Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Reading List - Part 2

Are these the only novels I read this year? Life must be getting too serious. Did discover some new (to me) authors, though. Alan Bradley and Suzanne Collins are best-sellers, and I can see why; I will have to wait (or sneak into Barnes and Noble and camp out) for their most recent volumes. My friend SC introduced me to the delightful mystery writer Catherine Aird. I read Jeanne Birdsall’s second book with a young friend and had to track down the other two as it was so much fun. 

If you got a Nook or Kindle for Christmas this year (or just want to read them on a laptop) why not download and enjoy some free, classic escapes like Christie, Wodehouse, and Doyle?

2011 Reading: Fiction

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley
The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, by Alan Bradley

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

The Penderwicks, by Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, by Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, by Jeanne Birdsall

Past Tense, by Catherine Aird
The Complete Steel, by Catherine Aird
Some Die Eloquent, by Catherine Aird

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party, by Alexander McCall Smith
The Charming Quirks of Others, by Alexander McCall Smith
La's Orchestra Saves the World, by Alexander McCall Smith

All Seated on the Ground, by Connie Willis
A Christmas Homecoming, by Anne Perry
Rosalie's Career, by Faith Baldwin
The Attenbury Emeralds, by Jill Paton Walsh
Paper Butterfly: A Mei Wang Mystery, by Diane Wei Liang
Paper Roses, by Amanda Cabot
All for One: A Novel, by Melody Carlson

Secret Adversary, by Agatha Christie
Murder at the Vicarage, by Agatha Christie
My Man Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 Reading List - Part 1

This must be a new record low for me: I’ve read 54 books this year. Last year - due to the six-month sabbatical? - I set a record high at 122 volumes. What happened in 2011? I think I did more of my reading in a disjointed, online kind of a way instead of curling up with a good book. Also, in February, I both entered a new and rather all-encompassing relationship and began work on a Master’s program. That gave me more stuff to read but also kept me from reading as much for pleasure.

When I moved to Oregon in October I decided to pack up most of my books and put them into storage - and had to say goodbye to my public library too. I may be able to get a local library card here, yet, but it is a little tricky. Either way, will probably be looking to download more content in ebook form. I wonder if my reading life will ever be the same?

Here's my 2011 reading roundup (including, for your convenience, non-affiliate Amazon links). Since the list isn’t that long I’ll fold in some commentary. This post will cover the nonfiction; I’ll list the fiction separately.

This was one of the first books I read in 2011 and I may see if I can hunt it down for a re-read. As I said in my posts about this book here and here, I love Buechner's essays. He captures and is honest about nostalgia and longing in a way that helps me accept both the ways life satisfies and the ways it doesn't. That you cannot go "back home" but it's okay that you still wish you could, that something in you needs this.

Goodwin, a pastor in Spokane, WA, tells the story of the journey he and his family made toward living more intentionally and simply by limiting themselves to locally produced food and other products, e.g., from their own garden. I appreciated both his attempt to speak to environmental issues from a biblical perspective of stewardship and the winsome way he told his own story.

This 2001 book provides a very helpful, “sticky” introduction to what it feels like and what it takes to make successful cross-cultural adjustments when you are a Westerner taking an international assignment. I’m looking for something to recommend to (or require for) professionals heading out on one-month to one-year postings with my mission organization in settings all over the world. Don’t know if I can come up with something that fits the niche as well as this does. The fact that it’s secular means it leaves out a few of the wrinkles that we mission-types face, but also means you can carry or pass it around more freely than if it was full-up with Christian jargon.

Seminary Reading

These are two of four books I need to read for a January class on “Islam in the 21st century.” (The others are Colin Chapman’s Whose Promised Land? And Jimmy Carter’s Palestine Peace not Apartheid. Sandy Tolan’s The Lemon Tree and Mike Kuhn’s Fresh Vision for the Muslim World seem to top the recommended list.) The Burge book provided a helpful survey of the theories and players. 

Jabbour is teaching the class. I’ll be interested in what he has to add about developments in Egypt since his book on the topic was published almost 20 years ago. 

The paper I have to write is supposed to answer this question: “In the war for the hearts and minds of Muslims around the world what would it take to empower the moderates and open minded, and marginalize the fanatics in the Muslim world? Who are the main players and what can each do?” If you have any other weighty questions to ask me, perhaps you can hold onto them until I settle this one...!

Other books I read for school, along with various articles:

·         The Old Testament

Related to Global Outreach

These six books were given to me (sometimes by my request) that I might write about them in our Missions Catalyst Resource Reviews. 

Christie’s book wasn’t bad, though it didn’t measure up to two really excellent John Pollack books about the same era which I read on my own (The Cambridge Seven and Hudson Taylor and Maria).

Yohannan’s book felt too much like an advertisement for his ministry, and I think it’s fair to say it was designed to be.

MacLeslie and Shelby’s works both had what seemed to me like significant flaws, but they added something to the world of mission biography, especially through their commitment to personal transparency.

Wright’s book was (as the title might suggest) a breath of fresh air; I’d give it high recommendations – Debbie Meroff’s, too, if you’re interested in Europe. Carter’s book is a novel about mentoring people for ministry. I thought it was very helpful, though as a self-published book it could have used a bit more spit and polish and will be hard to find (link goes to my published review).

Other mission-related books I read and would recommend:

Miscellaneous Nonfiction

I read all three of these on the recommendation of others and for reasons that are probably obvious to anyone who knows what's going on in my life. Found each one to be well thought out and helpful.

Read these four with my book club in Denver. We tended to alternate fiction and nonfiction. These were good choices, I thought; Boyle's was probably the best. Some got bogged down in Packer’s book which was rather long.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Around the end of 1996 I moved into Highlands Ranch, Colorado, dubbed "Beautiful Highlands Ranch." It was once rolling prairie. The last 30 years have seen the area transformed into a booming suburban housing development which, though unincorporated, supports almost 30 schools, a large post office, great parks and recreation centers, and more.

The whole population of nearly 100,000 people who abide in the ranch are required to submit to a community covenant. Committees patrol the cul de sacs (culs de sac?) to tell residents when they need to paint their houses (approximately every three years) and approve the color schemes. Any changes in landscaping must be approved by the community association; permanent clothes lines and anything else the neighbors might consider unsightly are strictly forbidden. Before the end of next month notices will be sent to any who fail to put away their Christmas decorations for the year, not supposed to be up more than 30 days after a holiday.

It's been 10 weeks since I arrived in Eugene, Oregon. Even with winter coming on, the place seemed so much more alive. There are trees everywhere! But it was autumn, and the leaves were beginning to fall. What do people do with all the leaves? (Compost, maybe?)

To my surprise, the kind of people who in Colorado would have owned snow blowers here have leaf blowers. I don't know, maybe they are the same thing with a different name. (Can you tell I'm more the rake and shovel type?) At any rate, they just blow the leaves from their yards, driveways, and sidewalks and leave them the streets.

Some of the piles of leaves are enormous and have been here longer than I have. Several times I've had a hard time finding a place to park amid the leaf piles.

Such a thing would have been a serious and fine-worthy offense in Beautiful (though largely treeless) Highlands Ranch.

I was discussing the leaf piles with the recent California transplants who own the house where I'm living. They were mystified by this practice as well. Why don't people bag up the leaves? Isn't it the homeowners' responsibility? Isn't there some kind of yard waste pickup along with trash and recycling? Or is it really considered OK to simply leave them in the street?

"They will come," Chris assured me. He was born and raised here. "The city picks up all the leaves."

"When will they come?"

"They've already started. They'll get there when they get there."

Yesterday, a dump truck and bulldozer came down my street, and, working in tandem, picked up all the leaf piles.

(File this under "It's not wrong, it's just different.")

Friday, December 23, 2011

Scents of the Season

Well here we are - just past winter solstice and made it to Christmas Eve-eve. Today is a day off for me. I will do some reading for school but also make a couple of pies for the Christmas dinner to be held tomorrow.

What tastes say "Christmas" to you? I'm going for chocolate and peanut butter, as I understand both flavors - especially together - are quite popular with the Wade family. Christmas is a great time for chocolate, yes? Or maybe any time is!

A few days ago we found ourselves at Bath and Body Works investigating their selection of aromatic candles. Two for $20, and no tax here in Oregon. Glass jar, lid, three wicks ("burns faster that way," Chris suggests).

Some of the scents and their names made me laugh. "Gingerbread" and "peppermint" are straight-forward enough, but what does it tell you to know something comes in the flavor of "sleigh ride," "deck the halls," or "winter"?

The brother of a college roommate was a jazz musician and sometimes composer. Judy enjoyed coming up with names for pieces he had written or should write. And instrumental music is like candle scents, or more so, isn't it? Call it whatever you like! It was her hope that he would one day write a piece called "Green Chavez Lane."

QUESTION:  What name would you love to give to a scent, color, song, etc?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holidays and Happiness

How do you feel about Christmas?

For at least a couple of decades December was my favorite time of year. I think that was true even when my family was disintegrating and I was making the transition into the grownup world. Whether I was with family or with friends, it was a special time of year. Nostalgia can linger for a long time.

Some time in my 30s, though, I think I crossed a line. Just as a prediction of snow came to mean slick roads and scary commutes, not sledding and staying home, the approach of Christmas has come to bring with it more stress than jollity. As a way of taking responsibility for my own emotions, I've tried to "manage" the disappointment away through the choices I make, but not with much success. Reading back through my holiday posts on this blog I think negative or ambiguous feelings about holidays have come to outweigh the positive ones; now I have little expectation that it will be the hap, happiest season of all.

I am, at best, cautiously optimistic.

Does it have to be that way? Let's not insist on happiness, like it's some kind of right, but how about choosing joy? Hmm...

Although the correlation is inexact, age seems to be the most significant factor. Little ones are supposed to love Christmas and by and large they do. But it's usually the grownups who call the shots for what Christmas will be "like" any given year. How do we pull together in a way that feels both loving and authentic?

It's been a tough year for the family I'm joining. Some major illness, disappointment, and loss. As I find my place in a family that includes a teenaged son and daughter and three teenaged nieces, I wonder how they feel about the holiday. It's a little hard to ask: I know you don't believe in Santa or anything, but Christmas, is it still magic for you? Is there anything I can do to help keep this time special for you? (Or to experience some magic for myself, seeing it through your eyes?)

Chris and I are also talking, in broad-brush terms at least, about starting some traditions of our own. 

While the Christian feast of the incarnation requires no trees, sweets, or wrapping paper, there are some cultural values connected to Christmas that I find particularly helpful: gratitude and giving.

A big part of Christmas, as I was growing up, was making those shopping lists, going to the drugstore for fancy soaps for the great aunts, wrapping up jars of homemade jam for the teachers, picking out a stuffed animal for my sister and some new socks for Dad, brainstorming with him about what Mom would like. In more recent years the great aunts are gone. I guess I could have still sent my online professors jars of jam (what would they say? We've never met!). Meg might still like the stuffed animals; I did not go that route but did bring back something a little playful for her from my spring trip to Siberia. And I did get Dad socks, last year, and Mom can always use something to keep her warm, too.

In recent years I've made a a few more grown-up additions to the giving list. I've often picked out presents for my several dozen supporters. I've enjoyed making year-end financial gifts to people I can't support year-round. My inbox is full of year-end appeals. Looks like I have maybe $200 tops that I could distribute that way this year, but maybe Chris and I can make those decisions together? I enjoyed picking out poinsettias and delivering them to a few of his patients last weekend. It would be good to do more of that.

Pat, my news sleuth in New York, recently brought to our readers' attention the connection between happiness and giving. Read about it here (scroll to the last item).

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Meeting God in the Prophets

My most recent class, one of four Bible survey classes for my seminary program, covered the Old Testament books of the prophets. Although this chunk of scripture doesn't include all the unpopular books of the Bible (!), it does include most of the obscure ones (like Obadiah and Zephaniah).

I suppose the Old Testament as a whole is kind of tricky. What is there here for us? The prophets’ words detail expectations which do not seem to apply to us or prophecies denouncing the behavior of people who lived long ago and kingdoms far away. If you're a Gentile - as I am - Israel may seem quite a foreign nation or the people of an old an outdated covenant, and what do we care about, say, the Amonites or the Jebusites? Yet God reveals himself and the ways he works with men and women and their communities through the stories, conversations, and prophecies of the Old Testament. It was cool to have the help of scholars to get more of the inside scoop on what these guys were saying and what it meant, historically.

Take the book of Isaiah.
He's the prophet most quoted in the New Testament. How does Isaiah show us God? I mean, besides the passages we know because they get quoted a lot?

I had an assignment to study the titles Isaiah uses for God and to write a paper about one of them. It was one that Isaiah uses a couple dozen times, and it only appears a few other places in the Scriptures: The Holy One of Israel (Is. 1:4; 5:19, 24; 10:20; 12:6; 17:7; 29:23; 30:11, 15; 31:1; 37:23; 41:14; 43:3, 14; 45:11; 47:4; 48:17; 54:5; 60:14, 2 Ki. 19:22; Ps. 71:22, 29:18; Jer. 50:29, 51:5, Ezek. 39:7).

Great. Israel. What's the big deal about Israel here, and who is the Holy One of Israel? I was suspicious; I didn't want to fall - inappropriately - into the trap of believing the answer is always "Jesus." Because sometimes the terms the Bible uses for Jesus can also be used to describe someone else. Other people are even referred to as "saviors," "anointed ones," or "messiahs."

When I pulled together all the references to the Holy One of Israel, though, it was pretty clear. They were divine in every case. The Almighty God, the Creator of the Universe, and Holy One of Israel are one and the same.

Any exploration of Isaiah’s teachings on the Holy One should take into account the centrality of God’s holiness in Isaiah’s understanding of him. Think about it: what's the big, formative event in Isaiah's life? Surely it's his encounter with God at the time of his calling as a prophet (6:1-8). He saw his own sin and God’s holiness and it is likely he never forgot it. Let's take a look.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (6:1-5).

Remarkable things happen as the scene unfolds. Isaiah sees his sin atoned for and his guilt taken away; immediately he responds to the question, “Whom shall I send?” and is given a mission and a message. What a transformation!

The ministry he is given is to be God’s spokesman to his people in a time when they are committed to sin, to anything but what God says. Isaiah calls them to turn back. He describes the consequences of their choice not to trust in God, the Almighty God, the Holy One of Israel. The book of Isaiah speaks words of judgment but also words of comfort and hope as God continues to call his people to return to him and speaks of the day when this return will happen.

Many of the passages that speak of God as the Holy One of Israel underline Israel’s lack of holiness and rejection of their holy God. In the first couple chapters of the book, Isaiah calls on the heavens and earth to listen to the accusation: Judah had forsaken the Lord. The people had turned their backs on him and spurned the Holy One of Israel (1:2-4). They spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel and rejected his law (5:25), causing his anger to burn against them – and this even as they said they wanted to see God show himself.
Woe to those who draw sin along with the cords of deceit,
and wickedness as with their cart ropes,
to those who say, “Let God hurry,
let him hasten his work
so we may see it.
Let it approach,
let the plan of the Holy One of Israel come,
so that we may know it.”   
How tragic that though the people knew God as the Holy One of Israel, they were otherwise greatly misguided about holiness. In fact, they called evil good and good evil, Isaiah says, and God will strike them down (5:20-25). Many other passages in Isaiah and the other prophets detail the sins of Israel and the nations; throughout, God’s holiness stands in stark contrast to the people’s lack of holiness. While Sennacherib king of Assyria is later rebuked because he has insulted and blasphemed the Holy One of Israel (27:23), the people of Israel have often done much the same thing.

One of God’s strongest accusations against the people of Isaiah’s time was that they looked to human powers rather than their Almighty God in times of trouble. They carried out plans, but not God’s plans. They formed alliances, but not by his Spirit. They sought help from Egypt without asking God for direction about this (30:1-2). As Assyria threatens them, they put their confidence in their old enemy Egypt, now perhaps an ally. These hopes that will prove to be misguided. If only they had trusted in God! They are like rebellious children and unwilling to listen to the Lord’s instructions. Furthermore, they are impatient with God’s prophets, to whom they say, “Stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!” (30:9-11).

Understanding Isaiah’s use of the term “the Holy One of Israel” not only helps us understand the character of God as seen in his relationship with Israel, it also shines light on the deity of Christ. Reading the New Testament and taking its words at their modern-English face value, we might well question whether Jesus actually claimed to be divine or was seen that way by his first followers. Was he just a good man or anointed prophet later “deified” inappropriately by the emerging church?

Isaiah helps us answer this question. The writers of the New Testament must have had the words of the prophet Isaiah much in their minds to quote or refer to them as frequently as they did. They knew they worshiped the same God as Isaiah, the God who revealed himself and his plans through this prophet. When Isaiah talks about the Holy One of Israel, he is always talking about God. So, when Christ is referred to as “the Holy One” (Mark 1:21-24, Luke 4:31-34, John 6:68-69), hearers steeped in the words of Isaiah would understand that to mean he was not just a good person but a divine one.

The first place we here about Jesus’ position as the Holy One spoken from a surprising source – a demon. When Jesus and his disciples go to Capernaum, Jesus goes to the synagogue and teaches with an authority that amazes the people there. While Jesus is teaching he is apparently interrupted by a man in the synagogue possessed by an evil spirit. He cries out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:21-24, Luke 4:31-34).

In both accounts of this event, Jesus commands the spirit to be quiet and to come out of the man. Yet the situation makes such an impression on the people that news about Jesus, who he is, and what he is doing spread quickly throughout the whole region of Galilee (Mark 1:27-28, Luke 4:36). Jesus’ teaching and healing made an impression, but were the people also impressed by his “authority” as the Holy One? Jesus heals many and casts out demons, but will not let the demons speak because they “knew who he was” (Mark 1:34). That Jesus was the Holy One as well as the anointed one or Messiah may have meant a great deal to Jews who had been waiting for the fulfillment of many prophecies in Isaiah.

The disciples of Jesus also saw and acknowledged that Jesus was divine in calling him the Holy One. John reports Peter using that term when the people start to desert Jesus. Jesus asks the twelve if they want to leave him, too.
“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God’” (John 6:68-69). 

The Holy One of God! In using this term, is Peter acknowledging that Jesus is God’s answer to the separation between a holy God and sinful man? Is this title a statement of the gospel? Certainly Peter’s response to Jesus brings to mind Isaiah’s response to the Lord in Isaiah 6, or the response he longed for from the people of Israel when he pleaded with them to trust the Lord and not their own strength or the strength of their neighbors.
“Come now, let us reason together,”
says the LORD. 

“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool" (Isaiah 1:18).

How will we respond to God’s plea to be reconciled to him? If we respond with surrender and trust, we become the Holy People of whom Isaiah had spoken (62:12). In fact, Peter uses strikingly similar language in his letters. The Holy One of Israel has even raised up Gentiles to be, now, his people.
"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

“Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Pet. 2:9-12).

Monday, December 19, 2011

Experimenting with Invisibility

It's a staple in the fairy tales: the magic power of invisibility. Would you want it? To wake from the dream or look up from the page is, I think, to realize that invisibility may not bring only power and autonomy but sometimes impotence and pain. The stories of invisibility may illustrate this loss as well. Consider the despair of an Ebenezer Scrooge or George Bailey and the joy both have in being returned to the world where they again speak and act and touch the lives of others.

I’ve written about these matters before. I suppose, in part, that a desire to be heard and seen and known, to be accepted and understood and celebrated are what motivate me to keep a personal blog. I wonder though, where I cross the line between a legitimate, God-given desire to belong and an illegitimate, God-like desire to be worshiped? What can be done to correct this, to put me that place where I can honestly say I’d rather be a doorkeeper in the courts of God than to, you know, be the one up on the stage?

In the last year or so my desire to be acknowledged and valued has come into sharper focus. I'm asking the Lord what he wants to do with this thing. Leaving a town, church, home, etc. where I was a person of some importance and coming to a place where I am more of an unknown brings it up again.

Being among people who have different ways of keeping score has also been humbling. Just a few days ago we went to a kid-parent event where one of Chris’s old swim-team buddies told a story about running into someone else from high school, someone who remembered her well but she didn’t even know who he was because he was not a swimmer. Ouch! What popped into my mind immediately was the time Yvette Bailey in eighth grade slapped me in the hallway outside of art class just for being a white girl. Whoa; how are those things connected? Oh dear. Apparently I've got some unresolved issues... surprise!

Oh, and then here’s Christmas. The time when so many of us want everything to be just perfect – our families, our achievements, our feelings, our budgets, the gifts we’re able to put under the tree and the ones we find there for us. Real life has a way of, you know, not cooperating with such desires.

Here I am getting ready to marry someone who thinks I’m wonderful, yet - himself happy to serve behind the scenes - notices my desire for what he calls celebrity and suggests it may be, um, sin. Huh; yes, well. Perhaps. I don’t want to admit it. I just don’t want to be invisible, that’s all, right? No, let’s be honest, I want to be important. Very important. What am I going to do with this? Lord, what do you want to do?

Then I find myself penciling in another couple items on a mental list of slights from the ministry I serve with (hey, that’s right, “serve”!) and realize I’ve got to lay this thing down before the Lord again. Yes, the terms of my employment are a bit odd; there are a few ways I’m the “one of these people who’s not like the others.” Though I pretty much am the one who came up with the terms, I forget that and feel sorry for myself, as if putting me in different categories or leaving me off lists mean I don’t belong or that I’m invisible, but are either of those things necessarily true?

As I look for God’s perspective on these things I remember other humbling seasons I’ve been through before and think about how all of us want to be humble but who wants the humiliation that it takes to get there?

Well, maybe I’d better turn the corner with this post. It just so happens that there are some practical ways out of this mental-emotional swamp. Unless you are clinically depressed or something, the way out may be pretty easy. I find all I have to do is grab onto the ladders of grace that God so graciously provides.

What are they, for you? Most of mine have to with gratitude. Stop counting disappointments and slights, and look for the blessings, often wrapped up in the same package. Pray. When I’m honest, when I ask God what’s going on and open my eyes to it, I realize how good I’ve got it. I start thanking him for the good stuff. And the "bad" stuff too, actually.

When I’ve got my eyes on him the sun cuts through the dense fog and I get a whole different perspective. Wow. How blessed I am. I feel so much better. Rather than wondering why nobody is worshiping me, I turn and give worship to God to whom alone worship is due. I put on Handel's Messiah or read a psalm or two; I go back to Isaiah 6 or something and my whole perspective changes.

Somehow I don’t feel invisible anymore.

See also: Staying Warm, Keeping Cool, and a Word from Shel Silverstein, Counseling, and Healthy.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Experimenting with Autonomy

Next week the people I'm living with take off for California, Uganda, and India, and I'll have the place to myself until some time in April. I've never lived alone. Ever. But I am glad for a chance to have a taste of it before I begin what will be 20, 30, 40 years of marriage. You know, as long as we both shall live. Never done that either.

I'm interested to see what the experience of living alone will be like for me and how it may relate to what comes after. Perhaps I need some sweet solitude before I enter the next phase. Maybe keeping house on my own will reinforce my conviction that together is better than alone -- to keep me from looking back with regret. It may motivate me for the hard work of compromise that will come with marriage and family life. It's a chance to experiment with autonomy, while I still can. And to learn what lessons it may have for me.

It's not like I'll be all alone, all the time. I have a car, after all. There are places to go, places with people. Chris will come over, and I'll still be at his place pretty often. Then this summer we'll get married; I'll live with Chris and Daniel, and sometimes Haley. So my solitude will not be shadowed by the fear I've been haunted by in recent years, the fear that I'm going to end up alone because I'm not the kind of person other people want to have around. Nope: not going to happen.

At any rate, I'm grateful for the provision of this living situation. Six weeks of companionship with some like-minded friends, that's been great. Then a place of my own. For a while.

Something I've penciled in for the first couple days after they are gone is to put up my Christmas tree. Fetched it from the storage unit last week; the box is in the trunk of my car. I left nearly all the decorations back in Denver with Deb. They were mostly hers, I think, and she will be there one more Christmas before she too moves and will not have a place for them.

So yesterday I went to Target and bought some lights and baubles for the tree. I'll add these to my collection of ornaments, mostly snowflakes crocheted by my grandmother a few years before she died. If the tree still looks bare -- will it? -- I'll see if I can persuade my nieces-to-be to help me with some origami. They all went to a Japanese-language elementary school and apparently mastered the art. For me, a chance to learn something new.

The next year should hold many such opportunities.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Tearing up the One-way Streets

A few more things for my public file on the topic of listening as ministry:

1. Leaders Have a Lot to Learn

A few years back I posted an item illustrating how those who might usually be the leaders and the teachers can keep growing and learning as they invest in reverse internships.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal covers much the same ground, providing more background and some pithy quotes about reverse mentoring.

A common application seems to be that senior leaders look down the corporate ladder for someone to help them learn the latest paths in communication and technology. When a Gen Y reverse mentoring program took off at one company, it became cool; all the managers wanted to have their own "junior mentors."

2. Learning Builds Bridges

A couple of Christian leaders are asking how these ideas might apply in making disciples. Miguel suggests discovering discipleship opportunities by putting ourselves in reverse discipleship situations - finding someone who doesn't know Jesus to teach us how to do something we need to know.

It's not a new idea. Many missionaries, moving to a new culture and finding themselves in a place of incompetence, look to local folks for orientation. They humble themselves to engage in culture and language learning by immersion. This process is painful, but often more effective than other approaches, and so endearing it can yield deep and life-long friendships. (To short-circuit this process, just limit yourself to learning from other expats or local Christians, or skip learning and dive right into teaching and leading). 

3. Leaders Need to Listen and Learn

In what I see as a related note, Steve Moore's recent vlog talks about closing the feedback loop. He explores the vital importance, for leaders, of finding effective feedback. We need people in their lives and organizations who can help us see our blind spots and destructive behaviors.

Steve says that as an organization grows it tends to build one-way streets. Nobody wants to tell the leader that he's making a big mistake, that he's alienating people or basing his decisions on flawed information.

Good news - and affirmation - flows up. Bad news - and correction - flows down. Effective and growing leaders need to break up those one-way streets and set up structures to give them crucial feedback.  

Read or heard anything lately about listening, something you found helpful? Let me know.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Far Out and Solid

I'm still exploring my new town and probably will be for some time. Actually, that's kind of how I like to live, generally: curious, and with my eyes open to the little adventures that may come my way. When I'm in a new place, it's as much a survival strategy as a way to entertain myself. Right now I'm trying out different places to shop. Eugene is home to second-hand stores and discount markets of every description.

I was in a discount grocery picking up a few items for Thanksgiving when I saw him. He had a big grey beard. He wore a broad-brimmed hat and quite a few layers of clothing. And he was pushing a cart with bags and bags of stuff attached to it. The beard is pretty normal around here, but from the other signs I guessed the chances were good that this man wasn't just carrying all his stuff around to keep it handy; he probably had no place to put it. Oregon has a lot of people who live on the streets or spend much of their time there. The place I've lived the last 16 years had almost none.  

When I was ready to buy my groceries we ended up in the same line. He was actually finishing up his transaction, so I got in line behind him thinking I'd get out more quickly than if I were at one of the other check stands, each of which had several people waiting.

The bearded guy was trying to chat up the grocery clerk as he stashed his stuff. Only he was trying to come up with "Have a happy Thanksgiving," in Spanish. I wanted to help him with that but I couldn't think of how to say it either. Nor was I certain this girl was a Spanish-speaker, though she might be. The clerk, for her part, didn't say a word or crack a smile. She just waited.

I thought he was done when he tied the last bag to his cartthe one with two  pomegranates ($3 apiece), package of fancy goat cheese, and box of gourmet ice cream sandwiches.

"I hope I have enough for this," he said. Uh oh. She swiped the card that represented his food stamps. He only had $31 on it, but he had $39 of groceries. It seemed to take an eternity for him to choose which items to put back. I thought about covering for him, but struggled to overcome my hesitation over his food choicesas if people on food stamps are unworthy of pomegranates, and that somehow I'm more worthy of the things I purchase and enjoy just because I'm blessed with a steady income.

In the end he was still $1 over, but the man now behind me in line did what I could not: he pitched in a dollar. 

The bearded guy was so gracious and appreciative. "You are far out and solid," he said. "As are you," the man behind me returned. "As are you." 

How do you think you would feel or respond in this kind of situation? I'm still pondering it. As I said, I haven't had to deal with poverty close to home in a long time. I want to be wise but also compassionate. I really don't want to be the kind of person who puts people into categories and decides how they are supposed to behavewho lets myself treat them as objects and dismisses them as persons. The kind of person who looks down on homeless people for wasting their food money and murmurs, "Get a job!"

At the very least, I want to make a plan to respond. And when I adjust my budget for the new year I'll put in a line item for "giving to the poor," even if it just means an annual check to the Eugene Mission. What do you think? Any tips?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Personal Update - Engagement

Well, now, it's official. Privately, C. and I agreed way back in July that we were going to get married, but now I have this fancy ring on my finger and need to brush off my French and start saying the word "fiance."

Oh, yeah, and plan a wedding. In an ideal world my personal assistant would work on that for me. If my life were a movie, my mom or best friend would get in those trenches with me. In the world I actually live in, it's going to have to be simple, and I'm asking God to guide and fuel the process so it can be a special day, beautiful but not too complicated. I'm so glad I was able to make the transition to Oregon first!

I'd asked C. not to propose until after I'd moved. Maybe Thanksgiving. We'd talked about having a gathering of friends and family to celebrate with us, but again, that's more a dream world than the kind of thing we could really pull off. A young friend, the daughter of my friends J. & L., just had that kind of experience. She thought it was just a party. Her boyfriend surprised her when, her close-knit family gathered round, he proposed. But she's young, and her family much less fragmented. What worked for them would require the kind of relationships that I just don't have. Especially right after a cross-country move. 

After considering timing and possibilities, C. decided it would be better to seal the deal before, rather than during or after, the Thanksgiving holiday, and not in front of other people. Maybe in a holy and special place. Not the best time of year for a mountaintop or alpine meadow; it would have to be someplace indoors. Perhaps one that represented the cloud of witnesses that, even if they can't be gathered around to clap and cheer, nevertheless could not be more pleased that we are taking this step.

So he proposed to me at church this Sunday. I like that. C. always likes to be early for things so it didn't strike me as odd when he told me he'd pick me up at 9:30 for the 10:00 service, less than 10 minutes' drive from my house. Of course, since I'd arrived home the night before from a trip the East Coast, I had been up since 5:00. Uh huh; jet lag. So C. and I were early to church. When he ushered me into the sanctuary at 9:45 I wondered what he had in mind. He pulled out a little box... "Oh, this is the place," I said, since he'd told me he'd chosen the place where he'd ask me. I opened the box. A necklace? The gold chain was a birthday present, he said. And a good place for the promise ring, the "place holder" I'd been wearing since the beginning of the summer. Most people thought it was an engagement ring, but he wanted to get me something more.

The necklace tangled badly, immediately. C. was trying to straighten it out the whole time he made his speech. I can't tell you all he said; I was distracted by the knots. But he asked if I'd marry him, and I said yes. The promise ring went on the chain around my neck.

A second box held the engagement ring and the wedding band that will join it sometime this summer. He put the first one on my finger, and I smiled and kissed him.  It is a lovely ring! And he is a wonderful man. He adores me. I'm pleased with him and honored by the invitation to become his wife.

Perfect? Well, maybe not, but somehow just that we're together I can let go of perfect.

I would have loved it if we could tell the pastor and after the service began he'd announce it, with a big grin, and everybody would clap and maybe even stop and pray for us. Again, dream world. Neither of us is known in the church; those who I've met know I came out to marry C. and maybe they would not see the actual engagement as much of  step at all. I'm hoping when we get up to Washington sometime next month, I can announce it and introduce him during the service and get, perhaps, the response I desire. Maybe. Maybe not.

The sermon was actually very timely for me as I was rejoicing in my good fortune while quietly grieving my transplanted state. It spoke to the fact that our roots are now planted in heaven, and we don't need to keep looking to the world around us for pleasure or purpose or significance. This isn't home. We may not have the life or community we want, here, but that doesn't mean those desires are bad; they're actually going to find their fulfillment in the world to come. What does it mean to live in light of that reality, today?

I give my desire for attention a little mental poke. Does that hurt? A little. But the swelling has gone down. My love and I are together, brought together by the God who holds us in his hand, and maybe I don't need the affirmation of the world to feel safe and treasured. To know that I matter. Sigh. Wouldn't it be nice if this were not a question? Yet even if this adolescent-like thing I struggle with is not a permanent condition, perhaps its existence is going to prove of some use to me, as the years unfold. Is there some way God wants to use this, instead of just healing me and taking it away?

We did get the encouragement I'd wished for when we changed our relationship status on Facebook later in the day. Today's version of the great cloud of witnesses! More than 100 people left comments and congratulations. 

After church we talked to a few people, went out to lunch, and made our way to Best Buy where I made a scary decision to go ahead and spend my very generous supply of birthday money on an iPad 2. I was thinking about a Nook or Kindle but since the iPad can do all they can and much more... probably a big help for both work and school, I went for it.

Buying expensive and unnecessary electronics actually freaked me out more than the engagement, in a way. We got a substantial case and extended warranty for the iPad - somewhat to my comfort - but that did make handing over my Visa card $200 more painful. At the last minute I remembered I had a coupon from Best Buy, somewhere in my "desk stuff" box. Would it cover things like this? I didn't know, but I brought the thing anyway. (Found the coupon today. Nope, it did not apply).

Seems kind of funny that I came home, that day, with both a big ol' engagement ring and an iPad. I'm rather glad the engagement ring attaches me to my very own IT department. Yes, among his many skills and talents, C. is a tech guy. And to his credit, one who doesn't mind that I have an iPad 2 and he only has an iPad 1! (See, he is a keeper!)

Next on the agenda for our busy day was bowling. Yup. We swung by C.'s house to pick up the kids and headed over the fire station. C. packed up gear in one of the bright-red trucks - in case there was a call during the afternoon - and drove us in it to the bowling alley for the volunteer fire department's annual bowing and pizza event.

One of the fire dept. girls squealed when C. told her we were engaged now. Apparently he's talked about me a great deal. And since he's in the habit of going around showing my picture to people, they all knew who I was. Bowling and pizza I could take or leave, but it was great to be included. I was expected to be there, really. I bowled terribly, but enjoyed talking to some new people - including the high school senior now dating C's 18-year-old daughter.

We wrapped it up with a family birthday party and an ice cream cake back at the house. I was one of the honorees, actually, having reached the ripe old age of 41 about 10 days earlier. The other was D., C.'s son, recently turned 15. With seven teenagers and five adults, things were pretty lively.

C. and I slipped away to call my closest family members with the news of our engagement. Then we went to a hot-tub place - a pricy but pleasant indulgence for when we want to be alone together. This seemed like a good day for it.

So, now we can move toward the next chapter. C. would really like to nail down a lot of the wedding details before the end of January. For you Myers-Briggs fans, he's all "J" and I'm more of a "P," so where he feels the need for closure I resist committing to a course too soon. He's more stressed by the lack of decision, I'm more stressed when I feel pressured to make a decision. I'd prefer to do what needs to be done as I feel it needs to be done - not before. Not when I don't know what I want. I can't picture how to either pursue or let go of my dreams - most of which have to do much less with things like dresses and flowers and more with things I can't control like who should come and how they should behave.

We're aiming for June. I'm hoping to pull off a wedding for less than, say, $5000. Think it can be done?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Arizona Prays

I went to Arizona at the end of September. After dragging my feet to book a room for the conference I was to attend, I learned there was no room at the inn. At the last minute I contacted a local acquaintance and asked if I could stay with her. Barbara was delighted to take me in.

She also told me great stories about the things the Lord is doing among believers in Arizona, some of them part of a national initiative to raise up 10,000 intercessors in every state. Want to know more? Maybe you could use some of these ideas in your own context!

1. God Bless Arizona Prayer Walk: Leading up to the state’s centennial (February 14, 2012) Christians are walking the streets of every city and town praising God and inviting his blessings on their state. Can you think of a better way to acknowledge God's goodness and welcome his work in the years to come?

2. Border Initiative: Christians in Arizona, California, and Texas are also prayerwalking along our country’s Southern borders, seeking God for transformation in the border towns and among the peoples of both the US and Mexico. Learn more from BridgeBuilders.

3. Prayer in the Public Schools: Recognizing the importance and influence of the education system in their communities, Christian leaders in Arizona organized 11 all-night prayer gatherings in different schools, set to culminate 11-11-11 (tomorrow!) What a way to bring prayer back into the schools! Learn more at eleven11.

4. Prayer Torches: Several prayer “torches” are touring the area, inspired by the Olympic torch it seems. Everywhere they go people are gathering to pray 24/7. Indian reservations have been participating as well. Learn more from Lite The Fire.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

I live out by Neptune.

Eugene, my new town, has its very own 1:1 billionth scale model of the solar system. It's designed to show how small and widely spaced the planets really are, relative to the sun. Models of the orbs are spaced out along the riverside bike path. 

I live right by Neptune. Who wants to come out for a visit? 

When I get my bike fixed up I'll have to take a tour of this solar system. And if I ever get lost, I'll just need to use a little celestial navigation...

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Tell a man about a fish, and he eats (but maybe just in theory)

Friends and observant readers will have picked up that while I love to serve people and am reasonably capable at taking care of my own day-to-day needs, my cleverness is more in the realm of words, ideas, systems, shimmering repartee, and the like - not practical matters like how to drive a stick-shift car, finesse some other piece of machinery, find something I need, or get from point A to point B.

I'm not great with my hands, particularly well coordinated, or adept at spatial reasoning. And yes, I'm one of those people you could describe as "directionally challenged." I've been lost in more countries than - well, than most of you.

I can navigate any of those challenges but I have to try harder and it may just take me longer. When I'm in charge, I can rise to the occasion and exude the capability and confidence necessary to lead others, but it takes a lot of focus and a healthy dose of grace. Which is good, right? Patience, humility, grace?

But moving into a new house and being given the run of another has meant hearing where a lot of things were kept and how various things work, and I'm not sure how much I got down. It's a little too embarrassing to say, wait, can you just put that into writing for me? I'm not completely at sea, but often have to try three or four times to unlock a door or open every cupboard trying to remember or discover where the _____ is kept.

Anyway, my slowness on the uptake with these things has reminded me of the difference between telling somebody how something is done and teaching them to do it. I mean, there is a BIG difference. If the guy at the storage unit told me the code for the gate or the padlock and had me put it in, I would probably have learned the trick with him watching and correcting me instead of struggling through on my own with nobody around. If someone said, "Get the cookie sheet out of the top drawer" instead of just telling me the cookie sheet is in the top drawer or taking it out for me, I think I'd be able to find that cookie sheet again.

I don't want to put the onus on my "teachers," but it does motivate me to watch out for the same trap in my own teaching. To tell somebody how to do something is not the same as to train them how to do it.

Training takes longer, but it sticks better than a lecture does.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

My New Life

C. manned the moving truck - following me the whole way
across country as I drove the car. It was great to have his
reassuring presence at my back. Several days after we came
through some of the roads we drove were closed by snow.
Just a quick personal update for y'all. Sorry I haven't been blogging. With three significant writing projects hanging over me (and several small ones), puttering around in the blogosphere is hard to justify. Much as I enjoy it.

October was a crazy month! Packing, moving, and saying goodbyes brought what seemed an endless swirl of emotion and a flood of logistical tasks. I had to step up and deal with all kinds of things I prefer not to face, and it was hard not be crabby and stressed out about it. And when I was crabby about it, I felt terrible. Somewhere along the way - maybe a couple of decades ago - I seem to have picked up an idea that I'm supposed to be able to take everything in stride, and I can't.

What will November be like? A little less intense, I think. Even though C. is dying to give me the engagement ring tucked away in his sock drawer. I know. You're excited about that. So am I.

But I don't want the ring, not yet. I've only been here a week. I'm still wrestling with culture shock, homesickness, ambiguity, and new relationships - it's all a bit much. Psychologically, it reduces my stress a bit to be able to tell people I moved to Oregon to get married and let them interpret that as they like, without having to be - in my own mind anyway - actually engaged.

I'm not ready to be engaged. Why is that? C doesn't understand it. I think it's just that I want to feel a bit more steady on my feet when when I make that commitment. So I can say, "I, Marti Smith, being of sound mind, agree to marry you." Rather than a frazzled, "Ah, OK, what the heck!" I think Thanksgiving would be a good time to cross that particular threshold. But when I get through today's rapids, are there just more on the other side?

Am getting along fine with both C's family and the folks I'm living with. Wish I could manage a bit more quality time with the latter, but so far it hasn't been possible. Ah well; little by little. I like them; I think they will like me. My desire to start putting down roots and establish viable daily patterns has been delayed a bit by family responsibilities. Maybe a reality check, a picture of what is to come. In the last week I've not only moved into a new house (with all the tasks that go with that) but also attended three water polo games, picked up our boy from school a couple of times, and been charged with staying at the family homestead during the day to take care of the dog, receive the trick-or-treaters, etc. for a week while C's folks are out of town.

It's nice to be wanted. But I'm trying to put in eight hours of work a day and keep up with grad school. My head is only just barely above the water. November 12, Saturday morning, I leave town for a week - and have to both make arrangements for a place to park my car in Portland and make sure I get a new driver's license by my birthday, two days before.

So it's a busy time, and I feel excited but also unsettled. 

D, front right, with his high school water polo team.
Swim team starts in a few weeks. Today is D's birthday: he's 15.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Packing House

Like me, this box turtle is toting all his earthly belongings.
I wouldn't describe myself as a habitually organized person, but the act of organizing things - well, that's different. I love sorting and synthesizing, making sense out of chaos.

Going through all I've accumulated in the 15 or so years I have lived in this house is a lot of work. But by the time I'm done - by the time C. and I pull out next Saturday morning, driving a moving truck and my car - everything I own will have been assessed, sorted, boxed, and packed.

Traveling with all my belongings, all at once, and sealing it all up in a truck for 3-4 days -  most of it going into a storage unit after that - already it feels like quite a different experience than moving across town with a couple of carloads and a friend or two who has a pickup.

There's a certain sense of freedom from packing this way.

I think it comes from having been so thorough and deliberate about it. My nearly 1000 books are in 25 numbered banker boxes; I have lists of what's in the plastic bins of kitchen things. I used tape to mark out an 5x10' rectangle on the garage floor; everything that goes in the storage unit has to fit in that space. The things that go to the house, with me, they go outside the tape, but have to fit in my half of the garage.

I think it's all going to work.

I'll be living with a married couple who split their time between Oregon and India. Putting all my things into storage and moving into a small house with people I don't really know may feel a little crowded and awkward, I know - there's a tradeoff between autonomy and companionship. I trust we'll become friends. Who knows, maybe life-long friends!

A week or so before Christmas R. and L. take off for the winter and don't return until April. So then I can have the place to myself, and they can rest easy knowing that someone is holding down the fort.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Counting the Cost: Leaving My Library

The fabulous Highlands Ranch Library.
You've heard of food deserts, right? Looks like I'm moving into a book desert. The library system in what will be my new neighborhood, well, it's not a system at all. Volunteers started the thing in 2005. You have to pay to join. Just $15 a year, but still. It's an ugly little building open about 20 hours a week, with 15,000 books. No county-wide sharing, either.

I can't tell, but seriously doubt they have wifi or comfortable chairs. So, alas: looks like it won't be my home away from home, my best place to work, as the main Highlands Ranch Library has been.

I'll miss you, Douglas County! (Don't tell, but I may hold onto my card and check out electronic copies to read on my computer or listen on my iPod.)

I can legitimately get a card for the Eugene public library system for $120 a year. C's family owns some property in city limits. He thinks he can renew his card - expired! - and let me use it. That would be free.

Even their libraries are not nearly as nice as ours here in Douglas County, though. No fireplaces or glorious views; nobody coming to play the harp on a Sunday afternoon (!) Guess I'll need to investigate coffee shops that are friendly to laptop hobos.

A little over a year ago I went to visit Eugene for the first time in decades. Among other things I went to poke around my old haunts near the university. There I ran into another problem that practically brought me to tears, one I never had to face as a college student without a car. Yes, parking. Parking anywhere near campus - especially if you don't want to pay for it - is very, very difficult. Even more so for someone like me who has trouble with street parking (due to my utter absence of depth perception).

OK, I shouldn't whine. I'm going to survive this loss!

But I think these differences reflects a couple aspects of regional culture that are not the same between my home here on the edge of the Midwestern prairies and my old/new home in the Pacific Northwest.

One thing is that here we have plenty of space, space for anything. When my dad and stepmom came to visit they found it almost offensive: everything is spread out. Seemed wasteful to them. I understand why.

Second, I'd have to say Coloradans are more hospitable and generous than Northwesterners. They have some of the individualism that marks culture across the West, but there's a higher level of trust, and at least in the suburbs a considerably lower level of crime. Unemployment is much higher in Eugene, and nobody seems to have as much money. I'm moving from a richer area to a poorer one.

Wonder what other ways these dynamics will affect what my life is like there?