Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bedside Books

Over the weekend I spent some time with a fun family that has eight children of varying sizes. One of the almost-grownups, my friend R., had just finished high school and a party was being held in her honor. Since they live three hours' drive West of me, I stayed the night.

One of oldest boys cheerfully gave up his room for me, and D., the mom, thoughtfully chose a collection of great 'browsing' books to arrange on the bedside table, adding a few more during the evening as we talked.

It's true: I was tempted to stay up all night reading! Here's the collection and some of my thoughts:

Wildflowers of Colorado, photography by John Fielder; nice. He has good material to work with!

Bilbo's Last Song, by J.R.R. Tolkien, illustrated by Pauline Baynes. The illustrations sum up the Hobbit's journeys.

The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, ed. Arthur Bennett. Not everyone can stomach the Puritans, it's true, but they have much to teach us. This little leather volume provides it in small, deep doses!

Keeper of Springs, by Ingrid Trobisch (who with her husband Walter Trobisch cowrote several well-reputed books on marriage) and Marlee Alex. "Evoking a passion for homekeeping, Keeper of the Springs provides inspiration and motivation for cultivating atmosphere, tradition, and beauty in the midst of your surroundings and hectic family life." Ingrid's reflections on her life and homemaking, illustrated with photos. Not so relevant, perhaps, to someone who lacks 'hectic family life,' but a beautiful gift book, nonetheless!

Honey for a Woman's Heart: Growing your World through Reading Great Books, by Gladys Hunt. Yeah, the title makes me cringe a bit, but the subtitle redeems it! And the contents are great. I'm going to look for a copy of this chatty guide to good reading, for myself. It's also just the thing for my old college roommate - not as much of a reader as she'd like to be - who recently wrote and asked for a list of books or authors I'd recommend to 'strengthen her literary core'! (The author wrote a similar work well-known with the home-school set, Honey for a Child's Heart: The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life).

Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine, by Dorothy Sayers, collects a number of Sayers' essays of apologetics and social commentary which appear other places.

Three more were on the pile which are not so much browsing books as serious reads -- all of which I hope to hunt down and peruse properly. One reason they catch my eye is because I would like to do more this kind of writing someday; all three draw inspiration from history for facing the world's challenges today and tell the stories of those who have gone before to inspire and encourage believers now. Doing that kind of extensive research is not only a lot of fun and helpful to others but also a great way to learn things more deeply, myself.

The New Friars: The Emerging Movement Serving the World's Poor, by Scott Bessenecker. The head of InterVarsity's Global Trek program puts it in historic perspective and tells the stories of people changing the world by identifying with those on its fringes. (Includes some material on two of our favorite, lesser-known missions movements, those that took place among the Moravians and the Nestorians.)

Granny Brand: Her Story, by Dorothy Clarke Wilson; you may have heard of her son Paul Brand, also a missionary as well as a doctor, teacher, and author. From what I read of this I get the impression that Granny was NOT the kind of M. that Ingrid (above) and Lilias (below), were - finding beauty wherever she goes and making her home a nest - but more the plain-spoken, tough-as-nails, but with a heart-as-big-as-all-outdoors type. The kind who knows how to spit. We shall see. I think the public library should be able to find me a copy.

A Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter, by Miriam Huffman Rockness. This is one of D's favorites. I told her I was trying to figure out which missionary biographies about women to recommend on a 'short list' like this one (which strangely only includes books by and about men). I'm not sure if this one would have as broad an appeal, to both men and women, as the four books Ted lists, but there's got to be something that would. Let me know if anything comes to mind...

And I'd love to hear if any of you have a stack of favorites you'd place beside the bed in your guest room! (Deb and I have a rather rambling shelf-full, mostly for our mothers who come to stay now and then.)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My Grandmother's Silver Spoons

One of the things I chose from a box of my grandparents' things was a collection of silver spoons. I brought home about a dozen of them. This weekend, while the roommate and I settled down to watch a couple episodes of Monarch of the Glen, I polished silver.

These five are all engraved with my grandmother's name, Ruth, on the front. On the back they are all dated: 2-28-15, 2-28-17, 2-28-18, 2-28-19, and 2-28-20. Yes, that's her birthday.

Seeing as she was born on that day in 1914, she didn't pick out these spoons herself. They must have been gifts from someone else.

I wonder who bought silver spoons for the baby girl? Her parents? Another relative?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Funny Dream

I woke Sunday morning from a strange dream. In it I was speaking at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle. I wasn’t preaching or anything, but giving some kind of short presentation, announcement, or testimony; I was “sharing.” No biggie. But it’s a big church - a HUGE church. Although the place was still mostly empty I was already caught up in pre-performance adrenaline.

Then, at almost the last minute, I realized (remembered?) that I was also filling in as “guest organist.”

I know, that sounds ridiculous, but it was a dream!  

Feeling a touch of panic, I tried to reassure myself: It’s just hymns, isn’t it? I probably know them. Anyway, I can read music. Sure it’s been a while since I’ve touched an organ; but why shouldn’t it be fine, even with no rehearsal, as long as I can sight-read?  

Actually, my sight-reading is pretty bad … playing in public (even an instrument I know how to play) tends to freak me out … and my keyboard skills do not extend far beyond ‘Chopsticks’ and a two-part-harmony version of my high-school fight song. So it was pretty unlikely that this was going to work.  

My roommate Deb materialized at that point to assist and encourage (Yay, dream!). It turned out the first hymn was one I’d never heard before but she sang it softly and helped me see that I had the rhythm and intervals all wrong (“See, it’s actually ‘da DAH da da da d-dah.’”). 

Realizing I might be just about to make a fool of myself and a mess of the service, I woke up.

* * *

I believed a lot of things when I was a kid. Santa, the Easter Bunny, and especially the Tooth Fairy (I saw her once; her wing brushed my cheek. It was a precious moment.) I am cool with this; it’s all part of childhood.

But I was also raised to believe in myself, no matter what, and I’m not so sure I got that right. Parents and teachers encouraged me to believe I could do pretty much anything I decided I wanted to do. I read The Little Engine that Could, Free to Be You and Me, and later, a steady diet of stories about children who battled the forces of evil and saved humanity as we know it. And while I would have considered it quite arrogant, in the real world, to expect I was going to save humanity, I never doubted I could live whatever life I wanted to live and make the world a better place to be, to boot. 

This seems considerably better than growing up, as so many other kids do, hearing or thinking, “You can’t do it … You’re no good … you’ll never amount to anything.”  

I was never really in danger of NOT believing in myself. I suppose some people are. Maybe many or most. So, empowering people who are hopeless and helpless could be a huge need.

But the whole humanistic ideal and the American Dream are based on some half-truths, aren't they?

In my own life, I wonder if the reason I tend to have high standards for accomplishment and get so frustrated when I fail to meet them has to do with this long, deeply ingrained habit of believing I can (or should be able to) do anything.

Except maybe play the organ.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

"Can We Chat Sometime This Next Week?" - Adventures in Telephobia

Last week was pretty good in terms of walking with Jesus and seeing stuck things get unstuck. I went home Friday feeling like I deserved a break, and enjoyed my Saturday a great deal. Only now with Monday approaching, here comes another wave. Will I experience the exhilaration of riding it safely into shore, or will it crash down on me and reveal my inherent weakness and vulnerability?

Here are the details, a glimpse into my tortured mind. Feel free to stop reading here!

Steve, Eric, Justin, and Dave are all after me to set up times to talk on the phone. I absolutely go into a panic at the thought of making a phone call. The calls to Justin and Dave aren't urgent, but on the other hand they have been waiting a couple of weeks. The ones to Steve and Eric just came up but are more urgent; it will be bad if I procrastinate on them.

None of these guys lives in my city; I can't just meet them for coffee or lunch or drop by their homes or offices, which would be my preference. Face-to-face is great. But Eric and Justin both live in Asia. Steve is in England, I'm pretty sure. So those calls also require a bit more technology - calling over the internet using a headset-and-Skype system. I've never met Steve or Justin before. Eric's my friend but I'm a bit in awe of him. Dave, in California, is the least scary; he's a nice, nice man, and I do hope we have a good talk soon, but something in me is - well, yes, stuck, when it comes to actually calling him.

All four of these guys think phone calls are the way to go. They just don't know I'm not comfortable with that. How could they know? Maybe I should tell them.

Next time someone says, 'can we schedule a time to talk?' what would happen if I said (trying not to whine too much):
"I know that talking on the phone would make the most sense and be the most efficient use of time, but can we try this over email? I know it seems silly but the idea of calling you makes me want to throw up."
Or, to be more professional about it, maybe I could just say,
"Why don't we get the conversation started over email?"
I could just leave the ball in their court, ask them to call me. That works a lot better, if the other person takes responsibility for reaching me. However, that seems unfair. It is unfair.

So, I just gulp and say, "OK," when they ask me to call them, unable to let them know that following through on their request is like sawing off my own arm. Well, perhaps I exaggerate. But not too much.

These are not personal calls... they are all work-related. So my reluctance to do what seems the right thing may have more serious repercussions than if friends and family members read the wrong message into my behavior. Though that is sad, too, and maybe a lot worse: Do people think I don't value a relationship because I can't call them on the phone?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

It's Platonic

Meaning, of course, in the spirit of Plato. American application: consumption.

I don't like to shop. I don't like to buy things, to spend money, to have lots to choose from. (Though I enjoy going shopping, if I'm just going to look; retail therapy is a different process.) I used to get mad at our marketing guy for describing products as 'Perfect for [everybody]... ideal for [every purpose].' Even so, something deep inside still believes that such things exist. That if I keep looking I can find the one thing I could buy and it would always be exactly right, so right that I would not need to buy more. Among my life purposes - not major ones, but minor ones - are quests for:

... The perfect pair of sandals. I once owned a pair and managed to make them last almost 10 years, but eventually they fell to pieces. I've never been able to find their replacement: the sandals that look great on me, are super comfortable, go with everything, never wear out.

... the jeans of my dreams. Requirements, ditto.

... The ultimate purse/bag/satchel/tote, one that's the right size and just right for every occasion. Yeah, right. I keep forgetting we live in a fallen world. [Such things may exist in fiction, of course, especially fantasy: Hermione Granger picked up the perfect bag in book 7.]

What about you? What is your quest?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Public Service Announcement - Get More from your Time Online with Google Reader

Do you find you have that addiction to checking dozens of different sites on the internet before you settle down to your intended work or play? Let me recommend one tool that has helped me control that endless web-surfing activity: a web-feed aggregator. There are several of them out there. Each one probably works a bit differently. The one I'm using is Google Reader.

I think I first heard about it from Pat, who works with me on the ezine and plows through dozens of news sources on our behalf, keeping up with what's going on in many parts of the world and looking for stories we can reprint. Oh, and she's managing a household, homeschooling her kiddos, working part-time, etc. So Pat's big on anything that will help her maximize her time.

Me, I just wanted it for personal use. But you could use it either way, or both. It won't check your bank balances or tell you what your Facebook friends are doing, but it's good for things like reading blogs. Particularly, it keeps you from going back every day to check blogs that don't have any updates or at least not ones you care to read. Think of it as a clipping service, but one that's free and easy to use.

Here's how it works. Most blogs, and many other sites (like some of Pat's news sources), are set up for users to subscribe to a 'feed,' which means that the site talks to one of these aggregate sites - whichever one you designate - and lets you know it's been updated. You can usually make the connection from either end - either put the address into your aggregator and have it look for a feed, or click on a feed link/button on the site you like so it will let your aggregator pick up updates. On this blog, for instance, there's a line at the bottom that looks like this:

Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)

If you click on the link, you'll get a box that says 'subscribe to this link using... ' If you select Google, then Google Reader, you'll have your first feed; I think it will send you my last ten posts. But you've already read 'em, so click 'mark all as read.' Then go back to Google Reader now and again to check for an update. Oh, if mine is the only one you used this for it wouldn't save you any trouble but say you have 20 blogs you check; now it's all on one site. Play around with it a little bit and add subscriptions to other blogs you read. Other words to look for are RSS, XML, feed, and syndicate. Read more about these terms and the whole process here.

I've currently got mine set up to provide just the first paragraph in a feed, because I write long postings and tend to go back and change them - so, you can get a taste of what the post is about but you'll have to click through to my site to read the whole thing. That will also keep my visitor counts from plummeting, if lots of people use these things. (The default in blogger seems to be 'full' syndication - so readers could get a whole post and never come to your site; I didn't want that. If you are a blogger you can go into your settings and choose which you prefer, or disable the syndicating feature altogether.)

I'm pretty sure I didn't need to download anything onto my machine for this, but you might need to register with Google to use Google Reader; I was good to go because I already use several Google programs including gmail.

I started with just the blogs I read most often, but then went back and added the ones that I rarely check (often because they are rarely updated). Including them means I can forget about them; Google Reader will tell me if the author ever posts anything new.

You can easily click to the original site to read more, read or leave comments, etc.

I'm not deleting my bookmarks just yet, but this is much easier.

Now, one of these days, I need to put some of these things to use in my work... first, by reconfiguring our ezine archives so readers can get them through RSS feed. Haven't figured out how to do that in Drupal, our CMS - but there must be a way!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Women of the China Inland Mission: The Kid Sister - Amelia Hudson Taylor Broomhall

 See other postings on missions history here.

I'm not doing all this reading about the CIM because I'm obsessed with China. It's more that the story of the CIM is so well documented... and it featured so many women, which is great. With our present proximity to the OMF US office I have a library of books about 'em practically at my fingertips. Furthermore, many of the struggles these missionaries from 100+ years ago faced are not so different from the challenges that face our mission efforts today.

Mission historian Ruth Tucker – never one to pull her punches – has some more critical things to say about the CIM than I've seen elsewhere (though she praises them in many ways as well). One of her claims is that after facing as much high-profile criticism as they did, the CIM became very secretive. JHT himself laid down the law when he insisted that nothing "potentially harmful" to the mission make its way into the files. Kind of a sketchy policy, that!

That may have helped lay the foundation for a lot of writing that is just too... worshipful? This volume which I found online is a good example – Looks to be a tiresomely treacle-y tribute, no alternate interpretations or dark sides allowed! Members of the family were also careful to clean up Taylor's own writings lest any of his foolishness or quirks hurt his respectability. (Even now, you'll find more balanced accounts coming from publishers other than OMF).

I wonder if anyone has written a book or done a study that specifically looks at the women in ol’ James Hudson Taylor's world? What roles did they play in his life and the life of the mission? Maybe such a work exists, something a bit less ambitious than Valerie Griffith’s Not Less Than Everything, which is much more far reaching.

I'd put his mom on the list, and Maria and Jennie and Emily too.

But right up there would have to be Amelia, Taylor's younger sister. Here are some glimpses of her life, drawn primarily from this engaging little paperback I read over the weekend, Each to Her Post: The Inspiring Lives of Six Great Women in China, by Phyllis Thompson.* Brace yourself; it's awfully sweet!

Amelia's Story
“Hudson Taylor’s sister Amelia has been a rather shadowy background figure in the annals of the mission he brought into being, yet she had a most significant bearing on it. She was her brother’s closest confidante for years, and from the beginning to the end of his life she was woven into its warp and woof.

“Let us draw back the curtain of time, then, and meet a thirteen-year-old Victorian schoolgirl, complete with corkscrew curls, a demure expression, ankle-length skirts and well-starched pinafore, named Amelia…” (Thompson, p. 8)

Although their father was a local preacher on the Methodist circuit and actively training up young men as evangelists, his 17-year-old son Hudson apparently found the whole business rather irksome. Even after his strict religious upbringing he was skeptical about God, Christianity, and the church. Thirteen-year-old Amelia knew just what was wrong.
“She had found that arguing with him about it left him completely unconvinced, so she decided to get at him another way. She would pray for him every day. She would pray three times every day that God would convert him.” (Thompson, p. 13).
Ha, there’s a way to get back at your rebellious siblings! (Can't say I've tried it. Though I'm more the rebel than Meg is!)

It was not long before he did, indeed, have a conversion experience, which began to bear fruit immediately. Amelia was the first he confided in about the matter. In her "maidenly reticence," she could never have confessed her role in the matter, but he found out anyway, and was grateful. It only strengthened the bond between them.

The two of them took to the streets distributing tracts door to door, and frequently spoke or wrote to each other about their desires and efforts to grow in godliness. During this time, Hudson became persuaded God was calling him to go to China as a missionary.


Amelia, like most girls of her set, was schooled entirely at home until this point. But she soon left to join the small boarding school run by her aunt in a nearby city. There she continued her sheltered, protected existence, never going out without an escort. You can imagine her delight when, for her sixteenth birthday, her brother arranged to bring her on a remarkable outing – to spend a week in London!
“She had never been there before. Whether she actually saw Queen Victoria and her consort is not recorded, but it is certain that her kindly uncle took her around to see the sights, including the newly opened British Museum within a few minutes walk of his home.

"She saw the coaches of the wealthy conveying dignified gentlemen and elegantly dressed ladies, clip-clopping along the broad thoroughfares of Regent’s Park and Piccadilly, the bands playing in the park, and the magnificent homes on Park Lane, though it is doubtful if she ever caught more than a glimpse of the filthy narrow back streets and yards of Dickens’ London. A Victorian uncle would have shielded an innocent young niece from anything so sordid.

"She must be shown only the splendid sights, the most wonderful of all being the fabulous Crystal Palace, the masterpiece of cast iron and glass dominating the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park.

"It was Hudson who took her there, on her birthday, and after wandering among the fairy-like scenes set among ferns and flowers, he crowned it all for her by taking her to a restaurant where they were served, among other delicacies, with a pineapple.” (Thompson, p. 19)
Nice! I do like the bit about the pineapple. While they were in London they met with others interested in China and moved things further along on that front.


Amelia’s schooldays came to an abrupt ending when one of her aunts died, leaving an uncle and brood of young cousins in need of someone to keep house for them. It was clear to everyone that this was where Amelia’s duty lay. Oh yes. Such were the times.

That’s where she was when the news came that her brother had made an arrangement with the China Evangelization Society to leave for China as soon as his passage could be arranged. Though this had been his dream for some years, its realization was sudden. It was September when he left, and she got her first letter from him – written the day he arrived in China – in April or May. He was to write frequently, and often he mentioned his earnest desire for Amelia to come join him in China.

But she hesitated; much as she loved her brother, she did not want to leave her parents "bereft" of two children, and she did not feel that compelling sense of calling which her brother had. She went back and forth on it.

And then there was Benjamin Broomhall, a young man in her father’s Sunday school class, and a friend of Hudson’s, who in time asked permission to begin corresponding with her. This was equivalent to engagement in their circles, and Hudson made no secret how deeply grieved he was by the news:
“For the last ten years I have hoped to have you with me in China; now you have disappointed me, you know not how much. This week this thought has sometimes come over me with such force that I have felt almost heartbroken.” (Thompson, p. 24)
Amelia apparently had a similar struggle when her brother, having found the woman who would be his wife and partner (after being rejected by the lovely Miss Vaughn, Amelia's music teacher!), he no longer put Amelia first in his affections but only had eyes for Maria! In her letters, Amelia mentions that her brother had often said he wished she wasn't his sister so she could be his life's companion. Doesn't that sound a bit creepy? So maybe it's best they both married!

The Broomhalls and the CIM

Amelia was by no means selling out when she married Benjamin: Both were devoutly seeking God and willing to serve in China, but came to the conclusion, after much struggle, that they were not called there. So they lived a more common life; Benjamin built a career and Amelia raised ten healthy children. (No small achievement, that. Certainly not one her friends and relations who went to China managed).

Thompson describes how she carefully trained her children to pray, and to sit still when necessary; she seemed to have a knack for running a happy, orderly household. In fact, she was really good at homemaking and raising kids. Those are important if unglamorous skills. Not just everyone can do them well.

Amelia's life was quite different from that of some of the outspoken, adventurous, independent women God raised up in and through the CIM – women like Maria and Jennie – but she was to play an important part in her own way.

At age 40, when her youngest was just three months old, she put those skills and talents to work in some new ways. The CIM had survived its shaky beginnings and reputation problems and begun to grow. Fresh, capable leaders were needed for the home office and training program. The ever-steady Benjamin and Amelia seemed just the couple to step into that role.

He became the imperturbable administrator, advocate, and spokesperson, roles in which he thrived. She, while shrinking from the limelight, kept the mission home running smoothly – with meals on the table, a welcoming, hospitable and peaceful environment, and a listening ear for mission candidates and anyone else who needed encouragement. She was always there. She knew everyone's name. She prayed for them.  When Hudson’s second wife, Jennie, went back to China by herself for an important mission, Amelia took in their seven children in addition to the ten of her own; they were a rollicking brood of 17. The neighbors naturally thought someone had opened a school!

I love the way Thompson describes the impact the Broomhalls had on soothing and supporting the members of the young mission:
“As for Mr. Broomhall, he always seemed to have at his fingertips all sorts of useful information… If you had been in inland China for ten years, it was very bewildering to find yourself in the busy streets of London where everyone seemed in a hurry and the horses pranced along at such a pace… It was helpful to have someone who could find out the time of your train back home to Scotland, and tell you which station it went from.

"But when he did all that and then escorted you there, saw about getting your luggage into the van, tipped the porter, bought your ticket, saw you comfortably settled in your compartment, ensured that you had all you needed for the journey... well, it somehow put new life into you and made you forget how shabby and old-fashioned you felt wearing the clothes you’d pulled out of the trunk you’d left behind ten years ago.” (Thompson, pp. 34-35)

The Broomhalls ran the mission home for 20 years, and saw four of their own children go to China with the CIM (one married Hudson Taylor's successor D.E. Hoste). Even after Benjamin died and she was old and frail, having to be pushed about in her "bath chair," Amelia continued to take an active role through prayer and relationships. The Candidate Secretary liked her to meet the prospective new missionaries so she could "size them up." Amelia was considered a kind but shrewd judge of character. Her encouragement helped candidates through the rough patches; her discernment kept the mission from making mistakes.

Thompson sums up her legacy like this:
“She never went to China, performed no acts of outstanding courage, had no spectacular achievements to her credit, swayed no audiences with her eloquence. Hers was an unusually sheltered life, from beginning to end surrounded by deep family love… On the face of it she has no claim to a place in the annals of a mission that has worked and suffered in the Far East for over one hundred years, and she certainly would not have claimed it for herself. But the sum total of a mission’s quality is not contained in its outward activity, any more than the value of a tree lies only in its fruit. Without the root under the ground, there would be no tree. Without the Amelias, there would be no Mission.” (Thompson, pp. 40-41).
* Thompson's book also includes biographical essays on Jennie Taylor, Margaret King, Jessie Gregg, Dr. Jessie McDonald, and Lilian Hamer. This work is evidently written more for a popular audience than an academic one, and her sources are not well documented. A. J. Broomhall (grandson of Amelia) ended up writing a seven-volume history of the CIM which probably includes a great deal of what is known about this early cast of characters, but I haven't checked it out.

6/23/15 See a recent piece about the Broomhall family (though focused on the men) here: http://omf.org/us/the-broomhalls-and-china/

Sunday, May 11, 2008

More from Isaiah 40 - good news for moms

11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.

(If you were a mom with a pair of lambs running kind of wild, wondering if you could really make it as a mother, wouldn't you appreciate the shepherd's gentle attentions and guidance?)

26 Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.

(Every lose one of your kids? (no pun intended!) How wonderful to have a partner in this life who knows each one by name, and lets none go missing...)

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Shack & Room of Marvels

Mentioned I'd read this book last month and that I was interested in discussing it with a group; my book club has decided to take up that challenge. (Sorry to see Chuck Colson pan this book, here!)

For those who liked this sort of work, see another take on similar themes which is less open to such criticism: Room of Marvels, by James Bryan Smith (also author of Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointed to Heaven.) I think Room of Marvels is a better book than The Shack (although it's more derivative, less original). I was disappointed that it didn't find such a wide audience - or I don't think it did. Looks like it went into a second printing, though, and that's a good sign.

Room of Marvels Product Description (Amazon.com)

In one tragic blow after another, accomplished Christian writer Tim Hudson lost his mother, his close friend, and his two-year-old daughter. Now he’s on the brink of losing his faith.

Room of Marvels takes readers on a silent spiritual retreat with Tim where he is swept up in a dream vision of heaven and given a guided tour by those he has lost. Reminiscent of the C. S. Lewis classic, The Great Divorce, the book carries a contemporary voice that made Library Journal declare it “a good companion to Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven.”

Remarkably, Room of Marvels mirrors author James Bryan Smith’s own heart-wrenching season of loss when his mother (Wanda), close friend (“Awesome God” singer Rich Mullins), and two-year-old daughter (Madeline) passed away within months of each other.

Updated with a new cover design and epilogue by Smith, the 2007 edition of Room of Marvels will continue to comfort those touched by grief and stir the hunger for heaven in every reader.

* * *

I've never read anything by (the wildly popular) Mitch Albom. Anybody have something to say about his books?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Depression, its Causes and Cures (Per Uncle Remus)

After one particularly discouraging defeat by a fellow creature in the woods – no hare likes to be beat in a race by a tortoise – you can imagine how poor Brer Rabbit felt. In case you can’t, Uncle Remus describes it in the story recorded by Joel Chandler Harris as Brer Rabbit Visits de Witch:

Brer Rabbit got ter feelin’ sorter droopy. He worry an worry about how anyone can beat him, when he hisself is de fastest creetur on dis earf. He worry so much dat after a while, he feared he losin’ de use of his mind. He feared de other creeturs would take ter foolin’ him, an dat he ain’t smart enuff ter fool um back. Wurse dan dat, he feared dat de bigger creeturs soon would ketch him, an skin him, an nail his hide on de door.

“What in de name of goodness is de matter wid you?” ask Mrs. Rabbit one mawnin’ when Brer Rabbit won’t even get up outer bed.

Brer Rabbit don’t answer.

Mrs. Rabbit try ter roust him up, but he won't be rousted. He just pull de kivvers up round his ears, an lay der like he wuz dead. De chilluns, dey beg der Daddy ter play hoppum-skippum, an piggy-back, but he just say, “Shoo! … Go ‘way.” Brer Rabbit don’t want ter do nothin’. He mope.

Ever have one of those days? The first line of action was one that’s not uncommon today:

Mrs. Rabbit, she sit beside de bed. “You got de mopes,’ she say. “You got ter go ter de Rabbit-Doctor an get yourself a pill.”

Brer Rabbit don’t want ter go ter any Doctor, but he do ez Mrs. Rabbit say.

“What’s de trubble, Brer Rabbit?” ask de Rabbit-Doctor, when he see Brer Rabbit come shufflin’ ter his door. “You’re lookin’ kinder weak. Ain’t you feelin’ well?”

“I got de mopes,” say Brer Rabbit.

De Rabbit-Doctor, he take Brer Rabbit’s paw an he lissen ter de tick-a-tickin’ in his wrist. Den he make Brer Rabbit stick out his tongue, an he look way down inter his windpipe somewhers. “Hmmmmm hmmmmmmm!” he say, openin’ his eye up big. “De mopes! Dat’s exactly what it is.” Den he give Brer Rabbit a box of green pills.

Brer Rabbit grunt, an he take de box, but he ain’t de sort fer swallerin’ pills. On de way back home, he frow um ter de ducks, an he watch up grabble up every one.

Well suh, Brer Rabbit don’t get any better. He get wusser an wusser every day.

“You getting’ thin an puny!” cry Mrs. Rabbit, wipin’ a ear from her eye. “So thin an so puny, dat a teenchy little grasshopper could whack you down an carry you away!”

Well, that's the part I like - have you ever heard a better description of how depression works?

But you'll want to hear the rest of the story. Mrs. Rabbit didn’t give up. She sent him off to “ole Aunt Mammy-Bammy Big-Money, de Witch-Rabbit, way, way off in de swamp.”

It wuz a long, long way ter de middle of de deep, black swamp where Aunt Mammy-Bammy Big-Money lived. Dose dat wanted ter go der had ter jump some, hump some; hop some, flop some; ride some, slide some; creep some, leap some; foller some, holler some – an if dey wuren’t mighty keerful, dey didn’t get der den.
But Brer Rabbit, he got there, and poured out his woes to Aunt Mammy-Bammy Big-Money.

“I’m losin’ de use of my mind, Aunt Mammy-Bammy Big-Money! Der ain’t no smartness in me any more. I’m skeered de bigger creeturs goin’ ter nab me, an skin me, an nail up my hide on de door.”

The daughter of one of my friends had me read her this [very politically incorrect!] story, in its original dialect, last month. When I tried to track it down myself, I had no luck: some editions include the story or variations, but they sanitize it quite a bit and ruin the great language. Finally I had my friends scan it in and send it to me on email. (Though posting it here will probably bring some strange search-traffic to my site.)

What did the witch doctor do? Her prescription is ingenious. She sets Brer Rabbit to three tasks. First he has to fetch a squirrel down from a tree for her, then catch a snake lying in the grass, then bring back an elephant tusk. He manages all of this using his wits, of course. Which demonstrated that he had not lost his touch, after all.

“Here I am, Aunt Mammy-Bammy Big-Money!” he yell down inter de smoke. “I fetched de Elephent tusk like you told me! What do you want me ter do now next?”

Fer a minute, de Witch-Rabbit don’t answer. Den her voice come floatin’ up from way down yonder below. “I don’t want you ter do nothin’ at all. An don’t you worry no more about losin’ your smartness. If you wuz any smarter dan you is right now, you’d be de ruination of de whole wide wurld.”

Den Brer Rabbit feel mighty, might good. He drag de Elephent tusk home ter Mrs. Rabbit, an he tell her dat now, an forever more, he done got over de mopes.

Where Do You Go When You Have "De Mopes"?

I think I'll stay away from witch-doctors myself, thank you very much. I didn't post this because of the moral of the story.

No, it's just that I think we all have days when we get "de mopes." We think we're losing our minds and just want to pull the covers up over our ears, whether they are pointy, furry ears or not.

How I appreciate those who won't let us check out, those who see our problems more clearly than we do, and know what it will take to get us back on track.

Often my mopes are rooted in some false impression, some lie, about myself, someone else, or the world. I need some evidence that points in the other direction. It may be a matter of getting a sense of perspective: the 'will this still matter five years from now? Five days from now?' effect. The scriptures talk about lifting up your eyes (Psalm 121:1, Psalm 123:1, Isaiah 40:26, Isaiah 49:18, Isaiah 51:6, Isaiah 60:4).

The Isaiah 40 passage - which covers a whole range of emotion, masterfully - goes on to say:

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.

29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.

30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;

31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Women of the China Inland Mission: Emily Blatchley and Jennie Faulding

More on this topic here. Primary Source: Not Less Than Everything, by Valerie Griffiths.

Photo: public domain image of Emily Blatchley; reprinted in Wikipedia here.

When the CIM was founded in 1865, its leaders approached many things differently than the existing agencies did. While some of us might consider the CIM’s policies and practices enlightened and ahead of their time, others were less impressed.
“None [of Hudson Taylor’s] policies was more radical than his decision to send single women as well as men to go to China as equal members of the mission. He scandalized Victorian Britain, just as Florence Nightingale had done ten years earlier when she took nurses to the Crimean War. In England, unmarried women lived with their families and never set up house on their own. However… [Taylor] knew that without the help of Christian women, the women of China were inaccessible.
“The call went out for single women to be equal members of the mission with men, and before they sailed, he realized that since he expected the married women to work alongside their husbands, they too should be recognized as full members. Later he would spell it out even more clearly to recruits.
“‘It is most important that married missionaries should be double missionaries… unless you intend your wife to be a true missionary, not merely a wife, homemaker, and friend, do not join us…’

"Taylor was indeed breaking new ground." (Griffiths, p. 56)
Taylor’s wife, Maria, was a tremendously hard worker. She’d begun her ministry in China while still in her teens, and with marriage increased her stresses and responsibilities much more than they would today: Back in England (while keeping house, raising children, and suffering a great deal in pregnancy), she served as secretary to her husband, taught Chinese to new recruits, worked on Bible translation, and ran the new mission agency when her husband was sick or traveling.

Among those who served alongside these the Taylors were two young women whose parents had entrusted them to the couple’s care. Jennie Faulding and Emily Blatchley were barely out of their teens.

Emily became the governess for the Taylors’ four children, running the household when Maria was on bed rest or coughing up blood (!) from a lung disease. (Maria’s health was always a problem). Jennie helped with correspondence. The four of them and more than a dozen more (the Lammermuir party) left for China in 1866.

Yes, some disapproved; when rumors flew, the Taylors had to put much energy into proving that there was no impropriety in the situations concerning the single women. [And Hudson, the dear man, had to stop giving the two 'girls' goodnight kisses (!)]

Emily’s Story

When they got to China Emily continued to care for the care for the children and also stepped into Maria’s shoes as Taylor’s secretary. Together she and Maria weathered the difficult summer when all the children had the measles, two of them apparently at death’s door. Maria was pregnant again and nursing a very sick baby when the house was attacked by an angry anti-foreign mob. The crowd set fire to the house. The missionaries staying there threw mattresses down and made a rope ladder out of sheet which they used to lower several of the women and children down before the crowd set the mattresses and rope on fire. Maria and Emily had to jump from the roof and both were injured.

By 1870 it became apparent that the two older Taylor children ought to return to England for schooling, and the younger two had health problems which suggested they would do better in England as well. One, in fact, died before they could be sent away. Reluctantly Hudson and Maria decided to send their other children home, keeping only the baby with them. Who did they send home with the kids? Emily. Emily was like a second mother to the children. Maria sent her with a letter encouraging the grandparents to consider her one of the family.

Emily was heartbroken at leaving China but it seemed necessary. Emily’s health was also suffering: She had tuberculosis, and it was spreading. Moreover, the home office of the CIM needed someone with her skills and insight. That's right, though only 25 years old, she knew much more of China than those on the council back in London.

The men who formed the London Council were not very responsible and did not appreciate what it really took to keep the mission running. They were happy to leave as much responsibility as possible to “competent, reliable Emily” without actually giving her much authority. Meanwhile, her strength was ebbing away. Imagine what it would be like, especially without today's advances and conveniences, to practically be a single mom to three kids and run a ministry (while appearing not to) at the same time. Oh yeah, and slowly dying of TB. 

But if being a single missionary woman (on the field or on the home front) was challenging, being a married missionary woman (in either place) was more so. With so much illness and high maternal mortality rates, getting pregnant could almost be a death sentence. Evidentally birth control was either unavailable or not considered an option. Back in China, Maria had not lived long after saying goodbye to her older children. She died at age 33 shortly after giving birth to her sixth child. 

Hudson was far from well himself. He had faced great criticism from all sides, and stress always brought on an attack of dysentery. He had lost his wife and two children in five months, and he was still carrying tremendous responsibility for leading, caring for, and tending to the medical needs of many others.

Within the year his mother wrote to him suggesting he marry again. He needed a wife; his children needed a mother. Naturally, she suggested Emily. Her son, though, recognized that Emily was probably too ill and frail to step into the gap. (Not that his health was that good, but his body would never pay the price of childbirth.)

But remember Emily's good friend Jennie Faulding, the other adopted member of the family? Though much stronger, she was also exhausted by her five years in China and a battle with malaria. She had to go back to England for a rest, and she and Taylor ended up on the same ship.

He liked her. She liked him. By all accounts she was very congenial. By the time they reached London they were engaged.
“One of Taylor’s hardest tasks was to break the news to Emily Blatchely by letter before they reached home.” (Griffiths, p. 38)
How hard it must have been on Emily! Was she in love with the man? I don't know. But what is clear is that she truly expected to be the next "Mrs" as was sorely disappointed when he married her friend instead. Emily continued to raise the kids and run the home office while Hudson and Jennie got well and got to go back to China. If Taylor chose Jennie over Emily because he did not think Emily was strong enough, we was proven right: she was not to live long.

Jennie, of course, has a story of her own. I’ll save it for another day.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Speaking at the Ladies' Tea !

You pray? Lift me up on Tuesday, if you would. I'm supposed to "share about my ministry" for 15-20 minutes for two women's ministry groups at my church. One group meets in the morning (9:30-11:30) and a second in the evening (6:30 to 8:30).

I know some of these women pretty well, and here's a good opportunity to do some more relationship building. I love public speaking, and this is a pretty safe environment; even if I don't feel understood, I definitely feel accepted. So why am I uncomfortable?

What will be most helpful to talk about, things that will bless and not intimidate, build bridges and not confuse? Do I pull out some of my old standard, never-fail material, or talk about things that are new and exciting to me? Or maybe some combination of the two? How will I tie it all together?

Pray I could prepare well and appropriately, and by the time I get up to speak at 9:30 or so, be comfortable enough with myself to relax, to enjoy and serve the people who are there.

Between these two gatherings, my team at work is having an all-afternoon meeting to launch our planning process for the Oct08-Sept09 fiscal year. Would love to hear from God in that process as well.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Another Western Woman in Eastern Lands: Miss Mary Ann Aldersey

Source: Not Less Than Everything, by Valerie Griffiths.

In 1834 a group of British women came together to form a new ministry with the good Victorian name The Society for the Promoting Female Education in [India, China, and] the East. Over the next 40 years they sent more than 150 single women, mostly mature women with teaching experience, to China, Southeast Asia, India, South Africa, and the Middle East, to set up schools for local children. Other agencies that refused to accept single women nevertheless depended on the SPFEE for a supply of teachers.

One of the founding committee members of this ministry was Mary Ann Aldersey. When she was 30 she gave a large donation to the London Missionary Society to encourage them to send out a pair of single women, and canvassed her friends to do the same. A clergyman impressed by her enthusiasm finally asked, “Why don’t you go yourself, Miss Aldersey?”

She was on the point of doing so when her brother was widowed. Mary Ann was expected to take over supervising his household and eight children [another source says five]. While she resented the delay, the experience with children certainly helped equip her for future ministry. When her brother remarried in 1837, Mary Ann, now 40, was free to go. She was also able to support herself through her own means - always handy when you are doing the unexpected!

Foreigners were still forbidden to live in China so she sailed for Indonesia, and ended up spending her first years in the city of Surabaya. Living outside the capital and teaching Christianity in a Muslim area she might have faced more opposition that she could withstand, but, as she said, 

“‘My weakness was my strength. It was not expected that a woman missionary’s activities would do much good or harm.’ There would be many times in the future when women missionaries could go where men could not, simply because of that assumption.” (Griffiths, p. 20)

In time, treaties between China and Western governments allowed foreigners to live in China. In 1843 Mary Ann became the first single Western woman to set foot there. Her 12-year-old adopted daughter came with her, and they were soon joined by two Javanese girls who had become Christians at her school in Surabaya.

The government may have allowed them to live there, but plenty of hardship and local opposition remained. Dysentery, cholera, and typhoid were constant threats, and summer temperatures were stifling. When disasters struck the Chinese believed someone must have offended the spirits and the foreigners were obvious scapegoats. Mary Ann, committed to preserving her health, also took daily morning walks along the city walls, which led to rumors that she was communing with "the spirits of the night." 

“Moreover she wanted to teach their girls, and everyone knew that was a waste of money: girls married and left home, and they were a burden on the family from the day they were born until the day their married. Rumours abounded that Mary Ann had murdered all her own children and now wanted theirs.” (Griffiths, p. 30)

Mary Ann persisted. By 1852, when she was 55, this British lady was a pillar of the community, held in high respect by both the foreigners and the Chinese. 

“The local Chinese decided that, since Britain was ruled by a woman, the Queen had sent Miss Aldersey to rule the British in Ningbo.” (p. 34)

Miss Aldersey fits certain missionary stereotypes. A visitor remarked, admiringly, that “the orderly and self-respecting habits of her early years remained unchanged.” The product of an upper-middle class home, she felt it was important to maintain discipline and decorum. Does that show integrity, or inflexibility?

I first heard about Miss Aldersey as the one who had forced young Maria Dyer to reject Hudson Taylor’s first offer of marriage. Maria was serving under Miss Aldersey, teaching in the Ningbo school. In Miss Aldersey’s eyes Taylor was uncouth, unqualified, and a Sabbath-breaker to boot! But was it necessary for Miss Aldersey to oppose Maria’s interest in him (and his in her) so vehemently? She actually dictated Maria’s letter of rejection, including the sentence instructing him to never bring up the matter again. (They ended up getting married in the end anyway, but that’s another story.)

Considering the world she grew up in, the world to which she had come, and the role she played in bridging the two, I find more sympathy for Miss Aldersey than I thought I would. 

“These were the early days for overseas missions. Arguments raged between those who believed in preserving their Western culture and dignity in other lands, and those who abandoned the trappings of the West and adopted the ways of the place where they had lived.” (Griffiths, p. 34)

I’m still a big fan of cultural sensitivity and identifying with those you wish to serve, so you can say, “follow me as I follow Christ.” You might expect Mary Ann Aldersey’s white table cloths and Victorian manners to get in the way, but perhaps they did not. She still offered hospitality unstintingly, and she loved and served the Chinese even if she was not willing to live as they did. She was effective; she was well loved. Maria would live her life quite differently, but it wasn’t just their relative positions that caused her to see Miss Aldersey as a role-model.

One woman who reminisced about meeting Miss Aldersey said she had expected to meet “a tall, masculine-looking person with a mind and will of her own,” and must have certainly found that mind and will were there, but also called her “one of the loveliest little women it has been my privilege to meet. She captured my heart from the start.” (Griffiths, p. 35)

Would that we could all transcend the limitations, personality issues, and prejudices we all have, to love and bless those around us!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Irritable Syndrome and Christian Sexism

A close relative of mine has a really bad case of irritable bowel syndrome, but I think I just have "irritable" syndrome. Oh, it comes and goes, and moves from one area to another - usually I don't flare up all over at once. But as with any allergic-type reaction, certain things help, and certain things trigger a flareup. So, I try to pay attention to what those things are. What makes me mad, sad, mean, irritable? What restores my peace, serenity, kindness, and mercy?

One bit I've been scared to explore with is why other people's sexist comments get under my skin. Usually when I cry (which is rare) or get angry (which is more common) about anything, it's because something is probing one of my insecurities. So, how do other people's generalizations about what men and women are like hit me at a point of insecurity? 

I was regularly mistaken for a boy when we were kids. I clearly remember one incident as late as sixth grade. That set up some insecurities that further experiences (e.g., being excluded for being female but still judged for not being feminine enough, or harshly criticized for not behaving the way women are 'supposed to,' being still single at this age, etc.) and my responses to them (e.g., bitterness) have built on. All that can create a pretty big yucky mess in one's head, and play a major part in causing those knee-jerk reactions. So I need to "own" my part in that (as they say). Chances are if I'm willing to talk and pray through this stuff with friends or mentors it will become LESS of a mess in my head and might even change the way I relate to people.

A willingness to open these cans of worms, as I've found with this healing prayer business, can open up whole new interpretations of past events and their significance - one can actually allow God to rewrite the text of one's life. (And there's no better author/editor out there than him).

* * *

Nevertheless. I think there really IS something messed up about the way [some of] my fellow Christians talk and joke about gender, don't you think? It's not just me being irritable, even if we accept the I.S. diagnosis as a significant factor :-)

Consider this situation I found myself in recently:

Man1: "We're so glad that [wife] could join us today. Oh, and she brought along [husband]. (Laughter).
Wife: "He's my chauffeur!"
Man1: (getting serious now) "[Husband], why don't you tell us about what you've been doing?"
(Wife not heard from again until the 'joke' is relaunched. Husband does almost all the talking).
Man2: "[Wife], why don't you tell us how we can pray for you, since we know [husband] isn't going to?"
(Wife doesn't realize this is just a dig at her husband to get him to share their prayer requests. They don't expect anything from her, it seems, but she starts to talk. After a while, Man1 cuts her off by directed a direct question to [husband] again, using his name so he'll know he's the one we want to hear from.)
Man2: It's always good to see you, [wife], and I guess we'll put up with [husband] if we have to.
(Laughter from everyone but me.)

Isn't there just something wrong with this kind of thing? To put women on a pedestal with empty compliments, then sideline them? Seems so dehumanizing.

* * *

Just to show I still have a sense of humor about all this (or maybe that I'm just as guilty), let me recommend this article I found truly hilarious: Ten Reasons Why Men Should Not Be Ordained for Ministry.