Saturday, July 31, 2010


Colorado has farmer's markets, but hardly any farmers come. Instead, we have people selling chili mixes or trying to sign us up for Juice Plus. Bit ironic, that. But a stroll through Eugene's excellent Saturday market last week had put me in the produce mood. Before heading home I wanted to pick some berries for myself.

The parents knew just the place. The fruit hung heavy and succulent from the bushes...The owners hadn't even put up all their signs yet, so we were the first customers of the season. Got almost fifty pounds in less than two hours.

Friday, July 30, 2010


A new friend introduced me to Federation Forest State Park, which is
outside Enumclaw, WA on the way to Mount Rainier. Impressive, no?
I've enjoyed being in the NW. Sunday I head back toward my prairie home.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Personal Update / Sabbatical Reading

Following their Footsteps

When my parents were were a bit older than I am now they both went through stages when they were trying to figure out who they were and who they wanted to be. Dad was beginning a new life as a recovering alcoholic (and I'm proud to say, sober ever since) and Mom, as a divorced, single mom. Of course, there was a lot more to them then those labels, but it took some time and attention to figure it out.

Hate to admit it, but my sister and I were more apt to complain about the struggles and inconvenience the family's breakup made in our lives - e.g., moving off-island and attending an inner-city middle school - than to show compassion, empathy, and support for Mom and Dad. Heck, we were typical, self-focused young teens. We made fun of their self-help books and their sometimes awkward attempts to reinvent themselves.

Yet my relationships with both parents were in the early stages of turning into the friendships they are today, and I picked up enough to be helpful to me as I've reached speed bumps and crossroads of my own.

I've been thinking about my parents often during these months of sabbatical, and it's been good to compare notes from time to time. Since I'm sometimes quite restless about being "at home," and sabbatical is about rest as much as anything, I delayed a trip West until quite late in the process. I also like to see the Pacific Northwest in its best season. When the sun comes out, this is a glorious place.

Anyway, I've enjoyed this visit more than any in a long time. Praise God.

Sabbatical Reading

As regular visitors will realize I've been reading a lot of books about personal development this year. Here are some you might like as well. I didn't find these uniformly helpful, but "got something" out of each one, as well as some of the fiction and other things I read. I know you may be thinking, "If I didn't have to work, I might read books too!" Ah, well... may God grant you the space and input you need to live a life worth living. Whatever means he may use.

a. Rest and Perspective

Early on in the sabbatical I read The Overload Syndrome: Learning to Live within Your Limits, by Richard Swenson, and later picked up In Search of Balance. I loved Mark Buchanan's The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath and also read his Things Unseen: Living with Eternity in Your Heart. I got a lot out of The Vertical Self: How Biblical Faith Can Help Us Discover Who We Are in an Age of Self Obsession by Mark Sayers, which I read at just the right time.

b. What You Might Call "Life Coaching"

Dan Allender's To Be Told: God Invites You to Coauthor Your Future and Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life gave me some tools and inspiration to look at the path of my life more closely. Previously, I had read Max Lucado's Cure for the Common Life, which was also helpful; I think I will give it a second look.

 48 Days to Work You Love stressed me out - it's written in the same style as those Swenson books mentioned above; too many bullet points, quotes, and statistics. But it had some good content. Now, Discover Your Strength and StrengthFinder 2.0 were helpful ones this month. Don't Waste Your Talent is still in my pile. 

c. Personal Growth, esp. Considering Loss and Disappointment

The last newsletter I wrote said I thought a good chunk of my sabbatical would be less about having fun and being at peace, more about facing and feeling my loss, disappointment, and grief about a variety of things. Now, that doesn't sound like the kind of thing any of us do willingly; certainly I don't. I might have been able to go deeper, faster and "get that over with" if I had been less reluctant. But even my feeble efforts have born a great deal of fruit.

Among the helpful things I read were the Old Testament (yes, all the way through) and Yancey's The Bible Jesus Read, Nouwen's The Way of the Heart, Keller's A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, McGee's The Search for Significance: Seeing Your True Worth through God's Eyes, Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission, and Foyle's Honorably Wounded: Stress among Christian Workers.

One of the best books I encountered was Jerry Sittser's A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss, which I wrote about several weeks ago. Highly recommended.
Now What?

Now that the sabbatical is almost over, I realize that in addition to my stated goals to seek rest, reflection, and renewal in order to live a more fruitful life in the years to come, I expected I'd be ready to make a practical decision about what to do about my job situation...It may happen yet, but so far, nope.

Here's the deal. While I have project opportunities (e.g., teaching and writing) waiting for me, I don't exactly have a position, and I no longer have a team or office. Can I stay with my mission agency? That would mean finding a new team/fit within the ministry, probably working with minimal companionship or accountability. (Freeing? or foolish?) How much of an open door there is for me to stay with P.I. is not entirely clear to me. If I leave, where would I go? There are some great ministries out there, and I know which ones I "like" best and why - but which ministry or team would be the best fit for me at this point, and - one would hope - for the next 5-10 years?

What am I even looking for in evaluating teams, organizations, situations? I seem to be in a position where the answer is not just "whoever will have me." Guess I can be thankful for that! Yet which is more important, finding a great team/office situation, or staying in Denver? Continuing the kinds of projects I've put so much into, or taking my skills into new areas to do the work others think is important? Some of those things may compatible, but if they turn out to be in conflict, what will I prioritize?

Honestly, while those questions have been on my mind, God hasn't shown me what's next, yet. I haven't reached a stage where I'm ready to make a decision. I haven't even researched the options very well. However, I have a greater sense of clarity - and peace - than I did. I'm about ready to talk. It's a good start.

Monday, July 26, 2010

My Story of Stuff

For someone who is such a network / resource person I keep a pretty low profile on technology. At least on hardware and things that include a monthly fee. I'm cautious about such matters, wanting to weigh them out carefully before I make an investment that may cost a lot and not necessarily pay off.

Right now the distance between me and "cutting edge" is about as big as it has ever been in relative, 2010 terms. After all, I amused myself driving cross-country by listening to cassette tapes on the stereo in my 1998 car - only the third car I've ever owned - stopped to take pictures with my 2005 camera - the first digital I ever purchased - and wondered why I wasn't picking up a signal on the very basic, 100-minutes-a-month mobile phone I got for free from Virgin Mobile. I don't own an "i" anything.

It's not that I'm bad with tech stuff, or afraid of it. Just cautious, and kind of a skinflint. My conservative habits help me keep on my slender budget, and save me grey cells to use keeping up on other things that are more important to me. And being on sabbatical, trying to live a quieter, more balanced life, I opted to defer the stress related to making unnecessary decisions or changes. (See my post on life, change, and stress).

Yet now as we come to an end of the sabbatical, I anticipate working alone and from my home for at least a season. I'm wondering if a giant leap forward, tech-wise, is in my future.

I did already do this one thing: I talked to my roommate about setting up a wireless network in the house. Can you believe I've gone this long without one? For a long time I could pick up signals in the neighborhood - no longer - or occasionally borrow the roommate's little plug-in modem. Mostly, though, I took my laptop to the library or a series of nearby coffee shops.

Frankly, this was a way to keep some boundaries in my life. The thought of being able to do anything on the internet anytime I wanted - to live a complex, social life without getting out of my pajamas - didn't sound too healthy to me. I wasn't sure I could be trusted.

But I told Deb I wanted to give it a try. She did the research and made the leap. We're all hooked up. So when I get home, I'll have high-speed access to anything and everything. I'll be able to blow off the dust on my seldom-used Skype equipment.

And, I suppose, I'll want to set some new boundaries to keep me from abusing that and spending too much time in front of a screen.

 Here are some essay questions for you, dear reader:

Thinking about the tech changes and purchases you've made in the last five years...

1. Which changed your life the most?
2. Which had the most positive effects?
3. What negative effects did you experience, and how did you compensate for or contain them?
3. Are there any tech upgrades that were really a waste of money or that you regret?

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Amazing Shrinking Brain

The most interesting part of the Strengths book may have been the chapter that links human talent to brain development. Or, perhaps I should say, deconstruction. Maybe someone with more of a science background could let me know if this rings true? Here's a slice:
"The brain is an odd organ in that it seems to grow backward... [It] gets very big very quickly and then shrinks and shrinks into adulthood. Most bizarre of all, as your brain becomes smaller and smaller, you become smarter and smarter."
"By the age of three each of your hundred billion neurons has formed fifteen thousand synaptic connections with other neurons."
"But then something strange happens. For some reason nature now prompts you to ignore a lot of your carefully woven threads... By the time you wake up on your sixteenth birthday, half your network is gone."
"It is not true that the more synaptic connections you have the smarter you are or the more effective. Rather, your smartness and effectiveness depend on how well you capitalize on your strongest connections. Nature forces you to shut down billions of connections so that you can be freed up to exploit the ones remaining."
"For example, if you end up with a T1 line for competitiveness, when you see numbers, you can't help using them to compare your performance to other people's. Or if you end up with a T1 line for inquisitiveness you are the kind of person who can't help asking why."
"Or perhaps you have no connection for empathy. Rationally, you understand that empathy is important, but moment by moment you just can't seem to pick up the signals that other people are sending...
"[This] explains why certain behaviors and reactions 'just feel right' to you, while others, no matter how hard you practice, always seem stilted and forced."
From Now, Discover Your Strengths, pp. 51-53

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Identifying Talents

In the last couple of weeks I've read several books about how to figure out your passions and strengths. Seems funny that people wouldn't know what they care about or are good at, but with all the pressures to please other people or meet their expectations it's pretty easy for the answers to those simple questions to get buried under a thick layer of confusion.

According to one book I found helpful (Now, Discover Your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton), most organizations are built around two flawed assumptions about people:

1. Each person can learn to be competent in almost anything.
2. Each person's greatest room for growth is in his or her areas of weakness.

Not so, say the authors, who assert:

1. Each person's talents are enduring and unique.
2. Each person's greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest strength.

If this is so, then the path to a satisfying life and a productive organization will include allowing - and in fact, encouraging - each person to recognize and operate in his or her area of talent rather than the hopeless task of trying to develop skill in areas in which they are just not wired up to excel.

"The real tragedy  of life is not that each of us doesn't have enough strengths, it's that we fail to use the ones we have. Benjamin Franklin called wasted strengths 'sundials in the shade.' (p. 12)

One result of being too fixated on addressing our own weaknesses - and those of others - is that character traits that are neutral or hold keys to what someone's talents are may be given labels that are quite negative:

"[The person] who can't wait to act? She is impatient or impulsive.
"People who are brilliant at imposing order and structure on the world? Anal.
"People who claim excellence? Egotists.
"People who anticipate and are always asking 'What if?' Worriers." (p. 35)

The authors define talent as being any recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied, with the addition of skills and knowledge. And they say you will never be able do do something with excellence if you lack the basic underlying talent.

There's a test you can take online, although the only way to take it is to purchase a copy of the book and get the access number; the one in my library copy did not work. I was curious enough that I got on Amazon and purchased the more recent book in the series, StrengthsFinder 2.0. (Ha - the Internet is the fastest way to spend money, isn't it?) This book had much less to explain the whole idea, but more and more practical info about each of the 34 talents, or "themes." 

The results say that my top five talents are the ones they call connectedness, strategic, achiever, learner, and ideation.

> Summary of the 34 themes.

I found the concept and the theme descriptions more helpful than the online assessment, personally. But I haven't studied the report or discussed it with anyone, either. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Images of Alaska

I have a lot I want to share with you... If I haven't written much this month I think it's because my words are all used up talking to people. I'm craving some solitude for writing, even as I scramble to continue arranging visits with various friends and family members. If I don't give myself a restful break soon I'm going to start feeling resentful of the whole process. What a funny extrovert I am.

Here are some pictures of Alaska:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Kenai Fjords

"We have come to stand face-to-face with that infinite and unfathomable thing which is the wilderness; and here we have found ourselves, for wilderness is nothing else."

- Rockwell Kent, 1919, living on Fox Island, Alaska

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Visiting Far-Flung Family

Mom and I are halfway through our time visiting Aunt Joyce and the cousins in Alaska. I've been a bit uneasy, unsure what makes each one tick. How I can reach out to and understand them? How should I behave; what does it means to be friendly without trespassing, considerate, a good guest? It can be so hard to tell. Sometimes interacting with a stranger is easier; you have a blank slate.

Here I am aware of that tension I often feel when traveling between one community and another, that sense of  "these are my people  / but (at the same time) these are not my people."

There have been some good moments, but still waves of homesickness, displacement.

Too much is ambiguous or out of your control, both practically and emotionally, when you travel, especially when you are traveling with others. One of the reasons some people prefer to stay home where life is more predictable. I find, however, that the benefits of braving those things and putting oneself in a vulnerable position often outweigh the risk and pain.

My friend Craig, a pastor in British Columbia, wrote a helpful post about building connections especially with those close to you. I'm adding it to my collection of things to ponder on the topic of listening. See Building Trust by Building Connections.
The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters,
but a man of understanding draws them out.

- Proverbs 20:5

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Found these poppies in the Anchorage Botanical Gardens. Funky, huh? Monday was a beautiful day, warmer - nice after a chilly weekend. Days are loooooong, though. I have yet to see night. I believe the sun is slinking down and creeping back up again while my eyes are closed. We're here for another six nights (sic). Bit long, I think, for staying with family whom you do not know well, and I haven't seen most of these folks in 20+ years. However, we'll know each other much better by the time it's over.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Not Journeying Alone

Last Wednesday morning, after a night in Salt Lake City, I headed further West. Spent much of the day whizzing through Idaho. In the middle of the afternoon I found myself in Eastern Oregon. I stopped to take a few photographs of a stunning lake surrounded by dry red hills, and the lush park next to it.

I figured I could go a bit further before filling my gas tank but wanted to clean off my windshield before getting back on the highway, and pulled into the lonely service station.

Perhaps surprised to see my Honda Accord parked in front of a pump on the diesel side of the station, a fellow traveler called out to me, warning me that those were all diesel pumps and did I realize how low my right front tire was?

Ah, yes, it is, isn't it? Tires are something I tend to worry about. Is that bumpiness just the road, or something wrong with my tire? I will peer at them uncertainly, trying to decide if they are a bit flat, or normal. Perhaps I should get myself a tire gauge and get in the habit of using it.

"You should get some air," said the man with confidence. "You really should."

So I found, on the other side of the large plot of land, one of those air/vacuum contraptions, and I put in my four quarters. It didn't seem to be working. Entering the cool, dark station the girl working the cash register if there was a trick to making the air work. She explained that the power had just gone out across the whole area. Maybe if I waited it would come back on. I lingered in the shop a bit, then went out to look at my tire again, wondering what to do.

A second person called out to me. Parked in an enormous semi truck by the side of the road, he honked his horn, waving for me to come over. "I notice you're having trouble with the air," he said. "See that place across the street? I just came from there, and they are reasonable, and fair, and just did some work for me. They can help probably help you out with your tire."

Sure enough. That's where I met the third man, the one who told me to pull my little car into the huge, open garage where he and a couple other guys were hanging out; they repaired broken down trunks. Without power there wasn't much they could do, but they could put some air in my tire. They thought it would be a good idea to take the tire off to see if I'd picked up a nail on the road and might have a slow leak. What with all the summer construction and everything...

The nearest gas station, besides this one, was another 30 miles and over a mountain pass. I learned that from another guy who came from the place across the street, desperate for enough gasoline to get him to Baker City. But the gas station wasn't doing any business with the power out. The truck repair guys gave him what he needed for a couple dollars a gallon. 

They patched and filled my tire and gave me the nail as a souvenir. I gave them a $20 which my new friend said they'd use for bait money; they had a fishing launch tied up down at the dock.

I went on my way, wondering what would have happened if these three men hadn't spoken up to help me fix a problem I didn't know I had.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Very Short Stories

Today's very short story reminds me of O'Henry:
"Noticed her legs first. Strong and lean. Long scar on the back of one. I took my time approaching. Kissed her on the nose. Great horse."
Read more very short stories here or just sign up for the Twitter feed.

1. Which one do you like best and why do you think it appeals to you?
2. Which would you want on a mug or T-shirt?
3. Can you write a short story in 140 characters?