Sugar Cubes and Church Kids

I was very proficient at doing the overheads at church. After Sunday school I would dutifully go upstairs while the other kids were eating sugar cubes from the coffee table, to the front row in the church auditorium. There I … Continue reading

Backsliding with Jesus and an Important New Book

Once, when we were support-raising missionaries for a Christian church planting organization, a funder wrote me and warned about our going down a slippery slope. Falling away, going down a slippery slope, turning one’s back and back-sliding–these were the worst … Continue reading

Aging

I am taking a break from the series of Today as though Yesterday posts, which, I would guess, is a healthy sign.

I have to stop to tell you about a book I am chewing on: The Gift of Years, by Joan Chittister.

There is so much truth and ground in her words, I urge you to read it. Even if you’re more of a Max Lucado type. Even if you don’t read spiritual books. This book is not spiritual in the normative way. It is incredibly ecumenical in the spiritual language it employs and at times downright universalist. If you focus on what you do or do not like about how she does this, the truth of what the book is actually about will be lost. I do not know her spiritual progression, but an earlier book of hers, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, is incredibly catholic Christian in the best ways, written from the Benedictine experience. Again, some of you may find this indeed progress, while some of you may find it upsetting. Just another reminder that authors are people, who change and adjust, and books misrepresent their authors the day after they’re published. Isn’t that wonderful?

The gift of The Gift of Years is this: redeeming the latter stages of life and aging itself. Reshaping the years we bloggers, we millenials, we “omg i’m gonna be 30″‘s (*guilty)…or 40…or 50, know the least about. The seniors are discounted in more ways than one while the rest of us hurrying folk, addicted to getting each other’s input on every aspect of our lives when we’ve lived the same amount of life as one another, are bereft for it. It is the wide angle lens we need. One of those compasses I will return to again and again, and force upon people I love as though I were the agent (so you are warned).

I think Jesus is proud of this book. It is light and it is pulling in the margins. Sounds just like Him.

It talks about actively aging. What an amazing conversation–deflating the power of the less important physical limitations through accommodations in order to celebrate and elevate the more important intellectual and soul experiences, freedom and meaning that aging bequeaths its crowd. What would it look like if we grandchildren, we sons and daughters, we spouses, or caretakers, or nurses or church family, helped one another age actively, beginning with those who are facing the decision most acutely. What would it look like if instead of doing an online search, we visited the nearby retirement community for some advice. What would it look like if we helped glorify the years, mark the time, and listen to the stories of the living among us that often receive less respect than the furniture they grew up around.

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People have wondered why am I reading this book. I am reading and loving this book because I want to actively age and I am a helpless nerdy nostalgic who is often painfully aware of the unnatural speeds and cravings of the stage of life I’m in now. There are a lot of reasons, but predominantly, I keep reading it because it reigns true to my heart and soul–over and against the popular disguises and marginalizing of aging, the exclusivity to the aged I see all around, and my own attitudes and biases. It is a breath of fresh air, a wide place seldom examined.

If you want to love the advanced around you, if you are married to someone or taking care of someone experiencing retirement or an age-induced identity crises, if you are wondering about the future, or if you are currently getting older, this is a book for you. We would all be better for more who embrace the gift of years.

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Children’s Books

One by one, along with toys, they are taking over my home. I do my best to purge and share and stow away when appropriate but gee-willakers, it’s a job. That, along with looking for lost toys, is basically my life. (And now you’re getting a glimpse as to why I would write to no one in particular in random spurts with little feedback…) 🙂

We are so fortunate to have this problem with books. It never occurred to me until I 1) had children 2) visited some of our neighbors’ homes  and 3) learned from some of early childhood education friends that having books around, even being given books as baby shower gifts, was not something to be taken for granted in our country. I remember visiting the home of a family who has since moved away and realizing that the kids didn’t all have pillows or dressers/hangers let alone books of their own. Coupled with the sad state of Los Angeles Public Schools in densely populated communities (as in, no toilet paper, torn books, etc.), was it any wonder why school didn’t seem like it was all that important to these kids?

Children’s books are a luxury and much more than a way to entertain and spend time with your babies. They truly are a stepping stone. I recently read that while middle-income neighborhoods boast an average of 13 books per child, low-income areas have a ratio of about one book per 300 children. I find this fact about our country embarrassing. The absence of books and other literacy-stimuli contributes to these kids entering kindergarten 12-14 months below the national language and pre-reading skill average. First Book is one non-profit seeking to close the discrepancy. I look forward to learning more about what our LA libraries are doing for these statistics and seeing how I can help. Ownership is big though; I am even more motivated to give books over toys now! If you have some extras you would like to relocate to a community like ours, I’d be happy to facilitate that!

As gift lists are constructed I thought it would be timely to suggest just a handful of our favorite (young) children’s books. These are books that Dante has returned to over and over at different ages and that Asher is now enjoying. There are so many books out there and, well, some of them stink. We don’t think these ones stink…

Don’t Touch, It’s Hot by Algrim – this really worked to help him understand HOT!

Fuzzy Yellow Ducklings, by Van Fleet – not your average texture book. Shapes meet animals meet texture meet flaps. Yeah, flaps!

What Do You See? by Krensky – very neat illustrations, made with recycled materials, about endangered animals. Also with flaps. 🙂

Ten Little Ladybugs by Gerth – 3D counting book with rhyming.

I’m a Big Brother by Cole – this truly helped Dante prepare for and understand Asher’s arrival. Girl equivalents exist. 🙂

Global Babies – unfortunately this book was left on the top of our car at one point and was relocated accidentally (I’m sure to a loving family…). Nonetheless, we remember it fondly and it was Dante’s fave. Fun exposure to different emotions and cultural dress.

Let’s Learn Our First Colors by Priddy Books – a magnetic learning book, this one is part game part book with picture magnets of common objects.

Happy gift giving, book sharing and, of course, reading.  🙂

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The Prince of Egypt and Grad School

Most weekday mornings the past month or so I have met with a few others at 8am to read and reflect on the Bible for 30 minutes. In a spirit of lectio divina, we gather to open ourselves to chapters of the Word read aloud, beginning with Genesis 1, without doing word studies or cross referencing, pausing and reflecting after each section. It’s a way of soaking in the text that I desperately need and the company and consistency of others beside me help my fledgling discipline.

The past few days we have read about Moses in Exodus. He calls himself a sojourner in a foreign land and names his son after this part of his story. I am not sure if he’s referring to his adoption into the ruling Egyptian family that oppressed his people or his time in Midian, the place he found refuge in after killing an Egyptian and fleeing his father’s punishment. Whatever the case, his identity was complicated and to make matters worse, God met him while he was tending his father-in-law’s flock in the wilderness and told him to return to the place of his crime, to the place of his first identity crisis and the place of his people’s suffering. Moses didn’t seem to show any signs of being the right man for this job, other than knowing his way around the palace. He was non-confrontational, confused, and hated by both sides of the issue. It took God a couple of chapters in fact to talk Moses himself into it. GOD. Yeah. I don’t know what happened with Moses’ lack of confrontation there.

By the end of the bargaining, Moses emerged still not wanting to talk about the calling God had convinced him of but planning on obeying, I think. He tells his father-in-law a sketchy version. He also emerges with some extra help: a staff (which he already had), a hand (which he already had), and a brother (which he already had). The help comes in when God tells him how to use these things and designs them to accomplish the calling.

Reading the story again in broad strokes inspired me to watch The Prince of Egypt tonight. Watching it as an adult is a much more emotional experience than it was when I was a kid and saw it at the movie theater! I’m tearing up when Moses’ mom puts him in the basket, I’m crying at the burning bush scene when God is describing who He is and giving Moses this burden and this purpose. Yes, it’s animated. Why do you ask?

As I watched, I was so struck by how little Moses returned to his home and his enemy with. How sparse his tool belt was for this great calling and terrible situation. Yes, God promised deliverance but really?! A staff? The same one he’s used the past 40 years for SHEEP? That’s it, Lord? You want the guy to shift the entire plot of the whole Hebrew nation with something he’s been carrying around half of his life? I cannot imagine what Moses was thinking on the journey back to Egypt from Midian, his wife and kids and staff in tow.

At World Impact, and I suspect in many full-time ministry scenarios, we often have conversations about our missionaries pursuing graduate degrees and further qualifications for their work after encountering the needs and unique environment to which they have been called. It is a complicated conversation in which I have no black and white opinions (shocker, I know). It is difficult on one hand because an array of needs are real, education is physically accessible and legitimate, the Kingdom is important, and people, both staff and the ones asking for help, are obviously worth investing in. And we don’t know much. 🙂 On the other hand, there is a cost of time and money that can compete with the actual calling, our organizational goals, support raising and missional commitments. Also, as I found from my own program at Fuller, graduate education isn’t very reproducible and inevitably exposes you to a whole different community, culture, and set of responsibilities, all with their own demands, needs and appeal.  This is all oversimplified and forming an opinion about this subject is beside the point of this post. So stop it. 😉

In light of all this, Moses’ story is comforting to me. Whether God wanted Moses to eventually get an MDiv or not, He sent him with a staff, with a hand, and with a brother. Familiar things. Parts of Moses’ strange, twisted story, re-purposed for deliverance, for justice-making, for freedom. I know the impact on the Hebrew people but I am so interested in the impact on the man Moses. As a third-culture adult, was there something settling and affirming to him in God’s commissioning of three different things that represented so much of his life? A hand that used to be a part of the ruling family. A brother he was barely alike yet eternally connected to. A staff representing a life of shepherding and grounding. Did it lay to rest some of his identity questions so that he could face the impossible task ahead? Was there a sense that while he could not necessarily hang his hat or articulate everything about his past, God was giving him something he could hold on to in this vision and task?

Yahweh deals so patiently with Moses in Exodus 3 and 4. I think partly it’s because He knows and is deeply committed to relieving all the suffering of His people but in His fervor and urgency, He also doesn’t forget who Moses is. And out of love and care for him, He equips Moses  in simple and meaningful ways to get him moving, however slowly. I am enjoying this story anew because I feel sympathetic to Moses and it seems like God is too. It makes me praise God for His gentleness and resourcefulness.  I sense that one of the promises of Moses’ story for us today is that the Lord equips us for the task. And He may be unconventional in doing so. Deliverance will not be interrupted by our own doubts, failings and lack of qualifications because we are not the Deliverer.  With or without formal study (which can be great and has been a huge blessing in my own life), God calls us to be His people and participants.  I hope that as you face His call on your life and the big and small Egypts of His purpose, the story of Moses may offer you a background of grace and assurance as it does me. He has re-framed our story within His own; He will use the staff already in our hand.

Hello Again

A new start. A fresh look. Ehh, not going to stop me from posting things from before Wide Places on Wide Places. 🙂 Welcome if you’re new. If you’ve read before, thanks for jumping over here.

If I could meet my sophomore-in-college-self, I would tell her so many things. So so many. Like don’t eat all that bread and be careful around that guy and whoa, American Eagle is not that cool. One of the top things on the list though would be, hey, you’re going to keep up with this blogging thing you’ve started. Don’t use xanga! It’s already outdated! Choose something that at least can be imported into WordPress in 9 years!

Buuuut, hindsight is 20/20, right? Well, lame blog or not, it did serve a purpose for eons, wherever I went, from Azusa to Nairobi to Portland to Los Angeles. Some people have mistaken my static blog for loyalty to xanga. The truth is that I’ve been gearing up for the past, oh, eversinceforever, for a change but it all seemed very daunting and low on the priority list. But now, in one of the most workaholic weeks of our lives, I decide to get going on this idea. (I have crazymaking coping mechanisms.) So here we are. I feel a little disjointed but as an organization freak, I also feel that familiar anticipation of cleaning something up–freezing the old, reclaiming some parts of it, and sharing it again alongside new chapters. My life has changed drastically since I first started blogging but some of my goals in writing are the same: to remember, to learn, and to open up. Sometimes for me, sometimes for the reader (and there really could be just one), ideally for both. The About page linked above will explain much more but for now, this is a beginning.