practice makes perfect. but who cares about perfection?

I’ve been thinking of putting my son in a theatre class. He has what it takes to be a good performer. He’s got an excellent memory. He’s a hilarious mimic. He enjoys people, appreciates everything from Shakespeare to Larry the Cable Guy, and he loves being the center of attention. Even when he lacks talent or isn’t prepared, he has no shame in calling people to watch him perform. (Maybe his parents should not have found him and his antics so entertaining.)
But I have one hesitation. While he loves to perform, he hates to practice. Well, I can’t truthfully say he hates practice because he’s never practiced anything to know how he really feels about practice! He has an aversion to repetition for the sake of mastery. My son has always felt that whatever he did was good enough. Even great! So why practice? For him, it’s all about the performance and to hell with perfection! (Just one more thing that makes him so very different from his mother.) Maybe as he grows up his metanarrative of life will be something very different than mine. I see everything as connected and having a Purpose. I believe my life – and every life – is moving towards a Destiny. So the present and my response to it are practice for what’s ahead. And all that’s past is rehearsal for the present. Motherhood equipped me for corporate management. Working hard to be a good mom, usually feeling like a failure, I eventually realized that mothering – and any kind of healthy people management - is not about planning good programs or following effective formulas, but about building trust with unique human beings. In a trusting relationship, failures are not disasters, only another opportunity to practice for the next time. Life in India was, among other things, practice for returning to the U.S. The culture and the organization I worked for had changed greatly in the 5 years I was gone. My cross-cultural experience and skills being perfected in another cultural context had to be put into practice back home. The journey of forgiveness I was forced to walk during my parents’ divorce still gets encore performances every day in my own marriage and in many other personal and professional relationships. Realizing my own courage and strength as a leader in a previous and very difficult job gave me the idea (and the boldness) for the life script I’m living today. There are so many lessons learned over the past 53 years of “practicing” life in 8 U.S. states, 3 countries and oh so many amazing relationships and jobs. Every day in my new city I get to put into practice what I’ve learned in other places. And I’m sure the things I’m living and learning in Dubai are not only for my good today, but are in some way rehearsal for all that is ahead.  My son doesn’t see it that way. He has a different metanarrative. Or perhaps he doesn’t even think in terms of an all-encompassing framework to make sense of his life and the world! Because for him, today is not practice. It’s the performance. And that’s true, too. 
Today’s problems and possibilities are another opportunity to choose to put into practice what you’ve learned by both success and failure.
As you think about life today, what conflict, dilemma, or question is consuming your energy and time or challenging your creativity or patience?
What have you experienced in the past that might have been practice for your present situation? What skills have you rehearsed that need to be put into practice now? What insights have you gained about yourself or others?
You have what it takes to perform well - or better - today. Or at least to make new mistakes. 


The noise.
The shuffling.
The clatter.

The chatting.

The crying children
This cacophony was not a marketplace, but a house of worship!

Every Friday our church is chaotic. But it was especially so this past week. There were 5 babies to be baptized, brought by families, cheered on by friends, many of whom don’t normally spend their day off in church.

The baptism promises were spoken.

Some will keep them.
Some will not.

The liturgy continued.

Sometimes heard.

Sometimes not.

The creed was read aloud together.

Some from faith.
Some from habit.

The sermon was preached.

Some listened.
Some laughed.

Just when I was about at wits end from the commotion, I understood.
This was the environment that Jesus taught in.

He didn’t demand silence or full attention from the crowds.

He was doing what the Father sent him to do. Saying what he was given to say.

I appreciated again the Christ-likeness of our priest. His huge capacity to be kind, to offer grace, to be a peaceful presence, to move towards his God-given purpose in the chaos.

I’m not like that. I have to work hard in church to attend to what Jesus is saying and doing. To refrain from judgment. To extend grace. To not run screaming into the parking lot! But I choose to stay. I don’t want to be like those first 12 followers of Jesus who told kids to be quiet and kept them from Jesus. Or like the crowds waiting for Jesus to arrive, expecting great miracles while telling the man crying to Jesus for healing to shut up. I have to embrace this experience as another aspect of my cross-cultural adjustment here. And as some mysterious and not very tasty medicine for my own healing. (Christ have mercy!)

We were invited to the Lord’s Table.

Some came.

Some did not.

And all the while

Children ran around the aisles.
People moved to chat about business.

No attempt to whisper.

No recognition of a holy moment.

A holy place.

A holy Person.

But hymns played on.
Sung by some.

Ignored by others.

The man behind me was making noise, too.

His clear voice ringing out the truths of God in song.

Like a prophet’s voice raised above the harangue of the marketplace.
It’s a parable of the Church in the world.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear. 

Jennifer is one of those people I wished lived next door. She's got something I need - the ability to hear God in chaos and to invite others into the chaos to hear Him, too. You're invited too. http://allthingshenderson.blogspot.com

I had to laugh. When I went to her blog to get the link, I saw that she's reviewing this book: Living With Confidence in a Chaotic World by Dr. David Jeremiah
. How did the publishers know she was the perfect person for that job?

It's easy to pay attention in silence.


changing currents

We’ve been making coffee in a cheap little coffee maker my husband bought here in Dubai before I came. This morning we decided to use our US coffee maker - an expensive machine I gave to my coffee-loving husband as a Christmas present last year. Shipped all the way from Madison to Dubai.

The “step up” transformer plugged in.
The filtered water poured.
The coffee beans ground.
A prayer prayed for everything to go well.

It looked and smelled beautiful as the stainless steel machine began to do it’s work.

A few minutes later something was wrong.
The water was not dripping.
The light on the pot – and the “step up” - was off.
The kitchen smelled like burnt rubber.

It wasn’t a problem with the materials – all the right ingredients were there.
It wasn’t a spiritual problem – after all, I did pray in faith. (And as my friend Bob will tell you, God does care about good coffee.)
It was a wiring problem. What was a beautiful, useful thing on the other side of the planet was not adequate here. Things need different wiring. Or they’ll blow up.

I think our family has what it takes to succeed here: cross-cultural and vocational experience and skills, local and long-distance support of family and friends, determination, creativity, a good dose of fear of failure, and faith. But we need re-wiring. We might have worked beautifully on another current. But we are feeling the need to step up to the challenge of living and working in a totally new way here. I trust it will happen before we blow up.

Re-wiring is possible. It’s not just necessary for cross-cultural living. It’s healthy for life.

Changes to one’s thinking and perceptions happens slowly over time. (Hopefully!) But some of the most radical and useful transformations happen when we get out of our daily environment and routine and immerse ourselves in something new.

Apart from living in another culture (including my years in Los Angeles!), some of my most significant re-wiring was done as a student and young staffworker while at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship camps at Bear Trap Ranch.

You don’t have to move to another country or attend a camp to be re-wired. Look at your calendar: do you have 1 hour or 1 morning/evening or 1 day in the next few weeks where you could get away from your routine environment and activities?

1 hour: Go for a walk in a quiet, beautiful place. Give yourself space and time to breath.

1 morning/evening: Go to a seminar or workshop on a topic that is outside your normal range of interests. Give yourself freedom to open your mind to new ideas.

1 day: Go to a nearby retreat center. Give yourself over to silence, to study or to spiritual direction. (For ideas on how to use a day away, contact me or find some excellent resources on InterVarsity’s ministry exchange.)


postscript on the plumbing

The plumber came.
On time.
He fixed it.
What was wrong? Something we could not have seen if we tried. A pipe behind a wall was broken and water was seeping up through the grout on the floor! It was not the bidet. That just happened to be the low point on the bathroom floor so all the water puddled there. We could have tried all kinds of things and never solved the problem. Because we didn't understand the cause. The plumber knew because he’d seen it before and he understands how these apts are built. A small part and a few minutes work was all it took. It took 3 days to dry the bathroom out after that! But no more puddling. No more stink.
I paid someone to come clean up after the problem was fixed.
All of life should be so easy.


things look good...til the stink starts to rise

On the surface life is going well for us. We live in an interesting city in a cool high rise apt. overlooking the marina and the ocean. We have family in town. My husband is starting a new business. My son is getting into his new school. We’ve found a church. I’m starting to make connections. If anyone asks us, we’re “fine”. But underneath we’re not so fine. Lonely. Anxious. Fearful. Missing the comfort of knowing how things work, how to get stuff done, where to go, who to turn to. If anything bad happened right now I don’t know where the hospital is, what to do in an accident, or Dubai’s version of 911. I don’t have a driver’s license. And don’t know how to get anywhere anyway even if I did. I don’t have cash – or know how to access to money here.

I just don’t know anything. And that’s stinks.

A few days ago I noticed a bit of water around the floor of the bathtub. “Somebody just splashed a bit too much in the shower”, I thought.

A few hours later, I thought the grout lines on the bathroom floor appeared darker. “Maybe the person who cleaned the bathroom last used some cleaner that stained the grout”, I postulated.

The next day, did I see a thin line of water around the base of the walls? Yes. I did. “Must be the way water drains here.” I’m new. I expect things to be different. Maybe this is 1 of those things.

But these were signs that something was wrong. Weren’t they? Though I searched for a leak, there was nothing to be seen. But still...there were those unnerving signs of a problem. Was I making it up? Maybe it was just shower sloppage. I tried not to worry about it. But I couldn't shake off that
uncomfortable feeling.

I got up in the middle of the night for the usual reason. The bathroom floor felt a bit damp. And the smell. It was reminiscent of an Indian train station w.c. (Not the kind of trip down memory lane I care for at 2a.m.) “Well”, I thought, “Maybe it’s just in need of a good cleaning. I’ll take care of that in the morning.”

In the morning, there it was. A puddle around the bidet. And not nice, fresh, clear water, either! (Yep. We’ve got a bidet. We don’t use it. It looks fancy. But it’s irrelevant. There are a lot of things like that here.)

I mopped up the water, just to make sure. Yep. There was a leak. Somewhere. I still couldn’t’ find it. But I saw the signs. So I took everything out of the bathroom while my husband called the building maintenance guy.

After a while the guy came out. “I found the leak”, he said. He’d patched it with silicon and assured us it’d be fine now.
Of course they left the stinky water for me to clean up! So clean it I did, with disinfectant and a rag mop. 5 minutes later there was an even bigger puddle and trickles of water streaming across the bathroom floor.

The problem was not fixed. And the patch didn’t work. Now we have to wait for 2 days for the plumber to return from his days off. So I’ve left the icky mop in the bucket and closed the door while we wait for help.

It stinks in there of dirty water and disinfectant. An invisible but real leak and my efforts to clean it up. But it needs more expert help than I can give. So I’m waiting for someone who knows how to do stuff to come fix it.

It’s a parable of my life right now.

I heard Ray Aldred, a Canadian pastor and a member of the Cree people, speak at a conference in 2003. He taught with authority and great wisdom about the redemptive impact of living in a cross-cultural environment. He affirmed what I've learned from my own past experience and what I've said to others. We might go overseas for some great cause or for the sake of serving others. But the biggest transformation happens in those who move outside their comfort zone and into the unknown.

You can hear or see Ray's message at

Close your eyes and take a whiff.
Do you smell something in your life or circumstances that makes you feel uncomfortable? Is it a sign of a problem? If you can't tell, maybe you need the eyes of someone else (a trusted friend, a coworker, a counsellor, a pastor) to help you assess it.
Don't close the door on signs of leakage in your life. Let your feelings of anxiety, discomfort and fear motivate you to find the problem and get the help you need to fix it. It's an opportunity for transformation.


what am I doing here?

I had my first wave of real homesickness last week. You know what I mean. That sick-to-your-stomach feeling that grips you, forcing you to experience the gut wrenching grief of all you’ve left and cannot hope to touch again. (Because though we might return, we can never go back.)

We hadn’t even reached Dubai, but were visiting friends in England on our way to our new home. Even amidst Oxford’s green hedges and glorious history I was distracted, disconnected, dismayed. (It probably didn’t help that it was my birthday. I never expected to be en route to a place like Dubai at 53!)

Decades ago I had dreams of living and working in the Middle East. But that was then. Now I had other plans in mind. Other geographies. But a week after my first pangs of homesickness, here we are. And I can’t help but wonder what in the world are we doing here.

A couple of nights ago we went out to dinner with my husband’s brother’s family. (They’ve lived here in Dubai for 13 years.) As the heat waves rose from the pavement beneath me and the fabulous cars of Dubai’s wealthy and wannabe’s whooshed alongside me, I looked in front of me and caught a glimpse of an answer to my question.

There it is: my husband and his 2 brothers talking animatedly in Tamil; my son and his 2 cousins jostling each other and laughing their little heads off. Watching our “men”, hearts are full of love and gratitude, my sister-in-law grabs my hand with affection and says, “Chechi (big sister), now we’re all together.”

Yes, we’re together. It’s what we’ve prayed for. Dreamed of. Hoped for. What are we doing here? We’re here to be family with this family. To belong. To be a blessing. I know this is not the whole answer to my question. But it’s a starting point.

That in itself is odd for me. I’m used to having a focal point: an ideal to fill my vision of the future, a purpose to run towards. But I am adjusting to this new reality, not just of a new city and a new extended family, but of a whole new perspective on what life is about. A starting point at 53. Feet on the ground. Standing at the ready. Slowly moving forward as we have light.

Pulling out the chair
Beneath your mind
And watching you fall upon God –
There is nothing else for Hafiz to do
That is any fun in this world!
Shams-ud-din Mohammed Hafiz
Muslim mystic (1320-89)

You don’t have to move to another country to be uncertain about life, unsure about what you’re doing or confused about how you got there. We all question circumstances and relationships when people don’t meet our expectations, or life takes an unexpected turn.

In what circumstance or relationship are you asking, “What am I doing here?”
Direct your question to the One who knows. He may not (and probably won’t) make the whole answer clear to you. (And doesn’t need to.) But He can (and probably will) reveal a starting point. A place for you to stand and get your bearings as your perspective shifts.


goodbye green

Rising up over Madison, filled with grief of all the leaving, gratitude for all we’ve been given here, I was flooded with green. Fields, lawns, tufts of trees. And I began to weep.
O Lord, we’re leaving Green for Desert. Trees for Sand.
And the phrase came to me: “Springs in the desert”.

I closed my eyes, heart full of glad wonder and the kind of disbelief that children might have if their parents ever gave them a surprise party just because or let them skip school just to tag along on some grown-up outing that’s beyond their comprehension, but fun nonetheless.

I opened my eyes to see the Madison lakes spread out beneath me.

“Springs in the desert”, it repeated.
Not that Wisconsin was ever a desert. But it was “formless and void”. And by the Word it was made. And it is good. So very good. That same Word has promised to create something new now for us. Springs. In the Desert.
It’s not Green. But it sounds good to me.

From the beginning, the “leaving-cleaving” pattern of life has been ordained for our good, our wholeness, our joy. We human beings seem to think that we can just keep on gathering more and more, embracing everything we see. And we try. To fill the void. To become more. To fulfill some (false) notion that we can have it all and that we'll be something when we do. But without leaving we end up chronically dissatisfied, longing for more. Without leaving we are left with all the internal and external baggage of our past and our pride, unable to really embrace anything new because we've cushioned ourselves into a comfortable (or at least known) prison that distances us from all that's life-giving. It’s in the the letting go and turning away that we see what there is to live for and are free to embrace it.

On a piece of paper, list your recent losses, large and small. (Don't rush. As you sit with your list, you may see other losses you've been hesitant to face or simply in denial about.)
Allow yourself 5 minutes, if you dare, to feel the pain of those losses. Open your heart to God about your losses.
Ask God to walk with you through the leaving, to lead you through the turning away, and to give you hope for a life that is only possible if HE makes it happen.


a wise man once said to me

He probably doesn’t remember that conversation. But his words continue to rebuke and instruct me 30 years later. As I sat across a table from this Wise Man in the Student Union at the University of New Mexico, he looked straight in my eyes and said, “Finiteness is not a sin.”

I heard the voice of that Wise Man speak to me again this past week. (Sometimes those tapes in your head are a good thing!) I had to face facts:
I can’t do everything I thought I could in this transition. I don’t have to. It’s not a sin. That Wise Man taught me that we are made to be finite. “And it was good.” It’s part of the nature of being human; something to be embraced and appreciated. My mental, emotional, and physical capacities, while capable of a good deal, are limited by design. And that’s good. My spiritual capacity is great enough to be touched by and commune with God. But not infinite. Not God. Fighting that fact (says the Wise Man) is the sin.

Last week I realized I was expecting myself to be something other than human.
Physically, I had slogged for weeks getting ready for a garage sale, a shipment, a still undiscovered renter, and the flight out.
Mentally I was taxed to the max dealing with government bureaucracies, creating a new business, beginning a book, starting my son in a new kind of school, organizing our departure and our home, pushing past my natural and learned abilities in managing details only because of the fear of consequences should I drop any of the bazillions of tiny balls.

Emotionally shut down, already overloaded with the griefs, fears and fatigue of transition. My heart almost bursting with the barrage of what another Wise Man met in more recent years calls “love deposits” – the kindnesses of friends which only make it more clear what we are losing by leaving.
My soul merely going along for the ride now, unable to discern if I’m really in tune with God in these days or not. Feeling that though God is present, our interactions are more like that of business partners than lovers.

Last Wed. I realized I was expecting myself to be something other than finite when I found myself debating whether to jump off the cliff into the abyss of despair or just feign sickness so I could lay in bed, hoping others would take over. Thankfully, the Wise Man’s words came back to me. With that confession, not of sin, but of the truth that “I can’t do all of this”, came the realization that there must be an alternative. So I made a phone call. The Wise Woman on the other end of the line said, “Don’t worry. I’m here to help you.” She had an excellent sanity-saving solution that pulled me back from the cliff and gave me room to breath.

I’m learning a lot through this current experience of moving from here to there. 1 of them is an old lesson taught to me long ago by a Wise Man. I have limits. I can’t do this alone. And that’s not sin.

Here’s to the many good people in our lives who are eager and able to help us. You are speaking volumes to me in these days about the meaning of friendship, the value of community, and the goodness of being finite. I need you. And that, it turns out, is a really good thing.

Do you have a Bible? Read the first chapter: Genesis 1.
List all of the things in that chapter that have limits.
What’s God’s assessment of those things?
What good do you experience every day because of those finite things?
Thank God for them. And for finiteness, without which we couldn’t experience the sensations of the physical world, the goodness of relationship, or God made flesh in the person of Jesus.


postscript, for what it's worth

My husband looked for apts for 6 more days. Oddly, he was taken back to that same building 3 more times by 2 different real estate agents to see 3 other apts. on 3 different days. He made offers for several apts, in that building and in others. None were accepted. Until last Sunday.

Just before he had to leave the country on a business trip, an owner accepted his offer. Where's our new place? In that same building we cried over the previous Sunday. The 4th apt. of it's kind my husband had seen. Why the circuitous route? We'll probably never know. But what I do know is that we have a place to call "home" now on the other side of the planet. And that's worth alot.


what's it worth to you?

It didn’t rain all summer. Til the weekend of my garage sale.

My last summer in beautiful Wisconsin has been spent inside with all the stuff we’ve thought important enough to fill up our house and our lives. I worked like a dog to haul everything out of closets, drawers and forgotten corners. I expended valuable mental, emotional and physical energy sorting it all into piles of “what to take”, “what to ship”, “what to sell”, “what to toss” until every visible space was full of jumbled treasures and our garage became a heap of garage-sale-worthy stuff.

A friend who’s had a storage shed full of her own dear stuff from life long ago came from Florida to sort out her own past and put what she thought valuable for others in our mammoth garage sale. We spent money on newspaper ads. We risked craigslist. We spent days in the garage cleaning, sorting and ticketing. To make some money. And to get rid of our ridiculous amount of stuff with a bit less guilt.

The big day finally came. I like rain just as much as the next person. I love the flash and thunder of a good storm. But it ruined our garage sale.

Sunday was supposed to be sunny – mostly – so I decided to skip church in the hopes of making a few more dollars. I did. But it was a lot of work on a steamy, hot day. (I hate to calculate how much I made per hour!) My garage is still full. I’m frustrated. And mad. Sure, some cash has been added to my bank account. But I’m no less free of all that ridiculous stuff. It means more time and energy to rid myself of it – time and energy I don’t have 3 weeks before leaving the country.

Yesterday I was even more frustrated by some bad news from the other side of the planet. My husband’s been in our new city for 6 weeks. He spent his energies and time last week looking for a place for us to live. We were surprised and thrilled when he found the perfect place for a nearly perfect price. So we prayed. Our dear friends prayed. And my dear husband began the negotiations. At the last minute the apt. was given to someone else. Someone who could pay the entire year’s rent in advance.

I cried my guts out.
Disappointed. Yes. But more than that.
Grieved. I felt we’d lost something valuable.
Angry. I was so sure that God was going to answer our prayers. So confident that He would give us this place that was far beyond what we’d even imagined. We were overjoyed to think that God would give us such an amazing gift as we begin our new life. But we were wrong. And I was mad. Mad at God.

As I cried from fatigue and fury, a question surfaced from the back of my mind: Why aren’t we good enough to be given something good? What’s wrong with us? Others get good stuff. Why can’t we? But I had no energy – or willingness – to engage with God over that question. I’d spent all my energy on digging out stuff, on the drudgery of sorting, and on the dreaded letting go of it all. I could do nothing but cry and collapse on the couch at the end of what had become a horrible day.

I had planned on going to church Sunday evening. I almost always have a tangible encounter with God there. But by Sunday afternoon I didn’t really want to be around God. I didn’t want to pretend it was all ok. But I asked my son to find out what the sermon was about. I fully expected to feel disconnected with the topic and add that to my list of good excuses for not going.

My dear son looked up the sermon text, then carried my Bible down to me as I lay like a dishrag on the couch. I read:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?...So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6)”

I had to laugh out loud through my tears. I’m important enough to my Father for Him to answer questions I’m too upset to discuss. I’m so valuable to God that He will come to me though I refuse to go to Him. God is not upset by my questions or offended by my anger.

I still don’t get it. Why can’t have that apt.? But after hearing Jesus’ sermon to me last night I know it’s not because we’re not good enough. It’s because we’re worth more to God than all of the stuff we surround ourselves with and work so hard to hold on to. He knows what I need. He wants to give it to me. I guess my hands are not empty enough yet to receive all that He has to give.

Today I still have to deal with stuff. But it doesn’t feel as big to me now.
Tomorrow we’ll still need a place to live. But I can see that the worry and frustration and anger I spent so much on the past few days isn’t worth it. I want to use all that energy today to thank God for what He’s already given us. Including His promise of good things to come.

I’ve always been fascinated by George Muller, a German missionary who ministered to orphans in England in the mid-1800’s. He lived out Matthew 6 every day, sometimes calling the children to sit for a meal without having food to put on the table. As they took their needs to God together, inevitably someone would appear at the door with food enough to feed them all.

I’ve admired Muller’s faith. And his willingness to live on the edge, trusting God for everything needed in the next moment. While I hoped never to have to imitate him, right now I’m grateful for this real life example not just of a man’s faith, but of God’s faithfulness.

Get up and take a walk inside your house.
Look into all of the cupboards, closets and crannies. Try to see – really see – what’s there. Where did it come from? How long have you had it? How long has it been since you’ve even noticed it? What purpose is it serving (emotionally as well as functionally)?
What feelings and thoughts surface as you view the things that fill up your house and your life? Write them down.
What questions come to mind about yourself? about God? Ask God your questions, if you can.
Get ready for Him to answer them, in any case!

This past week many loving hands schlepped stuff into public view in the early morning or hurriedly shoved it all back into the garage when the rains came. A few thoughtful hands offered meals or just dropped by to hug us and cheer us on. Several supportive hands came – even in the rain – for a friendly chat and to buy stuff. In the stress of leaving our beloved stuff and our wonderful life, our dear friends are showing us just how dear they are.


sometimes the snag is a thread

It’s happening again. Seemingly random experiences all rising up to say something to me. There’s a theme in my wandering thoughts, a sermon, a scene in a movie, a comment from a friend, a song on the radio…
I thought my current situation was a snag. Something to cut off. To pull to the back side. To try to weave back into the existing fabric so that everything would be like it used to be. But the snag is a thread, pulled out by God to reveal some things. Some things about my incompleteness, my weaknesses, my “issues”. Some things about God’s wholeness. His ability. His presence. And His complete lack of surprise or distress or frustration with my lack.

This snag is not to be cut short. It is to be grabbed onto as a precious thing. I am to see it for what it is: a thread of my life that God – our wondrous Craftsman – intends to weave into something unbearably more beautiful and extraordinarily more useful. Not tucked in to the old fabric. But to become part of something new.

I entered church focused on the snag. The word of grace spoken through the sermon helped me see the thread. You can hear the sermon that was part of my re-orientation at http://blackhawkchurch.org/basics/sermons.php.

It's a gift to be part of a community for whom grace is not merely a bullet point on a doctrinal statement, but a living value.

Under stress, our hearing is not so good. At times when we most need to hear words of grace, truth, comfort and direction we’re least able to hear them. It's a good thing that God does not get tired of repeating Himself. He uses different words, a variety of voices, and ranges in tone and volume til we have ears to hear.

In the repetition, God also gives us something to see. He begins to lift threads
revealing life themes that give direction
tying truth heard in the past to our present experience
weaving grace through the mundane of daily life.

What snags are you facing? Reflect on what you’ve heard and seen in the past few days. Is there a theme? What issues, questions, threads are rising to the surface? Is God pointing you in a direction? Is He reminding you of lessons learned, inviting you to apply those to a present situation? How is He offering grace to you through the very things that feel difficult or uncomfortable?


sucking it up skills

The minute he called and asked, “How are you all doing?” I knew it was going to take a lot of skill to keep it all inside. The shaking voice clued him in to my true state. I could barely keep it together during the call, but managed to hold it in til we hung up. Tears creeped out from where I had hidden them. But busyness rescued me. I quickly sucked it up. Had to. Things to do.

I sat down in her office to discuss my new venture. I was determined to use my best powers of sucking it up. But they weren’t good enough. A tear fell when she asked, “How are you doing?”, sitting back to really listen. But anger rescued me – allowing me to express feelings about my present circumstances without tears. Then we moved on to the business at hand.

The phone rang when I got home. It was a long distance friend checking in. “How are you?”, she asked, full of her usual empathy and compassion. Here they come. Tears. The quivering voice betrayed me. But silence rescued me. My understanding friend began to pray as I sat sobbing on the inside, shaking and silent on the outside. Her words – and the hope that Someone besides me heard them – pried open my heart. Hanging up the phone, I allowed myself tears. Just for a minute. Til my son, looking at me with bewilderment and distress, rescued me. Mopping up the spill, I sucked it all up again and asked, “So, what shall we have for dinner?”

Crawling into bed, unable to sleep, I laid my hands on her book of poetry. “That will do the trick”, I thought. And it did.

The tough veneer I’d firmly plastered over myself began to peel, revealing a gaping hole. The one I’ve tried so hard to hide. Even from myself. I knew what was lurking there. I pulled the covers up to keep it down. I read other poems – ones that weren’t about me. But “Dread” and “Take Me” came at me like a 1-2 punch, swiftly followed by the knock out blow of “Moving On”. The geyser buried beneath the surface blew. The poet knew. Her story shared in lines did the trick.

I tried to read on. But exhausted by the geyser, or perhaps by weeks of sucking it up, I got up from the bed and turned on the TV. Rescued again by distraction, I replastered the veneer.
I awoke this morning, wind ripping at the trees outside my window, rain pelting the roof.
Outside reflecting my inside.
Tossing off my sucking it up skills, I arose to face a new day.
Outside reflecting my inside.

Moving On

From disbelief
to sadness.
A trickle of hope
begins to fill a well
then dries.
We smile the smile of the helpless,
fill packing cases with our lives
and litter today with regrets.
We pack up our wooden memories,
our celluloid and prints.
But friendship is harder to leave
and impossible to take.

And so we have
one last cocktail or barbie,
one last call,
one last time.
We live in a limbo
of tied ends and throwing out
and too many goodbyes.
Nothing happy happens
when you're packing.

The gannets descend,
And we slide down the slope
in a forest of mire.

When we step on the runway
and the end is in sight,
no pit could be deeper.
Though things will improve,
please God can you stop them
from making us move

Muscat, January 1996

used by permission
Jo Parfitt, "Moving On", from A Moving Landscape


If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing

I haven’t been able to write in the past couple of weeks. Well, that’s not really accurate. I haven’t been able to ponder, get inspired, plan, write, meditate, edit, rewrite, tweak, and sleep on it before pushing the “publish” button. But today some work, poorly done, inspired me. And I’m choosing to skip all of the other steps I typically require of myself and just push the darn button.

This afternoon I pulled weeds. At least the weed tops. I cleaned up the backyard. Just around the edges. I washed the patio. Not the moldy bits that need the power washer and a scrub brush. But the first layer of accumulated crud that’s not been touched while we’ve focused on leaving our old life and packing up for our new one.

Splashing water on long-neglected plants that were either overgrown or shriveling, the thought came out of nowhere: “I’m enjoying myself!” The lavish greens reaching right up to the sky, blue and white and sunny, feeding my eyes and my soul. The sound of the fountain my husband built soothing my nerves and speaking to me in something other than words. The joy of working alongside my singing son. As I stopped to grab hold of the moment, another thought popped into my head: “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly.”

I grew up on the saying, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” The parental appeal to “just do your best” became fundamental to my worldview. When I grew up, I found myself among others of my own kind. Perfectionists. We didn’t call it that, of course. We talked about “excellence” and “development”, “integrity” and “modeling”. Even about “living our faith”. Some of us even felt that our “best” was the standard for doing something well. And in a culture steeped in evolutionary thinking, “your best” always needed to get just a little bit better. Those things “worth doing well” needed more effort than they did last year or yesterday. In the end, the belief pushed me to fear, exhaustion, disillusionment and more recently, thank God, to a reformulation of the old adage.

If I never do anything except the things I can do “well”, well, I will never do anything. And I’ll miss out on the satisfaction of ½ pulled weeds, the beauty of an overgrown garden, and the pleasure of wet feet on clean-enough cement.

I think that’s all I've got right now. This time I’m not going to try to improve it because if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly.

Jo Parfitt (www.joparfitt.com) introduced me to the medicinal “shitty first draft”. Her writer’s workshop last March changed the way I saw writing – and myself. This blog – and a book that’s in the works – began as a direct result of her training and affirmation. Jo’s most recent book, A Moving Landscape, is “a memoir in poetry of a life overseas”. I can’t wait to read it!

What are you not doing because you can’t do it “well”?
Today, doing something you’d like to do without concern for getting it right or doing it well. Go ahead! Give yourself permission to do it poorly. In the doing of it, stop and feel the joy. And, if you’re so inclined, ask God to show you what “doing it poorly” has to do with living your faith.


getting a grip when everything’s up in the air

Joel, Cindy and their 3 fab kids dropped in yesterday morning. What a treat! Years ago they left the U.S. and a steady job to live a less steady – but way cooler - life in Sao Paulo, Brazil. They’ve been a head-shaking-how-do-they-do-that example to me of living by faith.

I saw them in Brazil last year. That was a memorable trip. The people and places were amazing. But the plane ride... I wish the plane ride wasn’t so memorable.

I have a long history with plane rides. 1 was 2 when I first flew. The longest flight was to Capetown, S. Africa a few years ago. The worst flight happened when I was 16. My mom, my brother and I were travelling from Paris to London in a prop plane with a lot of other military families. In a storm. Lightening flashing over the wings. The plane – and all of us in it - tossing around like so much popcorn. The pilot informing us that we could not land in London and were being re-routed elsewhere. Adults panicking - crying, swearing, drinking (probably trying to pass out before the plane blew up!). The pilot informing us again that we were not allowed to land elsewhere, either. Adults shouting, “Stewardess! Where’s my drink?!” And me, terrified, watching my mother pray, wondering if this was my last plane ride. It wasn’t.

Last year, en route to visit my friends in Brazil, our plane ran into turbulence. A LOT of it. For a LONG time. The kind of turbulence that scares even the pilot. (He tried to keep his voice steady and his tone calm when he called the flight attendants to “TAKE YOUR SEAT!”)

In my years of learning to deal with flying, I’ve learned some things about aerodynamics and engineering to assure myself that these things can remain in the air. I’ve listened to statistics about the safety of air travel. I’ve analyzed the sounds that happen on every flight so that I don’t panic when I hear something mechanical. I’ve practiced breathing techniques so that I don’t hyperventilate. I’ve even had what I classify as Divine experiences and supernatural protection on flights.

But there I was flying over Brazil at 30,000 ft in a rocking plane, gripping the armrests for dear life, trying to control hyperventilation and uncontrollable screaming. Nothing provided for us on the plane – not the distraction of movies, not the comfort of food or the pleasure of wine, not the reassuring faces of the flight attendants – made any difference to me in my distress. Somehow white knuckling the armrests and bracing my feet on the seat ahead of me made me feel better. In my head... somewhere…I knew it was no good. I could see what I was doing but felt powerless to do anything differently. And in a sick and twisted kind of way I felt safer. Somehow “in control”.

It was in those hours of seat clutching, body bracing panic that I had a flash of insight: this is exactly what we do in a new environment or unexpected circumstances. We grab on to whatever makes us feel in control. We cling to a spouse, a child, a piece of property, our rights, my way of doing things, a routine, a drink. We may be able to see what we’re doing in our panic. We may know it’s a lie. But our reason is awry. Our brains don’t work like they did before the crisis or when we were back home. Emotions overtake us. Bodies manifest stress levels. And we grab for something – anything – to feel some measure of security or power. Or just to numb the pain before it all blows up.

It’s easy to think in those situations that I’m bad or maybe even crazy. But that’s not true. I’m just temporarily unsettled in the turbulence of a new reality. A good pilot is essential. Education and experience help. But mostly it’s learning to let go.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,

our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said,

"Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"
How can we sing the songs of the LORD

while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,

may my right hand forget its skill .
May my tongue cling to the roof

of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.

Turbulence is produced when your previous way of life or your expectations collide with your present reality. In the chaos created by new circumstances, we long for the old ways. In a new country we miss home. Who we knew. What we knew. How we lived. Maybe not at first. But one day we wake up and realize there’s no joy. We’ve stopped singing. Others who’ve never experienced the turbulence of transition – or of your transition - will tell you to snap out of it, shape up, suck it up, or pray harder. They will demand joy from you while you’re grieving.

Psalm 137 is an invitation to remember not "the good old days" back home where everything was great, but an invitation not to forget where God is. In the turbulence of transition, when you’ve lost your joy, don’t forget to ask “Where is God in this?” Don't be surprised if, in those shaky, stormy times, letting go is the only way to see God.


pillars of fire

I typically don’t feel the need to be shown the way. I enjoy cutting my own path. “Going where no man has gone before.” But recently I felt how very good it is to have someone light the way for me.

It happened on the same day. I witnessed 3 pillars of light just ahead of me. In the shape of Kris, Heidi and J.D. Though none of them can see the next step, they keep moving forward, led by God’s voice calling to them in the darkness. They’re all a bit worn by their drawn-out transitions. But they are so sure of God’s presence. They could speak so confidently of God’s love. They’re a bit ahead of me on this journey into the unknown. Through the light of their stories I knew we were on the right path. Seeing their footsteps in front of me gave me courage to take the next step.

Heidi left everything she’d known, a job she loved (and was brilliant at!) to marry a man she barely knew and move to a strange place to do impossible things. She found herself in a country where women have no public role and where she had no private relationships. No job, no language, no friends, no competence at anything in this new world, no husband during the days in her sparsely furnished apartment. She paced her small space wondering what she was doing in this predicament and desperately searching for something to do.

So she began to pray. Every day. “Today, God, let me see 1 thing that makes this worth it.” And, surprisingly, every day God answered. It was in those moments of answered prayers that she knew – again – that God was present with her. And that He was enough.

Kris is another brilliant woman. Intelligent. Competent. And jobless. She’s also very confident that God is present with her. As she moves forward in the darkness of her own journey, she hears God’s invitation to ask specifically for what she wants in a job. So she’s asking. Praying for a job that allows her do what she loves to do. Asking for a job that lets her shine. Praying not just for “sufficient” but for “abundant”: for money to live here and to travel the world and to offer her gifts and skills to those who can’t afford to pay for them. It seems crazy to hope for meaningful satisfying work in a world where it feels we should be grateful for any job. But Kris’s hope is not in what she can see, but in the loving voice of the One who’s proven in her past to be more than enough.

Heidi and J.D. prayed for us that evening as we sat sipping our chai at the end of our meal together. Heidi said we’re being led by God like the children of Israel – by a pillar of fire and cloud. We are unable to pierce through the flame and the cloud. Unable to see what’s ahead. Or make sense of what’s behind. And though we don’t know where we’re going, God is taking us from “some comfort and a bit of slavery” to lead us to a promise. All our needs will be provided on the journey. All that’s been promised lies ahead. Just keep moving. Follow the fire.

That’s comforting! You can’t miss a pillar of fire in the dark. It’s a sure sign of God’s presence and a clear indication of the right direction. Just like these 3 friends.

Over the past 12 years I’ve watched 100’s of remarkable people step into the unknown. Each one confident of the voice of God. Each one courageously moving ahead in the dark in spite of heart-pounding fear and the many visible and invisible obstacles in their way. Each one a tangible demonstration of what can happen when we follow after God even when we don’t really know where He’s taking us.I’m grateful to all those of you who I have known as “Link staff” for lighting the way for me.

In the dark it's easy to think you're alone. You're not.


English isn’t English and other truths I hope my son learns

I enrolled my son in his new high school yesterday. Or I should say, his new “I-school”. A lot has changed since I was his age. My son will be 16 this summer - the same age I was when my family first moved out of the U.S. I still remember how mad I was when my parents told me we were moving to England. Moving again. Leaving friends I’d barely known (because of moving last time). Creating yet more distance from extended family. Having to start all over again – again. Yep. I was mad. But, I thought, at least they speak English.

That summer before my junior year of high school, I realized that I had an opportunity in front of me. A chance to redefine “me”. Who do I want to be, I wondered? Well, I knew who I didn’t want to be. Me. So I decided to choose a new name. A new identity. The New Me.

I always liked my name. (I’ve always been very grateful to the Doctor who took the liberty to name me while my parents wrangled over names, some of which should only be in baby name books, but never given to a baby!) “Rebecca” is a beautiful name. But too stuffy for every day use. “Becky”, the name I’ve always been known by, is cute. Too cute. But I wanted to be someone different. Cool, not cute. Unique, not normal. A girl who stands out in a crowd. Admired, popular, sought after.

What name would I choose for my new life in this new country? How could I introduce myself to my new high school? What was the right name for The New Me? I turned options over in my head, getting a feel for each name, weighing each nuance. Then it came to me.

For months, waiting in Florida for the Air Force to say “move”, I dreamt of the day I would no longer be “Becky” but “Randy”. I envisioned how people would see “Randy” (“wow! cool!”) What fascinating, intelligent, and witty things Randy would say in school hallways (“ooh! awesome!”). What kind of friends Randy would make ("yeah! groovy!") What fun adventures Randy and her friends would have in this new country ("oh! baby!"). Dreaming of becoming Randy helped me to let go of my life in the U.S. and move eagerly towards this unknown life in England. And towards The New Me.

Some good can come from TV. Even British TV! During our first month in England, we lived in a hotel in London. I was introduced to a lot of new and wonderful things that first month. Including the BBC. As we watched TV in the hotel, I kept hearing the word “randy”. It wasn’t a boy’s name. It wasn’t a name at all! It didn’t take long to realize with dismay that my plans for my new name had to be scrapped. And to realize that my English was not their English.

At 15, I didn’t understand that redefinition of self is deeper than a label. But something deep happened to me as result of that move that I was so mad about. Though the name had to be scrapped, the reality of becoming a different person wasn’t. The sudden revelation that English isn’t English, the growing realization that people who look like me are not like me, and the ever-repeated words from my mom, that all of these things are “not bad, just different” changed my worldview, my life’s direction, and my self-perception. And that’s way better than being Randy.

At 15 I didn't know that I was already well on the way to becoming a "tck". There are so many resources now for Third Culture Kids. He doesn't know it yet, but they will be good gifts to my son on his journey. And, perhaps, for you. www.tckworld.com is a good place to start.


the wrong f word

If I hear one more person saying that f word about me I’m going to scream. Why do I feel like it’s the wrong f word? What’s wrong with “faithful”?
“Faithful” implies doing the right thing without result. Weak. Ineffective. Akin to another f word that I hope is wrong: failure.
Yes, of course, I want to do the right thing. But I don’t just want to have been faithful in my work. I want to have been fruitful. That’s the right f word. The one I long for.
A friend – the one I’m married to – points out that “faithful” is the highest affirmation a follower of Christ can obtain. So why does that f word make me feel like a failure?
In the Bible, in the book called Matthew, chapter 25, Jesus tells this parable:

Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.
After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.'
His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'
The man with the two talents also came. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.'
His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'
Then the man who had received the one talent came. 'Master,' he said, 'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.'
His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
'Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

So why does “you’ve been faithful” feel like a backhanded compliment - or even a slap – when people say it to me after 29 years of service? Why am I so sorely disappointed that “faithful” is all they can say?
Perhaps it’s not the wrong word. It’s the wrong voice.
Maybe I’m turning my ear in the wrong direction, straining for the affirmation of people, instead of the Master. People have limited perspective, personal constraints, their own fears about failure. There’s no way they can know what I have accomplished. It’s impossible for them to see into me and understand how I experience their well-intentioned words.
I have to listen up. Turn my ear to the voice of the One who not only sees what I’ve done with what He’s entrusted to me, but knows the words my heart longs to hear. Words like “well done”, “good work”, “faithful and fruitful”, “I can trust you”, and “let’s celebrate”.
“Faithful” suddenly sounds a lot better.

We all know faithful people who inspire us to offer up our talents for the good of others, for the glory of God, and for the sheer joy of being who we're meant to be. Denis and Margie Haack have been that kind of inspiration to me since I met them in Albuquerque in the late 70's. They were faithful then. They're faithful now. And it's a beautiful thing to behold. You can see for yourself some of the fruit of their faithfulness on their blogs:

Who have been models of faithfulness to you?
What impact have they had on your life?
Thank God for them.
Now let those folks hear that beautiful f word from you.



Nearly 3 years ago I sat across a table in S. Africa, sharing my story with an African Christian leader. He said, “The pain and unsettledness you’re experiencing now is God digging around your roots. He is getting ready either to fertilize you for greater growth or to transplant you.” Since then, I’ve been watching for signs - sniffing to discern whether that smell was fertilizer or something else. It turns out to be something else.

When I realized last November that we were being transplanted, fear set in. I worried: will the soil be good for us to grow? I wondered: how can we put down roots in a desert?

Then I heard them chatting nonchalantly in the lobby as I lay on the table, face down, in the chiropractor’s office.

“You just cut if off, put the end in water, and it re-grows roots. That’s what those plants are made for.”

“That’s me!” I thought with great surprise and a little bit of pride. That’s what I’ve done my whole life. Every few years, as an “air force brat”, and then as an ever-moving adult, I’ve been cut off, transplanted, and have re-grown roots. So this is nothing new. Nothing scary. It’s what I was made for!

When I thought I was a normal plant, I feared being cut off. (Cut flowers are beautiful and portable. But they fade, wilt and die. Keeping them in water at that point just makes them stinky.) But I’m not normal. (No comments.) I’m made to put down roots again in a totally new environment. I don’t even need soil! Just plenty of water. And God has already promised to be that for me.

The beauty of this kind of plant is that it can easily be multiplied. The roots left behind – the ones that have gone deep into Madison soil for 12 years, the roots that have been going down into InterVarsity soil for 29 years - will grow a new thing after I’m gone. That’s a comfort. And it’s comforting, too, to know for sure that I’ll be able to grow roots again. It’s what I’m made for!

Nairy Ohanian is a former colleague and an amazing, cross-cultural woman. She's a beautiful example of a plant that's made to put down roots even after being cut off. Her book, Now, Can You Trust Me, is a collection of often humorous, always inspiring stories from her years in Armenia.http://www.nairysstories.com/

Are there signs in your life that God is either fertilizing you for growth or preparing you for transplanting? Ask God for insight into your life circumstances and for receptivity to His work in your life.Looking back on your life, do you see similar experiences cropping up? Is there a pattern that gives you insight into what you are made for? Ask God for clarity. What skills and wisdom have you gained through those experiences that can be leveraged in your current circumstances? Thank God for giving you everything you need to grow and to thrive.


cleaning up

I’d say “Saying goodbye sucks” if I didn’t have to put a quarter in the “crass case”.

That’s Josh’s idea. We (meaning me) decided that 1 way we need to prepare for moving to the Middle East was to clean up our vocabulary. Words and expressions that are fit for Madison do not fit Dubai. (Of course my mom thinks that some of our expressions aren’t for fit anywhere!) Certain sayings and specific words – whatever we’ve labeled as “crass” – have a 25 cent fine. (And there are a few that will cost you 50 cents!) At the end of the week, whoever has had the least infractions gets the money. (So far, it hasn’t been me.)

It’s surprising how hard it is to let go of even useless words once they’ve become part of your daily life. But we’re making progress. If we work hard to clean up our words now, when we get to where we’re going it won’t be so hard.

I’m already mentally cleaning up our house. There’s so much stuff that’s just taking up space. We have a lot of things we don’t need anymore (and lots that we never did!) My mom is moving in when we’re gone. I want to free up space for her to make it her home for as long as she lives there. Even though we know we’re not going to live here soon and that if we ever return to this house we’ll need to begin again anyway, it’s hard. Hard to let go of stuff – even useless stuff. But we’re choosing to clean it all up knowing it’s a necessary part of moving ahead. And of saying goodbye.

I’m cleaning up relationships, too. Working hard to forgive where needed. Doing my best to say “goodbye” well. I don’t see these people every day. Or even every year. But knowing that I’m going to be on the other side of the planet makes a difference in our relationships. I have to let go. And so do they.

This trip I’m on now is a gift. I’m grateful to spend time before I leave the country with people I love and who love me. But I ache when I think of how long it will be til I see them again. And I wonder if it may be the last time I see some of them or hug them goodbye. It’s painfully hard. Crying hard. In fact, it sucks.

Gotta go put another quarter in the jar.

"There have been a number of times in my life when my reaction is "No, no, no!" to whatever possibility looms on the horizon. But with hindsight, I can see that sometimes God is like water, slowly eroding whatever objections my false selves may present. The important question for discernment of these experiences of discomfort is this: will this new possibility enable me to live with greater faith, hope, and love, responding to God's will? Even if the answer is not clear, keeping open the possibility that God is moving me gives me the chance to listen for the ways God may be trying to get my attention. Perhaps God is trying to melt my objections."
The Ignatian Workout, Tim Muldoon, p. 40

There’s a lot to clean up not just on the outside, but on the inside. Transition can feel like a good house-cleaning of the heart, it we'll let it be. Fears that can be managed under normal circumstances…character flaws that can be hidden or disguised when things are going smoothly…all rise to the surface when the future is uncertain, nothing’s going according to plan, and we can’t see how any of this is really going to happen. Grab some courage and listen to your heart. What are you feeling about life circumstances and letting go?
How is God working in your life to expose fear, pride, independence, complacency, or other variations of a lack of faith or hardness of heart?
Will you choose to let God clean house? (It’s an opportunity to get cleaned up a bit now so that when we get to where we’re going, it won’t be so hard.)


for Justice and his brothers

In the guest room last night I saw a star. 1 of those paper lanterns wrapped around a hanging bulb. I love those things.

When I left India in 1993 – 5 months pregnant – I bought a dozen paper stars. Stars with bright bold designs. Stars of shimmering silvery loveliness. I thought, “At Christmas in our new home in the States we’ll decorate with these stars and remember our beloved India.” But it wasn’t our home that benefited from their beauty. It was an office.

We moved to Madison 12 years ago – with a 3 year old – for my job. At Christmastime, our department decided to decorate. I brought my stars from India. Everyone loved them. We hung them neatly above each cubicle. Nothing inside them to shine. Just the prettiness of the paper and the symbolism of the Christmas star. I kept them in my desk drawer and pulled them out every December for my colleagues to enjoy.

Last summer I packed up all my personal stuff at the office and schlepped it all home as I began my sabbatical. My son – then 15 – saw me unpacking the stars. With excitement he ran to the box, pulling out each one, admiring them with wonder and awe. He looked at me and exclaimed, “Where’d you get these, Mom? I’ve never seen them before! I love them!”

What have I done? An irreversible error in judgment was suddenly visible. And I was broken hearted. How much of what I’ve loved and cherished has been shared with others, but not with my son? What gifts have others benefited from that my son’s never seen? How much energy, focus, intentionality and creativity have I shined on others “for the sake of ministry” while leaving my child in the dark?

We hung stars this past Christmas in our home. My son picked his favorites to hang in his room. They hung in his windows until I talked him into putting them away before Easter. He loves them.

We’ll definitely take those stars to our new home when we leave the U.S. They are a reminder to me now to give my best gifts to my family; to pass on all that I cherish to my son. I love him.

O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old-what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us.We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD,his power, and the wonders he has done. Psalm 78:1-4

What do you cherish?
Ask God to bring to mind recent conversations and circumstances that reveal your real priorities and loves.
Who are you sharing those cherished things with?
How are you sharing your “stars” with those closest to you? With the next generation?


sleepless in the shadows

I lay awake – again. The flying, worrying thoughts refuse to settle down in my brain. They know that they can whip me into a tearful angry mess of fear and dismay. (It doesn't take much. They have already laid the groundwork on previous nightly visitations.)

Idiot. Letting them get to me – those frightening questions. Will the not-yet-begun-business generate enough money to pay our bills? Will we be forced to live separately? What will that do to our marriage? Our son? Will I have to work 2 jobs – or 3 - just to keep our family afloat? How will we manage those chronic health issues without insurance? How will we adjust to living in a city built on sand after loving life in this land of lakes? Do we have what it takes to deal well not only with culture stress, but with the dynamics of living and working with extended family? Will we feel trapped in old patterns? In cultural conflicts? In our own stinking internal garbage?

Pretender. After crying enough in frustration and fear, I try playing possum. Perhaps pretending to be asleep will lull my heart and fool my brain. I try pointlessly to master my fears and flying thoughts with my own brain power or, with my determined will, to cram them back into that Pandora’s Box tucked into a dark corner of my heart.

Fool. Underneath those questions are deeper ones. Questions passed on from my garden-tending, apple-eating ancestors through each successive generation. Sharpened to a fine point by my own independence-loving self. Does God really care? Can He really do anything about this anyway? My love of seeing biases my perspective of my whole world when I can’t see.

Mercy. Why is it so hard to remember to pray? It only took a second to turn my mind and heart to God. He swooped in to catch me like the giant eagle in that torrential scene in the Lord of the Rings when Gandalf, trapped by evil and pelted by storm, leans back into nothingness, confident that his silent cries have been heard.

God’s voice was clear.
“Psalm 126”, He said.

I leaned out of bed to find my Bible. Turning to Psalm 126 I was caught off guard with these words:

“When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like men restored to health.
Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them.’
The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.
Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.
He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.”

Here was an invitation to offer to God our grieving tears and the seeds He’s sown in us til now, praying in faith for Him to restore our fortunes and our health. To make impossible streams in the desert possible. To produce a harvest from sand.

Asking God for those things, I laughed with joy. And fell asleep.

i think i need an intervention
i’m chasing the sensation
i think i need an intervention
some kind of liberation
grab hold me
undo me
expose me
inside out
of the dark shadows
blinding light
set me free
if you want to get free come on and get free
from Paul LeFeber’s new solo album, Shouldn't Be Said

Worries have a way of shadowing us. Those shadows can easily overwhelm, blinding us to the truth about God and darkening our perspective on our circumstances. But it doesn’t take God long to rescue us – if we’ll just turn our face to the light.Today, find a quiet place where you can stand in God’s presence. (Have a Bible and a pen & paper nearby.)

Look down at your shadow of worry. What do you see? With your head bowed down, ask God to reveal the deeper heart questions beneath worry’s shadow. What lies are you believing about God’s character and care? Bring those lies into the light by confessing them out loud to God.

Now look up - lift your face as if looking into face of God. Ask God for mercy: to reveal the truth to you about who He is and what He wants to do for you. Stand still. Listen. If any Scripture passage comes to mind, read it. Respond to what you see there.

Today, don’t be surprised if God catches you off guard as He continues to illuminate the shadows and reveal glimpses of His promises.


Dying Hurts

I’m slipping. I can see myself slipping. A little escapist behavior here. A little denial there. Pain everywhere. If I don’t stop this slide right now I will end up right back where I was before sabbatical last year. But it hurts. And that little bit of oblivion brings a false, but welcome, sense of comfort and albeit temporary release from pain. So I let myself slip.

My friend Duncan, a therapist and spiritual director, warned me, with a pained look on his face, “You are going to experience profound grief.” He’s a prophet. Now I know what “profound” feels like. It hurts. It hurts bad.

For 2 weeks now I’ve been reviewing the past 30 years of working in this organization. Recounting grievances and griefs. Regretting things left undone or things that were my undoing. Reminding myself of mistakes. Rehearsing “what ifs” and “what fors” and “what was that all abouts”. I know it’s not the whole truth. But it’s the truth as I see it right now. All these griefs visit me in vague wisps of emotion and faint glimmers of faces, or with sudden horror and face-slapping realization.

In church one Sunday, as I was lost in my own reverie and reminiscing, it came to me. I have been trying to escape the pain of grief. To numb it. To pray it all better, believing that if God were truly in control or I was really in God’s will I wouldn’t hurt. But that’s not true. There’s no escaping it: dying hurts.

I’m in the process of dying:
to work I am competent at,
to people I know and love,
to a church community that I respect,
to a city I enjoy,
to a house we’ve made a home,
to living near my mom,
to being in my own culture,
to my plans for my future and my family’s future,
to knowing where the next paycheck is coming from,
to life as I’ve known it.
If I were physically dying of a medical condition, I would expect to hurt. But somehow, I didn’t make the connection.

I want the life equivalent of morphine, thank you very much.

But seeing this process for what it is – the pain of dying to one kind of life so I can live a new one – helps ease the pain. There’s a purpose. And there’s an end to it. But not today. Today I’m still dying. Today I hurt. But I choose not to postpone the pain knowing that the quicker I die to all of this, the sooner I can live again.

I’m sure I’ll still slip now and then. My memory is short. But God is merciful. He knows just what I’m going through. After all, He’s been through the whole death and pain thing Himself! And lived to tell about it.

So bring it on.

Healing without grief doesn’t happen.
Grief without support and new loves doesn’t happen either.
Safe People, Henry Cloud & John Townsend, pg. 153

Make a 15 minute appointment with God.

At your appointment, talk to God like you would a doctor: tell Him where it hurts. Then sit still and listen while God gives you His diagnosis of the pain.

Is it something that needs healing? Ask for healing in Jesus’ Name.

Is it something that requires a change of heart or behavior on your part? Ask for forgiveness in Jesus’ Name and power from the Holy Spirit to change.

Is it something that is being put to death for your good? Ask for eyes to see God in the process and a willing heart to receive the new thing God has for you.