Post-trip ponderings on Rwanda

I had suspected I’d call Daniel from the Kigali airport to tell him to pack the bags and bring the kids, I wasn’t coming home from Rwanda.

Well, it wasn’t quite like that – after all, there’s no bed and bathroom like your own, so I was ready to be in my own now-too-huge house. And I don’t even know if the Lord is calling me to go back to Rwanda with the team next year – too soon to say.

And it’s not so much that I miss Rwanda, though the weather is infinitely preferable to here (it’s not for no reason Columbia’s nickname is “the armpit of South Carolina”). The country is beautiful, with lovely green rolling hills and banana and coffee trees everywhere you turn. I have heard they have quite a tourist attraction in mountain gorillas, too, but at 700 American dollars per person that wasn’t exactly on our agenda.

Nope, what I miss is the friends I made.20170626_170229

And this seems like a mature thing. There are lovely places all over the world; I’ve been to more than my fair share of them. There are interesting cultures and fascinating wildlife all over the world, too. Rwanda is not the only country with a genocide in its history, nor is it the only country to rise from ashes into beauty. Rwanda is unique in the sense every country is unique. There are things about it that speak to both the evil and the good in every human heart, in every culture, in every society.

So it’s not that I fell in love with Rwanda, though I loved being there.

I fell in love with my new friends. Unlike nation states, cultures, societies, systems, and even geography, people are eternal. It’s the people I keep thinking of when I’m singing to Jesus, unloading my dishwasher, watching my children swim at the pool, drinking Diet Coke, brushing my teeth with water from the tap, sitting by the Congaree River, talking with my friends. I’m thinking of Joseph, and Jacques, and Nimi, and Wellars, and Vestine, and Bosco, and Father Emmanuel, and Manu, and the weathered faces and dancing bodies and broken, eager eyes of the women coffee farmers at Kivu.

John, missions pastor extraordinaire, practically wagging his finger in our faces: “We are going to build relationships. Whatever else we do or don’t do, accomplish or utterly fail at, our goal is always relationship. Expectations are our enemy, flexibility is our friend, and relationship is our goal. Because Jesus brought us into relationship.”

So I guess it was a successful mission trip. I know it was for me, because I have friendships now with Rwandans. I have served them in ways they’ve requested and need; they have served me in ways I could not have foreseen. I taught English writing to some high school students; the teachers and administrators taught me about compassion, hard work, humility, and Rwandan culture. Our team provided a good job for a week to our translators, but Joseph, Jacques, Eric, and Nimi taught us about perseverance, compassion, and how to love Rwandans and be loved by them. Rwandans taught me that community is priceless, that forgiveness is incalculably powerful, that patient work bestows dignity, that interdependence is rich.

Invaluable lessons all.

And you know what? This is what lasts. The transatlantic flight that feels interminable will actually end. The systems of nation states – politics, economics, even culture – they’ll all end, too. Geography, climate, plant and animal life? The earth itself will be reborn, remade.

But Joseph and I are eternal. Manu and Nimi and John are eternal. Scott and Genia and Jacques are eternal. The friendships among us, because we are brothers and sisters in Jesus, those will last forever.

Beyond the borders even of time.

Hallelujah. I might be learning something.20170625_093943

Published in: on July 10, 2017 at 1:31 am  Leave a Comment  

Pre-trip ponderings on Rwanda

“Mrs. Carolyn, can I maybe have that poster?” I gestured at the poster-size map of Africa, each country stamped with the number of Southern Baptist missionaries serving Jesus there.

I’d been eyeing that poster for a couple of weeks at my church’s weekly girls’ missions education class. The church I attended was small & rural & I was almost always the only girl in my class. Heck, I was likely the only girl there on Wednesday night for missions education at all.

So I knew the chances of my getting to take that poster home were pretty good. I left the church and marched proudly home (all the way across the street) with it tucked under one scrawny bare arm, my Prize.

The poster went on the wall of my room. (Confession: it was bordered on one side by magazine cutouts of Duran Duran, on the other by equally cringe-worthy cutouts of George Michael. Can I help it was the 80s??)

And every night, for the better part of two years, I gazed at that map, took in the borders, the exotic-sounding names, the numbers…and prayed. God bless the missionaries. God bless their work. (In those days Southern Baptists still included good stuff like hospitals & schools & orphanages & seminaries.) God bless the people they’re ministering to.

Now, 31 years later, in a small and temporary way, Jesus is sending me as an answer to my prayers.

When I imagine landing in Kigali, Rwanda, walking off the jet way or onto the tarmac, I visualize my heart. It collapses face first on the African ground. It lies there weeping. It is stunned.

Because this journey has been 31 years in the traveling.political-map-of-Rwanda

From 8th grade to middle-age.

From naïve idealism to…well, plain old unvarnished idealism.

I go because I love helping others in the name of Jesus. I go hoping I will serve in the manner of Jesus. I go not as a savior or a superior or an inferior or an expert or even as a leader. I go as a student, holding out the few things I know to some teachers in a remote, electricity-free school, and saying to them, “Would you like to hear a native English speaker? Can we talk? Can we teach one another?”

I go already weeping at every thought of being there. I suspect Rwanda will utterly ruin me – in every good way. I suspect I’ll come back weeping even more.

But that’s okay. All the Lord does is good.

Tomorrow morning, Lord willing, I get on a plane in the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

And yes, “Africa” by Toto is on my phone. (Did I mention I’m a child of the 80s? Don’t be jealous.)

Published in: on June 15, 2017 at 9:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Brookwood Road

Brookwood Road: Memories of a home

by Scott VaughanBrookwood Road

a review

Norman Rockwell, meet Jerry Clower.

The three Wilcox brothers of Brookwood Road are an utterly delightful fusion of these two: the innocent Americana of a Rockwell painting with the homespun Southern humor of Jerry Clower.

As a still life, they embody all the earnestness, patriotism, and full-on WASP/Pleasantville aspects of a Rockwell illustration. It’s no stretch to picture 8-year-old Frank, the oldest brother, dropping his bicycle on the grass next to the steps of the country store, a deck of baseball cards sticking out of his back jeans pocket, clean haircut, the face of a young man on a mission for his mother.

As a video, however, the Wilcox brothers are full of as much mischief as Clower’s Ledbetter boys ever were. It’s no stretch to imagine them whispering huddled behind the bushes at their grandmother’s house, passing ammunition (an industrial water hose) from one muddy hand to another as they lie in ambush for the mean boys from down the dirt road. I half expected to hear that Mississippi twang: “Knock ’im out, John!!!”

Utterly. Delightful.

Reading Brookwood Road is like the catching up that happens at a wedding or funeral, after all the guests have left and all the family is sitting around with ties loosened and heels off and the leftovers long left on the kitchen counter. It’s comfortable, familiar, funny, poignant, filled with both laughter and easy silence.

Brookwood Road chronicles the early years of the Wilcox brothers (Frank, Jack, and Wayne) when they and their parents lived next to the hog farm owned by their grandfather. It’s full of family, school, church, pigs & other pets, and all the adventures and misadventures you’d expect of three young boys on a farm in the rural South in the 1960s. There’s a raccoon, a tree house, a wall of dirty calendars, a secret hideout, revival services, a funeral, bullies, chiggers, tallywackers (really, Scott??), and lots and lots of baseball: baseball games, baseball cards, baseball equipment, baseball players, baseball statistics, and baseball fantasies. Naturally.

It’s not a page-turner full of eloquent profundities and drama. But it’s a warm and heartwarming, funny, entertaining, beautiful story of a childhood rooted in honest love and laughter. If you need a reminder that life is good and Jesus is love, read it; you won’t be disappointed.

Published in: on May 20, 2017 at 4:00 am  Leave a Comment  

The Addams Family Mortuary experience

I’d previously lived in Asheville for nearly two years and so was familiar with the street where this mortuary and crematory were located: a narrow road along the unkempt banks of the Swannanoa River, one of those side alleys locals use to circumnavigate the hordes of tourists on Broadway Street. Under an appropriately glowering late September sky, Mom and I pulled up to a nondescript, white, concrete-block building that looked more like the meat processing plant from my hometown than any funerary facility I’d ever encountered. Where were the white Corinthian columns, the sturdy red brick, the perfectly-clipped shrubbery, the discreet covered drive-through on the side of the building, the men in suits and solemn faces? Why did I feel like I was entering the Twilight Zone as we walked to the heavy unmarked door with the steel kick-guard?

Holding my breath, I opened the door to a small room with a low ceiling and coffin samples lying hither and yon like so many piles of stained lumber. There were indentations in the cheap sheetrock walls, and a couple of curtains draped suspiciously over doorways that looked like they led to Madame Rue’s Palm Reading station. At one end was a window cut-out with a counter, complete with sliding glass window, like the sign-in station at a medical clinic.

There was no one there.

Mom and I looked at each other but said nothing, as if commentary might jolt the creepy-weird factor to an unbearable level. Better to pretend everything’s normal.

At last a young man with 7 o’clock shadow and not-quite-ironed khakis appeared, and after a mildly awkward conversation about who we were and when our appointment was (no standard expression of condolences included), ushered us into a conference room where the director would join us shortly. He motioned us to two sturdy office armchairs, managed a surprisingly agreeable smile, and left.

Mom and I were still committed to the little game of pretend. If we just kept mum, the Twilight Zone might go away. As if the passing of Dad a mere 18 hours ago weren’t surreal enough.

After several minutes a door on the other side opened – there was enough warren of rooms to make M.C. Escher’s head swim – and a tall, suited figure strode in.

“Dear Jesus,” I thought to myself. “We’re at the Addams Family Mortuary.”

He was at least six feet tall (yes, six feet), dressed in a suit that J.R. Ewing would have worn in his startup years, complete with a bolo tie. His dark hair was slick and greying in inconvenient patterns, and combed over to one side as though anticipating the eventual thinning. I glanced around the room expecting to see a half-drunk tumbler of Scotch on a shelf somewhere.

Surely this wasn’t happening. Surely this man was not in charge of the disposal of my father’s earthly body.

In my head I could hear the harpsichord and the snap-snapping of fingers.

Things improved as we discussed the details of Dad’s cremation with the director, who turned out to be a nice man, if a bit lacking in the social graces you’d expect from a mortuary and crematory director. Apparently that certification doesn’t require any coursework in funerary courtliness.

Exhibit A: “Does your husband have a pacemaker or anything similar?”

Mom: “No, nothing.”

Uncle Fester/Director: “Okay that’s good.” Pause. “I have to ask because we don’t want anything unexpected to explode, you know.”

Me, in my head: “You did NOT just say that.” Then, also to myself: “You mean there are some things you EXPECT to explode? What the –?” I glanced at the walls to see if there were any framed things that looked like a degree…a diploma…a certification….a license…Lord help us, anything that indicated some reliable external source had vouched for this outfit.

Exhibit B: “Now, did you want to look at an urn to select?”
Mom: “No, no, we don’t want the…we don’t want anything.” Pause as she collected herself a little to say the next words, hand to her heart in the most heartbreaking earnestness: “I have everything I need right here.”

Even Uncle Fester/Director felt the weight of the moment, the depth and tenderness and pain of it, and simply nodded, said nothing. I was torn between relief and my own momentary fighting of tears.

But it couldn’t possibly last, that tender moment. “Well not everybody wants the remains, I understand that.”

I cringed. Had no one told Mr. Bolo Tie not to refer to the dearly departed as “the remains,” like the potluck leftovers? It got better:

“Now, my wife and me, we got our urns all selected. They up on top of the TV stand, lined up.” He gestured as he explained. “You got her dad here, then the cat here, then a urn for her, then one for me. Yep, all lined up and ready. Everybody gets a turn. ‘Course, it’s kind of a pain, having to move all those containers every time we dust.”

We couldn’t help it. Mom and I glanced at each other. The snap-snapping fingers of the Addams Family theme song notched up a decibel in my head.

“Just out of curiosity,” Mom asked a few minutes later, as Uncle Fester/Director continued filling out his paperwork, “what do you do with the ashes?”

“Oh, well, once we have a few of them – you know, several families who ask us to handle everything and they don’t take the ashes, like you all – we have a place up on the Blue Ridge Parkway, where we’ve gotten permission from the Parkway people, and that’s where we scatter them. It’s a real pretty place.”

This was a definite improvement, Mom and I agreed. Mom and Dad had always enjoyed drives on that scenic parkway, and in the last year that Dad had been at the nursing home the parkway was their standard excursion. Just a 30-minute drive, out of the nursing home, was a lift to both of their spirits.

Except Mom seemed to get into the creep-o mood of this place and launched into an entertaining tale of some friend of a friend of a friend who took a helicopter ride over the Charleston Harbor to scatter someone’s ashes, and ended up with ash blown into their face thanks to the chopper and ocean winds. We all laughed, because it was a funny story, but also because it was just a relief to laugh. Also it felt better than crying.

Finally we escaped. I mean, left. The snap-snapping fingers in my head stopped, I let out the breath I’d apparently been holding the whole time we were there, Mom and I never really talked about Uncle Fester/Director (too much else to do, as anyone who’s planned a memorial service can tell you), and my wonderful dear Dad – well, his earthly remains are now no doubt scattered into the soil and roots and moss and exquisitely complex and rich compost of the Blue Ridge Parkway, while his soul is, finally, Fully Free.

Published in: on May 2, 2017 at 2:08 am  Leave a Comment  

A Thousand Hills to Heaven

A Thousand Hills to Heaven: Love, hope, and a restaurant in Rwanda

by Josh Ruxin1000 hills to heaven

a book review

Word to the wise: don’t read books about Rwanda before bed. (It only took me two reads to realize this.) Even if the book isn’t “about” the genocide of 1994, it’s still “about” the genocide. That is, most unfortunately, as much the defining event of modern-day Rwanda as 9/11 is for contemporary America.

Still, A Thousand Hills to Heaven is the most genocide-light book I’ve read yet about this east central African nation, in preparation for my mission trip there in June. (Other reads: Broken Memory and Left to Tell: Finding God in the Midst of the Rwandan Holocaust.) The title is a double entendre – Rwanda’s geography has earned it the nickname “land of a thousand hills,” and Heaven is the name of the restaurant this author and his wife operate in the capital city of Kigali.

It’s a steady, interesting, heartwarming, heartbreaking, insightful, educational read. Josh Ruxin is an accomplished, successful veteran of the development world; his wife Alissa is a wellness expert and coach; both are foodies who’ve managed to birth and maintain a Michelin-star restaurant in a landlocked African capital.

In telling the story of this restaurant, A Thousand Hills to Heaven dishes out plates full of wise and insightful nuggets about aid, development, horror, heroism, healing, and hope. Even when I thought I might put it down and not pick it back up again, I found myself returning to the book like I open newsletters from friends on the mission field.

Some of the nuggets:

  • Josh’s “five finger rules of development”:
    • Rule one (the thumb): people who are starving cannot be asked to do more than eat. Translation: do the hunger relief first, then pursue development.
    • Rule two (the pointer finger): demand high standards where they improve performance and upgrade the institutions that serve people and help them have better lives.
      • “To see poor sanitation in a newborn nursery and to say, ‘Well, we’re not in the U.S., after all, and this is their way,’ is soft bigotry of the worst sort….We should not demand that developing nations find their own Louis Pasteurs and Jonas Salks. Our first charitable instinct should be to share what we know from our own history, and we should share it with confident determination, pushing aside unhealthy and cruel traditions where we find them….To equate [female genital mutilation] with our own culture’s male circumcision…is a failure of critical thinking and true helpfulness.” (p. 123)
      • “The most important reason to demand high performance standards in development work is that you should be able to leave someday…If you give out too many things for free, it is hard to make people feel industrious and entrepreneurial.” (p. 124)
    • Rule three (the middle finger – yes that one): you can’t do successful, sustainable development in hopelessly corrupt countries.
    • Rule four (the ring/wedding finger): we (the developing agencies, etc.) are not here as a lifelong commitment, not married to our programs.
      • “We should ultimately never be the essential party, even though we do have leadership responsibilities at the beginning. The better NGOs would nurture Rwandans to lead their efforts, and they would find ways to make the improvements sustainable, then they would leave.” (p. 174)
    • Rule five (the pinky finger): trust the market as the biggest player, even if the power of the market looks small now.
      • “Never be afraid of the profit model, as it can carry the heaviest load of long-term development. Profit brings sustainability, not to mention dignity.” (p. 202)
    • “Don’t start anything that won’t be sustainable after you leave – and do leave: that is the rule. There were no signs [on our health centers] announcing ‘Brought to you by foreign donors.’ When foreigners stay too long, they become a reason for people to doubt their own abilities. When foreigners come with unsustainable projects, they are often doing it for their own pleasure or as an excuse for fundraising and salaries, not for love.” (p. 175)
    • “Rwandans have a funny relationship with God, which they convey through a story anyone can tell you: ‘God worked very hard for six days creating the heavens and the earth. But on the seventh day, he needed a break, so he picked Rwanda as the place to take a much-needed sleep. God sleeps in Rwanda, then keeps busy at work everywhere else.” (p. 169) The negative takeaway from this is that God only shows up in Rwanda to take a nap, so you can’t count on Him to hear you there. The positive is that Rwanda is so cool and beautiful that naturally God comes here, when he’s not punching the clock, to rest.
    • “Rwanda may have its share of bureaucracy, but it is not a kleptocracy. It’s a place where a good program doesn’t die the death of a thousand bribes, a thousand misallocations, a thousand brothers-in-law who must have a piece of every pie.” (p. 156)
    • “If your town ran out of food, would you want someone from another nation handing out the food, or would you want your longtime neighbor to hand it to you?” (Take that, Operation Christmas Child!) “That way, your dignity would be intact. Your children would see neighbors doing something together to feed their families – they would not see their parents looking like helpless victims.” (p. 109)

And two last quotes, one for laughs:

“There is such a thing, by the way, as an Africanized vehicle. Land Rovers and Land Cruisers and a few other makes come to Africa with big running boards, safari-style cargo racks atop, tougher and higher suspensions, supplemental fuel tanks, and, most visibly, snorkel pipes that come from the engine, up alongside the passenger side of the window. That pipe allows the engine to keep going in waist-deep water, and it allows the engine to stay cleaner, gulping its air a few feet higher up from the surface of the roads, which are often traveled in fast, close, dusty caravans. I think the main reason you see such vehicles, however, is that they look very cool, and many of the charities operating them want badass vehicles pictured in their brochures and websites. Our vehicles were picked up on the cheap, however – no sexy snorkels.” (p. 96)

And this one which feels prophetic:

“When people leave here they perhaps want some sushi and Ben & Jerry’s first, but then they want to continue with meaningful endeavors. You cannot leave Africa and then expect to be satisfied in ordinary living. You will have to continue doing extraordinary things, because you know what can be done in the world, and you know what you are capable of doing, and you know that, wherever you go, many lives will depend on your willingness to exercise your privileges and skills on their behalf.” (p. 207)

Published in: on April 27, 2017 at 2:20 am  Leave a Comment  

A letter to Not Enough

Dear Not Enough,

I am done with you.

Consider this your “dear John” letter, and don’t hold your breath for any niceties. “It’s not you, it’s me”? Nope, that won’t cross my lips.

Because it is TOTALLY you.

And I am done with you.

You have stolen my Mother’s peace of mind for years – no, decades. You have dripped worry into her mind, like Chinese water torture, night upon night upon night. You have spawned countless evil offspring of fear and doubt and anxiety, and they grip her ankles like shackles. And she has fought you with a calculator held in clinched fists, fought you with her own iron will and inner strength.

And still you have stolen from her.

Not content to torment just one woman in the family, you’ve slithered into me and my sister, your kudzu tendrils of fear and worry encroaching into our plans, into our dreams, into our speech. Like weeds, you have choked our growth – we sprout hope and risk, only to wither from lack of Light.

Well no more.

It stops here, you. It stops here.

I will not fight you with a calculator. I will not fight you with my own strong will, much as that is a good gift from my father. I will not fight you with busyness, as if skittering from one task to another could keep you at bay. I will not fight you with countless hours of pipe dreaming, fantasizing about the if onlys.

In fact, this is the last conversation I ever wish to have with you at all. And no, you get no chance for rebuttal, no chance to rationalize with me or defend yourself.

I am done with you.

I know who I am, and I know Whose I am.

And let me tell you this, for the last freaking time – with the Great I Am in my corner, there is no room for you.

That’s what’s scarce – room for you, Not Enough.

Because here’s how I am fighting you: with Truth. It sets me free, and it wins. (Read the book.)

Here’s the truth I wield against you: My Jesus is always more than enough. There is no scarcity with him, and I am with him.

He is more than enough for my finances. He is more than enough for my loneliness. He is more than enough for my marriage. He is more than enough for my children and every need, every vacuum, every season of their lives. He is more than enough for my dear restless husband. He is more than enough for my little brother, for my wounded friends, for my bitter friends.

He is even more than enough for my Great Desires. In fact, he expands them in ways that make my breath come fast with anticipation, my heartbeat pulse like high tide upon rocks. Oh, yes. He gives me dreams, and he grows them like grass in an Alaska summer.

You tell me there’s never enough.

But you lie.

He tells me he is the Great I Am.

And his words – oh, the Truth of him – they ring out clarion in the night. His promises blur the pretentious finality of the bottom line, smearing those figures until all I see is an expanse of hillsides covered with my Father’s cattle.

His brilliant beauty casts your doom into the shadows, where you belong. He is bright blessed day; you are a dank cellar full of scurrying scavengers.

So I’m done with you, Not Enough. You are a liar from the father of lies.

All around me people submit to you. They build their bank accounts like the rich fool in Jesus’s parable. They hedge every bet and make every contingency plan. They play it safe even when you call them to risk.

They worry. They calculate. They fret. They press their palms into their foreheads and sigh deeply. They quiet their dreams and relegate them to the endearing but naïve realm of childhood.

And I have done it all, too. I thought there wasn’t enough – not enough money, not enough time, not enough energy, not enough intelligence or friends or connections. Most of all, I thought I wasn’t enough.

But I belong to the Great I Am, who is always more than enough.

Pack your bag of tricks, and hit the road, Jack. Take your low-grade fear – it’s just a dog who only looks big because all you show is its shadow. Take your niggling anxieties, those flitting biting insects at my ears. Take your gnawing worries and their destructive little mice teeth. Take your dirty currents of doubt.

I’m done with you.

I’m on Team Great I Am.

And he always wins.

Most assuredly not yours,

Amanda

Published in: on April 5, 2017 at 12:01 am  Leave a Comment  

“Why won’t you apologize?”

apologize-coverWhy Won’t You Apologize?   by Harriet Lerner

A review

Confession: Half the reason I gave this book a second look is because of the cover shout-out from my sociology heroine Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, one of the best books I’ve ever read. So, authors and would-be authors, take note: the cover endorsement makes a difference.

Like many self-help titles, Why Won’t You Apologize is full of truths we already know but forget, or wish weren’t true, or just don’t feel like dealing with. But it articulates them in fresh, relatable, easily readable stories and counsel.

Lerner, a therapist and “apology researcher” for 20-plus years, discusses what a meaningful apology is and isn’t, how to deliver one even when you’re the wronged party, how to receive one, how to live without one when you need it, and the role of forgiveness.

We all know when someone’s apology is sincere and when it isn’t, even if we can’t articulate why; Lerner breaks it down. She also explains why some people over-apologize and why some won’t apologize under any circumstance. She delves into trickier territory in a chapter about apologizing “under fire” – when you’re being criticized, fairly or not. She then offers tips on apologizing to those “defensive” people.

The last third of the book deals with the topic of forgiveness, and here I had to demur, because our definitions of forgiveness are rather different. Lerner seems to believe that forgiveness is the equivalent of absolution; I do not. I can forgive someone but still hold him or her to consequences. I do this on a regular basis as a parent: I forgive Samuel for the red Sharpie on the piano keys, but he is still going to lose Minecraft privileges! Forgiveness is a gift; it’s trust that must be earned.

Lerner also teaches that forgiveness must be earned. If the wrongdoer does not apologize and change, forgiveness is impossible. But that’s a prison I’m unwilling to call home. I must have a means to get free of the wrongdoer’s hold on my life, and forgiveness is the tool. Forgiveness means I no longer dwell in the wrong done to me.

Lerner takes serious issue with those who tell the victim that he or she has to forgive the wrongdoer, thereby adding pressure and shame to the victim. I concede her point there. While forgiveness is always needed eventually, there is no prescribed timeline or even method for getting there. I would never tell my friends who’ve been abused that “it’s time to forgive now”; that would be unconscionably insensitive. What I will do is pray and be a friend and be a listener, and encourage them in the acts of forgiveness when their hearts are strong enough to start on that path. No whitewashing allowed, only real healing.

Notable passages:

“With my husband, Steve, for example, I like to apologize for exactly my share of the problem – as I calculate it, of course – and I expect him to apologize for his share, also as I calculate it. Needless to say, we don’t always do the same math.” – p. 2

Ouch. Painfully true.

“The best apologies are short, and don’t go on to include explanations that run the risk of undoing them. An apology isn’t the only chance you ever get to address the underlying issue. The apology is the chance you get to establish the ground for future communication. This is an important and often overlooked distinction.” – p. 15

“The higher the anxiety in any system, the more individuals are held responsible for other people’s feelings and behavior (‘Apologize to your dad for giving him a headache’) rather than for their own (‘Apologize to your dad for not turning the music down when you knew he had a headache’).” – p. 19

“Words of apology, no matter how sincere, will not heal a broken connection if we haven’t listened well to the hurt party’s anger and pain.” – p. 51

“Say it shorter. If you’re trying to get through to a non-apologizer – or any difficult or defensive person – keep in mind that overtalking on your part will lead to underlistening from the other. This is true whether the offense you’re addressing is large or small.” – p. 76

“We want change but don’t want to change first – a great recipe for relationship failure.” – p. 109

“The best apologies are offered by people who understand that it is important to be oneself, but equally as important to choose the self we want to be.” – p. 125

Published in: on March 2, 2017 at 1:37 am  Leave a Comment  

Bad Biblical Dads

Why were so many of God’s chosen men such terrible fathers?

Abraham, earthly father of three world faiths, banished his firstborn out into the desert with the unwanted concubine (Genesis 21:14).

Isaac, long-awaited & much-favored child of promise, couldn’t tell the difference between his own sons (Genesis 27:21-40).

Jacob, whose very name (Israel) represents God’s chosen nation, totally played favorites with Joseph (Genesis 37:3-4); he also let his trigger-happy sons annihilate an entire town for revenge (Genesis 34).

Moses, extraordinary leader of the most defining event of the Jewish people (the exodus) apparently didn’t circumcise his son, the most basic act of declaring who he was as a Hebrew (Exodus 4:24-25).

Eli, who raised the amazing last prophet Samuel, also raised sons so corrupt as priests that the Lord killed them (1 Samuel 2:12, 27-36).

Saul, Israel’s very first king, hated his son Jonathan’s excellent choice of friend (David) (1 Samuel 20:30-33); he also raised a snooty daughter (Michal) (2 Samuel 6:20).

David, the much-vaunted “man after God’s heart” and greatest king of Israel ever – oh, man, where do you even start??? With how he favored the child of adultery (2 Samuel 12:15-23)? With one of his children raping another (2 Samuel 13:1-21)? With turning a blind eye to sin upon rebellion upon sin on the part of his son Absalom (2 Samuel 14-18)?

Geez Louise. What gives?

On the one hand, it makes me scratch my head. These were God’s chosen men of Old Testament times, these losers? You could give a TED talk: “Don’t parent like an Old Testament Dad.”

On the other hand, I find I’m relieved. These were God’s chosen people? Aw, man, apparently I’m in good company, with my legion of sins and flaws and stupid moves. Apparently the point here is not how great God’s people are, but how amazing God himself is, that he can work in, through, and in spite of them…& us.

I am also grateful for holy Scriptures that are unvarnished, honest about the greatness and the depravity of even the chosen leaders. Such stories remind me first that there is only One worthy of worship, and second that he loves even we frail and fallen children of his.

Though I do hope to be a better parent than these guys. Please Jesus.

Published in: on February 23, 2017 at 3:13 am  Leave a Comment  

Grownups slow down

A sermon to myself…and whoever else needs it

If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a gazillion times – every parent of an infant, toddler, or preschooler has: “Enjoy every minute.” “It goes so fast.” “Oh, don’t miss a thing, they grow up so fast.”

“They grow up so fast.”blur

“They grow up so fast.”

And I believe them, especially now that mine are the ripe old ages of 9 and 7. It IS true. They DO grow up like weeds, before your very eyes. They are swaddled in swaddles one day and sporting a varsity jacket the next, yes. They are toddling into your bed entirely too early one morning, then off on a honeymoon the next morning, it seems.

I get it.

I also get what an eye-roll this causes to the sleep-deprived parent, the one who can’t remember the last time they showered before 2 p.m. Or the mom with one child in the shopping cart, one in the papoose, and one over there next to the cash register, peeing on the floor. Or the terribly gray father who just hopes his little girl (who hasn’t been little since puberty struck three years ago) is safe with “those” friends, or that pimple-faced teenage boy with the weird t-shirts. Those folks are ready for this phase to be done already, for the love.

It’s both/and, as usual. The years go by so fast – even when the days are going by so slow. Both/and.

But I have a thought:

Maybe it’s the grownups who need to slow down.

Shrug. Sure, of course, we all know we’re just about all too rushed, and we all casually throw around the pat, expected phrases: “I just need to simplify my life.” “Oh, I’m just too busy.” “Well, I’m just slammed these days.” Blah blah blah.

But – and much has been written about this elsewhere, far more articulately than I could put it, and even with that all-important thing, DATA – we have elevated busyness to a most aspirational idol. We worship it. If you have time to sit and watch the river go by, you’re obviously not a very important person.

(Please hear the sarcasm in that last sentence. Ye gads.)

Here’s my point: I strongly suspect one of the reasons “they grow up so fast” is because we are simply moving so fast we don’t notice that time is passing.

We’re up at dawn so we can get in a workout before we have to take the kids to daycare/preschool/school. We rush to work, rush through lunch (eating it at our desk, if at all), rush to get the kids, rush home, rush to band or dance or karate or soccer or church or after-school job or the grocery store or out to eat or to “run a few errands.” We rush back home for dinner (maybe), homework, a little veggie-ing in front of Hulu or Netflix, a little laundry or yard work or straightening up the room formerly known as the dining room, and collapse, dear Lord, collapse into bed hoping we can carry it all off again tomorrow.

Throw a little grad school in for fun.

Or a crisis of any size – car in the shop, kid with a cast, teenager with mono, aging parents who can’t figure out how to operate the Tivo, a friend who’s child’s just been diagnosed.

The result?

We don’t have time to snuggle with the toddler – unless he’s going to sit still long enough for an Instagram photo.

We don’t have time to play with plastic horses and dollhouses – here, let’s invite a friend over to do that with you, honey.

We don’t have time to screw up the science fair project, so just let me do all the typing for you and the Internet research (because I don’t have time to teach you how to be safe online).

We don’t have time to watch her stumble through the dance steps – show me when you’ve learned it a little better, sweetie.

We don’t have time to sit and speculate on the “elevator to space” idea – well, we have about three minutes for that, no more.

We don’t have time to read his favorite parts of Robinson Crusoe again.

You’ve watched this movie before? Well, then enjoy, but I don’t have time to sit down and watch it with you again.

We certainly, we most certainly do not have more than one minute to sit outside and watch squirrels.

Or, when we do take those moments, the phone is in hand to capture it on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook/whatever. Must have proof that we sat on the couch playing with yarn; the memory of it is insufficient. (But is it possible what she remembers is that I spent most of our “yarn” time trying to get a good photo??)

Or, and this is the hardest: the phone is down, we’re physically engaged, but our minds are elsewhere: dinner. What we need from Lowe’s. That strained conversation at work. How much the car repair will cost. Whether or not the clothes dryer has been emptied. When to go visit Mom again.

Yikes and zoiks, Scooby-Doo.

We slow down enough to binge on Netflix. And we slow down enough to linger over the wine after supper. We slow down enough, maybe, to stay up a little longer reading a book.

But maybe part of the reason our children “grow up so fast” is because we are living our lives in an absolute whirlwind, a blur of tasks and trivialities. Our children are our little planets, and we are comets who complain that we never get to see the landscape – we fly high and fast and burning, but rarely land.

The solution?slow-down

Probably, actually slow down. Sit on the couch with the kids. Set down the phone at practice, at rehearsal, for God’s sake set it down during the game or performance. Forgo movie night; sit around the table and play games together. Take a road trip and leave all the handhelds (including yours!!) in the trunk, at least for the first half of the trip, right? Go on a walk and talk. Shell butterbeans or shovel snow together. Fold clothes together. Cook together. Eat together. Sit in the same room reading books. Look through old photos together. Build something together that won’t be graded.

What’s the common word there? Together.

Drop as much hurry as you can, widen the margins as much as you can, buy less presents but offer more presence.

Maybe if we slow down, the years will seem less frantic, more reasonable, more noticed, more enjoyed.

They do grow up too fast.

Don’t compound the speed by moving so fast yourself.

Published in: on February 16, 2017 at 2:26 am  Leave a Comment  

The Faith of Christopher Hitchens

“The Faith of Christopher Hitchens,” by Larry Taunton

A review

hitchensFew biographies are bona fide page-turners. This one is. Hitchens had a faith?? Really? Must read….

Confession: I never read the late celebrated atheist’s 2007 bestseller, god Is Not Great, much less his memoir, Hitch-22, which was published three years later.

More significant confession: It’s super-hard for me to pray for the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Peter Singer, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins (bad hombres known as the “Four Horsemen” of the New Atheism). Like, it’s easier for me to pray for the militants of ISIS, because, you know, everybody outside of ISIS knows that ISIS is nuts. Pure-tee evil. They’re horrid, but they’re hardly subtle, and they’re not exactly winning hundreds of thousands to their cause. Whereas these “Four Horsemen” and their ilk use more formidable weapons against the cause of Christ – words, intellectualism (okay, pseudo, usually), bestselling books, debates and lectures to sold-out venues. They swing their sword of militant unbelief at any shadow of faith from any follower of any religion, but they do it behind shields of warped data and philosophical argument and sophisticated debate skills – and this makes them subtly appealing. They sound so….reasonable, often, and therein lies their danger.

And so, I’ve always had a hard time loving these particular enemies (their term for themselves, not mine).

Christian apologist Larry Taunton’s well-written, engaging, lively, and above all very personal biography of Hitchens has turned me completely around. He shares a brief background of Hitchens’ journey to atheism, his change of at least some major thinking following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and especially their growing, deepening friendship – a thing that left Hitchens’ comrades in utter disbelief and dismay.

Here is a reminder that the “evangelical” part of my evangelical faith is about sharing my personal relationship with Jesus through a personal relationship.

People matter. Even arrogant atheists. Before reading this book, I’d give easy lip service to this sentiment. Now, I mean it. Even the “Four Horsemen” are, at the end of every day, still human. Still important to God. Still able to be redeemed, however far gone from him they are, however many people they have led from him.

I found myself genuinely caring for Christopher Hitchens, Public Enemy Number One to Christians for decades…because Larry Taunton genuinely cared for him. Despite Hitchens’ arrogance, despite Hitchens’ public persona of unfiltered hatred for people of faith.

This book was a reminder to me that it always comes down to the person – the one sitting across the table from you with “enough Johnny Walker for a battalion,” the one who knows his diagnosis of esophageal cancer is “a death sentence,” the one who, after a lifetime of bashing believers, answers the question, “Believest thou this?” (re: that Jesus is the resurrection and the life) with, “I’ll admit that it is not without appeal to a dying man.”

I found myself cheering inside for this man I’d previously found it difficult even to lift up a cursory prayer for.

Thank you, Larry Taunton, for making at least this one atheistic horseman human to me again. I needed the reminder, and it will hopefully stick with me and inform my current and future relationships with those who most assuredly do not believe.

A few noteworthy passages:

“Atheism does nothing to restrain our darker impulses. It does everything to exacerbate them…One is reminded of novelist Evelyn Waugh’s famous quip, made in response to someone pointing out his all-too-obvious faults, ‘You have no idea how much nastier I would be if I was not a Catholic. Without supernatural aid, I would hardly be a human being.’” – p. 64

“[Hitchens] found himself liking evangelicals. they were eager to debate him and defend their beliefs, yes, but they were also inviting him out to dinner or a drink afterward. That’s what he really came to admire: the combination of deep and sincere convictions, which doctrine-waffling Liberal Christians had set aside, and a willingness to defend those convictions in polite debate wrapped in the warmth of ‘the justly famed tradition of Southern hospitality.’ Declared Hitchens, ‘I much prefer this sincerity to the vague and Python-esque witterings of the interfaith and ecumenical groups who barely respect their own traditions and who look upon faith as just another word for community organizing.’” – p. 88

Ouch on the waffles! Score one for the sincerely convicted!

“I cannot count the number of times that people have given me a note to pass on to Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens thinking that their argument would surely be the one to overcome their unbelief. The arrogance of this is astonishing. More than arrogant, however, this is also bad theology because it fails to understand the workings of the Holy Spirit and God’s sovereign role in salvation. It reduces evangelism to cheap Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People techniques. ‘It does not depend on us that [the Gospel] be believed,’ wrote the late theologian Etienne Gilson, ‘but there is very much we can do toward making it respected.’ Indeed.” – p. 132

“The Faith of Christopher Hitchens” on Amazon

Published in: on February 9, 2017 at 2:25 am  Leave a Comment