a piece up on DineANDRhyme!

matcha 2Sometimes, in the middle of writing class assignments and web articles, you gotta’ write something just for fun! So last week, as I was trying to squeeze a paper down to its required 5-6 pages (I failed), I wrote about my favorite “office away from home,” Cafe K’tizo, and submitted my just-f0r-fun poem to DineANDRhyme, a blog of poems about restaurants.

Here’s the link to my poem about my favorite treat at my favorite place. The piece on DineANDRhyme also has a link to K’Tizo’s website. You can order teas from the website no matter where in the world you are, but if you happen to be in the western suburbs of Chicago, I would suggest visiting the store in person. Who knows–you might see me there!

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Guest post: Clay

Sus's bowlThe theme of the potter and the clay is a popular one in Scripture. Isaiah and Jeremiah both used it, as did Paul in Romans, and many have learned from and written about the metaphor. My friend Susanna, a nurse, missionary with Kids Alive International (the link is to her missionary page on the KA Int’l website), artist, and oh, so many other things, just wrote about clay on her blog, and I asked if I could share her piece through my blog. (She said yes!)

Susanna's bowlSusanna is a wonderful potter (the pictures with this post are of a bowl she made and gave to me), and what jumped out at me in her piece was her perspective on the potter’s attitude toward the clay. Many of the Scripture passages emphasize the truth that we, as the clay, should accept the potter’s intent. Susanna, whose journey to the mission field has been challenging and circuitous and downright hard at times, does write about this aspect of the metaphor, but she also talks about these passages from the perspective of the potter. Working with clay brings joy to Susanna. She loves crafting even the simplest pieces. Working AND reworking the clay brings her satisfaction, and she assumes the Potter feels the same!

The potter took what was spoiled and made it into something else. Not only did he take the time to do it, but he found it good to do. It wasn’t a hassle or pain. It was a process that the potter took delight in. I know that it is in the process of creating a piece of work that I take such enjoyment and I must be reminded that the great Potter enjoys the messy process that I am.  

Click HERE to read the entire piece.

 

 

I “think” and she “letters”

churchI have a poem up today at The Well, InterVarsity’s online blog for women in graduate school and beyond. The poem is titled “Let Me Think.” While you’re at The Well, check out some of its other content. It’s fast becoming one of my favorite sites.

I’m also sharing some of daughter Em’s hand lettering today. She, Judy (the older of our two international student “daughters”), and I spent a LOT of time at our church during Holy Week. Judy, Em, and I went to every single service, spending nearly 20 hours at church between Maundy Thursday and Easter Day. It was wonderful, and Em took her notes from a few of the services and created a booklet. The only page I’m not allowed to share with you is the Easter Festival page (it’s a service at our church on the Saturday before Easter) because some ink from the facing page bled through.

maundy

good friday

easter vigil.jpg

easter sunday

The Body, Broken and Whole

I have a short story up on The Redbud Post. It’s titled “The Body, Broken and Whole.”  Here’s an excerpt. If you want to read the whole thing, just click on the link above.

Ming moved down the line of Eucharist ministers, her pastoral robes swaying gently each time she stopped. “The body of Christ, broken for you,” she said, pressing bread into the outstretched hands of the minister in front of her. Another pastor followed behind her, carrying the cup, the two of them serving communion to the ministers so the ministers could then serve the rest of the congregation. At the far end of the line, Leah dropped her head and stared at her hands. One laid over the other, they formed the shape of a cross, ready to receive the bread, but without realizing, she’d pulled them close against her stomach. She noticed her fingers were curled, ready to close tight, ready to refuse the offering.

“Leah?”

Her head jerked up. Ming’s face was next to her own, and Leah could read concern in Ming’s dark eyes, in the expression on her almond-brown face.

Leah’s hands clenched shut. “I can’t, Ming,” she whispered. “I can’t take Communion.”

Ming looked at her a moment longer. Then she slid her arm around Leah’s shoulders and led her away from the others. Inside the small prayer room off the sanctuary, Ming nudged Leah into a chair, and then sat in one herself, pulling it close enough their knees almost touched.

“What is wrong?” Even after years in the U.S., faint traces of accent from her childhood in Cambodia still colored Ming’s voice.

Leah couldn’t meet her eyes. “I got angry with Bree this morning.”

Ming waited. When Leah didn’t say more, she asked, “What happened?”

Leah swallowed. “It was all little things. She didn’t do her homework from two nights ago, took some gum from my purse without asking, left clothes all over her room, and then, when she was supposed to be getting ready for church this morning…” How could she tell Ming what she had said?

The rest is at the Redbud Post. And while you’re there, check out some of the pieces by other Redbud writers–there’s some fantastic stuff! 

wear love

All my creativity seems to be going into other kinds of writing these days, but that’s okay! The creativity of the Word and of other friends is encouraging me. This morning I read the verse of the day on Bible Gateway (in The Message, which makes it startling–exactly what I want) and then I noticed a friend of mine had just posted something new on her blog. The verse and her post go together perfectly. May you be blessed as I was!

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. Colossians 3:12 (the link takes you to the side-by-side translations of the verse in the Message, Amplified, and NIV).

And here’s the link to Joellyn’s post “Life in Death to Self.” And here’s a quote to encourage you to click the link and read the whole thing 🙂

We do not find joy by fulfilling all of our own desires and getting our way. Again, we have to look upside down in this world. Die to self. Lay down your life. Find real life in Jesus. … If I can get to this place of surrender I often enjoy the privilege of seeing His glorious resurrection work in action, and tasting the fruit of it myself.

 

Named and Naming

cross picI can still see in my mind one picture from my very first children’s Bible. There’s Adam, his back facing me, a plant strategically covering his butt. Both arms are by his sides, but one hand is lifted slightly. The pose seems to say, “I’m thinking. The right name will come to me, and it will be perfect.”

In front of Adam is a vast line of animals, stretching off into the horizon. I remember a few of them: the lion, his mane-surrounded face looking wise and calm, a giraffe just behind, its neck and head arching toward Adam, and a gazelle-like creature, poised as if standing still was an extreme effort.

I’ve always been fascinated with this story, with humans having the privilege of naming. Naming, I feel, is a small act of creating, a small act that opens the door to vast possibility.

We humans love to name—our children, our pets, our businesses, even inanimate personal belongings. We seem to think that when we name, we hold a bit of interest in that person. We feel we’ve set them on a path because names carry connotation for us. Some names are strong; others are beautiful or quirky or unique. When we name, we confer not only possibility, but a hoped-for direction or purpose.

Could this love for naming be a longing for the privilege we had pre-Fall?

We lost so much at the Fall, relationship with God paramount, so perhaps the loss of our naming privilege does not seem very big, but I wonder about that. I think it must have been fairly significant: names are a big deal in Scripture. In historical accounts, the naming of children or places is often included. God changed people’s names several times, and in each instance the name change carried weight. It signified a new direction, a new identity, and a different relationship with God.

I’ve learned that the very fact we have names is important. I’m reading a book on Genesis* right now, and in the section about the serpent/Satan in Genesis 3, the author made this statement: “What is interesting is that in all but one of these … occurrences (of the name ‘Satan’), ‘satan’ has attached to it the definite article, ‘the satan.’ This indicates ‘the satan’ is a title, not a personal name. Satan is not who he is, but what he is. He does not merit a name, and in antiquity, not to have a name was to be reduced to virtual nonexistence.” (emphasis mine)

I often tell my children Satan is not capable of creating. He can only twist toward evil what God created for good, and this quote expanded my thinking: Satan un-named himself when he turned away from the Creator, and in so doing, he separated himself from any participation in creation. In a way, he undid himself. He made himself nothing, incapable of doing anything true.

In the Fall, we, too, un-named ourselves. We spurned “beloved” and “image-bearer” and put on false names like “self-sufficient” and “independent.”

But God snatched up the true names we cast off so flippantly. God kept them safe, and through the magnificent work of Immanuel, God restores them to us. Truly named ourselves, we can once again join God in the creative work of naming others.

I’ve been pondering this idea for a long time, particularly in my context as a mother. Each day I contribute to the naming of my children. With the attitudes, actions, and words I direct toward them (and in the absence of those as well), I shape their concept of themselves. I can name them “beloved” and “valuable” and “growing.” But I can also twist their concept of their name: “You are a bother.” “You are incapable.” “You are not worth my time right now.” I can reinforce their un-naming.

This is not only true for parents. We all have people we are called to nurture in one way or another, and we can be a part of naming them as God wants them named: valuable, unique, and beloved.

We can name even the people we simply pass on the street. When we make eye contact with a person, we “say,” “I see you. I acknowledge you as a fellow human being.” That is naming.

And when we avert our eyes, what then?

In I Peter, we are told we are “chosen (to be) God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for (us)—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.” **

And in this “telling,” we get to name others—with the names God has for them. He says, “I’ll call nobodies and make them somebodies; I’ll call the unloved and make them beloved. In the place where they yelled out, “You’re nobody!” they’re calling you “God’s living children.” **

We name: You are Somebody. You are Beloved. You are God’s living child!

What incredible work!

*Handbook on the Pentateuch by Victor P. Hamilton, published by Baker Book House, 1982. The quote I reference is on page 43 in this edition of the book. The link in the book title takes you to its page at Christianbook.com’s site, where you can buy the 2005 edition.

**The Scripture links take you to Bible Gateway, to that Scripture in three versions (The Message, the Amplified, and the NIV) side by side. It’s awesome to look at them in this way!

Good works prepared: Faith Willard and Sarah Aulie

One of Hand and Cloth's beautiful blankets draped across a chair in my bedroom. They truly are lovely and would make great Christmas presents!

One of Hand and Cloth’s beautiful blankets draped across a chair in my bedroom. They truly are lovely and would make great Christmas presents!

This morning I had the opportunity to listen to Sarah Aulie (founder of Hand and Cloth, which I’ve written about before; click on the link to read about it) and Faith Willard speak at Wheaton Academy’s alumni recognition chapel. Both graduated from the Academy (50 years apart!), and Sarah, a 2000 grad, considers Faith, a 1950 grad, to be her mentor. It’s a beautiful story.

In 2007 Sarah was at a crossroads. She knew the Lord was calling her to do some sort of overseas work that would provide at-risk women with a livelihood, but she didn’t know any specifics. She asked her mother to pray for her, and her mother brought the request to the prayer group she led at Wheaton Academy. The prayer request spread to the administrative assistant of the Head of School, who maintained connections with WA alum all around the world, including Faith Willard, who’d been working in Bangladesh for more than 30 years by then. The admin assistant connected Sarah with Faith.

In 2007 Sarah flew to Bangladesh and saw firsthand the work of The Widow’s Friend, the organization Faith started in 1975 that now runs medical clinics, an orphanage, a high school, a mission/job skills training center for for widows, a school for the deaf, and a hostel for unmarried working women. Through Faith’s widespread work and connections, Sarah got a big-picture view of the needs in Bangladesh, and she became particularly interested in women who were unprotected by husbands or families. These women are often trafficked or forced to work in prostitution because they have no other options for supporting themselves and their children.

Sarah wanted to provide dignified work for these women, and when she discovered the kantha, a traditional blanket made from used sari cloth, she had an idea. She formed Hand and Cloth, a U.S.-based non-profit, to sell kantha blankets in the U.S., and partnered with House of Hope, a business in Bangladesh, to employ women to stitch the blankets.

I wrote a full article on these two women in the fall of 2012. Though I was able to interview Sarah Aulie in person, I had to talk on the phone with Faith Willard. It was a joy to meet her in person this morning and hear her words of wisdom to the students. She told them wonderful stories of God’s providence and how he has led her, time and time again, in the 65 years since she left high school. She, too, had many times when she didn’t know what she was supposed to do; she simply had an urge and a desire. She quoted Ephesians 2:10. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” NIV (the link has NIV, Amplified, and Message versions of it alongside each other).

“He’s already gone ahead and made preparation,” Faith reminded the students–and me. “If you just have a heart to honor the Lord, that’s all he needs. He’ll go before you and prepare the way. He’s always doing that. You’ll find He’s provided all you need.”

As I listened, I reflected on how that message has continued to be true for Sarah. Sarah is now married to a Greek man and is living in Athens, which–not coincidentally–is a real hotbed for trafficking. Sarah is already looking into ways Hand and Cloth can expand its scope and provide dignified work to some of the women trapped in Greece’s prostitution trade. Just as Faith said, God has once again gone before Sarah and prepared a good work for her to do.

Sometimes it’s a lot easier to see how God is making a way for others than it is to see how He’s going ahead of us in our own lives. Faith’s message was exactly what I needed to hear this morning, and I’m passing it along in case it’s what you need to hear, too.

Going on a supernatural carpet ride–Psalm 95

All the life--on one dead log!

All the life–on one dead log!

I’ve been reading Psalm 95 regularly these last few weeks. I’m not sure how I landed on that particular psalm. It’s not one that has special connection with my current life events, and it’s not a really well-known psalm (other than its phrases about being “the sheep of his hand”). But I’ve still been drawn to it, to reading it at the starts and ends of my days. It’s a divided psalm, beginning with praise for God’s care and creativity and then abruptly shifting to warning.

All the life--inside one dead log!

All the life–inside one dead log!

I read it really late last night, when I was very tired, and I imagined myself kneeling on a prayer carpet, doing exactly what the psalm says–praying, thanking, and praising God–making the “joyful noise” it refers to. As I read the next verses, which give the image of our great King holding the deep places in his hands, forming the dry lands…, I imagined the prayer carpet rising in the air (hmm–a supernatural prayer carpet!) and visiting these places the psalmist mentioned. First it took me to the “deep places,” to caves filled with glowing stalactites and flashing jewels. Then it swooped up, up, up to the highest mountains, to peaks covered in snow and massive rocks, balanced one on top of another. Then it was down, down, down again, through the waves of the sea, swimming alongside great creatures of the deep. It then rose to the shallows, swooping in and out of beautiful coral beds. Finally, breaking through the surface, the carpet swept inland, to where the great hand of God was forming hills and valleys, scooping out canyons and sweeping flat the plains.

After “seeing” all that, I was in awe and so ready to shout the next verse: “Oh come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.”

The carpet moved again, taking me over a gentle valley, where contented sheep grazed and lambs played, all under the watchful eye of a wise, careful Shepherd. I read, “We are the people of His pasture, the sheep of His hand.” The God who created the massive, sweeping universe I’d “seen” on my carpet ride cares specially for us, the small, the weak, the foolish. The same hand that scooped out valleys and fashioned the tallest peaks clasps our heads to His chest, holds us close, carries us next to His heart.

The carpet jerked then, unsettling me from my imagination. It dropped to the ground with a thump, and the next words came strong and firm. “If only you would listen to his voice today! The Lord says, “Don’t harden your hearts as Israel did at Meribah, as they did at Massah in the wilderness. For there your ancestors tested and tried my patience, even though they saw everything I did. For forty years I was angry with them, and I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts turn away from me. They refuse to do what I tell them.’ So in my anger I took an oath: ‘They will never enter my place of rest.’”

The carpet was gone. I was left to ponder this warning that did not seem to fit with what I’d seen and read before. And then I understood–at least part of it. The Israelites, too, were given a supernatural carpet ride. In the ride of my imagination, the laws of gravity and my lungs’ need for oxygen were suspended, but the Israelites truly experienced the supernatural. Through all the plagues in Egypt, the pillar of fire in the wilderness, the Red Sea crossing–God had made Himself and His power known. They’d seen, felt, and experienced the reality of God.

Yet they still hardened their hearts.

The warning–coming directly on the heals of praise–is necessary because I, too, am fully capable of hardening my heart, even after I’ve experienced a “supernatural carpet ride” kind of time. I’ve had quite a few of those times when God has broken into my life in extraordinary ways, going before me, leading me as a cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night. He has opened up my way at times so it is as if I have walked through a sea on dry ground, the walls of water piled up on either side.

Yet I still doubt.

“Listen to my voice today! Don’t harden your heart!”

I must remember the awe and wonder. I must stay there.

I must return, if need be,

And experience the rest of the pasture.

p.s. I used the Amplified version of Psalm 95 in some spots above and the NLT in others. The link at the very top of the post takes you to a side-by-side of those two translations.

Joy

window ScotlandThough I want joy—unceasing,

I experience only moments of it

Much between is grit-my-teeth “showing up.”

None of it is horrible;

I can always make the comparison—

To parents of children with cancer

To those suffering persecution or

being abused

To orphans, single moms, trafficking victims,

Others who have lost loved ones…

The juxtaposition brings guilt,

Which coils in my gut,

A python heavy, growing heavier.

Ach, guilt is no answer.

Joy requires realization,

That though life is often cruel because of heartbreak,

It more often is simply hard because of paradox:

who we are is not who we want to be,

the grand beauty we dream of

is not actualized in the day–to-day—

and the movie screen is an insufficient substitute.

If we settle, give up the longing, and live half-lives,

No joy.

But when we plumb beyond the temporal shallows,

Shoving past the “too weak” desires

To the eternal depths beneath,

We discover Joy has a Name,

A Face, a Person—

Whom we are invited to Know.

Inspired in part by C.S. Lewis’ opening words in “The Weight of Glory”:

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (26)

In the woods, walking slow–a sort-of poem

I always put disclaimers before I post my “poetry.” This is particularly true when I post one of my “poems” just after posting a piece by someone who really can write poetry. (If you haven’t read high school Tyler Jackson’s “Beloved,” please follow the link and do so.)

I am working on (or at least processing) several blog posts right now, a couple of which will be in the confessional living series, but as none of them is fully formed, I am instead sharing my creative-ish ramblings on walking in the woods, which I love to do no matter what the season, what the weather.

In the Woods, Walking Slow

Birds sound out—I imagine they are sharing the news,

The weather forecast, the society page.

One last note, and there is unusual silence,

Deep, weighty.

Perhaps even ominous.

I stop, too—the better to sense the wolf of Grimm’s dark tale—

scan the trees, then laugh at myself.

Another birdcall, and my eyes follow the sound, sliding up dark trunks

To trace the branches black against the darkening sky.

Dusk is here.

I step further,

seeing less, listening more,

hearing the Spirit’s whisper:

“I am here.”

The Holy hangs in the air around me,

In the Joy of the birds, the Mystery of the imagination, the Beauty of the branch-laced sky

God IS—Big and Real.

In the woods

I practice stillness

And know.