Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Grateful Chorus, well, Medley

This world is not my home / I'm just a passing through  

Grandpa M with his Sinatra hat. Ain't he cute?

In the past three weeks, Isaac's studies have intensified. So has my social calendar. I have visited my 82-year-old grandmother in Wichita, stayed with my 94-year-old grandfather and his sweet wife in Albuquerque, had coffee with my best friend from elementary school, gone to the memorial service of a family friend who loved Jesus and been at the hospital for the birth of a dear friend's firstborn. My heart is full. 

My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue

My mom & her mother watching the wonders of donut-making. Love. It.

This past summer we found boxes of my old pictures and journals at my grandmother's house. Most of them are still sitting in those boxes, despite the fact that multiple visitors have commented about the empty frames hung on our apartment walls. "We just needed something on the wall." A stack of weathered journals beside our bed calls nightly.

The angels beckon me from heaven's open door

 I "ran into" a former BFA student on facebook today, and we swapped small-world posts and comments. Barbie on her timeline brought back memories of one of my favorite single-girl blog entries: The Jewish Nation and Me: Seder Barbie. Five years ago, in my second year of overseas assignment, I was addressing issues similar to those I find myself wrestling with in this season, while He remains the same.

And I can't feel at home in this world anymore.

Judi, my childhood best friend. We once pretended she was deaf
just so we could pull one over on our waiter. When he asked what we
were having, she signed to me, & I acted like I knew what she wanted.
She'd told me earlier. It was awesome.

Home. Isaac and I have been talking this week about the definition of home. Our conversation becomes a list of ingredients for a favorite stew: each location or house in which we have lived savored and, any of which left out, would alter the recipe.

We agreed that both the home in which our parents live and our current location as a couple come closest to being called home. It's a bittersweet admission. 
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. ~ Hebrews 11:8-10
Happy Thanksgiving. May we live obediently, lovingly in this land while we gratefully look forward to the next city. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Thankful Today for...

Clockwise from top left: Feeding finches at Omaha Zoo, Musing at a Missouri Civil War battlefield,
Silly time at Sonic with Caden & Hannah, Goodies at Gatorland in Orlando

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Taking Risks

Our friend Kristi in Thailand is pioneering a program called Embark, training young leaders to impact their world cross-culturally. In following her work with Youth For Christ, my thinking has been challenged in the areas of risk-taking and cultural perseverance.

Living and working together for a couple months in Chiang Mai, she and her trainees go through a serious time of being known, and thus, have serious potential for personal and communal growth. Renting motorbikes and trying new language skills are built into the schedule in order for the participants to be faced with doing hard things and to learn endurance in the face of fear. It puts me in mind of one of my worst fears...

Kristi & I in Germany (she's NOT my worst fear)

In Wichita, I was a volunteer youth leader with Young Life for several years. YL assigned me to an area high school, and my role was to show up and get to know students. Lunch periods, volleyball games ~ I just showed up and started talking to kids. It still amazes me that some of them actually talked back. They let me in, but it usually took a few awkward attempts at conversation over a few weeks. It took perseverance, and I was willing to endure because I wanted them to know Jesus.

Then at one of our weekly leader meetings, our area director asked a game-changing question: "Are you loving students so that they will come to Jesus? If so, then you're in the wrong place."

"Wait a minute ~ isn't that what I signed up for?" I wondered, my jaw beginning to set.

"Or are you loving them because Jesus loves them? If you love people with an agenda, then there will come a time when you will give up on them. If you love them because Jesus loves them, then it is by his power that you will love them."

And I melted. Why do I love my neighbor? Is it because of what he or she could do for me? Is it because they make me feel good or in control? Is it because I want to be the one to change their life? Do my motivations keep me from making risks in personal relationships for the purpose of honoring my friend and neighbor, or do I seek to honor myself in relationships?

I have many fears that keep me from loving well: fear of being known, fear of rejection, fear of being hurt. One of my worst fears, however, is that I will rely on my own power, seek the best seat for myself and will fail to endure.
And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and has brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.  ~Colossians 1:10-14
Thanks be to the one whose glorious might it is that gives us all power to endure as we get to know people better and for the first time.

For more on Kristi's work in Thailand, check out the Embark website yourself and send a young person you know to it as well. She's praying for eight young leaders from four different countries for the training session that begins in February 2013. The blog post that inspired this one is below.

My Cup of Tea: Keep On Keeping On: Perseverance Cultural Intelligence is defined as our level of interest, drive and motivation to adapt cross-culturally (fro...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Where My Students Are

Each year at Black Forest Academy a group of seventeen and eighteen year old students graduate and leave Germany, most of them of them for good. Though I don't teach many seniors, I do from time to time try to fill those I do teach in on what life will be like after high school. After all, I once went through the process of leaving the land I grew up in to attend college in my "home" country. I should have something pertinent to say on the matter. The longer I am away from that time however, the more I wonder if my experience has any bearing on the reality BFA students will actually face when they leave. A quick glance at pictures circa 1996 is enough to remind me of how far removed I actually am from high school graduation. At that time a fax machine seemed like the most inventive machine human beings would ever create, and the idea of email vexed me: "So, when you are typing can the other people see you typing?", "How does the letter get over there". Okay, I have now officially veered into old man mode: "when I was your age..."The point is, even though every missionary kid's transition is different, the passage of years made me wonder if mine was anywhere close to what my students would experience.  Nothing is more annoying than a pedantic teacher.

The process of temporarily leaving BFA for this year has now given me fresh insight into all of this. Here I am, attending a new school, learning how to drive in a new country, learning to throw all trash into one bin. Jokes. Suzanne and I are recycling here, so calm down. But the transition has not necessarily been an easy one. I spend most of my day in a small apartment working on graduate studies. I am having to write papers and turn in assignments and follow deadlines. I am trying to adjust to being in a completely secular school after being an an academic environment that is consciously and intentionally Christian. But I am by no means complaining! It's simply a fact that the transition from Europe to America, teacher to student and Christian to secular is one that involves a fair amount of reorientation. Which is where my students come in.

Even though my situation is in many ways different than theirs, I think many of our feelings are the same. The desire to fit in and not make mistakes is balanced with a consciousness of my unique identity that I very much want to share with people. I am trying to figure out what it means to be a Christian in an environment where many people are indifferent or even hostile to the faith. And I am both missing my friends and the places I once knew and enjoying the friends and family I have here. I thought that my study of history would be what would improve my teaching the most when I return to Black Forest Academy. It may turn out to be something else.        

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Slow Pitch

Isaac, me and my mom ~ Texas vs. Tampa Bay
Baseball's in our blood. I grew up playing softball and going to Ranger games. Isaac fell asleep as a kid in Papua New Guinea listening to taped Tiger games sent by his uncle (awww...). He lived a year of middle school in Duncanville, TX, and we think it's possible that we were at Arlington Stadium as kids enjoying a mutual game. We both played second base growing up and have each had a dream to visit every ballpark in the US (I guess we better hurry up and make it to Yankee Stadium!).

College World Series game this summer with Chris & Rachel
Look how well they keep their grounds!
Now if Isaac were to write a baseball post next week the difference in our understanding and approach to the sport would be quite clear. He will rant and rave about the injustice of the manager's choice of pitcher based on his current ERA, while I will comment on a funny-looking wind-up or how well they have kept their grounds. However, we would both agree it's fun. So much fun, in fact, that my wedding present to him was to be a Tigers fan ~ complete with track jacket for him and hoodie for me (look for pic next week). :)

Enjoying our favorite sport with people we love is one of the ways we are purposefully slowing down this year. Go Tigers! (and Rangers!) ;)

Isaac & Ernie Harwell at Tigers Stadium

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

God's Side

My first soccer team: the Tuffies
'Are you for us or for our enemies? 
'Neither, but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.' 
Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, 'What message does my Lord have for his servant?'"  
~Joshua 5:13b-15
By the age of 12, I had already been involved in at least eight organized athletic activities: soccer, golf, swimming, tennis, gymnastics, ballet, horseback riding, tae kwon do and baton twirling (yes, I'm counting that ~ my instructor said I did a mean "figure-8"). Often these activities were sponsored by Christian organizations, and I can remember wondering about coaches who prayed: "Dear Lord, help us to win. Deliver us from the visiting team."

"Does God want us to win or them?" I remember asking myself. Both sides seemed likely candidates. They looked a lot like us, though sometimes I liked their uniforms (and haircuts for that matter) better than ours (I appeal to Exhibit B below). If God had sent his angel to tell me, "Neither," it would have made a lot of sense to me.

Is God for or against this hair?
But Joshua's game was for keeps ~ God's people versus the Amalekites, heathens to the core, sons of Ham, accursed son of Noah. God had promised his people the land. He would very soon give commands to kill every man, woman and child. The walls of Jericho fall within a few verses of these, and yet, this heavenly warrior who gives himself the military title "commander" does not take a side between Israel and Canaan. Shouldn't God's commander be for God's people?
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." 
~ 2 Peter 3:9
 God had a people, but did he really have a side?

How often do I allow myself to compete with those around me rather than helping them reach their goals? Or perhaps more to the point, am I decidedly and obediently on God's side?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Making a Home

Refrigerator magnets, book shelves, lamps: the elements that go into making a house. What is needed for a home involves something more, though. Sure, it includes all those items that we come to rely on in our daily comings and goings, the ones listed above and so many more, objects we keep for practicality or sentiment, things we don’t think much about until we move somewhere and feel their absence. But a home needs symbol, meaning, memory. Spaces that in and of themselves hold nothing of significance unless viewed through the lens of a personal history shared by the few who have inhabited the place for some length of time.

If it’s the intangibles that people long for when they think of home-that chair in the corner where you read after a long day at work, that kitchen where you taught your children how to cook-then it’s a house Suzanne and I currently reside in, not a home, an apartment, actually and one in a development named Shady Place, where our first day here involved a visit by the police to check up on a former resident. “No, we have not seen that man and no he has not been back since we arrived.” Can’t say the place lacks a panache of sorts.

A temporary home is a strange concept because home implies stability. How can Suzanne and I begin to create something that requires time, only to leave it before the calendar turns over to the next school year? I don’t know the answer to that, and I know I should probably draw the spiritual lesson about our eternal home being our only real one, but while that’s true even here on earth we need still something to rely on, and Suzanne and I had just moved into our apartment in Germany that was only in the early stages of becoming “ours.”

But the project here has begun:  We have been visiting local stores, obtaining public library cards, and filling and organizing our one bedroom place with enough familiarity and comfort to begin building this into a temporary home. Curtains went up today, windows and sills were washed, and a Goodwill run is in the offing. Most evenings have involved a walk around the neighborhood to get a feel for the lay of the land and see what is within walking distance. I mentioned to Suzanne that we have had enough experience moving into and out of various dwellings that surely we qualify for a television slot on the Home and Garden network. Perhaps they don’t have our new number here; the phone has been strangely silent.

Yesterday, we arrived back home to our apartment after a weekend at the Morton’s, a little over an hour’s drive away from us. It felt different walking into a place that was now furnished with our stuff and had a history, if only a week’s worth. It’s a start.   

Monday, August 6, 2012

Bright Links

These past two weeks of Wycliffe Equip have been eye-opening and inspiring. I have learned more about bibleless people around the world {did you know there are around 2000 language groups without a verse of Scripture?}; 

I have been introduced to great new technology {sent my first video emails this week}; 

and have stumbled upon some just plain interesting finds {soooo addicted to Prezi!}.

Hope you find something helpful for you, too.

  • Colossians in a year: Isaac and I have been trying to memorize the book of Colossians together, & then I found this lovely little post. Author & blogger, Ann Voskamp, also offers free downloads of her DIY memorization booklet.
  • Adopt a Language: Pray for a specific language group that has not yet heard or read the good news in their heart language, and be a part of history-making. 

  • Money-Saving mom: Sign up for her RSS feed, & you'll get daily coupons & freebies from around the web. Be informed about deals at your local grocery store by checking out her regional store deals.
  • Swagbucks: One of Money-Saving Mom's go-to's for earning gift cards. I've just made it my default search engine and am earning 15-20 points a week. At this rate, I'll have a $10 gift card in 2 months. Every little bit helps, right?
  • Mvelopes: As we move from a cash-based envelope system to a plastic one, the free basic account on this site has been handy for keeping track of our spending while still knowing how much we have left ~ A product of Crown Ministries. Mint.com is another free alternative.

  • Eyejot: Quick & easy video email through the convenience of your webcam. Makes it easy to send a more meaningful birthday wish than a facebook post.
  • Prezi: a fresh, non-linear presentation format that will soon have you addicted, too! Great for school projects, class lectures or just for fun

Sunday, July 29, 2012


           Suzanne and I have now completed our first week of training with Wycliffe. If you are wondering why we are going through a two-week training program when we are already members and have been teaching in Germany for several years, let me give you a quick review. Since Suzanne and I were members of different missions when we got married, we decided to join Wycliffe together and Suzanne then had to go through orientation. Being married meant that I would join her in that endeavor.

            Preliminaries being out of the way, what have we been up to in this orientation? Well, many things, but one that stood out was a session on missionary kids. Have you ever been in a room where a speaker or presenter is giving a report on a group of people to which you belong? I was not the only MK in the room, but I did feel pressure to speak on behalf of MKs, and something I have always resisted is being put in a box. I suppose that’s a characteristic of a missionary kid. J Anyway it got me into a little bit of self-conscious navel gazing but it also made me think about many of my friends and family who are in the same strange boat as I am. No two MK experiences are quite alike, even with siblings growing up in the same place. As such, I have tried not to judge or make assumptions about how and why an MK acts the way he or she does. Now that I am a teacher at BFA, I am in a position to work with these kids, and I have to figure out how best to do that. I must confess that I often feel at a loss.

My small group guys ~ a weekly dining/discussion event.
            I do believe that I learned something this past week in part from a Facebook post written by a BFA student who I led in a small group for the past three years. He wrote me a very kind note thanking me for being his group leader and stating that he was going to miss me this upcoming year as I will be in the states. It touched me because, quite frankly I had felt so inadequate as a group leader and usually bemoaned my inabilities to Suzanne, who being the encouraging and loving wife that she is, and wise as well I might add, kept encouraging me. It’s interesting when you want to feel bad about yourself but someone you love refuses to let you. She kept urging me to take the long view and to just be faithful in doing what I could, but I confess to dwelling on darker feelings. Then I got this message, and it made me realize that even though I did not have all the answers and the life changing Bible studies, what can often matter is just showing up and caring. It’s true that even though I felt that I was not a great small group leader I care deeply about the young men in my group and pray for them especially now heading into their senior year.

Fun signs from our travels. Who knew Larry had collectables?
So take heart if there are situations in your life about which you are discouraged. Sometimes we seem to struggle on for a while without seeing the results of that effort, and quite frankly, most of the time we never do. But every once and a while we get a glimpse; a signpost on the road telling us we are walking the right way.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Thanksgiving

“I want to see beauty. In the ugly, in the sink, in the suffering, in the daily, 
in all the days before I die, the moments before I sleep.”  
Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare To Live Fully Right Where You Are

Today I am thankful for...

light Orlando breezes blowing humid
Chuck's chicken on the stove
colorful stamps from Isaac's youth
gifts from a friend
French anniversary dinner celebration
Our lovely dinner locale
God's grace to me, a sinner
book treasures discovered on dusty shelves
cheering husband & father-in-law in ping-pong
having the right coupon at checkout
absence of gator-sighting
anticipation of ice-cold gelati after dinner
chatting & phone call from Switzerland
Pre-dinner photo op
2 years & 1 day with new last name
knowing new niece & nephew in the flesh
God's provision for us through his people

"And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."
Colossians 3:17

What are you thankful for?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Life on the Road

Living on the ancient European landmass makes one cognizant of the rich history the people there have inherited. The past is ever present, speaking from crumbled castle ruins, soaring cathedral spires and rutted country lanes, trodden upon by people long ago past from this earth. The place is so settled, so organic, that walking on still used Roman roads past sixteenth century hunting lodges simply means another trip to a friend's house. You can't miss the impact of the past when your small car barely scrapes through the narrow streets of any given town. Stability and tradition are still an important part of life there, even in the days of globalization and the European Union.

American history is made up of different components. Beginning with settlers and outcasts arriving on these shores several hundred years ago, continuing with the restless and relentless drive west on covered wagons or railroads and expanding with the invention of the automobile, the story of this country is one of movement, expansion and change. Life on the road is a classic American tale and Suzanne and I have been on our own version of one as we have traveled across much of the mid-west seeing friends and partners.  But even in this country of so much transience, historical markers on the roadside tell us that we are not the first to pass through here. I have found that even though Americans embrace change, we have a keen interest in our country's history in a way that Europeans do not have for theirs.

The above comparison of the two continents was on my mind as we made our way through record-breaking heat, in our Dodge Caravan. Appropriate name for our vehicle I think. We loaded our "covered wagon" down with all manner of stuff we collected as we have cleaned out Suzanne's storage sites, and just like the settlers of old, have had to dispose of that which has weighed us down. Each place we stopped, we found friends and family, but had to say good-bye almost as soon as we arrived. We found that our van became our "home" during this period, being one of the only constants we had.

Since I have spent much of my life on the road, a journey seems like a good metaphor for life. Not that I am the first to make that connection. I may be one of the last. But this year seems especially fitting to compare to a long road trip. We are here for a short time and plan on returning to Germany next summer, and so it can be difficult not to think of this as just a transition phase. Something that Suzanne and I want to work on is making sure that we get the most out of this time, that we love deeply and care meaningfully for the people and places we encounter, even if we will leave them again before long.

Life on the road can be hard. But it can also be a meaningful place to find peace, as you realize what few things are actually there to hang on to. Some of my thoughts for the week.  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Ich bin eine Baustelle

In the middle of our travels through the Midwestern states, we find ourselves this morning in Branson, Missouri looking out across a beautiful college campus while eating our breakfast on a porch. Like most colleges, this one is fixing facades, cleaning out storage rooms and generally updating buildings and grounds during the summer holidays

The German city that we left two and a half weeks ago has also been undergoing some updating. The river that runs through the town of Kandern is being widened to avoid another flood like the one the town experienced over 100 years ago. The Germans plan ahead! The construction project has meant uprooting trees, purchasing portions of private property, widening riverbeds and rerouting water flow. The project has already taken over 18 months and is likely to be "Im Bau" another 9-12 months until completion.

Kandern construction as viewed from our living room window.
As we have re-entered the states and have been able to see friends, family and supporters, God has gently shown me the "Im Bau" signs in my life. Anxiousness and fear seem to characterize my interactions with others, and the overflow of my heart is not peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness or self-control.

Instead, I want to control Isaac's driving: "Turn here;" "You know, you can go through that light." I tend to make quick judgments of people and places: "This isn't how they do it in Germany." Some of these things are natural repercussions of reverse culture shock, but I sense their roots going deeper. There are attitudes to be uprooted and mindsets to be widened. I am reminded of Paul's challenge in Romans 12:2 to "be transformed by the renewing of [my] mind..." 

When friends ask about what we will be doing during this year of furlough, Isaac has graduate school to put on the conversational plate. My plate is empty. But through three weeks of pneumonia and three weeks of traveling, I am hearing a call to be purposely under construction this year. 

Ich bin eine Baustelle. I am a construction site. 

These words were on the bathroom marker board at our dear friends' house last night: 
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but by prayer and petition with thanksgiving present your requests to the Lord. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Phil 4:4-7
Isaac took the picture of Kandern construction so that we might see their amount of progress when we return to our assignment in a year. I pray we are able to see a great amount of God's progress in us during this same year. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Our Calling: MKs

Want to discover a bit more about what we do in Germany? Watch this short video (we're in it a couple times, too).

Black Forest Academy: At A Glance from Black Forest Academy Videos on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Well Is Deep

Jesus' encounters with women never really fascinated me until adulthood. The sordid pasts of his mother and great-great-grandmothers gave me hope when I first came to understand them: Tamar, the trickster; Rahab, the harlot; Ruth, the foreigner; Bathsheba, the adulteress; and Mary, who became pregnant out of wedlock. If he chose them, then maybe he could choose me: Suzanne, the sinner, the desirer of her own way.

Jesus & the woman at the well

Today through a domino series of link clicks, I found myself connecting with the Samaritan woman Jesus encounters at the well. Jesus approaches her in a manner that she can understand and is deliberate in his questions of her. She is honest in her responses, though it means sheer vulnerability of her own imperfect heart. Thirsty and in need of well water for her own and her family's well-being, she is confused and unsure of the ability (maybe even sanity) of the man talking to her when Jesus offers her "living water." "Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep" (John 4:11). 

Today I can relate to this woman. Jesus, I can't see your bucket, and the well looks so deep. Help my unbelief in your desire and ability to fill me until I overflow. 
 "My misgivings arise from the fact that I search within to find how He will do what He says. My doubts spring from the depths of my own inferiority. If I detect these misgivings in myself, I should bring them into the light and confess them openly— 'Lord, I have had misgivings about You. I have not believed in Your abilities, but only my own. And I have not believed in Your almighty power apart from my finite understanding of it.'" ~Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest
Lord, through this season of Lent, help me to trust you in your mighty power, your infinite resources and your very great love for me.  Bring me into the light. Amen.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Piano Classes

Group piano classes are not a common offering at the high school level, but it is exciting to watch them thrive as a good use of our personnel and facility resources. Not to mention, they're just fun. :) Things I love about group piano:
  • Positive peer pressure: it is healthy and motivating for students to learn music in a peer group. As a teacher, I work hard to help each class build camaraderie and a spirit of encouragement. I must admit, that's pretty easy to do with the students at BFA. It is so much fun to watch them challenge each other.
  • Varied literature: students are learning two to three times the amount of music that they would be learning in private lessons as they listen to their classmates perfect performance pieces alongside their own.
  • Ensemble playing: The first time I really played in an ensemble was in college. The experience was transforming to my playing and in helping me realize how God had put me together. I am energized by people, and when given an opportunity to play with others it is really incredible. For introverts and extraverts alike, the experience of playing with a group emphasizes skills like steady tempo, playing through mistakes and sight-reading. These skills are essential for a budding musician.

The picture below is of one of my Piano 1 classes last fall on a performance day. They're a mix of day and boarding students. All but one of them are in a Piano 2 class this spring. I have especially enjoyed watching them grow over two semesters this year. What a privilege it is to teach!