Monday, December 31, 2012

Looking ahead with Stevie, Part 2

Ok, enough of looking back... As I look ahead to 2013, I have some deep hopes and dreams, really rooted in what I know without a doubt about who God is and what he promises. So here's another great (and new) song by Steven Curtis Chapman that I've been pondering and humming as a new year comes along - Happy New Year:

"The decorations have been moved back to the attic
Our resolutions and our diets all in place.
As another chapter ends and another one begins
Slowly now we turn the page.

Out into the midnight sky, I stare in wonder
At the grand design of how our planet dances with the sun.
And I’m thinkin’ this could be
God’s way of whispering
A story’s being told and the best is yet to come.

So Happy New Year, Happy New Year
Another chance to catch a glimpse of what is coming true.
So Happy New Year, Happy New Year
The God who made everything
Is remaking everything
The God who made everything
He says I’m making all things new."

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Looking back with Stevie, Part 1

I have really enjoyed rediscovering the music and ministry of Steven Curtis Chapman this year. Declaration has definitely been a "recycled" favorite album... just appreciating more of his lyrics at this stage of my life than I ever have before. I really love good lyrics, and as I think back on the lessons I've learned and the perspective I've gained this past year, one song kind of sums it all up, to the happy rhythm of a ukelele - Long Way Home:

"I set out on a great adventure
The day my Father started leading me home
He said there's gonna be some mountains to climb
And some valleys we're gonna go through

But I had no way of knowing
Just how hard this journey could be
Cause the valleys are deeper
And the mountains are steeper than I ever would have dreamed

But I know we're gonna make it
And I know we're gonna get there soon
And I know sometimes it feels like we're going the wrong way
But its just the long way home

I got some rocks in my shoes
Fears I wish I could lose
That make the mountains so hard to climb
And my heart gets so heavy with the weight of the world sometimes

There's a bag of regrets,
My should've beens, and not yets
I keep on dragging around
And I can hardly wait for the day I get to lay them all down

I know that day is coming
I know its gonna be here soon
And I won't turn back even if the whole world says I'm going the wrong way
Cause its just the long way home

When we can't take another step
The Father will pick us up and carry us in His arms
And even on the best days, He says to remember we're not home yet
So don't get too comfortable
Cause really all we are is just pilgrims passing through

Well, I know we're gonna make it
And I know we're gonna get there soon
So I keep on singing and believing
What all of my songs say

Cause our God has made a promise
And I know that everything He says is true
And I know wherever we go
He will never leave us
Cause He's gonna lead us home

Every single step of the long way home..."

Saturday, December 29, 2012

All the family home for Christmas

This has been such a special Christmas break, because I got to spend this week with my whole family! And what a beautiful, incredible family it is, eh? :)

You might not be able to tell from the picture above, but those cute little nephews of mine are really superheroes... Andrew and Amanda are doing a great job raising them to be warriors for Jesus!

So blessed, too, to get some time with some of our awesome west coast cousins...

And here's just a little plug for my book, Tea Time - available on Barnes and Noble's website for $9.95! Just click on the picture of the book in the right side column of this page for details.

I hope everyone of you had a wonderful Christmas time, and that you got to spend it with those you love!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Prince of Peace

"He will be called... Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end..."  - Isaiah 9:6-7a

When this prophecy was fulfilled and that Baby was born, the angels sang that it was good news for all people - glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. It's very tempting to look at the history of the world since then and despair, because there has certainly not been peace... war follows war, violence begats violence, hatred feeds and grows into more hatred. Just looking at this past year, in the U.S. and around the world, there has been terrible pain and injustice. Where is the peace? Where is this Prince and his great government that were supposed to solve everything?

I'm beginning to realize, though, that "peace" doesn't actually mean "the absence of violence." Our world - governments and societies - have ideas about what peace looks like: no more fighting, fair treatment, equality, justice, harmony. It's a peace that is between people and nations, and that is a peace worth hoping and striving for, certainly, and it's truly beautiful when we get to experience it on the smaller scales of our communities and families.

But I think the Prince of Peace had another relationship in mind; he came to bring peace and restoration to a relationship that was broken long ago... an intimacy that was shattered by sin - selfishness, disobedience, idolatry - and marred with shame and death. There was a great divide formed then, at the beginning of our world, and ever since, the Prince has longed to be reunited with his loved ones, his children.

And whether we recognize it or not, we long for that too. All the violent mess around us, that fills our history books and newspapers, is a reflection of a deeper inner storm we all have. Our hearts are restless and burdened, in turmoil over the emptiness and the ache that we feel for something to complete us, deliver us, heal us... we long for the Prince and the peace that only he can bring.

The world as a whole - all people, as it was intended - has not received the Prince of Peace, and so hatred and violence and injustice continue to affect us all. But those who have received him - allowed him to become their Prince and reign over their hearts and lives, and bring restoration with the Father - understand that his peace passes all understanding. It's the kind of peace that quiets our souls and fills us with light and hope in the midst of the darkness and trials around us. Like the might of God showing up best in our weakness, I believe the peace of God shows up best in the chaos we have to walk through in this life. It reminds us, even when our hearts are breaking and our minds are confused, that we are not alone, abandoned or forgotten.

The Wonderful Counselor is here to comfort and guide us, the Mighty God is here to fight for and strengthen us, the Everlasting Father is here to provide for and protect us... and so much more. In him we have freedom from and victory over sin and death - nothing can condemn us before him, and nothing can seperate us from him and his love. Knowing these truths, and resting in his promises... this brings the greatest peace of all.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Organic Life: Family (aka, Everlasting Father)

Next Isaiah 9:6 question: How has God shown himself to be your Everlasting Father this year?

You've read about the Sisterhood... and you know about my kids... but guess what - the family is even bigger...

Family is a big deal to me. I have a pretty incredible family - a mom and dad who love God, love each other, and love me; two brothers who are insanely gifted, loving, godly, (and good-looking!); a sister-in-law who I am constantly challenged and blessed by; and three nephews who are being raised as mighty warriors for Jesus. I have a rich heritage from my grandparents and great-grandparents, incredible support and encouragement from my aunts and uncles, and my cousins are some of the coolest people I am privileged to know. But my family, though emotionally close, is geographically spread out all over - from South Florida to Vancouver Island; from Ontario to L.A.; from Vernon, British Columbia, to Buenas Aires, Argentina, to Australia. And then there's little ol' me, lost somewhere in the middle, in the flatlands of Indiana. I'm thankful for Skype, Facebook, and email, but there is nothing like being present with family.

So what does a lone Chandler do in the Midwest? She remembers that she is grafted in to a bigger family, adopted and promised an inheritance from her Everlasting Father, and she looks around to see who else has her Father's eyes, smile, and heart.

Once a week, Hannah and I get together with some friends to share good news and pray together. Among them are our Uncle Steve and Aunt Sheila, Uncle Eldon and Aunt Jan, and Auntie Cathy. We've christened them with these names when we talk about them and pray for them together, and it just seems natural and right, because they do "uncle and aunt" types of things - they give us hugs and snacks, they ask how things are going and really listen to us and remember what we've told them before, they offer counsel and assistence, and they pray for us. I trust them, learn from them, and want to be more like them. Other "aunts and uncles" in my Fort Wayne life right now include Brenda and Ron, Linda and Juan, Ciin Nuam and Pau Kai, Reyna and Pedro, Meng Pu, Lian, Margie, Becky, and Coleen.

Then there is my beautiful bunch of cousins from Gospel Community. We're just now really starting to get to know each other well, but I love the times we've had together lately - especially with Ben and Kayla, doing ministry, drinking coffee, and obsessing over fairytales together. It's fun to do life with people close to my age, who like doing the things I enjoy too. I think of them more as cousins, because we come from such diverse backgrounds and are all a bit weird in our own right; we don't look much alike or act very much the same or have the same gifts, but there is definitely a family resemblence that testifies to the Grace that binds us together.

Of course, the brothers are pretty exceptional, too. God has taught me so much through them this year, and their strength and wisdom has helped me through some difficult times. They have been so faithful to redirect my focus back to the Lord over and over again, whether I've needed prayer, loving affirmation, or a reality check that I was being too rediculous (which is more often than you might think!). They make us food, do repair jobs, and tend to our yard, among other things. They've taken care of me like my real brothers have, and I'm so thankful for their presence in my life.

So even though I'm the lone Chandler of Indiana, my Everlasting Father has surrounded me and blessed me with family in such rich community that I never feel lonely or unloved. It is so good to be a part of the family of God.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mighty God

Question for today: How has Christ shown himself to be a Mighty God in your life this year?
(Note: It took me a while to decide to post this. It's very personal stuff, and normally I hold it back for an online audience. But I believe God gave me this experience so I would faithfully share it with others, to his glory.)

Of all the names of God, I think this one has been most powerful and meaningful and life-giving to me this year. For me, the beauty of the gospel is in the seeming paradox of ... everything. When we were still sinners, Christ died for us. To be first, we must be last. To live, we must die to ourselves. God uses the foolish to shame the wise. When I am weak, He is strong. Having nothing, yet possessing everything. It is an upside-down and inside out reality - REALITY! - that is beyond understanding, and is rooted in grace. Grace, at its absolute purest core, is the power and love of God lavished on the weakest and least loveable thing; it is the gift of what is least deserved but most needed.

I don't have it all figured out yet... and doubtless I never will. But this year, I experienced God in his great might in some dark places. Last April I was laying in a hospital bed for two weeks, hooked up to IVs and monitors, with no strength to feed myself, sit up, or even talk very much. For one very crucial hour, my whole concentration was on breathing in and out on my own. In all this time of stillness and relative silence, I had a lot of time to pray. In my more lucid moments, I did pray for the people I love - my family, my friends, my sisters, my kids, my ministry partners, my pastors and mentors. But the vast majority of the time, the only thought I could muster up in my medicated fog was, "Why, God?" And it probably isn't the "why" most people would expect: "Why am I going through this?" Instead, my "why" was full of homesickness for heaven and heartache: "Why am I still here? Why can't I just be home with You?" I wanted to quit, but something sustained me in spite of myself - I kept breathing, kept coughing and fighting, kept taking medicine, out of obedience and submission, but with a lot of frustration and longing for God to speak. But he seemed to be silent for a while... very present with me, but silent.

The springtime was not as it usually is for me... I don't remember the color of the flowers in our yard, or how much it rained, or if there were bumble bees, or even how I spent my birthday. I do remember getting my hair cut because it was falling out, and the voracious appetite the steroids gave me, and the friends who sat at my bedside and read, sang, prayed, played games, and were just silent comfort. And I remember Easter morning, the sunrise service in my hospital room, when I absolutely know without a doubt that Mighty God was holding me in his powerful arms.

In the days and weeks that followed, I couldn't lift a fork, lift my phone, lift a book, or "lift my eyes to the hills" (Psalm 121). I was bent low physically and spiritually, and asked God over and over why, if I was going to be this weak and pathetic and useless, was he keeping me in this life.

Then he reminded me that my life isn't about me; it isn't about my abilities, skills, or great contributions. My life isn't mine at all - it is hidden in Christ now. Weakness and dependency are some of God's favorite canvases, because they highlight his power the most. Whatever he allows - in his great mercy and love - to happen to me, he uses to his glory and for his kingdom. I don't understand it, and I can't imagine why he delights in it, but it is Truth. The value of my life is not in what I can do, but what He can do. And he is mighty.

This year, Mighty God sustained my life, healed my body, restored my soul, opened my eyes, and filled me with the power of his Spirit. I cannot imagine what He has possibly done through me this year, or how he will use me in the year to come. But I want to become less so he can become more. I want to be weak so that his power will be evident, and his might will be known. Because here comes that beautiful paradox: when I can do nothing, He can do everything.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Organic Life, part 4: Home

Tonight I was at the home of a family from our church. It was warm and cozy, with a fire in the fireplace, a dog on the couch, and the wife folding clothes in the dining room. I visited with friends and played with the puppy and didn't want to leave... I wanted to curl up on the couch with an afghan and take a nap.

Last night was similar - girls night was at a house with a spacious den and a kitchen with savory-smelling pots and pans on the stove. And Monday night, the cookie exchange was at a house that felt like it had been featured in Southern Living magazine and smelled of pine needles and sugar cookies. And a few weeks ago, I was settled in a recliner in a peaceful farmhouse with a cup of tea and an old piano nearby. Each one made my heart so contented that I wanted to cry.

And I can't decide if the emotion I feel is homesickness, or comfort, or longing for my own home and family... maybe a little of all that, maybe more. I just love the feeling of peace and rest found in these homes, like time slows down and the world gets smaller and life gets simpler... I don't think my house is as charming and cozy as the ones I've been in lately, but I do love it when people drop in for a cup of tea, or fall asleep on my couch, or hesitate to leave, lingering just a little longer. I hope they find peace and rest here in our Hobbit Hole... 

Hannah says this is another aspect of organic ministry... being in homes, extending and accepting open doors and welcoming embraces... being in community, in the most authentic way possible... realizing that hospitality isn't really about gormet foods and fine linens and fancy planned parties, but about cozy couches, piles of clean laundry, stories and laughter. It's really about being together, and sharing life-in-the-raw, beautiful and real.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Wonderful Counselor

The question I'm working through today, thanks to the awesome leadership of my local church family: How has Christ shown himself to be your wonderful counselor this year? OK, here is goes...

There was a day in May, when I was sitting on my mom and dad's patio, next to the butterfly bush, with a notebook and pen. (Note: You can always know it's intensely important when you see me going "old school" with paper and pen.) I was going through a really painful and difficult time - what I refer to as "The Curse" - and every thought and emotion I had was swirling around chaotically inside of me, and rather than ram into a brick wall over and over, I thought the more productive thing to do would be to write it all out. So I sat there for a few hours, and wrote 15 pages, front and back, of a lot of things I wouldn't want anyone else to ever read. But I didn't stop until every word was written, my ink-stained hand shook from exhaustion, and my heart felt free.

Over the previous weeks, I'd talked to every wise and godly person I could think of, and gotten a lot of good counsel. But spiritually, I still felt like I was suffocating... because when I'd open my Bible and try to read, nothing stuck, nothing helped, and when I'd try to pray, I couldn't formulate a coherent sentence and I couldn't hear anything but the noise of my own anger and sadness and despair. Ever been there? I've been in church long enough and read enough books to know that when there is "static in the line," there is usually sin in your life. But I was so bruised and bloodied emotionally, so tired and weak, that I did not want to admit I had anything to do with it. So I tried to focus on what had been done against me, how I had been unjustly accused, and how I was a victim. And it was easy to camp on that, because it was true. But I hated myself in the midst of it, and had no peace... Why all the static? Why the suffocation?

"...He will be called Wonderful Counselor..." (Isaiah 9:6)

Last week at church, Pastor Eric said a counselor is one who sets chaotic things in order. I like to believe I'm not normally an over-the-top emotional drama queen, but during "The Curse," I was a royal mess, and chaos seemed to hunt me down mercilessly. Any move I tried to make to bring order only added to the chaos. I felt the desperate need for a counselor... but not just any counselor - a Wonderful One. I resolved to throw myself down at the foot of the cross and not move until He did something miraculous with my mess. And since I couldn't pray, I wrote him a letter... 15 pages long.

And that Wonderful Counselor met me there. He ordered my chaotic thoughts so that my letter began with the honest but selfish pitiful feelings I had, and moved it to the facts of what happened, then to my role in it all - parts of which set me free from unnecessary guilt and parts of which convicted me toward repentence, then to my response to it all - what it had been and what it should be. Once my torrent of thoughts were subdued, He sang to me - reminded me of his love and faithfulness, his patience and kindness, his mercy and grace to me... and healing began. He laid out for me a short-term "emergency response" course of action, and a long-term, on-going restoration plan that is still in motion. He brought order to my chaos!

I've written more letters to my Wonderful Counselor since then, and it brings such peace and joy to know that he reads every word, and more than that, he knows my heart better than I can ever express it. He has given me wisdom and strength and courage and assurance and grace to face every difficult moment since that day on the patio. He helped me to forgive and humble myself to confess and be forgiven. He has never left my side, and has been constant, and mighty to save, and wise to lead me according to his way.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Chamomile, Cilantro, and Rhubarb

This fall, I've developed an interest in planting and growing things... I think it is partially due to my southern nature anticipating a long, cold, dead winter ahead, and partially due to my pseudo-hippy side wanting to be more organic. But I think it's mostly because I love object lessons, and my faith grows and deepens when I have something tangible to remind me of spiritual truth.  

Sadly, I apparently don't have much of a green thumb. I planted twelve herbs in our kitchen about a month ago, and so far I've basically seen results from two: chamomile and cilantro.

The chamomile was first to appear, but has been so slow in growing that I've wondered a couple times if I killed it. It still seems fragile, and I'm somewhat afraid of loving it too much... which was the problem with the bamboo and beta fish I tried to have in college. The cilantro shot up overnight, but it was so crowded together that Hannah said we needed to thin it out... silly as it sounds, that was difficult for me, because it was the healthiest looking plant we had and we were throwing bits of it away. But then last week it started producing leaves that actually look like cilantro, which is exciting.

I'm learning how frustrating it can be to try to be a gardener... All I can do is prepare soil, plant seeds, and provide water, sunlight - healthy circumstances for potential growth. I can't make the seeds open up, I can't make roots grow deep, I can't make sprouts produce flowers, leaves, or fruit. It's aggrevating, and makes me feel a little helpless, especially as I stare into cups of earth with no trace of green, and wonder about the effectiveness of my attempts to invest in and cultivate ministry and relationships.

Then I remember that there is work happening that I can't see... God is busy under the soil and in the depths of hearts. The things I cannot control, he can do and is already doing. Faith is being confident in hope and certain of what I do not see, and my little cups of herbs remind me of that today. I just have to be faithful in what I am called to do, and trust the Lord for the miracles.

Another thing about planting, is that it is something God loves to do. I've been reading the book of Jeremiah this month, and while the first half of it was mostly about the destruction of a nation, this morning I read a beautiful passage about how God would redeem his people, bring them back, and plant them: "I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul," (Jer. 32:41).

I think maybe I like to plant because I want to do what I see my Father doing... and He is planting. He is planting his truth in hearts that want to know; he is planting hope and peace in those who long for it; he is planting me in the land of his promises and his grace, making my roots grow deeper as I rest in the richness of his love.

My friend Anna gave me an awesome pair of shoes as an early Christmas present. Aren't they cool?! They are soft and warm, and the color is called "Rhubarb." I'm wearing them today, and smile as I realize they are another object lesson to remind me... I am a plant that the great Gardener is tending and causing to grow, and I pray that there will be flowers and fruit, that I might be useful to him.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The tradition of giving thanks...

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. It's also been one of the most traditional. Here's my classic Thanksgiving Day tradition: 1) Being home with my family, 2) watching the Macy's parade, 3) watching the dog show, 4) having a fire in the fireplace even if it is 60 degrees outside, 5) watching my mom flit around the kitchen in her apron all day, cooking and smiling, 6) getting dressed up even if we go nowhere, 7) having turkey and pumpkin pie, 8) working on a puzzle/project with dad, 9) playing music with Kevan and digging out our favorite Christmas albums, 10) watching It's a Wonderful Life.

None of those things happened this year - absolutely none of it. I woke up this morning and felt a little bit sad that things were so extremely different, with no semblance of anything familiar. But at the same time, I wouldn't have traded the gifts of yesterday's celebration for anything.

My friend Anna is here visiting me from NC, and that is a huge gift. I got to be with Hannah too, and she has been one of the greatest gifts in my life in the past year - my Samwise Gamgee. And I couldn't help but think about last spring, and how I didn't think I would live to see this Thanksgiving, or at least that I would not still be living and thriving and growing in Fort Wayne. What a dark time in many ways, but it is such a testimony of the Lord's power and faithfulness and mercy to me, so even for that three-month time - what Hannah and I affectionately refer to as "The Curse" - I am truly thankful.

This Thanksgiving, we picked up six of our dear teen girls and spent the day with them in the kitchen and around the table. We decided that since the first Thanksgiving was about people coming together across cultures to thank God for his love and provision for all of them, we should do that here. So we made sambusas, chipote bread, wontons and wonton soup, mashed potatoes, corn, cranberry spread, cranberry and orange scones, and southern sweet tea. The air was filled with spices and fried oil... and it was delicious! We watched Beauty and the Beast together, and listened to Indian music and of course, Justin Beiber... who we are all quite thankful for. ;) 

I loved watching the girls work together, giggling and singing and talking. I am so thankful for each of them, and the precious times we've had together. I'm thankful for the ways I've seen them grow and mature and blossom into lovely young ladies who are learning what it means to really love. I'm so glad the Lord brought me to this city and gave me these friends. I'm thankful for this year, for all the crazy times of danger and heartbreak and joy and change and peace and adventure, and for the overwhelming love and grace I have received.

After the girls went home, we were quiet for a long time - watching from our big front window as our neighbors draped Christmas lights on their houses, drinking tea, and working on sewing projects like the Jane Austin characters we imagine ourselves to be. No, it wasn't traditional at all, but it was beautiful and rich.

Today we had apple pie for breakfast. Today the Christmas music playlist is being compiled. Today my thanksgiving can't stop. While the feast and the party is over for now, the tradition of thanks is daily, constant, and it just keeps overflowing...

Monday, November 19, 2012

Lessons learned in a backpack

"Well, there's this fire tower... and I have this camping backpack... how much do you weigh?" I could see the wheels turning in Joe's mind, and I was torn between dreading the development of a very bad idea and tingling with the excitement of possibly the craziest adventure ever. I accepted the suggestion more as a dare than an invitation, and less than 24 hours later, I was stuffed in a backpack, ready to go. Joe, Anna, Hannah, and I held on for dear life as Todd drove us south, away from the city and into endless flat farmland of Indiana, racing the quickly setting sun to the horizon. In the purple glow of dusk we stared up at the 100-foot tower before us... Some of the details of our adventure were beautiful, some a bit terrifying, some hilarious, and many were powerful and deeply personal to me... my life will never be the same. And if you really want to hear it all, you may want to plan to take me out for a big cup of tea. :)

For now, I'll skip to the end of the descent, when we were all laying on the dewy grass, staring at the stars, and the only emotion my pounding heart could contain was overwhelming wonder at a love poured out on me that is too big for my soul to wrap itself around. I have some amazing friends, whom I have come to love and trust deeply. And I know they love me too, because over and over they have been willing to carry me, bear my burdens, and walk with me through tough times (physically, emotionally, and spiritually), for the sake of witnessing and experiencing beauty, glory and majesty in the end together. Under that starry sky, I was quiet and still, resting in that love and trying to get a handle on this deeper feeling that kept whispering to me, "This is the gospel in action... This is like the love of Christ..."

The thing is, the five of us reached the top of that tower and made it back to the bottom again, and throughout this whole adventure, I did nothing to contribute to its success. In fact, if anything, I tried to give the group reasons to give it up in the darkest moment. But they did not give up, and didn't let me give up either. They found a way, they risked their own safety, they pushed themselves beyond what any of us imagined they could handle. And I sat cushioned and buckled in a pack, strapped to two strong backs, hanging and being held up, without the strength or ability to even hold on or shift my weight, depending totally their strength without being able to offer any in return. And I realized this wasn't about me - they weren't doing all of this just to give me a thrill... they wanted to have this challenging adventure too, and just wanted me to be a part of it with them. "This is the gospel in action... This is like the love of Christ..."

God is doing incredibly adventurous things in the world... in the flat farmlands of Indiana... in the unpredictable inner city of Fort Wayne... in our little Hobbit Hole... and I am constantly in awe of the fact that he invites me to be a part of his work. I say yes to following him because I know he is good and trustworthy, but at the same time I have no idea what is ahead - terrifying or thrilling. He doesn't really share that information upfront; he just asks me to trust him, so I do. Then I find myself caught up in his arms, and he is carrying me to places and relationships and experiences I never dreamed possible. When I try to control or analyze his ways, tone down the danger and risk, or even back out of his hairbrained ideas, things may get tangled up and delayed, and I may cause obstacles and pain that were not intended to be there. But that is when he reminds me that he knows what he is doing, and that I don't have to do anything but abide in him, trust him, and let him do what he will do.

This is a hard journey to take, because I cannot boast in anything but my weakness and dependence on him. But the good news is, I can rest and be close to him, feeling the steady rhythm of his heartbeat and each sure-footed step he takes toward the fulfillment of his dreams. And life is worth the living when he invites me to jump in his backpack and join him in his adventure and witness his power, majesty, and love.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Monseigneur Bienvenu

"As we have seen, prayer, celebration of the religious offices, alms, consoling the afflicted, the cultivation of a little  piece of ground, fraternity, frugality, self-sacrifice, confidence, study, and work, filled up each day of his life. Filled up is exactly the word; and in fact, the Bishop's day was full to the brim with good thoughts, good words, and good actions..."

This week I decided to give myself a literary challenge - possibly the biggest one I've ever taken: to read the unabridged classic by Victor Hugo, Les Miserables. I'm currently 140 pages into this 1200-page epic, and I think that, other than the Bible, this may be the richest, most powerful, most challenging, most convicting story I've read. And I think the dearly beloved Bishop, known to his people as "Monseigneur Bienvenu," is my favorite fictional character ever developed.

The quote above is about him, and is supported by a dozen stories of his acts of kindness and compassion and humility. In a few qualities I relate to him and feel a kindredness with him, and in every other quality he possesses I long to be more like him. He has a very real understanding of the weight of eternity, the ministry of reconciliation, the power of forgiveness, the call to serve the poor and defend the weak, the brevity of life - how to purely and completely store up treasures in heaven rather than on earth. These were not forced habits propelled by obligation or guilt - they just naturally flowed from him, without hesitation or anxiety. He expressed the love of Christ as often as he breathed. And though he is only a fictional character, I find myself wanting to live the kind of life he did. Here is another passage that I think explains a little about how such an incredible life is possible:

"He was there alone with himself, collected, tranquil, adoring, comparing the serenity of his heart with the serenity of the skies, moved in the darkness by the visible splendours of the constellations, and the invisible splendour of God, opening his soul to the thoughts which fall from the Unknown. In such moments, offering up his heart at the hour when the flowers of night inhale their perfume, lighted like a lamp in the centre of the starry night, expanding his soul in ecstacy in the midst of the universal radiance of creation, he could not himself perhaps have told what was passing in his own mind; he felt something depart from him, and something descend upon him; mysterious interchanges of the depths of the soul with the depths of the universe..."

He spent time every day in communion with God - in deep, intimate relationship, listening to Him and receiving from Him streams of living water. Throughout the day, his hands and feet were busy serving others, loving and giving everything that was in him. And I think he was able to live in such reckless abandon and selfless sacrifice because his spirit rested and abided in the Lord, allowing him to refresh, restore, renew his measure of strength, grace, goodness, and love. It's as though the fruit of the Spirit was so abundant in his life that he kept giving and giving it, without fear of running out, because it was constantly being reproduced in him... much like the widow's oil in I Kings 17.

It reminds me of a conviction that the Lord has been developing in me lately, from Isaiah 58. Whatever we pour out for the sake of the gospel of Christ, He will renew it in us and overflow us - we will not run dry:

"If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings."

I know that Monseigneur Bienvenu understood this, because he didn't just study it, analyze it, preach about it, write a book about it, teach a class on it; he lived it out daily. And I want to live it out too.

"He would sit upon a wooden bench leaning against a broken trellis and look at the stars through the irregular outlines of his fruit trees. This quarter of an acre of ground, so poorly cultivated, so cumbered with shed and ruins, was dear to him and satisfied him. What was more needed by this old man who divided the leisure hours of his life, where he had so little leisure, between gardening in the day time and contemplation at night? ... what more can be desired? A little garden to walk, and immensity to reflect upon. At his feet something to cultivate and gather; above his head something to study and meditate upon; a few flowers on the earth, and all the stars in the sky."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Review: Riverward Dialogues

A couple years ago, Kevan started a blog, and in classic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle style, he posted a brilliant original story, one chapter at a time. I checked in frequently to read... sometimes laughing, sometimes smiling at his witty genius, sometimes screaming because I'd have to wait another week before reading the next installment, and sometimes just staring at the last words of a post and breathing deeply, trying to wrap my brain around what had just happened.

I am thrilled to announce that these posts and all the emotion they conjure up are now available to the general public and specifically to you, in his first ever, highly anticipated, published manuscript, Riverward Dialogues!

The whole story happens in one night, and each chapter is a different dialogue, taking place in some part of the fictional city of Riverward. It's quite artistically pieced together... As you read, you begin to make connections between characters and events and uncover the plot that is mainly focused on two people - a hitman and a detective. Can't really give you more details than that without giving too much away... But I think I can say that my very favorite bits were chapters 4, 10, 13, 16, and 17. I know that doesn't seem very selective, but that's the best I can do... So order your own copy from the link above, and read it - you will be glad you did. And then let me know what your favorite bits are. :)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Planting seeds - the hope of heaven

It all began with a conversation about heaven. I don't remember the context, or the words or deeds that fueled it, and to be honest I don't think I have any actual personal memories about this episode in my life. I was four, ok? But Chandler family legend tells of a time when my brother Andrew told me about this amazing place we could go to together, and after realizing that this place was indeed even better than Grammie's house, I decided, with all the innocence of a pre-schooler, that I wanted to go there with my brother some day. I asked Jesus to save me and forgive me.

Twenty-five years have passed. Twenty-five years of rolling along with Jesus, trying to keep pace and let my wheel tracks play connect-the-dots with his footprints before me. It's not an easy journey... sometimes my wheels get stuck in the mud or slowed down by gravel or weighed down by sand. Sometimes I don't see the footprints, and the lamp unto my feet doesn't seem to shed enough light to find the Way. Sometimes there are obstacles - steps, potholes, logs, misplaced gigantic shoes... metaphorically, of course, but sometimes literally too, to remind me.

My feet don't get tired, and my shoes don't wear out, but boy, my tire treads and my spirit get thin and frail at times. But you know what keeps me moving forward? Heaven. Not in the sense of, "Well, I'm safe from the flames of hell!" (though I am eternally grateful for that), but in the sense of, "This is not my home... this is not the end... there is so much more to come!"

Someday, I will get to soar, run and walk with more power and freedom than anyone has ever been able to here on earth. Someday, I will get to dance, bend a knee, and fall face-first before my King. Someday, I will be completely delivered from all insecurities, fears, doubts, and disappointments - no more anxiety, no more tears. Someday, I will be in true community with all my friends and family, without the restrictions of time or space to keep us apart. Someday I'll know what Jesus really looks like because I will see him face-to-face, and he will take my hand and walk with me through his garden in the cool of the day, and we will be together as we were always meant to be.

Some people think it is not a true conversion when small children accept Jesus. How can they possibly know what they are getting into? How can they really understand the depth of this commitment? To which I reply, does anyone really get it when they first accept Jesus, regardless of age? I think if any of us understood fully what we were stepping into, we would run in terror and awe in the opposite direction! All I know is that I do not remember a time when I didn't love Jesus and when I didn't know he loved me too. He captured my heart twenty-five years ago, and hasn't let me go.

He set Eternity in my heart that day... and it began with a desire to forever share unspeakable beauty and joy with my brother. I am so thankful that Andrew told me about heaven, planting a seed in my heart that has taken strong root and shaped my life with hope and eager anticipation. I still can't wait to share heaven with Andrew - I wonder what grand adventures we will have together there. Whatever it is, I know it will be beyond our wildest imaginations... and that's saying a lot, because we both have some pretty wild imaginations! So here's to Eternity, big brother. I love you.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Leaf-raking party 2012

This has been such a beautiful fall season in Fort Wayne! But now most of the leaves are off the trees and on the ground, and citywide leaf-pick-up is less than a week away. So some of us girls got together today to do some community raking.

We started by answering a call for help from an eldery lady who lives a few blocks away. Her name was also Connie, and she was so sweet, one of the girls asked if she could call her "Gramma." While some of the girls were trying to carefully rake along the border between hers and her neighbor's house, Rahmo said, "Why don't we just rake their yard too?" After a few moments of awkward uncertainty from us territorial Americans, she said, "I am African, ya'll - this is what I do!" So she promptly raked the unknown neighbor's yard clean, while dancing to Beiber songs on her phone.

Then we decided to just march from door to door down our street asking if we could clean up leaves for people. In the process, we got to meet some of our neighbors and visit a little bit. First was the Korean musician named Peter who had two guitars and a tic-tac-toe board sketched on his shirt, who thought we were "pretty cool."

We left one of our rakes at Gramma Connie's, so Hannah ran back over to get it. She was gone for so long, I called her to find out where she was, suspicious that she was skipping out on the work. "Back off!" she retorted. "She was dragging large bags of dirt out to her garden by herself, so I helped her so she wouldn't hurt herself!" Well, alright then.

Next came the huge yellow house with the garden decorations and tenants who own the antique furniture store on the corner. James was on his way out and seemed slightly suspicious of us when we asked if we could rake leaves for him. "For how much?" he asked. "Oh, nothing at all! We just are here to serve." He gave us a strange smile and said ok, and thanks a lot. Clearing the pile of leaves from his garden was a challenge, but the girls were successful. Don't they look they awesome?!

Next they took care of my house, and finished off with one more, completing six yards in total, before coming back to my kitchen to make brownies and listen to music. I love this picture, the girls relaxing and giggling together... :)

So proud of my girls! It was so awesome to see them working so hard and with such a great attitude. For all your leaf-raking needs, you know now where to go! ;)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

"This is America!"

The other night at ESL class, two of my students were talking, and though I didn't catch the context, I heard the boy say to the girl, "Is o.k. Remember: dis eez Ah-meh-ree-cah!" The girl started to protest or give some sort of exception, but the boy stopped her - put his hand up, closed his eyes, shook his head, and in a mock-solemn voice that reminded me of an addictions counselor, he said slowly, "No, yoo don' un-der-stan'. Dis... eez... Ah-meh-ree-cah. So no problem. No worry. Is ok. Dis eez Ah-meh-ree-cah."

I couldn't help but think of dancing mice in that classic American Tail: , and I just cracked up. I love that, whatever the issue was, its comfort and resolution was in the fact that "This is America." 'Nuff said.

Later on in class, I gave a reading response assignment for everyone to do on their own, and the boy seemed distracted and bored, so I asked him if he was finished already. "Oh, Miss Connie," he said in surprise, "We do alone? I think we do together!" I said, "No sir, we will check together later, but first you need to do your own work - in-dee-pen-dent! After all... this is Ah-meh-ree-cah!" Which led to the whole class laughing and mimicking: "Dis eez Ah-meh-ree-cah!"

I think we have a new class motto. :)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

trudging through legal jargon

Sometimes I think the term "missionary" might be synonimous with "miscellaneous servant." It seems like every day affords me a new, unexpected, and thrilling challenge. At first, it knocks me off my feet like an ill-placed banana peel, but then I remember that the Lord is my strength and my song, and I delight to get back up and allow him to teach me, grow me, and be glorified through such an unlikely character as myself.

Today I can add one more thing to the resume... I'm just not really sure what to call it! Case manager? Government assistance assistant? Social worker? Tax payer advocate? Legal jargon translator?

My student came this morning at 10:00, and I was prepared to teach her English - something I feel pretty well equipped and qualified to do. She was prepared for me to help her apply for a job, fill out tax forms, report income for food stamps, battle the idiocy of the Medicaid office, and apply for a different phone service. I am SO unqualified for any of this. Though I have gotten somewhat prolific in some of these areas over the past year or two, it is only as a single person. Try doing all this for a widowed mother of three (one with special needs) who speaks little English and lived many years in a refugee camp, and it becomes ten times more complicated! My reflex was to run to my dad or the nearest patient and kind and experienced adult I could find... whichever was closer. Then I took a minute, as I surveyed the pile of legal forms and notices that she plopped before me, and took a slow and deep breath and prayed for divine understanding. And the adventure began.

Together we consulted her little notepad of her family's private information, then googled some legal jargon, then followed the IRS's papertrail through forms for dependents, child credit, etc. We had some questions, but we wrote them all down and found out where to go to get the answers, so she's on a mission this afternoon, and hopefully by tomorrow every blank will be filled. I don't know if it made her nervous that I wasn't experienced, or if she was comforted that it really was that confusing even to an English speaker. But we were able to laugh together and cheer with every form we completed.

For those of you out there who do know how to navigate the complexities of tax forms and Medicaid requirements... please pray about using your knowledge to serve and assist internationals in your community. It is difficult to find employees in government programs who are patient and compassionate toward speakers of other languages. Even if you do not speak other languages, use pictures, diagrams, gestures, and simple words to decipher these hard-to-read notices and forms for them. The fact that you will take the time to sit with an international person and trudge with them through it all will speak volumes about your love and care for them, and will bless and encourage them tremendously.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

An ESL Memory verse

This month my Sunday ESL class has been learning Psalm 67:2: "My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock and my refuge."

The first time we read it together, there were some words they didn't understand, which led to them not understanding the truth of it, so we spent the month of October breaking it down... it was such a powerful study, even for me, that I wanted to share it with you. Sometimes words are so familiar to us that we don't take the time to chew on them and experience their richness...

Week 1: He is my mighty rock and my refuge!

This is a rock. Mighty means very strong and powerful. A mighty rock is like a mountain or cliff or boulder, that does not move or change. God is my mighty rock - he does not leave me or fail me or ever change!

Many of my students are refugees, and said that being a refugee means leaving a dangerous place to come to a safe place. So I taught that a "refuge" is a safe place. God is my safe place, and I can run to him and find help and protection and life.

Week 2: My salvation

If you are drowning, and someone throws you a line, they save you from dying. We are all drowning - dying - because of sin. We cannot save ourselves - we need someone to save us. The person or thing that saves me is called "my salvation." God is the only one who can save me from sin and death - he is my salvation! (Cool note: That week our Bible story was about Abraham and Isaac... and the sacrificial ram!)

Week 3: My honor

Honor is the good inside of you. When you do good for others, you say good things, you think good thoughts, and your intentions are good, you are honorable. But because of sin, we cannot have honor on our own... it is only through God and from God that there is anything good in us.

Week 4: ...Depend on God...

Our visual this week was this: my classroom assistant stood next to me and leaned heavily on my chair. As long as I was strong and stayed in one place, she would be able to stand. But if I moved away... she would fall. She couldn't stand without me holding her up. If we try to stand without the Lord, we will fall. We cannot save ourselves, and we cannot do any truly good thing on our own - we must ask God to do these things. That is what the verse means: "My salvation and my honor depend on God..." And why can we depend on him? Because he is mighty, he is our rock, and he is our refuge.

Our Bible lesson in week 4 was about Esau exchanging his birthright for a bowl of stew. We discussed the value and lasting implications of stew versus an inheritance, and we asked the question, "What is the most important thing to you?" Many of the students said it is God. I reminded them of the story of Abraham and Isaac and asked, "What are you willing to sacrifice for the sake of God?" And then I reminded them of Esau and Jacob and asked, "What do you value so much that you would exchange the gift of God for it?" One student said, "Nothing! I would not give up my gift from God!" When asked why, she said: "Because my life depends on God..." and others picked it up too: "He is my salvation..." "He is my honor..." "He is my mighty rock!" "He is my refuge!"

With a powerful response like that, who needs to teach or preach more? All I could say, in overwhelmed awe and wonder, was: "Amen... Amen."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 his hand...

My fingernails are magenta... my palms are too... and I remembered why I should not write on myself with purple Sharpie. But for all the mess it has made, I am so thankful for the two words that still grace my hand: "The Lord's."

Yesterday I read these words in Isaiah 44:5 - "One will say 'I belong to the Lord'; another will call himself by the name of Jacob; still another will write on his hand, 'The Lord's' and will take the name of Israel." I love this picture of people coming to the Lord, being grafted into his family, and like in marriage or adoption, choosing to take his name and identifying ourselves as his. All day, I smiled when I noticed purple smudges everywhere, a testimony to the truth that I belong to him... meditating on that fills me with such love and peace and security.
Today, Isaiah 49:16 enriched this truth even more with the words of the Lord: "See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands." Not only have I written his name on my hand, but He has written mine on his! And he hasn't used a messy, smudgy Sharpie, but he has me permanently engraved in his palm, forever and always.
Isaiah 43:1 - "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine." Hallelujah, praise the Lord!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Follow Me.
Deny yourself
Take up your cross
Sell everything
Follow Me.

Follow Me.
Leave your nets
Leave your tax collector booth
Leave your dead to bury their own
Follow Me.

Follow Me.
As a servant
As a disciple
As a sheep
Follow Me.

Follow Me.
And you will have treasure in heaven
And I will make you fishers of men
And you will see greater things than these
Follow Me.

Follow Me.
Right now
For life
Follow Me.

Follow Me.
An invitation
A command
A challenge
Follow Me.

One of  the simplest and most profound things Jesus said, to so many individuals and to us: "Follow me"... Those who obey find life to the fullest. It is the greatest adventure of all, that takes us further up and further in to the riches of his love and grace, the longer and closer we follow.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A little autumnal magic

The leaves are falling, frost is circling the windows before dawn, and we're drinking hot tea three times a day. I had oatmeal with cinnamon this morning for breakfast, and Hannah baked homemade snickerdoodles yesterday - four dozen, and they are already gone. Sweaters, hats, scarves, and fluffy socks... bright red hues against rich dark branches, golden hues against a clear blue sky...

The house out our front window is the very image of Nathanael Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables, and when the warm glow of light is on in the evening I can see a mysteriously intriguing library in the front room and a black cat on the upstairs window sill...

The yellow house out our back window is adorned with a huge blushing maple that takes its time in discovering its true colors, and a fire pit smolders next door by day, and comes alive nearly every night to light and warm the alley... 

And with all this beauty and magic and joy, a girl's imagination can certainly get swept away...

The other night a storm came, with lots of wind that scattered the leaves everywhere, and twice our backdoor blew wide open. As I looked out into the velvety night, I wondered if the smallest star in the Milky Way had opened my door with its shout for adventure to that little boy who never grows up... and I hoped so... 

Could Peter be trying to come inside? And then I recalled that we did indeed hide his shadow in our kitchen nook drawer in July, and it's taken him a few months to miss it, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if that was his mission here that night... either that, or he was hoping to hear some good  stories, which he would have, because it happened just at my tea time with Hannah and Brie...

We didn't get to see him, and his shadow remains locked up safely, but his ancient dagger is now on my top shelf. He'll be back, I'm sure. At any rate, I think Hannah may have accidentally drowned or poisoned Tinkerbell with Drain-o in our bathroom sink, but maybe she deserved it if that's where she chose to look for the lost shadow... oh, we are far more clever than she could guess!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Kings and Queens

A new song, and my favorite Audio Adrenaline song since "Hands and Feet." I keep watching it over and over, and smiling. Well done, guys, well done!

Little hands, shoeless feet
Lonely eyes looking back at me
Will we leave behind the innocent to grieve?
On their own, on the run
When their lives have only begun
These could be our daughters and our sons.

And just like a drum I can hear their hearts beating
I know my God won't let them be defeated
Every child has a dream to belong and be loved.

Boys become kings, girls will be queens
Wrapped in Your majesty
When we love, when we love the least of these.
Then they will be brave and free
Shout Your name in victory
When we love, when we love the least of these.

Break our hearts once again
Help us to remember when
We were only children hoping for a friend.
Won't you look around
These are lives that the world has forgotten
Waiting for the doors of our hearts and our homes to open.

Boys become kings, girls will be queens
Wrapped in Your majesty
When we love, when we love the least of these.
Then they will be brave and free
Shout Your name in victory
When we love, when we love the least of these.

If not us, who will be like Jesus to the least of these?

Boys become kings, girls  will be queens
Wrapped in Your majesty
When we love, when we love the least of these.
Then they will be brave and free
Shout Your name in victory
We will love, we will love the least of these.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

the communion of the saints

I've been thinking about Communion, as the Church usually considers it: a holy sacrament that carries formal traditions. My home church in NC takes communion together weekly, my local church here in IN takes it quarterly, some friends go to a church that takes it annually, and I'm sure there are churches that fill up the spectrum of frequency and style, from high liturgical order with strong wine in goblets, to grassroots homechurches with grapejuice around a dining room table. My brother Kevan likes to lead communion at a local barbeque restaurant with friends breaking hush puppies.

We all have our own concept of how this sacrament should look, and I don't think it is something that should divide us in anyway... I'm pretty sure if we all agree that Jesus told us to do it, and we agree on why we do it, then we're in unity. But as I read the passages in the Gospels that talk about the Last Supper, I wonder if we have all made it a bit more formal and structured, and frankly, more complicated than Jesus ever intended it to be.

When Jesus wanted people to understand an important and spiritual truth, what did he do? He told stories and gave object lessons. Think about seeds, vines, buried treasure, houses on sand, bread, well water, fig trees, nets full of fish, wedding feasts, even the healing of the blind and crippled; all of these were ways that Jesus explained profound truths so that we could see and touch and wrap our earthly brains around them. God did this in the Old Testament too - think of people like Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Jonah and Hosea, who lived out God's redemptive story in their own times. Yes, object lessons are one of the Father's specialties.

I wonder about that night when Jesus broke bread and told us it was like his body that he allowed to be broken for us... and when he poured a cup of wine and told us it was like his blood that he allowed to be spilled out for us... and when he sat around a table with his closest friends and shared this meal with them and told them to remember him as often as they did this. Did what? I'd assume bread and wine were not unusual elements for their daily meals... What if he was trying to give them a way to daily remember him, in their every day activities? Maybe the point was that there had never been anything really special about a simple meal before, and now he would use something basic and common that we all understand and relate to, to remind us of something profound and remarkable about our relationship with him.

While we all know it is important for the Redeemed in Christ - the saints of grace - to gather together to intentionally refocus ourselves collectively on the sacrifice made for us, I think we could and should apply it more and more often to our daily lifestyle. When we share spaghetti with our families or roommates, do we thank Him for his provision and share how that has been an active part of our day? When we eat pizza with friends, do we tell stories of how relationships are being restored and hearts are being changed? When we make s'mores around a campfire with neighbors, do we talk about how our lives are different because of the love and grace we've been given? When we munch on pretzels after school with students, do we disclose to them the secret to where our peace and hope come from? Do we take the opportunities when we are sitting together, sharing something delicious that sustains and energizes our bodies, to talk about our best friend who sustains and energizes our souls?

If so, and as often as we do, we fulfill Jesus' call to communion, until the day he returns.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

what it means to be free

Well, it happened. After doing two years of highschool English homework with Nawal, she finally read a book for class that I had not even heard of before. Shocking, for both of us. So when she finished her assignments with the book, she said she really liked it and gave me her student edition to read.

The book was written from the first-person perspective of a guy named Equality 7-2521 who lives in a futuristic collectivist society, where no one is unique, there is no individual identity, and even the word "I" is unknown. He slowly escapes this society and fights to become an individual who is free to think and create and choose based on his preferences and desires.

Knowing that the author grew up in Soviet Russia helps to explain her disdain for collectivism in the extreme, and her passion for independence and self-reliance. But the thing that alarmed me so much was that the hero of her story pole-vaulted from having no concept of self to being completely and utterly self-absorbed. Here are some of the "enlightened revelations" Equality 7-2521 came to by the end of the book:

"And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: 'I'." 

"Many words have been granted me, and some are wise, and some are false, but only three are holy: 'I will it!'" 

"My happiness is not the means to any end. It is the end. It is its own goal. It is its own purpose...I am a man. this miracle of me is mine to own and keep, and mine to guard, and mine to use, and mine to kneel before!"

"I owe nothing to my brothers, nor do I gather debts from them. I ask none to live for me, nor do I live for any others."

Are these statements distressing to anyone else out there? Can anyone tell me why a high school teacher would want to put these ideas in a teenager's brain? For me, these are disturbing conclusions because they are so opposite of what I've learned that life is about. Here's some of the teachings of the Main Character in my story:

"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it."

"If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

"Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all."

"Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."

I have hope, joy, forgiveness, and life because the Main Character, Jesus, did not live for himself, but gave his life for me. And my life has purpose and fulfillment and peace when I remember that my life is not my own - it was bought at a high price. It is all about him and for him, and in that, there is the ultimate freedom! And in following him I find that I can love others, show mercy, extend grace, and lay down my life because he did that for me.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"...To bind up the broken-hearted..."

I never feel quite so helpless as I do when I'm sitting with someone's broken heart that I cannot fix. It's happened more times than I care to recall, and it's why I decided against a career as a counselor. And yet, as often as I try to avoid the situation, it keeps finding me, and once again I feel completely helpless, and all I can do is sit and cry and feel my own heart break too.

Yesterday it was one of my adult ESL students, who came in looking tired, but when I asked how she was, she smiled and said "OK." Then I asked if she had finished her homework, and she said "No." At this point I tend to want to roll my eyes and I think, "For heaven's sake, you had a whole week to practice ten new words, why didn't you?" But as I started to go there, she started to blink hard and managed to say, "My father... very sick... in Burma... I cannot..." and then crumpled onto the table in sobs. I also learned that her father is 85 and she hasn't seen him in two years and probably never will see him again. And on top of that her teenaged disabled daughter, whom she takes care of full-time and who hasn't had a seizure in a year, had a very bad one the night before and had to go to the hospital. And I know her husband has died and she is raising four kids on her own, so her lonliness and weariness is just crushing her, and why should she care about learning English right now and who am I to demand anything from her?

It took me so off guard that I couldn't really do anything for a minute except mentally slap myself for my insensitive assumptions.

My next thought was to grab some tissues, which were in my bedroom, but as I started to move she weakly said, "No, No, I'm fine," and pulled her own wad of tissues out of her purse. Clearly, she wasn't fine, but clearly she didn't want me to leave her side, even for a minute.

My next thought was tea... oh, how we could both use a cup of tea right then! But we were alone and I can't put the kettle on by myself and there was no way I could ask her to make her own tea. And once more I hated my disability for limiting what my heart longs to do.

My next thought was prayer. Why wasn't that my first thought? So I laid a hand on her arm and prayed for her and her father and her daughter.

Then I wondered what I could do next. She doesn't know much English, and I struggled to put into simple terms any measure of comfort. I begged God - not for the first time in my life - for the gift of speaking in a tongue that she could understand. But it didn't come.

I looked pitifully at the ESL workbook and lesson I had laid out for her, wondering how we could possibly focus on the difference between "this, that, these and those" under such circumstances. I chose to be a teacher, not a counselor! my mind screamed in frustration. Then a still, small voice said to my heart, "No, you chose to be a missionary." And what an unpredictable mixed bag that has turned out to be.

My student took a few minutes to calm down, and then threw herself into the English lesson in a way that made me realize it was a kind of escape for her from her hard life. We ended early, and she said she wanted to go home and sleep. I hope she did, and I hope she found rest and peace in Jesus too.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

24 hours of community

I absolutely love my life.

Last night, 6:00 pm - I found myself in the most picturesque picnic dinner with pasta, a dining table under an autumn tree, real dishes, and an awesomely eclectic and motley crew of neighborhood friends, in that rugged-yet-sophisticated style that "Mumford and Sons" fans could appreciate. The sun set, the air turned cool, and we shuffled next door to the comfort of a bonfire and s'mores and storytelling. We came together because of a birthday, but this night helped us transition from being strangers and neighbors to friends and family.

This morning, 10:00 am - I sat in the corner of my dining room, taking in all the laughter and love oozing from the 23 friends who drank coffee, ate bagels, sang hymns, and generally filled up every inch of space in my living room, dining room, and kitchen. Our little Hobbit Hole was maxed out and I was thrilled! These are friends who love Jesus and love our local community, and want to authentically live on purpose here. I get a rush from just being with people like this, who care about the things I care about and who want to work together to see God's kingdom grow. Like Bilbo Baggins, I anticipate a grand adventure ahead of us.

This afternoon, 3:00 pm - I was sipping a pumpkin chai at my favorite coffee shop with Hannah and two of our dear African girls. We were listening to John Denver and debating if a certain piece of art was a painting or photograph, and one of the girls just leaned back and smiled so big. With a sparkle in her eye she told me how she liked this place because it was so restful and relaxing. I agreed and can't wait to tell the owner, who is a Christian pastor who opened this little establishment to be a light and a blessing to the community. Well done, Sid!

This evening, 5:00 pm - I ate the most amazing Middle Eastern food EVER at my student's house,  in her back sun room that looked out on a huge yard and well-tended garden. Her mother-in-law kept urging me to "Eat! Eat!" and her husband shared with me how his family left Iraq in the '70s and came to America. My student can speak the oldest language known to man, but she chooses to speak English so that we can be friends. As we thanked them and said good-bye, she packed a big bag full of leftovers for us to take home, and gifted us also with a bag of special tea. We're excited to share our international feast with more friends this week.

After 24 hours of beautiful, fulfilling community life, my "love tank" is so full, it's overflowing! I can't believe I get to live like this... being with people, investing in them and sharing with them and receiving from them in a way that is so meaningful and life-giving. Thank you, God, for such an exciting, incredible life!

Thursday, September 27, 2012


"No, not wh-... Vh-! Van, not wan... Vote, not wote... Vh-!" Armed with a mirror, a diagram of the human mouth, and God-sustained patience, I was reverting back from teaching new English words to new English sounds. I have a beginner student who comes to my house, and I started using a study book with her this week. She's beginning to grasp some basic grammar, but when she read the name "Victor" as "Wictor," my mind screamed, "No no, this cannot continue! Nip this in the bud!" And so our lesson on names and vocations was put on hold for a little linguistics lesson.

Of course, we had to start with vocabulary: lip and teeth, top and bottom... then bottom lip and top teeth put together- this is where charades are handy... breathe, and you get the fh- sound, hum or speak (use your voice), and you get the vh- sound. No, the top lip doesn't move! And yes, your lip will tickle when you do it! :)

I used to be a lot more lenient with pronunciation, because many ESL students say they want to understand English, and that is more of a receiving technique (listening, reading) than giving (speaking, writing). Besides, I could understand my students just fine; being around multiple languages and dialects, my brain has just learned to auto-correct and translate what I hear. But then I started noticing that no one else could understand them, and as the students gained more grammar and vocabulary, they got frustrated that they couldn't communicate well, even with all the words that were in their brains. This is largely due to the micro-issues like distinctions between wh- and vh-, t- and th-, l- and r-, the long ee and the short i.... micro-issues that depend on micro-tools like the tongue and teeth and lips and voice, and can have huge consequences on the receiver's end.

So I've learned that it is not enough for people to simply understand and take in information; it is crucial that they are understood as well. The international people I have met and come to love have stories and knowledge and wisdom that should be shared in English. And helping them get those micro-tools to cooperate and make those micro-sounds will have a macro-impact on their lives and the lives of everyone they meet.

Words are powerful things. Pronounce them clearly. Choose them carefully. Use them to make the world a better place.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The ministry of storytelling

During the past couple weeks, I've been spending a lot of my alone time with paper and pen, writing letters to my friends and family who support the work that I'm doing here. While it seems like the easier and more efficient thing to do is type up a general letter and change the names to make each one "personal," I just felt the need to really connect with each individual and share from my heart about the things I think they would care most about. After all, these are people who are investing a lot in me, and I want to invest in them too. So, a letter that could probably take ten minutes to jot down takes me on average 30-45 minutes. I smile as I think about each person and pray for them and imagine having a cup of tea with them. And I tell them stories... stories about the loveable characters in my life, stories about God's miraculous provision, stories about conversations and opportunities both solemn and hilarious.

I've also spent more time on Skype and on the phone with people, and guess how those times are spent? That's right, telling stories! Again, part of my organizer's brain is tempted to think that I've been wasting a lot of time. After all, if you ask me what I did all morning, I'd have to say I made a couple phone calls, talked on Skype, texted, and wrote two letters. ...Really? In four hours that's all I accomplished?! Yes. But no... not really. None of it is a waste - in fact, I'm beginning to realize it is a ministry in itself.

See, I have always loved stories. I love to read and be read to; I love good movies, good blogs, and good songs that are authentic and meaningful. My closest friends can tell you how much I love to get comfortable and randomly faux-demand, "Tell me a story!" and just wait for the poor soul to start, like a queen commanding a jester to perform... and I love it even more if the "poor soul" jumps right in without hesitation with the classic phrase, "Once upon a time..." I revel in hearing and telling stories, because through stories we learn more about people and life and God's bigger picture.

In studying English, writing, and literature, I've learned that it is much more valuable, much more rich, to give the reader/listener a story than to give him an adjective. For example, what if I just told you that Peter Pan was a little boy who never grew up? That's much easier and more convenient than reading the book... but in reading the book, you learn who he really was based on the things he said and did, the way he acted and interacted, and you cheer for him and fall in love with him and feel sorry for him and are charmed by him in a way you can't explain, unless you tell his stories.

Take this idea and apply it to the greatest character of all time, Jesus. I can tell you that he is love and peace and hope, and I can lay out the "Roman Road," or the "ABCs of salvation," and while these are solid and time-efficient, I'm not so sure that they are soul-sufficient. How much better is it to take the time to share the chapters of my life with you; to recall the times I've fallen and been lifted up again by his mercy; to testify to his faithfulness and provision in the hardest times; to tell and retell and retell again the miracles he's done - how he has healed me, body and soul, and put a song in my heart and joy on my face and breath in my lungs and strength in my voice and wisdom in my mind. I think as you hear these stories, you would really understand his love and peace and hope in a way that goes beyond those small English words.

Being a storyteller is part of my ministry, and I think it's part of yours too. Tell what Jesus has done for you and in you and through you. Share it with everyone - it's a beautiful story that is meant to be known and passed on, and the Father will receive the glory every time.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Inscribed and Sealed for a Good Year!

This afternoon, our "Grafted Group" found our own way to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This was the fourth Jewish holiday we've celebrated together, and even though we are not Jewish by heritage or culture, we are thankful for the ways the Jewish feasts help us focus on the ways God has been faithful to us as people he has mercifully grafted into his family - an honor I am still so humbled by, that he would reach down and make a way for anyone to come to him and be called his children.

Themes in this feast were honey and sweet sangria wine... honey herb chicken, apples with honey, and a dish of cooked carrots, sweet potatoes, pineapple, and mandarin oranges was our meal - so savory and absolutely delicious! While we ate, we shared some of the highlights of this past year, which for me included a new house and community, renewed vision and strength for ministry, and getting to hold my newest nephew... so many new things, and I praise the Lord that he makes all things new, and that he renews his mercies for us day by day.

Wine, honey, and the promise of God from Micah 7

After reflecting, we also shared our hopes for this "new year" - things that we hope for that only God can accomplish - prayers answered, lives redeemed, community built, personal growth... miracles. Oh Lord, we long to see miracles this year.

The Grafted Group
We read some Psalms and worshipped through reflection - Psalm 118:5-9, Psalm 121, and Psalm 130.  Then, with the beautiful truth from Micah 7:18-19, we followed the holiday tradition by going down to the river to symbolically throw our sins to the depth of the sea. On the walk, this became a much more solemn and powerful time than any of us anticipated, as we picked up rocks as symbols of the sins we have held on to and needed to give to the Lord. After all, Jesus died for these things so we could be freed from them. As I prayed and reflected and plopped stones into the murky water of the St. Mary River, I realized it was at that bridge that my chair crossed its 200th mile... a marker I think will be pretty cool to remember.

Hit my 200th mile on the bridge over the river

A symbol to remind us
 Finally, we all had paper shofars (horns) to blow... In the Old Testament, it was blown to call community to gather and scatter, to call for God's rescue and victory, to rejoice and sacrifice and remember the Lord our God.

Blow the shofar for victory and surrender
What a beautiful, wonderful day! What a great beginning to a new year of living out the great adventure of knowing and walking with Jesus! Happy New Year! "And may you immediately be inscribed and sealed for a good year and a good and peaceful life!"