Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Suitcase

If I had to choose an ornament from my tree to represent 2014, I suppose I would choose this one. A suitcase. Which is ironic because one of the things I hate most in life is packing a bag. I love to travel. I hate to pack. I put it off to the very last minute, and it is about the only time EVER that I actually resort to whining. But I'm learning to accept packing and suitcases as a regular part of life these days. 

In 2014 I:
  • crossed the Atlantic 6 times
  • took over 20 trains
  • set foot in 4 countries
Compared to those who travel for business, my miles are fairly conservative. But compared to my life ten years ago, where I rarely left Spokane, my miles are significant. I can't even count the number of times I've packed my suitcase, as the above numbers don't take road trips into account. But I do know that there were only three months out of the year (Feb, Mar, Jul) that I didn't use my suitcase, and there were many months (May, Jun, Aug, Oct, Nov) when I used it multiple times. 

And mostly I like the activity. I love the things that I get to do, the ministies with which I am involved, and the people I get to meet and serve. It all comes at a lovely season in life, as my boys are becoming more independent and I have been able to begin seminary and make greater investments outside of the home. The travel itself can be exhausting, but the reasons for the travel are extremely After four and half years in France, I am finally finding my sweet spot. 

The Lord gave me the word, "fly" for 2014, and apparently it had both literal and figurative meaning. Being married to a pilot, I have many tiny airplanes hanging on my tree. So why did I choose the suitcase instead of un avion? I think it's because the flights represent the changes and transitions, but the suitcase stays the same. In the suitcase, I have my essentials. No matter where I go, the clothes I bring are pretty much the same. I pack my necessities, and while I don't have much, I always have enough. Seasoned travelers--of which I am becoming one--travel light. They quickly learn that having too much is not an asset, it's a liability. 

This has been a year of learning what is essential. Of clinging tightly to the things that matter, and releasing freely everything else.  

There is already a decent bit of travel on the calendar for 2015, not to mention a move. We will be relocating--still in France--to plant a church in another village. I suppose the suitcase may be a lasting icon for my life. In some ways, I was made to be a vagabond. In other ways, my feet long for a place to root. A nest that feels like home. A place to belong. Suitcase people belong everywhere and nowhere all at once. I need to let my heart find its continual rest in Jesus while my body practices perpetual motion. And I'm learning to lean into the comfort of the few brave souls that God has given me as refuges--they are like spiritual docking stations located around the globe. These people carry me with their prayers, sustain me by their encouragement, and bless me with their love. They know how a kind word spoken at the right moment can traverse any distance. They help me stay connected to my source. 

So as the year draws to a close, and I replay with wonder the joys and the sorrows that have graced 2014, I'm thankful. Thankful for suitcases and docking stations. For meetings and partings. For God's kingdom work around the globe, and the tiny role I get to play in his redemptive drama. 

And now, I kid you not, I need to go pack. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Counting by Subtraction

We count our blessings by addition. That's how it's done.

But I wonder, can we also count our blessings by subtraction? 

Can we look at the things that have been taken from us, and count ourselves blessed? Can we see the grace of God by what he gives AND by what he takes away?

Often when we pass through the valleys of life well-meaning people will tell us to think of those who have it worse. In the beloved movie White Christmas, Bing sings, "When my bankroll is getting small, I think of those who have none at all, and I fall asleep counting my blessings." 

Is this how we are meant to traverse the trials of life? There are two major problems with this approach! First, it reveals a tremendous lack of compassion for those whose struggles are greater than my own. The fact that I have it better than another person is no reason to rejoice! That thought should double my grief, not ease it. Second, this approach fails for the one is at the bottom of the pile. Finally someone has it worse than everyone else. Where is their consolation? I don't think that God ever advocates the comparison technique. It's great to have perspective so that we don't become completely overwhelmed by a hangnail, for example. But we can't grade God's grace on a curve. His grace and love are always 100% for every living being. 

If I start there-- if I begin with the belief that come what may, God is always acting on my behalf with amazing grace and unending love, then I look at my trials through different lenses. In fact, I think we need such lenses--corrective lenses--to see our life and our circumstances more clearly. 

So while 2014 has been a beautiful and blessed year in so many ways, we have also had the privilege of walking a difficult path, where regret threatened to overwhelm us. But the mighty hand of God proved greater and stronger than all our shame.

Many of you know that back when we lived in the States, our house flooded severely. We lost everything on the ground floor of our home and it took more than six months to rebuild and refurnish. Because our house was situated in a 100-year flood plain, and because the house hadn't flooded in 80 years, we figured that we had suffered our one flood for our lifetime. We put great care into every detail of the rebuilding, believing that this would be the home where we would spend the rest of our lives. And then God called us to France. So we rented out our home, believing that keeping it would allow us to continue paying off a mortgage so that when we finally retired we would have a paid-for house. 

But the house flooded again in 2012. By this time we were in France. Renters were left homeless and we were left without renters for another 4 months of renovations, which we managed to negotiate from France because we had enormous help from dear friends in Spokane. 

Once again restored, the house was happily occupied by a young widow and her four children. She loved the house! And we were thrilled to have such a great renter. The only problem was that house needed a new roof. We had saved some towards a new roof, but we were far from having the full sum. Then David's beloved Granny died and left us an inheritance. While it wasn't millions, it was probably the most money we had ever had at our disposal in one lump sum. We thanked God for his provision, and we spent every penny of it on a new roof for our house. That was in October of 2013.

Then, in 2014, the house flooded again. Severely. Twice.

 That made four floods in eight years. Clearly, the "100-year flood plain" designation was no longer accurate. We looked at having the house raised and numerous other options, but in the end, we couldn't find anything that would work.

So we found ourselves with the grave realization that we could not continue to rent out a house that flooded every other year. We could not sell a house that flooded every other year. Nor could we afford the mortgage on a house that flooded every other year when God had called us to be missionaries in France.

We didn't regret buying the house, because there wasn't a single day that I lived in that house that I did not sense God's hand of grace on our lives there. We had many, many happy days in Spangle. But we did regret the fact that we were helpless to repay a loan on a house that was no longer habitable. And we did regret that fact that we had just put a beautiful new roof on an uninhabitable house. And we scratched our heads and wondered how that inheritance--which had seemed like such a blessing at the time, had slipped through our hands into oblivion. 

We did our best to keep up on the mortgage while we explored options, but in the end, the only option that made sense was what the bank called a "Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure." The bank got the house and all of the insurance money for the last two floods, and we walked away without any further mortgage obligations. We couldn't even take the new roof with us. The fig trees failed to blossom....

Yet, I will praise him. 

There is no amazing twist to the end of this story. Sometimes God works a miracle and turns a lousy situation into something great. But sometimes lousy is the end of the story. The story of our house, our retirement plan, our new 30-year roof, ends in loss. 

Yet, I will praise him.

Because his love for me is not revealed through my circumstances. His love for me is revealed despite my circumstances. His care for me is sure. He knows the plan in full, I only see parts. My house is gone. But my feet are sure. Like the feet of a deer. He makes me able to walk on the rocky cliffs.

In fact, I think I finally understand what Paul meant when he wrote, "Whatever were gains to me, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ." 

The cost of true discipleship is not cheap. Following Jesus costs me everything. I know this. But do I hold my blessings in an open hand? Am I in love with the blessings or the bless-er? And if all the blessings were suddenly gone, would I still praise him? His love for me is unconditional...but is my love for him unconditional? 

Yet, I will praise him.

I will praise him because he saved me. He fills me with joy and he grants me his peace. His love is inexhaustible and his grace is greater than all my sin. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, which means that wherever he leads, I will follow. But if I want to go to the heights with the Lord, I need sure feet and empty hands. And so when the Lord takes something dear from my hands, I can be sure he is taking me to the heights. And I can praise him.

Can you count your blessings by subtraction? When he takes something from your hands can you count the loss among your blessings? What have you lost this year? Yet, will you praise him?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

An Unlikely Christmas Letter

Advent. The season of anticipation, where we look forward to the coming Christ. It's also a time when many of us look back over the year, reflect and evaluate. As we prepare to write those Christmas letters, we look for highlights and focus on the positive. No one wants to read about hardship and suffering, so we all become spin doctors, putting a shine on the stories we choose to share.

And while I understand the heart behind these glad tidings, while I rejoice that your child is on the honor roll and I'm thrilled that you finally took that long-anticipated vacation, and I'm excited that your remodeling project turned out even better than expected (if not a wee bit over budget), I find myself asking if maybe we are missing something.

Don't get me wrong, I hear (and I share!) your genuine gratitude for the many ways that God has blessed you this year. And there is nothing wrong--in fact there are many things right--with taking time to recognize the hand of God in our lives. We bless God for the good things. As well we should. But have we learned to bless God for the bad things?

Can we appreciate the sovereignty and grace of God in the messy parts of life, and bless him? I wonder what would happen if, in all sincerity, my Christmas Letter read like Habakkuk 3, where the prophet speculates about a season of total and utter disaster. The fig trees don't blossom, there are no grapes on the vine, the olives fail, and the fields produce no crops. To top it all off, there are no sheep in the pens and no cattle in the stalls. Remembering that Habakkuk was speaking to a group of people whose total livelihood was dependent on agriculture, this is a pretty grim picture.

Can you go there? Maybe, in fact, you have been there this year. Maybe everything that you attempted failed. Maybe your child is not on the honor roll, but is struggling to earn passing grades. Maybe you didn't take a vacation--and you can't imagine that you will ever be able to afford one. Maybe remodeling isn't in the picture because you can barely keep up with the mortgage. Add to that the death of a beloved pet, a scary health diagnosis, and a fractured friendship, and we'd be getting close to the what Habakkuk was talking about. In essence, the Christmas Letter in Habakkuk 3 reads like a tragedy in verses 16 and 17. Which is why the following verses are so profound. Habakkuk basically describes a worst-case scenario, and then he says this:

yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Why is Habakkuk joyful? Is this that fake Christian "paste a smile on your face and don't let anyone see your pain" sort of rejoicing? Is this some platitude of what "should" be, but something that no one actually experiences? Or does Habakkuk live in the State of Washington, where pot is now legal? The following verse gives even greater depth to what Habakkuk is describing:

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.

No, this is not a shallow joy. This is the hard-won joy of a weay traveler. The sovereign Lord--that is to say, the one who allowed all of the crops to fail, the one who had the power to stop my suffering and didn't, the one who may have even ordained such pain for my life--the sovereign Lord is my strength. Have I learned to let the sovereign Lord be my strength? Do I trust the one who brought me TO the hard places to take me THROUGH the hard places?

Here's how I'll know. My feet will be agile, able to tread on the heights. Agile feet don't get bogged down by rough terrain. Agile feet keep moving. Agile feet love to run broad meadows, but they are not detered by steep cliffs. Many of us want to tread on the heights, but we are not willing to scale the mountains. The heights are often discoved through the depths. 

When I finally grasp that, then suffering becomes a welcome friend--an invitation to climb a mountain with the one who will make me sure-footed. 

To be continued...
Later this week, I'll share our Habakkuk 3 experience from 2014.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Tending or Sending?

I spent the first half of the week at a conference in Lyon that brings together leaders from 9 different French denominations to work to accelerate the rate of church planting in France. This conference is part of a three-year project, where participants gather every six months for a little teaching and a lot of figuring out how to understand and apply what was taught so that, working together, the National Council of French Evanglicals can reach their goal of tripling the existing number of churches in France. This was the third of six gatherings over the three-year period, and I came away, once again, blessed  and amazed by the work that God is doing here. 

It will take more than one blog to summarize even just the high points! Let me start by telling you about the first speaker, Jeff Fountain. Fountain is the former director of YWAM Europe and the founder of the Schuman Centre for European Studies. He talked about the history of Christianity in Europe and its relationship to the the state of Europe today. Missiologist Lesslie Newbingen says (and Fountain agrees) that the difference between the pre-Christian pagan and the post-Christian pagan can be likened to the difference between a virgin and a divorcee. Europe was fundamentally shaped by the Gospel, and subsequently by its rejection of the Gospel. But Fountain is not discouraged. He sees how these roots of Christianity have benefitted Europe and believes it is time to reclaim those roots!

Fountain talked a lot about "soft powers" and the "powerful minority," harkening back to how Christians in Europe have succeeded in impacting their continent through powers like forgiveness and reconcilliation. The demolition of the Berlin wall in 1989 was the result of some such efforts. He encouraged the church to persist in these efforts, bringing life and truth into the comunities where they are planted. He also reminded us that Church Planting was not the end goal--God's Kingdom coming on earth is the end goal. Church Planting is just one of the means we can use to achieve that goal. In fact, Jesus spoke very little about the Church, and a great deal about the Kingdom of God. Which  one are we pursuing?

Finally, Fountain pointed out that we, the church, tend to prepare people to work in the church and not in the world. Those who are celebrated and considered faithful are the ones building up the church--when really the church is called to be serving the the world, not itself. We train pastors to tend their flocks rather than send their flocks. And we create churches that are ends in themselves. This needs to change.

I'll be reading Fountain's book, Living as People of Hope, over the Christmas break. This man has important things to say to the Church today, particularly to the Church in Europe. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

In His Courts

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of teaching a class on Leadership. While it is a subject with which I am fairly comfortable, it was a big challenge for me because all of the teaching was done in French. I prepared for months, had lots of help, and benefitted from much prayer. And (thanks be to God!) in the end I actually had a lot of fun and it seems like the teaching was well received. 

I asked the students to create a Biblical model of leadership
based on the principals that I outlined
This lovely classroom is at a retreat center near Grenoble, where 65 women gathered to begin a two-year training program that is designed to equip and empower them for ministry. The program is called Zoé, and it is a ministry offered by LifeSprings International. Students attend classes just three Saturdays a year over two years, and in between sessions they have homework, coaching, and a minnistry project that they must complete. LifeSprings has been providing this type of training in Europe for several years, but this was the first time that it was being offered in French.

Students hard at work on the their models
while I survey their progress
Women ranged in age from early 20s to mid 60s, each one passionate about the work of Christ and his call on their lives. Most of them work full-time jobs while volunteering in key ministry positions. 

Holding one group's model of leadership
so that a student could present it to the class
I taught the same course to students at a Torchbearer's Bible College that same week. Also in French. And for those of you wondering why Hawkeye Pierce  is peering over my shoulder it is because I used a three-minute clip from the TV series M*A*S*H in my teaching.

In some ways, teaching a class on Leadership is no big deal. In other ways, for me, it was monumental. Because there was a time, not too long ago, when French was such a struggle that I honestly wondered if God would ever use me in this way again. And to tell you truth, I got to the place where it would have been perfectly fine with me if I never got asked to speak again. I used to need to do this stuff to feel validated and important. By stripping me of my gifts for a season, I learned to bask in the unmerited love of the Father. Now when I teach, I am all about Him and the ones I am called to serve, and I'm no longer seeking validation for myself. I used to be building the Kingdom of Jenn. How ashamed I am to say it! Now I'm building the Kingdom of God. Better is one day His courts than thousands eslewhere! 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Shallows

I recently spent a week attending some classes for my master's program at the Portland, OR campus of George Fox University. Since I went to high school in Lake Oswego and spent my early married years in the same area, I was in my own stomping grounds. I had a GPS with me, but after a couple of days it malfunctioned, and I quickly realized that I actually had no need for the device. I was in familiar territory, able to navigate from the recesses of my own memory, even though I hadn't lived in the area for over 15 years. 

Fast forward one month. David had gone to Paris for the day, and when he returned I had to pick him up from a nearby train station. The station is in the town of Amboise, about 20 minutes from Loches. Though I've been there many times, I would've been completely lost without my GPS. We've lived in the same house for 3 years now, and the only place I drive without the GPS is the local grocery store. 

Granted, I do a lot less driving overall in France in that I did in the States. But still, the difference in my ability to navigate here is a little disconcerting. I've never HAD to get around in France without a GPS, and as a result, I have become entirely dependent upon it. Which kind of makes me feel like I'm getting dumber. And then I remember that I've learned a new language in that same time frame, so maybe I shouldn't reduce my intelligence to my capacity for navigation.

Nevertheless, the experience got me thinking about the effects of modern technological advances on the workings of the human brain. I've been reading a book on the subject, and frankly, I find the research to 1.) Accurately reflect my experience and 2.) Prove that the dangers are real.

In his book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr explains how different technological advances have changed not only how humans interact with the world and each other, but how our interaction with technology can actually change us. For example, consider how the invention of the clock changed human behavior. Carr writes, "In deciding when to eat, to work, to sleep, to wake up, we stopped listening to our senses and started obeying the clock. We became a lot more scientific, but we became a bit more mechanical as well."

Looking back through history, how humans have stored and shared knowledge has evolved with technological advances. Originally knowledge was passed on orally. Eventually writing was invented, and a few elite members of society were given the privilege of learning to read and write. Scrolls or tablets belonged to either very wealthy people or they were communal property, stored in places such as churches or monasteries. For reasons of limited access and limited education, reading was a public activity, always done orally so that many could benefit.

It wasn't until the invention of the printing press in 1439 that books became both portable and inexpensive, thereby giving access to the masses. That technological advance was so significant that many scholars were skeptical. They believed that such indiscriminate access to information could have a negative effect on society as a whole. 

The printing press didn’t just change WHO could read and WHAT could be read, it changed HOW humans engaged in the act of reading. Instead of being a public activity, for the first time in history, reading became a personal and private activity. People were more reflective, contemplative, and engaged in the information that was available to them.

The printing press also changed how people wrote. Not only did written structure become more concise and less repetitive, people were willing to write different things. There are some things that one might not dare to read aloud around a campfire, but would delight to read at home alone. Thus, the reason for the lament over the ills of the printing press.

Fast forward 550 years. Passing by inventions such as radio and television, we arrive at the age of the Internet. Like books, radio and TV are one-way media--information can only flow in one direction. The Internet changed not only how we are sharing knowledge, but made knowledge sharing bi-directional--or rather multi-directional as many can interact with the same subject simultaneously. 

While reading books is a slow, linear process, reading on the Internet has become multi-dimensional, with links offering unlimited distractions. In fact, the Net is essentially one long stream of distractions. And while all of that input and information is stimulating, it is changing the way humans work and think. Here are just a few of the shocking conclusions that Carr draws from results of numerous research endeavors:
"The Net's cacophony of stimuli short-circuits both conscious and unconscious thought, preventing our minds from thinking either deeply or creatively." 
"In reading online, Maryanne Wolf says, we sacrifice the facility that makes deep reading possible. We revert to being 'mere decoders of information.' Our ability to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction remains largely disengaged." 
"We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the division of our attention and the fragmentation of our thoughts, in return for the wealth of compelling or at least diverting information we receive. Tuning out is not an option many of us would consider."
Attentiveness, memorization, and deep thinking are becoming lost arts--and their loss has critical implications for our ability to be creative and innovative. But it is not only our intellect that suffers. It turns out that our ability to show empathy and compassion is also diminished by distractions. 

So The Shallows has me rethinking not only how much time I spend online, but how I spend that time. I find that I can hardly sit through an entire movie at home without checking email, playing Words with Friends, or browsing Facebook. The distractions don't have to come looking for me, I go looking for them. And now that I know that such behavior is actually re-wiring my brain, I'm concerned. And I plan to do something about it. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Popping the Cork!

Tonight we are celebrating! David is going to be flying again.

We learned today that David's request for a new visa has been approved! He is being granted a three-year card that will give him the right to work in France. 

Back in June he was approached by a man who owns an air taxi service in Orléans. The business owner has planes that are all US registered, and David's licenses allow him to fly a plane anywhere in the world as long as  it has a US tail number. David will be employed to fly individuals (typically business owners) to and from various locations on a contract basis. He will not have steady hours, though he will be able to take and turn down work as he chooses, and he should be able to set his schedule weeks in advance. He hopes to work just one or two days a week--which would go a long way in helping to pay my educational expenses without taking David away from his ministry here. So the whole family benefits!

Join us in praising God for this provision. David loves to fly! The fact that he will earn a few euros on the side is icing on the cake. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Kind of Cool

There was a time in my life when the idea of crossing oceans on planes and Europe on trains would have sounded downright dreamy. Now that I'm living it--well, let's just say that while I love every minute of it, it's not always what I expect. 

Take yesterday. I was on my way to the Rhône-Alpes region of France, where I will be spending the weekend ministering in a variety of ways. The first train that I took was a high speed train that went from Tours to Lyons in three short hours. My next train was a regional train, that made several stops in small villages between Lyon and Grenoble. And then in Grenoble, this ancient inter-cities train pulled up on the track.

It was rusty and covered in graffiti, and then engine made smells that seemed to indicate distress of some kind. It was not at all what I expected. And definitely not glamorous. Rickety is more like it. I actually questioned the wisdom of getting on such a train, but what choice did I have? The ticket had been bought, and twenty minues down the line, someone would be waiting for me.

That is a pretty good metaphor for the missionary life. We live life between two places, and most of the time we keep going in the journey simply because we bought the ticket and we trust that God has someone waiting for our arrival. The how and the when and the where don't always look safe or reliable, but we get on the train just the same. And in the end, we look back and realize that the very thing that seemed scary or even unsafe, was actually kind of cool. And we're glad to have had the experience.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Among Us

After being tempted for 40 days in the desert, Jesus began teaching in Synagogues throughout Galilee. And then he went to the synagogue in Naazareth--his hometown.

Jesus stood before the assembly to read. Luke tells us that he was handed the book of Isaiah. Jesus didn't choose the book, but he chose the passage. And he read these words that had been written about him more than 500 years before he graced the earth with his presence:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord."

Then he sat down. But all eyes were still on him.

And there, among his people, sitting in their midst, he says, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

Next, Jesus will tell them some rather shocking news, but he doesn't do it from the pulpit. He doesn't say hard things from a distance, as if to place himself above the crowd. He is Emmanuel, even in this moment. He is God with us.

And so he continues his message, speaking to friends, neighbors, family members, and ancient rabbis who had taught him to read scripture in the first place. I imagine his sincerity, and his sadness. He knows that they are not going to like what he has to say. He anticipates the coming rejection. And yet he speaks the words that will enrage this crowd so severely that they will attempt that very day to throw him off of a cliff. Friends, neighbors, and family members, no less.

Jesus begins to talk about some well-known stories from the Torah. First he reminds them of the great famine during the days of Elijah. He says that while there were plenty of hungry widows in Israel, Elijah was sent to the aid of Zarapeth, who was in Sidon. Then Jesus tells them that in the days of Elisha there were lepers in Israel, but Elisha only healed Naaman, the Syrian."

And for that, they tried to kill him.

It seems to be a rather strong reaction to the retelling of some stories right out of thier own scriptures. But Jesus didn't just tell the stories, he pointed out something significant about those stories. Something that had perhaps gone unnoticed in prior readings. And Jesus' obsevations favored the "outsiders" over the "insiders."

I can't quite come up with a modern day equivalent to what happened, and in many ways it would be wrong to pull this account out of its historical context. But this gist of it is this: Jesus told the religous regulars that God cares about those who are not part of their congregation. He told them that healing and freedom and hope were being poured out on those whom they had scorned and rejected. And the good church people went postal.

I struggle with this story--because I am one of the good church people. I am a Christian "insider." When I read this story, I picture myself sitting on the second pew on the left hand side of the synagogue, feeling smug in my chosen-ness.

I begin to wonder if Jesus has turned his back on his own people, and then I remember that he sitting among them. Counting himself as one of them. One of us.

He isn't drawing dividing lines, he's erasing them. No more were there to be "insiders" and "outsiders." No more us and them.

I think that was his point.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Ten Totally Trivial Tidbits

  1. Friday morning I walked to prayer, as usual, at 7 a.m. After morning prayer, as usual, I remained at church to do Pilates with some friends. As I slipped off my shoes, I noticed something most UNUSUAL. I was wearing two different shoes. I thought I was over my exhaustion, but perhaps I'm still a little bit tired.
  2. I am still buying apples as if Graham were living here. Graham is an apple-addict, consuming, on average, two or three apples per day. He has done that since he was like 5 years old. So yesterday I went to the grocery store, loaded up on apples, and when I got home I discovered that the fruit basket was still overflowing with apples from my last shopping trip. Stuff like that makes Graham's absence so very tangible. I miss him. Meanwhile, I better start making pies.
  3. Chandler preached his first sermon a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, it was when I was in the States, so I missed it! But it sounds like it went well. Our church is doing a series on the Ten Commandments, so David assigned Chandler the commandment that says "Honor your father and mother." 
  4. Jack and Gemma have fleas. Again. Or still. I'm afraid fleas are my new normal.
  5. I've been increasing the number of miles that I run--which, you know, seemed like a good thing to do after running the same distance (three miles) for the past seventeen years. I'd hate to get in a rut. But I've somehow injured my hip, and I'm not sure what to do about it. The pain isn't bad--so I keep running. But it has persisted for three weeks now, so I'm also a bit concerned. Any advice?
  6. I love seminary, and I love most of the books that I read for my classes, but I am feeling deeply deprived of fiction. I am taking recommendations for FICTION books to read over the Christmas holiday. What delicious, well-written, stories should I read? Go!
  7. I forgot to bring corn syrup back from the States--a critical ingredient for the caramel recipe that my family loves this time of year. Bummer!
  8. When I was a child, I went to a summer camp in the Texas Hill Country called "His Hill." It was there where I first heard a woman preach the Bible, and I think it was during those summer months that I first began to feel a call to ministry. His Hill was run by Torchbearer's International, which is a Bible Training Ministry. Our camp counselors were all Bible students in the program. Are you still with me? There is a point. I promise. Next week I will be teaching a Leadership Class at a Torchbearer's Bible School in France. How cool is that? 
  9. We haven't yet figured out if we will be celebrating Thanksgiving this year, but we need to decide soon because we have to give the Turkey farmer enough time to fatten up a bird for us. And yes, I realize that is a first-world problem.
  10. David and I had a great meeting with the president of our denomination this week. We have some direction on our future ministry opportunities. Please pray for wisdom ad direction, as there are three options before us. I'll fill you in on the details soon!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Holy, holy is he

In my Old Testament class we have been reading through Exodus, Leviticus, and the beginning of Numbers. I've read this material before, but I read it this time wearing an "academic" hat. I was trying to be unbiased, analytical, and careful, hoping to have fresh insights and a new perspective.

But the reality is, these texts are challenging. God's behavior is somewhat shocking, and his anger seems to be, well, out of control. At one point the Israelites push him to his limit, and he declares to Moses a desire to wipe them all out and start over. Moses, by reminding God of his own character and his own promises, talks God off the ledge--and God repents (Exodus 34:14). The Scriptures actually use that word. Which doesn't indicate that God had sinned in anyway, because "repent" simply means "to turn 180°." In other words God was going towards an annihilation scenario, and he changes his direction and chooses to rescue rather than destroy the wayward Israelites.

Still, the idea of God “blowing his top” is unsettling to us New Testament believers who like to view God through the lens of Jesus. It is not wrong to understand God’s character through the person of Jesus Christ. After all Jesus said that if we have seen him we have seen the Father (John 14:9). But then what do we do with the Old Testament texts that show God to be angry enough to kill off his chosen people.

And it’s not like this is a novel concept, because God had already started over with Noah. In other words, the God to whom Moses was talking had a history of destroying people and starting again.

So for weeks I wrestled with these texts, getting into heated discussions with my classmates. We were each dealing with the God of the Wilderness Wanderings in different ways. Some tended to think that the Old Testament writers must have gotten it wrong. Believing that these descriptions of God were not accurate, these classmates suggested demoting these texts in our theology. I couldn’t go there.

Yet, I wasn’t sure where to go.

Then I went to a worship service. As I sang “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain. Holy, holy is he,” I felt big tears well up in my eyes. In that moment it hit me. All of that anger that God shows in the Old Testament, that righteous, red-hot anger, did not just evaporate one day. That anger was poured out on Jesus, when he bore the sins of the whole world on the cross. God restrained himself from expressing his anger just until he could take it upon himself. And he did it because he longs to be gracious to us.

But if I minimize the anger of God in the Old Testament, I also minimize the work of Christ on the cross. If I am tempted to say, “God wasn’t THAT mad” or that “sin isn’t THAT bad” I misunderstand both his holiness and my wretchedness. And I miss the profundity of the reconciliation that Jesus, our mediator, makes possible.

The point of the cross is that Jesus paid it all. I’ve always understood the reality that Jesus took on my sin. But I’ve failed to recognize that in taking on my sin, Jesus also took on the wrath of God—God’s holy and righteous anger about my sin.

And so I wept. As a result of deep, intellectual and theological exegesis I had a deeply emotional spiritual experience. In such moments the experience of Seminary becomes highly personal. Head knowledge informs heart knowledge, and I am moved.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Learning to Stop

Life has been a bit irregular.

Due to travel and transitions, I have seen my husband a total of 13 days out of the past 10 weeks.

Since October 1, I have slept in 7 different beds in 7 different cities and spent over 50 hours traveling by plane, train, and automobile.

And (much to our delight) some of our dearest friends came to visit us from the States, so of the 13 days that David and I have spent together, 3 of them were spent hostng a wonderful and generous family in our home. Yestderday, David went with those friends to Paris for a few days. He'll come home tomorrow.

So today I woke up at 6 a.m. (like I do every weekday), planning to spend an hour alone with the Lord, then go to morning prayer, followed by a 5 mile run. After that I planned to attend a small group and get busy with my homework and all of the ministry responsibilities that I have placed on the backburner. Oh, and I need to schedule a hair cut for Chandler, and take his watch in for repair, and..., and..., and....

Did I mention that in this time frame I celebrated my Dad's 80th birthday with family (Graham was there! So I hugged the stuffing out of him!). Or that my Mom had a total knee replacement followed by post-operative complications that landed her in the cardiac ward?

And then, two days ago, our clothes dryer stopped working.

Anyway, all of that is why I say, "Life has been a bit irregular."

Having Type A tendencies (read: DRIVEN) I just keep plowing ahead, resisting fatigue (no time for jetlag!) and denying the fact that I feel completely overwhelmed.

I tell myself things (half-truths, really) like, "Life is tough all over, suck it up, Buttercup. Nobody likes a whiner." The whole truth is, I am so afraid of appearing weak--or worse, failing--that I forget that my life, and all its craziness, is meant to be lived in surrender to God, not according to my own precious plans.

So, when I woke up at 6 a.m. to spend time alone with God, he spoke very clearly to me.

"Go back to bed."

"But God, I need to run!"

"No, you have been running, you need to rest."

"But God, I have JOB! There is ministry I need to do."

"You are taking a personal day. Cancel all appointments. Now."

"But God, I'll get behind in my classes."

"You'll learn everything you need to know."

"The sabbath is just two days away. You know I always rest on the Sabbath. I can make it two more days.

"When was the time you took a Sabbath?"

"September. The last Saturday in September. No wonder I'm tired."

"Go back to bed," God said. "And when you wake up, here is your agenda:

  • Write a Blog
  • Play a game with Chandler
  • Take Gemma on a Walk
  • Read a book
  • Crochet"

If life could be likened to a game of "Red Light, Green Light," I'd say I'm pretty good at "Go, go, go." I 'm still learning to "Stop."

Today I finally stopped. I went back to bed and slept until 10 a.m. I'm thankful for God who ordains rest.

For he grants sleep to the ones that he loves.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


David will arrive home at 13h00 tomorrow (and there was great rejoicing!).

Then four and half days later (113 hours, that is) I leave for 15 days (and there was great sadness!).

But while I am away, I will be attending classes at George Fox (rejoicing!), celebrating my Dad's 80th Birthday (rejoicing!), and seeing my first born son (great rejoicing!).

Meanwhile, I will miss Chandler's first round of Parent/Teacher conferences (sadness!).

And so it goes, the crazy, transient missionary life we lead. I live the life of which Dickens wrote in Great Expetations: "Pip, dear old chap, life is made of ever so many partings welded together"

So. Many. Partings.

Some temporary, some seasonal, some indefinite.

What do you do with the partings in your life? Do you resist them? Endure them? Embrace them? 

I can only imagine how the discples felt when Jesus told them that he was going away. I'd have cried like a baby. 

"Going? How can you GO?  We need you here! What will we do without you? Don't you care about us? Won't you miss us? Please. Please don't go."

And he left. With this cryptic promise: I will never leave you nor forsake you.

We know at least two reasons that Jesus left, after having conquered sin and death. He went to prepare a place for us, and he went so that he could send the comforter.

In preparing a place, Jesus says, "I'm going to make you a forever home" and in sending the comforter he says "I'm going to make your heart my home,"  

Jesus leaves to put an end to the leaving. 

And even today, should we be seperated from everyone that we love, he remains. His presence  can be found in every corner of the earth at every hour of the day. He is my constant companion, my faithful friend, 

But beyond that, Jesus, by the gift of his spirit, is the one who welds those partings together. In this, we can hold loosely to the ones that we love, trusting them into the capable care of the one who first loved us.

So I will hug my husband's neck these next four days. I'll gaze into his eyes, and listen to his heart, and hold his beautiful, scruffy face in my hands. Then I'll fly to Portland and eat cake with my Dad and laugh with my sisters and squeeze my oldest boy until my strength gives out. And then I'll fly back to France, and play games with Chandler, and run with friends, and kiss my husband again and again. I'll be wholly wherever I am, knowing that the Holy one is both where I am and where I am not--welding the partings together.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

My Bench

A bench sits in the entry way
To welcome weary guests
To beckon them to stop and stay
And linger in our nest

The bench is meant to bear much weight
For once it was a pew
Where faithful men and women prayed
And worshiped Jesus, too

But my son has another aim
For the bench that I love
And so the squatter has staked his claim
I fear he will not budge

Alas! Chandler a locker lacks
And so, as you can see
His school day lands in clumsy stacks
Upon my bench indeed.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


On Friday, the unthinkable happened.

I dropped my iPhone in the toilet.

I had put it in my back pocket, and when I went to use the facilities, well, it sort of slipped out and SPLASH!

After a moment's hesitation, I plunged my bare hand into the depths and boldly retrieved my sunken friend, somehow feeling grateful that it was, at least, my own toilet.

But the screen was black. He was already dead.

I removed the bionic casing that would have protected my phone had I dropped it from my upstairs window. And then, after some basic sanitation efforts, I placed it in a bowl of rice. All of the advice on the Internet suggested leaving the phone in the rice for at least 24 hours. I left it for 48.

When I finally pulled it from the rice, and charged it, I discovered that the sound was working, but the screen was completely blank. I could hear alerts and talk to Siri, but I could not answer calls or read emails or shuffle through music.

So I left it for another day. Still no change.

David, who knows my propensity for accidental phone destruction, had purchased the maximum possible insurance plan. "Just go down to the phone store, Jenn," he encouraged me, "They'll replace your phone."

This morning I stood in a crowded cell phone store, awaiting the assistance of the one and only clerk. When it was my turn I told him my sad story.

"I dropped my phone in the toilet."

He asked my phone number, looked up my insurace plan, and said, "All you have to do is tell me that this did not happen at home."

I stared at him blankly. "But it did happen at home," I said.

"If this happened at home, it is not covered by your insurance plan. If this happened anywhere else in the world, I can replace your phone."

"But I am not going to lie to you," I said, sort of astounded at this odd turn of events.

"Madame, just tell me this happened in a bar, and I will get you a new phone." Everyone in the store was staring at me, listening in on our conversation.

"Monsieur, it happened in my house. And I think it is ridiculous that the insurance won't cover it, but I will not lie about what happened."

So he silently handed the phone back to me.

"How much would a replacement cost?" I asked, exasperated. I had already been three days without a phone, and since we don't have a home phone it is my only means of contact.

"It would be 400€, the full price of a new phone. You used all of your points six months ago when you got this phone and so you won't be eligible for any reductions for another year and a half."

Ugh. I had gotten the phone for 1€ because of my points, and now it was going to cost me 400€ to replace it? Unbelievable.

"Is there any way it can be repaired?" I asked, defeated.

"When an iPhone falls in the water, it's over. There is nothing that can be done."

Five other customers stared at me, sympathetic.

I took my phone and walked out the door. Tears welled up in my eyes. In the past week I learned that our car needs an 800€ repair and there is no way I can afford a new phone this month, not even the most simple phone--seeing as I would be paying full price.

I sighed one of those prayers that has no words and started walking home. I inadvertantly glanced down at the dead phone in my hand, when all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, the screen lit up.

It 's fully funtioning; alive.

I'm thinking of renaming it Lazarus.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

No Other Name

My small group is reading through the book of Acts, and I was particularly struck by an incident in chapter 4. It is seriously making me rethink my prayer life, especially considering how I have been praying for the persecuted Christians in the world.

The chapter begins with Peter and John being thrown into prison for proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead. The most troublesome part of their message is the part that still incites anger today. Without compromise or apology, Peter says:
 "...there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
No other name.

For me, those words ring true in the very depth of my being, as the Spirit who lives in me testifies to the undeniable truth that only Jesus saves. I bear witness with Peter and John, not because my eyes have seen the risen Christ, but because my life has been changed by him. His redemption continues to work its way through me, bringing humility where pride once reigned, spreading mercy where brokeness once stung, nurturing compassion where hard-heartedness once resisted, shining hope where despair once lurked. No other name. I'm convinced.

But I can see how those same words sound like a battle cry to a world that has not known his peace. Such an exclusive claim is heard as a rejection rather than an invitation. And those who do not believe that apart from Jesus there is no other way, would clearly take offense at the audacity of such words. No other name.

We don't speak these words to taunt the world, we plead them as poor beggars who have found the bread of life. It's him! He's the one! And every other name will leave you hungry and unsatisfied. Please, taste and see! There's just no other name.

So Peter and John hold to their claim, repeating their offense before their very accusers, insisting that they can not help speaking about what Jesus has done. They will not be silenced, and not because they want to incite violence--no! Because they want to share the peace that Jesus brings between God and men. In fact, to be silent about the name of Jesus is to subject others to the worst violence ever. For the wrath of God, his holy, righteous anger, was unleashed on the cross. And Jesus, only Jesus, could endure it. No other name.

Peter and John are released. Because even their worst critics couldn't find them guilty of any crime.

They return to their friends, and begin to pray:
And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.
This is not what I would have prayed.

My first thought, my first-world, post-modern, prayer would have begun with a plea for protection! But they never ask God to protect them! They ask God to take note of the threats--and not to protect them as a result, but to increase their boldness and mulitply the evidence of his power!

And God answered immediately.

I have been praying for God to protect Christians from their persecutors. But I think that's the wrong prayer. Maybe I should be praying for God to enbolden his people--to bring them bravely out of their hiding places and to then manifest his power through them in amazing ways. So that the world will know that there is no other name.

Ah, but if I prayed that for them, would I be brave enough to pray it for myself?

Because even though my life isn't at stake, I have my own ways of hiding. I do, so often, seek my own emotional comfort and relational protection. I believe "no other name!" and I fail to proclaim it faithfully.

Lord, I want to speak your word with all confidence, while you extend your hand to do miracles in the name of Jesus, so that many might come to know your name. The name. Because there is no other name.