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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Highlight/Lowlight

My sister sometimes plays a "game" where, before you go to bed, you say your highlight and lowlight from the day. Here are mine, in the form of Top 5 lists because...that's what I do.

T5 Lowlights:
5) Went to the dentist. Always a lowlight.
4) Found out I have another cavity. Turns out my underbite causes my teeth to wear in places that teeth don't normally wear and it is causing problems. Also, he thinks I grind my teeth which is causing other problems. So I go back next week for a filling and a fitting for a bite guard. Oh joy.
3) Planned on getting a lot of homework done this afternoon but ended up talking to Linds and Rach for two hours, leaving several things on my to-do list untouched.
2) Took another malaria pill which probably means several more nights of restless sleep and crazy, crazy, CRAZY dreams/nightmares.
1) My car broke down. Again. My goal was to have a new one by the end of October, with October 15th being a possible date-of-purchase, so I was really, really hoping I could make it until then. No such luck.

T5 Highlights:
5) Talked to Rach and Linds for 2 hours. I feel like I have hardly seen them since mid-August, so it was good to spend some time with them.
4) Lindsay is going to be in Nashville for the next 6 days and is graciously allowing me to borrow her car while she is gone. Very convenient timing if you ask me. Also, the guy who fixed my car in June is going to try to take a look at it in the morning. I have high hopes that it is the exact same problem and that it will be a quick fix. Please, please, please let it be a quick fix.
3) Went geo-caching for the first time. It was fun.
2) Talked to Jules tonight. Man, I love that girl.
1) Listened to the song "Jesus, Friend of Sinners" from Sovereign Grace appx 14 times and sat in absolute awe of God's saving grace and the work that Christ did on the cross to save me. Really, it doesn't get much better than that.

Zing!

As I drove home from school tonight, I felt myself driven into silence. I get this feeling occasionally, where it is not enough to just turn the music down, it must be off. Even the faintest whisper of noise is irritating to my ears. It typically happens when I am feeling particularly contemplative and my head is so full of thoughts that I simply can not handle one more decibel of input.

So I turned the music off and I thought.

One of tonight's thought topics was relationships, and as I thought through specific relationships, I began to think this (literally, word for word):

"I thought I would have heard from you by now. Maybe we have different definitions of what it means to be in relationship. I feel like I have expressed what my expectations are, but it often seems like you could care less and sometimes it makes me wonder if you are worth the effort."

I was not feeling devastated, but it hurt just enough that I felt the potential for bitterness to take root.

So I prayed.

I told Jesus all about it. Then I asked him what he thought about what I had told him. And you know what he said? He said,

"I thought I would have heard from you by now. Maybe we have different definitions of what it means to be in relationship. I feel like I have expressed what my expectations are, but it often seems like you could care less and sometimes it makes me wonder if you are worth the effort. And I have decided that you are."

Oh, sweet Savior, thank you for not holding me to my own standards. I will rest in your mercy once again tonight and wake to new mercies in the morning. I am humbled by your goodness to me.

Monday, September 29, 2008

African Sun

Oh, African sun! You shine with splendor
as your brilliant beams
beckon souls who span oceans
to behold your beauty.

Oh, African sun! You glisten in beads of sweat
gliding down the backs of half-naked children
grinning and giggling
in the light of your gentle glow.

Oh, African sun! You hide your face
as rain bounces off metal overhangs
mingling with tears on the broken face
of a mother who holds her lifeless child.

Oh, African sun! Hope is born anew
as your light reappears, drying the earth
that has stained my feet red
as I trod the welcoming paths of your villages.

Oh, African sun! Your rays rest gently
on a fading horizon that holds my heart captive.
My eyes close tight against your absence
praying for the morning when you wake me again.

Oh, African sun! You have ruined me for life.

Friday, September 26, 2008

More Worship. More Tears.

Sometimes, when I am participating in corporate worship, I cry because the truth of what I am singing resonates so deeply with how I feel that I become overwhelmed with the beauty of that truth and it triggers my tear reflex.

Sometimes, when I am participating in corporate worship, I cry because the truth of what I am singing stands in such opposition to how I feel that I become overwhelmed with the beauty of realizing that what I am singing is still truth regardless of how I feel which also triggers my tear reflex.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Last Lecture

I read "The Last Lecture" at the Brussels airport and finished it on the plane between Brussels and Chicago.

Background: Randy Pausch was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the deadliest form of cancer, in the fall of 2006. After an extensive surgery and some tough chemotherapy, the disease was kept at bay for nearly a year. In August 2007, a scan showed that the cancer had metastasized to his liver and they began palliative chemo which basically means they were trying to "buy time." In September, he delivered a lecture titled "The Last Lecture" at Carnegie Mellon, where he had been a professor for many years. The contents of that lecture were than turned into a book. Randy passed away this summer.

I heard about the book through my sister and I checked it out of the library and took it to Cote d'Ivoire as reading material. I read it on the way home and I cried about every 5th page or so. Maybe a little more frequently than that.

Now, I must admit, I did have a few things working against me:

  1. I was physically exhausted. At that point, I had already missed a night of sleep and was still 14 hours away from home,
  2. My heart was tender and my emotions were slightly raw after my experiences in Cote d'Ivoire,
  3. I am a fairly emotional person with a strong "tear reflex" in the first place,
  4. I am a sucker for powerful stories like his, and
  5. My dad has cancer.

I liked a lot of his thoughts. Let me share a few (or many....)

  • Randy made his kids ask full sentence questions. No one-word questions like "Why?" They could ask why, they just had to ask in a complete sentence. I think I will encourage that in my house.
  • Randy said he won the parent lottery. I feel like that quite often.
  • Advice from his dad: "Just because you're in the driver's seat doesn't mean you have to run people over."
  • His mom sounds funny. A story: "When I was studying for my PhD, I took something called 'the theory qualifier,' which I can now definitely say was the second worst thing in my life after chemotherapy. When I complained to my mother about how hard and awful the test was, she leaned over, patted me on the arm and said, 'We know just how you feel, honey. And remember, when your father was your age, he was fighting the Germans.' After I got my PhD, my mother took great relish in introducing me by saying, 'This is my son. He's a doctor, but not the kind who helps people.'"
  • On feedback: "When you're screwing up and no one says anything to you anymore, that means they've given up on you." Sometimes I really struggle with taking feedback personally. A perspective change would help. If someone is giving you honest feedback, chances are they think you are capable of responding to that feedback. They still have hope for you.
  • "I found the best way to bag stuffed animals [at the fair] is without the pressure of a family audience. I also didn't want anyone to know just how long it took me to be successful. Tenacity is a virtue, but it's not always crucial for everyone to observe how hard you work at something."
  • Randy has made a habit out of winning stuffed animals at amusement parks. He brought his collection out on stage and told people that anyone who wanted one could come and get it at the end of his lecture, first come, first serve. A girl with cancer took the giant elephant. "I love the symbolism of that," he says. "She got the elephant in the room."
  • This made me laugh: "Two decades later, when I got my PhD in computer science from Carnegie Mellon, I thought that made me infinitely qualified to do anything, so I dashed off my letters of application to Walt Disney Imagineering. And the sent me some of the nicest go-to-hell letters I'd ever received."
  • On the day before his terminal diagnosis, he took his wife to a water park. He says, "Leaving the doctor's office, I thought about what I'd said to Jai in the water park in the afterglow of the speed slide. 'Even if the scan results are bad tomorrow,' I had told her, 'I just want you to know that it feels great to be alive, and to be here today, alive with you. Whatever news we get about the scans, I'm not going to die when we hear it. I won't die the next day, or the day after that, or the day after that. So today, right now, well this is a wonderful day. And I want you to know how much I'm enjoying it.' I thought about that, and about Jai's smile. I knew then. That's the way the rest of my life would need to be lived." I love the directness and honesty of his words. I am going to a conference this weekend about the power of words and the wonder of God and I am VERY excited. We misuse words so often and we also fail to take advantage of the good we can do with them. I love what he did with them here.
  • "My parents raised me to recognize that automobiles are there to get you from point A to point B. They are utilitarian devices, not expressions of social status. And so I told Jai we didn't need to do cosmetic repairs. We'd just live with the dents and gashes...if your trashcan or wheelbarrow has a dent in it, you don't buy a new one. Maybe that's because we don't use trashcans and wheelbarrows to communicate our social status or identity to others. For Jai and me, our dented cars became a statement in our marriage. Not everything needs to be fixed." Amen, brother!
  • To an employee: "I know you're smart. But everyone here is smart. Smart isn't enough. The kind of people I want on my research team are those who will help everyone else feel happy to be here." Sometimes I feel like I spent so much of my life trying to be smart enough that I missed out on some crucial personality formation. I think I have made up a lot of ground over the last few years, but it was still a good reminder to try to spend less time learning about things and more time learning about people.
  • Advice he received from Jon Snoddy: "If you wait long enough, people will surprise and impress you. When you're frustrated with people, when they've made you angry, it just may be because you haven't given them enough time. Sometimes this takes great patience - even years. But in the end, people will show you their good side. Almost everybody has a good side. Just keep waiting. It will come out." This encouraged me to have patience and grace in my friendships. So often when people aren't exactly who I want them to be at the time that I want them to be that, I am so tempted to just call it quits, not put forth the effort for the friendship. Between some of his comments about feedback and this quip about patience, I realized I need to develop more of an eye for the potential within people and nurture open, honest communication within those friendships that would enable me to help empower them to develop that potential. In return, I would hope that my friends would have grace and patience with my abundant flaws, would feel safe giving me feedback and, by doing so, would play a part in forming me into a better person than I am now.
  • "When it comes to men who are romantically interested in you, it's really simple. Just ignore everything they say and only pay attention to what they do." Ouch.
  • A cliche (which I have never heard!): "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?" A reminder to not focus on the little issues and, by doing so, lose sight of the big ones.
  • "If you can find your footing between two cultures, sometimes you can have the best of both worlds." Interesting thought as I came home from Africa...part of my fear in going is not fitting into that culture but no longer fitting into my own, either. Maybe there is a way to have the best of both worlds.
  • "When we're connected to others, we become better people." I think this is true. Now if only I could get over my fear of being connected to others...
  • Some of the best care-giving advice comes from flight attendants: "Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others." I'm a caregiver by nature AND profession. This is good advice which I rarely heed.

That's all. Those aren't necessarily all parts that made me cry. I would mostly tear up because he has such a powerful way of communicating and his love for his wife and children was so clear and so raw.

In case you are wondering, I recommend the book. You can also watch the lecture online, although the book seems to expand a lot more on some of his ideas.

The Only Airplane Magazine Article I Have Ever Read

I don't typically read the magazines that they stash in the seat pockets on airplanes. But as I sat on the jetway in Brussels waiting for "go time," I was reading Randy Pausch's "The Last Lecture" (more to come on that soon) and I began to cry so hard that I was looking for something...anything...to distract my mind long enough to compose myself. I couldn't unbuckle my seatbelt to grab a different book from my bag, so I grabbed the Americanway magazine instead.

I found an article about facebook. It was a wonderfully satirical article which had me chuckling out loud at points as I continued to wipe the tears and snot off of my face. The poor lady sitting next to me was probably wondering how on earth she was going to make it through the 9 hour flight with this mess of a girl sitting next to her.

Unfortunately, the section that I am going to share with you is really the only part of the whole article that wasn't funny. But it is the part that I found the most intriguing.

"Whereas previous ages were marked by the discovery of fire or the invention of the wheel, the milestone for the current age is our constant availability and instant intimacy. The past, present and future fuse into one ever-expanding universe of friends.
Six degrees of separation? Forget it. Now, there are zero degrees of separation. It is as if we are all living in our own, and each other's, personal memoir - except this memoir unfolds in real time and is not edited to keep out the boring parts.
And there are boring parts.
Lisa Banalitino [not her real name] is clipping her toenails.
Sidney Nothingtodo [not his real name] is about to mow the lawn.
Pat Sleepinstein [not his real name] is changing the sheets."


The magazine-reading-endeavor proved futile as this was the only worthwhile article and, after I finished it, I returned to "The Last Lecture," making it through approximately 3.5 pages with dry eyes.

More on that tomorrow...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

To the Little Girl Who Sat on My Lap in Church

You march up the center aisle with a purpose
and round the front corner of the congregation.
You capture my attention with your beautiful brown eyes
as you swim over to me in your lavender dress.

I move my purse from beside me
and before I have time to wonder if you'll understand
your sticky hand is in my lap,
your warm body pressed up against mine.

As the balafons begin to play
your body begins to pulse in perfect rhythm.
You grab my hand, eager to teach your new friend
How to hear the heartbeat of Africa.

As the congregation sits in stillness, you dance without inhibitions.
Grasping my fingers tightly, you guide my arm as it conducts your dance.
No mother nearby tries to suppress the joy of your childhood.
No father tries to rob The Visitor of this precious memory.

The choir quiets and the music releases its grip on you.
You body is now sprawled over my lap in a curious sort of backbend.
Your arms stretch along my leg and my side
Bringing our bodies into as much contact as possible.

Your tiny hands hold my wrist high above your face.
You discover the mystery of indiglo
and quickly become enamored by my watch.
I look on in amusement as both of your faces light up simultaneously.

Finally you are sitting on my lap
taking care to point out every mole and freckle on my body.
Perhaps you are counting the ways that we are alike.
Please don't forget my smile and my heart.

My eyes stretch to linger on your smile as we drive away.
Your scent drifts up from my clothes, filling my lungs,
a delicate mixture of sweat and love.
For the first time since I arrived, I smell like Africa.




Monday, September 22, 2008

Humorous Inconsistencies and the Pervasion of the Trinity

School is starting again and I am quite thoroughly excited.

I read a book today called "Evangelism Outside the Box: New Ways to Help People Experience the Good News" by Rick Richardson. The basic premise of the book is that evangelistic methods that appealed to modern mindsets no longer work in our postmodern world. I had quite a few thoughts in response to that particular issue and I could (and might) write a blogpost about the fine line between translating the Gospel to the culture around us and accommodating the Gospel to the culture.

But that's not what this post is about.

This post is about two sentences tucked away in the middle of the book in a section discussing how to meet "felt needs." The sentences read as follows:

"Postmoderns have one felt need that rises above all the other needs. Postmoderns need belonging and relationship and community."

No lie.

That's exactly what it says.

One felt need. Belonging. Oh, and relationship. Um...and....community, too.

I realize the obvious rebuttal is to say that the author is using the rhetoric of repetition to make his point and that those really only comprise one need, but I disagree. Those three things are different. Related, but different. You can belong to something without having relationships. Your life can be full of relationships but void of community. My life right now is a perfect example. My need for relationships is being met. My need for community is not.


Maybe this dear brother of mine was simply trying to incorporate a mysterious trinitarian concept into his new methods of evangelism. Maybe he was trying to express how deeply the idea of "three-in-one" affects all aspects of the Christian faith. Maybe there is a truth to be found about how we belong to God's family through our relationship with Christ which is cultivated in a Spirit-led community.

Or maybe the second statement is simply inconsistent with the first.



Did I find the inconsistency funny? Yes.

Is this whole post one big sarcastic jab? Most definitely.

Am I just being overly censorious? I hope not.


I mean, if there's one thing I don't want to be, it's critical and judgmental and captious.

Two Things I Wish I Could Change Right This Instant

1) My body has left Africa behind.

2) My stomach has not.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I'm not getting anything done....

...because I can't stop staring at her.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Trip to Torogo

I've got the best seat in the house.
An unobstructed view of the scenes unfolding before me
As long as I choose to keep my eyes open.

Lanes are marked by rows of children
Risking the dangers of rush hour traffic
In the hopes that you might want to buy a map of the country on your way into work today.

Women's heads are piled high
A fierce competition with the trucks
To see who can be the most gracefully top-heavy.

I listen attentively
As you tell me about your life
And your experiences on the field.

You found out about your dad's death
Ten days after it happened
Seven days after the funeral.

But you were there with your mom, holding her in your arms.
The story moves me to tears
But I compose myself as you pause to point out the bush rat.

"We try to protect our own rights," (POTHOLE!)
"But it is God's time and God's strength." (HONK!)
Breaths of diesel fuel exchanged for words of wisdom.

We exchange stories that only nurses could appreciate
"By the way, we're in rebel territory now."
Oh. I hadn't noticed.

The military stop points make me a little nervous
But there never seems to be a problem
As the soldiers lazily roll away the spiked barrier.

"Oui-hallo?" You answer your phone in mid-sentence
And once again I am lost in my own little world
Yet I am not in my own world at all.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Simple Statements from a Tired Mind

I am home.

I am exhausted.

I am doing very, very well.

I opened my mail.

I read my 327 personal emails (probably about 50% junk, so it didn't take as long as you might think).

I'll do my 177 work emails tomorrow.

I don't think I can do 528 blog postings.

I work Fri, Sat, Sun.

School starts Monday.

These things will not seem nearly so daunting after I sleep.