Seeking Joie (a Bananagram poem)

Explanation: We’re a household of 8 right now, none of us essential workers, so we’re homebound except for trips to the grocery. We’ve played a number of games of Bananagrams in the last few days. It’s a game in which you take letter tiles and make words that must intersect with each other (like a crossword). My niece and I, both writing geeks, set each other the task of writing a poem with our words. I took the words from two of our games (they’re underlined below) and wrote the following:

In waxen, waiting times (as in the here-and-now of COVID distancing) we want to jug Joie–Joy!–like fine oil, each little bit and pip of it precious, as worthy of hoarding as toilet paper.

Yet, in this waxen, waiting time–in which we have time–we must learn that true joy is not simply fetched but requires seeking, a tracking down, a following of one clue after another.

Joie’s clues? Shh, I’ll tell you…

‘Tis time, says Joie, to bayonet our grievances and set them adrift in deep, diked waters, to press into prayer for all beings, from bison and badger to next-door neighbor and even that Facebook enemy.

‘Tis time ‘to let go of all liens–be they financial or psychological–and set free our grudges, from those we consider “quaint quirks” to our -isms (sex-ism, patriarch-ism, rac-ism, class-ism, gender-ism…),

‘Tis time to send home the judge and jury and practice acceptance, nay, to practice LOVE!–LOVE unending, like the digits of Pi stretching ’round the world and back till our own hearts are pierced,

‘Tis time to invite God in, flaming like shining fire, permeating like fragrant cigar, to melt our icy bits, fumigate our every stinky corner,

‘Tis time to buy, as the Scripture instructs, the living water, with zero money, zero price,

So that our wilted beings rise–cleansed, freed, loved, lightened–filled to overflowing with JOY!

I read. They teach.

The weather is nice—a rarity in Chicago this spring—so it’s a quiet morning at the women’s shelter at Breakthrough. Most women are gone for the day, out and about, but one regular, C, an older woman whose soft, gentle voice is rarely heard, is here. Kristine, a staff worker stationed at the desk in the common room, introduces me to J and tells me J, too, is coming. J is wiry and full of nervous energy. She’s an addict, she tells me in a spill of words, has been for years, but she found Breakthrough and has a bed there and wants to finally attack her addiction. She’s started going to AA meetings. “This,” she says, waving her hand at the three of us gathered to pray and read Scripture, “will help me. Prayer always helps me.”

I always begin our time together by asking if anyone has any passage or story in particular they would like to hear from Scripture. J says she wants to read about beginnings, since she herself is embarking on a new start. I read Genesis 1 and then I ask if they would like to hear the beginning of Jesus’ story here on earth. Both do, and I turn to Luke 2 and read. J has to leave for a meeting, so I ask C what she would like me to read next. She puts her finger on my Bible and points at the next chapter. “You want me to keep going?” I ask, and she nods.

So I read Luke 3. C whispers, “Keep going.” Luke 4. She smiles and gives a little nod of encouragement. Luke 5. Another smile-nod. Luke 6.

Luke 2-6! These are long chapters, covering (among other things) Jesus’ birth, baptism, and temptation; his calling the disciples; his healing people with demons and leprosy and paralysis and withered hands. The grand teachings of chapter 6 include “blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep…; love your enemies; be merciful; don’t judge; produce good fruit”… And all these teachings are followed by the parable that begins: “‘Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?’” Jesus talks about the house built on rock and the house built on sand. He ends by saying, “‘The one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.’”

I finish reading chapter 6 and check the time. It’s past 11. We’ve been reading for over an hour. “Sorry, Carol, we have to stop here,” I say. “Do you have anything particular you want to pray about today?”

She reaches over again and touches my Bible, pointing to that parable. “Let’s pray about that,” she says softly. “I don’t want to be that house that falls.”

“Me neither,” I tell her. “Me neither.” And we pray that we will be followers of Jesus who do what he tells us to do.

Every Monday, I read…

and they teach.

local conference: Purple Reign

A couple months ago my friend Cheri Hartsfield invited me to speak at the annual women’s conference she founded and directs. It’s August 18 (evening only) and 19 at the NIU Naperville Conference Center. Scroll down to see pictures of the flier. The cost is only $65 for entrance into the Friday night event and all-day Saturday conference (you are on your own for meals , or you can sign up/pay at the registration website to eat meals at the conference center). You can also just attend Saturday for $55. I would LOVE to see some of my friends/blog readers there! Here’s the link to the registration page: Purposely Created for Purple Reign.

For you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. I Peter 2:9


I have begun Silence (by Shusako Endo) and have not finished it. It is, as Miriam writes in her blog post (reblogged here), an incredibly difficult read. Her thoughts on it–inspired by a quote from Lilias Trotter (and for more info on Lilias, visit Miriam’s “About Lilias” page)–are well worth reading. They make me want to again tackle Silence as well as Fugimura’s Silence and Beauty. Blessings, dear friends. ~Jen

Lilias Trotter


                         “He is so gentle and patient with them, the blessed Spirit of God.”                        Journal 1898

Silence.  My copy of this classic novel, by Shusako Endo, remained unopened on our library table for weeks.  Never have I approached reading a book with such a mix of emotions: anticipation of a highly acclaimed book; reluctance given the subject of persecution and apostasy.

The story of the 17th century effort to eradicate Christianity in Japan was told largely through letters of the Jesuit priest, Rodrigues, who against all counsel, made the dangerous two-year journey from Portugal to Japan, knowing that his life would be in mortal danger.  His purpose was two-fold:  to determine the truth about his mentor who was rumored to have apostatized; to be a priest for…

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Black Movers, White Neighborhoods

Perhaps it’s just that my current life chapter could be titled, “White Movers, African-American Neighborhood” or that the author of this piece, Esau McCaulley, is a fellow Anglican who desires more African American leadership and presence in the Anglican/Episcopal church in the United States, but I nearly cried when I read this piece. I want to sit down and have a really, really long conversation with this man. And, oh, do I wish he were in Chicago instead of in New York.

I Stopped Praying for My Kids

This is AWESOME! Please read–if you’re a parent or not; it says SO much about prayer and about God. So good.

Family Compassion Focus

Some people pray like a troubadour. Beaming about all the great things the Lover of their Soul has done. Their love is mutual and glorious. It’s dramatic and flowery, stomach flips and sighs. I’ve prayed like that, when my chubby baby smiled up me, and when I caught my husband looking at me from across the room.

Some people pray like a tenant, leaving post-its on the landlord’s door. They roll their eyes whenever something breaks, knowing that whenever the scruffy, absent ex-con gets to it, it’ll be too late. They wait for him to come over smelling like cigarettes with a roll of duct tape, but normally end up fixing it themselves. Which is what the landlord was hoping for anyway. I’ve prayed like that, when my friend’s cancer didn’t get healed, and when my friend’s divorce was finalized.

Some people pray like a child, asking for big things with…

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To open the heart

sunset in woods

the woods at sunset

…He knew all people… He knew what was in man [in their hearts—in the very core of their being}.

I was drawn back to that verse from John 2 again and again last week when I was still in Scotland. I assumed it was related to the ministry we were involved in, but I also felt there was something in it for me personally—something significant for me. But I didn’t know what.

We returned to the States, and I plunged back into my normal life, which is oh, so good but can also feel oh, so scattered.

And my transition back was rough.

Our normally chaotic but happy household felt a little edgy, and I couldn’t figure out why. I felt edgy myself and walked through each day tense, just waiting for the next small trigger. I tried to “fix” it, but the grumpiness—which was largely my grumpiness—got deeper with each passing day.

Thursday morning I planned to go to my church’s women’s Gathering. I looked forward to some forced reflection time.

Margie taught on the phrase “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” focusing on the completion God works in each of our lives as well as the completion He will work in all of His creation. Following the teaching, she instructed us to get in small groups and share a gap we were trying to fill by ourselves. I looked at my group members and said, “I’m trying to make it all work right in my household. I’ve taken on the responsibility for everyone’s happiness and I’m trying to make everyone get along.”

I grimaced. “It’s not working.”

PJ and Chai

my youngest and the dog on the frozen pond

Another woman shared that she had a loved one she was unable to forgive, and the third woman in our group shared that she was struggling with shame over past sin. As we prayed for each other, the word “heart” came up again and again.

We stumble around in the dark in the cluttered mess of our hearts.

The roots of our bitterness and brokenness and shame are hidden in the depths of our hearts, and we can’t discover them.

But to You, Lord, nothing is hidden. Your light shines in our hearts, and You see all. You don’t deal only with the symptoms of our sin and brokenness; You go right to the source.

I remembered the verse from John 2, and with it another image came to my mind, of a heart locked tight, barred and shut with complex mechanisms and powerful deadbolts.

It was my heart.

It seemed strange to me that I could return from a time of focused ministry and sweet dependence on God and almost immediately shut up my heart, but it’s what I’d done. It was as if I’d said, “Lord, I needed your help for all that, but for this, my normal, ordinary life—I got it!”


And now that I’d shut the door and shot the bolts and twirled the combination lock—and then realized I’d been very, very wrong—I couldn’t figure out how to undo it all.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in…

But the opening was beyond me. I needed the Lord not only to knock but even to unlock my heart.

Come in, Lord! Come in!

No door stands in his way when we cry out.

I will come in and eat with (you),

and (you) will eat with Me.

His promises are good.

And they are sure.

Scotland trip, final post

I haven’t included any photos with this post, but Emily (daughter) put together a photoblog with a few of her best shots from each day. She’s a fantastic photographer, so if you’re interested, click on the link above.

We returned to Chicago yesterday, exhausted and, in the case of several of us, sick with colds or sinus infections.

But it was more than worth it. The opportunities our students had in this second week to really get to know the local teenagers and share their lives and faith with them were amazing. We told them to give all they had from morning to late night—they could sleep on the plane.

After Wednesday’s morning assembly, we went straight to another RMPS class. The students were studying the biblical account of creation, and we split into small groups and discussed with them. We were able to focus on the character of God/his love and care for his creation/his relationship with his creation rather than getting stuck on exact views of creation or who Cain married, etc. Conversations about the love of God for his creation—for us—naturally led to our students’ personal stories, and a few were able to share their own testimonies with their groups.

Side note: I’ve been praying that our students would sense the reality and power of the Holy Spirit on this trip, and several have said things like this to me: “I was asked a question that I had no answer to, but then, suddenly, I had an answer, and it was good!” I believe that this is more than good “thinking on your feet.” It’s God’s Spirit doing good work in and through us!

After our morning in the school we took the train into Edinburgh and had afternoon tea at historic Jenners on Princes Street (I called it “high tea” when talking to a Scotsman, and he corrected me; high tea involves a cooked/hot meal while afternoon tea involves the three-tiered tray with crustless sandwiches, scones with clotted cream [the students thought it was butter] and jam, and mini cakes and tarts.) After tea we visited Faith Mission College and learned about the program at this college that seeks to train its students for living out the Gospel. It would be a great gap-year possibility. If you’re interested, check out its website. Next we headed to St. John’s Church in Linlithgow to eat a meal cooked by the church’s youth worker, Lorna, and a small group of her youth and interns. Afterward we joined them at the project they visit every Wednesday night. The girls stayed at the Linlithgow Young People’s Project and played games with the youth who showed up while the guys went with the Project coordinators to a town three miles up the road to play football (soccer) with the youth from a scheme there (the equivalent of a housing project in the States). Following the youth time, we debriefed with Pamela and Graeme, the leaders of the project, and their insight was fantastic. It was good to see the perspective of people who work every day with kids who are in desperate need of love and care.

Thursday’s morning assembly was particularly special because we shared with the same students whose classes we’d been in, and because Megan, who already had a cold, persevered and sang through it. We had a little gap, so we went out for a Scottish breakfast and last-minute shopping, and then returned to the school for the lunch Bible study Rob and Jerry, another missionary, have been holding with the kids at the high school. During that study, one of the high school students asked one of our students, Sarah, how she could know Christ, and Sarah prayed with her. (Sarah had the opportunity, later that night, to pray with another student as well!) We went to another RMPS class and had small-group discussion about the students’ dissertation topics. Rob and Jerry also hold an after-school discussion group, so we attended that, then listened to a quick concert by the high school band, and headed to the church to help set up for the evening’s activities.

The first event was a traditional Scottish dinner of haggis, neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes) shared with all the host families. Then it was time for the ceilidh (pronounced cay-lee). We’d been inviting students and youth group members to this all week, and we had no idea how many students would come. We didn’t do an official count, but we’re sure it was more than 50 and might have been as high as 75. We danced, led by caller Graeme (the same Graeme who works at the Linlithgow Young People’s Project), took a break to hear testimony from one of our students, and then danced more. The kids hung out till late before we got them back to host homes so they could pack and get at least a couple hours sleep before heading to the airport in the morning.

We’re grateful for an amazing trip and safe travels. Please continue to pray that the friendships started on this trip will continue, and that the seeds that were planted will bear fruit. Pray for Scotland.