Friday, November 30, 2007

Quiet Time

I'll be posting a series about quiet times. What are quiet times? Sometimes, they are called "devotions". The idea is that Christians need to spend a specific time every day committed to meeting with God in prayer and in the Word. It's different than your reading the Bible in a year program. It's different than doing a Bible study. The purpose is focusing intently on your relationship with God, getting time to hear what He has to say to you. One author calls it "radical intimacy". Another author refers to it as "feeding your soul".

How do you have a quiet time? I've heard busy men say that they listen to Bible on tape while commuting to work, or reviewing and praying over Scripture memory verses while jogging every morning. I've heard young mothers who said that having their Bibles open while they do dishes gives them a chance to get time with God during their children's naps. One mom told me about how she got up earlier than everyone else in the household and went to a special chair she kept in her bedroom to meet with God. A single woman took long walks with her Scripture memory verses every morning and prayed while she reviewed them. A single missionary met with God during his breakfast, his Bible open in front of his cereal bowl. Some people get that time before they go to sleep. Some people get their quiet times during lunch breaks at work. My brother-in-law has family devotions with my niece and nephew every night, where they read a passage in a children's Bible and pray together.

As for me, I've done almost all of the above, even the ideas that involve kids since I used to babysit a lot. Dennis does the same thing every day at the same time at the same place and writes in a journal.

Leave comments to let us know if there is something about quiet time that has helped you that might encourage someone else or if you have questions or struggles you would like to address.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

From Her Heart

I heard Ney Bailey speak 18 years ago at my church in California. The church was very conservative about women's roles in church at large ministries, but they made an exception for Ney to share her testimony--her experiences regarding her relationship with God--during Sunday morning services. The Women's ministry of my California church started a special collection to send Ney to Eastern Europe before the Berlin Wall fell. I signed up for her prayer letters. I still get them.

I also love her book, Faith Is Not A Feeling, I've included an excerpt from her introduction on this page. If you haven't read it, you should. She's a blessing.

"Feelings are a part of each of us. They can be either friend or foe, depending on how we utilize them. Come with me now as I share with you some of the struggles and trails I've had in learning how to harness and channel my feelings. Come with me as I share how I've learned to use them as an avenue to take me to God's Word.

Thousands of people who have heard the words on the following pages have come to me, called me, or written me to say that their lives will never be the same after hearing these truths. As you read this book, I pray that you will be encouraged and challenged that God will strike fire in your heart, and that your life will be changed because you can say, "Now I understand what it means to walk by faith. I understand that faith is not a feeling but a choice to take God at His word."

--Ney Bailey, excerpt from her introduction to Faith Is Not A Feeling

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Fav Helene Ashker Links

Helene Ashker Resource Links:

Online MP3 library, a store house of talks and messages that were taped when Helene spoke to women on various campuses (the one I mentioned in the previous post isn't in there)

Helene's Bible Study, Jesus Cares for Women, a tool which I've used numerous times in a variety of settings, small group, large group, Sunday School class and one on one, with international female students, military wives, non Christian women, discipling, etc..:

Breakfast Talk

Granola with Yoghurt and Fruit

In a medium cereal bowl, assemble in layers:

1/2 cup plain non fat yoghurt

1/4 cup granola or other whole grain cereal (I like Red Mill Mueslix)

3 tablespoons dried cranberries (I like orange flavored Craisens)

1/4 cup drained mandarin oranges

1/2 banana, sliced

1/2 small apple, diced

1 teaspoon pecan pieces

Enjoy with a cup of Earl Grey tea.

The other day, I ran across Scripture memory verses from my quiet time in 1984. It was a passage that I heard in a "breakfast talk" that Helene Ashker gave to a small group of women I was involved in Bible Study with. We met at someone's home, had breakfast casserole, fruit, cinnamon rolls and orange juice. However, the Bible verses so impressed me that I meditated--or chewed--on it for a year.

"Thine, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Thine is the dominion, O LORD, and Thou dost exalt Thyself as head over all. Both riches and honor come from Thee, and Thou dost rule over all, and in Thy hand to make great, and to strengthen everyone. Now, therefore, our God, we thank Thee and praise Thy glorious name. But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from Thee and from Thy hand we have given Thee. For we are sojourners before Thee, and tenants, as all our fathers were; our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope. O LORD our God, all this abundance that we have provided to build Thee a house for Thy holy name, it is from Thy hand, and all is Thine. Since I know, O my God, that Thou triest the heart and delightest in uprightness, I, in the integrity of my heart, have willingly offered all these things; so now with joy I have seen Thy people, who are present here, make their offereings willingly to Thee."
1 Chronicles 29:11-17

It's David's prayer after he and the nation of Isreal gathered materials to donate for the building of the Temple. I memorized verses 11-13, because I wanted to keep in the front of my thinking the splendor of God. Verses 14-17 I thought a lot about because I wanted to remember the part "But who am I...?" Yes, exactly, in light of God's greatness, power, glory, victory and majesty, who do I think I am? Do I have anything to give such a great Person that He should have any reason to appreciate me? I am but a shadow, a sojourner, a temporary resident on this earth. I have nothing to bring to the table that He hasn't already provided for already.

I don't remember exactly what Helene had to say, it was one of those "breakfast talks" when I had to get up really early and try to pay attention, but I am sure that it amounted to "It's not about you", like her talks always did and probably still do. But I do remember her telling us that David was a king who knew the real King of all. And I do remember her saying that we, as women, are daughters of that King through Christ. That through Christ we have an identity as children of God, and we are to live worthy of God because of that identity. Everything we do should reflect our King.

I got to talk with Helene several times over the next two years, and have always been struck with a shine in her countenance whenever she spoke of God. She glowed. I remember thinking how I wanted to know God just like she did. But it came at high prices. A dearer cost than I could ever know perhaps. But Helene has always been, and still remains, my standard of a beautiful woman. It's about the presence of God shining through her.

Monday, November 26, 2007


I've changed my layout of my blog--using pictures from my own camera instead of downloading other people's pictures. That's been a goal of mine for awhile now, but I've never liked my pictures. But now, it doesn't matter anymore. I've also updated a few things and there are comments to read if you're into that. Happy browsing!

Shattered Dreams

I'm re-reading "Shattered Dreams" by Larry Crabb, I borrowed it from the church library and it isn't due until December 9th. It gives me enough time to re-read it at least 10 times. Maybe by the time I can digest it, I could quote it word for word. It's not often that I get to read a book that addresses what I'm struggling with at the current moment. It seems like I read books that help me with things that happened to me in the past or that are happening with other people's problems.

I've never read a book that so immediately spoke to my heart right now, where I've needed it most. And a book that dovetailed tightly with a sermon message (listen here)that I just heard recently at my church, URC by our pastor Kevin DeYoung, that I felt that God was using to open up a deep wound about my infertility. Not to hurt me for no reason, but to help me understand a deeper truth and give me a satisfying hope.

How to describe this book, "Shattered Dreams"? I think my friend, Arnold, summarized it perfectly in his post "Masterpiece Theater". It is where I learned about the book in the first place and am really thankful that Arnold makes it a habit to share about books that he feels are good and helpful. You can check his summary here.

Do you have a shattered dream? I have several, actually. I hope the sermon and the book prove as helpful to you as it has been for me.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Post Thanksgiving

My Thanksgiving Salad Recipe:

Head of green leaf lettuce, washed, dried and torn into bite-sized pieces
2 cups arugula, washed and dried
3 cups baby spinach, washed and dried
1/4 teaspoon coarse Kosher salt
juice of one fresh lemon
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
half of a small red onion, thinly sliced into rings
one fennel bulb, thinly sliced
three naval oranges, peeled, pith removed and sectioned
black pepper

Toss greens with salt in a large salad bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients tossing lightly as you go, and add pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

I like this recipe because it is a flavorful and light counterbalance to the rest of the holiday food. The arugula is especially nice with its peppery and bitter aftertaste, paired with the lemon juice and oranges. The international students were surprised that no bottled salad dressing was served on the side, but that the dish was complete by itself.

Yesterday, we worked out on treadmills at the YMCA. Dennis was surprised to see me running. So was I. I learned from my "stress test" at the cardiologist that I was capable of a lot more than I think. So I pushed myself a little harder. It felt good.

I also learned from my stress test that I have only two parts in my aortic valve instead of the normal three. It's inherited and called a bicuspid aortic valve. Wow. From time to time in doctor's visits, I hear stuff about my body structure that isn't "normal" but functional just the same. They usually say stuff like "it's rare but nothing to be worried about". But after awhile it all adds up and makes me wonder what God was thinking when he built me. I'm missing parts and some things are backwards. That's the internal stuff. Then there is an external asymmetry that nobody notices but I know it very well --one leg is longer than the other, for instance. Mom used to call it just a little quirk and everyone has one. I put a pad in my left shoe so that I walk a little more balanced. The following verse just came to mind:

"I will give thanks to Thee for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Thy works and my soul knows it very well." Psalm 139:14

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

In 2002, I went through the Psalms for my quiet time in a different way than usual. As I read, I stopped to pray the verses back to God. Some were for my husband, co-workers, family, our church, friends and for Kidist, a girl we sponsor through Compassion. I would underline the verses, write the names I prayed for and the date.

On June 9th, I prayed for Dennis "They did not conquer the land with their swords; it was not their own strength that gave them victory. It was by your mighty power that they succeeded; it was because you favored them and smiled on them." Psalm 44:3-4 NLT. A month later, we found out that Dennis was promoted to Cheif in the Navy. He went up for it (tests, evaluations, applications) eight times in eight years. Dennis was blown away. His numbers for recruiting weren't as good as years before and his hopes for the promotion were very low. If he wasn't promoted, we'd stay in Aurora, CO. If he was, we'd have to move to we didn't know where.

Around the same time that it was time to choose where to go, I had come down with viral meningitis and Dennis took time off to take care of me and missed the calls from the office that gave him the choice of places to go. After Dennis brought me home from the hospital and went back to work, he heard he had only two choices left to him: Lansing, MI or Providence, RI. He called me to let me know that his choice was Providence. Between the time he called me and then called the office, Providence was taken and only Lansing was left. I was elated, since my only prayer request was to go somewhere we had friends, and our friends the Tobey's lived in Lansing.

And we're still here five years later. A lot of people, including people from Michigan, ask us "why"? There's a lot of economic problems here. Detroit was recently named the most violent city in America. And my family is all out West. Dennis and I agree that we feel as though there is a reason why we're here. It's not easy, though, as Den goes from job to job. I miss my family. We wonder what is going to happen as we get older. We don't like snow as much anymore. But it isn't for ourselves we decided to stay.

We agree that God has brought us here.

We've seen God do amazing things since we've been here.

We feel God has changed us while we've been here.

We've met amazing people here.

Even though we struggle here.

Let's finish the rest of Psalm 44.

"You are my King and my God. You command victories for your people. Only by your power can we push back our enemies; only in your name can we trample our foes. I do not trust my bow; I do not count on my sword to save me..." Psalm 44:4-6

Psalm 44 continues on with confusion and humiliation, as the Psalmist wonders where God is and why He isn't doing anything. They feel abandoned.

"For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep." vs. 22

Like sheep.

A friend posted a story called "Rodney's Adventure". You can click here to read it and if you have time, I posted a response.

God is working in me to help me value the Giver more than the gifts He gives. Even the gifts I have a hard time understanding or appreciating. And for whatever purposes He brought us here, I hope that we obey Him.

"Rise up! Come and help us! Save us because of your unfailing love." vs 26

Spiritual Growth

Spiritual growth at my age is tougher than when I was younger and newer in my faith.

Every choice I made as a young woman that was centered on my faith in God seemed to have some kind of gratification attached to it, whether it was an answer to prayer or an "thatta-girl" type of praise from a mentor or a close friend. Discoveries that I made in my relationship with God had an exhilerating spark to them as I shared them in my bible study groups or with women I discipled even as a thirty-something. I re-read my quiet time journals from back then and there is that heart felt earnestness and zeal in my prayers and praise to God that I haven't seen lately in my current quiet time journals.

And now I'm forty-something and the momentum towards fifty is picking up.

As an older woman who has moved around a lot and unable to stay in intimate contact with every close friend left behind, there are fewer "thatta-girl" encouragements than back then. These days, positive feedback is extremely rare but just as appreciated, but I don't rely on it anymore, or any compliments to help me see that I'm going in the right direction. My current journals are deeper and richer, making the previous ones seem shallow by comparison. And answers to prayer aren't that obvious anymore, but I'm more convinced that God hears me without having to have proof.

However, attachments to this world are also deeper. I've spent more time here than a measely 20 years. I see God say "no" more often to prayer requests than I see Him say "of course". Everything regarding faithful sacrifice has a larger price tag because I have a lot more to lose. And suffering and loss (my own) are guaranteed to be around the corner than a faraway anticipation when I was young. Other's people suffering and losses make me feel inadequate and helpless. My sin has become so much more clearly horrible to me than ever before. And I really don't see that "spiritual giant" that I was hoping to become by now when I first started to follow Christ. I live in fear that I have been blindly putting something or someone else before God in my life. And sometimes, I suspect, I need a tougher reprimand from the Holy Spirit to get me moving where I have to be. Even worse, I know what will befall me when my King judges me if I don't get moving where I have to be. And more than that, I don't want that to be my motivation to obey Him.

I've been thinking of a woman back in California that I knew who underwent church discipline. She was a senior citizen who made a racist remark at a church function within earshot of the worship leader who was African American. Although our worship leader forgave her, she would not repent and after giving her several chances, she and her husband had to leave our small fellowship. She and her husband raised godly children, some of whom were involved in missions. I often wondered back then in my thirty somethings how could that be. Her husband was a godly influence and prayer partner with mine. I was amazed at his loving care towards her even though she would openly vocalize contempt for him and wondered, also naively, how he could keep loving such a shrew. But long before this incident (which was shared with me long afterwards) I never wanted to talk with her or be anything like her. She was the most bitter wife I had ever met. Her husband, whom I'll call D., came to our bible study group for years even after they left our church (for reasons we didn't know then), but I never once called her to invite her also. If I had to call D. for any reason, when she'd answer the phone it was obvious that she didn't like me, either.

We had a potluck in our bible study towards our last months in California and for once, D. brought something to pass. He offhandedly mentioned that his wife made it just for our group. The other women (who didn't know her) asked why she never came. D. just shrugged it off. The women looked at me, who was the hostess of our group, in such a way that made me feel uncomfortably guilty. I called her the next day to thank her, and was surprised at her fresh and kind tone of voice. I asked for her recipe and we joked about cooking. I asked if she would like to attend our Bible study and she seemed really touched. After a few great moments of more pleasant conversation where I inquired about her health and she spoke about their new church, I hung up amazed at her transformation, wondering if I was really talking with her or her single nearly identical twin sister but godlier who lived down the block from her.

A few weeks later I mentioned to our pastor that I had a nice conversation with D.'s wife and he shared the story about her sinful tongue and a few other stories. It was gossip. I was shocked, first about the stories themselves and the manner that I had learned it. Gossip is demonic.

Her potluck dish that she sent along with D. was a gesture of love. As a fellow cook, I knew that. I didn't call her again, not seeing that she possibly was trying to change for the better. The gossip had put a wedge between me and her, preventing any kind of encouragement that I could have helped her with. Satan wanted her back, but I didn't see that. All I saw was a bitter woman and a bigot to boot.

Yesterday, I remembered her and cried. I remembered the good things about her--the love in her voice when she talked about her children and grandchildren, her faithfulness to her husband even though her words about him seemed harsh, the potluck dish, her close relationship with her more positive and joyful single sister and her change in heart towards me on the phone. And for the lost opportunities to try to get to know her better and for my cruel judgement of her and letting gossip influence me. I hoped that God's discipline towards her had produced righteousness in her and caused her to love Him more and more. And for the first time, I thought, if that is the case, I want to be like her. But more than that, I saw that God will do whatever it takes to help us grow.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Random Pictures

Left: Dennis in Montreal
Below: Amy and me while visiting in California

Left: Dennis and nephew Maxime in Montreal
Below: Left to right--Dennis, Gordon, Gordon's son Maxime, David, David's daughter Mia

Left: Me at Lake Michigan
Below: Jonna with her Auntie Fran in California

Left: Dennis and his brother Gordon in Montreal
Below: Left to right--Mrs. Kim, me, Hyun, Jerry in our back deck after his graduation from MSU

Below: Dennis with brothers Gordon and David in Montreal

Solve This Puzzle

As you read this, guess what my main problem is. It won't take long. But it took me years to "get it".

I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Food Science and Technology. Ninety-nine percent of all jobs I've ever held in my life have had some aspect of food involved: agriculture when I worked at a tree orchard, prepping food to be cooked, cooking food, serving food, cleaning dishes that contained food, presenting food, cleaning and sanitizing equipement that processed food, processing food, analyzing food, studying food, reading and writing about food, inventing food, formulating food for production, helping with marketing food by using food ingredients to showcase them in recipes, catering food, selling food and tasting food. Really, I got paid for this in a variety of jobs from the time I was 14 until now. That's thirty-one years of food. And then, I cooked food as a hobby and as a ministry in hospitality. I designed and cooked meals for church events, too. Not a bad gig. I cook for twenty when I cook for six, anyway. I haven't done it here in Michigan, although I do not lack for opportunity. I attend a very hospitable church and enjoyed having people over many times.

And I'm over a hundred pounds overweight. I haven't always been. Twenty years ago, I wouldn't have dreamed that this would be a problem of mine.

I tried losing weight before. When I had to. I lost thirty-five pounds my freshman year in college, going from 160 pounds to 125. I was almost anorexic. When I began normalizing at 140 a few years later, I lost ten pounds by keeping a calorie diary and incuring the wrath of a very good brother in Christ who told me that this was totally unneccessary while he watched me in the college dining hall.

When I was single in Seattle after college, I needed to lose about 25 pounds from eating a giant muffin every day for a year at "Majestic Muffins". My roommates and I agreed to take turns cooking Weight Watchers meals for each other every week. Karen, our mentor and landlord, probably designed this so that we'd become closer in community and serving each other. Every week, one of us planned menus, shopped and prepped breakfast, lunch and dinner for everyone in the household. That was four of us total. I lost the weight I wanted to easily, but my co-workers were apalled at my flimsy lunches. They didn't see why I had to lose weight and give up my muffin diet, I seemed just fine to them. I didn't exercise much, but my job was active enough it didn't matter. It wasn't a big deal.

After I married, things seemed fine for awhile. I took long walks every day, but I spent a lot of time researching recipes at the library, too. I worked very hard to find healthy recipes that would become a core menu that I could rely on as a housewife and hopefully really soon, a mom. I can cook most of those dishes without consulting a written recipe. When we had a chance to go out, which was rare with our newlywed budget, I made many mental notes about the food. The ones I liked the most, I tried to create at home.

It was this particular hobby that got me hired at McCormick and Schilling, for their garlic plant in Gilroy. But, that was also the hobby that made me be mentally elsewhere instead of focusing on my dining partner. Having a wife that loves cooking has its downfalls, believe it or not.

When we moved to Atlanta, renewing an old friendship from college made me realize that I had changed not for the better over the years. It was around this time that my diagnosis as having problems with infertility was beginning to hit home. I had taken clomid, progesterone shots, seen a fertility specialist while living in California. But as I got to know new friends--many new friends, actually--who were adopting, it was coming down to a realization that we might be going down that road, too. And it isn't a bad road. But I wasn't ready to admit that I was infertile and I knew that adoption would not be an answer for that. It is an answer to being a parent but it isn't an answer to being unable to bear children. This where I felt God had betrayed me and of all things, my own body did, too.

I worked hard to lose weight because many doctors had indicated that weight loss helps with fertility. I spent three hours a day in the gym, sometimes more since I wasn't working. When I visited a skinny and very buff friend of mine, I noticed that all she had in her fridge when she got me a drink was a six pack of bottled water and a bag of carrots. I asked her about her fitness routine. She showed me the gym in her apartment building. She said she ran on the treadmill as fast as she could on the highest incline and then did ab crunches until she couldn't do them any more. I asked her how long she took to do all that. Twenty minutes a day. Sometimes 10 minutes more when she had time to do bicep curls and leg presses. This same friend moved in with us a year later and all she ate were Lean Cuisine frozen entrees. She said it was about portion control.

I lost some weight, but it wasn't drastic. I could run around Kennesaw Mountain without huffing or puffing on my 36th birthday. When I started working (at a fast food joint), my workouts ended. I then went to work at Starbucks, and shortly after, my mom died.

I stopped caring about my weight. I took long walks to get time alone with God, but not because I had a mission.

In Colorado, the walking habit was still a spiritual exercise than it was about physical exercise. In Michigan, all walking as a regular discipline ceased. And not surprisingly, I was diagnosed with diabetes a year ago even though I swim periodically.

Since I started Weight Watchers, I've noticed something. I am very emotional. Things are surfacing that food was covering up. I'm losing weight even though I'm not spending three hours at a gym. In fact due to being sick, I hardly moved at all except when at work. I struggle with the food when I'm sick, but at those moments when I'm winning, overpowering sadness hits me. When asked about my success at WW meetings, I hardly know what to say. I'm in shock. I'm not happy like the other women who lose a half pound. And I lose more than any of them. I am just beginning to see what my problem is.

In order for me to really succeed at this, I need help with the drive to medicate my sadness with food. I know how to not eat, now. It's not a problem. It's something more.

Am I mad at God? I think, disappointed. But I know He knows me. He knows my sinful nature and my pride. Children could easily be idols for me. Even as I am, without kids, I could hold family above Him. This is dangerous for the kids, as well for me. But then, He would take away even what I have already to help me avoid idol worship. Husband? Hey, been there, done that already. Learned that men are not gods. Food? Covered. I know it. Dog and kitty? They worship me at dinnertime. Job? Well, not so much that as the prestige of being your friendly neighborhood barista. Myself? Usually, that's the god hardest to serve. And the one that makes my life hell. Have to get rid of that one.

Disappointment in God over legitimate unfullfilled desires is not a sin. Desiring them more than Him is.

I found "Shattered Dreams" by Larry Crabb in our church library yesterday. I finished reading it this afternoon.

Thank You, Lord, for being loving enough to disappoint me. I need it. But, please, not any more than neccessary. And please, let it be about You and not about me. All about You.


We lost our cable that helps download photos from our digital camera. We found it. So, here are some pics of my California vacation (and afterwards)

My nephew in California, Noah, who looks a lot like his Uncle John, my brother

My niece, Kalea, in a goofy mood, who looks like her mom when she's goofy, too

My dad, Al, and stepmom, Starla

My sisters, Amy (left) and Fran on our shopping trip to Target and Starbucks, where they gave me "What Not To Wear" lessons

Jonna, in her birthday hat
She looks like her mom, Amy, from this angle, I think
Hey, where are you going?
Takeaway lesson from CA trip: Weight Watchers
Ginger with her toy: glad that I'm home, cooking in the kitchen again so that she can catch nutritious food spills on the floor

New shoes from California (Thanks Fran and Aim!)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Weight Watchers Update (and more)

I lost 6.6 pounds last week.

I'm half way to my 10% goal.

To a wedding tonight, I wore my favorite mule flats. They were slipping off my feet. Dennis and I were wondering why, until I realized it was because of weight loss.

Update on other areas of our lives:
Dennis is getting his training as a mail carrier. Today, he went to the post office just to do some paperwork that needed to be turned in and they asked him if he could help out. That was encouraging! I'm enjoying the fact we are seeing each more often and that we don't have weird schedules anymore. I might be able to pick up more hours at work later on, so that is a nice change too.

The wedding tonight reinforced our desire to stay with Michigan as long as we can. Our church is an amazing community. The young couple, Scott and Lynne, are mature and God-honoring. I loved hearing Lynne's siblings give the evening toasts, as well as Lynne's dad, who is also an elder in our church. I enjoyed interacting with people I previously didn't have a chance to talk with and celebrating one very big family's new marriage within our fellowship. Whether or not our desire to stay in Michigan is God's desire is something we are working on finding out.
And I previously promised pictures of pets Ginger and Carmelita. Ginger is the retreiver, Carmelita (a.k.a. "Carly") is the cat. As you browse the pictures, guess who is the "nice" pet and who is "not nice".

Good guessing!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Crossing Cultures

Tonight, we had three Chinese grad students in our english conversation class. It was a relaxing and fun time as we shared our impressions of each other's countries, learned about each other's histories and cultures and plain old laughing. Other tutors ask us how we get international students to talk. I don't know, really, what it is that we do. I think basically we just like to talk and make jokes. A sheet of questions is usually prepared, the tutors take turns making the list based on different topics. Our groups always stray into other tangents and we always follow the "rabbit trails". For example, if we had stuck to the assigned topic, Dennis and I would never have heard about the significance of dragons in China (they are good, not evil) and we would have never have known about the one and only female empress 1500 years ago.

Our class is an advanced class. Usually that means they know how to converse easily, might have some pronounciation problems (not many) and understand most of what they hear. But they might not know everyday slang, idioms, cultural knowledge or why certain things are done the way they are. I was explaining health insurance to a Chinese woman, about my 35 dollar co-pays and she thought it was too expensive. I said that the insurance company covered several thousand dollars worth of tests during that cardiology visit. She didn't get it--she comes from a communist country with socialized medicine. We also talked about urban planning, drug addictions and how to act on the EL public transportation through urban Chicago. Tons of questions about the homeless people downtown.

And we talk about movies, tv shows and the screen writer's strike. I found out that my favorite movie from China "Hero" is generally hated because the Chinese feel as though the movie reinforced false stereotypes about them. I kept thinking how could that be, like, what stereotypical things do I believe because of that movie? We talked about the same things about how American tv shows protray false things about our country. Our group laughed about their shock when they came to Lansing, MI and didn't see skyscrapers.

The more English as a Second Language classes we volunteer for, the more we learn from it from the students we talk to. All it takes is just being there. To talk. To listen. Carefully.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Tough Week

It's been a tough week and it isn't even over yet.

I've had a cold that keeps coming back--three times since I got back from California last month. Even though I have an antibiotic to help out, it's still a slow recovery. Because I feel bad, I have been giving in to temptation over my favorite comfort food--yes, pizza. Not even good pizza. Cheap pizza for five bucks, hot and ready. Weight Watchers is still waiting for me to show up for a meeting this week--that includes a weigh-in. I'm dreading it, even though I did so well last week (another five pounds lost).

Then, hubby told me that he no longer works at his job. He has another lined up for part-time as a mail carrier at the post office, which could turn into full time after a few years. So, he stepped down as manager at his other job to part-time. He was told that he was wanted full time or not at all. So, he left. Which means he lost his bonus that he'd been earning for the last year, a couple thousand dollars.

Short term, we're fine. Long term, we have to come up with another plan. So, while we think, seek and pray about what God would want us to do, I'll keep you all posted about what we're learning about this. The current prayer we're praying is that we'd deal with stress in a godly way, support each other through the transitions and then be thankful for what God has provided for us. And look towards Him in faith for our needs-physical, financial, emotional, spiritual and even mental.

Tim Challies has an excellent blog about trusting God and his promises. You can read it here and I've included a snippet below.

Imagine that you are an Israelite father or mother and that you have three
or four young children depending on you. Imagine putting these children to bed
in the evening, knowing that there is not a bit of food to be found anywhere in
your tent. Just to be sure, you wander over to the fridge and open it up. The
glare from the light shows nothing but the glistening white of the inside of the
Kenmore. There is nothing on any of the shelves; nothing in any of the drawers.
There isn’t even a mostly-empty jar of relish left over from when you made
burgers a few weeks earlier. There isn’t a clove of garlic or an old stick of
butter. There is nothing. You close the door and open the freezer and as you
wave your hand to brush aside the mist, you see that every corner of the freezer
is empty. You turn to the nearby pantry and, looking high and low, see that
there is not a bag, not a box, not a jar to be found. You have no food.

As you tuck your daughter into bed that night, she says, “Daddy, what will
we eat for breakfast tomorrow?” And with utter sincerity and utter confidence
you say, “God will provide.” And, despite the bare cupboards and the empty
fridge, you are able to go to sleep that night with full confidence that there
will be food for you the next day. When you wake in the morning, you unlock the
tent door, step outside, and see the world around covered in food like frost on
a cold morning. You are able to quickly and easily collect enough food for the
day, and can head inside knowing that the children will have all the food they
need that day. As you nuke their mannapancakes, you whisper a prayer of
gratitude that God provided again. Yet again.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Going Gray

Before my trip to California, I decided to get a new haircut. An assymetrical bob, with a short layered back that angled sharply forward to my chin on one side and to my left ear on the other. It's a great look for me. It suits my thick, coarse, straight hair perfectlyand I have been getting compliments on it every day for a month.

Except on my trip. My sisters were dead silent about it. My dad said nothing, well, he usually doesn't. Finally, while on a shopping excursion at Target, I asked my sister who is two and half years younger than me what she thought of my haircut. Her quick response was "You know that I'm not a fan of gray hair." She did think that I did something good with the cut yet she felt that my hair wasn't up to its best without being colored. When I started to tell her that I had trouble keeping up with hair coloring and found it expensive, she cut me short and told me that I shouldn't make excuses. If I like my hair gray, don't apologize.

I asked my youngest sister who is ten years younger than me what she thought while alone in her home a few days later. She said that I was too young for gray hair--I have a young looking face and a youthful attitude, she said. What about pink streaks in my hair and a nose piercing?
She envied my nose, she said, it is a great shape for a nose stud.

I read a book called "Going Gray" by Anne Creamer recently. She had colored her hair for years the same shade until one day she took a long hard look at herself and realized she wasn't fooling anyone. She was trying to hide her age, which was fortyish, but the dark locks of dyed hair didn't cover it. In the long transition where she let the gray come in, she went through a bunch of tough emotions regarding her self image. I found her journey of accepting her gray hair and road testing her attractiveness on (she got more "hits" with her gray hair as opposed to her dyed hair) as well as several appointments with image and wardrobe consultants to prepare her for professional career interviews (not one of them wanted her to change her gray hair). She examines the hair color trend and the advertising industry, the effect on perception on women's careers and political aspirations. Not to mention Hollywood.

The bottom line I came away with from her book is: If you want to stand out as a woman and be recognized as an individual, keep your hair gray.

Which something I really wanted all along. No apologies.

And if I decided to color it, I won't apologize for that either. But I promise that it won't look ordinary. And I won't do it because I think it would make me look younger. Even if it might.
I'm proud of being 45.

I was young once already. It was a confusing time in my life in search of answers some of which I now possess. It was no comfort to me that I looked young and it didn't matter to me that much if I looked pretty. As a single woman, I wanted to be noticed for who I was not what I looked like because I knew that in the long run, the looks would change. The biggest compliment I ever got from a man was on a first date when he said he liked strong women as we walked to his car from the restaurant arm in arm. I glanced in my reflection in a shop window as we walked past it. I was glowing. Dennis LeBlanc's comment was an answer to a question I privately asked God often as a single woman why mature and serious women aren't as attractive to men as the giggly and bubbly types.

Through Dennis, God told me I was wrong.

After 18 years of marriage to Dennis, God keeps reminding me I was wrong. Just in case I forget.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

This Sunday Morning

Today, during the talk at the international christian fellowship by Dingi Banda and Patrick Ofori about the prayer needs for Africa, I got to play with Abigail, Bode's and Funmi's daughter who is a little over 10 months old. She remembered me from last week when I helped in the nursery, and came over to me from her mother's arms quite easily. We had a great time quietly interacting in the back row of the room, a sweet blessing. A grin. A soft chortle. When she was getting too restless, it was time for her mom to rein Abigail in and take her back. She began trying to catch my eye from her mother's lap and begin the process of playing all over again. It took all I had to resist. But as I sat next to this wonderful African family, I kept thinking, wow, we are talking about your home country, your culture and your history. What will God do through little Abigail? And Abigail's children? I realized that what I'm praying for in Africa comes down to people, even the little person I held in my arms for a few cheerful minutes this morning. It was a wonderful, simple and memorable moment for me.

Yes, I will pray for you, Abigail. And for your family here. And for your family to come.

Friday, November 02, 2007

An Evening in Stratford

Last night, thanks to Bob and Donna, we went out for an evening of Shakespeare--Brian Bedford's "The Lover, The Lunatic and The Poet". It was a nice date and I learned that I liked Shakespeare. I didn't before. Dennis is pretty familiar with Macbeth and can quote lines from it. The rest of Bedford's monologues were hard for him to follow, despite his familiarity with the old King James Version of the bible. I found out that I got most of it. Maybe because I'm older.

Shakespeare had a keen understanding of the flesh. Of the heights and depths of mortal existence, especially about passion and later in his life, cynicism. I don't have the scholarly insight into Shakespeare's work or life but my impression is this: life is messy. Really messy. People find themselves in bloody chaos so easily. And Shakespeare's personal life was one complex heartbreak after another.

I don't think that Christ protects us from heartbreak. I think that with Christ, we experience it even more when we are involved in a world that hurts and suffers. Shakespeare articulated that hurt with ferocity. And that is why I appreciate The Bard more than ever.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The lunatic, the lover, and the poet

Are of imagination all compact.

One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,

That is the madman.

The lover, all as frantic,

Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt.

The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,

Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;

And as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen

Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.

(A Midsummer Night's Dream, 5.1.7-17.)