Thursday, January 31, 2008

Rest and Personal Growth

Sorry not to have written anything pithy lately - as usual, returning to the US from Asia is more physically difficult than going was!

Yesterday - having only had three hours of sleep the night before - I went to bed at 7:00 pm and slept until 5:00 am today. Much better. Getting caught up on sleep makes a big difference in my ability to approach life with energy and hope, rather than being tired or discouraged. This is a lesson I learned in Central Asia - that even though my life there was on the boring side in some ways, it did include going to bed at 10:00 every single night and getting up at 6:00, and that made me a whole different person. It's a habit I've tried to maintain, ever since. Do you remember the old Marti and how grouchy she was? I like the new one a lot more. But more than a few times over the last six years the old one has returned...

While tidying up my room this morning I found something important which I thought I'd lost: the steno notebook with 50 pages of detailed, handwritten notes from interviews, interactions, and formal sessions at the conference I flew so far to attend. Nice.

Although I'm glad to have found it, I'm happy to say I passed the test of accepting its apparent loss without freaking out. Don't quote me on this, but I =think= a couple of guided times of prayer this winter have broken some of the remaining rigid places in my personality, so that failure (mine or others') is not bothering me as much as it was before. Still more 'work' to do but it's good to see some progress.

Here are a couple of conference highlights, for the record:

Friendships. I knew more people in this group than I realized I did. Almost 20 of them had been part of CP staff, teams, or projects over the years; I went to college with another and met his wife when they were preparing to go overseas. Spending more time with folks from our agency's Orlando team was great, too. I met a number of Kiwis, Aussies, and other people who tend to look at the world a little differently, and I always enjoy that, too.

Random / Divine Encounters. The warm, African man who, on hearing what our ministry had been through in the past year, shared how he'd wept over changes and losses in the last year too, and went into African prophet mode, assuring me, 'God will not waste your life!'... Another man who came to my workshop and told me how extremely informative and helpful it had been, that he and his wife had taken pages of notes and debriefed it all afterwards... The strangers who came up to me to tell me how much they'd loved my book... A great face-to-face meeting with people I'd known about for years but did not really know, who want to see something happen in one of my favorite Central Asian countries; working together I think we can do it... the chance to really listen to and encourage a few people who really needed to be heard and encouraged.

Don't get me wrong, I still struggled with social anxiety every day I was there - after all, it was a huge group of strangers, even if they were nice strangers. But every day had great conversations too. And the public speaking and teaching parts? No problem. I won't say my heart doesn't race a bit when I get up in front of hundreds of people, but that's much easier for me than milling about with hundreds of people! Guess I'm funny that way.

The warmth and sunshine was also nice; I kept forgetting it was January. While some of those there live in the tropics, many were coming in from colder places and glad enough for a chance to warm up. Mid-Asia has had a tough winter, and a real cold snap had come through right before this event. We figured the folks who came down from Mongolia had a 120-degree temperature change. But none of them were complaining.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Narita Airport Haiku, Inspired by a Visit to the Ladies' Room

Many choices, but

What goes best with jetlag?

Sounds of running water.

(Click photo to enlarge)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Two more pictures, and an electricity question

Is it my imagination, or does my computer take longer to charge up when it's plugged into a 220 volt electrical system (instead of a 120 volt system like we have in the US)? Why is that?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Sights of Thailand

Most impressive sight: at the tropical gardens we went to an elephant show. Couple of 'em had a dart-throwing contest, and popped balloons on a target some 20 meters away. The one near me had really good aim. They threw the darts with their noses, of course. This is something I am pretty sure I could never do.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

At 'The World's Largest Resort'

Thankfully the claim refers to capacity, not to the size of the property. Still, with 4000 guest rooms in five large buildings, and 50 conference rooms of various sizes, several pools (plus the beach), one could easily be anonymous here.

Something that surprises me: there are a lot of Russians here. I hear their accents in the elevator, see signs written in the alphabet.

The conference I'm here to attend starts in earnest Sunday evening, although as the event is really a retreat the schedule has lots of open spaces. Meanwhile, there have been plenty of people to hang out with and I've had several very fruitful meetings already. Yesterday's 7:30 breakfast meeting didn't get over until 11:00 but has brought some new ethnographic opportunities my way.

In the afternoon I spent time hammering stuff out with someone from the HQ with whom I hope to start a new missiological initiative - a quarterly magazine to help equip women for effective church-planting. All rather tentative, and we need to go slow, but promising.

PS - the international director of our agency knows me by name. Weird, huh? Nice, though.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

David Watson on prayer

What do you think of this?
"In a recent meeting of the top 100 church planters in our ministry, we looked for common elements among these high-producing leaders. Each of these church planters, along with the teams they led, started more than 20 churches per year, each. One group started more than 500 churches in the previous year. The only common element we found in all these church planters was their commitment to prayer.... These leaders spent an average of three hours per day in personal prayer.
"I was humbled by this commitment to prayer. When I measured my own time in prayer, and my own commitment to prayer, I found myself lacking in devotion.
"Most church planters and missionaries spend their prayer time in trying to get others to pray for them. In the early days of my ministry I spent as much as 20% of my time in developing and maintaining my prayer network. This involved newsletters and personal contacts with prayer partners.

"After our survey of the top church planting performers on our team, I decided to change my strategy. Instead of developing prayer partners, I would pray. I began to call, text message, or e-mail people and praying for them, instead of asking them to pray for me. ...[Now] I have 30 people I pray for every month. When possible, I pray with them in person or by phone. If not possible, such as when I am traveling is blackout conditions, I send text messages or e-mail containing my prayers for each of them.
"The result of this process is that 30 people respond to my prayers by praying for me. As I talk to them about this process I encourage them to pray for 29 other people on the days they are not praying with me. So, in one generation the prayer network goes from 30 to 900 people praying. We pass prayer requests back and forth on this network. We encourage all participants to find 30 people to pray with every month. By three generations there are 27,000 people in the prayer network. That’s 30 X 30 = 900 and 900 X 30 = 27,000. This is exponential growth. If the process is only 10% effective there will be 2,700 people praying. If it is only 1% effective there will be 270 people praying."

Read the rest of this posting here:

Friday, January 11, 2008

Evolving Goals and Ambitions

One of the subscribers to our Missions Catalyst e-Magazine wrote a great posting on how his life goal and ambitions have changed from his 20s to his 30s. DaRonn is a missionary in Bolivia. He and his family run an orphanage, as well as serving in a local church. Below is an excerpt; read the whole posting here.

When I was 20 years old I sat down and wrote myself a letter [about] the different things that I wanted to accomplish before I turned 40. Shortly before I turned 30 I opened the letter just to see how I was doing. (Also, I could hardly remember some of the things that I had written down.)

When I read the contents of the letter I noticed that the majority of things that I had on my list I had already accomplished! Now I know some of you may be thinking that is wonderful, but for me that was shocking and even bordering on scary. Here I was sitting down, reading a letter for my 20-year plan, and after 10 years now I was face-to-face with reality. What am I going to do now?

But what has been the most interesting is the way that my desires have changed, how my priorities have changed, how my reason for existing has changed.

  1. When I was 20 my goals [had to do with] what I could accomplish, but now that I am 30 my goals are [about] how I can help others. Somewhere along the road, I do not know exactly when or where it happened, I decided helping others was infinitely more rewarding than anything I could have achieved personally.

  2. My goals when I was 20 were to do more and accomplish more, where now that I am 30 my goals are to do less. I guess I learned something over this ten-year stretch and I am surprised that I took me so long to learn it. I cannot do everything good.

  3. My goals when I was 20 were to acquire things for myself… Now that I am 30 I want to give everything away. I am so much less attached to things than I was before. Not that we do not want nice things, simply that we do not need them to feel good about ourselves.

  4. My thought when I was 20 was that I knew a lot, but now that I am 30 I feel that I am just starting. Now that I am a little older I feel like I do not know as much as I once did (to tell you the truth I do not want to know as much as well).

  5. When I was 20 my goals were to do more things internationally but now that I am 30 my goals are to do more locally. A few years ago I remember when I would travel and minister at every invitation that I had but now I have started to see the value of staying put and ministering to the same people. Now I only travel if I have to and sometimes not even then. Plus it is hard being away from my family for that long.

  6. When I was 20 my goals were to do more to impact many people on a large scale, but now that I am 30 my goal is to pour my life into a few people. Years ago I was only happy if I was able to help many people on a large scale but now I am more than content pouring my life into a few people. It is like I can see the fruit more clearly.

  7. My goal when I was 20 was to do something big for God, and now that I am 30 my goal is to just obey God. Personally I do not care as much as before [about] the scale of what I do as long as God is pleased with me. If I obeyed Him then I can rest at night comfortably.

I cannot really say what these next few years will have in store for me, but I will say that I sure am enjoying them more. That does not mean that they have not been hard work. I do not think that I have worked harder in my life. But I think I like the [person] that I am becoming.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Technical Help?

My world is upside down; gravity is reversed. Or it is for my track pad anyway. When a mouse is plugged into my computer all is well, but I typically leave the mouse at the office in order to travel light. Sans mouse, the track pad - intermittently but increasingly - is navigating in reverse. I have to move my pointer left to go right and right to go left and up to go down and down to go up. Rebooting will not fix it.

Have you ever had this problem?

The strange thing is how quickly I adjust. I can go up to go down. I can go left to go right. Since my navigation is slowed down, though, I do less web browsing and game playing, and more typing. That may be a good thing, since I'm having a hard time focusing on work. So many web-based distractions are only a click away.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Privacy and Self-Consciousness, Making Friends

So, blogging freely and being rather open in my newsletters, public speaking, etc. has had an unintended consequence. When I run into people who listen to me give talks or read what I write, they seem to expect me to be just as transparent and vulnerable in casual conversation. That's not something that comes so easily. Oh, hang out with me for a while and I might spill everything. But when put on the spot I'm just as apt to turn shy - or defensive.

Showing up at my home church last Sunday - kind of tired and overwhelmed after the holidays, not much sleep, and a couple hours' drive to get to a 9:00 service - I think I disappointed some people. I wonder if they expected me to be more eloquent, engaging, or expressive "in person."

Sometimes I'm quite the charmer - other times, not so much! Circumstances make a big difference. First thing in the morning, I'm not so good, and I've warned my coworkers that I'm more likely to turn negative or lose my temper at a 2:00 meeting than any other time of day. No, it's not fair, but there you have it.

'Mingling' can be an uncomfortable thing for me, especially in situations where my role or identity is unclear. When I'm, say, the guest speaker, I can be as bold as brass, talk to everyone. Less formal events are tougher. A recent example: Our Christmas eve family event. These gatherings have always been a bit intimidating for me as they involve distant relatives I see very seldom and we don't have much common ground. I don't know how to bridge that distance. As a kid I always wanted to go, but sometimes felt like the wallflower at the junior high dance. (Or what I think that would be like. Actually go to a dance? Are you nuts?)

Well, I no longer feel that wallflower thing very often; I'm a grown-up now. I know who I am, and I can cope. I still want to go to these things. But Christmas Eve was harder, this time, than I expected. Here's the dilemma. I didn't know who half the people in the room were, but on the other hand I didn't know if they were bona fide strangers whom I could happily chat up, or the spouses of second cousins whom I should remember and ask about their children. Shy and confused, I fell silent.

You know the feeling: Is it OK to ask this person their name, or am I supposed to know it? If I were truly an introvert, like some members of my family, I would just passively endure until it was time to go home. I'm not and I can't stand to do that: I want more! Nobody seemed to realize my discomfort and bail me out. Until... "You don't know who I am, do you?" asked Delores, kindly; she's my late grandmother's sister's son's wife. I've only seen her once in the last decade, so now, I didn't recognize her. Oh, Cousin Delores! I was so glad she did was willing to take my embarrassment away, let the light shine in on my confusion. Emboldened, I soon admitted to (first cousin) Liz, "I don't recognize half these people!" "They are friends and neighbors," she explained. "I think some of them have often come to these things but they aren't our relatives." Relieved, I talked to more people, and had an OK time, but still felt too shy to exchange names.

(I guess there are a lot of things in life like that - I vastly prefer being a stranger or beginner than an ignorant or incompetent veteran!)

All of this might serve as a reminder of the importance of cultivating the kind of self-knowledge that sets us free to focus on other people. I don't need to be scared of people seeing me as weak or silly, for example, if I know and accept that I'm a foolish and beloved person, depending on Christ. I can be free from concern about how well I'm performing in different situations, if I know I'm loved and accepted on the basis of things much more stable than mere performance. I need not feel guilty or ashamed about mistakes for the same reason.

By God's grace, I don't have to deal with this kind of stuff every day. Even after the trauma and relational diaspora of the last year I still have the pleasure and privilege of spending a lot of my time in 'safe' situations and mostly with people I enjoy and understand, people who get me (more or less).

That gives me courage to face the ambiguous situations, and to do what I can to =turn= them into places that are safe and comfortable for people - often by behaving like Cousin Delores: taking the initiative to reach out and set people at ease.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

A Better World

I picked up a copy of this handy little book called "The Better World Shopping Guide" when I was in Seattle. It ranks corporations by social and environmental responsibility. What do you think?

I'm also reading Barbara Kingsolver's recent book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which is about her family's experience learning to live on food that's locally grown instead of transported 1500 miles, as the average item on an American's grocery list apparently is.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Working Out, and Working Things Out at Work

Just got back from the "rec." center. Man, was it crowded. New Year’s resolutions, perhaps? For me, just want to get things back under control after a lot of holiday “grazing” and two weeks without exercising.

Turns out a couple of my coworkers are also planning to hit the gym more regularly, so we put a “workout chart” on our office white-board for a touch of accountability, taking the liberty of adding the other two members of our team to the list so it tracks all five of us. “If you work out at least three times a week, you get a piece of chocolate,” says K., “Because we want to make sure you don’t get too far ahead!”

K. is an odd character. He says his dream jobs are cult leader or warlord. He works pretty hard to maintain his reputation as a “bad boy,” which I sometimes find annoying. He likes to make speeches and can come across as kind of patronizing, though he hasn’t done this much in recent months.

He’s also a good friend. Usually happy to listen, and always ready to help - really goes the extra mile. He's not "nice" (see above) but he's kind and compassionate. He’s fairly brilliant, and good at recognizing and solving problems. And yes, he keeps the group supplied with chocolate, maintaining a constant supply of the good stuff from Trader Joe’s and dispensing it generously. Oh, and did I mention that he’s my boss? So it's important to me that we work well together, and usually we do. K. has done a lot to help me to both more satisfied and more effective in my work, and I deeply appreciate it.

While I’m writing about work (a very questionable practice among bloggers, but hey, I’ve always been a risk-taker!) maybe I should mention that we’ve had another personnel change at the office. Anita, the office manager, resigned. This is our second resignation in the AD months (After the Death of CP; the first was Les, the marketing guy). So there are now 11 of us, plus a couple of folks who volunteer or help out long-distance.

I think Anita's decision is a good one. But I wonder how it will affect of us, afraid it may further our fragmentation. Now we will have nobody in the office who sees it as their job to bridge across the three groups and provide overall leadership or office management. This may turn out for the best. Maybe we can – I can – let go of expectations that we should be working “together” (we’re not). Or maybe – dare I hope? people will step up to fill the gap in whichever ways seem to be most important... I'd love to see us praying together more, and with greater, well, unity, but maybe it's never going to be like CP. The sense of common purpose, trust, and "teamiosity" aren't really there. Not that they were always there in the past, but the lean times haven't made things better.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


Here's Mom, working on her loom - preparing the warp for a blanket for yours truly! She's been spinning wool on and off for this project for a couple of years, and now it's time to weave. The actual weaving - once you are past the designing, the shopping and/or dying and spinning of the yarn, all the math, and the warping - goes rather quickly. Mom estimated it would take 2-3 hours to weave my blanket. But she didn't finish before I left town again, so I'll be watching the mail for it.

Notice the computer screen in the background? The loom may be a lovely piece of cherry-wood furniture - take up the whole of what was meant to be the living room - but it's also a computer-operated machine. You have to plug it in. The weaver still has to set everything up, throw the shuttle, and pull the beater. But the computer controls the design by telling the loom which threads to lift up. This makes it much easier to avoid mistakes. Cool, huh?

'Recent Reading' - Fall 2007 archive

Hey, when I started listing books I was reading I deleted titles after a month or so - but in September I started letting the list pile up and now I don't want to let it go. So I'm going to post it as a blog entry before I clear it out and start over for 2008.