Monday, December 16, 2013

A Special Visitor, Part 3

Just at the break of dawn, Peter Pan took me back to my Hobbit Hole. As he set me back down in my wheelchair, I felt gravity take over again, and my feet, hands, and shoulders felt more heavy than ever. He clicked my seat belt, and with a wink he turned to the door. It was more than I could bear, and I tried to shout, "Wait, Peter!" Only it came out in a choked whisper, because my heart was already quickly retreating from its momentary courage. "I can't do this... I can't hang on to hope when life keeps getting harder and I keep getting weaker. Can't I please go with you?"

He turned back and knelt before me, taking my hands in his. "The thing about flying up there," he said, tilting his head toward the ceiling, "is that life seems so far away - so small and distant. Sometimes you need to fly, to get some perspective... to know that the world is a lot bigger than you; that hope is bigger than your problems. But-" Peter jumped and sat on top of the counter with his legs crossed Indian-style and fiddled with the Burmese spoon, "if you stay up there, your life will always be small and distant. You'll have the stars, but not the people you love. I don't have anyone to love, so I don't mind. But you do," he said, putting down the spoon and looking me in the eye. "You are meant to live up close and personal. When you do, you see the wrinkles and cracks - all the imperfections and disappointments - and you feel every bump and splinter along the way. But you also get to see the intricate, beautiful details, and feel the comforting warmth, and hear the steady heartbeat of it. You wouldn't want to miss that, would you?"

I blink back tears, look away, and shake my head. No, I wouldn't want to miss that.

"Then live a big life!" he concluded, and flew toward the door. As it opened itself again, I heard the beep of the alarm, which sounded more like a tinkling bell. "The closer you press in to life, the bigger it becomes - the mess, the beauty, the pain, the joy, the love, the adventure - it all gets bigger! Don't run from it, whatever you do, and don't give it up for anything. Have courage, have hope, and live!"

I watched from the doorway as Peter flew out and did a few somersaults into the alley, and then tightrope-walked on the power line. Then he laid on his back with his hands behind his head and allowed the wind to carry him away over the rooftops. His laughter seemed to linger in the crisp morning chill that kissed my face. Finally, I closed the door, sniffled back the last remaining tear, and smiled. He'll be back, I told my heart with confidence. He still hasn't found where I hid his shadow. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Special Visitor, Part 2

Peter Pan tugged at my hand, urging me forward, but I couldn't follow him. I was strapped in to my wheelchair seat. "I can't go with you, Peter. I can't walk, you see." Stupid wheelchair, stupid disability, always holding me back, I thought angrily and fought back more tears.

But he laughed and shook his head. "What does walking have to do with any of it? We're going to fly." And with that, he unbuckled my seat belt and lifted me in his arms like I weighed nothing. Gravity didn't seem to have the least effect on him. He carried me as he flew through the open door and up, up, high up above the neighborhood. "You can't walk because you can't bear weight. But up here, that's no longer a problem. The wind will bear it for you!"

He sprinkled some pixie dust and held me by both hands. We danced among the stars, a beautiful effortless waltz, like we had both been doing this our whole lives. With him I felt strong and beautiful and fearless again, like nothing could hurt me and even death would be an awfully big adventure. We didn't go to Neverland. I'm all grown up now, so I can't go there anymore, but Peter said he had something even better in mind.

Hand in hand, we flew over the town, across the Midwest, over mountains, through the South, and up the west coast. We stopped at windows of the houses of my favorite people along the way, to wave and laugh and give hugs and kisses - Peter had a whole pocketful. We had snowball fights in the Rockies, then warmed ourselves over the hot springs in Montana. We had a water war in Lake Michigan and played hopscotch in the Outer Banks. We found a tornado in Kansas to swirl around in until we were dizzy, and balanced on the top of the Empire State Building as we looked down on all the glittering lights of the City.

During all this time, we didn't really talk - we just laughed and played. I'm glad, because I know Peter is clever, but not very wise or compassionate, and he isn't a very good conversationalist, and anyway, I wasn't in the mood for words.

But going on this grand adventure with him was good medicine for my heart. Without saying it, he was inviting me to believe and to hope again... not in the things of my childhood dreams, like Neverland or Grimm's fairy tales, but in something much more... battles that are much nobler to fight than with pirates and Indians, princes that are worth staying awake and alert for, love that goes deeper than songs and dances and kisses.

He showed me that to leave behind childlike magic doesn't mean letting go of it, but discovering a whole new layer of it that is more powerful and more beautiful than I could have dreamed. And it is not on the pages of books or in the Enchanted Forest, but in our world. Yes, this world has a lot of darkness and despair, and it is hard to find such beauty - rare and precious as jewels - but if hope stays alive, it can be found...

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Special Visitor, Part 1

The back door of the Hobbit Hole opened with the sound of a beeping alarm, and a blast of chilly wind blew down the hall and hit the back of my legs. I was alone, and not expecting company, so I waited to hear footsteps or a voice, but only heard the sound of winter.  Peter Pan must be visiting, I thought to myself with a sad smile, and went to the kitchen to close the door. Since moving in to the Hobbit Hole, I have made that my silly excuse for why the door opens itself on blustery days. Anyway it seems most probable, since I do keep his shadow tucked away in one of the hundreds of crannies in the house.

It was twilight, and the world outside looked blue with white highlights of snow and frost on rooftops and cars. I hesitated with my hand on the doorknob, letting the cold north wind kiss my cheeks and forehead. I wish it was Peter... my heart whispered. It whispered, because it has become timid and fearful in some ways this year, as though it still longs for true love and high adventure and beautiful magic and magical beauty, but is not quite so boldly certain it is real anymore.

The tears started to sting my eyes again, so I blinked, shook my head, and closed the door, telling myself it's the wind that made my eyes water and chest ache. Stop it now, I chastise my heart harshly as I have grown used to doing. None of that foolishness. Peter Pan isn't real. It's just the wind - it is all just the wind. I went back down the hall and back to work - there were papers to grade, lessons to write.

Then I heard a bell tinkle faintly, and the echo of a boyish laugh. I looked down the hall, and there he was - a boy in my kitchen, pulling drawers open and slamming them shut, getting distracted by odd appliances and getting amused by my Mexican parrot perched in the corner window. I would say I was shocked, but that's not true. As much as I have tried to disbelieve lately, my heart wouldn't let him go, so when I saw his pointed nose and mischievous grin and freckles and sparkling elvish eyes, I absolutely knew him.

He put down the Burmese soup spoon he'd found, and cocked his head to one side. "Girl," he said, "why are you crying?"

I touched my face and realized it was wet and the tears hadn't stopped. "I can't make my heart behave and act like a grown-up," I answered him roughly, embarrassed to meet him in such an emotional mess. "And anyway I wasn't crying."

He stayed where he was, and looked a little confused. "Why does your heart need to act like a grown-up?"

"Because I am a grown-up!" I said a bit impatiently. "I didn't want to be, it happened without me even trying, but here I am, and I need to let go of childish dreams and face reality and stop believing in all the stories, all the dreams; I can't believe in fai-" the look of horror on his face stopped my words and cut my heart and I burst into sobs.

He awkwardly stood by a minute, and I could tell he disapproved of overly dramatic girls, which made me love and hate him all at once, for I don't like them either and would rather laugh than cry, just like him. Then he lightly stepped in front of me and wiped a tear away, and held out a kiss in his hand. I sniffled and took it, and tried hard to get myself under control.

"Come away, come away with me," he whispered in my ear. I looked up to see if he was teasing. His eyes sparkled brightly, and he laughed in a way that said he was teasing, but he pulled on my hand anyway, taking a step toward the door that had burst open once more...

Saturday, November 30, 2013


The other night, Coen, who is almost two, was in his sleeper pajamas with his blonde hair combed to the side, and with his sweet little cheeks and big blue eyes, I was startled at his resemblance to Michael Darling from Disney's Peter Pan.

Imagine my delight when Coen crawled into Andrew's lap and said, "Up-away!" Andrew swung him into his arms and tossed him in the air and said, "Up, up, and away!" Overcome by giggles, Coen again said, "Up-away!" and Andrew complied a few more times.

Then Coen patted Andrew on the shoulder and pointed to the ceiling and said, "Fly!" By then Andrew was exhausted, so he said no, they would fly tomorrow. But Coen implored more and insisted, "Fly! Daddy, fly!"

My little Peter-Pan heart couldn't handle it. I wanted to sprinkle that kid with pixie dust and tell him to think lovely, wonderful thoughts. But I could tell by the expression in his eyes that he was thinking happy thoughts, and he has something better than pixie dust: he has a daddy who loves him enough to scoop him up and hold him securely high over his head and help him fly, and then hold him close as they laugh together.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"Remember who the true enemy is."

Last weekend I went to see the new movie, "Catching Fire," with a few of my favorite people. Two years ago, a bunch of us read the "Hunger Games" trilogy together, and I still think it's one of the best recently written pieces of literature, at least that I have experienced. That will probably surprise some of you who know me and know my affinity for old-fashioned fantasy and epic classics. But I love the writing style and perspective of the narration, and how each chapter is a cliff-hanger, and how the plot thickens, and how it's about a girl who finds herself as being significant in something much bigger than herself.

I was noticing in the movies how there are a few themes that are emphasized... one is about the power of hope, another is about sacrificing for the sake of those they love. But one that really stuck with me was one that Haymitch and Finnick said at different times: "Remember who the true enemy is." The people chosen for the games, the "tributes," are pitted against each other, and the attention of the whole country is put on watching these people fight to the death, when really the enemy is the leadership in the capitol that is orchestrating all the violence and fear. The tributes have to remind each other that they are not the enemy, and that their energy would be better spent fighting the enemy together rather than fighting each other.

And I can't help but think this is a good truth to apply to the Church. Too often I see Christians fighting each other, whether it's within a ministry or one church body or across denominations. And I think that is a waste of time and energy. The true enemy is Satan, and he would love nothing more than to distract us into tearing each other apart... he is safe and sound as long as our arrows are pointed at each other. Why do we fall for that trick?? So if you have anger or bitterness or any issue with a brother or sister in Christ, here is the truth: it is destroying you, it is killing them, and it is strangling the ministry. And I'd just like to say to you: GET OVER IT. Realize that lies and conflicts that divide us are the work of Satan and the sin in our own hearts that produces selfishness and pride - and let that knowledge increase our fervent love and defense and protection of each other, and fiercely turn our attacks on the true source that has been causing the same problems since the Garden of Eden. Satan has absolutely no authority in the Church, so do not allow him to have any power or claim there.

We are human; we make mistakes, we sin, we hurt each other, and we come from different pasts that shape our values and approaches differently. But the thing that binds us together is that we have been saved and redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. We worship the same God, and we are all under his mercy. He has given us the same commands and mission and promises. And anyway, we're gonna spend eternity together, so we may as well start learning to get along now! When we focus on the truth of the gospel and we abide in the Vine, we grow and bear fruit - individually and corporately, which is a much better thing that cutting each other down and separating.

So let's remember who the true enemy is, and who the true King is, and who our family is. Let's remember that Jesus saved us and the Holy Spirit brought us together to bring glory and praise to God.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

cuddle time, and wheelchair separation

Mile log: 877

The Ladies of the Hobbit Hole have a favorite hobby we call "cuddle time." Basically we pile around each other as close as possible, surrounded by every pillow and fluffy blanket we have. And we have a lot. I'm pretty sure we resemble cats, and I'm not at all sure who started this craze. Fuzzy pajamas, late nights, skilled huggers, ridiculously cold weather, and deep bonds of sisterly affection seem to encourage the behavior. Kind of a new thing for me, since I grew up without sisters or cats, but I'm learning. Maybe this is what the March family in Little Women was like? It does my heart good.

One of my favorite things about cuddle time is that I get out of my chair for a while. Don't misunderstand, "Svante the Svede" is very comfortable and capable of all sorts of convenient things that make my life easier. But armrests, footrests, handle bars, and headrest make human contact a bit tricky. Not to mention the joystick and buttons that are so easy to bump and cause all sorts of chaos. It feels like my personal bubble has its own armed security system. Sitting on a couch sort of eliminates all my potential to bruise, crush, or impale my friends who just want to hug.

It seems to have this weird surprise effect on people when they see me out of my wheelchair, like we are one unit that can't be separated. Maybe it's just like seeing Bono without glasses or Tom Selleck without a mustache... it's just iconic and hard to separate one from the other. And yes, I just compared my Swedish wheelchair to Tom Selleck's mustache.

I'm not sure what is more amusing: to see how people react to me without my chair, or to the chair without me. Usually people want to try to sit in my chair if they see it empty... interesting that I'm always looking for opportunities to get out of it, and people are most curious to get into it!

I am thankful for my wheelchair, but a little separation from him can be a good thing, especially when the alternative is cuddle time with my sisters.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The end of the in-home care agency experiment

I got fired today from a home health care agency. At least, that's how it felt when I got the five-day notice of dismissal from them. The letter was dated 11/18, arrived 11/21, and dismissal date was 11/22. Hmmm... Well good riddance, I suppose, since they couldn't allow any of their aids to actually lift me out of my chair (which is kind of a crucial aspect of my care). But what a weird feeling, to have a company ask a client to go away! Thus ends my social experiment with in-home care agencies, at least for a while.

I am thankful for all the kind and hardworking aids who have come into my home and helped me so much... they are absolutely amazing people. But I've learned that home health agencies, as they are run right now, don't really work with my active and social and spontaneous life. So I'm gonna take a risk and go off the government-controlled radar, and see how it goes with my friends around me in my community taking care of the daily Connie-ness. It's gonna be an adventure for all of us, and one that I would really appreciate your prayers for!

In the meantime, if there are any business-savvy friends out there who would love the challenge of starting up a home care agency that targets young, active people who happen to have a disability that requires some care, let me know - the ladies of the Hobbit Hole have tons of ideas!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Hold fast

"Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you..." - I Corinthians 15:1-2a 

Last night at community group, the question was asked, "What does it look like to hold fast to Jesus?" I didn't say anything, but my mind was flipping through a vast collection of adventure stories I've seen and read, and that moment when the hero is holding on to something for life - whether he's holding on to a rope to keep from falling or holding on to a precious treasure to keep it out of the hands of the enemy... regardless of the situation, here's what I realized: when you are holding fast to something, you don't have energy or strength or resources to hold on to anything else. The moment you try, you slip, fumble, or fall. "Holding fast" is an all-or-nothing kind of commitment. We're all holding fast to something, it's just a matter of what, and is it worth it.

In Corinthians, Paul encourages the Church to hold fast to the word he preached - the gospel... the Good News... the Word of God... Jesus. So to me, holding fast to Jesus means letting go of everything else. If you grew up in a Christian context like I did, that may sound cliche. But I keep finding myself grasping for other things. Even as I declare that I only need Jesus, that he truly satisfies, my hands reach out in hope for something else. Lately, I wake from my dreams at night to find my fingernails digging deep into my palms because I'm clinching my fists so tight, around... what? Sometimes it is a fight, a struggle, to hold fast to Jesus, to choose to trust him above all else.

On the flip side, it is sometimes terrifying to let go of something else in order to take hold of Jesus. At least for me, it is easier to hold fast to something that I know and am comfortable with than to let it go and trust that Jesus will be even better. And wow, even as I write that, I am shocked at my lack of faith. Don't you know Him at all? How can you even question his sufficiency and supremacy? 

One of my favorite scenes in the book, The Princess Bride, is the "snow sand" - when Buttercup falls through the sand and Westley grabs a vine and jumps in to rescue her... and the vine is too short. He has to make a choice - save himself by holding on to the vine, or let go to reach her and risk losing both of their lives in the process. I love how the author writes the response: "Westley let go of the vine without a qualm, because he had come too far to fail now..." I tend to panic when God tells me to let go of things that, to me, look like life. God, what if I let go and... fears of loneliness, failure, and deaths of dreams make an eternity of floating through snow sand look pleasant. But if I love Jesus as passionately as Westley loved Buttercup, then I should have no qualms in letting go in order to be with Him.

The good news is that Jesus is worth holding fast to. He is the vine that is never too short, the branch that will never break, the rope that will not fray. And what is even better about Jesus is that when I lose strength and cannot hold on, he holds on to me and will not let me go. When I choose to receive and stand on and hold fast to his promises, He will hold fast to me as his child.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

"To Him Who is Our Life"

Today my mom called me on the phone, in the middle of my usual Thursday craziness - juggling transportation plans for youth night, giving my home aid instructions for my laundry, getting ready for a meeting - to tell me that Charlie had passed away. She was definitely emotional about it, and I could imagine that Kevan and my dad were too - he was a dear family friend, but I just blinked, not able to absorb the news at all. When I got off the phone, I felt weird, like I should cry or cancel my meeting or something, but I just mechanically checked my email and straightened my glasses on my nose. 

After my home aid left, I bundled up and decided to go for a walk. I rode down the alley for two blocks, then came back on the sidewalk, the tears in my eyes caused only by the cold wind blowing in my face. "Charlie's gone... he's passed... he's dead..." I tried telling myself, but it wouldn't stick. I've only known Charlie as a very old man with a very young spirit. Kevan once said he is like Caleb in Joshua 14, taking possession of new land and powerfully fighting the enemy. Clear-minded and sharp, adventurous and feisty, determined and driven, Charlie has seemed sort of immortal to me. At least, I thought he would out-live me. I visited him in his home in Charleston in 2009, and have been looking forward to another visit soon. The thought of not seeing him again on this earth has never occurred to me. So I couldn't mourn, because it just doesn't seem real. Charlie is more full of life than most people I've met. 

Tonight when I got home, it finally set in. I thought of all the scribbled letters I've received from him, and more recently the emails. I re-read some emails we've shared in the past year. This is an excerpt from one of the last notes I received from him: 

 Connie, when your life continues to be firmly rooted in our Lord Jesus, then things work. You say that you do not know what your story will be like in the end. The secret to that question fits into two scriptures:
 Phil.4:12b.(NIV) I have learned the secret to be content in any and every situation . And Col: 3:23 & 24.Whatsoever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for men, for you know your reward comes from the Lord not men. So Connie, seek to please only your Lord, for that is a winner.  

Charlie always signed off his notes with the phrase, "To Him Who is Our Life." It is a reflection of how much his life was focused on Jesus - giving glory to Him, pointing others to Him. Even whenever he was bedridden in the hospital, he was inviting his visitors to sit and listen to stories of Jesus and his amazing work in the life of an old man named Charles Luce. Maybe that's why it doesn't feel like he is dead - because Jesus is completely and thoroughly his life, and He is eternal and His love will continue on...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Hobbit's Tale, by Constance Baggins

Looking back at our tracks through the sandy clay loam earth of Oregon...
and at the unwavering faithfulness of God.

Three hobbits sit together around their favorite spot - the dinner table - enjoying some of their favorite past times - feasting and telling stories, reminiscing on grand adventures gone by.

Constance Baggins licks her sticky fingers and watches her friends on either side of her, trying to imagine how she could have ever gotten this far without them. She is tired and a little weary of the unexpected journey that is long and difficult, but also feels stronger and braver because of her companions. Hannah (Bangses) Gamgee - the faithful, gentle, quietly heroic one - twiddls her fork in her Carolina salad, a symbol of the faraway home and garden that she left behind to help and support Constance. Brie(henihenihooeyha) Took - the most adventurous, delightfully unpredictable, and magical one - grins at her giant hamburger with sparkling eyes for only a moment before taking a huge bite and closing her eyes in satisfaction.

"What has been our 'ring'?" Brie asks after many stories have been remembered. "Our ring of power, which calls to us, and tries to overpower us... that we carry and bear for one another with the intent to overcome and destroy?"

"Security," Constance says solemnly. "We think we want it, need it, but we really don't. And when we become content enough to cast it aside, something happens to us to make us desperately grasp for it again."

The three hobbits quietly chew their food in thought, each one recalling the physical, emotional, relational, financial, and spiritual battles they have fought over the past couple years.

"We think we can control it, and use it against our enemy..." Brie says.

"Thinking, 'If only I had...' then I could be stronger and more effective," Constance interjects.

"...But all that really happens is that it binds us and pulls us into darkness..." Brie continues.

"It doesn't bind us, but it calls to us," Hannah corrected. "The only power it has is what we give to it. We are attracted to it, and we choose to put it on - to view the world through that haze... and when we do, it seems so much more necessary, so much more vital and important... we forget we don't need it."

"And God has told us all that this ring - this security that the world makes us believe that we need - is really what would hold us back from the best and biggest adventures he has in store for us."

Interesting, to think of Tolkien's ring of power - so evil and destructive - as being something in our lives as neatly verbalized and highly esteemed as "worldly security." But the ring was beautiful and precious, wasn't it? And in our culture, we spend so much money, make so many plans, and put so much stock in our security... And yet, in walking with Jesus, everything gets flipped upside-down, and we find that worldly security is a destructive lie, and our only hope for security is in clinging to and chasing after the Lord. We hobbits are learning to release our desire for a safe and secure life, and charge head-first into the wild, dangerous, wonderful will of God, learning that he is the only Rock we need.

"For who is God besides the LordAnd who is the Rock except our God?
It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure." - Psalm 18-31-32

**There is, of course, a fourth hobbit, not to be forgotten, for she is powerful, a little odd, and much loved. On this particular night, Emilee "Castle" Brandybuck was working late, serving drinks and locking up shop. But there will be more stories with her!

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Glorious Unfolding

He's done it again, I thought, and shook my head and smiled, as I watched this little Kentucky guy on stage with a guitar play and sing with great power, as loud and strong as ever. Steven Curtis Chapman was back in town last weekend, and once again Pam and I went to see him... and took a few more friends with us this time - Mary, Hannah, Brie, and John. Call me an old-school nerd if you want, but when the concert started with the prelude to "The Great Adventure," I got goosebumps.

It's "The Glorious Unfolding" tour, promoting his newest - and 26th - album, and also featuring Laura Story and Jason Gray. One of my favorite things about this concert was that the artists told pieces of their stories that really brought out the depth and richness of their songs. They have all come through tremendous hardships and tragedies, and it was beautiful and powerful to see how God has helped them and blessed them and received so much glory from their lives. It made me wonder, and be in wonder of, why our weakness and pain is so often required for God's power and glory to shine.

If you haven't noticed before, music means a lot to me, and I think God uses music to speak to my heart when it is not ready or willing or able to listen to other things. Over the years, through different seasons and struggles, SCC's music has comforted and challenged me and helped me understand deeper the heart of God; as much as his songs have been mile-markers and stones of remembrance in his life, they have also been in mine. And that is just as true for his newest album. Needless to say, it was a pretty emotional evening for me.

I've been going through a difficult time lately, wrestling with changes around me that have caused some expectations and plans and dreams to get shaken and shifted and shattered, which is never easy or fun. So I am in a place where I need songs like "Nothing is Wasted," and "Remind Me Who I Am," by Jason Gray, and "Blessings" and "I Can Just Be Me" by Laura Story. And then Stevie introduced the title song of his new album, and the lyrics popped up on the screen behind him as he sang, and I felt like he had written it for me...

Stevie's always been an optimist, but his unwavering hope means so much more when you know the things God's brought him and his family through... his words aren't hollow or ignorant or carelessly chosen. He knows these things to be true because he's faced them, struggled with them, and found healing in them. So I know I can and will too. The story is so far from over, so hold on to every promise God has made to us... 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Adventures of Connie in... Farmland

Last weekend, Hannah drove to Bluffton to have dinner with Mary's family. As we drove past corn fields and farms and grain bins, Hannah said, "Mary said sometime she wants to take me out on a combine!" "Oh, cool!" I responded. Then there was an awkward silence. Which of us would admit the truth first? Fine, I'm older, I'll swallow my pride and say it: "You know, I don't think I've ever actually seen a combine in action..." "Yeah, me either," she said. More awkward silence. Then I said, "Um, I'm not sure I really know what a combine does..." "Yeah, me either," she said. Even though neither of us knew what on earth a combine was, we both had a feeling it was one of those basic common-knowledge things in Bluffton. And we're going to Bluffton, to a pig farm, for dinner with real farmers. Oh dear.

Thankfully, Mary's family is very gracious, and after getting over the initial shock of having such ignorant city girls in their house, her dad explained combines - what they do and how they do it. Fascinating stuff, actually. He would have taken us out to see one in action, but it was almost dark, the combines were finished working for the day, and there were pork chops and sweet potatoes to be eaten. And her mom asked if it homemade cherry pie was ok for dessert. Ummm... yes, forever! Dinner was amazing - I've never had pork chops so tender that I could cut them with a fork. And it felt so good to have dinner around a table with a family, even if it was a family we were just borrowing for an evening. Made me feel homesick, but also comforted at the same time.

After dinner we looked at photo albums, listened to Mary's brother play music, and told stories and jokes. By the time we finally decided to leave, we felt so loved and accepted... Mary's dad told us to come back anytime, that we were always welcome, and I really believed him.

We left and drove under the starry sky, passing semi-trucks that we now realized were full of corn harvested from the fields. Of course we should have known that a visit to Bluffton cannot be complete without a crazy adventure, which is probably why the water pump in my van broke ten minutes down the road. Mary and her brother and dad came to rescue us, which involved trying to fix it on the side of the road in the cold and darkness, then decided it would be best to leave my van there until the morning. They got me out of my chair and into the passenger seat of their Suburban, then (through dangerous and astounding feats) got my chair in the back of it. Hannah and Mary and I drove back to Fort Wayne in this fashion and went straight to bed. The next day, before noon, Mary's dad had my van fixed and brought it back up to us, waving off any suggestion that I would pay for the new pump he installed.

So now that my van is in good working order and we know what a combine is, maybe we'll find ourselves in Bluffton again soon...

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Your Song

"By day the Lord directs His love, 
at night his song is with me - 
a prayer to the God of my life." 
- Psalm 42:8

Long ago, You put your song in my soul -
A melody of truth and hope,
Inspired by redemption and grace,
Accompanied by joy and love,
Harmonized with freedom and peace.
It created life and light in me
And I sang it for all to hear.

There have been times, I confess,
When the tune begins to feel monotonous -
I get bored and impatient and distracted.
Other songs sound more fresh and exciting,
And I turn my ear to listen.
I think how much better this song would sound
With refrains of romance and dynamics of thrill,
With crescendos of tangible success and cadences of visible results.
But every time I improvise to try to improve it,
The canon clashes and screeches in dissonance.

I come back to You - oh, Great Composer -
With broken chords and a broken heart,
And You play your song once again for me,
And You say, "Sing along this time - you know the words."
At first I am afraid to -
Ashamed that I have disregarded it and forgotten.
I timidly hum along, and it comes back to me - every note and beat,
And then I realize the music never stopped or faded;
It's always been there, waiting for me to listen and join in -
A song of salvation - of You! - of Your great mercy and glory.
And You didn't create it for me; You created me for it,
To sing it, play it, proclaim it with my whole life.

So I do...
And as I do, I hear the deeper magic and beauty -
Your romance and thrill,
A much purer and stronger and richer sound than mine,
Woven throughout all history and all my life -
The song You wrote, and placed in my soul.


Sometimes your soul just needs to be reminded to sing... 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Yearling

"A mark was on him from the day's delight, so that all his life, when April was a thin green and the flavor of rain was on his tongue, an old wound would throb and a nostalgia would fill him for something he could not quite remember..."

Inspired by Andrew Peterson's album, Light for a Lost Boy, I recently decided to read the children's classic, The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. The quote above is from the end of chapter 1, and set a foreboding mood for the rest of the book. Even as I read about all the beautiful, charming things the little boy, Jody, experienced, I had this feeling that something horrible was about to happen to destroy it all. It took me two months to read it because of this looming dread... I wanted the beauty to last as long as possible.

Over the span of one year, Jody experiences some things that change his life and make him lose his innocent childlike perception of the world... kind of an anti-Peter Pan story, much to my dismay. There is an overall feeling of not-rightness, as things die and fall apart around him, and his soul fights against it:

"Jody felt uneasy and miserable, alone at the edge of the marsh. The world seemed empty. Only over the scrub the buzzards wheeled, profiting... He climbed to the top of the load of hay and lay flat on his back, staring at the sky. He decided that the world was a very peculiar place to live in. Things happened that had no reason and made no sense and did harm, like the bears and panthers, but without their excuse of hunger. He did not approve."

Reminds me of this valley of white pines in Glacier National Park. A fungus is killing them... apparently about 30% of the trees in the valley are dead and 70% of the remaining trees are infected and are dying. And whether it matters to anyone else in the world or not, I do not approve. Death and decay should not be allowed in a place so beautiful and wild as that. In Jody's story, best friends shouldn't die suddenly, floods should not destroy everything, creatures shouldn't go rogue and kill each other for no reason, jealousy should not destroy friendships, relationships should not tear families apart, and he shouldn't have to kill the thing he loves more than anything in the world. And I'm sure you can think of the things in your story that shouldn't be... the painful, seemingly meaningless things that singe your heart and try to make you "grow up" - lose your hope and your faith in beauty, truth, and love.

I think the cruelest lie ever told was the one the serpent said to Eve: "You will not surely die..." If she had only known what death really meant - physical, emotional, relational death - surely she would have spat in his face and run back to Adam and God and the good fruit. But like everything else that fell in that garden, God will redeem this too. One of these days, he'll redeem it all - he'll bring life back to those white pines, he'll restore Jody's beloved yearling to him, he'll heal wounds and dry eyes and make things right. In the midst of the valley of dead trees and broken dreams, remember that, and let it be an anchor of hope.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Good escape

Mile long: 812

What do you do when you have thoughts you can't express and emotions you can't handle just now? Why, you go to a Switchfoot concert, of course.

You know, the kind of show that is loud - really good and loud - like, you get to sit right beside the speakers and feel the bass drum pound in your chest and the buzz of the electric guitar drowns out the sound of the people singing along, including yourself, so you can sing and yell as loud as you want and feel swallowed up in the life of the music.

Because it takes on life and sweeps you away - it warmly throbs in your head and it rushes over the audience in forms of dancing, swaying, and waving.

The lead singer walks through the aisles among the fans and sticks the microphone in the faces of passionate sing-alongers, to invite them into the life of the music with him.

And you hope he doesn't come your way because you don't want to be spotlighted, but you do want to be known - desperately want to be known within this mass of bodies by someone in some small way.

And the guitarist on your side of the stage looks up and makes eye contact with you, and then holds your gaze long enough to tilt his head, nod, and give you a small smile - not the flashy, flirty, cocky smile of rock stars, but the smile of someone who just read your eyes, knew where you were at, and dedicated this song to you.

So since you're on the edge of tears you go ahead and rock out as hard as you possibly can and shout out the lyrics of hope and life that this band is known for.

Because even though you don't feel full of hope and life, the lyrics remind you of the truth, and you have to proclaim it no matter what.

Here's to you, Switchfoot. Thanks for a good escape tonight.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

One, Two, Three

Mile log: 806

Yesterday, Pam and Andy got married. Such a blessing to be in their lives and a part of their wedding. They had a cord-braiding ceremony, based on the verse in Ecclesiastes that says, "A cord of three strands is not easily broken," and they asked me to write a little something to explain/express that concept. So here it is... 

“One, Two, Three”
from Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
by C.L. Chandler
for Andy and Pam Leeper, 9/28/13

Two are better than one…
If either of them falls down,
One can help the other up          
-              So I commit to love and support you
                to be constant, gracious, and strong
when you are weak.
When you stumble and fall,
I will lift you up again.
When you cannot find your way,
I will shine the Light for you.
When you forget who you are,
 I will remind you of the truth.
Two are better than one…
If two lie down together,
They will keep warm                     
-              So we commit to serve each other
to compliment and enrich
both of our lives.
Let us lie close together to stay warm.
Let us lean on each other to gain courage.
Let us walk in step together to discover
the joy in the journey.
Two are better than one…
Though one may be overpowered,
Two can defend themselves      
-              So we commit to work together
                as partners, to fight for what is sacred.
What the enemy tries to steal, we will protect.
What he seeks to kill, we will rescue.
What he wants to destroy, we will defend.
Three are better than two…
And a cord of three strands
Is not quickly broken                     
-              So we commit our lives to Christ
                who is greater than us,
and makes us complete in Him.
Please weave us into Your glorious plan
so we will trust You.
Intertwine our lives tightly into Yours
so we may not be loosed.
Precious Jesus, bind us together
so we cannot be undone.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Pseudo-roomies and colliding stories

You know those moments when different pieces of your story collide? Like, when your parents visit your apartment, or your neighbors meet your co-workers for the first time... or when your roommates meet your childhood best friend... How about when two current roommates finally meet each other...? 

You know about the "Women of the Hobbit Hole" - Emilee, Brie, Hannah and I - but there are actually two more official pseudo-roommates in our lives now - Mary and Beth. They are both kindred spirits (I keep finding more of those around here), funny, kind, quirky, authentic, and easy to be with. They both grew up on farms with multiple incredible brothers and strong Christian roots. They both love to sing and soak up meaningful relationship, and while one sports cowgirl boots and the other rocks red lipstick, you can tell they have the same Father, by their love. 

They are "pseudo" because they only live with us part-time, a couple nights a week, a few meals scattered throughout, cuddle sessions, movies, and deep, late-night talks. We shuffle beds and make up couches to fit everyone in (the Hobbit Hole has a massive pantry but limited sleeping space), so we don't really have room for them to live here full-time. But until recently, they had never actually crossed paths... Mary leaves on Wednesday mornings, Beth arrives on Wednesday afternoons, and thus they pass each other like those elusive ships in the night. 

Last Saturday, Mary invited us to the Bluffton Free Street Fair (which is very much like Autumn Leaves Festival in Mt. Airy, for those of you in NC), so Hannah, Brie, Beth and I decided to go together... and thus, Mary and Beth met. Aren't they cute?!

Mary and Beth
 Actually, the whole weekend was a beautiful traffic jam of colliding stories.

Bluffton is Mary's hometown, so we got to meet some of her friends at the fair and got a bit of a "tour" of her story... homesteads, fields, her school, all with sweet Mary-memories attached. The next day Hannah and I went to Defiance, Ohio, to have lunch with Emilee's family... which was awesome, and getting to know her kind and generous and hilarious parents explained a lot about our Em. :) That night Brie's brother came to visit, which is always a treat for us, and he got to mingle with our local friends and family for a couple days.

I love when stories collide... like when the teens and ladies from NC came to visit, when Anna joined Hannah and I on our adventure, and when my friends here go home to NC with me. It means so much to me to share the different parts of my life with people I love, because I feel like it is a way for them to know me deeper. And whether it's in British Columbia, Oregon, Florida, North Carolina, Bluffton, Defiance, Fort Wayne or anywhere else in the world, it's fun to dive into other stories too, to know people I love even more.

Friday, September 20, 2013

As You Wish

"'As you wish,' was all he ever said... That day she was amazed to discover that when he was saying, 'As you wish,' what he meant was 'I love you.'"

I got to watch The Princess Bride tonight with some friends, and that movie never ceases to make me feel good inside... great characters, adventures, and quotable quotes. I've been thinking a lot lately about Westley and his famous quote, "As you wish" - his response to every command and request Buttercup gave. He was her servant, so he kind of had to do what she said; but he also loved her and because of that he submitted himself willingly to whatever she asked. Submission and obedience were the evidence of his love for her.

So I'm thinking that it is a good example to follow in my relationship with the Lord. I say that I love him, I tell him I love him... but does my attitude and response to his command always reflect that love? When I ask him for things and he says no, or when he tells me to do things I don't want to do, how often do I pout and resist and complain about how unfair life is, before I snap out of it and remember to surrender to him? Sometimes it takes me a while to get my heart in a position to respond to Him with "As You wish." And that is something I really want to work on in my faith... because if I am truly committed to loving, submitting to, trusting, and serving Him, this should be my automatic, ever-ready response. So I'm asking the Holy Spirit to change my heart in this way, so that in any and every situation, I want the things that God wants, and I delight to do whatever he calls me to do... As You wish... I love You.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Guardians of Grand Secrets

Poetic thoughts from our walk around Jackson Lake, Wyoming, in Grand Tetons National Park. Photos are compliments of Brie Elliott. 

Listen - Watch - Breathe
We are small and insignificant and
Moving between giant pillars of evergreen
That hold up the domed cathedral ceiling
Of a marbled grey and silver sky

They do not watch us, 
But are very aware of our presence
Like the royal palace guards
Tall and straight and still
Unflinching in their vigil 
Over the grand secrets - 
Treasures of the heart of God... 

Deep things that are hidden away in the clefts of the mountains
And buried in the depths of the silver glacier lake.
They are carried on the wings of hawks and eagles
And whispered in the rustling of wild creatures in the trees.

We are hemmed in, surrounded
We cannot see over, around, or through
Nature's high security system -
Coniferous guards stand at attention
And line a smooth, well-carved path
Guiding our steps to keep us safe,
And keep the Secrets safe from us.
I wonder if they are tightening their ranks
Or hoping we will defy them and break through.

So we leave the guarded, tamed road
In search of mystery and wonder...
And we find it -
Too majestic to speak of in words.
Glimpses of secrets as old as the earth,
Truth as vast as the heavens,
Tales of life that goes on and on forever
Yet is being renewed day by day.

What are we - so small and insignificant
Before such beauty and glory -
That You are mindful of us?
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
Too lofty for me to attain.
All I can do is listen - watch - breathe
All I can do is worship the God of Grand Secrets.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The usual weekly battle

I took Brie and Hannah to prayer time this afternoon, a regularly scheduled weekly thing that I usually go to while the girls are at work, but today they were free and wanted to join me. Most of the usual family was there, and we prayed about most of the usual things. When we finished, I looked up and Brie looked a little stunned, sitting quietly on the sofa and staring straight ahead. I said her name a couple times and she blinked and followed me outside to the car.

"Well, that was... intense," she finally said. And Hannah agreed with an, "Um, yeah."

"What, you mean the prayer meeting?" I asked. I tried to think back and identify anything particularly strange about the time, but we're not really a charismatic group, and while our times are powerful and precious, nothing crazy stuck out to me.

"I wouldn't call that a prayer meeting," Hannah said, sounding a little overwhelmed. "It's more like... a battle."

"Yeah," Brie agreed, and I could see a dozen adjectives racing through her mind behind her eyes... I know that look - she was trying to find words for her emotion. Crazy? Powerful? Incredible? Ridiculous? Inconceivable?   "I don't know if I'm out of shape or what, but that almost made me catatonic... I could feel the heaviness, the weight of the importance of the prayers... I can't speak. I can't even handle this right now."

I smiled. I knew what they meant. Our group looks simple enough - small people, older people, weak people, people with glasses, people who lose their cell phones, people with Midwest accents (yes, Indiana, you do have an accent here!). "Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were influential, not many were of noble birth..." But we have more in common than our unassuming facades; inside we are warriors, and we wield powerful weapons against the enemy of souls.

We love our friends so much that we are willing to fight for them - for their freedom from sin, death, fear, and shame, and freedom to live with peace, hope, joy, and love. We know there is an evil villain who wants nothing more than to steal, kill and destroy anyone he can. We also know we serve the great, victorious King and we know we can boldly approach his throne of grace with confidence on behalf of our friends. Today Eldon pointed out that we may be the only people on earth who are lifting up these friends of ours by name to our Father - what a weight of honor and responsibility that adds! What a privilege to be the warriors on the front lines fighting for them!

That is why we pray - not because we feel weak and incapable of doing anything else, but because we are strong and know that prayer is our very best plan of attack against the lies and wickedness of Satan. So if you ever see a small group of common people bowing their heads in solemn and earnest prayer on a Wednesday afternoon together, just know that, even if you cannot see it, there is a fierce battle going on... and we know that God will win.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

a few new kindred spirits

I got to hang out with some pretty cool kids the other night. Four siblings, whom I had actually never spent real time with before - just a couple brief encounters - but I have had a feeling for a while that we would be good friends, if ever we had the chance. They just have these smiles and eyes that twinkle in a way that say, "I have a wonderful story," and I just wanted to be a part of it for a little while.

So for a few brief hours, we talked, and played, and read books, and sang songs, and colored, and ate ice cream and brownies, and went to the park and back again. And by the end of the night, it felt like we'd been dear friends forever. They are so sweet and gentle and fun... and you know, they were also really natural and comfortable around my chair, without the fear or awkwardness that a lot of kids have. They asked about different buttons, and leaned on the armrests to talk to me, and the boy ran ahead to warn me of bumps in the sidewalk and watched out for his baby sister when she wandered behind me. It was really quite encouraging and blessed me a lot.

One of my favorite moments was on our way home from the park, when I had one of the little girls bundled in a blanket on my lap, and halfway home, she said, "I want-" and I said, "Do you want to get down?" and she said, "No, I want to rest..." and she leaned back and laid her head on my chest and patted her little hands on my legs. Then she sighed and dreamily said, "I really liked this - tonight was a lot of fun." Talk about melting my heart!

I don't know how often our stories will cross in the future, but I'm so thankful for the time I got to spend with these precious little ones, these kindred spirits.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Unwelcome Fellow Traveller

I mentioned earlier that we listened to the CD dramatized version of C.S. Lewis' The Horse and His Boy on our journey... and what a perfect story to accompany such a trip too... through mountains and across deserts and over rivers. I felt like we were travelling with Bree, Hwin, Aravis, and Shasta, and I half expected to see lions around any curve.

The day after the Grand Tetons, we drove through the mountains in Wyoming - winding roads around tall pines and high rocks - and as we did we listened to "The Unwelcome Fellow Traveller," one of the most haunting and beautiful chapters, I believe, in all the Chronicles of Narnia. It's when Shasta is lost in the mountains alone, and then he feels the presence of someone else with him. He is afraid, and begs to be left alone, and claims he is the unluckiest person in the world. After he tells all his sorrows to the Someone, this is what happens:

"I do not call you unfortunate," said the Large Voice. 
"Don't you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?" said Shasta.
"There was only one lion," said the Voice. 
"What on earth do you mean? I've just told you there were at least two the first night, and-"
"There was only one: but he was swift of foot." 
"How do you know?"
"I was the lion."

I sank into the deeper corners of my heart then, and prayed silently for a while. I thought of my own sorrows, the parts of my own life that I consider unfortunate and tragic. Fears and tears, physical weakness, relational brokenness, and changes and disappointments that have wrenched my heart. And I realized Jesus has been in them all... As Aslan did for Shasta, Jesus has protected me, comforted me, pushed me to develop new strength, and forced me to move in order to live more deeply in Him. He doesn't view my misfortunes as such; He knows the purpose each circumstance has served in my relationship with Him, and He sees them as good. What I see as horrible and hopeless, He sees as opportunities of hope.

Knowing that makes me want to trust Him more and fight against him less. I'm learning that when He promises that His plans for me are good, that doesn't mean everything He allows to happen in my life will feel good or even look good, but the end result, if I choose to trust Him, is very good. He desires to know me and to be known by me, and His plans for me are leading me deeper and deeper into that relationship that brings glory and honor to Him.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Free, Lifelong Access

When we were in the Badlands, I was given a free lifetime access pass to all the national parks in the country. When the realization hit me, I literally started hyperventilating and sobbing. Hannah and Brie laughed for about 30 seconds and then started trying to calm me down, "Breathe, girl, just breathe!" It was kind of a weird, out-of-character natural reaction for me to have, and as I reflected on it today, I tried to figure out what made it such a big deal, to elicit such emotion.

It all happened so fast - the lady in the booth at the entrance of the park asked me if my disability was permanent, and I said yes. She handed Hannah a paper and told her I needed to sign it, or have Hannah sign it for me. With a nod of permission from me, Hannah scribbled both of our names down and handed it back. In exchange, the lady gave her a little plastic card, face down, and told her to sign it as well. Why do we sign things without knowing what they are? After a second double-signature, the woman declared what it was, and told us to "have a nice trip." Hannah flipped the card over to show me the front: 

We quickly flipped it over again and read the fine print under which she had just signed both of our names in permanent blue ink: "Lifetime Pass for U.S. Citizen or permanent resident, medically determined to have a permanent disability that severely limits one or more major life activities." And it was free. My brain wanted to try to calculate how much a regular pass would have been for one year, much less a lifetime, but I could do nothing but stare at the card shaking in my hands. 

Two things about this... 

1) I got this pass because of my disability. Every day I live with my disability, and deal with the reality of its limitations. Outwardly, I try to emphasize all that I can do. But here's a secret: not an hour goes by when I don't have to mentally consider what I cannot do. I can't reach the cabinets for a snack, I can't lay down on my bed for a spontaneous nap, I can't open the door when I have visitors, and I can't make them a cup of tea; I can't pick up the pen I just dropped on the floor, or turn on the light when it gets too dark, or clean up the messes my clumsy hands cause. I can't get into just anyone's house, or take just any sidewalk, or check out just any privately run shop or business, or ride in just anyone's car that I want. My creative mind works hard constantly to compensate for these things, but frankly it gets exhausting. The Disability Act has done a lot of good to provide access to a lot of places, but the truth is there are still many places in Fort Wayne, the US, and the world that are off limits. And even the term "disabled" declares inability and limit. So when 59 of the most beautiful and wild places in our country suddenly become accessible and open to me, without cost or limit... yes, now you can go!... you might as well hand me the world on a silver platter. 

2) It was a gift that I didn't deserve, and I didn't even ask for or seek because I didn't know it was possible. First, I had to speak a fact that is hard for me to admit even to myself: that my disability is permanent (at least in this world).  But when I said it, I didn't find doors slammed in my face - I found them flung open wide to new adventures and deeper life. And it felt a lot like the grace of God. It is so hard to bring myself to admit that I am weak and sinful, prideful and selfish and desperate, such a mess. I feel like, if I become too vulnerable or I surrender too much, I'll lose everything. But the more I realize and confess my need for him in every area of my life, the sweeter and more powerful his grace becomes. He fills the emptiness of my soul with his own love and peace, and He upholds me in all my weakness with the strength of his joy and hope. The access pass He gives me is not just a free ticket into heaven - it is so much more... it is an open door to enter a lifelong-and-then-eternity-long adventure of walking, running, and soaring with him, stepping in His shadow, hearing His heartbeat, seeing the world the way He sees it... And all the endless beautiful and wild places of his heart suddenly become accessible and open to me, without cost or limit - yes, now you can go! 

Monday, September 9, 2013


Remember when I said I had lots more to say about The Great Adventure? Well, I decided that during these Days of Awe, maybe I should go back and share some of here you go!

We did a double-take into the sunset as we sped by, then slowed down and pulled off on the side of the road and squinted back at the sight. Even at this distance of probably a quarter mile, and in this dim light, there was no doubt about it. Brie and Hannah got a couple of pictures, and it was definitely a scene to capture: the Grand Tetons, back-lit by the golden glow of a setting sun, and a flat green plain providing dinner for a herd of wild buffalo. But we just had to get closer. So we got back in the car and drove back to where we first spotted them.

The gravel crunched under Hannah and Brie's feet and my wheels as we unloaded from the car again. Unlike most roadside pull-offs, this one had a smooth, level transition from the gravel to the prairie grass... another reason to love Wyoming. Brie and Hannah both went to work, taking pictures like crazy while I just sat and gawked. My nerves, from the tip of my nose to the tip of my toes, were tingling with excitement. I'd never seen anything like this, and certainly not this close up... and I just had to get closer.

I moved forward - two wheels, four, then six wheels onto the prairie grass. We all did, and inch by inch, the details got clearer - their fur, their snouts, their eyes... We got so close we could hear their tails swishing flies and their teeth chomping grass. The thought crossed my mind that they were wild and though they looked passive at the moment, they could quickly shift from lazy grazers to crazed chargers... which terrified and thrilled me. Death by buffalo stampede would trump a hospital bed any day. 

And then one made eye contact with Hannah. Brie noticed and stopped clicking her camera, but Hannah kept going, like she was on safari in the Wild West. "Hannah!" Brie said in a low, steady, but urgent voice. The buffalo took a step forward, and Brie started to backpedal toward the gravel. "Hannah, we should go..." My heart rate picked up as he took two more steps toward his photographer. ", go now... like NOW!" All three of us ran and dove in the van. The buffalo was still just walking but his gaze and direction were toward us, and the crawling pace of the ramp closing into the van kept us nervous until the door finally closed and we drove away. 

Of course, we were perfectly safe, and we laughed a lot as our pulses slowed back down to a normal speed. But just getting that close to something so big and wild and dangerous made me feel more alive. It reminded me that that's how life with Jesus can be, and even should be. After all, "it's not as if he were a tame lion." His power and size and wrath and holiness should terrify us, while also drawing us ever closer through his profound love, mercy, and grace. It compels us to cling to him even though one look at his face could kill us. 

In C.S. Lewis' book, The Horse and His Boy, one of my favorite lines is spoken by Hwin the Horse to Aslan when she comes face to face with his awesome beauty and power: "You may eat me if you like. I'd sooner be eaten by you than fed by anyone else." In essence, I'd rather die for You than live without You. Oh God, make my desire for you and submission to you be that consuming, that deep, that wild.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Days of Awe

This week we got to share the celebration of Rosh Hashanah with some friends of ours at our house. This is the second time we've celebrated this holiday, and I really love it... But I just learned that the ten days between Rosh Hashanah (The New Year) and Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) are called "The Days of Awe," or "Days of Repentance." These are days when the Jewish people reflect and prepare their hearts for the Atonement.

The thing that is so beautiful to me in this is, as we focus more and more on God - Almighty God! - and who He is, how holy He is, and all that He has done, we become more and more aware of how unworthy we are to be able to stand in his presence and be called his sons and daughters... which gives way to another wave of awe - that we can enter his presence, and not just that, but be ushered into that presence by Jesus, presented without fault and with great joy (Jude 1:24)! And that God has lavished so much of his love on us that we are his children (1 John 3:1)! Which takes us right back into who He is, His holiness, and His great and marvelous deeds... and the awe just goes on and on...

Words are meaningless. Therefore, stand in awe of God (Ecclesiastes 5:7).

Saturday, September 7, 2013

there are moments...

What moments come to mind when you think of youth ministry?

There are really fun, exciting moments, like spontaneous snowball fights, dance parties, and captive audiences for storytelling. There are sweet, heart-warming moments, like when a kid opens up and starts sharing their heart with you, or when they run to give you a hug, or when they are worried about you when they see you sad or sick. There are powerful moments, like when a kid chooses to do the right thing when it is hard, or when they consider and serve each other, or when they remember and respond to something you said or did that you thought had been lost.

And then there are moments that make you want to scream and storm off and not look back. If you've ever invested your time and energy and heart in a teenager, and if beyond all wisdom and understanding you still love them, then you know what I am talking about. They know which buttons to push and what boundaries to test.

For me, it's most hurtful when I feel like I'm being used as a resource - a car, a bank, a computer, a tutor - and then a teenager flat out says they don't want to spend time with me just to play or chill or have a friendship. And I feel silly and immature and selfish and overly-emotional, and oddly like an annoying "kid sister"... as though everything I do for the teen is to get them to like me and want to be my friend. I shouldn't have that expectation, and I don't even consciously realize that I do most of the time. I do things because I love them - really, truly love them - and I want to see them succeed and have joy and peace in their lives. That's why even when I scream and storm, I come back. But it is hard to love like that and not hope for that love to be returned.

Then it hits me, is that how Jesus feels about me? I mean, I know he doesn't have the selfish, immature attitude that I have, but how does he feel when I come to him with problems and requests, and ignore or avoid time with him when I feel like things are fine? Sometimes I hear him say, "Come rest with me, play, talk, listen, walk with me. I want you to know me more," and I blow him off for "me time." I don't know if he ever feels like screaming and throwing in the towel, but I'll bet he gets very sad. And when I realize that, it makes me sad too... because I love him, just not very well sometimes.

Sometimes I think God has put me in youth ministry just to teach me more about Himself, and what His heart is for me...

Friday, September 6, 2013

Family time

Joe scooped the ice cream, Todd split the bananas, and Jared... well, Jared poured caramel sauce when I specifically told him not to. Bowls of M&Ms and bottles of Hershey syrup and eight chairs squished around the dining table of the guys' "Lake House"... that is our idea of a family meeting. And what a great lookin' family, too, don't you think?!

me, Hannah, Brandon, Jared, Shannon, Todd, Joe, and Lisa

I thank God for blessing me so richly with friends, family, ministry partners who are so incredible - strong, wise, fun, passionate, loving, kind, and good. We've laughed and prayed together, we've celebrated good news and wrestled through bad news together. We plan activities, pick up kids, pray for creativity and energy, keep our doors open and our schedules flexible, and work hard together because we share a common desire to love and serve teens and families in our community... and we remind each other of that whenever we get discouraged. We might not look like much, but we know God's power has been crazy at work in and through us this year. He has done great things, and we know we will continue to see him do great things, as we keep our eyes focused and our hands open and our feet ready for action. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Some recent thoughts on ministry

I've been thinking a lot about ministry this week... and how at least in American culture, I think it is a hard thing to stay focused. Even the most well-intentioned leaders and boards and teams can get so distracted by so many things... financial security, social reaction, political correctness, scales, results, measurable goals met, liability, protection, permission, votes, and numbers... so many numbers... so many ways to determine and judge if we are "successful" in our work. Grassroots ministries grow and prosper and get more organized and then more socialized and then more political until they look more like businesses with staffs and balance sheets than anything else.

And this scares and upsets me, because it doesn't look like Jesus. When I study his life, I see that his "big-picture, long-term goal" was to die. And everything leading up to that was simply him offering hope and healing and life and opening people's eyes to the Kingdom. He did a lot of walking, a lot of moving... he didn't have an office that he worked out of or a headquarters where programs happened. He was in homes, by the lake, on a mountain, in boats, under trees, beside pools, and at people's work places.

His "mission statement" was Isaiah 61:1-3, and I can't even imagine how you could measure the results of that or determine when that goal is reached! How many broken hearts did you bind up this year? How many prisoners in darkness have been released? On a scale of 1-10, how much good news has been proclaimed to the poor? That work is not finished yet, and won't be until he returns again! And I think it is an all-encompassing work... not limited to a people group or need or curriculum or social style. It basically was about loving whoever was in front of him at the moment, at any given time.

That challenges me. That has knocked me off my feet, rendered me useless every time I really think about it. Who am I to decide what "my ministry" is, who "my people" are, and when I am finished with the work I start in? It's God's ministry, and I can't tack a name - mine or an organization's or anything else - to it and put it in a mold or frame. God hasn't called me to run a program or lead an event... he's called me to follow him. That is not dependent on money or location or relational status or health... though at times I have tried to make it so. That means I don't actually know from one day to the next what ministry will look like - what He will bring into my life or what He will call me to move into. This is both thrillingly and terrifyingly adventurous, and often gives me heartburn.

He's been shaking things up a lot lately, forcing me out of some sweet and comfortable spots, asking me to do hard things and let go of my own plans. Life looks so different now than it did last year, and infinitely more so than I could have imagined five years ago. How can I formulate a five year plan, or even a six month plan when he is constantly changing and shifting me, my perspective, my work? I'm learning that sometimes I shouldn't fight the shake-ups so much, that more often than not it is just God moving me forward to the next step... because as I refocus and simplify and remind myself to follow him, He takes me deeper, further up and further in to his heart.

Monday, September 2, 2013

MDA stars: Where are they now?

Twenty-four years ago today, my mom was untwisting my blonde hair from little sponge curlers that I somehow slept on the night before. She dressed me in my frilliest frock and used a whole can of hairspray in my poofy bangs, and we drove to Four Seasons Mall in Greensboro, NC. There, we found the bright balloons and glittery stars, the tables of volunteers on telephones, and the news reporters (anyone remember Cindy Farmer?) who would kneel down beside me and put a microphone in my face and prompt me to talk about how important it was for people to call in and pledge money so that kids "like me" could have the walkers, wheelchairs, and medical care we needed. Somewhere else - most likely Las Vegas - Jerry Lewis was in a bow tie, making jokes, telling stories, and urging people to give... and how could you look at a cute little Miss Muffet like me and not want to give?

The annual Labor Day telethon by MDA (The Muscular Dystrophy Association) was a big part of my childhood. Back then the telethon was an all-day event, but for me it was a year-round job. I was the poster child for several years - meeting the governor, Miss North Carolina, TV stars, race car drivers, corporate business CEOs, and the workers of the US Postal Service. My heart still smiles when I see local fire fighters out on street corners with fire boots, their fund raiser for MDA, or when I see people raising "bail money," or when the shamrocks start filling up storefront windows in March. I got to do some pretty incredible things and challenged the generosity of a lot of powerful people in those days, and I really did love being one of "Jerry's kids."

Kevan and Connie: "We are God's sibling trial!"

Today I was talking to Kevan about our childhood days of stardom, and what I could possibly write about us today in the sense of "Where are they now?" His response was this: "Well, we've beat all the odds." Powerful and true. I wonder how many people who met us as kids believed we would live the lives we have so far. There have been some scary close-calls for both of us, and there are some things we cannot do and have to depend on others for. But it is really amazing to me how much we have done and are doing. We aren't in denial of our disability - we know its effect on us and those we love, and when it comes up as an issue (whether political or personal) we face it head-on and fight for and encourage those who don't have the kind of amazing parents we had, or the resources and knowledge we've had.

But we don't allow our disability to define us or become an excuse for not living life fully and richly. I mean, I earned a Master's degree, work at a college, do life with incredible people in my dream-job ministry, traveled the country this summer, own my own car, and manage my own personal care. And my quality of life is pretty darn good, considering the minimal medicine and treatments I require.

I work hard to help people see past my wheelchair and my flimsy arms and wobbly neck and twisted feet and asymmetrical frame. It's not that I'm ashamed of my body and I don't cover up my weakness, but as a disciple of Christ, my life isn't about me or making people aware of me. I love to write and speak and teach, but my message is now about Jesus more than anything else - my disability isn't my platform, the gospel is; and my disability is just a backdrop to highlight the grace and power and faithfulness of God in my life.

Everyone has a disability... mine just looks more obvious than some. But think about what cripples, paralyzes, and weakens you. And instead of living as a victim of that, ask God how he can take even the worst of things and make it into something beautiful and powerful, to change the world and to bring him glory.