Category Archives: Faith

Devotions: your two jobs when you spot trouble!

Our family devotions tonight were from the Veggie Tales, but they spoke to me loud & clear. It started like this: “Face facts: not everybody you know is well behaved. Your first job is to recognize bad behavior when you see it… and your second job [Any guesses?] is to [what do you think it is?] …

not join in.”

My first thought was of conversations on facebook, especially politically charged ones. My second thought was of reading news stories on the internet and how awful most of the comments are. Even great posts often get turned into tirades in the comments sections. A member of my internship support committee wisely told me, “Underneath it all, we’re all only 8 year olds.” The internet daily proves the point.

But beyond that, the devotion went on: “Christians are the citizens of Heaven, and while we are on earth, we ought to behave like Heaven’s citizens” (-Warren Wiersbe). Not joining in bad behavior, whether in a marital spat, a water cooler gripe session, or even rubbernecking in traffic, is not easy, but it is important – to your neighbor, to God, and to your own peace of mind.

As the Veggie Tales point out, “As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in him.” (Colossians 2:6) Amen to that!

Day 19 of 20 *Questions*: Are my thoughts hurting or healing?

Thoughts are important.  They can also feel as though they are beyond our control.  It’s hard, after all, to “make” yourself think something.  Thoughts also get bundled closely together with our feelings, so that the two become indistinguishable, especially in the heat of the moment (or as we re-live encounters when we can’t get to sleep….)

As I’ve learned to deal with the competing needs that happen in a relationships (family, household, or other), one of the things we’ve been practicing, in our goal of “slowing things down” (the Second Commandment for our family) is asking, “What was the thought before the feeling?”

With kids, when conflict arises, from whining to slugging, it does no good to ask what started the fight – that just starts a cycle of blame, and puts peace and solutions farther out of reach.  That probably describes how many adults approach a problem – by seeking blame/self-righteousness (win/lose), and by making peace less of an option.

Another option, in the midst of conflict, is to let people speak their feelings (without the words “he made me…”) AND then to ponder, what was the thought before that feeling?  Often the thought assumes blame so subtly that when the feeling is blame-centered, it feels like it came out of nowhere.  For instance, when I try to read with Dante, if he comes across a difficult word he immediately demands that I read it; if I suggest he try, then he shuts down and refuses to speak or read.  When I ask him for his feeling, it’s often anger at me, and sometimes that makes* me angry too. (remember how we’re not supposed to blame right away? Look what I just did… “that makes me mad”…)

But if I can hear his feelings and hold them carefully, we have time to ask, “What was the thought before the feeling?”  And then Dante can be honest, that he thinks I won’t help him when he really needs it.  A-ha.  He thought something that he didn’t have time to say, or that he was afraid of saying, and it got plowed into his feelings.  As Dante once explained, “The moment went by so quick!”

And that’s true for us as adults, too.  When we have a thought that we don’t know what to do with, we may think we’re burying it or hiding it, but in just a moment that thought wraps itself into a feeling, and we are left wondering why we reacted so strongly.

I think that we often do this with the people we love most, and we do it with God too.  Despite their past love and all of the reasons we have to trust them with our thoughts & feelings, yet when a moment arises, we think the worst of them – then hide that thought – then cry out because we feel unloved.

The question for today is “are my thoughts hurting or healing?”  When your feelings are hurting, especially when things feel out of control, see if you can ask yourself, “what was the thought before the feeling?”  Naming the thought lets you deal with the root of the feeling so that you can heal in body, mind, and spirit.  I saw the relief in Dante’s face when he could address the thought, and it helped he and I to heal our relationship from that point onward.  Today’s question gives us the opportunity to look at our thoughts courageously.

A = thinking
B = feeling
C = doing
Where are you most comfortable?
In general, the closer to the center of the diagram,
the healthier a person is (physically, mentally, & emotionally)

Day 17 of 20 *Questions*: Where should I break the rules?

I live with a 7-year-old boy who loves rules.  It’s a portrait of both the age (7-year-olds tend to be perfectionists, and they’re processing their world by noticing patterns, which are a type of rule) … as well as him being first-born, who tend to be more likely to stick to the rules (many second-born kids are rebels – certainly our Caedmon is, and many friends have the same “adventures” with their second-borns).  I find myself daily creating some rules while explaining why I break others.  I also have to restrain Dante from creating rules about every little thing, because I can’t keep track and I don’t want to seem to promise to follow the rules he deems essential (like getting a serving of sweet drink every day!)

Sometimes, I love seeing how he follows rules.  Especially when it comes to holding hands in parking lots and taking a “thank-you bite” of each food on his plate.

too many rules

But sometimes the rules are exhausting.  He can come up with so many rules, about so many different facets of life.  It makes me wonder whether he is imitating Eric and I… a scary thought, but probably a fair portrayal of how adults seem to come up with rules when and where it suits them.  Even the rules of the English language are exhausting to a kid just learning how to say verbs right or spell anything at all.

And all those rules take a toll on one’s spirit.  We’re constantly checking how we measure up, against how others are doing, or against how we think we ought to be, and we are doing those comparisons with a limited amount of energy and love.  We can weary ourselves.

This is where life as a Christian is both my firm ground and my life-buoy.  I know that there is Someone who will love me despite my failings, fallings, and confusion.  And looking at that love, I see others around me who reflect that love.  That in turn re-energizes me to try, to listen, to grow, to ask hard questions, and to boldly step forward knowing that I’m not going to get it all right.  As a Lutheran Christian, we talk about “sinning boldly” – continuing to do things imperfectly rather than be paralyzed by heartless rules.

I think I said in one of the prior posts, “Don’t cry over anything that can’t cry over you.”  Rules won’t cry over us.  They won’t stand by us.  But our Creator does stand by us, and I believe that God sent Jesus as proof positive that God accepts humans as we are – broken and needing healing, lost and needing hope, and at times looking down on others for breaking rules that we ourselves aren’t following.  Not that God gives us free reign to become heartless – but that Jesus walked with people, coaching them on how to live vibrantly and boldly in a world of rules.

What are the core rules that you would stand for?  What rules have you broken so that love can increase?  What rules do you wish the world could courageously break?

Christmas – practicing Hope

What is a child’s Christmas list but an example of hope on paper?  When I was 6, I got to type my Christmas list.  Single spaced on an old-fashioned typewriter, who knows how long I sat there, thinking & dreaming & spelling out my wishes.  At the bottom of the page I realized I had run out of space, but hadn’t yet put the most important thing I wanted for Christmas: a soccer ball signed by Luke Skywalker.  (Yes.)  I had loaded the paper at a slight slant and only had room to fit a few words as my typing went diagonally off of the bottom of the page.

Now I coach my kids on making their own lists – it makes it easy for us to get Dante to practice spelling and handwriting.  But what he is really practicing is hope.  He takes time to think about the future and about his unique desires for the future.  It is self-centered hope, to be sure, but he is practicing.  Hope takes a lot of energy, though, as well as focus.  Hope isn’t easy.

Christmas presents are a grand practice of hope.  One of the biggest ways adults practice is in the giving of gifts – because most likely there IS a certain response we are hoping for.

a very Trozzo Christmas

Have you ever seen someone *this* happy to see a present? This is the kind of reaction we hope for!

We hope that they will really enjoy the moment of unwrapping, that they will hold up the gift in delight and say, “Wow, this is great!”  That they will put it somewhere special and use it soon.

Our hope is practiced when we wait and watch for the signs of joy and appreciation.  We put energy and focus into it, and it really matters to us that our hopes be fulfilled.

And of course, this kind of hope is but a small example of the deeper hope that underlies Christmas, the season of hope and anticipation.  God has given a promise to care for God’s beloved creation; throughout Hebrew Scripture, God promises salvation for God’s people.  In Advent, we celebrate the dual promises of Christ’s birth (of God becoming physically human) and Christ’s return –  that Christ will come again to physically transform our reality into the ultimate Kingdom of love, peace, joy, and of course Hope – but hope transformed into a Trust that takes no energy or focus, hope that is simply a part of being in the promised Kingdom.

Imagine a Christmas that didn’t take energy of focus – wouldn’t that be a miracle!  (Are you tired yet from cleaning and planning and shopping and trying to remember all the details?)  For now, we practice Hope as we prepare for a holiday that is a sign of God’s ultimate promise.  Merry Christmas and a Hopeful Advent to you!

My favourite word: Fling

A lot of people don’t listen to the words in music. I remember once being in the car with Eric, singing along to a song that said, “I don’t care whose ring you wear, ’cause as long as no one knows then nobody can care” (Uncle Kracker). Yikes! Who could actually sing that to someone? It’s a great song, but every time I hear it, I think, Yikes.

So I’m clearly a person who cares about the words of songs. The right wording at the right moment in the song brings me elation. When the words and music match, I remember how music opens us up to the divine, and I am so grateful. Even when I’m listening to the blues, I am gladdened. It doesn’t have to make sense (but please, try to make the lyrics of your songs make sense. Please.)

For years one of my favourite parts of Christmas is hearing the words of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” The whole song is evocative of how we long for peace, for rest, for hope as the generations unfold and year turns to year. But my favourite line is: “…when peace shall over all the world it’s ancient splendors fling; and the whole world give back the song which now the angels sing.”

It’s my favourite because I always have the image of angels flinging peace, like bits of golden glitter, over all the world. Maybe like pixie dust, or the twinkling of stars, or just like big handfuls of glitter. You know, if glitter gets on you or your stuff, you will never get it out. It’s powerful stuff. A camp counsellor at Mar-Lu-Ridge once glittered the sleeping bags of the male staff quarters one summer, and I bet those bags are still sparkling. That is probably why I imagine peace being tossed over the world like glitter – because it is beautiful at first, and because it has staying power that no one expects. That is how I want to imagine the peace of God that passes all understanding.

Our blog is called Flung Forth Anew because we want to be like that glitter, like that peace – tossed all over the earth, with gifts that not only make beautiful the ministries we land in, but that after we have served, that changes will last, both in sites where we go and in our hearts when we return home. We trained with ELCA volunteers going to Nairobi, Kenya; Tokyo, Japan; Ethiopia; Cameroon; and with our leaders who are centered in Chicago, Illinois – and the ELCA has volunteers both in 1-year and long-term positions in more than 90 countries. We are flung across the globe. And with each new place that we visit or serve, we are made new, our eyes sparkle with the connections between people and ministries and organizations.

In the hymn, ancient splendors are flung forth anew into today’s world so that the whole world can give back the song which the angels sing. May all of us, wherever we have landed, be a sparkle in the Father’s eye, a force for peace in the world, and glitter that catches people’s eye so that they want to explore God’s kingdom and live into God’s reign of peace.

The Hap-Happiest Season of All… or, 3 months away from home

Advent greetings, friends. Is your Christmas tree up yet? Our is, no thanks to my annual humbugginess. I am definitely a humbug. I love the idea that God comes to Earth, to meet us as we are, that God isn’t afraid of being a vulnerable baby, that it took a whole cast of people to live out the original nativity that we celebrate. I just hate untangling Christmas lights, and people running up to me saying, “If we don’t get the decorations right, it ruins the whole feel!” As Mary about the whole feel of Christmas, and I bet there was no turkey, wrapping paper, or post office involved!

OK. You get the gist. But, there are parts of Christmas I really like, especially the music. Eric made us a whole Christmas playlist from our digital music collection, 11.1 hours of all kinds of Christmas music! And amongst the music came this radio favourite:

It’s the most wonderful time of the year 
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer” 
It’s the most wonderful time of the year 
It’s the hap-happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings 
When friends come to call 
It’s the hap- happiest season of all ‘

We tend to hear these songs and accept them as a picture of normal holiday feelings. But really, kids are not jingle-belling, they’re prepping their list of demands from Santa; and if you’re in a blue or cruddy or tired mood for any of a thousand reasons, being told to “be of good cheer” is not going to cheer you up, especially if you are depressed or grieving or lonely. Is it the most wonderful time of the year? I love that moment of candlelight at Christmas Eve worship, but I think I really like those first days of spring when you can smell the earth blossoming more. And the song goes on – those holiday greetings (that we politicize and haggle over) and gay happy meetings (in our free time, right?) when friends come to call (and we don’t worry about if our house is photo-shoot ready)? Really? In my mind I romanticize the days before electricity and cars and central heat, when people had nothing to do in winter except feed the animals and wait for spring, and if they did go out across the prairie, they would stay awhile with friends just to warm up before coming home. When things were slower, less was expected, and people knew their neighbors’ names *and* their stories. Maybe it wasn’t that great in real life, but I tend to think of it as better than today’s consumer rush and drastic expectations of ourselves. There. Have I ruined the song for you?

Now, it’s not quite fair that this song played just about at our 3-month mark of being here. Here is a chart of average responses to moving to a new place:

The process of adjusting to living in a new place, by Clide Sargeant, with revision by Daniel Kealy

Note that there’s a dip there. I was warned that this would be coming (and many thanks to author Clide Sargeant, with revision by Daniel Kealey) and so I can keep some perspective on my emotions and reactions and expectations these days. I can be gentler with myself. This morning I lost my voice, had a terrible head cold, and looked at this chart – right below “frustration” it notes that this is the time when people develop colds, headaches, and are most prone to take sick leave. So I spent the morning reading the not-so-holiday “Hunger Games” trilogy. I took the boys to mail Christmas presents and didn’t lose my temper when we found we had to re-pack them twice and still not get it right (“ah, I thought, ‘frustration.'”) I sent an e-mail inviting friends to come to call.

The seasons come, whether it be Christmas or monsoon or “frustration.” But in our missionary handbook, right beside the chart that says some seasons will be hard, are these verses, appropriately, from the book of Lamentations.

“The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall!        My soul continually thinks of it, and is bowed down within me.                                           But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:                                                         The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is God’s faithfulness.                                      “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in God.” -Lamentations 3:19-24

Thanksgiving and the Counting of blessings

It is hard to believe it is Thanksgiving week already.  Where is the snow?  Where is the chill in the air?  We have a big Christmas tree up in town, but it’s got palm trees and cerulean waters behind it.

As the month of November has gone by, most of my friends on Facebook seem to be joining in an annual event:  daily posting one thing they’re thankful for.  Our Church bulletin this week had the quote:  “The one place that Satan holds no sway is in a grateful heart.”  It has also been said that “despair and gratitude cannot coexist; one will drive out the other.”  Gratitude is indeed a powerful way of living.

As we continue our studies in the Malay language, we begin to look away from standard textbooks and into hymnals and Scripture for new words to learn.  This week we worked on

“God                bless                you” –

“TUHAN   memberkati   kamu.”

[The Lord]   [verb – bless]      [you].

I asked our tutor what a person would call just one blessing – how the verb changes into a noun.  “Berkat” is the word for a blessing (see it in “memberkati”?).  Now comes the intriguing part – in Malay, as in Mandarin, one does not just say a noun – one specifies how many exactly.  You know singular or plural (or how many) because there is a counting word that goes before the noun.  For example,

A Malaysian = seorang Malaysia   (se = one, orang = person)

I buy apples = Saya beli dua biji epol.  (I buy two [fruit-counting-word] apples.)

So I asked our tutor what counting word would go before “berkat”  (blessing).  She said, “This is irregular – you do not count your blessings.”  We had to laugh – after years of hearing, “Count your blessings” and seeing my friends daily counting their blessings, it was comical to imagine a life where you don’t count your blessings.

But it also makes good sense – you can count many things.  In Malay, there are counting words for people, animals, fruits, big things, long things, thin things, pieces of things, cloth things.  All of these can be counted.  But you cannot count your blessings.  They are as innumerable as the stars in the sky or grains of sand on the beach.  God is so good; it would be foolhardy to think that we could assign an amount to God’s love.

And so this Thanksgiving – go ahead and try to count your blessings – it’s easier in English!  But remember this truth:  you can’t keep track of the good that God is doing in your life and in all creation.  We give thanks because God keeps giving love and life… and reasons to laugh and be grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends, and to all –

TUHAN  memberkati  kamu!

Studying Bahasa Melayu in Kota Kinabalu

Eric works daily with his tutor, Beatrice Ha, who is fluent in several languages.