Category Archives: Witness

40 days…

Hello all! Thanking the many people praying for me, sending supportive notes, and generally being there for me.  It means the world.

I’m part way through my 3rd cycle of chemo – 3rd of 4.  My doctor told me to expect each time to include 10 bad days.  Each cycle is 3 weeks – so 21 days.  If you do the math, 4 rounds of 10 bad days = 40 days.

I’m not into numerology or things like that, but it is easy to notice the number 40 in Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

  • The rains (in Noah’s day) fell for 40 days and nights (Genesis 7:4).
  • Moses was with God in the mount, 40 days and nights (Exodus 24:18).
  • The spies searched the land of Canaan for 40 days (Numbers 13:25).
  • Israel wandered for 40 years (Numbers 14:33-34).
  • Eli judged Israel for 40 years (1 Samuel 4:18).
  • Saul reigned for 40 years (Acts 13:21).
  • David reigned over Israel for 40 years (2 Samuel 5:4, 1 Kings 2:11).
  • Solomon reigned same length as his father; 40 years (1 Kings 11:42).
  • Elijah had one meal that gave him strength 40 days (1 Kings 19:8).
  • God gave Nineveh 40 days to repent (Jonah 3:4).
  • Jesus fasted 40 days and nights (Matthew 4:2).
  • Jesus was tempted 40 days (Luke 4:2, Mark 1:13).
  • Jesus remained on earth 40 days after resurrection (Acts 1:3).
  • Women are pregnant for 40 weeks (time of testing).

40, as I read it, is the number for what seems like forever … just over the mark from too much.  It’s beyond what people can easily stand (the pregnancy one is best evidence for that!).  But each of these is also attached to a promise.  40 is not just misery; it is God journeying with God’s people.  It is God giving ways of building community, of people being transformed, of us learning to be in the waiting and the wondering.

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40 Days of Photos: Lenten challenge

40 Days of Photos: Lenten challenge (click to connect to our Facebook page)

If you’ve seen our Facebook page recently, you know that Wendolyn is sharing a Lenten discipline of capturing one image each day relating to a word given via http://www.slateproject.org/.  These are the words – come on over to Flung Forth Anew on facebook and share your images.  You can do this challenge with your camera, or simply by using your eyes during the day to watch for the word of the day.  It’s been a wonderful way to re-connect with things I see each day – but seeing them through new eyes.  Blessings and peace to you!

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I’ve copied this image from slateproject.org – go see their inspiring site to get an original!

On visiting a Mosque

After nearly a year of living here, I finally made it to visit a mosque. You would think that it would be easy, that a house of worship would welcome someone coming to learn and be open (to whatever degree) to the best parts of your faith tradition. But, it’s not so easy. If you imagine that you wanted to tour a church in your town, you might have to plan to attend a service, which you wouldn’t want to do if you’re not open to converting or being on their mailing list forever. Or you could drop by and hope that the building is unlocked, and that you could find the right door to an office, so you could explain why you’re wandering around, and even better, have someone walk with you and explain things. Now imagine that you are willing to make the phone call, but you have no idea what language you should use on the phone.

In my case, I was a tourist and only had so much time, and had read different guidebooks that all said, “just don’t go on the Muslim day of prayer (Friday) or holidays.” So when I showed up on a Tuesday and the sign said “No Tourists” except between 8-9, 11-12, and 3-4, I was bummed. It was not easy to get there, and it was at that time 12:15. Also, I approached the wrong door – it was the school part of the mosque – and a mom there sneered at me and said, “You are looking for the toilet.” It felt wrong to say, “No, I’m looking for a house of worship.” So I just said, “visiting this mosque?”

My point is not that mosques are inhospitable. Not at all. Once I made it past the very strict nun-like women (who lent me one of the bright lavender robes – marking me as a non-Muslim tourist – plus a hijab) the mosque felt like a wonderfully open place. Architecturally, it had a courtyard area, like most mosques, which lent a feeling of openness yet a solidity, a groundedness. But there was also a sense of spiritual openness, if one wanted to see it. There were plenty of groups there, ticking sights off of their list, and there were many young adults who were taking boisterous photos (they were wearing bright lavender robes, after all). But one could pause and sense the purpose of the place, which was ultimately worship and community.

Thankfully, I had just visited the Museum of Islamic Arts, and so I had some specific questions to ask, and a volunteer there received my questions, taught me a great deal about the practice of his faith, and even took me on a walking tour. I think the thing that most fascinated me was the combination of practical architecture and history. For instance, mosques usually have large domes, but this one had a folding umbrella-shape, because mosques are encouraged to adapt to local culture, and the V-shape is very common in roofs of large buildings. Within the worship space were 16 columns – one for each state in Malaysia. This was the State Mosque and was built after the independence of Malaysia from British colonial rule. However, shortly after it was built, Brunei left being a Malaysian state, as did Singapore, and they both became their own country. So the 16 columns remain, but Malaysia has only 14 states. People still shake their heads over the way the Federation was originally set up, and these 16 columns keep that conversation going. But architecturally, the rains here are part of the local life – and so the folds in the umbrella roof actually channel water down, through the columns, and into the ablution rooms in the lower floor of the mosque. When 21,000 people need to do ritual washing, that is a lot of water needed. So it matches the needs and gifts of this place.

Ultimately, it was a reminder that welcoming guests is a holy enterprise, one that is often set behind many layers of difficulty. I think every person of faith should visit not only the houses of worship of other faiths, but to go visit congregations in their own faith, in their own area. See what it is like to be a guest. See what you can learn in one short visit, and see what questions you walk away with. It will inform you of your expectations and it may open your eyes to how others express (or don’t) faith and hospitality. And who knows what God may do when you enter a holy place.

(Each of these columns – in both the open courtyard (right) and the enclosed sanctuary/prayer room (below) – channel water from the roof to the lower levels. That is a lot of water!)

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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.

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 12 of 20 *Questions*: What potential memories am I bartering, and is the profit worth the price?

Ah, this is the question that, in part, led us to serving as missionaries in Malaysia.  We were just fine where we were – a beautiful congregation that we co-led as pastors, hopes of Eric finding adjunct teaching in the tri-state area, kids in a great school, financial stability, and a great Y and public library.  It was the American dream.  (Yes, our garden even had a picket fence.) 

But as happy as we were, it still wasn’t *our* dream.  Our dream has always been to serve abroad.  For Eric’s Ph.D program we tried to move to South Africa, because we felt this strong pull to moving outside of America.  Nothing against America – but I know that I’ve always wanted to see how others outside of America experience life, and to see their perspectives on the life I’ve assumed as “normal.”  But South Africa didn’t work out (in part because I was pregnant, and my mother put her foot down that “my grandbabies WILL be born in an American hospital” … and there are times when you don’t mess with a fierce Mama Bear.)  Our plans would have to wait, and we mostly thought they were gone, and that was okay.

Until this opportunity in Malaysia opened up.  This time we had Mom’s permission!  (Thanks mostly to Skype and Air Asia.)

In coming here, we had to ask ourselves about our potential memories.  We were giving up Little League and youth group pizza nights and a house that we had named.  (Blueberry Cottage, if you’re asking.)  We were giving up a place where dogs are vaccinated for rabies and vehicle emissions are controlled – those certainly help toward creating memories, though they’re often unnoticed.  We were bartering those memories in order to come here  – and we were certainly deciding a lot for our kids without their voice or consent.

Hospitality!

Hospitality!

But under it all, we decided that the biggest and defining memory for our kids would be them watching us follow our passion.  That hope goes for all who had to grieve at our leaving – our family, friends, congregation and colleagues, and even our kids’ friends.  We bartered their memories as well, and that is no small thing.  But I fervently hope that people who have lost track of those specific dreams might have a door or window opened by knowing that people can indeed follow their passion – whatever that passion may be for them.

This question asks us to balance our todays and our tomorrows, as well as the things that give us satisfaction now versus what we will look back on someday.  This question reminds us that we are always defining our future and that we have a say in what not only our future will be, but the future of those tied to us.  It reminds us that we are always negotiating, always finding our way.  This question reduces our complacency, and replaces it with verve.

Day 5 of 20 *Questions*: “How do I want the world to be different because I lived in it?”

I’ve long known that I won’t be starting an orphanage or rewriting legislation or curing diseases with my life.  I’d like to, but I won’t; I’m 36 and have pretty much set a direction for my life.  But these things matter to me – why else would they come up first when asking this question?  And so I realize that I still dream that I may someday welcome foster children, and I have met with my Senators (when I lived in NJ), and I’ve walked with people facing debilitating illness.  In the classic example, I work to be more of a steady candle than a firework, and maybe my flame isn’t as big or bright, but it’s better than darkness.

ELCA Logo

Changing and Saving Lives
God’s Work – Our Hands

But — I don’t want to sell myself short, either, and pretend like doing less is okay.  I’ve heard from statehouse friends the difference that *one* testimony can make in local and state law.  I imagine that once a person joins the foster care system, they learn enough to *challenge* the system when needed.  I *can* make a difference.  The tagline of the New Jersey Synod – part of the ECLA/Lutheran Church – speaks loud and clear:  the job of each person, congregation, and organization is to “Change and Save Lives.”  Hold that like a mirror up to your life.  How have you changed and saved lives?

At first blush, you may say, “aw, shucks, I can’t do anything like that.”  But maybe you’ve stood up to a bully, or offered your time at an animal shelter or school classroom or at a friend’s bedside.  As a camp counsellor, I once had to walk over a live bee’s nest out on a wilderness trail to carry an epipen to a child who had just been stung.  Would I have thought I could do something like that, or that I would be one to volunteer for that job?  Nope, because I’m humble (I hope…) and not so creative in dreaming up differences that I can make.  But that doesn’t mean my future – or your future – won’t hold life-changing or life-saving moments.  Be prepared.  Be a person that others know they can ask for help.  God may be preparing you for something wild – or God may already be using you daily for the most domestic of miracles.

As a side note, often the resources we can best share aren’t hands-on service.  I lent $50 to Kiva.org five years ago, and have funded microfinance loans to 7 different entrepreneurs around the world.  The original $50 keeps getting paid back so I can re-loan it.  I can go back and look at the stories of lives changed, of parents who can now educate their children, of groups that have bonded together to create more industry in poverty-stricken areas.  Your money can make a difference.  Don’t hide from that or think, “I don’t have enough.”  If you can afford a meal at McDonald’s, you have enough money to share, whether it’s with Kiva or a local food pantry or Bread For The World.  With your time/energy and with your shared monies, you can indeed Change and Save Lives, so that the world is a better place for your having lived in it.   Take another look at the question above – use today to let it sink in!