Monday, September 29, 2008


Photo caption: Not a people group

At the conference I attended this last week four men were asked to represent the "majority world harvest force," which is current jargon for the mission movement that has grown up (from practically nothing before the 1980s) in Asia, India, Africa, and Latin America. Nowadays there are way more of "them" than of us, which is as it should be - notwithstanding we all bring something to the table.

The guy representing Asia was from the Philippines. He knew he had a hard job to try to represent Asia. Just representing China would be difficult - or just Indonesia. Some of the other countries are a bit more homogeneous, but you certainly can't average them all together and come out with something meaningful and say this is what Asians are like.

Somehow the way my brain is mapped, this connected with something I ran into in my travels this summer.

When I showed up for my first visit to the research team in "River City," they let me know they had described me as their teacher and that it might be a good idea to allude to other places I had lived and done research. They felt this would help my credibility and, by extension, theirs. As a result of the "teacher" title (and/or my advanced age, relatively speaking?) I was thereafter treated as the most honorable member of the party.

But when I started chatting about other places I'd been, as I had been encouraged to do, I realized I was falling back on a misplaced assumption... that these folks were "internationals." That because they were interested in hearing about me (a person from America) and talking about themselves (people from this particular city and culture) they would have some interest in other parts of the world as well.

But they didn't. In most cases their eyes glazed over fairly quickly if I got off on some tangent about something I'd experienced or learned in India, or Central Asia. Once, when I spoke about to a visit to Tun'isia, my bright, educated host admitted he didn't realize it was an Arab Muslim country.

Just because we meet people in other countries (or from other countries), that doesn't make them "international." They may identify with only one nation, their own. And in kindness or curiosity they might express interest in yours as well. Whether it goes beyond that really depends on the person.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Health Care vs. Health Insurance

I hope the debate about how to see that more people in the US have access to affordable health care acknowledges the difference between affordable health insurance and affordable health care. I don't know about yours, but my insurance works more or less like the mafia.

When I first began life as a grownup I bought a 'catastrophic'-type health insurance policy. You pay a little bit of money every month and don't get much for it, but if you're really in trouble, they do the heavy lifting. Then for years I was on an HMO - we paid quite a bit, but that covered almost everything; we just made small co-payments for services and prescriptions.

I'm just learning how things work with a PPO system, and the one we have does not impress me. The company rep who came to explain it to us and even the guys in our HR dept in HQ like to talk about all the stuff it covers. I have submitted a couple of claims and wondered how long it would take for my reimbursements to come back.

But silly me, I didn't realize it's really just the same as that catastrophic policy I had long ago. You make your payments, and then you ALSO pay for your own health care on top of that - unless you have some huge catastrophe or long-drawn-out illness, in which case they start picking up expenses. It's unlikely I will ever top the $1000/year deductible. Which means the question of what procedures or percentages the policy "covers" are moot.

Only now, what I used to pay for a year of my catastrophic policy is the same as the cost of just one month of this one.

OK, my company pays, technically, it's true: this is a "benefit." But since we all raise our own financial support - including salaries, benefits, travel, retirement, and employer- and employee-side taxes - one feels these things a bit more keenly. At times, over the years, I've found it helpful to think: wow, this is a big expense, but my supporters, they're so generous, they want me to have this. It is hard to maintain that attitude when it becomes clear that I don't have anything. The insurance companies are the ones enjoying my "benefit."

My mother - a very sensible woman - reminds me that it is far better NOT to get one's money's worth when it comes to insurance. True. I'm glad to be healthy.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Notes from the Missiologists' Pow-Wow

One of the tribes I belong to is the tribe of missiologists - people interested in studying and leading others in thinking about the assumptions and implications associated with the way we do things in this whole business of cross-cultural mission. A mouthful, isn't it? I love that kind of stuff though.

In this country, many of these folks belong to one or more of several organizations that are holding concurrent annual meetings right here in Colorado. Let's avoid names - I'd rather not have this pop up on people's search engines.

The last time I went to one of these meetings, it was sponsored by two of these three organizations; drew much the same crowd. That time I was quite nervous. I had been pressured into writing a paper to present at the local chapter of one of the organizations, and quite without my knowledge agreeing to do so meant my paper would be considered for presentation at the national gathering. When I got a letter saying, more or less, "Congratulations! You've been selected to present your paper.... we'll expect you there," I groaned... quite resented the fact that accepting the honor was going to cost me $1000 in airfare, hotels, and conference fees.

I also thought: I'm not going to know these people or fit in with them. The presenters are all Dr. this or Dr. that, and the people who attend are mostly mission agency executives, maybe a few wives. Is there really a place at the table for some girl who isn't even "Director" or "Vice President" of anything, and only has a Bachelor's degree?

What I didn't realize then, I see clearly now:
  • The people who come to these events are all called to the same purposes that I am.
  • Most are skilled and experienced in seeing and believing in the potential of people - especially younger coworkers. That's a big part of why they are leaders.
  • They are also very comfortable reaching out and building new relationships - they are friendly.
  • And even if they include more men than women, at this level, women are more than welcome at the table and are treated as equals and colleagues. (Now, if we could just do something about the fact that they aren't missed if they aren't there!)
So, here I am again. This time not $1000 poorer, since I didn't have to fly, and got a cheaper hotel.

And the man in the picture "with" me? Call him a tribal leader. He's receiving a lifetime achievement award tonight. When I signed up for the conference - since I had no responsibilities to lead, teach, or manage anything - I wrote to the conference organizers asking what I could to do help. To my amusement I was asked to fetch the painting of this good man from the keeping of someone in a nearby city and arrange to have it framed. So I did that, and Dr. W. spent a good part of this last week in my living room. Wouldn't he be surprised to know?

The leader of one of the organizations sponsoring this event is someone who used to have a close relationship with Caleb, our dear-departed ministry, but I wasn't sure he'd know me. That I'm identified with a larger organization and only just now beginning to untangle the branding/identity mess we've made in the last couple years does not help. I've been pleasantly surprised. SM greeted me warmly last night, with effusive thanks for my help in the framing project.

There are lots of other people I knew before and others I've gotten to know through events like this. And the five representatives of the organization I'm now with are warm towards me as well. The man they call "Uncle Jack" was clearly uncomfortable with a handshake, expecting (and receiving) from me a hug. He wasn't the last.

Another colleague whom I saw last night is one I owe a phone call - yeah, thank you, Lord, we can work out our business face to face! She was helping at the book table for this event, and said: "Hey, where's your book!" rather loudly and repeatedly. "Why isn't it here?" It was a matter of moments before I worked a deal with another colleague and they are now selling my book - I had a stash of them purchased at author pricing in the trunk of my car. Wow, that was easy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Fiona, a fellow blogger who lives in Paraguay, wrote quite a good post about what life is like for people who are introverted - particularly in missionary situations. I am an extrovert (albeit mildly so) and needed the reminder that people who do not behave as I would, or as others might tend to expect them to, may be "not wrong, just different." Thanks, Fiona!

It's funny, isn't it, how cross-cultural differences go clear down to the individual level? I mean, in a sense every relationship we have with another human being is cross-cultural. This makes the possibility of experiencing broken or strained relationships quite a bit higher than it might be otherwise.

I went through a season close to ten years ago when I started finding patches of common ground with everyone - I could identify with just about everyone I met. That perspective has lessened some over the years, but I think it's something I want to hold onto and cultivate.

Lately, though, I've been more aware of (and intimidated by) the differences. And in particular, I've found myself fretting that because others are different from me, I had better be careful or I'm going to squash or offend them by saying or doing the wrong thing. (The awkward-teenager-within-me often seems ascendant, rather than the-grown-woman-I-am!)

There's a keen line, sometimes, between keeping "be a good friend" high on one's person priority list, and being a perfectionist about it. If I think I can make someone happy or keep them from being sad, I'm taking too much onto myself.

Well, in a friendship (like in a marriage?) the secret may not be to avoid troubles or conflicts but to learn how to work through them or diffuse them.

* * *

By the way, work is going great, have I said that?

I've always loved my job, the work itself, but in the wake of The Late Unpleasantness the office has often been a less-than-encouraging environment.

Now, however, several factors that had really hurt our relationships and corporate culture have made a complete turnaround. I will be out of the office quite a bit in the next week or so, and am rather sorry to be gone.

Counting the Cost

“Christian missionary work is the most difficult thing in the world. It is surprising that it should ever have been attempted…” (Stephen Neill, Call to Missions. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970, p. 24)

“I have found that there are three stages in every great work of God. First it is impossible. Then it is difficult. Then it is done.” (Hudson Taylor, pioneer missionary to China, founder of the China Inland Mission)
One thing I’ve been thinking about over the last couple of months is how many obstacles stand in the way of doing the things that seem most need to be done in terms of this whole task of world mission.

With each decision that comes down the pike, in the life of a would-be missionary for example, it seems perfectly reasonable to turn away or choose the other path, even if somehow they manage to get to "the field."

You want to reach people group X? Work with people group Y; then mobilize them to reach people group X (even though you may have been told that this is almost never an effective strategy).

Are people group X concentrated in city A? Well, it’s inevitable that city B is going to be a much better place for your family to live. And being in city B, it’s only natural that you end up working with and making friends with your neighbors, students/employees, or employers, who are part of people groups Y and Z - much more congenial and responsive groups anyway.

And, as excited as you may have been about going into “full-time ministry,” depending on the nature of the job you hold, you may find yourself with less time for “ministry” than you had when you were still in your own country. Reaching out to people group X may be your stated goal, but there’s every reason for your life to fill up with all kinds of other relationships and activities until in practice, it’s only a hobby you pick up when circumstances allow.

No wonder the things that “most need to be done” stay that way.

And really, staying on the field – living in another culture – is pretty tough. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, it will take the wind out of your sails pretty fast. When you look at how little measurable difference you can make, and how much it costs you and the people who care about you, just to get past the initial hurdles, it just doesn’t seem worth it.

A good friend of mine just returned to her host country after a visit to the States. I happened to send her an email that reached her the day after she arrived. My friend is the type who seems “made for” the kind of work she has sent out to do. But she hasn’t been on the field very long, and it's slow going. The shock of re-entry was hitting her hard when she got my email and answered it. She was feeling the cost of her commitment keenly.
“Saying goodbye to [the family] was painful. No one knows when they'll see us again and it could be 1-2 years for all of them. M. doesn't know Jesus and I know if I lived there they would go to church with us, she would study the Bible with me, and [her daughter] could grow up knowing Jesus... [I find myself asking,] ‘How can I choose Muslims on the other side of the world over my own family?

"Are we really called? Am I making daily choices that make it worth it? If I'm not useful for the Kingdom of God here... it is not worth it.’

“Plus our health has suffered tremendously already. We have some major lifestyle changes to make if we're going to survive this. You would think [country] would be an easy place to live relatively, but it's all just whitewashed...”
Another woman, one of the subscribers to our e-magazine, answered an invitation to send in prayer requests with this rather heart-rending missive:
“I get your newsletter because I am very interested in finishing the task. Missions has been one of my primary concerns for many years. I got my minor at the Christian college I went to along with my major in nursing so I could (very specifically ) attend to the business of the gospel in [country]. I did just that for years. I started three clinics… I worked with widows and orphans…I spent all my money and all my time pouring it all into ministry. I didn't mind, or for a long time consider, the sacrifice. I got sick many times living among the absolute poverty and squalor.

“[Then] I had a life-changing infection. When I had to come home for six months of bed rest, I told my parents I was either going to die of it OR go back. In their own way, they were happy that I got to go back, for obvious reasons. I (thankfully) couldn't see far [enough] down the road to know the long-term implications… Now I take about 30 pills a day, and a pacemaker that manages 80% of my cardiac rhythms. It continues to fail. I may have to face the option of a mechanical heart or a transplant if this continues. I am terrified.

“I am not nearly as confident encouraging people to go into missions. Unless, they are really willing to die for it, I wouldn't necessarily suggest it. My walk with the Lord is hard and living life day to day is more of a challenge than I ever thought it would be.

"Not to mention, I am so far in debt to medical expenses that I can't even financially support missions any more.

"I always thought then I could at least pray, but after years like this, it really feels as though God does not hear my prayers anymore. I would appreciate your prayers.

"This certainly feels like the valley of the shadow of (imminent) death, but it often does not feel like God is with me at all. I'm no longer kingdom valuable or really earthly worth too much.”
I realize this is a downer of a post and I should end it with something brave or encouraging, but I think I’ll just leave it here; some days you just don’t get that happy ending.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Femininity: Fact of Life or Social Fiction?

Readers, scroll down for my comments on "Ruby Slippers," a great book which provides a roomier definition of femininity than you'll find in most Christian circles. You might also enjoy the author's blog, here.

* * *

I’ve written a few times about the questions I have about what it mean to be feminine.

I especially have questions about what it means for Christians – those of us who are seeking ways to get the tarnish rubbed off and uncover the image of God underneath, to find the signs of the Creator’s fingerprints on stuff like our bodies and souls – to deal with the fact that some of us are male, and some of us are female.

Besides the whole bit about having sex and babies – which is all very well and good - rather appealing - but not part of my life and possibly never will be – I’m not sure what’s really behind all this gender business, and where to go with it.

You wouldn’t have to be Christian to have these questions, I know. But I’m just saying I’m asking them from that perspective. I think that if I were a straight-out humanist – as I was before this journey I’m on began sometime back in the 80’s – I probably wouldn’t have the same questions. Maybe I’d just say: Hey, you’re you, I’m me, deal with it. Everything else is societal and cultural, and we can each decide how much we want to go along with the expectations of others or not: femininity is just a popular fiction. I’ll decide how much of it I want to embrace, and how much of it I want to reject, and take the consequences as they come.

Well, I suppose I could still take that line. But I do believe there is a better way… not that things are supposed to be all black and white but that there is probably some intelligent design in this whole thing. I don’t think femininity and masculinity are just myths. I think there’s something to them. But the question is, what?

Unfortunately, the intelligent design of this gender business is buried in (among other kinds of refuse) centuries of pretty inadequate philosophy and theology, often dressed up with bad science or faulty exegesis. So, as an intellectual, I rebel.

And as someone who doesn’t seem to fit most of the molds of what women “are” like, I find the whole thing pretty darn upsetting at times. The jokes, assumptions, expectations, or Christian teachings about what women are supposed to want, or care about, or how our minds work, or what our needs are, or what we bring to the world, well, it just doesn’t hold up very well. You don’t have to look far for examples of women who DO seem to fit into the various molds but nor do you have to look far for women who don’t. Sometimes just in the mirror.

Very, very few of the women in my church, for example, go to “women’s ministry” groups or retreats – they just don’t care for that sort of thing. Not that they don’t like being women, or being with women, but most attempts to find a “common denominator” for what women need or prefer result in something that many, many of us look at and say: not me.

Apparently I have some unhealed wounds in this area, or I would not react as strongly as I do. But I’d like to start with some solid thinking about masculinity and femininity – Christian thinking, but the real kind, not all wrapped up in the nonsense that, not surprisingly, creeps into Christian practice just as much as it does into anything else.

New Book

I’m reading a book that has a refreshing take on all this stuff. Ruby Slippers suggests there’s a different way for Christians to look at femininity. Remember how one of the stepsisters in Cinderella cut off her toe, another her heel, to fit into shoes that were not made for them? Trying to be “feminine” and fit into “women’s roles” can be like that. There’s a better way, a pair of shoes (if you’re one of those women who’s into shoes…) that is actually a good fit, actually right for your feet – troublesome as they may still be, they are the shoes that will take you home (like Dorothy’s ruby slippers, hence the title).

Yes, Jonalyn does produce a (short, flexible) list of characteristics that she regards as “feminine,” but she spends 100 pages laying a foundation before she’ll tell you what they are, and then she calls them “family resemblances,” not some kind of a checklist. (Just because you don’t have the cheekbones your mother did doesn’t make you less part of the family... Not all women are going to demonstrate all of the “resemblances,” and some men will demonstrate some of them as well.)

And before she gets to that, she includes a good, meaty chapter on how men and women really not so different as some would say, in fact, actually from the same planet:
“After the fall, people began to forget that Man and Woman were created to work together in harmony. Instead of focusing on all the ways that men and women are the same – both created in the image of God, and both created to bear the image of God in the world – people began to focus on all the ways we’re different.” (p. 68)
Later, she cites a psychological analysis that summarized the results of thousands of psychological gender studies that look at gender differences in all the areas one might expect to find them, like verbal skills, or levels of aggression.
“Men and women don’t, in fact, differ very much, even in areas of presumed, stereotypical difference. … But these differences are often degreed, depending on each person. The way all women differ from all men is less predictive, provocative, and universal than we might think… in statistical terms, 85% of the areas overlap… The difference is actually so slight, that knowing a person’s gender has little to no predictive power in nearly 80% of psychological matters. And indeed, areas of difference, such as self-esteem, may be due to family culture, environment, or personality, not to an essential difference in our souls.” (pp. 72-73)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Face Paint, Taken to a New Level

Sunday I dropped by the mall and snuck into Nordstrom's to get a new "compact" of face powder. Most stuff like that I go the drug-store route, but I splurge on a few things. This time they tried to sell me on a new product. Well, maybe it's been around a while but it was new to me.

"Do you wear a primer with this?" the girl asked. "You really should. It would fill in the pores around your nose and your powder would go on so much smooother."

Primer? For one's face? I stifled a smile, and decided not to ask if I should tape up my nostrils and maybe spackle my lips, first.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Fraser on Prayer

"Paul may plant and Apollos water, but it is God who gives the increase; and this increase can be brought down from heaven by believing prayer, whether offered in China or in England. We are, as it were, God’s agents - used by Him to do His work, not ours. We do our part, and then can only look to Him, with others, for His blessing. If this is so, then Christians at home can do as much for foreign missions as those actually on the field.

"...Such work does not consist in curio exhibitions, lantern lectures, interesting reports, and so on. Good as they may be, these are only the fringe, not the root of the matter. Solid, lasting missionary work is done on our knees. What I covet more than anything else, is earnest, believing prayer, and I write to ask you to continue in prayer for me and the work here."

- James O. Fraser, from a letter home quoted in The Prayer of Faith (which is posted in its entirety on the web here. My inside sources tell me it's also being reprinted for easy packaging with the new J.O. Fraser film).

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Corneal Reshaping – Post #3: Setback

The doctor was really impressed with my vision at the one-week mark; no signs of dryness or irritation, and my right eye was 20-20 (at least first thing in the morning) and the left one not too far behind. But when he got his little camera in there and took “topographic” maps, we discovered that the lenses were not centering properly. They seem to be slipping upwards while I sleep.

That’s not going to work, long-term, and explains why the night vision (when the correction is wearing off) has been pretty blurry. He took back the lenses and is going to re-do the design, and on Monday will place an order for another pair.

Until they come in, it’s back to transitional soft lenses. My eyes should revert to normal (i.e., terrible) within a couple of days, and I’ll start wearing glasses again. The next pair of lenses will probably too the trick, but we can’t be sure.

At any rate this sets me back about two weeks. Sigh...

J. O. Fraser Film Debut

(For more postings on the CIM, click here.)

Speaking of eyes (as I was a post or two ago), something that brought tears to mine was a line towards the end of the documentary / drama a friend and former co-worker of mine has created. Breakthrough tells the story of J. O. Fraser, who set sail for China from England 100 years ago Friday, under the China Inland Mission. The film debuted on the anniversary of that event.

The storyline comes from the biography Fraser’s daughter Eileen wrote, Mountain Rain. OMF (CIM) was aiming for something that could be shown in less than a one-hour time slot, so they had to keep it focused. The film centers on the early years of his ministry, particularly the years of discouragement when he really struggled in his faith before making the discoveries (especially pertaining to prayer) that gave him hope for a real breakthrough in ministry among the tribal Lisu people.

I had a few reservations about the project and was glad to see them put to rest. First off, I wondered if another 100-year-old missionary story was going to reinforce certain outdated perceptions people have about missions. Why are so many of the most popular missionary biographies, or subjects of missionary biographies, from so long ago? And in this case, would it be able to be true to the story and still tell it in a timeless way?

I think they pulled it off well. One thing that helped was that the number of scenes set in the UK were quite limited, and Fraser – like other CIM workers – was generally a stickler for living like the people once he got to China. With his Chinese-style house and clothes he doesn’t seem like a fuddy-duddy old-fashioned missionary, he seems more Chinese. Not sure how it all looks to a Chinese/Lisu audience, but as a Westerner I was not distracted by things that would make me think, “oh right, people were different back then.” It didn’t hurt that they used some modern music (although that decision may not sit well with all). So, it didn’t seem to me that the fact that the story took place a couple of generations ago was going to make it hard for people to identify with the characters.

Second, since they were trying to keep the production family-friendly, would it simplify or gloss over the man’s struggles and challenges, making him one-dimensional? That would reinforce the various assumptions people might have that missionaries are saints, or that the work is easy, or that we mission-types are childish, living in a dream world, and/or overly fond of painting the world in soft pastels like some kind of Precious Moments tableau...

I think the production was able to avoid all those traps as well. In fact, it goes out of its way to diffuse any "Christian hero" message viewers might mistakenly pick up.

The bit that made me cry? Well, once the Lisu did start to come to Christ one thing they really responded to was music. It came to play a significant role in the Lisu church, not only for worship but for teaching as well. Early missionaries - Fraser, Isobel Kuhn, and others - taught Lisu believers how to sing in parts. They were mostly using Western tunes with Lisu words. (I’d tend to think they would have done better to leave their foreign music behind and just tap into the Lisu styles, but I don’t really know much about that sort of thing when it comes down to it!) At any rate, what they did, it really worked for the Lisu. They were known as "the singing church."

When the CIM missionaries were forced out of China (around 1950), believers in the Lisu area gathered to say goodbye and express their gratitude to God for those who had given them so much. A choir of 800 Lisu Christians performed, in tribute, Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus in the Lisu language. The producers of Breakthrough recorded a similar performance – not of 800, but quite a few Lisu believers, and all in traditional dress – and played it behind the closing credits of this film. Very touching.

Read more about the film or get a copy here.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11, Seven Years Later

I remember the first anniversary of 9/11 well. I was in one of the ancient silk road cities of Central Asia. I was doing research for Through Her Eyes, interviewing women who had come there to learn from, love, and serve the people of that city and offer them the chance to come into relationship with Jesus.

Between interviews - and I think I had four of them that day - I spent several hours seeing the sights, mostly poking around the well-restored ancient buildings.

I was also shopping for silk scarves and pottery as gifts for the friends and supporters I was expecting to see on my return to the States a month or two later. It was a quiet morning, so I fell easily into conversation with the men and women who ran small shops selling souvenirs in the stalls that once served as rooms for sleeping and studying for those who came there to study Islam in the city's famous "madrassas."

Though that country has faced crises far worse than what happened to America on 9/11 - I know many Americans have a hard time believing that is possible! - the hearts of the Muslim men and women I talked to that day softened towards me as they learned I was an American.

"We are so sorry about what happened in your country! Was anyone you know killed?" they asked with concern. "No, we were all OK," I said.

"America seems such a dangerous country to live in, so many people with guns, so much violence in your cities!" said one. They were glad I was in their country where they could look out for me.

* * *

Among the ministries called to reach out to Muslims in love, one of those I have the most confidence in is called Crescent Project. Its founder, Fouad Masri, is such a gracious man, never forgetting that the best way to communicate love to people is to listen to and try to understand them. In a recent newsletter he wrote:
"September 11, 2001, is 7 years behind us, yet the spirit of fear lives on in America. Many Christians are still frozen by fear and incapacitated by intimidation.

"Last week I stood in front of a gathering of Christian leaders who were concerned about militant Islam. Even before 9/11, these delegates had been tuned in to Islam's growing influence in the West; they have great enthusiasm about protecting America's historical values.

"But as one delegate put it: When it comes to Muslims, we have a lot of enthusiasm, but little action.

"Ideas and intentions abound, yet how will God break through to the Muslim world inside our borders? What I shared with these delegates, I'll share with you: It begins when one Christian takes the initiative to cross the street and share the Hope of Jesus with one Muslim.

"What can you do in light of September 11th? How can you move past enthusiasm to action?

- Confess any fear. God has not given us the spirit of intimidation. Pray for Christ to plant deeply within you a spirit of power, love and a sound mind when you think of and interact with Muslims (2 Tim. 1:7).

- Inform others. With much of the church crippled in fear, we need change agents like you to share a different message."

Corneal Reshaping - Post #2: Progress

Quick update on the eyes. Got my fancy-shmancy night-time-only contact lenses last Friday and wore them for the first time that night. So, it's been six nights, and now I can see fairly well unassisted during the day. Maybe not so well that I'd be satisfied to stay at this level, but my vision is continuing to improve so I expect to stick with this. I have another checkup Saturday morning. The up-front payment does include whatever office visits I need throughout the next year, which is helpful.

Monday I was a bit dressed up and several people commented, "You look nice today...."

"It's my corneas," I said.

These CRT lenses =are= a bit less comfortable than regular hard contacts, though not painful; I am not sleeping as well as usual. Maybe the eyes are a bit more sensitive than other parts of the body. I think my contacts are waking me up some throughout the night. So that's not good.

Also, the contact-care system my doctor recommends is pricy; three different solutions (one for soaking, one for cleaning, one for inserting) and they cost $10/bottle. I've gotten used to just using water and cleaner for my regular hard lenses (saline makes my eyes sting and causes infections); am wondering if I can cut corners with these and do the same. However, I don't want to have to replace the lenses "annually" as is recommended, so I will probably toe the line.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Class of '88

At various times over the past year I've reflected on the fact that my high school class graduated 20 years ago now. I wondered what might be planned by way of a reunion. If there was one, would I want to go? Would I be willing to go alone, or if not, could I track down any of my old classmates to attend together?
It's not like walking into the lunchroom, where you can just sort of check things out and turn around and leave if it feels awkward; I'd have to buy a plane ticket, and probably the reunion itself would require some kind of registration and payment. So... I wondered, and started poking around online to see what (or whom) I could find.
In my search I came across plenty of names I recognized, but not many were those of people who had been my friends. I did find a few friends. One, Susie, recently moved to Washington D.C. (She doesn't go by Susie anymore - she's Susanne!) Another, Linda, appeared to still be in the Seattle area but I couldn't find any contact info. She merely left this surprising statement on the Classmates website: "In [year] I legally changed my name to Gregory to reflect who I really am." Wow; that's quite a change. Linda and I were good friends at one point, so I'd like to hear the rest of the story, but have no idea whether she/he would be open to telling it to someone she hasn't been in touch with for almost 20 years and whom she'd probably expect to respond with rejection or judgment.
One of the reasons I thought I might consider going to a reunion is that I relate to strangers so much differently now; I'd kind of like a "do over" on those high-school relationships, in some small way. I probably haven't changed as much as Linda/Gregory, but I'm not the same person I was, either. So, how would I respond "back" in the high school environment, in a sense?
High school was not exactly a happy season in my life... though I don't think I realized, at the time, that life could be better. I'd been quite reluctant to make the move to Redmond in the first place, and while it was good of my mom to stay until I finished school, I never really put down roots there. I didn't like who I was in high school. I wanted my life to be something other than it was and assumed there must be something wrong with me for not being popular, happy, and good, as those were my aspirations. Being fairly clever and successful academically - though far from the top of my class - seemed small consolation for everything else.
Life took a huge turn soon after graduation, much to my surprise. By the time some months later when Mom sold the house and moved South I had discovered that real life (or, the next season of it, which was college) was way better.
I finally did find the info about when and where that high school reunion was taking place - and I could have made it too; it was a week or two after I got back from Southeast Asia. But I didn't go. It was going to take place at a country club and cost upwards of $100 a person.
Shoot: I can meet and have fresh start with plenty of strangers right here in Colorado, for free.

Monday, September 08, 2008

What Do You Think of This?

Yesterday (Sunday), our local recreation center opened up the outdoor pool to dogs - just for a day. More info here.

What do you think about that? Good idea? Charming? Weird?

Since the community newsletter announcing this event only got to my mailbox on Saturday, I suspect attendance was low.

(I believe this would have been the last outdoor pool event of the season. So, no worries about sending your preschooler into the same waters the next day.)

I'm pretty sure any idea of opening the pool to the =cats= of Highlands Ranch did not make it off the drawing board.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

When Things Aren't Right: Reflections on Ranting

So, what does one do to silence the inner rant, the deeply partisan, self-centered voice that practices saying what one would say if one had the chance - talking back to the television or radio (I've been mad at politicians a fair amount lately), practicing "telling off" one's enemies, and giving in to other unrighteous fantasies that tear down other people?

I don't know about you, but I give in to that inner rant a lot, and while I'll probably never be a sweet, submissive type who doesn't notice and rebel against the things that are wrong - nor should I - I'd like to respond more maturely rather than falling under the control of my "rant."

Here are the things that seem to help me.

1. Seeking out what it is I'm upset about and why. Prayer, journaling, and the like can be a big help. I'm not a person who is comfortable with feelings, my own or anybody else's, but anger and other emotions can point us to the unhealed wounds, unmet needs or expectations, or guilt/shame/fear tied up in our own weaknesses and failures that cause us to overreact to various situations.

I've found that as those are brought into the light, they lose a good bit of their power in my life.

Once my own "junk" is acknowledged, I have greater freedom to consider that there may be another legitimate way to interpret what's going on in the situation.

2. Practicing a different response. I don't know how it works, but the positive-thinking-people are onto something when they say that we can choose which pathways in our mind to develop by our habitual patterns of thought. Ask: Where do you "go" when you hear that inner rant? Is that how you want to live? Do you recognize that there may be another option?

3. Sublimating (or redirecting) the energy to something else. We can take that unmet 'need' and redirect it to a more healthy and satisfying direction. Celibate monks and nuns throughout the ages have sometimes learned how to do this - to let their sexuality be transformed, to sublimate it until they truly are OK; not repressed, but set free.

I'm pretty sure this is not something I can do on my own; I need a higher power here!

What if I took my inner ranting - my obsessive/compulsive tendencies - and my unmet or frustrated desires - and
(1) got to the root of them,
(2) chose not to let them drive me to places I don't want to go, and
(3) turned to Jesus with them and let him transform the energy I'm putting into this kind of thing into something healthy, helpful, life-affirming, and life-giving?

There's a song about some of that. We sang it in church this morning. It's been around a while, and the tune and tone of it are so smooth you might miss the intensity inherent in the words.
One Pure and Holy Passion

Give me one pure and holy passion
Give me one magnificent obsession
Give me one glorious ambition for my life
To know and follow hard after You

To know and follow hard after you
To grow as your disciple in your truth

This world is empty, pale, and poor
Compared to knowing you, my Lord
Lead me on and I will run after you
Lead me on and I will run after you
It's remarkable, isn't it, a rather sweet Christian song that acknowledges being passionate, obsessive, and ambitious - but that there might be a way out, that our Lord could redeem and transform those tendencies through our relationship with him and revealing the truth to us about the way things are? Gives me hope.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Pursuit of Excellence & the Problem of Experience

In debriefing a recent project with various people, following through on the tasks that remain, and making plans for the future, I’ve run straight into the problem of experience.

It’s one thing to aim for “not making the same mistake twice” when you are a rank beginner, another to set such a goal when you have done something over and over again. In any given pursuit there seem to be a limited number of pitfalls. In some of my pursuits, I think I’m aware of just about all of them. I’m an analytical, problem-solving kind of person, after all; I think ahead.

When it comes down to it, you have to listen to the Spirit and turn it all over to God, right? You have to do your best to equip and encourage other people to do what’s best, and let the chips fall where they may. It does no good to over-correct for what went wrong last time, after all. But here's the rub - as things unfold, sometimes as a leader you have to be the one who steps in and goes the extra mile, and/or takes responsibility for what happened or didn’t happen.

By the grace of God, we don’t fall into every pit that’s out there. But it’s rare to fall into one and not recognize that I knew it was there and have probably been there before. I fight the belief that every time I tell myself “I knew that was going to happen!” means I was responsible for avoiding it.

So, there's a cost to sticking with the same kind of thing year after year rather than going someplace new and starting over. Sometimes, I just want to go back to the land of “I’ve never done this before!” though that can be scary and discouraging as well. In the end, I guess the things that seem like talent or experience are part of what I've been given to steward.

So, maybe nobody will feel sorry for the poor little rich girl here. 'Tis no matter, I seem to have enough self-pity to do this for myself!

And yet, so, so much to be grateful for - I can't stay in that melodramatic place for very long.

* * *

Here's something I just snagged from a friend's Facebook page. Do you like it?
"Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us."

-- Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead

Monday, September 01, 2008

Reading Roundup - Summer 2008 - Part 2, Fiction

Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah – I really enjoyed this one – a good, light-hearted young adult-ish novel told from the perspective of a Muslim girl in Australia who is deciding how to live out her faith (specifically, wearing a headscarf) – and responding to other people’s reactions to it. Good stuff. Well recommended.

The Joys of Love, by Madeleine L’Engle – Also on the girl-coming-of-age theme is this posthumously published novel written in the 1950’s by one of my very favorite writers. Snuck into print by her granddaughters and her publisher this spring, it tells the story of a week in the life of an actress who was part of a summer theater company in the 1940’s (like ML’E herself). Deb and I, both big fans, were delighted. Title kind of makes you want to throw up, though, doesn’t it? Comes from a song. Do you think it sounds more treacly, or less, in the original French ("Plaisir d’Amour")?

A Severed Wasp, by Madeleine L’Engle – Wanting to spend some more time with ML’E, I brought this on my trip with me. Made myself read it slowly so it would last a whole week, including keeping me engaged during 24+ hours of travel back home. I read each chapter twice, went back and marked parts I liked, etc. Delicious. Earlier in the summer I tried to reread the book to which this is billed as the sequel, The Small Rain, and ended up just skimming it. (The well-written but dismal story of a young musician trying to find herself). Skip it and just read this one about Katherine as a grandmother, recently retired from life as a concert pianist and reflecting back on what the journey held. Both Joys and Wasp have a lot to say about what it is like to be dedicated to one’s craft.

All Seated on the Ground, by Connie Willis – This (slightly) SF novella is not as good as D.A., my favorite so far; but I will keep picking up Connie Willis books until I’ve read them all, I think. She’s fun! Local too; apparently one can run into her by frequenting the coffee shops of Fort Collins (not too far away). This book was set in Denver.

A Wodehouse Bestiary, by P.G. Wodehouse – A collection of Wodehouse stories mostly from other books, all in which animals in some way figure – usually pet dogs and cats. Wodehouse is so funny. And I love reading short stories. Some of these featured Bertie Wooster and other popular characters.

The Franchise Affair, by Josephine Tey – Another satisfying mystery from a wonderful author; no two of her books are alike. (My favorite is Miss Pym Disposes.)

A Place to Belong, by Nancy Moser and Vonette Bright – This is one of several I read recently from that genre called “Christian fiction,” which seldom produces great work, alas; more along the lines of “mostly harmless.” I didn’t jot down the titles of all of them. I’ve enjoyed the series of which this one is the latest, though, and consider it well executed. Characters are fairly multi-dimensional, plots reasonably satisfying.

The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett – A number of people I care about have enjoyed the epic story of the ins and outs of a medieval community and their process of building a cathedral. I enjoyed it too. In fact, the page-turner quite took over a weekend for me – love, revenge, and other passions figure prominently. But… It just wasn’t a good thing for me, trying to somehow manage this thing called purity, to put into my head. I’d say the same about The Other Boleyn Girl; read it for book club a while back. How much do I really need to know about how people have sex, for example? Really, not this much. But that may be just me; most of you are in a different life situation than I am.

This summer I also read:

- The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, by John LeCarre

- Predator’s Gold, by Phillip Reeve

- Short and Tall Tales, by Lilian Jackson Braun

- The Outlaw’s Twin Sister, by Stephen Bly

- Playing for Pizza, by John Grisham