isn't contingent on your paycheck or job status.

Living in America, I have grown up with a concrete mindset of wants and needs. For example, if your house doesn't have toilet paper and paper towels, then you're living without the basic "necessities," or needs. But in Fort Wayne, I encountered people who lacked just that. Yet they still tried to bless our church with cash money, a 50 pound bag of rice, and insisting to purchase dinner for the entire group on the trip. This family did all this with a smile on their face, in such an earnest attempt to help us because we were serving God.

This experience has most definitely affected my prayer life, for now I'm able to more accurately discern between my wants and my needs. The people I met over this trip have shown me the truest levels of contentment and faith, and I pray that's something I never lose sight of.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Opportunities to serve in the Piedmont Triad area

"Was there anything special that you saw, experienced, or learned in Fort Wayne, that you want me to share with the church tommorrow?" I asked Gail on the phone a little while ago. She was a member of our TCF mission trip team in June. We're giving a short presentation during the service, and she's already committed to nursery ministry during that time.

She reminded me of the opportunity she had to take a woman and her children home after Women's Club, and how the woman invited her into the home, evidently eager for an American woman just to talk to - to practice her English, perhaps, but also just to have a human connection, a friend in this new country. Gail said that was significant to her, and made her realize that is an aspect of international ministry she can be involved in, and she is looking for opportunities here at home in North Carolina, just to befriend an international woman and spend some time with her in true fellowship and trusting relationship. What a wonderful way to love as Jesus does! I'm so glad this is something she saw in our work at I-House, and that she loved it enough to want to continue it.

So I did just a little local research this afternoon, to help Gail, and others who may be hoping for similar opportunities...

Open Arms Ministries
http://openarmsrefugee.com
This Winston-Salem ministry specifically serves Karenni refugees coming from Myanmar, in a lot of the ways we serve people in Fort Wayne - teaching English, providing transportation to appointments, helping to fill out paperwork, etc. I volunteered with this ministry for a few months before I moved. It's a good place to make friends with newcomers who are longing for relationship with someone they can trust.

World Relief
www.worldrelief.org/highpoint
Here is a ministry in High Point that serves internationals, specifically helping in refugee resettlement. They want and need volunteers who want to befriend newcomer families and help them get adjusted to life in a new country. This means showing families where to find places, teaching how to use modern appliances and keep house, practicing English, helping with medical/hygiene issues, etc. These are things Hannah and I get to do at Little Burma!

Church World Service
www.cwsrefugeesnc.org
I have not personally worked with CWS before, but they also serve international families in Greensboro and Durham, through refugee resettlements and immigrant legal services. Looks like another good opportunity to connect with families who need a friend to love them and spend time with them.

So there you go, Piedmont Triad Area! You now have some great places to look into, pray about, and connect with! If you know of other organizations/ministries that offer services in this area, please add their information in a comment below. And if you connect with one of these places and are blessed by the relationships you build, please let me know. I'd love to hear about it!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

To fight against a downcast soul

"My soul is downcast within me; therefore, I will remember you,
from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon - from Mount Mizar."
~ Psalm 42:6, NIV

This week I've been fighting to not be discouraged. I am anxious to bounce back physically, to see and visit with people, to get projects done, and to return to work at I-House. But it's hard when the mind and heart want to do things that the body is just not able to do. I really appreciate your prayers, and ask that you keep them coming! My neck, arms, and hands need to regain strength, and I need to build up more physical stamina to be active and social.

Memorizing and meditating on Psalm 42 has been really good for me lately. Today, I studied verse 6, and was very encouraged. The psalmists (the Sons of Korah) choose, in the midst of being downcast, to remember the Lord. I looked up the cross-references in my Bible for the three places that are mentioned, and they are territories that God promised to his people, and that he gave them. He kept his promises, and through his own power He blessed his people.

So today, I am remembering promises that God has made and kept in my life - and there are a lot of them! They are evidence of his faithfulness to me, and testimonies of the work he will continue... I can fight against discouragement and put my hope in him, because "He who promised is faithful" (Hebrews 10:23).

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Our pet hummingbird

My family has been entertained this week by a new resident of our backyard. Mom has a hummingbird feeder, and in years past we were lucky to glance out the window at the exact moment a hummingbird buzzed in, took a quick sip-to-go, and flitted off to wherever it is that hummingbirds go. But the novelty of the here-and-gone bird has worn off, because this little one is here-to-stay.

As you can see, he pops in for a drink, and then... perches on the top of the pole. He stays there until another bird dares to cross his path - then he chases the other bird away and returns for more resting and sitting. We're wondering if he has a mate and a nest of little ones in the trees nearby, and maybe this is his version of "The Man Cave" - his little private getaway that preserves his sanity.

So I've made him my pet, and I have decided to name him Cummerbund... because I've been reading The Princess Bride for the 100th time, and it is my favorite name from the lineage of the Dread Pirate Robertses, and also the least likely name for me to give a real person some day. Someone ought to be called Cummerbund, and it might as well be the tiny, bold creature in the backyard who is extremely territorial about his sweet-drink hacienda.




Friday, September 16, 2011

Resting

And now the priority is to rest. I came home to rest - to be away from busy-ness and excitement, to take frequent naps, to not have a work schedule, to not have interruptions, to read and write and pray and and eat and listen to music and watch television and crochet and drink tea and all those sorts of quiet, calm activities. It's an intentional, healing retreat.

I'm not very good at this. Anyone who knows me at all knows this is not natural or easy for me. I have to physically stop myself from starting new projects, have to mentally slow myself down to not overanalyze things, have to socially put myself in check so I don't overdo it. This is not a normal trip home, Connie. I have to remind myself. You are not here to be busy and overstretched, you are here to rest. Because with rest comes healing, and with healing comes strength, and with strength comes endurance. And rest is a very good thing....

If you have any recommended music, books, movies, or quiet, creative activities for me to try out during this time, I'm happy for you to send suggestions to me! And if you are nearby, I'd love to have a little company now and then. :)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Breathing

For ten days, my main priority was breathing. I still feel the irritating tubes that never quite fit my nose exactly right, still hear the panicked beeping sound of the monitor whenever my oxygen level dipped below 85%, still taste the salty muck of Albuterol steaming around my cheeks and eyes and tongue as I tried to enhale as much of it as possible, still remember my lungs and chest resisting the forced inhalation of air through a mask, as though they didn't want to expand the way they are supposed to. It was painful and exhausting to just breathe in and out as deeply as I could, fighting against congestion and noisy wheezing. It was stressful and made me crazy when it was bedtime and I wanted to sleep, but I also had to cough and breathe, and I couldn't figure out how to do both at the same time - either I surrendered to sleep and woke up unable to breathe, congestion too thick to gasp and cough, or I laid awake all night working hard to just not stop breathing.

When was the last time you even thought of breathing in your sleep? Or breathing while you eat? Or expanding your lungs in a deep inhale, or exhaling completely in clear, clean silence? It's amazing... for something we do all the time and we can't last a minute without it, I've realized that I seriously underappreciate oxygen. Life is better now... No more tubes or monitors. I can take a deep breath in and let it out without noise or incident. My body is still recovering, still trying to get stronger and hold energy longer. I suppose I am having some success in recovery, just not as fast and efficiently as I would like to... taking shorter naps and feeding myself without too much drama. Small victories. But breathing is the best and happiest improvement. I didn't know how much I needed it, wanted it, depended on it, until I didn't have it. I didn't realize what a blessing it is to inhale and exhale, until I couldn't.

This month, I'm memorizing Psalm 42... a psalm of desperation, panting after God, longing for Him, thirsting for him. It's beautiful, because every day it reminds me of my desperate need for Him. Like air, I forget sometimes that I cannot live without Him... and like having a monitor obnoxiously honk at me when my oxygen is low, I need a reminder - His Word - to prod me back to humbly realizing my dependence on Him.

Thanking God for every breath... and committing each one back to Him.

This is the air I breathe - Your Holy presence living in me.
And I, I'm desperate for You...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Update from the Heli-Pad

Well, it feels like I've been living on a helicopter pad for the past two weeks. Take offs and landings right outside my penthouse hospital view of the city of Fort Wayne, knowing that everytime they touch down a life is in the balance and the good Samaritans are hot on the case - it's definitely exciting.

Besides that, life is pretty quiet and small. My room is my own, so Mom and I can watch movies to put us to sleep without worrying if our quirky flicks are bothering anyone. I have enough neon colored bracelets to make a punk-rocker think I've just spent two weeks concert hopping... I bequeath my hot pink "Limb Alert" band to Kevan when I leave, and I'm saving my ironical lemon yellow "Fall Risk" band to go to the first boy who actually falls for me. Souveneirs to take home are a new nebulizer machine and cough assist mask, though I asked to take them home personally because they will be found and comfiscated by mischeiveous Burmese boys if not properly supervised at all times.

I have a balloon that two princesses brought me, chocolate and lollipops just waiting to be devoured as soon as the nurses stop monitoring my sugar levels so closely, and classic books of fiction various people have read to me as I wheezed and dozed. Thank you for the countless cards, facebook notes, emails, visits, and phonecalls that have kept my spirits up during this long retreat.

Yes, I did say retreat. Not exactly Las Olas, Florida, or Asheville, NC, or Lake Michigan, as I had been planning, but... it stopped me in my tracks and forced me to rest. I should have taken a hint after an ER run last weekend, but all that did was made me realize that I was prescribed steroids that would only give me more energy to do more stuff in a week... God vetoed that idea really fast. So a day later, back to the ER... a thousand pokes and procedures later, I'm pitifully nibbling on mashed potatoes like a bird and sleeping most of the day away. Mom is here, and that is a great comfort in many ways.

Don't know when I'm getting out of here yet. I missed our first youth group tonight, and I'm restless and frustrated and just want to be in the action again. Doctors are being cautious and slow in making calls, which I suppose is a good thing. Doctors are good people, by the way. And nurses and NAs are too... I feel the need to make that statement now before I get better and forget how much they have helped me. I had one nurse who would sing and dance whenever I needed her to as she crushed my pills, another who pretty much fired a respiratory therapist for being too agressive, another who told me to stop whining (which I needed to hear), and another who held my hand for the third ABG and told the guy to go back to his lab and figure out a way to "do that without hurting people."

Thanks again for your prayers and love, and keep it coming! Pray that I can leave soon, and that when I do I will be careful to recover well and do the things only God wants me to do with my energy. Love to you all.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Youth Experience

What do you get when you have a Connie who is so confident in her stellar sense of direction that she doesn't print out a map to get to a friend's house where she has gone at least a half-dozen times before? You get a Connie who is 45 minutes late to an event that she is in charge of, and you fully appreciate the need for a GPS.

I couldn't take it anymore - not another Wednesday night without my Youth Night kids. It's been two months since I've been able to really hang out with them! So last night the girls got together for a photo/video scavenger hunt race downtown. I made phone calls, arranged rides, wrote riddles, planned three courses, then donned my hand-painted fish t-shirt and Peter Pan Converse shoes and headed out with Maelynn to "swing by" and pick up one of the girls from the southside. Bad news is, we went the wrong way down her street for 10 minutes. Good news is, we now know three different ways to get to that house!

When we met up with the other girls, hugs were rampant. Then we split up, ran around, got pictures and videos, had some good laughs, and managed to get the girls home by sunset. Maelynn and I got to go inside our girl's house when we returned her. The room was dark and hot, but the hospitality and conversation was light and refreshing. Visitations are quickly becoming my new favorite aspect of ministry.

Last night, I had a dream about all the kids. They came over to my house one or two at a time, and they were excitedly planning a surprise. I woke up before I learned what the surprise was (though I tried very hard to finish the dream!), but I woke up with a happy sense of anticipation. Youth group will begin again in three weeks, and we have lots of ideas and plans in the works. And I think God's got some good plans brewing too... I'm sure he's got a few exciting surprises up his sleeve, and I can't wait to find out what they are!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Horn of Africa Relief

Being in a place where some of my dearest friends are refugees has given me a new perspective on the world. I used to look at Yahoo! news' articles on movie stars and health food tips, but now my eyes go to world issue stories that involve war and natural disasters that tear countries and communities to pieces. It's heartbreaking stuff, and hard for an optimist to read and learn about, but it is better to know, to be bothered and burdened by it, and to ask God how I can help, rather than look the other way and pretend it doesn't exist.

It seems that there is always somewhere in Africa that is facing extreme crises, and recently the countries of Somalia and Kenya are being hit hard with a severe drought and famine. I know and love several Somalis and Kenyans here in Fort Wayne, so this crisis has my attention, and I ask you to pray with me for the victims who are suffering and have lost loved ones during this time.

International Teams has a team of servants on location in Kenya who are working very hard to provide relief for these victims. You can read about the situation and I-Teams work there, and you can be a part of the aid and relief, at this website: http://www.iteams.org/us/2011/08/horn-of-africa-crisis/. Please read about it, share it with others, and remember to express the love and compassion of Jesus for refugees in your community and around the world.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Going places: mission boards, African church, international pastries, and endless summers

Today's million dollar question: How does one "briefly" state their view on "the need and nature for Atonement"? Ministry related applications can be mind-bloggling sometimes... At first, this question made me stare blankly at the screen, feeling completely overwhelmed. Then I just wanted to write "it is absolutely needed. it's nature is amazing. the end." And when I actually started writing, the "need for Atonement" bit took up two pages... *delete, delete, delete* and try again. Briefly... really? It took God the entire Bible - Old and New Testament - to express this to us! Oh, silly mission board...

Actually, tonight I got to have a delightful dinner with a member of a local mission board, and I decided I have a new aspiration: I want to be the director of a church mission board when I grow up. Do you know why? It's because these people get to talk with people in ministry all the time - hear exciting stories about how God is at work all over the world, in urban centers and remote jungles and everything in between. They get to see pictures of people and places and things they may never get to see personally, they get to check out pottery and silk screens and fans and spices from every continent and country, and they get to see the smiles on the faces of God's servants that are so big and bright that they just know those world travellers are living life in one of the biggest, most exciting, most fulfilling ways possible. Granted, mission boards do a lot more than just listen to stories, but I would think that is the coolest part of their jobs!

Yesterday, Tall Hannah and I attended an African church service. Of course, we got hopelessly lost and arrived an hour late... but in the process, we found a little international bakery shop, which we decided to visit after the service. The second half of the service was wonderful... we sang familiar songs like "Shout to the Lord" and "Above All," but with the beautiful African accent infused, and a flair of African rhythm. The pastor spoke in English and had a translator (not sure which language, though - Swahili? Lingala?). And I think everyone in the room gave us hugs and greeted us warmly with huge smile and an enthusiastic "God bless you, my sister!" Every church should greet that way, in my opinion.


We returned to that little bakery after church, and were amazed at the variety - there must have been a pastry for every language in the world! We started out with the intention of getting two pastries... after all, they looked delicious, but they may have been dry and stale, right? And there were no price tags, so we couldn't risk spending too much. But the varieties were too amazing, so two became four pastries, with two spontaneously added tea cookies, and Hannah valiently offered to cover it if the cost was outrageous. We were even  more blown away when the total came up as $4.10! Wow... we went home and had a delightful Mad Hatter Tea party, and made a glorious sugary mess, and deliriously declared at the end of it all that we would definitely be going back to that international bakery. And bring more friends. Fort Wayne must know about this place.


For our Saturday night adventure, Hannah and I watched "The Endless Summer," and ate pineapple and rice. It's been a weird dream of mine to do this for some time now, as I read about this ritual in one of my favorite books, A Delirious Summer, by Ray Blackston. The movie was a surfing documentary from 1966, in which these two California surfers decided to chase the summertime around the world so they could surf year-round. That is all I will tell you about the movie, except that it is on Netflix Instant Play. If you have any imagination and since of wanderlust (both of which I have in bushels), you should watch it. With pineapple.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Superchick/Switchfoot Awesomeness

Last night, some friends and I went down to Huntington U. for their first annual Fandana Christian music festival, featuring... a whole lot of artists and bands, and ending with Superchick and Switchfoot, two incredible bands, and supporting and promoting an anti-slavery ministry called "Traffic Jam". With the music and the ministry promotions and all the encouraging/challenging things the artists said, I noticed that there was this overall theme of: "You, who are in Christ, have the power to make a difference and change the world." A theme that I love, and I was more than happy to be surrounded by all evening. I just wish I'd known, so I could have worn my Supergirl t-shirt!

An Indiana sunset

We're here!!

Jillian and Abby - Huntington friends who are SO excited
to have an awesome concert on their campus.

Concert-junky friends!

Just found this hilariously ironic... on our way to the main stage

Oh Switchfoot, how I love you!

Jon Foreman came into the crowd to sing at one point!
Switchfoot ended their set with their popular song, "Dare You to Move," and as many times as I've heard it before, one phrase stuck in my heart differently this time:

"The tension is here,
between who you are and who you could be;
between how it is and how it should be..."

I think sometimes Christians get so caught up in the message "Jesus loves you just as you are," that we get complacent and comfortable, and we lose sight of the truth: Jesus loves us - not for who we are, but for who He is. And he hates our mess - our sin - and loves who he knows we can be in Him, if we allow him to change us and work in us. It's the Potter-and-Clay mentality: we are a lump of mud and he is the Artist, with fingers tingling with the joy of creating something beautiful out of us. And he inspires that imagination and creativity in us, too. The beauty of living in this thing called Reality is the ability to imagine the possibilities when the power of Christ is infused... in myself and in the world.

As we drove home, I thought about those lyrics... Who was I, who am I now, and who could God be transforming me into? What is my life like, and what is this world like? How should it be different, and how can I be a part of the change?