Sunday, April 29, 2007

Tribute to Dandelions

In spite of what the world says - and how many things does the world get right? - I find myself again admiring the humble dandelion.

A profusion of them are taking over my front lawn. Was it last year or the year before I dug out as many as I could, until my hands blistered at the task? Whatever opposition I offered then, there are no fewer of them now.

These plants have a remarkable resiliance, a great support system, an effective strategy to reproduce themselves, and a willingness and ability to pioneer where other plants are not willing or able to venture - what's more, they seem to flourish when they get there. On top of all this, they beautifully reflect the image of their source, the sun, toward which they are reaching.

Anything we can learn from their example?

Saturday, April 28, 2007


At the end of a meeting yesterday Caleb Project and its board were officially dissolved. There was a bit of money left over. International staff (who lost the most) received 90% payment on certain kinds of expenses, and a $700 gift will go to [the ministry account of] everyone still working for the agency at the time of the February 13 layoffs as long as they have joined another mission agency or non-profit ministry (or set up a way to receive funds through their church).

Some of my colleagues still working in the Denver office are extremely grateful to the 2-3 people who took care of the closing (receiving, I believe, fairly generous salaries to do so) - they want to hold a special event to thank these folks for sticking with it. One of them, the one who announced the closure in an email today, also expressed gratitude to the board of directors: "I believe that they have demonstrated integrity and courage, both as a group and as individuals ... [and] it is my sincere hope that each of you is able to gratefully receive this expression of kindness."

Legally, laying us off and keeping the money we raised to pay the closing expenses is, well, fine. And it appears to have been the only way out. It could have been a lot worse.

On the other hand, due to board and leadership mismanagement, most of us lost any claim to thousands of dollars given for our salaries and ministries. Apologies or admissions of guilt, particularly in the financial matters, have been few and very cautious. Overnight we lost our jobs and the community that meant so much to so many of us - a much larger tragedy. And now we’re supposed to say thank you?

I think perhaps that is the only thing to do. If I'm honest I have to admit that each one of those who wronged us, wronged me, was doing the best that they could; they failed. That's all. So the right thing to do is to forgive. I’m still dipping into “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” So, in the words of Philip Yancey:

"The scandal of forgiveness confronts anyone who agrees to a moral ceasefire just because someone says, ‘I’m sorry.’

"When I feel wronged, I can contrive a hundred reasons against forgiveness.

"He needs to learn a lesson. I don’t want to encourage irresponsible behavior. I’ll let her stew for a while; it will do her good. She needs to learn that actions have consequences. I was the wronged party – it’s not up to me to make the first move. How can I forgive if he’s not even sorry?

"I marshal my arguments until something happens to wear down my resistance. When I finally soften to the point of granting forgiveness, it seems a capitulation, a leap from hard logic to mushy sentiment.

"...Forgiveness alone can halt the cycle of blame and pain, breaking the cycle of ungrace. ...I readily admit forgiveness is unfair. Hinduism, with its doctrine of karma, provides a far more satisfying sense of fairness.

"...The word resentment expresses what happens if the cycle goes uninterrupted. it means, literally, 'to feel again': resentment clings to the past, relives it over and over, picks each fresh scab so that the wound never heals.

"... Forgiveness offers a way out."

(Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace, chapter 8, "Why Forgive?")

I wanted to let you know what happened this week; it seems an important part of the story. But I don’t want to see this discussion escalate inappropriately, so please think carefully about any comments you post here. Write to me directly (zukrahonatgmaildotcom) if that seems wiser. In addition, if you think what I’ve said crosses the line, let me know and I’ll rewrite or remove it.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Wanna Talk?

Got webcam, headset, even permission to run Skype on my laptop (forbidden by previous regime). I can now make calls from my computer. Won't post my Skype-name here lest I be barraged with calls :-) but write and I'll tell you. (Or stick to the elegant, editable written word...)

Failure, Change, and Grace

Public speaking has been part of my ministry for about a decade now. Not a huge part, but a part. I’m pretty good at it. I’m often somewhat nervous but that pressure tends to have a positive effect: I rise to the occasion. And I love passing on things I’ve read or study or experienced, and telling stories, making people laugh, or connecting them to ideas, resources or opportunities that can really help them.

But about once a year I blow it. Usually this has to do with some kind of miscommunication with the event organizers, on my part or theirs. I don’t understand what they really need (often they don’t) and I end up preparing the wrong kind or amount of material, or struggle to adjust gracefully to the actual conditions when I arrive: the technology, or the room, or the number of students, the class ‘culture,’ or other things that happen during the meeting. I’ve run into enough of the typical problems over the years that I can usually predict, prepare for, or prevent the train wrecks; it takes a lot more to really throw me off now. But sometimes I’m still taken by surprise.

Here's the latest snafu. About a year ago I got a call from Steve, a friend who is in mission leadership for a Lutheran denomination. Pastor Steve and I get along great. He asked me to come give a plenary session in April 2007 at their denomination’s annual conference for the leaders of outreach ministries and missions. I’d done this once before, almost ten years ago, and they gave me the biggest honorarium I’ve ever received: $1000 for a one-hour talk (plus being there the whole weekend).

So, pride or greed may have been part of my motivation for accepting the invitation to this spring’s conference out in St. Louis. I didn’t really feel like I had it in me to give them something worthwhile! I was hoping for some inspiration. And I didn’t hear from anyone for months. Steve had moved into a new position and was not as involved in conference planning as he had been. He’d requested and I’d sent a ‘bio’ right after Christmas. When I was laid off and our ministry closed down in February, I thought: They probably don’t know how to find me, but if they tried, they would realize I may not be available… right?

I was still thinking about St. Louis when I made my plans to go to Central Asia. But I didn’t call and tell anyone there that I was going to be out of the country. I just, well, dropped the ball, and assumed they would notice we had not had any communication, would quietly rearrange the schedule and write me out of it. I’m not sure why I thought that, why I was so passive about the whole thing. It’s not that I’d forgotten. I just did not feel up to doing it, or even admitting that this was the case. When my plans suddenly changed and I came back to States a month early, I realized: Oh, that conference in St. Louis. Wonder if I should do anything. But I didn’t.

So today, I’m at home, but my friend Steve reached someone in our office. Apparently he was quite anxious to talk to me, saying they had not heard from me and was I still planning to be in St. Louis this weekend?

Oops. I’ve been found out! I can’t believe I was so irresponsible about all this. Waves of guilt swept over me. I still didn’t think I should be there, I didn’t have a good message for them, but how could I be so unreliable, such a bad communicator?!

I cleaned my room. I heated up my coffee. Checked my email. Then I called Steve.

Man, he was gracious. He completely absolved me of guilt and offered me grace, told me I was off the hook and to rest easy. When the leadership team met this morning he had learned that communicating with me had fallen through the cracks, he realized that I was probably not coming. They were able to make a plan B, and everything will be fine. Maybe the biggest blessing is that Steve pointed out that in spite of all the changes we’ve both gone through we have a ton in common; he wants to stay in touch, recognizing we may find opportunities to work together again. I remind him of his daughter; he always mentions this. She’s about my age and works in a volatile part of South Asia, actually as part of the mission I’m associated with now.

As we talked about the sudden demise of Caleb Project, Steve expressed (as others have), a belief that God may use the situation to take the Caleb Project DNA and get it out into new places. He said God is 'rearranging the furniture' in all kinds of ways. “I’ve never seen so much change in the body of Christ in my life as I have in the last few years,” he explained. Everything is being shaken up, he said, in missions, in the church. He figured he might as well accept the change that came to him as well, moving out of the big denominational mission office to overseeing a smaller agency focused on Central America. Steve is big on challenging the status quo. In fact, that’s basically what he had asked me to speak on when he wrote me a year ago:

“We see you as being an outside prophetic voice to help us see some new possibilities for mission and outreach. We would expect and encourage you to really challenge us in some areas that Lutherans need to be challenged such as 1) the role of women in God’s mission 2) the remaining challenge of reaching the unreached in our time 3) working with national and ethnic leaders to accomplish God’s mission 3) how we can involve everyone in God’s mission including children and young people 4) how God is involving congregations in high-end, strategic work today and 5) how mission agencies and congregations can work together in synergistic ways!”

Maybe this message (or some part of it – what a list!) is one I need to put together for my own sake. Perhaps the core issues I’m struggling with in following my calling these days are hope and courage. I am discouraged, and slim on hope. I need courage, encouragement, someone to revive my heart and hope after a season of loss and disappointment. So, I’m glad I talked to Steve. He’s a man of grace, a risk-taker and pastoral-type at the same time. What a lovely combination. That’s really the kind of person I want to be, too.

We DID have a good meeting yesterday, the little band of four of us still working together to provide various kinds of cultural-learning experiences ( like research teams, ethnography training, and Encountering the World of Islam classes). We didn't entirely identify who we want to be, what we think we can do, and who and what we need to help us, but made considerable progress in those things. So that encourages my heart as well.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Coffee, Tea, and Concentration

"Writing is hard work," says theologian N.T. Wright. "You have to have something burning inside you that you want to say..." Even then, he confessed, for him it required a certain amount of assistance from coffee and other caffeinated substances.

"That's really the amazing thing about the apostle Paul, isn't it? That he accomplished as much as he did without coffee? Simply extraordinary!"

On the way home from a Starbucks run with a coworker a while back I mentioned that one thing I wanted to investigate in Kazakhstan was the availability of (quality, non-instant) coffee. He was surprised at the question, assuming that Kazakhs, like (many) Turks and Arabs, would be coffee people. Nope: I'm pretty sure tea is the thing.

Wondering about other parts of the Muslim world, we ran into Sean, who spent several years in Southeast Asia. We knew he could round out our little survey. "Sean, in Indonesia: coffee or tea?"

His answer surprised me. "Men drink coffee and women drink tea." I'd never heard of such a thing. When pressed he explained that tea was the formal drink, and what people would serve when they offered hospitality in their homes; coffee was a drink of the street, something a couple of guys would stop for when they were out and about.

The group I took to Central Asia this last summer certainly drank tea when interviewing local folks. But one of the girls confessed a secret wish to drink tea with a British person. She and I interviewed several Britons while we were there. One time the British guy offered us tea and didn't have any, himself, so it did not count. Another time we were given tea with milk and jam tarts, and it was all perfect, but instead of pouring a cup for himself he had - oh no, coffee! Her hopes were dashed.

I recently heard that Australia has a proliferation of little Italian espresso places, everywhere.

Me, I like it all.

On a more serious note... Even with the obligatory coffee or tea at hand I find thinking and writing are both hard work. I'm hoping to do some serious reflection in the weeks to come, dealing with these awkward questions recently re-opened.

Even now, I'm at a women's retreat up in Estes Park, and it's free time. I stayed back to write and pray instead of going into town to poke in little shops, or going for a walk. It's been a bit draining already, the imposition of having to tell so many people here what is going on in my life when they ask. Part of me wants my privacy back, wants to just say 'I'm fine' and keep people at arm's length.

But I need people... and I need help exploring these big questions. Ones like: Who am I? What do I bring to my work, and to my relationships? What do I need to be effective - in work, or in relationships? I thought I knew but am somewhat confused again, and don't seem to know what my expectations are until they are frustrated. I had a pretty angry couple days at work this week. Particularly the day we had a mandatory, disorganized, last-minute meeting that went on for hours. I hate poorly led meeting! I couldn't pardon that. Even though I got something out of it, in the end. But not before I spoke up, let others see my frustration, acted like a jerk. I'd like to avoid those kind of scenes if they aren't necessary!

While resilience and flexibility are key traits I see growing in myself and want to keep cultivating, I need to figure out who I am. I want to know myself better so I can make some wise decisions in the months to come. Feel like I stand at a crossroads. I need to know God and know myself, better, before I can know which way to go. Even then, it may involve stepping out in uncertainty.

I'm also actually going to give Phyllis a call. Yes, some of you know, that's Phyllis the counselor in the building down the street. She already knows as much as anyone about what happened at Caleb Project and how different people feel about it, so she's offered three free sessions to anyone who wants some help working through these things. Free, at least at first, that appeals to me. So does talking to someone who has some of the background down, at least about the work situation.

Even though different people mention this offer to me every day or two, though, I have resisted. Counseling is hard work. I've done it before. And for it to be really worthwhile you can't just show up, you have to work at it: to be willing to seek, hear, and believe painful truths and do the hard work of delving into ambiguous topics, even between sessions! Do I want to hear the truth? Do I want to work? It all sounds like it will take so much energy! Will it be worthwhile, for me, at this time? I am not entirely sure.

Man, though, I wish Jesus would just take care of the emotional maintenance without me. My reluctance reminds me of the old joke: "Farmer, when you going to fix that leakin' roof?" "Aw, when it rains, it's too wet, and when it's dry, it's just as good as any man's house!"

Thanks for your prayers.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


"Once upon a time I expected to be a banana - believing that once God got past the tough and fibrous outer layer, he would find me largely sweet and useful.

"I adjusted my expectations. I hoped to be an artichoke.

"It has turned out, of course, that I am a turnip. Once the initial access is gained, the layers to come are much similar to the layers before. Excellent variety of uses, but some people can't digest them."

Sanne McCarthy, Mars Hill Review, Fall 1996

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Time to Move

This weekend I joined my coworkers in their migration from our building's West Wing to the East Wing - a re-grouping which had begun while I was abroad. Had to give up my window, a loss I feel greatly! I did gain a nice desk lamp, however, and it is pleasant to have a clean, uncluttered desk.

I did not expect the move to be emotional, but with Caleb Project now no more, it did feel like the end of an era! I took down all the stuff on my walls associated with old coworkers and projects - then put a lot of it back up in the new cube. Where did those tears in my eyes come from, tears over old check request forms - business cards - planning documents? I must be a bit mopey!

But if moving to the other side of the office is a bit jarring, the move to Pioneers should be a good one. There are still some wrinkles to iron out, of course. Last week I got a funny letter from HQ informing me of the largest raise I've ever had in my life. They claimed my compensation rate would be nearly $60,000 a year now. It was a mistake of course and has been rectified, but it was kind of fun while it lasted. "You're worth every penny!" my roommate Deb insisted.

It's going to take a while to figure out all the policies and expectations but things are really going quite smoothly. We're in good hands with Pioneers, even if I had to decline that raise. I don't think I'll tell you how big my my actual paychecks are, but trust me, they are more in line with what you would expect for a missionary with no spouse or kids. (People who do their own fundraising do not necessarily like to be paid more; we used to get mandatory cost of living increases and tended to grumble about them.)

The devotional I've been reading - published for Spring Harvest by 'Grow with the Bible' ( had me in Exodus 3:7-12 one day this week. The passage - OK, the whole book - deals with a much bigger move, and one that took a lot more time to accomplish. Think about it. Click on my post title to read these verses from Bible Gateway.

Ian Coffey describes the scene like this:
God's plan to call out a people for himself looked to have gone sadly off track. His promises to Abram seemed to have been forgotten, and Israel - the nation God chose to bring his blessing to the whole world - was enslaved and politically paralyzed.

...I imagine today's reading in two parts. Moses listened intently to the voice from the burning bush - and no doubt his spirit lifted as he heard the encouraging message: His people were not forgotten after all; the God of his fathers was about to act. Then came the shock - God was calling Moses to do the job. The good news is that God's going to act - the bad news is he's chosen you for the star role!

We identify with Moses' reluctance but we see his list of excuses grow longer until the Lord's anger is roused... For various reasons Moses' life had left him confused, but the burning bush was God's grace call to him to trust, follow, and serve.

Perhaps you identify with Moses' disappointment? Then let Jesus' call of grace reach you today and turn your reluctance into obedience. He has a part for you to play. Don't miss it.

Lord Jesus Christ, help me to find my place among the people of God and to offer myself wholeheartedly to you in love and service. Amen.
By the way, for a good blog entry on another Biblical topic, see Barb Moody's latest, here:

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Runaway Girlfriend

This winter, at 36 years of age, I found myself happily changing significant habits for the man I loved. I still had reservations, wondering if the changes were somehow untrue to myself or things that could not last... but I find that just about all of the changes are ones I want to keep.

For one thing, I became more feminine. I already knew I liked wearing skirts and keeping cut flowers on the table and watching chick-flicks and playing with babies and keeping house… but I discovered that the lace and curls and pastels, romance and sentiment and tears that previously I had treated with mild derision also seem acceptable and even desirable now. I don’t have to give up my turtlenecks, practicality, and intellecualism, but there’s room for another side of me. Yes, I’m a bit of a girly-girl.

Another thing is that I’ve started to take better care of myself, physically. It had been so long since I felt there was someone else who noticed or cared. Now there was. If I wanted to keep up with a high-energy man and whatever children God would give us, I would need to get in shape.

So I started running. If you’ve known me very well at all you will be surprised. Not as surprised as you would be if I took up something with the word ‘ball’ in it… (Most of you know that like my sister, I was born without depth perception. I'm hopeless at anything that requires connecting meaningfully with objects flying toward me through the air.) Running does not usually include flying objects, so it’s okay!

Well, I would not say I’ve mastered the sport. I’ll never be competitive or anything. What I’m striving for is regularity, better cardio-vascular fitness. Every other day or so I go to the Westridge Recreation Center and run about a mile, ten laps around the track. I’ve had a couple of setbacks: travel, of course. And I sprained my toe last month, which slowed me down. In England I bought a new pair of shoes which don’t pinch my wounded toe. So now I’m good to go again. I’m trying to get to the point where I can consistently run two miles. When I reach this modest goal I think I will reward myself with an MP3 player so I can listen to music while I run. I may also start using some of the machines and strengthen some muscles, but they are still a bit scary for me without a coach or companion.

I thought it would be more reasonable to run in the mornings, before taking a shower, but since I don’t sweat a lot this doesn’t seem necessary. I can go further if I’m already feeling alive and awake, so I go at night after work. When I come home I don’t feel like eating, and I sleep better without a big dinner.

Since I started running in order to keep up with Tom I wondered if it would be hard to continue, if running would stir my longing for him, my loneliness and self-pity, but so far, so good. Maybe there is something to this whole thing about – what are they called, the happiness hormones that exercise is supposed to release? Endorphins. I feel good about running. I feel good after running. And much to my surprise it’s even getting to be that I feel good =while= running!

I have been thinking a good bit about the importance of happiness. Particularly, the importance of knowing what it is that keeps us going, feeds our souls – what protects or renews or releases the energy that makes us a blessing to the world and people around us. We have got to know what those things are, as well as knowing about the lies, traps, and temptations into which we are prone to fall, and how to fight or escape them.

Would it be right to say we have a responsibility to be happy, to be free? Maybe I still have a lot to learn about this person inside my skin, what I need and like and what gives me life and sets me free, what stretches me or hurts me or causes me to shrivel up inside. So, a bit like Julia Roberts in the movie to which my subject line alludes, I am going to try spending a couple of months getting to know myself better.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Celtic Wisdom

I love this blessing; my friend Shane read it on another blog (see link above) and sent it to me.
Beannacht ("Blessing") by John O’Donohue

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Doug Lucas on CP ACMC I-360 shutdown

One more article from our friend Doug responding to the sudden death of our organization. Click in the link above.

Monday, April 09, 2007

One Day at a Time

Still pretty shattered that Tom and I are not together. Cry at the drop of a hat. But people have been very kind and understanding. My sister sent these flowers.

The prescriptions for jetlag (fight it! don't let it control you!), a cold (be gentle...), and a broken heart (what, some of both?) seem to be leading me in different directions. But the jetlag should be over now and the cold is not too bad.

Back at work with a lot of 'housekeeping' tasks to keep me occupied, including a good mix of things that are interesting and things that are mindless! I still have some fear that all the changes, grief, and disappointments of the past months - from which I'd been sheltered by the wonder of this relationship - are going to now come crashing down on me and pull me into depression. But that fear is lessening.

It's only natural that I be broken, and even be troubled by my brokenness, but it was good, it was brave, to love Tom. Maybe we should have handled a few things differently, but how could I have known? I need not harbor guilt or shame. There are some things you only learn by opening up your heart and going for it!

Still, the pain is tremendous.

Friday, April 06, 2007

It Didn't Work Out

Friends, yesterday instead of getting on a plane to Kazakhstan for a month there with Tom I took a flight in the other direction and write you from my home in Colorado. Things did not work out between us.

I adore Tom and am just devastated; he feels the same. I can't believe we are not together. But I'm also glad I made this trip, gave this relationship a fair go, pursued things as actively and openly as we did. I learned a lot - the relationship has been quite a positive experience. We had a lot going for us, and many potential obstacles seemed fairly surmountable. In terms of chemistry, many of our values, and what we really live for, our life purpose: we're great together!

But with much reluctance we realized we needed to acknowledge that in several significant ways we may just not be well-suited for a good, long-term fruitful marriage. Some of these things were evident from the beginning but we did not want to admit, as questions turned to concerns, that these differences mattered.

After several hard conversations about this, Tom came up behind me at one of the Spring Harvest gatherings, put his arm around me and whispered, 'I think we're both too desperate to make this relationship work, and we need to recognize that we may not be a great match.' Devastating. We wept and held each other all through the meeting. A couple of kids seated in front of us kept turning around to stare.

I think we both wonder if since God brought us so far this is not just a challenge to be surmounted, that we might be together in the end after all? But we need to be willing to let it go.

We talked about me going to Kazakhstan anyway, either give it another try or just be friends. I still had a place to stay and some things to do, and I'd cleared my schedule after all. The ticket was nonchangeable, nonrefundable. But I didn't think I could take it and stay strong.

It was so hard having to make such a decision with only each other, no one else we knew and could talk to, and needing to keep things stable for the sake of Tom's kids since we were all together. And almost up to the last minute I was not 100% sure if I would go with him or say goodbye, because of trouble changing my ticket. Did it mean I should just go on? The last few days have been really strange - a last couple days to enjoy each other before we would probably go separate ways.

Anyway, I'm back at home and will go back to work on Monday too, I guess. Appreciate your prayers for both of us. I don't know how to handle this.

(Plus it's going to snow again today and I think I got a cold on the airplane and I have been up since 2:00 am. Part of me just wants to file a complaint with someone about all this, as if I had some inalienable right to sunshine, sleep, health, and yes, romantic love.)

God, it's still true: you have been nothing but good to me, but right now I'm so sad and disappointed!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

From Spring Harvest

Things with kids are going fine, and the worship and teaching is good. Still and all it is a big event, maybe 5000 people here and most focused on their families or the friends they came with so I am not enjoying it as much as I might in a more intimate setting. Went off by myself and had a nice run/walk along the beach yesterday, though - love to be around the water!

We did get out to see the YWAM ship and talk to the captain but did not try to spend the night there after all. Instead, went to a nearby town with some of Tom's old friends who have kids the same age as his. I really enjoyed the St. Johns. The father grew up in Morocco and his aunt is a fairly well known author...

So, things did work out pretty well with the logistics but it was a hard thing to be making it up as we went, hard not to question Tom's judgement at every turn. I hate being that way, want to be gracious and flexible, not stressed and worried. So that is something to work on. I got so frustrated we actually talked about just breaking things off and/or me not going on to Central Asia. Am feeling better now and don't think that will be necessary. But we put it on the table. Please keep up in your prayers. Much thanks!