Category Archives: Relationships

We are interwoven – often more so than we know!

reminded that I’m a foreigner

Serving abroad, for me, comes with the caution to not be ‘the foreigner who comes in thinking they know it all.’  It’s a temptation; after all, Christians here honor me as a missionary, thinking I’ve made great sacrifices in order to be here.  I have a masters degree from the USA, so I’m treated as a scholar.  I speak several languages, have some free time now that the boys are in school, and seem to have an endless amount of resources that could help the local church and people.

But I’m still so clueless.  This week I started on a project meant to help pastors with preaching and thinking about theology after they leave seminary.  A quarterly preaching newsletter that offers ideas for sermons, reflections on scripture texts, and a short theological piece.  For our first newsletter, Eric took two of the topics (the cross, and Easter) and I thought, I’ll cover the topic of doubt, using the story of “doubting Thomas.”

I went to the library and immediately found tons of material.  (Did you know Thomas meant “the twin”? Maybe doubt is a twin of worship – the two not opposites, but connected?)  On my way out of the library, with all my handy research, I asked a local student if people here talk about “Doubting Thomas.”  No, it turns out that there might not be a Malay word for doubt.  We could translate belief and unbelief, trust and distrust, but doubt to me is something in between  – “finding it hard to believe.”  Wanting to believe but hesitating.  That’s not as cut-and-dried as belief or unbelief.  It just didn’t translate.

And so I was plunged into again realizing that I am a foreigner.  I don’t know language or the art of translation; I don’t know what stories from Scripture are the biggies for people here; I don’t know how local theology approaches belief.  I end up feeling like I don’t know much.

But, I didn’t give up.  Today I went backwards: find a good story (Zacchaeus) and a theme in it (promises).  And I ended up having a lot of fun, downloading the Malay language Bible on my phone and writing a draft of a topic that I think will be at least comprehensible.  That’s the key in all of this, not giving up.  An arrow has to be pulled back, and back, and back, before it can be “flung forth” towards its target.  Yesterday I was a little down, today I’m a little hopeful.  Cade’s French lesson yesterday was “comme ci, comme ca.”  It comes, it goes.  Sometimes I feel right at home here, sometimes I feel like a clueless tourist.  The key is being open to the idea that tomorrow might be better.

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Bedtime Blessings

Whew! I’m writing this because we made it through bedtime! Alleluia!  Tonight Eric is teaching a night class and it’s hot … so for a treat I let the boys fall asleep in our bedroom (where our aircond unit is).  Dante read in the living room for awhile (which still amazes me … 2 years ago every printed word was cause for tears) while Cade and I laid in the dark, cool bedroom on the fuzzy carpet floor (I got tired of tiles everywhere … it’s nearly shag carpet… I love it!)  We talked about his day, his class, and I listened (because I was laying still on the floor, my “get stuff done” attitude turned off for a bit) and he began remembering bits of books his class had read two years ago.  Something in the silliness/beauty of the memories led me to thinking of camp (I love camp) and so Cade and I sang “the Pasta song” which goes like this:

Some people like pasta; some think it’s alright.  Whatever our uniqueness, God made us ri-i-iight.  Pasta! Pasta! Pasta! Makes us one of a ki-e-i-e-ind.”  And then you add other things – our verses tonight were food-themed – Porridge! Ice cream! Pasta! Makes us one of a ki-e-i-e-ind.”

At which point Dante came in for bed and demanded more camp songs.  I’m a good sport, but I was also tired.  Then both boys actually agreed on a song.  Think of the wonder of it: two brothers, age 6 & 9, willingly agreed on something.  Stop the presses.

They wanted the song “One Body,” which I suddenly couldn’t remember at all.  But Dante started singing, Cade joined in, and then I began to remember the words and melody as well.  It’s a gorgeous song – click the lyrics below for a link to one sung version of it.  As I lay there on the floor with two kids not only singing about living together well, but actually DOing it, images from our life these past weeks scrolled by in my mind.  

We are one body, one body in Christ;
and we do not stand alone.
We are one body, one body in Christ;
and he came that we might have life.

That part about not standing alone brought home to me the wonder of what life is like when people take time for each other, whether it’s praying, giving kids a ride home, bringing a card, checking in online, and what I’ve heard so often – “If you need anything, please, ask.”  I’m not driving yet and I can’t even do the dishes, but I do not stand alone and that’s what is keeping me sane.  Impatient, sore, and not sure what I should be up to – but sane is a good baseline, and I’d say we’re even positive.  The kids chose the same song … it’s like a little sign that says “we can do this, we can even find a way to stick together.”  

The boys are asleep now, and I soon will be, but I wanted to share this song with you.  I learned it at Mar-Lu-Ridge this summer, a Lutheran camp in Maryland (though we used fewer and different verses … everyone has their own version, I think).  The song rings a certain way in my ears; I wonder how it will sound to you, where you most need to know that you don’t stand alone, that God has a life and future for all of us despite our bickering and fatigue.  I’m posting this at my bedtime – it’s morning in the USA – but I wish you good dreams, whether waking or asleep, and the hope that God’s love will continue to shape our communities and our lives.

My sermon for Sunday … on the everyday words “But” & “And”

(I get to preach at an English-speaking congregation this week. Since none of the members follow my blog (I think!), I figure I can post it here for folks who might not make it to a Church on Sunday, or who might be otherwise interested.  Add in your own emphasis when you see But/And.  Peace!)

Today I want to talk about an everyday word.  B-U-T — but.  It’s a word we often use without thinking – *but* because it’s so useful, it gives us a lot of information.

But is often a word that tells you a disappointment is coming.

Parent to child: “ I love you, but this behaviour has got to stop!”

At kids bedtime:  “It’s been a fun day, but now it’s time to sleep.”

Job review: “You generally did well, but we need you to …

News:  “Authorities have searched for the missing flight, but found nothing.”

In the home:  “I want to cook your favourite meal, but I don’t have the ingredients.”

In being disciples: “You are the salt of the earth – but if the salt loses its flavour, it is good for nothing.” (Mtt. 5:13)

“But” is a word that makes us react.  Think of two kids playing with dolls or cars, and one child takes the best toy.  The other one says, “But I wanted that one!”  The one holding the toy will, almost always, hold that toy tighter and prepare for an argument or even a fight.

Why does this happen?  Because our brains are what scientists call “anticipation machines.”  Our brains are like supercomputers – machines that are programmed to figure out what is coming next.  We need to anticipate – ready ourselves for – whatever is coming next, whether it’s paying attention to where our feet are walking, or knowing that hunger means we should make food, or that if someone is going to take my toy away, I need to protect it.

It’s the same for adults – our brains are anticipation machines.  And when we hear  that one word “But” we close down – we get ready to react.  Think of a job review: when they say, “your effort was good, but the results were poor” – you are not calmly going to agree to that.  Your heart starts beating fast, because you are preparing to defend yourself.  As soon as you hear “but” you are immediately thinking in your head of how to defend yourself, and how to change their mind.  Most people stop listening after “but” because they are already in their own head.  We hear “but” and assume we know where the conversation is going, so our thoughts leap ahead to trying to take control and turn the conversation toward better news.  We assume, because we are trying to anticipate what’s coming next, and figure out what that means for us.

One author describes it this way:  “[We long to be connected with one another, and we do so by] appreciating what people say.  You do not have to agree with them, but appreciate what they are saying.  One very good way to do this is to eliminate the word “but” from your vocabulary.  Replace it with “and.”  “But” can be a destructive word; it implies you have heard what is said *but* you have some objections that discount it.  “And” is innocent.  It simply adds to and expands what is being said already.  [The author closes with this:]  Words have great power.”  (O’Conner/Seymour NLP page 22)

So we have these two words:  But and And.  But is a word that prepares us for disappointment.  It’s a word that separates us from others.  But builds a wall so that it is harder to connect, harder to trust, harder to be in a positive relationship.  Listen for it this week, and you will hear it.

So what does this have to do with Church, with faith, with our Christian walk?  Well, our brains are anticipation machines.  When we think about God, or about the big questions in life, we use a lot of different kinds of information to help process our thoughts.  Think of the Bible.  One of our greatest questions comes from those first chapters of Genesis.  God created, *and* it was good.  God made Adam, and then made Eve.  God gave them a garden where they could live in peace and joy and connection with God.  And it was all good.  But God put a tree in the center of the garden (see? Limits, preparing for disappointment).  God said, you can eat of that, and that, and that, but not this.

And what happened?  The snake entered and said, “But why should there be limits? Why should you not eat, and be like God?”  And so they ate, and then when God came to them, they started saying “But she gave me the fruit… But the snake told me to… But, but.”  As soon as the people did wrong, they began saying, “but… but” – words that blame, and separate, and showed that Adam and Eve no longer trusted God to love and protect them.

We so often ask, “why is there sin in the world?  Why did God put that tree there?  Why did God give us freewill/”  The question is, at its simplest, a problem: we see that God loves us, but God lets there be pain and suffering.  God can save us from this but God doesn’t do it.  God is good, but God allows evil.  We know that God is so many good things – yes.  But we also know an immense amount of sorrow.  We are like Adam and Eve – so close to knowing and trusting God, but there are obstacles to our faith that we can’t overcome.

Another Bible story:  the exodus.  It follows this question as well.  Imagine: the people are freed from slavery.  They had cried out to God, and God heard them.   Listen for the “and” words here – words that lead to God’s amazing acts.  Exodus 3:23-24 says:  “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.  God heard their groaning and remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”  The Message translation says, “God remembered, and God understood.”  In this, the word “and” builds up – takes all the broken separate pieces and puts them together to form the basis for an incredible act of love.  God’s great “and” led to Moses and the burning bush and the plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea.  God answered evil with a great “and.”  Even the name of God has “and” in it – “the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob.”  Listen again:  the God of Abraham (remember God’s promises to Abraham?) and the God of Isaac (remember how God led him?) and the God of Jacob (remember God’s faithfulness?).  Promises kept and guidance given and faithfulness you can trust in – this is what God gave out of love for his people.  And God said to the Israelites, wait and see the land that I’ve prepared for you to live in.  Another “and.”

But.  A word of doubt and resistance and anxiety and fear.  But the people went into the wilderness and were thirsty.  And God sent water from a rock.  But they were hungry.  And God sent manna and quail.  But they were lost.  And God sent a pillar of cloud and fire.  But they didn’t know how to live without Pharoah’s rules.  And God gave the 10 Commandments.  But the people wanted to have a god that they could touch and see, so they built a golden calf.  … You see how the story goes on:  God gives the people an “and” – “and this is why you can trust me”  and each time, they reply with “but” – “but there’s more we need; but we are frail; but we are so afraid; but we don’t know how to trust you, God.”

Our lives as humans are not easy.  We control so little; we fear so much.  We yearn for closeness with God, while we forget how and why we should trust God.  One of my favourite songs says, “I use one hand to pull you close, but the other to push you away.  If I had two hands, doing the same thing, lifted high, I could lift you high.”  That was the story for Adam and Eve,  for the Israelites, and for us.  And – [pull to heart] But – [push away].

Do you see this in your life?  I see it in my life.  I have a friend with whom I can be really honest about my struggles or times when I can’t figure out where to put my energies, when I feel kind of lost.  I tell her all the things I’m thinking about, and trying to do, and how things can be really hard.  And she often asks me, “Have you talked to God about it?”  And I think, “well, no, I haven’t.”  You know why?  Because I think, “But I should be able to do this” or “but God’ s already given me so much”    or – this is a good one –  “but God is busy.”  It’s that push/pull – God is good and loves us all; but God seems so far away.  We remember God’s goodness – and we forget God’s goodness.

I was thinking of how all of this fits into these weeks before Easter.   We are preparing ourselves for Good Friday, for that Saturday when the disciples lost all hope.  We are preparing for those days when we say “God is all powerful … but God in Christ was put to death on a cross.”  In these weeks, we look at our own hearts, and we understand that we can adore Christ while at the same time we crucify him again.

We are like Simon Peter in today’s Bible reading from Matthew 16: 13-25:

“13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ 14And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 15He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ 16Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ 17And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ 23But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’24 Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

In a moment of blinding wisdom, Peter recognized Jesus as the Messiah, as the fulfilment of all of God’s promises.  He saw Jesus as the And.  Remember in the Exodus, when God’s people cried out because of their oppression?  And God heard them; And God acted; And God sent Moses to free them, to lead them, to give them a new Law which would give their lives meaning.  Moses saw God acting again And again.  Jesus was to be the new Moses – one sent from God who would free people from their sin, lead them to life in the Kingdom of God, and give them a new law that would be written on their hearts, to give life meaning, today and in eternal life.  Jesus did for God’s children what Moses did – though he did it in a new and unexpected way, and he did it not just for the Israelites, but for all of God’s creation.

And Peter suddenly sees this: that Jesus will bring humanity into a new freedom – that Jesus is the Messiah.  He says, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  He thinks, “You are the “And” the one who will give us new stories to tell about God’s greatness, God’s faithfulness. You are the And that will put the nations together to worship God alone.  You are the holy One, sent from God, an answer to our prayers.”

Now Peter and the disciples were expecting a Messiah who would be a military leader, who would overthrow the government and whip the world into shape.  Peter wanted to tell the story someday that would sound like this:  “We cried out to God about Roman oppression, and God sent us a sword to cut off the head of the emperor; and God gave us a new king to rule Greece and Rome and Samaria; and make us rich and secure and then we will finally be a strong nation again.”  Those were the “And”s that people were expecting.

But.

But is a word that prepares for disappointment, yes?  But separates us from what we are expecting.  But puts doubt into our hearts.

Jesus said to Peter, yes, I am the Christ, the Son of the living God.  But in verse 21, he goes on: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”  Jesus says, “but I will not be the military leader you want; nor will I be the kind of king you seek.”

And Peter, hearing Jesus say “but …” reacts.  His brain, that had been anticipating such joy and glory, is horrified.  Peter, who had just listened so closely to Jesus and understood so much, now has his brain shut down.  “But no!” he says – “never, Lord!  This shall never happen to you!”

And this is the truth of our faith:  That God gave the world an And – a great, unifying And, one that would heal and put together and overcome obstacles – But the world couldn’t recognize it.  But we couldn’t see Jesus, or the Kingdom of God.  But we were afraid and did not trust God’s plan.

Strangely enough, the fear and doubt that people felt made it so they could not stand up for Jesus.  From the disciples sleeping during Jesus’ agony in the garden, to Peter denying Jesus, to the religious leaders manipulating the Law, to the people shouting for Barabbas to be freed.  People’s fear was what drove them, not their connection to God.  They were afraid of Rome, afraid of soldiers or economic ruin, afraid of standing up to each other.

And so Jesus’ predictions came to pass: he was made to suffer, and die.

And to be raised to life on the third day.

Because when God hears our cries, God responds.  God sent the And into the world, like a lamb among wolves, and the Lamb lived.  And the people were saved.  And God’s promises remained firm.

Now, because our brains are anticipation machines, we can hear this story and we can learn to anticipate God’s actions.  We can say, God has acted in the past, and the past gives us clues to look for God in our midst.  Instead of thinking, “But God is so far away” perhaps we can think, “God was faithful in the past – I have heard the stories and believe them, so I will look for God to be gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  I can look for all of that in my life.  I can look for that today.  And I expect to see it.”  Our brains will look for what we anticipate – what we expect to see.  So if we hear these stories and believe them, then we will look *and* see that God is good, that God is acting today.

But – a word of caution.  As we open ourselves to seeing God’s will, we will also see where God’s will is not done.  We will ache for the pain in the world.  Jesus gave his disciples this and:  “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  In other words, we will become part of Jesus’ “and” as we deny ourselves, and take up our cross, and follow him.  Seeing the pain of the world, being a witness to places where God’s promises seem to have failed, is agony.  We are witnesses to not only Christ’s agony on the cross, but the crying out of God’s children today.  As we open to God, we open to others, and we realize that we must be the “and” that looks past the walls so often built.  The walls that separate people and races and tribes; the economic walls that leave some to be hungry; the walls in families where we find it hard to forgive our spouse, our parents, or our children.  We need to be the “and.”  “When we say, “But I cannot forgive that” we let the walls stand.  Replace it with the and – “I am hurt, and I think you are too; and we can find a way forward.”  “But I am so frustrated with that government party” may become “I am so frustrated; and I must speak out about the issues that matter to me.”  When we say “But they are so different from us “ we can change it to “They are different and that is a gift from God – diversity that makes us all richer and more creative.”  Turn the “but” into an “and” and you may see God enter into situations that before had seemed impossible.

Our brains are a gift from God, but they don’t run well on auto-pilot.  Today, notice how your brain is an amazing anticipation machine.  See where that helps you; and also see where you jump to conclusions or make quick assumptions that mislead you.  Today notice what you anticipate.

And tomorrow, listen for where you hear the word “but.”  Listen for whether it builds up or tears down.  Listen to your own words, as well, and see if you can replace “but” with “and.”  Remember what the author said, “try to eliminate the word “but” from your vocabulary.  Replace it with “and.”  “but” can be a destructive word…. “and” is innocent.  … Words have great power.”

Words do have great power; and we give thanks to God that God speaks a word into every situation.  God spoke Jesus, the new Moses,  the Living Word, into the world, and that changed everything.  No one anticipated that a baby born in a manger and a man executed on a cross would have great power to change and save lives – and yet it came to be.  This week, may your words have great power :  power to open your eyes, power to see God at work, and power to witness to the love of the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.

Country Coordinator … ?!?

We have news! In addition to Eric’s work as a seminary professor and leader at the still-somewhat-new Lutheran Centre at Sabah Theological Seminary, I have been asked by the ELCA to step into a new role: Interim Country Coordinator for the ELCA “YAGM” program in Malaysia.

YAGM stands for Young Adults in Global Mission, and Malaysia is one of 8 sites around the world that host Lutheran young adults in their 20s for a year of volunteer service. Sites include Argentina, Jerusalem, Madagascar, the U.K., and soon to be Rwanda, among others. It is a year of “being Church” in a new way for not only the young adults, but also the communities in which they serve. The current Malaysia country coordinator, fluent in Swahili, has been called to support the companion synod program between the St. Paul (MN) synod and Tanzania. He will use Swahili a lot more in Tanzania! Part of what I am learning is the variety of ways that the Lutheran Church approaches global mission – from national programs like YAGM, to synodical ventures like St.Paul-Tanzania, to long-term partnerships like ours at STS.

I am excited about this position – it seems like God’s hand in it when the ELCA found itself in need of – 1- an ordained ELCA pastor who -2- lives in Sabah, -3- speaks Bahasa Malaysia, -4-has a work visa (which are hard to come by), and -5-has met the young adults currently in country (I shared 2 weeks of language training with them in September). When the Church needs someone with those characteristics, and there is exactly one person in the world having them … well, it seems like God was making a way for the YAGM program to have a leader. The current coordinator will be in Sabah for another two months to coach me on all that I need to learn.

This *theoretically* still allows time for me to continue writing projects, while *happily* giving me reason to travel into the interior of Sabah as well as leading retreats throughout Southeast Asia. It also links me with communities in which I can learn more about life and faith in Malaysia. Together we can share the most Lutheran elements of the Gospel with communities who are only just now receiving Bibles and the Small Catechism translated into their language. New doors are opening through these resources, and new roads are waiting for me to travel as I support and learn with the generous young adults coming from the USA.

As a post-script – you can learn more about the YAGM program at www.ELCA.org. The ELCA is doing amazing things – you can learn a ton from surfing the ELCA page or from following it on Facebook. As a reminder – you can follow our blog or facebook page – just google Flung Forth Anew & you’ll find us! Remember to click “follow” here to be alerted when a new blog post is shared. It’s not too many e-mails – we promise!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Site visit #1 – visiting YAGM Evan at the school where he teaches English to immigrant (undocumented) children. These are the staff with whom he works & lives. In the center you’ll see Peter Harritts, outgoing coordinator, who built the YAGM program in Malaysia. I find that I will be meeting many people and learning about the amazing work that they do!

 

 

 

 

 

 

This picture was on the wall at another YAGM volunteer site. I took it to mean me – joining in this mission. But I hope you read it as YOU and know that by supporting ELCA Global Mission with your prayers, donations, and love, that you are reaching kids who need to know that there is a place for them. In today’s “glocal” world, connections abound.

Survival Stories

Looking at the list of shows on cable TV, there is quite a trend nowadays for survival stories.  “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” is one program; “Storm Chasers” and “Deadliest Catch” follow people through death-defying situations to show how wild work and research can be.  “Man, Woman, Wild” is another one that puts a married couple (who are survival experts) in a remote location for a week to see how they stay alive.  Survival stories are dramatic and they sell quite well.

What you may not know is that you have your own survival story.  Maybe you haven’t gone on a reality tv-show with it, but you have faced threats in your life that you did, indeed, survive.  Dangers to your body, to your self-esteem, to your reputation, to your feelings, to your soul.  Harm done may have been acute (like in a car accident) or chronic (like recovering from a car accident, and getting in a car again).  A lot of survival stories center around the break-up of relationships.

Whatever it is, each person creates a story about how they survived.  That story tells about their own personhood, about the way they view the world, and about the relationships that helped them or hurt them.  Think of a book you’ve read recently or a movie you’ve watched – what is the survival story of that character?  I think of Rapunzel; she had her survival story that kept her alive and waiting, and after her prince came she had another survival story.  But should she always rely on the prince?  Can she write a new survival story for herself?

This is deep stuff.  Often, you can imagine how once someone has a survival story, they keep living it out – the same conflict, the same result.  What saved them once becomes their main understanding of how to receive love and care and hope and influence over what happens in life.

Spiritually, I wonder if the survival story we craft from our life and the way of being saved/kept safe in it becomes the primary way we look for God.  For Rapunzel, maybe God comes from ‘out there’ and does not ask her to change; yet what if after her rescue she meets a mother- or sister-figure who can teach her to look for love – human love and divine – through the ordinary, the local, the ever-present?  How can our God story adapt so that it keeps on saving us, into our future?  I think that the story of Christ, coming into the world that already had its survival story decided (to survive, keep the law with diligence & precision) and of Christ changing the way that people can not only survive but together thrive and live.  From survival to renewal.   A new story, new connections.

As I read more of NLP, it always turns toward practical application, especially by frequently asking the questions: “Is it useful?  Does it work?”  These questions apply to little daily things (like how we put our kids to bed) as well as big things (like our personal survival stories).  Often the stories that *did* work once do not work so well anymore.  Our hearts, minds, spirits, souls, and bodies need to come up with new stories.

Here is an opportunity to reflect on your survival story.  Where did it come from?  How did it help?  What are you surviving now, and what story can you imagine crafting?  Where is God in your stories?  What does love look like?  You may find that your story begs to be shared – perhaps with a friend, a counsellor, or a pastor.  Protect your story but also let it continue to protect you; and of course allow for new scripts to be created!

Video

ELCA Presiding Bishop’s message includes a Shout-Out to Malaysia

Recently, each synod in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA – having 65 synods) watched this video at their annual Assembly. So many people have excitedly told me about the stories of the Church in Malaysia being shared in the video. If you wonder what the ELCA is doing to “Change and Save Lives” in the USA and beyond, watch this video.

Little Miracles

What is so amazing about this picture?

Well, let me tell you! Cade has had a very strange condition his whole life – that the “macro” functions in his body are just fine – his heart beats strong, he can hang from the monkey bars forever – but his “micro” muscles have developed quite slowly. Literally, the capillaries in his legs/arms weren’t strong enough to help blood flow, so as a baby, if he was even a tiny bit cold, his extremities would turn purple – like extreme hypothermia. We’d rub his arms and they would pink up, so he was fine, but it was also distressing. His “micro” muscles are just slow to develop.

As a parent, you never know what tiny signs will be the ones that you don’t want to miss. In Cade’s case, we took him to a pediatric cardiologist – a cheerful office, on the surface, but terrifying for parents to need to be there – and the doctor said, in 6 months, he’ll be normal, for now, he is fine, even with lax capillaries. But you have to check on each thing, so that you can sleep at night. It’s similar with their emotional health – you listen for each comment, trying to find the meaning behind their words (or their tantrums!) With the body, mind, and spirit’s health, you have to “listen to what they mean, not what they say.”

Later, a friend who knows speech therapy pointed out to us that Cade couldn’t say the letter “h.” If you try to say “help,” notice how much breath the “h” takes. It actually requires a lot of lung strength, which again, Cade hadn’t developed. 6 months of daily exercises finally gave him an “h.” I still notice it when he says he is “happy” – because of the support we had to “help” “him” get to say it!

When we came to Malaysia, the school the boys attend expected 4-year-olds to be writing their letters. But Cade, though his arms & legs were strong, had very week hand muscles. He couldn’t squeeze a clothes pin all the way open. He held his pencil in a fist and couldn’t draw lines, curves, or zigzags – much less draw a picture or write a letter. Unlike many communities in the USA, we don’t have many programs or professionals to help with those basics. But look at that picture above! After nearly 9 months here, Cade had a breakthrough about two weeks ago and suddenly began drawing people with actual body parts and now is writing full sentences and math equations. (The trick was that I found that linking my index finger with his gave him something playful & competitive, and it got to where I’d put my foot on his chest and we’d both pull our linked fingers with all our might – then he’d get to squeeze my hand as hard as he wanted. Also, Nana brought a preschool drawing book that Cade attached to and could actually begin to use!) And, because he could suddenly do so much more in class at school, his enthusiasm is stronger than it’s ever been. It’s pretty amazing.

We have to celebrate the little miracles – but it occurs to me that this one was not a little miracle, rather, it was a big one. All the right things came together at the right time. But because so much went into it, I will be thankful each time I see him write his name. And, now we will have double the number of truck pictures being drawn at our house!!!

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!

Playing “Half the Sky” with my boys

Today is Sunday. The Sabbath. A day to rest and recover, to recharge for the rest of the week. We went to worship at a Church that meets in our apartment building and got home by 11:30 and promptly turned on all our screens. Some days I’m sad when we are all attached to screens, but today we needed the rest. My husband turned on his baseball-league-managing game. The kids were transfixed by a reprogramming of the Masters golf tournament. I settled in to catch up on facebook. Ahhhh…. Peace.

A friend on Facebook had invited me to play a game. It’s called “Half the Sky” and it is based on a book of the same title,

about how women hold up half the sky –caring for their homes, their communities, daily making small improvements and investments and using their creativity to find empowerment to change their world. The game starts with a mother whose daughter is sick, but she cannot afford a doctor or medicine. She collects mangoes from her garden, sells them for money, barters them for a ride to the hospital, and trades her hours waiting there for the medical services that will save her daughter’s life. The game has drawings with dialogue, simple but fun games to play; it donates real immunizations and books as you play, and through all of it, it makes you think.

Soon the boys were playing along with me. I love that they were so focused on the female characters (click here: author ratios for why female voices are so often lacking). I asked Dante if it seemed fair to him that the women were getting all the attention – and though he is usually all about fairness meaning exact equality, he seemed to understand why it was important that the women in the story are being empowered.

Then we played part of the game where you get to collect books in a game. We talked about places near us that are just like the game – needing books, and specifically books in the right language (not only English!). There is a school for immigrant children just down the hill from us, and another school run by the owner of a jungle lodge we’ve visited, that are both in desperate need of basic supplies, including books. Imagine a school with no library – or a whole community with no library. As a US American, that seems almost impossible. Maybe there are such deserts in inner cities or on First Peoples’ reservations. That is the point of the Half the Sky game – to lead your thoughts down these paths, to make improving a community seem both possible and needful. It makes you look around where you life and see either how much you have, or where needs exist. Near us, an immigrant island had a suspicious fire last week where 200 homes burned down – probably 1,500 people lost their homes. Our kids went through our things and sent many clothes, toys, and we especially included a few picture books. It has new meaning to us, playing this game and interacting with our world.

The next stage of the game is based on microfinance loans. Muhummad Yunus won a Nobel prize for starting a bank that would loan small amounts to people in poverty, because even the smallest gains made by the loan recipients meant so much to their family and gains trickle through the whole community. Today Kiva.org is a microfinance powerhouse. You loan $25 (US dollars) and choose the recipient. Loans are paid back within 18-24 months. As a new pastor, I had loaned $50 of my own money, letting the youth of our congregation choose the recipients. Since then I’ve re-loaned the money as it was paid back, and have loaned to 13 different individuals/groups, to expand their market stalls, buy a motorbike for a taxi business, build a barn for livestock, buy materials for their tailoring business. So as we played in the game, we opened a window to Kiva and looked back at the people who we’ve loaned to. The last loan we made was to a woman in the Philippines – little did we know she would practically be our neighbour in our new land. Off we went to Google maps, where you can make the little man walk all over the land on the map.

Up popped a congratulations screen on the game – this time with several flags. The boys have a flags-of-the-world poster and went to identify the flags. One of them was from Kenya, which led to looking at the pictures of our missionary friends in Kenya, Mike and Leslie Fonner. Their picture is one of many in a collage on our dining room table, with a clear plastic tablecloth over it, so as we eat, we connect to our friends and family around the world.

From the game, we wandered through flags, gender issues, empty libraries, Kiva loans, and what the Philippines look like. And I realize just how rich my kids’ life is. I wonder what they will do, growing up with so many connections and so many supports (because we couldn’t live this life without the love of family, the Church here and at home, the schools the came from and to, and probably a hundred other things that I take for granted each day).

And though I am excited for my kids, I also know that what I really feel is my own self being changed. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to get extra US books to these immigrant schools, and whether English books are helpful or if there is another path that needs to be trodden – to get books in Bahasa Malaysia to kids in need. I think about how much we have (when we came with only 2 suitcases each – we still have enough to share). I think of the families rebuilding homes after fires. I begin to see more than my portion of the sky – to explore connections to Half the Sky.

See where your adventure takes your head, heart, and life: https://www.facebook.com/HalftheGame.

Aside

Today we found the seminary sign moved from the site of a landslide (it barely survived; now they are fixing the road by the landslide, so I guess the seminary is holding on to the sign for awhile.  Incidentally, the … Continue reading