Saturday, December 29, 2007

Listing and Listening - and Comments on 'Screams in the Desert'

After having a pretty light workload for many months I’m entering a busy season. How will I respond to the challenge? Two weeks – 14 days! – after I return to life in the office I leave on a two-week international trip. Then it’s a week to recover and catch up before leading a week-long training in research methods (if registration figures are high enough to avoid canceling it). Immediately after that (the next day) is a trip to Indiana to teach a couple of Perspectives lessons, then out to San Diego (probably flying from Indy) to teach on the history of Islam (new topic for me - much study required). I go back to Denver for a week, then have 2-3 nights of additional Perspectives teaching (different lesson, but one I know) in Arizona. That’s a lot of travel and teaching to prepare for. In between I want to get more editing done and keep the magazine running, among other tasks.

If all this goes as expected, January 1 to February 28 will be very full, maybe more than I can manage. Or so it seems. Of course, here I am in Seattle, with plenty of down-time between things; these trips will take me away from home but may actually include some wide-open spaces for thinking, praying, resting, working, and friend-making. It’s just hard to predict from this vantage point.

In response, I’m ‘listing,’ in several senses of the word: ala Saint Nicholas (making a list and checking in twice), in the sense of the Tower of Pisa (responding to the shifting, settling ground beneath one’s feet, structures flexing some but groaning under pressure, possibly causing spectators more and more unease about the looming collapse), and as a sailboat does in a good wind (sails stretching, winds drawing the whole vessel to new angles as they carry it along).

I think I need to keep listing in that simple sense of making and using lists as a tool to get my head around what is real, what is important, what can be done, what should be done. The key is to ‘list’ past the point of being stressed out, to the point I think of as ‘numbering my days aright.’ Or to put it more plainly, I need to get beyond the point of recognizing real problems to the point of making good plans. That, of course, is more work, but well worth it.

What’s the key here? Mmm, maybe it’s listening to God, seeking and submitting to the wisdom and direction he offers freely to all without finding fault, finding my resources, safety, and strength in him rather than in my assets, favorable circumstances, or personal achievements (all of which are considerably more elusive, I find!)

Listen God, I’m Speaking

“One Sunday I was teaching a group of four and five-year-olds about Samuel. Samuel was a young boy who was sleeping when he heard a voice call his name. He thought it was Eli, the priest, but Eli told him it was God and that he should reply, “Speak, Lord, I’m listening.” I asked the children questions and they knew the story pretty well, so I decided it was time to act out the story to reinforce the importance of listening to God.

“One little boy was excited, yet a little nervous to portray Samuel. After some encouragement, he was ready to begin. He heard his name called out and ran to ‘Eli’ and then went back to answer God. He heard his name being called again and in his nervousness called out, ‘Listen, God, I’m speaking!’ His little face looked up at me and he said, ‘That wasn’t right, was it?’”

That’s from Sue Eeningenburg’s Screams in the Desert, one of the books I read on my 24-hour journey from Denver to Seattle (see below). Don’t you love the title? It also lived up to its subtitle, “Hope and Humor for Women in Cross-Cultural Ministry.” The author did a good job choosing aspects of her life with which other women could identify – not just church-planters in the Middle East but women working in other parts of the world and in other kinds of cross-cultural ministry, too.

I think it would be most useful to married women with kids. Life can be much different for single women in cross-cultural ministry. There are some things single women have in common with the missionary moms, but in many ways their lives are more like those of those women’s husbands. I suspect many of single women reading this book would feel that difference pretty strongly: that this is a book for moms. Actually, I think much of it would jive with moms who aren't living overseas, too - any woman who is trying to live wisely and follow Jesus while navigating marriage, parenting, keeping house, and keeping sane.

This book is set up as a devotional. Personally, that's not a format I prefer. I want to read things in bigger chunks. I still can, of course – if I don’t mind skipping over the “Stop and read 1 Samuel 3 and answer the questions below…” bits. But many of those for whom it is written probably have less time to read and a greater need for takeaway, from the time they give to something like this. So, this may be the best approach for them.

And some of the “questions below” revealed great insights into the stresses and traps of cross-cultural living. Any one of these would be great to throw out in a team meeting for further discussion. I suspect the author, who probably does a good bit of member care / counseling / encouraging / training, has used these questions with others many times.

I know women (and men!) who could write volumes about these topics:

“What is the worst culture shock you have experienced so far? How could you have prepared better for culture shock? Share your answers with your sending agency to help others.”

“Do you prefer routine or adventure? Why? …What situation is tempting you to feel unsettled or afraid?”

“How has your self-image been affected by living in a different country?”

“What changes have you seen in the relationship between you and your children since you moved overseas?”

“What are the challenges of growing in godliness in a cross-cultural setting?”

“What looks impossible to you right now?”

“If there is one thing or person that intimidates you, what or who is it?

“In what ways have you adapted to your host culture? Why? In what areas have you decided not to culturally adapt? Why?”

“What is the hardest thing about being hospitable in a different culture? Brainstorm with your family for a strategy to help make hospitality less stressful for you.”

“Are there any areas of your life that you are holding back from God or in which you are angry at him for intruding?”

“How has living overseas intensified or decreased the feelings of loneliness?”

“Of what are you most afraid in your new country? List the reasons you are afraid. Verbally give each reason to God and explain to him why you are afraid.”

“Write out some ways that your faith has grown since leaving your home and arriving in your new country.”

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day Thoughts on Gift Giving

Quest for the Perfect Gift

I stopped reading the papers for most of the month of December, frustrated with their thinly veiled “advertorial” content. Editors seemed to assume the whole world was frantically seeking advice from strangers on what gifts to give their loved ones this Christmas. Nevertheless I clicked through to a “gift suggestions” article put together by two homemaker friends on their web site, “Not Oprah.”

One bit of wisdom I appreciated was this: “Don’t give a practical person a sentimental gift, and vice versa.” It’s a bit of an oversimplification – there are more than just two kinds of people in the world, and it’s probably a continuum and not an either/or situation – but I do wish people would think about this. Don’t worry, I’m not saying this because my friends or family offended me this year; but because I think our culture has some assumptions we’d be wise to challenge.

One almost always hears just the “vice versa” on this suggestion, and it’s almost always linked to gender. In particular, it seems widely believed and joked about that men are going to want to give their wives or womenfolk practical, unromantic gifts that supposedly no woman is going to want, as if just because she’s female a woman is going to be hurt because someone gives her what she actually wants and needs, instead of knick-knacks, perfume, and things that may serve no other use than to be cute or pretty. But wait! It’s not a gender thing, people, it’s a personality thing! Best gift I got last year? New tires for my car. Perfect.

The Stress of Trying to Be Fair

Here’s another thing I noticed this year, and maybe it’s related: How stressful it is to try to keep gift-giving equitable, and the sad inevitability of failing in this regard, most of the time. How do we either give up on “fair” or achieve it, to some extent? At any rate, are there ways we can reduce the stress and increase the peace?

Sometimes it feels like an old Western showdown – on the count of three, draw! Inevitably there is some inequality that can tempt the giver and/or recipient to feel guilty, ashamed, or disappointed, rather than generous/blessed. Exchanging birthday gifts with my sister, as we are twins, can hold this same stress more than the more common “turn taking” of other sibling birthdays (“When it was my birthday, she did this, so I’ll do that…”)

You can find some level of peace within yourself by giving everyone the same thing or items of the same value for Christmas; I think most people try to strive for that. It does, however, squash the spirit of giving and generosity a bit, and may mean the gift does not say “I understand you!” as much to the recipient as it might otherwise (e.g., you know you got the banana bread because everybody else got banana bread too).

And it does nothing to recognize perceived inequities on the recipient’s part: e.g., the kid notices that the divorced dad gave him a ‘wii’ while Mom only got him clothes. It makes Dad look better than Mom. How many moms will find this stressful and discouraging, not feeling they can “compete” in such matters? (Women are often more practical than sentimental in comparison with men in these situations, you’ll observe!)

Do We Spoil the Surprise by Talking about It?

Another thing we can (theoretically) do is communicate about these things openly in advance. I know, communication is something that requires effort, vulnerability, and trust, so sometimes it seems impossible!

The various ways many families and other social groups set across-the-group rules (while it may knock the sparkle off) can greatly reduce this stress and may therefore be an act of kindness to all involved. “Drawing names,” setting price limits, and proscribed gift “exchanges” of various kinds usually greatly reduce the inequalities. And sometimes they have additional elements of fun. How do you feel about such things – do you like drawing rules and setting boundaries, or not? Is the sentimental/practical divide the operative element here, or not?

Or Try This...

I just heard of a funny twist on gift-giving that seems to maintain an element of surprise, without losing the element of control (on the recipient’s side at least). A man and woman, married, went out and each bought themselves a nice gift, brought it home and wrapped it. On Christmas morning each opened the gift their spouse had bought, instead of their own, to discover what they had given their mate!

(Personally, I'd often rather not get a gift than to have to pick it out myself - I hate shopping!)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Redondo Beach Boardwalk

I think this beach is the one closest and most accessible to my mom's new house - just a couple miles away. She and my stepdad moved to this area a few years ago. They are in the town I lived in for a year or so after college.

I've enjoyed discovering and rediscovering its special places.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


I arrived at the airport shortly after 4:00 for my 7:00 flight. I anticipated holiday crowds but did not find them. After the difficulty in getting out during the holidays last year (due to weather) - and a lot of running around today getting ready to go - I was pleased how smoothly it all went. I used the extra airport time to have a nice dinner, take advantage of the DIA’s new free wireless service, and browse in the shops.

Then I moseyed to the far reaches of C terminal to catch my flight. It was first delayed, then canceled. Now it looks like I’ll be on one that doesn’t leave for another four hours. It will get me into Seattle in the wee hours of the morning.

I don’t know if I’ve ever spent eight hours at DIA. Have you? [Note - ended up being closer to 10, then a few hours in a hotel, then a few more back at the airport the next morning...]

When there’s nothing uncertain to fret about and when you’re not exhausted, airports can be an interesting place to be - a pause between things, a window for observing human nature (often human nature under stress, but still, interesting).

Brings to mind these words of Chesterton. He may have never spent time in an airport, but had some similar experiences with train stations:

"The only way of catching a train I have ever discovered is to be late for the one before. Do this, and you will find in a railway station much of the quietude and consolation of a cathedral.

"It has many of the characteristics of a great ecclesiastical building; it has vast arches, void spaces, coloured lights, and, above all, it has recurrence or ritual.

"It is dedicated to the celebration of water and fire - the two prime elements of all human ceremony.

"Lastly, a station resembles the old religions rather than the new religions in this point, that people go there."

G.K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles

This may be my favorite of Chesterton's books, just for sheer playfulness reined in a bit by the demands and skills of the newspaper editors for whom the pieces were originally written. Project Gutenberg which will allow you to download it (and many other public-domain works) freely and easily.

Friday, December 21, 2007


Making deliberate efforts to avail myself of simple pleasures and healthy pursuits helps, but I'm still falling into grouch mode for hours each day. I find myself such unpleasant company, sometimes! What's going on here? Why am I so anxious and stressed out? Am I depressed?

It's 3 am and I cannot sleep. But life should look better in the morning. Meanwhile, I made some tea and English muffins and am going to do some writing.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


... Shopping days until Christmas? Not unless you celebrate on Epiphany (not a bad idea).
... Cookies I've eaten already this week? Not quite that many. I don't think. I'm not counting though.

No, it's 17 MICE I've killed in as many days. And I don't think I've got them all. Here I was, proud of the fact that I'd found and sealed up the hole behind the stove last time, and that even when everybody else was having mouse problems this fall, we weren't.

That's no longer true.

Their favorite thing is to climb into the dog's dish and carry away her food, one piece at a time. Close behind that are: startling my roommate, and tidily stealing the peanut butter from the traps I set out (without getting caught or even springing the traps. I've used three different kinds!) This means war. I'm talking poison...!

Self Pity

That’s just one of the ways these are hard times in our little household. I'm a little grouchy about it.

Our aging dog keeps falling off the front porch and hurting herself, if she even makes it outside. (The carpets show signs that she is not managing to do that very consistently.)

And then, last week, our washing machine broke, nearly flooding the basement. That one could have been much worse, I'll admit. And much more expensive. Between the friend who replaced the leaking hose (and its mate) for free, and the other friend who loaned us a large collection of fans to help dry things out, all I had to pay for was the rental of a carpet cleaner, which did an admirable job at getting the water up.

Still, I don't feel like leaving, but wish this were my Christmas to stay in our cozy (if mouse-infested) house over the holidays. I'm not ready; my plans are not in place. Hate phone calling, managing logistics, and find myself hopelessly unprepared. Traveling too much lately, I guess. It's also the powerlessness of being someone else's guest, of running around trying to fit into someone else's schedule. Well, must not get set in our ways, eh? I did get my work-at-home Wednesday this week. Probably by Saturday I'll be ready to get on the plane and go 'home' to the Northwest!

I've also been feeling poor – not poorly; my health is fine – but impoverished. I only have about $100 in the checking account. Oh, there's more I could tap into, but it's supposed to be investments, so I haven't touched it. Payday IS just around the corner. I wouldn't be in this position except that the agency owes me $2,000 in reimbursements. It's my fault; I didn't realize that the way the company policies were set up I'd have to buy plane tickets in November and couldn't get my reimbursements covered until payday at the end of January - tough luck.

However, I think I have a work-around for next time this happens, to cover expenses in a way that doesn't rely on a cash-flow situation governed so strictly. And one of my supporters sent a gigantic check that, once it gets to Orlando, will not only get me out of the (small) hole my ministry account is in but also cover all those reimbursements as well as the increase in my health insurance rates (again!) End-of-year giving usually does a lot to set me up for any slim months to come. So, the poverty is a very temporary problem.

But Enough Grouching....

Tell you what I'm going to do. There are, as usual, some easy fixes to my crummy attitude, if not all of the various plights that underlie it. I'm going to light a candle, make myself a cup of mint tea, put on some gentle music, and curl up with a beautifully written book or two. Yeah. I already feel better.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sense of Reality / Sense of Humor

Went to see Michael Card in concert last night - man, it was good. Deep, artful music, played by a guy who seems humble, thoughtful, and authentic. Although it was a Christmas concert, the performance and commentary really seemed to emphasize that hey, life is tough; as human beings we often feel trapped, alone, or misunderstood. In coming to us as he did, Christ entered that world – his birth announced to people on the fringes of society – his body wrapped in rags – his purpose and message, as he grew, often misunderstood – his grace, so often rejected. Michael Card has written a couple books about lamenting, and now he's working on one about slavery. Not exactly 'positive and encouraging' stuff that so often comes out of the Christian subculture...

Anyway, I particularly appreciated the Michael Card concert because the two Christmas-oriented events I'd been part of the day before left something to be desired. One was intensely religious and just downright weird; the other was – well...

I'm part of a group I'm struggling with. The individuals in the group are not bad one-on-one, but you know how every group has sort of a culture of its own? And with this group, I really don't like how the culture is developed. There's lots of joking around. That ought to be a good thing; humor can be a powerful tool to bring people together. And maybe that's what some people feel is happening. But to me it seems just the opposite. It seems like junior high – a bunch of insecure people posturing for one another.

The jokes are almost all a bit gross, cruel, demeaning, or, mostly, downright stupid. I don't think my instincts are off on this - that really everything is OK and I need to just accept it. But on the other hand, if a big part of what is bugging me is sense of humor – that’s a highly subjective thing, isn't it? We talk about people who have a ‘great sense of humor’ as opposed to ‘no sense of humor’ but is it fair to say some people may have ‘a bad sense of humor’?

Do the trends I’m fighting have anything to with the fact that the group’s dominant personalities are all men? They seem to hide behind that ("We can take cheap shots at each other and tell gross-out stories because we're men and that's the way we are.") I find gender stereotypes really annoying and don’t like people to put gender-related expectations on me (for example, I don’t like to have people make a big deal about noticing and mentioning how I look, or expect me to like shopping or organizing things). I want to be treated like a person, not just a woman. So, I don't want to say, this isn't a problem because boys will be boys.

On the other hand in many cases the stereotypes can be tools to help us understand and appreciate one another – just because they aren’t one-size-fits-all doesn’t mean there’s nothing there. So I don’t want to dismiss them all together.

Meanwhile, I’m longing for wholesome and intelligent conversation, and for whatever reason, it’s often not to be found in this context. And unfortunately it's not a group I can extract myself from, not without great cost. So, it's hard to socialize with them.

Sigh. It's possible that if I am faithful to love the people in the group, over time it will become more the kind of group I want to be part of. But I'll admit I have a hard time being committed to loving the group, and if I can't do that, I don't think I can be part of the solution.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Heals, Binds Up, Determines, Calls by Name, Understands

Something happened this morning that brought a whoooosh of loneliness over me, but I'll hold onto this:

He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.

He determines the number of the stars
and calls them each by name.

Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
his understanding has no limit.

Psalm 147:3-5

Friday, December 07, 2007

Photo Card Trauma

I have no excuse - no kids to keep in line, no hideous scars to conceal - but for some reason I have a hard time getting decent photos of myself for newsletters, etc. I have a couple of mug shots that I'm happy to use online or for speaker bios, but sometimes you need something more.

For example, a staple item in this whole missions biz is the 'photo prayer card.' The picture, the logo, and something like 'thank you for praying for the Jones family.' I've done a couple of them over the years. When our organization got a new name last year and dropped our old email addresses, I thought I should send out a new card. I did sort of a home-made one - not very permanent-looking, but it's still hanging on my mom's fridge. Which is a problem. Because no sooner had all this happened than the organizational info became out of date again. So, I guess I ought to do a new one. It's a little depressing to have three organizations in as many years!

This time I've had a hard time getting a decent photo. Bad hair day... weird lighting ... problems beyond the Photoshop fix. Even the otherwise OK ones won't work, because it turns out something is messed up on my camera. The resolution quality was too low on almost every shot. What's up with that?

I finally got something usable today, on my third 'shoot'!

I'm not taking chances on the organizational info: this time, just a photo. Only $38 for 200 of them from Target, and I get them back on Saturday.

Well, I won't spoil the surprise by posting the image I chose. Look for it in your Christmas card. Here are some of the ones I can't use. Glad to have the process done with!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men

I've been reading a couple of books for groups I'm part of through church -
The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
, by Ken Sande, and Intercessory Prayer: How God Can Use Your Prayers to Move Heaven and Earth, by Dutch Sheets.

What stood out to me today as I was meditating on the former was that help - strength, power, peace, wisdom - is available for the asking. Amazing!

There is a question which neither book has really addressed, yet. It may lie at the intersection between the two. Brace yourself. It's kind of a big question...

Is it possible to have peace on earth, goodwill to men? World peace is something we pray for and long for, even as we sort of mock that ambition. Well, in our day, should we give up on it, or strive all the more for such an ambitious goal? Some of this came up in the comments on my October 10 posting. I wrote,
"...I am not holding my breath waiting for world peace. ... The humanistic worldview says that people are basically good and we just all need to learn to work together. But there's a problem. Reality. Human nature is flawed. Every one of us tends toward sin, self-righteousness, and self-centeredness. Under such circumstances, glimpses of peace on earth are rare, indeed."
Someone commented, "Does that mean that trying to achieve peace isn't worth the effort?"

I am still wondering.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

'Penguins ARE Christmas...'

I'm seeing penguins everywhere. This is really odd when you think of it, seeing as the nearest non-zoo-dwelling penguins live many thousands of miles South of here. I mean, Colorado is just not penguin country. So why all the penguin art and knick-knacks?

Is it globalization, or a resurgence of affection for birds, black and white, or Antarctica? Not only that, it's also Christmas. At the mall near my mom's house a whole flock of these flightless fowl now attend Santa, replacing the elves and perhaps the reindeer as well.

How did penguins get associated with Christmas? Has our notion of geography gotten so off-kilter that we don't realize the South Pole and North Pole are kind of far apart?

No sense getting too snippy about 'new traditions,' though: The old(er) ones are no less bizarre. Many, many strange things have become associated with this holiday. It seems that everyone wants to cosy up to Christmas.

What does the birth of Christ in a small town in the Middle East have to do with the bleak midwinter (here in the N. hemisphere anyway), evergreen trees, lights and tinsel, snowmen, large red socks hung by the chimney with care, or a fourth-century Byzantine bishop? And why should that particular bishop be said to still be living, perpetually wearing a red suit, and hanging out in the Arctic where he tracks childhood morality, makes toys, and and circumnavigates the globe (in a night) each December? It is pretty ludicrous, I guess.

So maybe the penguins are not so strange after all. If they hang around I'll probably get used to them after a while. But I'm not an 'early adopter.' I still look on Rudolph with suspicion, considering him an unwelcome interloper crowding in on Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Vixen. But somebody invented them, too, and apparently the canon is not closed.

Well, if I were a penguin I might rather hang out at the mall with the guy in the red suit. After all, Antarctica isn't what it used to be what with global warming and all. And if that turns out to be a fad and it's really global overpopulation we need to worry about (the latter fear only relatively recently replaced by the former one) then the penguins might as well get used to people. Before you know it someone's going to put up a mall at the Pole of Inaccessibility. I guess it's kind of encouraging that the penguins have someplace to go: the schoolchildren of America love them.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Light of the World?

"I am so tired of Christmas music, already," a cashier announced to me recently. With Thanksgiving falling early, America's "Christmas Season" is well under way. "Do you like Christmas in general?" I asked her. "Oh yeah. I just don't like the music. But I love getting stuff for my kids and watching them open their presents... I love Christmas," she said.

Is that what Christmas is about, the presents? Deb and I haven't got out our 'Christmas stuff' boxes yet; our halls are soberly undecked. Unlike most our neighbors we decided to conservatively wait to put up lights until December had actually begun. Each of us has done considerable shopping, though - is this what it really means for an American to get into the Christmas spirit? We are nothing if not shoppers, customers, consumers. And the stack of catalogs and ads in the recycle bin grows higher.

Like so many things in life, though, I find this whole gift-giving aspect of Christmas holds both traps and opportunities. It tempts me to greed, discontent, frenzy, overspending ... but at the same time provides a chance to affirm and build relationships: saying thanks, I appreciate you, I want to bless you.

We have so much to be grateful for.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Diffusing Tension with Respect

The book version of the Encountering the World of Islam ministry I'm involved with was recently given quite an encouraging review here. I'm glad to be associated with a group that goes out of its way to give Christians a more balanced, sympathetic view of Muslims than they might find otherwise.

I mentioned in a newsletter a while back that research shows the vast majority (86.7 percent) of Muslims don't personally know ANY Christians. Presumably it goes both ways. Most Christians don't know any Muslims. Without relationships, how can there be trust and respect, much less any other kind of understanding or influence?

For further thoughts as well as the background and source info on this statistic see Perfect Strangers: Christians Living Among Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims, published in Lausanne World Pulse.

I know a guy who is taking a fascinating approach, not to Muslims per se but to extremists of every stripe (most of whom live among many people who are much more moderate). He's building the foundation for a network of Christians who are willing to pray for 'enemies' by name... who will 'Adopt a Terrorist for Prayer.' Wild, huh?


Have you seen the latest 'Time Magazine?' The lead story (per cover copy) is: "What Makes Us Good/Evil: Humans are the planet's most noble creatures - and its most savage. Science is discovering why." It includes a discussion, from a scientific perspective, of why people have such a hard time relating to or making decisions that favor people on the other side of the world. Read the whole article here. Here are some excerpts.
"...Our species has a very conflicted sense of when we ought to help someone else and when we ought not, but the general rule is, Help those close to home and ignore those far away. [This is] rooted in you from a time when the welfare of your tribe was essential for your survival but the welfare of an opposing tribe was not - and might even be a threat."

"...We retain a powerful remnant of that primal dichotomy, which is what impels us to step in and help a mugging victim, but allows us to decline to send a small contribution to help the people of Darfur. 'The idea that you can save the life of a stranger on the other side of the world by making a modest material sacrifice is not the kind of situation our social brains are prepared for,' says [Harvard University's assistant professor of psychology Joshua] Greene."

Friday, November 23, 2007

Just Checking!

Losing Track of Time

Remember, a few months ago, when I wrote about losing my debit card? By the next morning the enterprising person who found it had racked up $1200 in unauthorized charges and the card was canceled. It took 10 days or so to get a replacement. That was about the same amount of time I had to wait both for the funds to be replaced by MasterCard and for my next paycheck to be deposited in my checking account. Although I could have dipped into credit or savings, I decided instead to simply stop spending money during that time.

Now I find myself facing a similar opportunity to try “doing without.” My wristwatch had been losing time for a couple of weeks. It finally stopped all together. Rather than replace it I put a new one on my Christmas list and will go through life in a less time-conscious way until then – see how that feels. Hmm… I’ll probably buy myself a new watch if I don’t find one under the Christmas tree, but maybe not. After all, it’s seldom difficult to discover the time when necessary and might be nice to be free from the compulsion to know the time when it doesn’t really matter.

Checking on Things

How many other compulsive “checking” habits do I have? Too many. Mail, voicemail, email; I check ‘em all the time, though I’m less committed to answering messages than checking them. What else? Donation reports, bank balances, interest rates… headlines, other people's blogs. I’m not tempted by weather and traffic reports or sports scores. But I do frequently check how many people are looking at my blog and subscribing to Missions Catalyst or clicking through on the links… and find myself a bit aghast at those who go days, weeks, or months disinterested in such things, for example never checking their email instead of refreshing it every few minutes as I seem to.

The boundaries between what is work and what is personal are not always clear, so I often realize I'm working when I'm supposed to be off or behaving as if I'm 'off' when I'm supposed to be working.

It is perhaps ironic that one of the best ways I’ve found to regulate this compulsive checking behavior is by tracking, somewhat, how much time they take up during the day.

Accountability as Obstacle

Some of you know that among the reasons our previous ministry went down was that it got clogged in bureaucracy. The tools and systems that were supposed to clarify our goals and plans and reduce our inefficiency were themselves inefficient, inaccessible, and inflexible, masking rather than revealing the fact that we weren’t actually accomplishing what we meant to and reduced our ability to respond to changing needs and opportunities. It wasn’t that they were entirely bad systems, but they did not work. The time-tracking system was the one I found most helpful, but it was never harnessed for its best uses, only its worst ones. It also included a rather sinister assumption that time is money. Those most focused on making our non-profit ministry as much like a for-profit business as possible also made the irresponsible financial decisions that led us to the rocks on which we sank – ironically, on the brink of bankruptcy. So frustrating!

So, one reason it’s been hard to get our new ministry on its feet, I think, is that we’re torn between thinking that business-like ways are the answer (we just need to do them RIGHT this time) and preferring to run in the other direction, shying away from anything that too closely resembles the management approaches that ruined us before. Is it possible to hold these things in balance? It’s nice not to have all the bureaucracy but I’d like to see a few more principles and policies nailed down so we know we’re all moving in the same direction.

Accountability as Tool

Recently I acknowledged that if I want more structures for accountability I might just have to create them myself. It’s always been that way somewhat but now more than ever. So, I re-instituted the time-tracking system for my own use, with my own adjustments. So now I know where my time at work is going. When I am at the office nine hours and can only account for five or six, I know that things like those compulsive “checking” behaviors are eating it away.

Anyone else have such problems?

What would it be like if I put them aside? The day-long email and media fasts I used to do are probably not practical at this juncture. I don’t think I could get away with ignoring email and voicemail. But I might be able to limit checking the other things to once or twice a day at most. If I were more disciplined with my time I could, ironically, forget about time: serenely focusing on the things I actually mean to do.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Making the Rounds

Today I'm in Enumclaw, WA, "The Gateway to Mount Rainer." Yes, home in WA for a week, visiting family, friends, supporters. I was dreading the trip a bit, having to find the words to respond to, "sounds like it's been a difficult year for you"! Yup. It has.

I don't know if I could have done this sooner but it hasn't been as hard as it might have been.

Getting Face Time

Tell you what's been difficult, though: getting appointments with people. Every year people seem busier.

Every year I've been gone we also grow a bit more apart in most cases. So spending time together can seem forced. Sometimes the camaraderie comes back. In others the magic seems a bit gone, but who knows: having left the door open may mean it will be there next time. Sometimes I leave subtly disappointed, wondering why I made such a point of getting together or if I did or said something wrong, missed the point of connection that might have been there. Ah well: nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Of course, getting time with people is also made more difficult by the awkwardness and reluctance I feel about asking for those appointments - especially making the phone calls; usually it requires several phone calls or emails to arrange an appointment, and I seldom start soon enough or follow through very well.

My Admin Fantasy

Found myself fantasizing about having a secretary who could make my calls, set up my schedule, book my travel, get the directions, keep my files organized - none of which are my strengths. Alas, Christian women do not HAVE secretaries, they ARE secretaries, so I may never experience the luxury of having someone to help me succeed in those ways. Still, I'll add it to my wish list. Some day: a personal assistant. Oh, I'm not greedy - I'll happily share one!

Meanwhile, I wonder if this 'problem' is one of those things that has both complicated/expensive solutions, and easy/cheap ones. Like the problem of not getting enough sunlight: you can sell your house, buy a new one, move to a sunnier climate - or you can get more lamps and paint your walls. Might do the trick. Or say you are not handy around the house: you can despair wishing for a spouse, or you can learn to cook and clean / find a handyman. Neither is very difficult.

Already, technology has made many of the things I'd want an assistant for a lot easier. Maybe there are additional tools out there that could make my life easier, just as my mobile phone, laptop computer, and wireless internet connection have done?

Northwest Climate

Today I've seen some sunshine but it tends to be pretty damp, gray, and cold here. The winter coat I've only worn once this year in Denver is a staple here. Also, I'm reminded that Northwest people are a bit different from people you'll meet elsewhere. There's an advertising campaign currently blanketing the region which demonstrates that well. Take a look at the accompanying website here. I thought it was quite funny.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

More Isobel Kuhn - Joining the China Inland Mission

A few years ago I was part of a ‘social networking’ site called Missionster. No idea if it is still running and active. Among the characters lurking there – mostly young, mission-minded Southern Californians – were some who represented themselves as historic missionaries like Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor, and yes, my recent companion Isobel Kuhn. I think it would be a fun and helpful exercise to immerse oneself in an admirable (or even just interesting) character like that – historic or fictional – and to discipline oneself respond as they did or would. Do other web communities encourage / allow that? Is Sherlock Holmes roaming around in Second Life? Does Florence Nightingale have a MySpace account? Is Mahatma Gandhi on Facebook?

[NOTE: 6/29/08 - If you are Facebooker, you can become 'friends' with J.O. Fraser, one of Isobel's mentors and inspirations.]

I’ve been planning to write another posting about my new friend Isobel, telling a story from her autobiography By Searching. If you can't find a copy in your local library, you can get it from OMF here.

This one takes place more than 80 years ago, in January 1927. Isobel was just out of college and ready to pursue the next step for which she had been preparing, joining the mission agency whose members and supporters had nurtured her as she turned from living for herself to choosing a consecrated life and equipping herself for cross-cultural service.

First, a Graduation Story
Elected the female valedictorian of her class at Moody, Isobel had been required to make a speech at the December graduation. According to the rules of the institution had to submit her word-for-word speech in advance that it might be approved, then recite it from memory exactly as written. This wasn’t her style, as she was later to realize. Cramped by it, she stumbled and forgot her lines.

As soon as she could get away she ran off to her room where, she says, “I fell on my knees in an agony of humiliation and failure.”
“A pale December sun shone weakly through the heavy city atmosphere upon me, and then suddenly the Lord was there with me. I felt His love folding me around. ‘Never mind, dear,’ He was saying. “Failure or success it is all over now and my love is just the same.’

“…The words were as if spoken, and the tenderness that engulfed me was balm of Gilead to my agonized soul. Slowly I quieted, relaxed, rested back on Him and drank deeply of His love. It was a wonderful experience and I was lifted up in spirit so that I no longer cared for any personal humiliation. I was deeply sorry I had disappointed the expectations of my class, but apart from that I was beyond hurt. I have never forgotten the outpouring of His love upon me that day when I felt such a failure.”
As she left to spend some weeks or months at the China Inland Mission’s “home” in Toronto where she would receive some training and orientation to the mission, one of her mentors came to the train to see her off.
“I do not know whether I was looking anxious or sad or just plain tired, but suddenly a tender compassion lit up his face and he leaned forward and said to me, ‘Do not be afraid, Isobel. There is nothing to dread in candidates’ school. The CIM has known you from a child.’”

Found Wanting

The time came for Isobel to be examined by the Council which appointed new members. It was “a formidable occasion” she says, and she was nervous. Called back to the director’s sitting room after supper to hear the verdict, she was told:
"The Council was quite satisfied with your answers today, and we in the Home have enjoyed your presence. But the Council has asked me to speak to you upon a very serious matter. Among your referees there was one who did not recommend you. The reason given was that you are proud, disobedient, and likely to be a trouble maker. This person has known you for some years and the Council felt they could not ignore the criticism. … I cannot tell you the name, but I would like to discuss with you what havoc such characteristics can cause on the field.’ He then proceeded to do so.  
“At the end of an hour of earnest exhortation, he pronounced the verdict: ‘The council has decided to accept you conditionally…. There is an anti-foreign uprising in China just now which is very serious and we dare not send out any new candidates. That will be our public statement on this matter. For yourself alone, and we hope you will not spread it around, during your waiting period the Vancouver Council will be watching to see if any of these characteristics show themselves. If you prove that you have conquered them, you will then meet with the Western Council and be accepted fully…’”
How Would You Respond?
That night, unable to sleep, Isobel considered the accusations. She’d been accused of being proud, before, and didn’t think it was true. In time though she had come to realized there was a real flaw in her life but that it had been given the wrong label. It was more a matter of selfishness. She had divided the world into people who interested her and people who did not, and tended to brush off the latter. Still a pretty problematic characteristic, and not one you’d want to see in a missionary. Disobedient? That one did seem unfair. Moody had so many rules and she’d meticulously obeyed them all, sometimes at great inconvenience. What about rebelliousness? Well, after laying these things down before God she rose from her knees not with resentment, but with alertness: to see if these things appeared in her life and get rid of them.

She must have still felt the accusations rankle, though. She mentioned them in letters to a few close friends. One young man whom she expected to be indignant on her behalf, wrote instead:
“Isobel, what surprised me most of all was your attitude in this matter. You sound bitter and resentful. Why, if anyone had said to me, ‘you are proud, disobedient, and a troublemaker,’ I would answer ‘Amen, brother! And even then you haven’t said the half of it!’

“… He was right. Why try to make the mission think I was lily-white? They’d have personal experience before long as to just how earthly a person I was!”
As Isobel says, these accusations were a kindness – not because they were true but because they could have been, because they kept her in North America for some work he had for her before sending her to China, and because they shook her self-confidence in an important way – reminding her not to rely on her own good works or efforts in anything.

It mars the story somewhat when Isobel explains how she discovered who had spoken against her, and chose not to try to clear her name… but she was eventually entirely cleared of the accusations and went out with no cloud on her reputation, instead had the Council’s unanimous and unconditional support! How often do we come out of such situations so squeaky clean?

Well, this is personal for me. Some 60 years later, I found myself in similar circumstances. I was about a bit younger than Isobel when I was rejected by an agency (not merely put on probation, as she was), and on the basis of similar statements also made on a confidential character evaluation. I’ve never forgotten how that felt. Looking at my own heart, I felt the same conflict between the partial truth of the negative words, and the misunderstanding or injustice in them.

I don’t think I responded as well as Isobel did. But it has shaped my life in positive ways as it did in hers – reminding me of both my real weaknesses and those of which I might be accused. And I also came to see God’s hand in redirecting me from the course I was planning to follow, toward another one. God is good. And I feel a connection to Isobel.

On the Other Hand
I should acknowledge, I don’t admire or relate to everything about Isobel and her life. Some of her views and ways that seemed charming in a girl in her 20s lose their enchantment in a middle-aged woman. Her prejudices and assumptions certainly belong to a different world, too.

The way she calmly submitted to being separated from her children for years on end for the sake of the ministry and their schooling seems unimaginable. I think she sent her daughter Kathryn to boarding school before she was 10 and didn’t see her again until she was 16 or something.

Nor did she or the mission see anything wrong in long separations from her husband, requiring him to travel without her for four months of every year. At one point men of his position in the mission were even asked to leave their wives and families back in the West for a whole year while they went ahead to set up some things in China! (This, at least, allowed Isobel to spend time with Kathryn and get to know her nearly grown daughter again.)

So, I don’t know that I’d change places with Isobel, but I do enjoy the fellowship of reading about her life. It’s nice to know we are not alone when we struggle, that whatever it is, someone else has been through something much like it before!

> What about you? Got a historic companion for your journey these days?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Office

Oh dear, still at the office, haven't packed, and need to be on a shuttle to the airport 12 hours from now for a week in the Northwest. But there were so many things to get done today!

We started a serious recubiclization of the office on Friday. Preparing for it was quite emotional, though not because I had any regrets about moving exactly one foot south (!) - or getting new neighbors... The 'new' space dedicated to the use of the five members of my work team here turned out great. It's just how we like things, and quite harmonious. Do come and visit! But organizing some of the rest of the space came with another round of sorting, filling, and tossing old Caleb Project stuff, and that was painful once again. There's still more to do - we need to be out of the down-the-hall filing cabinets and the storage closet by year's end.

I had been looking at the office-redesign process as just the kind of concrete, creative task around which we could rally, put relationship ahead of task, and practice some of the skills that got forgotten when trust was broken in The Late Unpleasantness: cooperation, sharing, helping each other, servant leadership. Well, good news: I've seen some of that. There have been some bright moments! But some quite dark ones as well. Sigh! Maybe I need some time at home - with other relationships to juggle, and give these ones a bit of a rest again. Could be worse: I could work alone!

Do you see a pattern here? I seem to have little tolerance for broken relationships in situations (like close family, and Christian ministry) where I expect healthy, loving, trusting ones. Then I respond in ways (like anger or bitterness or complaining) that are unlikely to improve the situation. Is there something I need to learn about managing my expectations? Should I just be more tolerant of meanness and selfishness, not let it get to me? Or are there other things I can do to respond constructively, to learn to interact with others in ways that communicate grace but also bring out the best in them? How do you do that, how do you... 'win friends and influence people'? (I do have that book on my shelf... maybe due for a re-read! After Ken Sande's "The Peacemaker" which I've been carrying around.)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Singleness and Thanksgiving

Every now and then a married person will tell me in somewhat confidential tones that they don't know if they could do it: be single. If something happened to their spouse they would have to marry again (or move in with someone, or sleep around anyway). So they admire and respect my "ability" to live the single (and yeah, celibate) life.

I'm sure they have good intentions, but I don't know what to make of such comments, and usually don't inquire what exactly they mean by them. That they don't think they could deal with a lifetime without physical intimacy? (It's not my idea of a good time either, but seems necessary under the circumstances.) That they are afraid of being by themselves, or facing so many aspects of life alone? (Nor am I thrilled about those prospects, though there are ways to compensate.) That they so find their identity in being a wife/mother or husband/father that they wouldn't know who they are without it? (True, that's a problem I do not have!)

Well, I'll say here what I would probably never say to someone directly, because it sounds too harsh / religious: God's grace is sufficient for me, and his power is made perfect in weakness. It's true for me, and I need to remember it. God's grace is sufficient for a lifetime of singleness. Really. Isn't that amazing? It may not come to that for me, but if it does, it's going to be OK.

It's true for my married friends, too, looking at their spouses and children, feeling helpless - wondering when someone's going to "find them out" and tell the world they aren't really grownups and should not be allowed to have these responsibilities! God's grace is sufficient for you. His power is made perfect in weakness.
"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." - 2 Corinthians 4:7 (click to read in context)
Living as people of the gospel means that we know and experience what it means to put our lives in God's hands and say: You're God and I'm not. I put myself at your disposal, recognizing that what you'll do with and in my life is way better, ultimately, than anything I could come up with. So I'm willing to give up what I might think are my "rights" - including the "right" to be married, and even the "right" to be happy - in favor of what you want to do. Your kingdom come, your will be done, right here like it is in heaven. And if it's hard and I mess things up more often then not, that makes it all the more clear that it's not about me and some ability or virtue I have - any power here is coming from you, not from me.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tagged again...

Tagged by Phyllis-the-Zebra to share six odd or little-known (and, it is implied, interesting) facts about myself. Perhaps I go around telling stories about myself too much – yes, I believe I do: This is a difficult assignment. Nevertheless, here goes.

  1. I’m afraid of the dark. It’s one reason I don't live alone.
  2. I hate toothpaste. I use as little as possible and one small tube can last me ages.
  3. Though I became a Christian more than 20 years ago, for many of those years I didn’t like Jesus. What changed? Well, he didn’t, so I must have. Not sure when or how this happened.
  4. I am the only woman I know whose feet are shrinking as she gets older. What is up with this? Went from wearing 8’s, to 7.5’s and just bought a pair of size 7 boots. In women’s clothing, size-inflation is rampant (today’s size 10 is considerably bigger than it was 5 years ago, so we don’t have to admit we’re getting fatter). But shoes aren’t like that, are they?
  5. I’m not naturally a ‘people pleaser,’ but it is my secret desire to become more and more of a ‘macarist’ – one who takes joy in the pleasure of others. Wouldn’t it be great to be one of those people who had a natural gift of making people feel great about themselves? I’m not like that, but I'm working on it.
  6. My twin sister informs me that I may also have an exciting anatomical abnormality they just found in her, as it runs in families: an extra (at least partial) set of kidneys. There you go, that’s definitely an 'odd fact.' (But don’t tell, or one of us may wake up someday in a bathtub full of ice).

Monday, November 05, 2007

Smart Philanthropy: A Good Nonprofit Should...

As I mentioned in my ‘recent reading’ list I have been enjoying a series of books called ‘The Million Dollar Mysteries.’ In many ways they are typical fare for Harvest House (the publisher): part mystery, part romance, part evangelistic tract – with the corpse, the kiss, the conflict, and the gospel presentation falling in the appropriate places. But rather well done, for all that. And I find the premise rather interesting and creative.

Our heroine, a former private investigator, works for a well-funded charitable foundation. It’s her job to check out the charities her foundation is interested in supporting to make sure they are on the up-and-up. She interviews the staff and board members, reads all their literature, get the financial reports, and digs pretty deep. Often she finds areas of weaknesses and makes her foundation’s gift conditional on making certain changes to tighten up certain aspects of the way they run their organization.

Here’s what she looks for. A good nonprofit should meet the following criteria:

  1. It should serve a worthwhile cause.
  2. It should adequately fulfill its mission statement, showing fruits for its labors.
  3. It should plan and spend wisely.
  4. It should pay salaries and benefits on a par with [not exceeding] nonprofit industry standards.
  5. It should follow standards of responsible and ethical fundraising.
  6. It should have an independent board that accepts responsibility for activities.
  7. It should be well-rated by outside reporting sources.
  8. It should have a good reputation among its peers.
  9. It should believe in full financial disclosure.
  10. It should have its books audited annually by an independent auditor and receive a clean audit opinion.

I wrote the author, wondering where she had gotten the idea for this aspect of the series. Had she worked in the nonprofit world, or for a foundation? Maybe she had some bad experiences... I wondered where she got her list. Was there some objective source out there that I could go to understand my own ministry – and those I support – better, and get some objective input on how they measure up on these criteria?

She was a bit swamped and didn’t have time to talk but I expect to hear from her within a few weeks. She said yes, she has been burned by non-profits, and she wishes there were people doing what she describes (instead of giving their money without checking or running their organizations at lower standards).

I think she’s right; most of us give without asking many hard questions about what it is we are supporting. I know some foundations have lengthy and exacting processes for making decisions about the disbursement of funds, but I think they tend to emphasize the alignment of the charity with the foundations’ goals and values, as demonstrated by the grant proposals. Is that true? What about a really big foundation, like the Gates Foundation, would they ever hire an investigator? It sure seems like a good idea.

Giving Circles

A few months ago I read an article in an airline magazine about ‘giving circles,’ – like investment clubs but designed to help members pool their charitable giving to support causes or values they share. I’ve been thinking about the idea of finding or starting one. I do try to be pretty deliberate in my giving, and have served on mission committees at my church that have to develop and implement standards for support. I wonder what it would be like to take evaluation and intentional giving to the next level.

I still hope to talk to Mindy Starns Clark – the author – but may also see if I can get some input from one of the people I know on one side or the other of what mission agencies call ‘development’ – major fundraising. Find out how they think about these things.

In terms of my own giving, most of it goes overseas – and I want to keep it that way. But I could use some direction in how to put my money to better use in helping vulnerable people my own city as well. I know there are a number of nonprofits serving the people of Littleton, Englewood, and South Denver – feeding the hungry, welcoming refugees and immigrants, helping troubled kids, teaching people how to read, and so on. I’ve never done much about it. Frankly, I feel a little guilty about writing a check rather than volunteering my time. Yet I do neither.

I’ve got a hunch I could find 10-20 local families interested in joining me in pooling $500 a year or so, each, to set up a small foundation that would accept grant proposals and research local ministry organizations to see how our money could make a difference.

What do you think about this idea?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Decades Meme / 10, 20, 30

You're still welcome to comment on the "Words" post, below, but I have something new today.

Barb tagged me with this meme: Where were you 10, 20, and 30 years ago?

In the blogging world, when you are ‘tagged’ by a ‘meme’ it means that there is some topic or (usually) a question going around that a blogger writes about and then challenges other bloggers he or she knows to answer as well. Some consider the practice silly or rude for a variety of reasons, and some bloggers refuse to participate. However, if you find the question one of interest you can search by labels, titles, or keywords – or just follow people’s links – to spend hours seeing what others have to say about that topic!

10 years ago: November 3, 1997 – I was 26 and had told everyone I knew that my birthday was the next week. I had a lot of friends. I had finished college five years before and a few years later had moved to Denver to join Caleb Project; was loving it. We’d closed down the research department but recruited a leader whose arrival, when his support was raised, would allow us to reopen it. I’d just traveled to Kyrg~zstn – my third time to do research in Central Asia and my first time as a leader. Had faced some considerable challenges, disappointments, and failures, but was enjoying life and had great hope for the future. I’d moved into the house I live in now and joined the church I’ve been part of ever since.

20 years ago: November 3, 1987 – I was 16 – a week away from turning 17 – and a senior at Redmond High School. I had no idea how much happier and better my life would be a year later when I was off at college. Over a period of several years in the early part of the decade my dad had gone into treatment for alcoholism (25+ years sober now!), mom and dad got divorced, and we moved to the big city. I became a follower of Jesus, and made it my (unexamined) life goals to be popular, happy, and good (with little success, needless to say). The whole decade of the 80s also saw the development and entrenchment of the cardinal rule of my family: try not to upset your sister. I though this rule was a bad idea for all involved, and resented it.

30 years ago: November 3, 1977 – Meg and I were six years old, about to turn seven (did anyone pick up that we have a birthday next weekend?). Living in Maryland and enjoying second grade. Life was about playing pretend, coloring, running around the neighborhood, and watching television. Apparently my tendency to think more highly of myself than I ought to goes way back (to birth, perhaps?): It was about this time that when my teacher asked the class who we thought should be that week’s Big Cheese (sort of like student of the week), I raised my hand and informed the class I would not be there much longer – so it would be a great idea for me to be that week's Big Cheese. Everyone had to write nice things about me in their best handwriting on strips of lined newsprint which were collected and pasted into onto butcher paper and made into a book which I still have, now stashed away someplace in the basement. Life was about to make a big turn: We would sell our house and load everything into a big moving truck, put the dog in the back of the station wagon, and move cross-country to a new life on an island in Puget Sound.

Let’s see, I tag Mandy, Lu, and Phyllis the Zebra ; - ) Will you take the challenge?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Question for Word Lovers -

...What words do you NOT like? (I'll tell you my answers after you tell me yours and then we can go around being curmudgeonly and covering our ears when we hear them.)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

More Capon: Men and Knives

"We commonly define man as homo sapiens, the knowing animal. Yet long before he left traces of his knowing, he was busy, as men have always been, misplacing tools. It is by the hammers and the axes he never quite could keep in sight that homo faber, man the maker, betrays his presence in the depths of history. The oldest fingerprints in the world are those on tools; and of all tools, the knife reigns supreme. … All the kitchens, and half the pockets in the world are filled with knives…

"I grant you that I have overstated the case: Not all men have pocketknives. I was carried away by the force of my upbringing. I was raised, you see, in a tradition in which it was considered improper for a man to be without a knife on his person. (Seriously. I hound my sons to carry one, just as my father hounded me, and his father him, and so on, world without end.)

"My grandfather had a number of dicta, all of which were aimed at delineating how a gentleman should comport himself. One of them was: No gentleman should ever be without a pocket knife. You would have to have known him to appreciate the full paradoxicality of the statement. He had the most elegant manners of any man I ever met, but he was ready for anything – fish or cut bait, figuratively or literally – at a moment’s notice. I give you one more of his dicta to help you take the full measure of the man: A gentleman should be able to prepare a light supper without removing his jacket.

"Obviously, you would have loved him."

- Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb, pp. 53-54

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Woman with Knife . . .

Many potential blog topics at hand, but today: something domestic.

One of the perks of work-at-home Wednesday is the leisure to make a good breakfast – one of the simple pleasures that raises one’s quality of life! Last week our supermarket had a sale on miniature yams and sweet potatoes: a three-pound bag for practically nothing. What could be better than a couple of sweet potatoes boiled and sautéed, scrambled with eggs, and topped with grated, sharp cheddar cheese?

Unfortunately while preparing the potatoes I badly sliced my index finger with one of Deb’s nice, new knives. I’ve always been told that sharp knives are safer than dull ones, that you are more likely to be hurt by a dull knife. Yet I have never found this to be true. Maybe I am not enough of a purist, or just not careful enough – and the steel population of my kitchen knows it! Out to get me. The same knife cut me about a week ago.

Here’s what Father Robert Farrar Capon has to say about knives, in his 1967 book on food and philosophy, The Supper of the Lamb:
"At the root of many a woman’s failure to become a great cook lies her failure to develop a workmanlike regard for knives. After all, unless she has the tools and the talent with which to bone, skin, slice, and splice, she must revert to the condition of her ancestors. The progress of the race, of course, enables her to serve prefried fish fillets and diced vegetables in butter sauce, but she herself regresses a million years. Her frozen vegetables are bludgeoned from the freezer with any club that comes to hand (I have seen women use milk bottles, chair legs and even, ironically, the handle of a knife). Once freed from the ice, the package is torn open with bare hands and thrown in the pot. Her results may be satisfyingly modern. But her methods! She is hardly better than her primeval grandmother.
"Accordingly, if she is to mend her ways – if Fanny Farmer is not to have died in vain – she will have to acquire enough knives to liberate her from slavery to prepared foods, and enough skill to be able to cut what she wants the way she wants it."
- The Supper of the Lamb, pp. 56-67

Friday, October 26, 2007

File Cabinets

I spent about half my work-day continuing the process of cleaning house - or, rather, office. Once again filled the recycling bin behind building 26, this time with files left behind by dozens of former coworkers.

One had even left all of her personal financial records (paystubs, donation reports, health insurance forms) as well as personnel files for those she supervised. Out they went. Along with folder after folder from strategic conferences she attended, filled with notes that probably no one else would understand. There were probably some gems in there, but they were hard to recognize... I salvaged and preserved what I could. Some of this stuff could be really helpful. It's hard to tell.

I really don't like having to be the one to make these decisions, but when your whole department leaves and you are the only one left, and it's time to downsize... what do you do? I shouldn't delegate such things to S., who has only been here a year, or to a hapless volunteer. But it was painful to do it myself.

Some of the files dated back to Caleb Project's glory days (sigh!) Others recorded darker times (shudder!) So I felt both the nostalgia of a mother packing up baby things and the pain of a widow getting rid of her husband's shirts. Though at times it was more like the frustration of a mom cleaning up after her teenager who had left way too much crap behind.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

One More Artist - OK, Two More!

I like this artist, David Drummond and bought a set of cards with his watercolor paintings of - is it Lake Powell? Does it really look like this? Remind me to visit someday!

Picked up a Georgia O'Keefe print to replace the aging, faded, Monet poster that's been hanging in our living room. Turns out the Monet was already there when Deb moved in, what, a dozen years ago? And I always thought it was hers! But she agreed to let "Lake George, Early Moonrise, Spring 1930" replace it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Family Trip, continued

So, we didn't enjoy each other as much as we would have liked - could not always overcome our tendencies to drive each other crazy... how do we do that? So this didn't bring us closer; I think it set us back. I don't know though, sometimes backwards is on the way to forwards! I'm going home for Thanksgiving though so we'll have a chance to try again.

Apart from the company, all of us enjoyed the chance to soak up the beauty. Art galleries and shops, museums, mountains, trees, and the great symphony of light and shadows of sunny autumn days in the Southwest. Mom and I bought some nice Native American wool rugs from a mountain town that specializes in weaving, and Meg picked up a couple hundred dollars' worth of yarn to knit a commemorative shawl, as well as getting supplies for southwestern-flavored necklaces for each of us.

The artist who created this picture may be my favorite. He just opened a gallery in Santa Fe near the Georgia O'Keefe museum.

The trip put a total of almost exactly 1000 miles on my Honda Accord, which should soon pass the 100,000-mile mark.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Click Here for Pictures

Still in Taos - taking the mountain road to Santa Fe today. Art, food, nature, architecture - all beautiful and pleasant - so it's refreshing. And the fact that my cell phone gets no coverage here is strangely comforting. Though it's nice to have wireless access and a laptop.

Megan and I are not getting on well, though, and that's a disappointment.

For pictures from our trip to New Mexico, see my sister's flikr site, here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Off to See New Mexico

"Taos is a true escape - unique in all the world for its perfect blend of natural beauty, rich history, diverse culture, and intangible energy that rejuvenates the soul. Nature has endowed Taos with more than 300 days of sun each year, cool mountain summers, and deep powder in the winter. You can ski, bike, and hike to your heart's content. Then satisfy your cultural side with world-class art galleries and museums, historic tours, fine dining, shopping and much more."
Meg and Mom fly in tomorrow afternoon. Friday morning we take off for our little road-trip vacation to New Mexico. Two nights in Taos and one in Santa Fe, then drive back some time Monday. They fly back to Seattle midday Tuesday. Meg has been sick, though, and only just got her doctor's clearance to come. So we may have to keep things pretty low-key and make sure every day includes nap time!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Malika's Big Adventure

This morning roommate Deb and I took the 15-year-old chow, Malika (whom we inherited from past roommates) on what I am pretty sure is only her second trip to vet in this millennium. It’s taken us quite a while to agree to take this step. Deb, in particular, was afraid that after examining Malika the vet would want us to “put her down” – and Deb could not bear one more loss in this year of so many. It’s been a tough year for her too: coming to terms with the fact that she may never be able to work again and having to tell everyone that, going on disability (due primarily to the rheumatoid arthritis that has afflicted her since she was a child), turning 50, being laid off from her job of 25 years when our ministry went out of business, and saying goodbye to some of her closest friends who moved away after the CP shutdown (see picture below of Deb and Nancy).

Back to the dog question… Me, I’m afraid I was thinking of myself. I wondered if the dog-lovers at the vet clinic might take one look at Malika’s degenerate state, and, declaring us unfit owners, take her away and lock up the two of us (probably in a plastic crate…)

None of these things happened. Deb had carefully explained over the phone that we did not want to put our dog to sleep. We wanted to get her a general physical exam, have what might be a skin condition examined and diagnosed, and get her shots up to date so we could seek out a brave grooming service who might take on her wild coat and claws (too much for mere mortals like us to tame). Oh, and to be equipped as hospice nurses so we could make her last months or years in our home more pleasant.

The verdict is that she’s lost a lot of weight – along with most of her muscle tone – has a growth on one foot that ought to be removed – and definitely needs to get rid of the way-too-thick, matted coat. Her teeth are quite bad; she’s got periodontal disease. In terms of her general health a prescription dog food, continued doses of glucosamine, and more exercise should help. The vet is also going to do some ‘blood work’ the results of which will determine if we have bigger problems, and show how risky it is to have her sedated for the grooming and teeth cleaning – neither of which she’s going to cooperate with otherwise. We’ll find out Monday. After these traumatic experiences she may be a healthier, happier dog.

It’s a relief to have this first step behind us. It’s going to take a couple more visits – and vet/groomer bills – to accomplish all that is needful, but today only set us back $198.

And how is Deb doing, you ask? OK. I think she needs continued help to live a healthy, not-entirely-isolated life, which is difficult when she’s in constant pain and tends to withdraw. Having things she’s expected to do can help her rise to the occasion but she can't help having to cancel about 60% of the plans she makes, when the day comes and she is not well. Winters are usually harder for her. So, there may be some difficult days ahead.

Deb and I are of course quite fond of and accustomed to each other and rather compatible, so unless my job situation takes me out of Colorado I expect to continue with our happy household arrangement for some time. It works well for us. And it’s economical too: how many people do you know who can get away with spending only 25% of their net pay on household expenses (including rent, all utilities, and phones), as I do? Pretty sweet deal. Much thanks is due our generous landlady, Amy.

UPDATE: The ol' D.O.G. passed her physical. After reviewing her 'blood work' the vet said 'she is in remarkably good shape for her age,' which praise Deb and I thought we'd be satisfied hearing - about ourselves, I mean. I'll swing by the vet's office tomorrow for the fancy-shmancy geriatric dog food he prescribed.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Consecration - Isobel Kuhn

For more postings on missions history, click here.

To every man there openeth
A way and ways and a way.
And the high soul climbs the high way
And the low soul gropes the low
And in between on the misty flats
The rest drift to and fro.
But to every man there openeth
A high way and a low
And every man decideth the way his soul shall go.

- John Oxenham
Those words open Isobel Kuhn's autobiography, By Searching: My Journey through Doubt into Faith. I'd never read any of her work. OMF has a collection of it on sale. I thought I'd 'try before I buy' and so checked out the first volume from OMF's library on the first floor of our building. (In doing so I could enjoy it in a old hardback first edition that nobody had checked in out since the 1970s, which added to the pleasure!)

Written in the 1950s and describing events of the 1920s, it's not surprising that the story is a little dated. It was not hard to find things I could identify with, even so.

The fundamentalist-modernist debate was raging. Isobel was tossed on those waves. An English professor at her West Coast college (the University of British Columbia) planted the seeds of doubt, asserting that no intelligent person could believe in heaven, hell, and the the Bible 'in this enlightened age.' Isobel had never really questioned her faith. But unwilling to be thought a fool, she turned away from God and sought her meaning and satisfaction in 'worldly pleasures.' Then - as now - these had little power to really satisfy. She found herself in the misty flats - "The in-between place... where men walk in the mist telling each other that no one can see these things clearly... life has no end but amusement and no purpose. It was a popular thing to be on the misty flats, you had plenty of company."

After a broken engagement she thought about suicide; what was worth living for? She only hesitated because of the pain it would bring to her parents. That night, a line from Dante came to mind (there's a good English major!) "In His will is our peace."
"Dante believed in God. What if there was a God, after all? If so, I certainly had not been in His will. Maybe that was why I had no peace? An idea struck me. No one was watching to see if I were a fool or not. Sitting there on my bed's edge, I raised both hands heavenward. 'God, if there be a God,' I whispered, for I was not going to believe in what did not exist just to get a mental opiate, 'If You will prove to me that You are, and if You will give me peace, I will give You my whole life. I'll do anything You ask me to do, go where You send me, obey You all my days.' Then I climbed back into bed and pulled the blankets over me."
The rest of the book tells how God did answer her prayers and led her into a life consecrated to him. Consecrated: We don't use that word much, these days. Some of the things it led Isobel to give up are things we would tend to consider harmless, but they were getting in the way of her obeying God and loving others, so I think she did the right thing.