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

Silence

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

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                         “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!”

Slam.

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.

Scotland pics

We had an awesome day–I hope to post about it sometime tomorrow (or in the airport the following day)–but I’m just posting a few pics tonight. I really need to gather some of the best from the team to post here; some of them have taken amazing pictures.

beach

St. Andrews’ Caslte to the left–and Abby and Britta looking out to sea.

swilcan bridge

the students on Swilcan Bridge at the golf course

dave on beach

Dave looking at the students. He didn’t want sand in HIS boots!

St andrews

the view from inside St. Andrews’ castle looking down at the sea just below. See the birds nesting on the ledge?

Max on beach

Max trying to leap from the rock to the shore without getting too wet! (He didn’t succeed!)

poppy in sunlight

A poppy on the gate at St. Andrews’ cathedral (hung here to remember fallen soldiers, particularly unknown ones)

Carson on rock

Carson standing on the cathedral ruins

St. Andrews chapel

the chapel at St. Andrews

Scotland, days 2-4

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The group outside Stirling Castle

Well, we did see Stirling Castle and the William Wallace monument on Friday, but Billy (named after Wallace himself) was not our guide/driver. Instead, we rode with Graham, who is an excellent guide—full of all kinds of interesting tidbits—but a bit of a speedy driver on the windy Scottish back roads. By the time we finished the day, one of our kids had actually gotten carsick and several others were looking a bit green around the gills.

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A view from Stirling Castle

But our time outside the bus was quite enjoyable! Stirling Castle has been restored and is staged to look as historians believe it would have at the time of James V of Scotland. We got a look at the medieval-era castle kitchens, the palace with its multiple waiting rooms (for persons of different rank), the Great Hall which once seated 500 for a banquet at which they wheeled in the fish course on a 5-meter long ship complete with brass cannons!

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Another view from Stirling Castle

After Stirling we drove to a tiny town named Kilmahog (literally “church of mahog”—so evidently some church leader named Mahog lived there at one time). Kilmahog is home to (among other things) a woolen mill and a GREAT little café where they make everything from scratch and have homemade soups that are delicious and just outside ordinary (like Friday’s choice: tomato cranberry—yum!). It was also home (until fairly recently) to the famous highland cow Hamish.

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Em in the Highlands

We drove a little ways into the highlands (absolutely beautiful) and then turned around and headed toward the William Wallace monument. We made a quick stop at Doune Castle (where Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Outlanders, and Game of Thrones were all filmed), which was perfect timing for our motion-sickness-prone group member to completely lose her lunch (we told her she shouldn’t be embarrassed; after all, very few people can say they’ve puked at the site where Monty Python was filmed!) and then drove to the William Wallace monument. We climbed up, up, up the steep hill to the base of the monument and then 265 steps to the top of the monument itself. We were grateful that the weather cleared for a bit, so we could see the whole of the town of Stirling laid out below in the valley and Stirling Castle up on the other side of it. We stopped in the historical rooms as we descended. In one of them was a replica of Wallace’s giant sword. He had to have been not only tall but incredibly strong to heft that thing. (The most conservative estimates put him at 6’2”ish, which, since the rest of the Scots in his time hovered around 5½ feet, is comparatively ginormous).

We ate dinner back in Livingston and then spent some group time preparing for the church service on Sunday before heading back to host families and bed.

Saturday we rode the train system into Edinburgh. The Royal Mile in Edinburgh is almost magical in its beauty, but it has dark undertones. The spiritual history of Edinburgh is rich, as we learned when we took the Reformation Tour in the morning. Dave and I consider this particular tour key in teaching the students the Christian history of Scotland and its current spiritual state. It’s run by Christian Heritage of Edinburgh, and it’s excellent. Paul James-Griffiths ends the tour at St. Columba’s Free Church with hot chocolate and his perspective on the the church today in Scotland. His view is supported when you leave St. Columba’s and see the state of so many of the physical churches on the Royal Mile. One hundred years ago these churches were the birthplaces of social, political, and educational reform and scientific and medical discoveries, but now one is a nightclub, another a social club, and another the starting point for a ghost tour.

We gave the kids some free time after lunch (which we ate at The Elephant House, where J.K. Rowling wrote much of Harry Potter), and several of them remarked to us about the dark feel of some areas of the Royal Mile. The bright point, for me at least, was when we visited Queen Margaret’s chapel at the top of the hill at Edinburgh Castle. I’d become fascinated with Margaret the year before when we visited Edinburgh, and I researched and wrote about her when I returned home. (Here’s the link to a piece I wrote about Margaret.) Following dinner at Deacon Brodie’s (named after Deacon Brodie, the respectable-man-by-day-burglar-by-night who provided inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), we returned to the church to finish getting ready for the Sunday service. We were also able to have a really sweet time of sharing testimonies and prayer before host families picked up the students.

This morning’s church service was wonderful. Our students led worship and shared testimony to God’s work in their lives and worked with the children and really interacted with the church members. There are incredibly few young people in the Church in Scotland, so we were told again and again what an encouragement our young people were.

We had a potluck following church and then some down time and then held a joint service with a youth group only a couple miles down the road. We put them in small groups mixed with both our students and youth group members in each group. One of the questions we asked them to answer was this: What makes it hard for you to follow Christ in your school or home context? Our students talked about how easy it is to get complacent; their students talked about not knowing a single other Christian in their schools. We shared prayer requests in these small groups and worshipped together and shared more testimony. It was a really beautiful time of fellowship, and when it was time to go, our students didn’t want to leave—which was exactly the result we’d prayed for.

After a dinner of fried pizza (or you could get a fried burger!—both ‘ick!’ in my opinion—we sent them back to host families. Tomorrow, very early, we will be at the community high school, leading the first assembly of the new year to 250 students. Please pray for this assembly. Pray that hearts are already prepared, that the word of God falls fresh, that the technology works correctly, that we see and sense the Holy Spirit’s movement, and that God’s love is palpable.

First day in London

tower of londonDave (husband) and I are in the UK, leading a trip for 16 high school students from Wheaton Academy. SO, for the next week and a half, my blog will have the extra purpose of updating the students’ parents.

We landed in London late last night and had not a single hitch with catching the very last train running and getting checked into our hotel. That may sound like no big deal, but with a group of 18, it’s pretty awesome. The 10:30 p.m. arrival was a blessing in disguise, for though Dave had worried quite a bit about catching the tube before it shut down for the day, the absence of other people made it incredibly easy to figure everything out and get in and out!

Stamford Bridge

trophies at Stamford Bridge

Had it just been the two of us, we would have headed straight to bed, but teens are always hungry, so we went to Burger King for our first meal in the UK—lame, but there aren’t too many places open at 1 in the morning!

Victoria and Albert Museum

This was hanging at the entrance to the Victoria and Albert Museum–SO beautiful!

Today we were simply tourists, exploring the Tower of London and then splitting up for some of us to get coffee and visit the Victoria and Albert Museum and others to tour Stamford Bridge (it’s the name of Chelsea Football Club’s stadium—“football” being “soccer” (or the REAL football J).

We allowed the kids a short rest at the hotel before heading off to dinner and then Picadilly Circus. We had to explain that it wasn’t actually a circus but a shopping district, disappointing some and energizing others.

I love this group of kids. They’re fun and kind to each other. They keep up and are traffic-savvy—which, as the chaperone who generally brings up the rear, I REALLY appreciate. I’m enjoying getting to know each of them during the day and then checking in on them at the end of the day.

street art

As my group left the museum to get coffee, we see these street artists making these incredible sand sculptures!

Picadilly Circus

The end of the day!

Tomorrow we will do more touring—seeing Big Ben, the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, and Trafalgar Square. But two key points in the busyness of tomorrow will be our tour of Westminster Abbey and attending Evensong service at St. Paul’s Cathedral. As we look ahead to our time in Scotland and, later, reflect on our time here, Dave and I are hoping that the Abbey tour (as well as the Reformation tour we’ll go on in Edinburgh) and the service give the students a good feel for the spiritual history of the United Kingdom and the state of the UK church right now.