Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Difference

On our road trip to Montreal, I read aloud portions of Mistaken Identity, the story of two families whose daughters' identities were switched after a semi hit their college van in Indiana. For five weeks, one western Michigan family sat in the ICU waiting for who they thought was their Laura to recover while another family in northern Michigan were burying and greiving for who they thought was their Whitney. Both girls were similiar in facial features, coloring and body type, so much that they were hard to tell apart, especially after the ravages of a horrible car crash. When the daughter in ICU was finally coming out of her coma and trying to speak, it became apparent that she wasn't who they thought she was.

The book is about that transition between the two families as they cope with the new reality and a new set of emotions. You also see their faith in God through both scenarios of having a daughter with critical injuries and a daughter that did not survive. And in the end, an epilogue by Whitney dealing with being the only student that lived and injuries that changed her life.

I struggled with the book and often had to put it down, choking back tears and unable to keep reading because of the emotions welling up in me. Especially as one of the moms writes about her grief process as she helps run a Christian camp that her daughter went to every summer. I skipped over many portions of blog entries and letters knowing that I could never get through them without breaking down bawling.

I highly recommend this book for those who are wondering how Christ makes a difference in our ordinary lives. The Van Ryn's and the Cerak's are amazing examples of families that seek not only God's comfort during intensely difficult times but His glory and honor as well. As a result of their story, many have written to them about becoming believers in Christ through their blog diary.

I contrast that with Reservation Road, a DVD I watched from Netflix yesterday, about two dads dealing with a hit and run accident that killed a young son of one of them. One of the fathers sinks deeper into depression, anger and thirst for vengence, fed by a website that dwells on the victimization of families whose children were killed by hit and run drivers. One of the fathers keeps trying to run away from guilt and fear as he tries to avoid the consequences of his actions in order to hold on to his own son.

Neither father had an anchor to hold him to what his priorities should be. Neither father had a direction that helped them discern right from wrong as they dealt with their intense emotions. And even as the story resolves itself, it leaves one feeling empty about what seems meaningless and a waste.

A huge difference from the elevation of the Van Ryn's and Cerak's story. Watch the Dateline coverage of their story.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Here To Stay

I'm out of blogging practice.

We spent the weekend in Quebec, spending time with Dennis' side of the family. The big occasion was little Noemie LeBlanc's baptism Sunday afternoon with a big party afterwards. Noemie is Den's brother's third child, and second daughter. (Their second born, a daughter, Audrey, died a few years ago). It was short and sweet. Beautiful sunny weather. We got back from our long drive home this afternoon.

Every time I go to Canada, especially the French dominant province, it is a tightrope walk of cross cultural interaction for me. I don't learn anything from asking a lot of questions of my husband or his family. They can't explain it any more than they can explain why the sky is blue. The only way I learn is through observation and trial and error. And trusting my husband's instincts about what is appropriate and what isn't. And watching what I say.

I understand conversations in french pretty well. It is participating that is hard. And speaking a language is more than stringing the right words together. When I do speak, it surprises everyone mostly because I sound better than they expect. And because it is so rare. I tried a lot more harder than I usually do on this last trip because I get that it is really important for Dennis' brother's in-laws. They're starting to warm up to me, I think.

After almost nineteen years of marriage, I finally got to cook for Den's brothers and their families. It was a spur of the moment Saturday night thing. Having a new baby is hard work and makes for difficult entertaining for Gordon and Sylvie, Noemie's parents. But we all wanted to get together and were thinking about going out for cheap chicken wings and beers. But bar atmospheres aren't the best places to bring kids along, and we wanted to spend time with family watching the big hockey game. So, I volunteered to make chicken wings at home. I never made chicken wings at home, but I didn't say so. I had a recipe once from Dad but it wasn't with me. I also had to make sure they weren't too hot for Sylvie, Maxime and Danielle. So, I had to figuratively "wing it". But cooking from the hip is something I love to do.

It turned out great. I showed Gordon how to cut up ordinary chicken wings we bought at the store. I bought drumsticks to stretch our grocery budget, since they are way cheaper. Sylvie bought extra mayonnaise to make fancy sandwiches for the baptism party, so I was able use the mayo left over to mix the tabasco sauce for the chicken to marinate in without it getting too spicy. I put a bottle of tabasco sauce on the table for those who wanted more heat. Celery was on sale, so I cut it up into sticks with a ranch dip. And Gordon asked about potato skins, and they had potatoes that needed to be eaten soon, which I roasted with a little olive oil and some dried bay leaves. Dennis' brother David and his wife, Danielle and their daughter Mia came over for dinner and we had fun over the platters of food and afterwards watched the hockey game on tv while the kids played together.

I intended to create a buffet with the extremely casual menu. But Gordon and Sylvie don't do family meals that way. It had to be sit down with napkins and real plates instead of paper ones. Gordon and David ate the finger food like they would have at a bar, but Sylvie and Danielle used fork and knife to separate the chicken meat from the bone. Dennis and I being Americans, really didn't notice until after the meal the two different approaches to the use of utensils (or non-use).

The next day was the baptism. These events surprise Dennis and me with the way the Catholic church has changed its approach. For one, the baptism is not just for one baby at a time in a separate ceremony each, but up to five or six babies are baptised within one ceremony. It's a community event where the priest is milking it for as much as he possibly can as the perfect opportunity to do several question and answer sessions and mini-catechisms. ( I didn't understand a single word, and Dennis had to interpret for me, which he never had to do before. But the vocabulary is different and not usually included in everyday conversations.)

Families are gathered around and the atmosphere is decidedly informal and almost jovial in the back of the vestry as we all get acquainted with the meaning of the sacrament and the seriousness of why we are doing it. Then we all proceed together to the front of the sanctuary where the mood changes slightly to a more reserved and conservative feeling. The priest calls the children forward to read scriptures and then questions the families the meaning of the passages. Again, it was hard to follow, mostly because of the acoustics in the Cathedral and the babies erupting one after another or in unison (Noemie, however, slept through everything--her parents are more experienced and it showed).

The baptism lasted an hour and a half, and there were other small rituals associated with it, including lighting of candles and a special private prayer time just for parents and godparents. And you know what? Not one song was sung. I heard an organ playing in the background, Ave Maria, I think, as the babies were baptized. But that's all. As we walked the two blocks back to Gordon and Sylvie's house, I silently considered on how easy it would have been for the priest to just sprinkle the babies and been done in five minutes. But he spent a chunk of time explaining Matthew 28:19-20 and if I don't say so myself, preaching the Gospel. He was in many ways, confrontive and bold but kept the balance with being gentle and engaging. From the responsiveness among the families in attendence, especially the parents and godparents whose eyes never left him, I gauged that he was an effective communicator and loved what he did as well as the people he served. It was a winsome, good and an attractive way to share the truth of God.

A few of the people in the family haven't been in church for fifteen years and had already told me their anti-religious views, but because they cared for Gordon and Sylvie and their kids, they came. They were kind of quiet, too, as we walked together back to the LeBlanc home, in a good reflective way.

The most imposing and dominant structure in most of Montreal's little neighborhoods is the Catholic church, which is a hub of community activity. The Cathedral's presence gives assurance that even though lot of things have changed through history the Church is here to stay.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Age to Age

I've been thinking about Amy Grant a little.

On the way home from a solo trip to see my dad in Chicago, I stopped at a Cracker Barrel to return a book on tape. There weren't other tapes that I wanted to hear, but I noticed that Amy Grant had a CD featuring hymns.

I love hymns. I like Grant's voice. But I've refrained from buying anything by her because I had a lot of doubts. I was tired and needed something to keep me awake on the road, and singing hymns usually does the trick, except my memory isn't what it used to be and having a little sing a long with Amy didn't seem so bad.

And it was great. The CD was beautifully done and even better, easy to sing along to. But I had a nagging question most of my ride home. How should I respond when famous Christians sin?

I googled Amy Grant and read the wikipedia articles about her and related to her ex and current husbands, as well as a couple of interveiw transcripts from some famous talk shows. Even after all I read, including several excerpts from her New York Times bestselling book "Mosaic", I am still confused, but one thing is very clear: I see only bits and pieces of what must have been extremely painful and complicated for two once intact families.

Questions, questions, questions:

How much of what I read is true? How much of it is gossip? Is it wise to pursue a public life when it obviously creates immense stress on private life? Has forgiveness occurred? How do public Christians protect their loved ones in their private lives? How much should they protect themselves?

And how does Grant affect me as a disciple trying to follow my Lord? Should she? Should anyone--famous or not?

I haven't read everything there is to read about Grant's divorce, and I really don't want to. There are Christians who are overly critical and seem to forget about the concept of grace. There are others who seem to have gotten really overly mushily and sickingly soft, who forget that divorce is not only painful to us but angers God.

There are some things that Grant has done well--admirably so--in her testimony of God in her life. Her music is passionate about God, and something has obviously happened within her spiritually--she sounds different and not just because she has been influenced by her husband's creative and masterful voice. On the other hand, I wish she would develop some kind of moral backbone. Like, admit that she was too emotionally involved with Gill while they were married to other people. In some of the transcripts, she skirts around the issues and glosses over the pain her friendship to Gill caused to people who loved him as well as the people who loved her. Instead, she highlights "this connection" she felt with Gill from the first time they met and the subsequent struggle over her emotions. Because she dwells there, it comes across to me as a lame rationalization--a real feeble description that waters down the battle against sin and temptation and stops short of describing what real power God had wrought in her life. Which I am sure happened, but because she is afraid to say what really needs to be said, there is little to cause us to think about Christ or even thank God for.

What is glorious about God's grace is that it really does deal with the outright horror of sin. If sin isn't despicable, then what glory is given to God for His mercy and kindness towards us? We all fall short of the glory of God--you, me, and Amy Grant. We are susceptible to traps that cause us to succomb to our weaknesses--whether in our minds or in our actions--in which we not only hurt ourselves but everyone around us. We desperately need saving and redemption--mighty acts that only an awesome, righteous and holy God can accomplish. Let that be our testimony instead of merely re-inventing ourselves.

A few blogs ago, one of my dear sisters sent me a copy of an email she sent to her husband about my gut wrenching honesty in one particular blog. She knows I'm not just this way about a few of my sin issues in my life, but all of them as far as I can be without hanging out all my dirty laundry for all the world to see. It's a nice compliment (thanks Nancy), but only one thing matters and it's not me.

Cookies to the first person to guess what that might be.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wake Up, Part 2

The last post was a video of Kirk Cameron talking with KeShayne on the street about the state of his soul. The prize was a dozen home baked cappuccino cookies by little ol' me, but since no one could guess Cameron's identity, I will have to find some other way to give them away! Sorry! You snooze, you lose!

About that video--what did you think?

Could you do something like that? Talk to a complete stranger about Jesus?

Would you want to?

As for me, I have mixed feelings about it sometimes.

I know people like Cameron (including my husband), who are gifted like that in evangelism. They can go up to a stranger on the street or mall and just start asking the right questions. Dennis' best friend, Randy regularly preaches the Gospel on the street in different countries on his vacation time. He has an interpreter who is a believer, and he just goes at it. These people are talkers, and if spirit-filled, can be quite effective. They are bold, in both personality and in their gifting. Their confidence in God and His Gospel is infectious, and I really believe God uses them to turn hearts towards Him.

A few that I know are articulate and knowledgable in theology. But most, like my husband and Billy Graham, are just faithful and believing readers of the Scriptures. And they are compelled to share what they have heard from God. I learned a long time ago that Dennis is irrepressible when he feels God wants him to witness. I'm usually in praying mode, standing right beside him, with my eyes and ears open. The most interesting phenomenon is that Dennis usually picks an individual who is ready to talk about God. Rarely has he ever approached a person who turns him away. I asked him once, out of all the passers by, how did he know that this was the one who wanted a spiritual discussion? He said he didn't, and probably the person that he talked to didn't know either, but God knew.

However, there seems to be a movement in the Church against this kind of ministry. I know about how some Christians think this is just salesmanship, plain and simple. I also know about how some Christians think that community or friendships or unconditional love is enough witness. Although I agree that sharing the Gospel is should never be a sales pitch, I also think that there something special that happens when God is involved between two strangers, and the Gospel is shared. I've seen it, experienced it and although there isn't a conversion every time, God worked. And love is good, love is wonderful, but is it really loving to love someone so much that you won't risk telling them about Jesus' love?

Evangelism. It's biblical. We should support it, even if we aren't the ones doing the speaking.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Wake Up



A prize to the first person who guesses the identity of the white guy in the video.
The movie Prince Caspian will be released May 16th. I am hoping that it will be as good as its predecessor, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, back in 2005.

Mark LaSalle, from the San Francisco Chronicle had this to say about The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe:

That the film is a Christian allegory is beyond dispute. This element is in no way disguised, nor should it be, as it's a major source of the story's power. It functions in two distinct ways. The allegory elevates the tale to the monumental scale of salvation and damnation. And it shows the eternal application of the Christian metaphor, working in the Miltonian sense to "justify the ways of God to man." Thus, despite its enormous secular appeal, "The Chronicles of Narnia" could also be called the most effective and moving religious picture since Nick Ray's "King of Kings."

I was afraid to see it when it came out, because I had read and loved C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia ever since I was in third grade. In my own mind, I knew plucky Lucy, Mr. Tumnus and Aslan very well. I didn't think any movie, no matter how wonderful the special effects, could match up to my imagination. It's the reason we read. But the movie was splendid and because it almost met up with my imagination, I know that the upcoming Prince Caspian is in the right movie maker's hands.

It was such a story that grabbed my heart at such a young age and made me see God, Jesus and the Gospel in a totally different way. It was Light. And it showed me that God could use creativity through believers to express His Word, in the right way, at the right time, with the right people.




If you haven't seen the trailer yet, here it is.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Big Picture

We finished Ruth in our international women's study this morning. I had 45 minutes to finish chapters 2-4. And most of the women are still learning English and some had never read Ruth before. Preparing for the lesson was a challenge. I had to pick a focus.

I decided to focus on God's "Big Picture". That there was more to Ruth than a nice story. It was not all about her. We looked at how her son Obed produced Jesse, from whom a prophecy was fulfilled about Jesus, that his bloodline was a kingly one. That God used an ordinary woman who wasn't even Jewish and from another country to fulfill His great plan for salvation.

First, we introduced ourselves and shared a story from our families--some shared about how their grandparents met, some about duels, farming, wars, revolutions, and travels around the world. I felt like we got to know each other better and everyone had a chance to speak, and the question fit with looking at Jesus' family line.

We talked about barley, which was new to many of the women. So I brought some stalks of wheat (I always keep some around to remind me of home in eastern Washington state) and described the process of threshing and winnowing, to produce kernals that make flour to make bread--some women from some parts of Asia found it fascinating since they eat predominantly rice in their homelands. We talked about what it meant for a widow to be redeemed, and how Ruth followed her mother in laws instructions in how to say the right thing at the right time to the right man, in the culturally correct way. We did a little play acting, we laughed, we cried and I think God reached hearts.

And we all came away with a bigger sense of God's sovereignty even in our own lives to acheive His purpose. As one young woman said, it gave her hope to know that He has a reason for all the hard things she goes through, one that transcends her earthly existence. A bigger picture. As another woman said, it isn't about me.

An amazing 45 minutes today.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I'm a Walking Antique

I'm almost done with "Why We're Not Emergent (by two guys who should be)" by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. Since I read two books by Brian McLaren, "A New Kind of Christian" and "Finding Faith", it was time I give the other side of the emergent issue a try.

As for the term emergent: I really can't tell you what it means. The fact I can't is probably a definition in itself. Emergent is actually a sort of post modern re-invention of Christianity. I probably was emergent for a few seconds about five years ago. I'm at the latter end of the Baby Boom generation, a coffee loving barista who spends a lot of time with young twenty something year olds. And it can be difficult, I feel I'm relating to people who are from a different world than mine. It would be so easy, at times, to give up anything that looks like a hard edge or a firm boundary to my faith. And I think that what makes the nebulous fuzzy grey so attractive. It gets hard to be out there trying to relate to a younger generation what I believe without it sounding alien to them.

After awhile, I worked in the fuzzy grey so long that it enveloped me, like a fog. And then I wasn't any good to anyone. To the young post graduate who started to ask hard questions. To an international student who never heard about the hard parts of Christianity before. I began to feel like an amorphous blob theologically. I realized that something was influencing my way of thinking--it was more than the McLaren books, it was any focus that took me away from the Bible as my primary source of truth.

And this is what I did: I cut out all print material--magazines, books, newspapers, etc--for three months and read my Bible exclusively. I also cut back on tv watching. It was refreshing. I got through Deuteronomy to Ezekial. I noticed things that I didn't notice before. I believed what I read. I felt I got my Scriptural "mojo" back. In other words, my soul was fed.

But in emergent terms, I was falling behind the times with my antique view of the Bible. That it is the truth and that I can trust what I believe it says.

What DeYoung and Kluck helped me understand is that this is nothing new. That just a generation or so ago, there was a liberal movement among the mainline churches that argued against the inerrancy of the Bible. And those mainline churches dropped in attendence while the evangelical churches with a more traditional and conservative veiw of the Bible grew. In fact in other parts of the world, evangelical Christianity is growing at a rate that outstrips the rate that it is growing in the U.S.

One of the reasons I stopped going to a certain church while in college is because the priest held a liberal veiw of the Bible. I was reading Scripture on my own regularly and sat shocked as he held forth in his homily that a most beloved and hopeful passage that I knew well was only poetry. I guess I was the only one paying attention, because no one else in the congregation seemed to care what he said. Meanwhile, I was making a decision not to come back ever.

I don't always like what the Bible says. But there is a lot in truth that is not likable. It doesn't change one way or another just because I have a particular feeling about it. And that is why I can't ever be emergent. I guess I'm too steadfast. I actually believe something. And it's nice that there are a couple of guys way younger than me who say that it's okay.

Music Break

Here, take a break from rap, or American Idol or whatever is on your ipod and give Schubert's Trout Quintet a listen. You'll thank me later. Or not.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Read

This morning, the international women and I studied the Book of Ruth in the Bible. In my preparation, I decided not to make a hand out. Everyone who leads a study prepares a hand out. For a change, I decided that we should just read the Scripture and talk about it. Let the ladies have a chance to think about what we read without having to stare at a piece of paper.

I mean, how many times have I heard about the Kay Arthur studies, Beth Moore studies and so on. After awhile, it seems the focus is on the study but not on God's Word. And even I can write a pretty good study, if I don't say so myself. But it distracts sometimes from learning what the Holy Spirit is teaching to just getting through the material.

We started out with a review of the last lesson, of the main characters and the meaning of their names. I made a transitional statement from the last lesson to introduce today's lesson, to focus on Naomi and Ruth's situations as they cross cultures--as Naomi re-enters her homeland and as Ruth enters Judah for the first time. I then asked the women to introduce themselves and share a short story about any kindness they experienced when they first entered the United States.

We then looked at key passages in the story and talked about the interactions of Naomi and Ruth in the second chapter and the interactions of Boaz and Ruth at their first meeting. How Ruth responded to Naomi's depression and to Boaz's gracious hospitality. We laughed, we cried and I think God really touched hearts. A lot of these ladies never read Ruth before, and I was hoping that the story would lead them to deeper understanding of the sovereignty and supremacy of God, not only in the Bible but also in their own lives.

Salvation did not materialize out of thin air. God built a foundation through the Old Testament, through the lives of people like Ruth of Moab, as she was a great grandmother of King David and in the lineage of Christ. Christianity did not appear yesterday. Pick up the Bible and read.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Out Of The Wild

I'd heard about Christopher McCandliss for years but when the book "Into The Wild" came out I wasn't interested. I remember perusing the Travel section at Barnes and Noble, checking it out. I didn't take long to realize it was an amazing but sad story about a young person with whom I shared a lot of the same ideas and anger.

Like a lot of things that hit too incredibly close to home for me, I didn't like it. My English Composition 201 prof noticed that about me when I refused to write a paper about a movie that we were all supposed to watch and review. He teased me about skeletons rattling around in my closet. I relented and wrote the only essay I've ever earned less than an "A" for. The prof was disappointed that I didn't draw from my painful past experiences to evaluate the movie--he had a feeling that it could have been the best I ever produced. I wasn't ready to be a real writer, which requires drawing from those painful past experiences.

McCandliss, after graduating from Emory, took a few years off to disappear without contacting his family. Although he felt deeply hurt and betrayed by family secrets his parents witheld from him, his choices to cut them off seemed to me to be just as hurtful and selfish. He ended up dying in the Alaska wilderness from starvation (there is a controversy about the plants he ate being poisonous or moldy). The movie, which I just saw, spends a lot of time describing McCandliss's 24 month journey from his apartment in Atlanta to an abandoned bus in Alaska, where he lived for 113 days. I didn't have much sympathy for him when I read about him in the bookstore, and the film hasn't changed my mind very much either. Which is amazing, since I am a softie on an above average level for stories about dreamers and drifters.

McCandliss actually did what I often felt compelled to do in my 20's only to realize tragically that "happiness is only real when shared". In other words, his drive to commune with nature and be isolated from society left him empty inside. Literally. When he was ready to rejoin the human race, he found himself trapped in the wild that he craved. Then it wasn't as fun anymore as he found himself scrounging around for food. Nature is not merciful to the weak and sick. Or to the naive. There is also a controversy about the movie and book depicting McCandliss being totally cut off in Alaska--he wasn't far from a station about 5 miles away that could have helped him back over the river that rose to impassable levels that kept him from crossing to civilization.

Honestly, it makes me feel angry for some reason. I don't know if it's about all my Girl Scout training or a small slender streak of common sense in me. Maybe because I found what McCandliss was looking for in the Gospel. Or that simply I've been too used to happy endings that are epidemic in American movies. Like my English prof, I am disappointed that a potential writer had an profound story to tell, but didn't write it. It would have been nice to read it in his own words instead from someone else's.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Conversation

When I was a junior in college, I had chosen Food Science and Technology as my major largely because I wanted to be involved with third world development. I had started a 500 level course in international development the year before, but dropped out in favor of taking French because I saw that as a sophmore I had to start with the basics instead of jumping into a full fledged class focused on learning how to plan a project with grad students and faculty who had already traveled the world, been involved with Peace Corps and spoke other languages besides English. In short, I felt I was out of my league.

I had a writing project as a junior that changed my perspective about third world development. As part of my research about the topic, I chose to do something really radical. I decided to interview international grad students from the countries I considered third world. I knew a few who were in my department and talking with them literally smashed many of my American assumptions.

In my interview with Jacques from Africa, we talked about what he thought were his country's biggest needs in development. I was surprised to learn that his country has a huge capacity for agriculture, but most of the food in the cities were imported from Europe. Jacques told me that the soil conditions were excellent and that the crops were often bountiful--way beyond mere subsistence farming. This was in the 1980's, when the drought in Ethiopia led to American celebrities raising money via "We Are The World", leading many Americans to believe that all African countries cannot grow their own food. He said that several countries in Africa struggle with drought, but also many countries do not have such arid climates.

So, we went from there to the next logical question, if his country can produce crops to feed their own people, why are they importing food from Europe? Jacques said that the roads are poor--the problem is not agricultural but infrastructure. A village may produce a bumper crop of tomatoes, but they can't get them to the city markets to sell them fast enough. And the heat causes the vegetables to spoil quickly. It's not like in America, where there is a highway system for reliable trucks with refridgerated compartments or railroad transportation system.

So my next question led us to why there is poor infrastructure. Jacques told me that the government doesn't want to invest in infrastructure. The government is run by people who do not want to see its citizens thrive. The government prefers to oppress and hold back its citizens because it would make it easier to stay in control. It's not just about infrastructure, it's also about education and health. And a starving eight year old is less likely to learn how to read, therefore less likely to know much beyond what is happening in his village and less likely to know that life could be much better.

After our conversation, my understanding about the world expanded 200 percent. Most third world countries do not need Western agricultural technologies or chemical preservatives or pesticides. They don't need American experts to come in and tell them what to do. They have a more complicated need that addresses a basic human condition that exists everywhere in the world--first, second and third world. They need the Gospel to confront the sin in their own hearts, families and government. They need Jesus to show them the way to love in such a way that it transforms their society.

It's been over 24 years since Jacques gently challenged my assumptions about poverty in the world, and I'm sorry to say that his home country, Zimbabwe, has not gotten much better since then. It has only shown me that Jacques indeed had lead me to the truth.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Faith

All the way my Savior leads me; What have I to ask beside?

Can I doubt His tender mercy, Who thro' life has been my Guide?

Heav'nly peace, divinest comfort, here by faith in Him to dwell!

For I know, whate'er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well.




The above lyric is from a hymn I learned during a time of deep doubt that wasn't going away as quickly as I wished. My struggle was not over God's character--my belief that He is soveriegn and good and faithful was not diminished. I struggled over myself. I lost confidence that I was actually following Him-- what I felt like was His will that I sought in His Word and by prayer while I made decisions all of sudden seemed like colossal presumptions on my part.

I'm not in ultimate control and I'm glad. I do have to make choices, but I don't know everything. I can't. In the meantime, I do my best to follow Him. As time flies, the more I see how infinite God is and how finite I am. And it does comfort me--I have much to be thankful for, but things sometimes change on a dime. How will I handle that? Will I remember God's love even when it seems by my circumstances that He doesn't?

Our international group at church has a women's study on the Book of Ruth. In it we meet two widows--the older Isrealite Naomi and her young Moabitess daughter-in-law, Ruth. Naomi's name means "Pleasant" and Ruth's name means "Friend". Naomi goes back home to Judah with Ruth, who vowed to never leave her. Naomi changed her name to "Mara" meaning "Bitter". She is struggling with God's will, but Ruth isn't giving up. Ruth makes choices to get out and do something to support herself and Naomi.

I usually identified with Ruth in my past readings as a young woman, but as a middle aged believer, I really "get" Naomi. She says the things we are all thinking when we feel God has dealt with us harshly. But she is still a woman of faith nonetheless, I think. He is still God to her, even though she doesn't understand what His purposes are.

Ruth just does what flows from her good character--loving Naomi unconditionally--which doesn't go unnoticed in their small village or by Boaz, her eventual Kinsmen-Redeemer. Naomi is the widow that recognizes what God is doing through Ruth, who doesn't know what is going on.

The thing that strikes me about Naomi is that she knows that there are still relatives around who might be able to be the Kinsmen-Redeemer. But she doesn't tell Ruth about the possibilities, she doesn't give her advice until she sees that God brought Ruth to Boaz's fields and proof that Boaz cares about Ruth. She doesn't do anything at all to plan or control her circumstances at all. She doesn't ask anything from anyone. But she is ready when she sees that the door is open. To me, this would have to take a ton of discipline and self restraint. To me, this is faith.

And that is why I like Naomi so much.

Spring Sprung


Spring is finally here. No snow to be seen anywhere. The temp outside got up past 70 degrees. The sun was shining. We ate lunch on our deck.


I'm having a hard time adjusting to the fact that winter is over. I'm used to seeing snowfall at least once a week. It's like someone flipped a switch and we're moving on to the next season, like it or not.


I'm dragging my feet, though. I see the yardwork that needs to get done. No more staying indoors looking at the yard through the window. I'm gonna have to be out there, moving that rake, digging in that garden, cleaning that deck. Helping to put up that fence.


But we've got a lot to look forward to. Pretty flowers. Meals outdoors. Biking. Walking in the park. Sunglasses. No heavy coats. No boots. Sandals.


Sandals? What are those? I can't remember. I'm sure it will come back to me.



Saturday, April 05, 2008

Good To Know

This is a talk by Tim Keller about reasons to believe in God, whether you are a Christian or not.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Hawaii Story 2

In 1968, we visited family in Wailuku,Maui on a mountain. We spent most of our time up there on the farm, but sometimes we actually went to the beach. I didn't know anything about swimming at five years old, and neither did my four year old brother and three old sister, so we kept close to the shoreline. What I remember was that there was no one there on this huge big beach except the family: my grandparents, Grandma Bruns, my parents, we three kids and Uncle Dominic, who was 15 years old. It was before the tourist industry swept in from Oahu, except for Ka'anapali Beach.

Dad and Uncle Dominic swam in the ocean a lot. They raced. They dived. It was strange seeing Dad having fun. But after finishing his degree in engineering, he had a lot to be happy about. On one particular outing, he and Uncle Dominic were swimming with us kids on their backs, sometimes two of us at a time. At first, I wasn't interested in going. But Uncle Dominic kidded me until I relaxed and wrapped my arms around his neck and out into the deep we went.

Something went wrong though. We were further out to sea than Uncle Dominic wanted to be. He looked back and we were too far away from the beach. I didn't know then, but I know now, we were in a riptide. If he tried to swim directly to the beach, he would get over tired and we still would be moving out to sea. I didn't know how to do anything but hold on, but my weight would probably tire him out even quicker. Like my dad back then, Uncle Dominic was muscular and in great shape, but he wasn't strong enough to fight the ocean. No one is.

My Hawaiian Granny was an experienced swimmer and saw that we were in trouble and needed to act fast. We couldn't hear her shouting, but she started to walk parallel to the shore and pointing in the direction she wanted Uncle to swim. He obeyed and we got out of the riptide and safely on the beach in a few minutes.

She did the right thing--if she or Dad jumped in the water, they would have been caught in the same current and have to save themselves instead of saving us. Uncle Dominic couldn't hear what she said, but saw what she was doing and remembered what to do in a riptide. Even though he didn't panic, he did seem momentarily confused about the distance. As a young man, he might have swam a lot, but never been caught in a bad current before.

There is a lot to learn from this memory, but as a Christian I think it can applied to the way we need God's Word to show us how to get out from something that sweeps us away from Him.
2 Timothy 3:16.

Swim back to Him.

Hawaii Story

In 1968, my dad graduated from college in North Dakota. I was 5 years old, my brother was 4 and my sister was 3. My parents celebrated by visiting my dad's family in Maui for a summer, on the side of a mountain in Wailuku.

Dad told us kids about Hawaii and showed us pictures of the farm he was raised on. We had never seen the ocean, and he told us about the fish and the animals that lived in it. All we knew were the prairies, wheat fields, the Missouri River and the snow. But we believed our father's stories. I remember the trip like it was yesterday.

I already met some of our Hawaiian relatives. Granny had visited several times, and a few of my dad's siblings and their families. They were different in they way they talked, dressed and acted. My cousins especially made an impression on me with their long black hair down to their waists and their beautifully floral dresses. After their visit, no more "pixie cuts" and stretch pants for me. I wanted to be just like them. I was thrilled when my Grandma Bruns--the German one--designed and sewed Hawaiian style outfits for me and me sister for our Hawaiian visit. Mom allowed my hair a few more inches longer, but it was still short. I took anything I could get. Even at five years old, I was afraid of not fitting in with the "locals".

In a couple days after we arrived fresh off the plane, we North Dakota cousins were native. Our skin was deeply tanned, we rode around in the back of Granny's pick up truck all over the island, we hardly wore shoes, we learned how to share everything in the aloha spirit and we learned how to speak Hawaiian. I didn't need long hair and flowery dresses to be Hawaiian, I found out. I am one.

Spiritually, it's like Heaven. We're not there yet, and we believe that it exists. We read the stories in the Bible, we're waiting for our ticket. We are preparing for living in a new world, but we could end up focusing on appearences instead. But when we get there, it will feel right--God has new bodies and our true holy, natures waiting for us. Jesus died to make this possible. It will be Paradise. John 3:16