Category Archives: Personal

Considering Grace

Whilst traversing the globe I came across that well-known book “What’s So Amazing About Grace” by Philip Yancey. And I’ve been thinking about grace ever since. Grace means gift, and as I look at my life I see so much evidence of gift. Seeing gift, seeing grace, is giving me this crazy sense of awareness of God’s presence in my life. It’s like this peace-releasing security that defines my existence despite the waves of chaos, stress and change that I’ve been riding.

Gift takes many forms. Upon arriving home after 6 months of full-throttle globe trotting and missions, I realized that I was surrounded by answers to prayer. Many changes have occurred in my family. Many prayers I have prayed for them over the last months and even years have suddenly borne fruit. Recognizing this, I am overwhelmed  by gift, grace, God.

My baby sister got married last weekend. I remember the day she was born, and my childish joy at having a new member of the family. Now I am sister to another, and I see God’s gift to her life. Grace.

In the midst of wedding craziness my car broke down. Really. The front tire broke off of the steering rods. As I watched my car being towed away, the second car in our family to die that weekend, I had to laugh over the irony of our situation. When I got the service call and heard how much repairs would cost, it wasn’t funny anymore. But as I prayed about what to do, and where the money would come from, I realized it was already taken care of. Just the week before someone had arranged to give me a certain amount of money each month in repayment for work I had done years ago. The total amount pretty much covered my car repair. And I realized God had anticipated my need. Grace.

I like to live my life in intentional pathways, each thing I do pointed towards a specific goal, a determined direction. I like to know what I’m doing and why. I’m in a season of transition, lack of place and uncertainty about where to invest. And yet God’s grace to me is giving me a sense of security. I don’t know where I will be living 6 weeks from now or what I will be doing. But I know God’s hand on my life. And right now that is enough.

I’ve long loved the story of Hagar in the desert, at the end of her rope, sure she was going to die. She came to know God’s presence and provision, she knew Him as “the God Who Sees Me.” I am thankful for the God Who Sees Me today.

Desert Wanderer


Single and the Brat

My brother calls me “single.” The first time he did it I was taken aback. “What did you call me?” Single, the Uzbek word for “little sister.” It’s actually a pretty apt nick-name, as I am single in every sense of the word. I’ve returned the favor and call him “Brat” (Russian for brother). Also fitting, especially when he’s trying to poke me in the sides or quoting from an unfortunate you-tube video, “Woman, make me a sandwich.” All joking aside, there is an underlying affection between my broski and me. We’ve found ourselves in the interesting position of two grown children living at home. Two adults trying to chart a course through a confusing melee of life choices, who have had to grapple with disappointments, with ways that God doesn’t make sense, with not being sure what to do next. We often feel “lost” together, but we fill the time with Star Trek and League of Legends, with researching exploitation issues and politics. We joke that we will become bums and move into a “van by the river.” We’ve discussed the tempting notion of building a lake cabin somewhere and being an old maid and bachelor infinitely cooler than fictional siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert (Anne of Green Gables). Despite the things that aren’t “going right” for us, our mundane normal has become a good normal. Our companionship in this season of life has become an important support for me. Instead of “Beauty and the Beast,” I am living “Single and the Brat,” but it’s not without a certain appeal.DSC04237

Rewind one year. I’m still an adult living at home, but I’ve swapped brothers. My days include lifting weights at the gym and running with little brother number two. We have been on many adventures together: long-distance backpacking trips, kayaking, Colorado expeditions and meeting up with “Brat” for some white-water rafting through a thunder/hail storm. We ran our first 5k together, and discussed how much we both hated running every day in training. I brought him mochas from work and he made me laugh. I made guacamole and he did dishes. I have a level of camaraderie, of shared jokes and experience, with my family that I don’t have with anyone else, and it’s precious to me.

I share these stories because they illustrate a truth I think our culture has widely forgotten, but which I have been daily living. The truth is that there’s more than one relationship that can feed our need for love, support and connection. Our culture has become obsessed with romantic relationships, increasingly convinced that there’s only one kind of love that really makes life worth living. Think about recent movies that have come out. How many have you seen that show parents and children as a crucial support and encouragement network, or show siblings relating to each other in a really positive way, not at each others’ throats for one reason or another, going on adventures to save the world and save each other? How many movies tell the story of a friend whose love was “better than that of a woman/romantic partner,” as King David experienced? There may be a few out there, but they are definitely not the majority. Our culture paints parents and children as disrespectful and misunderstanding of each other. Most siblings at best tolerate one another, and are usually in some kind of competition to be the best or be on top. Most friends are on the side-lines, offering advice and doing everything they can to find that “one necessary” relationship for themselves as well. It’s all made for some entertaining movies, and many movies that feel “true to life,” but they lie to us. They tell us that if we don’t have that all-important romantic relationship, we are less alive, less human. If you’re single, if you’ve “never been kissed,” you’re seriously missing out, and you’re weird to boot. If you’re in an unhappy relationship you should definitely get out and find a better one. After all, it’s what life is all about.

Intimacy is something we long for as human beings, to be known, to be loved, to not go through life alone. Our culture has become very narrow in the way they perceive intimacy, as something that occurs primarily sexually.But there are actually many spheres of intimacy, and many kinds of relationships that can offer life-giving intimacy in those spheres. Counselor and Spiritual Director David Benner fleshes this out in his book, “Sacred Companions.” He writes, “Intimacy is shared experience…[which] can be experienced in a variety of forms. Two people are spiritually intimate when they share spiritual experiences, emotionally intimate when they share emotional experiences, sexually intimate when they share sexual experiences, and intellectually intimate when they share intellectual experiences. Other forms of intimacy include vocational intimacy (shared work), recreational intimacy (shared delight in play), creative intimacy (shared experiences of creating something), aesthetic intimacy (shared enjoyment of beauty) and social justice intimacy (working together to make the world a better place).” He goes on to describe how intimacy in one sphere strengthens intimacy in another, and how important it is for companions to have intimacy in multiple spheres. A couple who limits intimacy to sexual and emotional spheres will experience less genuine intimacy than one who develops it in other areas. And I would suggest, a single person not experiencing sexual intimacy but intimate with people on many other levels, may actually be experiencing deeper and truer intimacy in the context of their non-romantic relationships.

We are familiar with the Bible teaching, “It is not good for man to be alone.” This is a favored text in support of marriage, but can also be taken as a general principle. No matter what your marital status, it is not good for you to be alone, and the Bible has illustrations of all kinds of relationships meeting this need. Multi-generational housing was very normal, and we see families living in close proximity to each other, pulling together despite the human tendency to pull each other apart. On two separate occasions Jesus called brothers to follow him together (James and John, Peter and Andrew). The latter two even got a co-nick-name, “Sons of Thunder.” Famous duos in the Bible include Moses and Aaron (brothers), Naomi and Ruth (mother-in-law/daughter-in-law) David and Jonathan (friends) and Paul and Timothy (mentor/mentee). If you need strong evidence that full life apart from marriage is possible, look no farther than Jesus, who said, “I have come that [you] might have life, and have it to the full.” His life was full of non-romantic, highly meaningful and mutually encouraging relationships, including his closest friends, the twelve disciples, and other special individuals that blessed his life, such as Mary and Martha.

I’ve had to re-evaluate my “woe-is-me” mentality towards being a single. I have realized how blessed I am in the realm of non-romantic, life-giving relationships. Beyond my family, I have a dizzying array of friends and mentors who have been there for me, invested in me, shared rich experiences with me. I have much to be thankful for. I’m not living the fairy-tale of my dreams, but I am never lacking for partners in crime, companionship or adventure. Maybe someday “Single and the Brat” will become worthy of a compelling movie of its own.

Get a Life

Today my brother asked me to do something with him of a leisurely nature. “I don’t know if I can,” was my instant reply. “Why not?” he said. “Because I have a life…” Open mouth, insert foot. What a dumb thing to say.

When did we start to get the idea that being busy meant we “had a life?” When did we start measuring the quality of our life by our productivity or the length of our to-do list? We have become human doings instead of human beings. Does one person have more of a life, more of a reason to exist, because they do more stuff? Does another have less value because they are in a season of rest? Often it’s the very doing of too many things that starts to sap us of our life-energy. In all our doing we lose space to reach out and connect with others. We bow down to the to-do list god and fail to love our brother. Like I said, dumb thing to say.

What is life? Where is it to be found? It’s not measured in productivity or lack of it, not confined to days of busyness or even days of quiet. Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Life is bound up in knowing God and living alongside of Him. The things we do are not totally insignificant, but they aren’t what “give us a life” or prove that we have one. Jesus’ next statement was, “I have brought you  (God) glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4). God will reveal things to us that He wants us to do. He may write us a divine to-do list of sorts. But it is not so that we will “have a life,” so that we will look good. It’s so that He’ll look good through (or despite?) us. Life is ours apart from anything we do.

Do you have a life? Is it the kind of life that Jesus called life? Or do you make the same mistake of equating busyness with life, and glorifying the things you do instead of glorifying God? Maybe some days we need to set aside the to-do list and let God lead us in the kind of life He wants us to live. Whether we are in a season of stress or a season of recuperation, our source of true life comes from the same place. And our value and purpose is exactly the same. I thought I had these truths nailed, but this morning’s expose’ revealed otherwise. Perhaps as I continue to reflect on these things, they will work their way deeper into my heart. And maybe next time true life will guide what comes out of my mouth.


When Waiting is Work

“Be dressed and ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him.” Luke 12:35-36

I work at a small drive-up coffee shop. It’s often feast or famine—everyone coming at once or no one coming at all. That being the case, daily I have moments to sit, sip chai and contemplate life, just waiting. I’m waiting for someone to come to my window, waiting to spring back into action. At that moment watching and waiting is my work.

Waiting is definitely not doing nothing. You should see me scurry at the first lull in the shop—mopping up spills, cleaning out blenders, refilling syrups, brewing shot after shot for chilled espresso. I need these down-times to get ready to go again. Without them the shop would become a complete disaster and I would run out of supplies. There’s no sitting until I’m set to immediately go again. It’s all part of the job, part of active waiting.

Active waiting is a major theme in the gospels. Jesus told stories of servants awaiting the unknown arrival time of their master, about virgins sitting up with their lamps waiting for the bridegroom to come and start the party, about a widow who persistently cried out to an unjust judge, waiting for him to uphold her case. Waiting is a normal part of reality; even God waits—he waits to deal with the weeds among his crop until the harvest, he delays in his return because he is “patient…not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Waiting, even waiting on God, is part of daily life. But it’s hard. Waiting is work. And Jesus knew it. His closest disciples failed at the waiting game; they fell asleep when Jesus’ only request was that they watch and pray. Jesus knew waiting could be our downfall, and so he ended one of his waiting parables with this poignant question: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).

Waiting is major work in my life right now. I go through each day figuratively waiting for someone to come to my window. I attempt to wait actively, knocking on doors, praying, researching, honing skills, living and loving well now. I try to keep myself ready to respond at a moment’s notice for when the command finally comes, all the while wondering if it ever will. I am like one of the ten virgins in Jesus’ wedding story, waiting with my lamp and oil for the bridegroom to show up, doing my best not to fall asleep. “Be dressed and ready for service and keep your lamps burning.” A difficult command. My calling right now. Would you watch and wait with me? It’s so much easier to stay awake when you’re not doing it alone.

 “As the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he shows us his mercy.” Psalm 123:2

Generous Realities

Lately I have been confronted day in, day out, with a character trait that can make me exceedingly uncomfortable–generosity. I have not had too many situations where my life and livelihood were so daily affected by this quality in people largely strangers to me, and I don’t always know how to respond. Unlike in a restaurant, where tips may be based on quality of service, people generally choose to be generous to me apart from any particular merit on my part; they give even before tasting their drinks. Whenever someone is particularly open-handed I walk away blessed and grateful, with the feeling that I’ve been given a gift I don’t deserve.

Last week after an occasion of this kind of generosity I found myself contemplating what it would be like if God came to my drive-through window. What kind of tipper would He be? My understanding of God’s character makes me think He would have to be one of those alarmingly generous ones who give far more than we would ever expect — the kind of giver who makes our jaw drop a little, that we don’t know how to respond to — and this without any merit on our part.  I’ve known and believed this about God’s character for a long time, but I often find myself living as if it were not true. Life leaves me struggling to trust God’s goodness, His giving nature. I catch myself worrying about finances, not sure whether I’ll have what I need tomorrow. How can I be generous when penny pinching is my reality? I must first realize the alternate reality of how much I’ve been given. When I  ponder all God gives me daily, I am amazed — this sunrise, this work, this body, this cup of sweet and savory coffee, this friend who has stood by me for years, this ability to dream and imagine beautiful things in the future — I am truly blessed by the generosity of God, a generosity that began in the very act of creation. When God created the earth, He made it fruitful, abundant and good. He gave all its richness to us, to steward and enjoy. He made a world where there is more than enough, a world where generosity is possible.

What would it look like to reflect God’s generous character in my life–to shed my own Scrooge-like nature in exchange for the divine? My generous tippers show God to me in ways I often fail to reflect it to others. I am challenged to open my hands wider — to say “yes” to God’s ability to provide in my life, and pour more out on a world just waiting to be turned upside down.

Abandon Ship!

Day three on a recent canoe trip found my brother and I paddling leisurely out of the Minnesota Boundary Waters, looking forward to a hearty meal that we didn’t have to cook over the fire ourselves and a mocha from our favorite coffee shop to warm up our blood after weathering an unexpected cold snap in the north country. It was indeed to be a trip of unexpecteds, as the next moments would prove. My brother felt something brush against his leg. Looking down at the same moment that he swatted it away, his eyes bulged to see a furry little creature, which until that moment had been resting comfortably on the side of his calf. I heard a yelp and felt the canoe rock somewhat violently. “A mouse! A mouse in the canoe! It was on my leg!” He looked around wildly and flung his legs wide to straddle the gunwales and get them out of harms way. I craned my head from the front of the boat, and caught a glimpse of movement along the small crack where metal concealed the styrofoam floater at the stern. Our four-legged friend obviously was not enjoying the water that had begun to flood his home back there. I maneuvered around until I was sitting backwards in the canoe, keeping an eye on that crack and giving my brother some level of protection from a counter-attack. I paddled backwards and willed the canoe to move faster through the water as my brother declared his intentions to abandon ship if the mouse made a second appearance. I deemed it rather a miracle that he hadn’t tipped us all into the water at the first, certain I wouldn’t have kept my head so well if I had been the one in the rear. But the next time he would jump, and all of us–boat, gear, mouse and me–would go over with him.

The mouse seemed to consider itself a long-term resident of that canoe. It wouldn’t vacate when we reached shore, even after incessant kicks and yells, and we resolved ourselves to transporting him all the way home on top of my car. He apparently found my stratus to be quite interesting, and scampered around in circles on its roof. I feared he would choose a new home in the upholstery of my vehicle. But just as unexpectedly as he came, he went. With a shout my brother declared our mouse run off into the woods. And so my brother and I breathed a sigh of relief and headed off towards Caribou Coffee. We had survived the wilderness, and overcome our giant.

Sometimes life throws a curve-ball as unexpected as a mouse in a mid-lake canoe, and just as unavoidable. It may be tempting in these moments to abandon ship. Jumping overboard, however, will often create more problems than it solves. Sometimes the only thing to do is keep your head and keep paddling. Some days just staying in the canoe is a major victory. And who knows? Your perseverance could eventually pay off in a big way–a solution might present itself when you least expect it–and then you will taste the thrill of the overcomer, more sweet than a milk chocolate mocha.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” -Jesus, John 16:33

Silent Messenger

A stranger invaded the privacy
Of my tryst on the lawn alone
His dark green shell shone in the sun
He moved not, but his nose faced home

O surprise companion
Do you feel what I feel today?
Where you belong is in your view
Yet impossibly far away

And as I watched he took a step
Strained forward in a line
Towards the beckoning lake afar far off
Undeterred by the passage of time

Alike, two turtles, we troll along
All progress painfully slow
But I must believe as you pass me by
If I can move forward, there’s hope.