Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

This weekend while I am at Blogher, I’ll be sharing some more letters from my family in Ethiopia. This letter was written a few days ago by my sister Sophie.

Ethiopia has a way of sucking people in. Since I was in 7th grade, I’ve known that I would work in Africa. I didn’t know what I would do, but I still knew I would be here. After I spent a summer here, I knew that I was hooked. I’ll never be able to stay away. I even took a $20K/year pay cut so that my schedule would allow me to come. And apparently it’s not only me. Kara [fellow mission worker] was asked today if she would like to stay in Ethiopia and run a home for orphans and widows. Ron wants to build a house here so that he can live here for a month at a time. What is it about this place? Is it the beauty? Is it the poverty? Is it the food? Is it the pace of life? Is it the amazing amount of opportunity to make a real, tangible difference in lives?

Stephne [doctor’s wife who runs an orphanage] has a theory. She says that Africa has a very raw spirituality to it. In America, we gloss over our spirituality by going to church and doing all those good Christian things. We are not often reminded that “our battle is not against flesh and blood.” Here, the battle between good and evil is very evident, and raging around us. I am surrounded by just as many muslim mosques as Christian churches. The call to prayer is broadcast across the community on loudspeakers 5 times every day. People are constantly in positions of reverence.

Nearly every day, I learn of a “coincidence” that cannot be anything other than a work of or message from God. The sheer hopelessness in the lives of these people demands that they hold onto something. Their faith is the only thing that keeps them going. While in America, we can go for days/weeks/months without giving God a second thought. Here, that’s not an option.

Although I’m looking forward to coming home, I’m falling more and more in love with this place and these people. There is so much to be done. You can make a difference in lives here like is nearly impossible in America. God’s working on all of us. I’m excited to discover what He has in store for us! Love, Sophie

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Storm chasing

Growing up in Missouri I remember the storms. Bold and loud and grand. A lightning storm can be as good as fireworks, and a deluge of rain thrills you even as it drenches you to the skin.

But the ominous green sky of a tornado watch has a different feel. When the radio crackles with tornado warnings, you start thinking of the storm cellar you don’t have or the loved ones who aren’t near you and wonder just how rough it could get. Chances are, the tornado will pass you by. But you never know. And that uncertainty keeps you scanning the skies, unable to relax.

Tonight I know that feeling.

I don’t understand the people who chase twisters- who want to be in the thick of it, documenting the wildness of it all. That’s so beyond my comfort zone. But this evening, comfy or not, we’re chasing storms, wondering if we’ll get just a little wind. Or a big one.

As much as I wish we were home with our family instead of waiting for a storm, I am grateful to see the equipment studding this room like clunky, expensive jewelry. I am even more grateful to know the One who rules the storm.

Bring it on.

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How long does an EEG take?

Last night I turned to my favorite online resource ask.com and learned that an EEG takes perhaps an hour and a half to complete. I didn’t know enough about the future at that point, or I would’ve asked the same question about MRI’s. And as it turned out, those questions weren’t even the right questions. The real question– the agonizing one now hours after the fact is this: how long does it take to get information after these tests are performed? Foolish me– I didn’t look that far into the future. But the truth is, a terrabyte of web pages couldn’t have prepared me for the feeling of sitting next to a child of mine as an expensive machine clicked and scribbled and churned an inevitable path toward an unknown future.

The EEG was the first, and the easier of the tests. Just wires stuck with a little goop to my daughter’s head. Closed eyes and deep breathing and a band of squiggles wormed across a screen, scribbling hysterically each time she did something as small as clearing her throat or opening her eyes. My husband took time from work to stand at my shoulder. We strained to peer into the hazy future being drawn in cryptic squiggles. An hour. We left the room no more enlightened than we’d entered it. But at least that test was done.

We breathed a sigh of relief and went to lunch in the hospital cafeteria ‘on the house’, thanks to coupons given to us by the EEG tech. The french fries and coke and chocolate pudding made a few moments of the day seem light-hearted. We listened to our daughter chatter about her past life in Ethiopia– about a time of mischief, a joke she’d played on her first mom. We smiled. We relaxed a little. But never for a second did we let loose of the question floating in our brains. The question that drove us here.

All too soon it was time to set aside the chocolate and move forward again. The MRI this time. The mandatory hospital gown made this test feel more official, less friendly than the EEG. My daughter and I peeled off jewelry and set it aside. We were both grateful that I would be allowed in with her. The white of the big room was punctuated by lit panel-photos of a blue sky on the ceiling.

We were warned about the noise and given ear protection: spongy little earplugs for me, and headphones for my daughter that (she later said) played music from High School Musical and Enchanted. My daughter lay on a bed that reminded me of an oven rack being shoved into an oven. They’d told us this would be a long test– 45 minutes or so– about as long as it takes to bake a cake. Before they sent her into the machine’s belly, they gave her a panic button. “Push this if you can’t do it any more.”

She looked relieved to have been given an out. But I hoped she could handle this– get this done. We needed answers.

The machine clicked and roared to life and we were enveloped in a wash of sound. Beeps sang in one key for a monotonous semi-eternity, then the machine quieted and the oven rack jerked a bit forward and the machine revved up for its next session of micro-eternity, this time in a different key. Sitting next to her legs I could stroke my daughter’s ankle. At first our smiles to each other were bright and frequent, me trying to look encouraging and she trying to reassure me that she was still hanging in there.

But as the dull roar went on and on, we settled ourselves simply for endurance. There was not a clock anywhere in the room and I’d relinquished my watch for the privilege of being here. I tried to shoot a glance at my husband on the other side of the glass, looking with the techs at the computer screen that showed images of our daughter’s brain. Was he worried by what he saw? Reassured? The glare of lights made it impossible for me to see him, and I didn’t want to worry my daughter by twitching. So I sat lumpish, wishing for it to be done and enveloped in the terrible beeping that was marching toward the unknown.

And I feared. I feared that the beeps were measuring a narrowing gap…counting down the seconds that separated our normal life from….what? I didn’t know, but in that eternity I remembered every byte of information I’d read on ‘Dr’ Google and none of it was good. Maybe this limbo of noise and uncertainty was better than knowing. Better than discovering we had something terrible to fight.

The beeps paused and changed tone but the bed didn’t move. Were they lingering someplace? Why? Be done, be done, I thought, wishing that I was the one holding the panic button, or better yet, that I was the one in control of this blasted ride.

Let us off.

My daughter had gone off into the haze, just putting up with this. My hand on her leg was quiet– I didn’t want to pull her back if she’d gone someplace in her mind. Daydreaming was better than this hyper-alert state that had me feeling like every minute was an hour.

Droning. Beeping. Noise surrounding us, cutting us off from each other and the rest of the world. Cycle after cycle until I thought certainly hours must have passed.

Finally the machine wound down and doors opened and techs came back in to release my daughter and looked beyond to search my husband’s eyes for news.

He shrugged. Smiled almost apologetically. Nothing obvious, it seemed.

The roar in the room was gone, but there was a silent roar, a whirlwind inside my head. Still we knew nothing really. We would need to wait for a neurologist to read results, to tell us our future.

We drove home and I lay down and slept two hours.

Now, 12 hours later we still know nothing. Tomorrow may be the same. And the next. It may be late next week before the picture are seen and the squiggles are deciphered and the neurologist enlightens us.

Until then we will endure with this roar in our heads. This pressing question. This fear that battles fiercely against our faith.

Because when your 12 year old daughter has 6 seizures in 24 hours, you hunt -hope -persevere -fear -pray -endure – until the future opens its doors and lets you in. Ready or not.

(For those of you who know our daughter in real life, she would be uncomfortable being asked lots of questions about her health, but she would be very glad to know that you are praying for her.)

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Psalm 18:13-15

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Psalm 103:17
But from everlasting to everlasting
the LORD’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children.

My mother and my Eldest.

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I can’t think about that church without thinking about my father.

It was built 35 years ago when I was in kindergarten. We lived next door, and every day during the build my dad and I would walk around the building site inspecting the progress. First footings, deep in the earth. Then the forms for the concrete, rodded down the centers with rebar. I was there the day they poured the forms for the basement walls. When they pulled the forms away, the walls, not yet back-filled, looked spindly and unable to support the weight of a whole church.

The main level walls were made of brick. My dad and I watched the bricklayers in fascination. Daddy expounded on the characteristics of gothic arches as the skilled hands of the workers created them before my eyes. The windows set into those brick arches were my father’s pride and joy: gorgeous eighty-year old stained glass beauties salvaged from a church being torn down in inner-city St. Louis.

So much of my childhood was spent within those walls. Not only on Sunday where my father stood in the pulpit and my mother sat at the organ, but all my school days through 8th grade as well. The basement of the church was a 3 room schoolhouse. There were twenty or so kids in the whole school, 3 or 4 of whom were my siblings. The teacher? My dad. I suppose it is not surprising I’m a homeschooling parent now –I was practically homeschooled as a child. Except every morning I walked next door with my tin lunch box and spent the day with my dad.

We learned reading and writing and lots and lots of math. We drilled the rivers in Europe (the Danube, the Tiber, the Poe?) and the cities that St. Paul visited on his missionary trips (Thessalonica, Berea, Corinth). We learned parts of speech and German vocabulary. On Wednesdays after lunch we all put our heads down on our desks in the darkened classroom and listened to classical music for 20 minutes, sometimes in silence, and sometimes punctuated by comments from my dad. “Hear that? That’s an oboe. And there’s the flute….”

Friday mornings my mom and another mom arrived to teach art so my dad would have time to get his sermon written. Friday afternoons we cleaned the church top to bottom in preparation for Sunday mornings. The oldest boy and girl in the school had the dubious privilege of cleaning the bathrooms. Younger ones dusted and vacuumed and cleaned chalkboards and straightened hymnals

Recess time consisted of wiffleball played on the church parking lot. Along with the typical parking space lines used on Sunday mornings, bases were painted on the asphalt. I loved my father for letting me bring a book in the ‘outfield’– he also was an obsessive bibleophile and understood the urgency that makes you want to turn another page and another and another. But when I was up to bat, the book was tossed aside.

Daddy stood on the ‘pitcher’s mound’, tip of his tongue peeking out the corner of his mouth, all concentration, to deliver just the right pitch to each child. Gentle 3-feet-away lobs to the kindergarteners. His best sliding outside fastball to the 6th-grade Little League stars. Thanks to years of practice at recess time, I learned to hit a ball just fine. Still can.

In the summertime, our back yard was cooled by an ultra-practical cattle trough swim pool. Hours were spent there, swimming punctuated by runs around the church, part of an elaborate game that we called ‘around the world’. The north side of the church, right next to our house where oaks made deep shade, was Siberia to our swim-wet bodies. We hugged ourselves as we ran, shivering. The south side, where the heat collected and bounced between brick and asphalt, was Africa. Blessedly warm for the first 20 feet, but then your feet started to heat up. Run fast, or risk burned feet. Back we’d run to splash in the pool and do it all over again.

The church was initially built without a steeple, I suppose as a concession to the budget restraints of a tiny new congregation. But when I was 10 or so, the steeple came. It was cause for great excitement. I was disappointed that it didn’t have a real ringing bell, like on my beloved ‘Little House on the Prairie’ TV show. But bell or not, the steeple was the crowning touch. A few days later my dad took the whole school across the street for art class. We sat on the sidewalk and drew the church. He talked about perspective and shading, all the while drawing away himself.

My dad wasn’t content to let that building be only a church and a school. His ambitious creative brain led him to learn everything he could about printing. Then he proceeded to turn corners of the church basement into a full print shop, complete with a huge camera, a dark room, a three color offset printing press, and a lethal looking paper cutter. The printer took big metal plates that had been burned with images. His goal? To resurrect and reprint old books and Sunday school materials, and ship them to churches all over the world. Sometimes when print orders stacked up, the students in our little school were pressed into service to do ‘assembly’: walking around a big table picking up one each of a semester’s worth of Sunday school lessons. And repeat. And repeat. I remember being fascinated with the foreign addresses that my dad slapped onto the white cardboard boxes. I dreamed of going some of those places some day.

In the summertime as a young teen, I sat with my best friend on the church steps, boom box plugged into the outdoor outlet as we listened to Van Halen and Survivor and REO Speedwagon. Loud and bold until my dad would emerge from the house, then quickly quiet.

When I was 16 we moved away from that church and came out west to live near my mother’s family. I was too busy mourning the loss of my best friend to think about it back then, but it must have been hard for him to leave the little church into which he’d invested so much of himself. Somewhere I still have the drawing he did of the church that day we had art class across the street on the neighbor’s sidewalk.

I didn’t know that I only had four more years with him. That in four short years I would be married, with a baby, and that suddenly he would be gone, killed when a car fell on him, leaving us grieving the loss of him.

I went back to Missouri a decade after I’d left, five years after he died. I entered that little church, walked up the aisle to the pulpit and went to my knees in grief. The church was full of his spirit, thick with memories of him. It had been years since he’d died, but in that church that day it was as if he’d died the day before. As I knelt there weeping, with my best friend patting my shoulder and a confused key-keeper standing at the back of the church, I welcomed the sharp stab of pain.

Time tends to dull the ache of loss, which is mostly good. But it can make you feel like your loved one has been gone forever. To feel the agony afresh was welcome reminder, proof of all my father meant to me, of all he taught me and all the time he poured into me. Of all the precious memories he gave me.

I can’t think about my father without thinking about that church.

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I’ve been glum and off-balance and snappish and restless for no logical reason today. Except part way through the day, after pushing away the feelings a hundred times, I realized I did know why. My heart won’t quit aching for the loss that Steven Curtis Chapman and his family are facing. Maybe it is not terribly logical that I should be so very shaken up by something that happened to someone I mostly just know on the airwaves. But it is more personal than that.

You see, I have a five year old daughter too, as well as a son whom just yesterday got signed up for driver’s ed.

We have a driveway that the kids all play in. At the edge of it, about 8 feet back from the road, I’ve painted a line in white spray paint beyond which the little ones aren’t allowed to go. Drivers routinely check the driveway before backing out of the garage, then call out a warning to all children around. All the kids routinely go stand in the grass anytime there is a moving car in the driveway. Everything we can think of, we’ve done.

And yet still I know there are no guarantees. Still I know that terrible things can happen even with the best intentions and many safety precautions. A moment is all it takes. I am shaken and sad and so very aware of the gossamer nature of the thread we call life.

I am hugging my little ones more today. Feeling glad when I have each one accounted for.

Feeling grateful that I know there is hope for the future, and grateful that the Chapmans also have the promise and the knowledge that they will see their little one in heaven again someday.

But I also wish from the bottom of my heart that they could have her alive and well in their arms right now. To watch her grow up and have a normal life.

Just like I long to do with my own precious ones in the years that come.

And so I sit here in a swirl of emotions. Tenderness and gratitude and anger (Why, God, why?) and fear (please let my children live) and (YES!) faith and a wretched and overwhelming sadness for the loss that this family is facing.

Today, at least, there is no escape for me from the swirling cauldron of emotions.

And so I will pray.

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Psalm 61: 2-4

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plum tree
Song of Solomon 2:11-12

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Photo credit ZGirl
In quietness and trust is your strength.

Isaiah 30:15

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