Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sunday, August 26, 2007


Just got a royalty check from the publisher of Through Her Eyes - my first. It's taken two years just to pay off the advance they gave me when they bought rights to the manuscript. The amount made me smile - $1.19. That and a couple of quarters would buy a cup of coffee these days! But it means that Authentic Media got their money's worth from buying my manuscript; the sales have paid off the advance.

I was a little naive about the marketing process - didn't want to be involved, really, and couldn't bring myself to mail out promotional copies under my own name - wouldn't that be, quite literally, self-promotion? After all, Authentic had a marketing person who was assigned to do this, and Caleb Project had two marketing people. Wouldn't one of them see to the marketing? No, not really, as it happened. A little bit.

Yet people have found the book one way or the other. 2,040 copies have been sold. Not too bad. (Of course, some could be gathering dust. I happen to know that the last big order of 250 was placed this spring by 'Caleb Resources' and most of those still sit in the warehouse...)

I don't want to find my identity in having written this book - really, just edited it, the way I see it. But I do care, deeply, about the vision behind it, and am blessed to see it making a difference for people. So, yes, I do want more people to read my book!

One woman wrote to me last month:

"You have no clue who I am but I am working in the Middle East. My husband and I came here last April and, just before we left, I came across your book on Caleb Project's website. I immediately knew that I needed this book! To make a long story short, we got here, and were thrown into huge responsibilities (assuming leadership of four groups) so I didn't get to start reading your book until we went on a "semi-vacation" to Syria last month.

"The stories you compiled were eagerly soaked up by my exhausted and thirsty soul... There are no words to thank you enough for sharing the stories of these women with me! I'm only 24, happily married now for 1 and a half years and I'm totally committed to God's will in my life. I am both thankful for placing me here but at the same time overwhelmed by the enormous task before us..

".. I just wanted to thank you for writing your book! May the Lord richly bless you and everything you do!"

Thanks, M. I'd write you personally if I knew how to find you. But may God be your sustainer and provider, the one who gives you hope and keeps you going.

Chasing Rainbows

Rocky Mountain
Balloon Festival

Chatfield Reservoir
August 25-26, 2007

Friday, August 24, 2007

A Surplus of Advice / Opportunity

(Sorry, bit of a rant...)

"You could..." "Why don't you..."

"Please don't give up! What you do is so significant. People all over the world need this kind of help."

I heard these words, again, last night, from a ministry partner we trained in January. He wants to see our ethnography models get into the hands of more and more people, especially in the non-Western world. This is great; he's actually doing it, taking a non-Western team in to do near-neighbor research - it may make a significant difference in their effectiveness. And approaching a new culture with a learner's perspective, it's just so right!

So why do I cringe so at their words of encouragement? I think something in me interprets them not as "You're great," "You're doing great work," or "This is helping us and we want others to be blessed," or "We want to see you succeed," but as "You need to work harder," "You're not ambitious enough," and "Here's something else for your to-do list, get right on it."

This interpretation may partly right, partly wrong. It may be rooted in some deeper personal issues. But even on the surface it is not really surprising. I'm still in the same business as I have been for years, but with a much smaller team, so setting expectations is tricky; we inherit a mantle that's far too big. People don't know when they make suggestions that there's nobody for me to pass them along to - that often the only way for what they suggest to happen is for me to be the one to run with it.

It's also been tough to inherit so many files and not know what's in them, to be the one left holding down the fort and not being confident I know much about what's there. In recent years I felt I had to stay out of the loop on a lot of things. Me pulling back was necessarily - isn't it better to let other people shine, to stay out of their way, to pick a few things and try to do them well and not have my fingers in everything?

But now I have to field the questions, sort out the advice, evaluate the opportunities. It's not the first time this has happened and maybe not the worst. What about in the late 90's when our research department closed down and I was the only one left to re-open it, with far less experience than I have now?

Maybe it's because I did that effectively, and because I'm a quick study and good at picking things up and make sense of them - I'm clever - that even when we had a big, full team they often treated me like I was Mary Poppins, the omni-competent expert, in spite of ample evidence, I felt, of how many things I didn't know anything about or was really bad at. I'm not sure what it is about me that sends out those kind of vibes, that makes people think I'm particularly intelligent, organized, etc. I just feel misunderstood and deeply alone when people talk about me (or to me) like that.

I don't want that kind of responsibility - unless, of course, God himself is giving it to me, in which case he also provides the power and wisdom to accomplish it. Yes?

I told the couple I was talking to last night that I didn't know what I could do, but I also told them about E. in SE Asia who is a brilliant ethnographer and very effective cross-cultural trainer - about S. in Indiana, highly experienced and accessible, glad and able to help most anyone - about K. and B. on the other side of the pond, who could do anything I could do and maybe more (I miss K. SO MUCH!), if ethnography training is on their priority list.

Ah, priorities. Maybe that's the unresolved question that stirs up my hurt, anger, defensiveness, guilt, shame - I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing, what's in my realm of God-given responsibility and what's outside of it. What am I committed to? Called to?

Getting the same kinds of words in my personal life, by the way. Today a perfect stranger who took me to lunch pushed on some of those same I-can't-do-it-all wounds, and responded with compassion, "You really need to find a prayer partner..." "Isn't there someone you could talk to?" Ah, more things I ought to do! I am so tired of advice!

Dear Jesus, please be the one writing my schedule!

See also: Filing Cabinets, October 2007

Monday, August 20, 2007

It's a Mystery

The Sudoku Murder,” read the title on the ‘New Books’ shelf. It was only a matter of time, wasn’t it, before someone cashed in on the craze and started a gimmicky series of mysteries designed to appeal to sudoku fans? And this one beat Death by Sudoku (another inevitable title) to the shelves by a good three months. But what can you really say about sudoku puzzles? Once you figure out the half dozen or so solving strategies they are pretty mechanical. Addictive, but mechanical.

So I wondered if it would ‘work’ for a novel, even a formula mystery novel. From the cover copy it did not sound too bad, though, so I brought The Sudoku Murder home from the library yesterday, and am here to report: it was ‘not too bad.’ *

About puzzles, mediocre novels, and other such diversions, I have ambiguous feelings. Oh, I know it seems that my feelings are ambiguous about everything these days! But I’ve never been good at recognizing the difference between relaxing, enjoyment, and taking a break; and escaping, addiction, and running away – much less been happy with my choices. This is one of several reasons I avoid vacations, seldom take all the ‘comp time’ coming to me, and often dread weekends – I find it a lot harder to manage down-time than structured time, at least to manage it in such a way that I feel good about myself and the world and don’t have regrets when it’s over.

This does not mean I never goof off; I still consume those sudokus and crossword puzzles, just about every day. I read 2-3 books a week, sometimes more, and a lot of it pretty un-taxing stuff. When I retired my last computer, after just a few years, its records showed that I’d played thousands of games of spider solitaire. I waste a lot of time. I may “think too much,” as my sister reports, but I can also devise (sometimes very elaborate and/or effective) strategies to avoid thinking about things. There are of course some diversions that are healthier and more helpful than others, but if you aim too high it doesn’t work. If you are too ambitious in your play it is no longer play, have you noticed that?

To some extent I used my trip to the Balkans this month to get away from thinking about my own sticky problems, at least to avoid thinking about them directly. There I could instead bury myself in the project and in the lives of those I was working with. I really enjoy that kind of thing and am pretty useful at them, so it’s not a waste – but those unresolved personal issues were still here for me when I returned. Did I think they would go away?

Did the break help? Maybe it did. I’m not sure. What is the real goal, the desired result, of ‘getting away,’ and how can you know if you have achieved it? Maybe it varies from person to person. Perhaps I need to learn to recognize the signs in myself. What does it look like when I am refreshed, renewed? Or when I’m not?

Part of the answer to the tension between goofing off and doing something with your life may be in moderation. If there was a real recipe to happiness, for me, it would probably involve doing something meaningful – and something meaningless – every day. Whether it’s a work day or a holiday, whether you’re ‘on a mission’ or bumming around the house, don’t let a day go by without some mix of both purposefulness and aimlessness!

Well, I don’t know. I still have all these questions about what it means to be healthy and sane and well-adjusted, which from this weird season of life are hard to answer. And maybe God’s word to me in this time is still:

Hush. I’m there with you. I am the one who redeems and transforms and I will, but in the meantime, there’s grace, don’t feel bad about being where you are, and who you are, both of which are just fine with me.

I spent some time recently with a gentle, sensitive young man, only about half my age, who for the first time is facing up to some disturbing things he sees in himself and in the way the world works; he is doubting his salvation and perhaps even the goodness of God. After he told me about it – and I was in my official counselor mode, intending just to draw him out, to hear his story and listen to him – he asked a few questions about what was going on with me. I practically slapped my forehead realizing what a thread of similarity ran through our struggles. I hadn’t seen it, and hadn’t shared it with him until we were almost out of time. But my friend was encouraged to hear he was not alone. “Misery loves company,” he said with a smile. We both want peace but recognize that doubt and questions may be an important part of the journey of faith.

Friends gave each of us these words from scripture, along with their acceptance and prayers:

Come, let us return to the Lord;
For he has torn us, that he may help us;
He has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
On the third day he will raise us up,
That we may live before him.
Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;
His going out is as sure as the dawn;
He will come to us as the showers,
As the spring rains that water the earth.

Hosea 6:1-3

I was going to share some of what Joan Didion had to say on related topics in her book The Year of Magical Thinking but we’ve reached the 1000-word mark so I’ll save it for another day.

* Mystery readers, if you’d like a good novel on a math-and-numbers theme to pass away some summer hours, pick up A Piece of Justice, by Jill Paton Walsh.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Views of Mount Olympus

Click to see a larger image. A trip to the sacred site was how I spent last Sunday morning. No sign of the Greek gods, however... The two photos on the left are from a [16th century?] orthodox monastery currently being restored.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

On the Beach -

Writing from Katerini, a beach town in Central Greece not far from Mt. Olympus. After five days of writing and editing our team said goodbye to the host city and came here for a bit of R&R. The long-termers who requested the team came as well and have continued to take care of logistics for us, going far beyond my expectations.

That's been a relief. Although I'm a decent small-group facilitator, my ability to herd people around, anticipating and meeting their practical needs is fairly limited. I'm not the one you should hand the map to and put in charge, and I haven't figured out this group's dynamics well enough either to take on that role effectively or to empower someone else for it. The team's leaders really don't want to do it if they don't have to, either. After a couple of months of this they are ready for a break.

I've been in charge of the overall schedule, though, and that I can manage. Mornings at the beach, debrief sessions (when the team two-year-old is napping) from 2:00 to 5:00, evenings out (back on the beach and/or dining at any number of beach restaurants), bed whenever - it's been pretty relaxing. Between, I've had to spent time preparing, but not too much. I've met with each team member one-on-one to check in with them personally as well as pushed them to share what they were thinking and feeling and to anticipate what it might be like going back. It can be tough being a bit of an outsider, not quite one of the group, but it's nice to have as much of a part in things as I have.

There's still a good bit of work to do in finishing up the writing projects. Thought about staying in my room to work on these things while we're here and being that much further ahead, but I needed a break too. So this is also my first and only visit to the Internet cafe.

Have to say the sensuality of life in a beach town at high tourist season is getting to me a bit. I don't think I've worn a two-piece bathing suit since some time in the 1970s, but most of the women are unflinchingly bikini-clad - if that. We try to stay away from the beach during the afternoons when we think there's a higher rate of toplessness...

We head to the big city (Thessaloniki) this afternoon, wrap up some loose ends, have a last team dinner together, and say goodbye. The first airport run is 2:30 am.

I'll try to post some internet-appropriate observations, word pictures - and some photos - in the next couple days, and put additional content in an upcoming newsletter.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Busy Tweaking Prayer Guide Text

One or two more days of writing and editing with the group and then we are off to Greece. Have to finish the goodbyes, pack, clean the house. People are doing well, but there are still some depths and complications to probe, it sounds like.

I haven't heard as many stories or seen as much of life here as I had hoped, but more of this will come out during debriefing. My main prayer is that the lessons God has for these guys will be solidified and driven deeper into their lives.

Yesterday S. and I spent the whole afternoon with a local family, just hanging out, eating and drinking, and trying to communicate every now and again through English and German. The woman's mother, sister, and sister-in-law stopped by after a while as well. The three kids were in and out, often sent out to pick up something from the store including the kebabs that were the main course of our impromptu, complete - and delicious - meal.

The oldest girl, 13, last week finished her summer course of study in the Qu'ran, and the family had gone to her end-of-term 'recital' (literally a recital, I am sure).

Folks here seem to be more 'Muslim' in some ways than I expected (though less in others) and there are quite a few mosques around. Fighting jetlag, I fell back asleep the other day just after the morning call to prayer from the one closest to where we are staying.