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.