Airport Journeys

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Sitting in an airport, following that age old travel motto, “Hurry up and wait.” Today I knew there was no real hurry—4 hours between connections. Nothing pressing to do. Just wait. I scan the screen and don’t even have a definite boarding gate to move towards. So I drop my bags and sit. I watch other travelers skirting by, rolling bags, back-packs, and travel skate boards in tow. All going somewhere. And I simply sit, inactive.

I have had my moments of hurrying through airports. There was that time in this same airport when my team literally ran, fearing the very real possibility that our flight to Cambodia would leave without us. Stress overload. Today is different. Almost relaxing. For some it would be simply maddening.

Sometimes it feels like everyone else has somewhere to go, except me. They move forward; I sit around doing nothing. It makes one feel guilty or wonder if you missed something somewhere. It’s easy to forget that when you are a traveler on a journey, sometimes you have to sit and wait. Sometimes the heart of faithfulness is waiting by the board to find out your gate, or sitting at the gate until the time is right. Patience, traveler. Journey on. Eventually, you’ll get where you’re going.


Mid-winter Magic

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Snow blankets make earth warmer

Magnify light brighter

It pierces through my morning fog

I blink back, shaking off the grog

In cold air catch my wispy breath

Breathe deeper, trading life for death

Reflected sun careens through frosted glass

And heat now radiates forth where light has passed

Bathed in the glow my heart drums up a tune

“December can feel balmier than June.”


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.

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The Strange Case of the Missing Cord

I haven’t been writing much lately, maybe you’ve noticed. I’ve been stymied, frozen, stuck. And it’s all because of a missing camera cord. Call it the weirdest case of writer’s block ever. I’m calling it a lesson in life.

So here’s the story. I had this awesome photo blog all planned out. I spent a week taking pictures, plotting it, perfecting it. But when the time came to put it all together, I hit a glitch. My camera connecting cord was M.I.A. and my picture blog was doomed to an early and unfortunate death. For some reason I couldn’t move on. Inspiration went out the window. My blog fell flat and I didn’t see the point of writing anymore. “Why did I even start this thing in the first place? What do I have to say that’s worth saying? Maybe I should just hang up the towel and admit defeat.” Oh, I tried. A few failed attempts. Several sessions staring at a blank screen. Nothing. And all because my dear little blog-plan got the shaft.

Funny how a change of plans can mess up your equilibrium. Funny how when things don’t go where you anticipated you can lose your momentum to go anywhere. Funny how when the plan falls flat life can fall flat as well. Have you ever been the victim of a changed plan? Maybe something a little more dramatic than a missing camera cord? I have. And I usually cope about the same. It’s hard work to let go and move on. It’s hard to get your inspiration for living back on line when you’ve had a systems failure. Proverbs says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12). Amen and amen.

Is there some secret to putting yourself back together after you fall apart? If there is, I guess I haven’t discovered it yet. It’s off missing with the camera cord. But I figure the first step is facing the facts, feeling the disappointment, acknowledging that the loss is real. In a word, grieving. You write that blog bemoaning the blog-that-will-never-be.  You’re honest with yourself that life disappointed you. And as much as you can, you let it rest in peace.

Proverbs 13:12 says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Sometimes when our hopes and plans fail, the raw wound uncovers something deeper, the longing that gave rise to the  hope in the first place. My failed blog-plan uncovered nothing less than the longing in my soul to be significant, a longing I wanted to satisfy with my amazing post, but which in reality could never have been satisfied by something so small.

Hopes, longings, inspiration and camera cords. You lose one and discover another. Life is a funny, jumbled up mess sometimes. I guess that’s why some days you lose your camera cord. And I guess that’s also why I keep writing.


“Unless you just want coffee with cream, I can’t help you…”

I was just ringing up a drink in my small Coffee Hut when a sudden stillness surrounded me. The silence was deafening. Background noises which I never pay attention to—the rumbling of the ice maker and hum of the air conditioning unit—were suddenly conspicuously absent. Oh, and did I mention it was dark? Well, you guessed it, my hut was without electricity, and I was suddenly out of work. No espresso machine, no steamed milk, no blender for frappuccinos, milk shakes or smoothies. It only took a few minutes to comprehend the ludicrousness of my situation. I had one freshly brewed pot of coffee, and a whole shop full of dormant ingredients with which I could do nothing. I called my boss, and started cleaning up shop to go home—four hours ahead of schedule. When the power goes out, there’s not much more you can do.

Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). If His Chaco’d feet hit the pavement of our modern day cities, I think He might draw an analogy to electricity instead of talking vines and branches. I’ve never lived through a scenario that illustrated this principle in such vivid color. There I was, sitting in a shop whose whole purpose for existing was to make these specialty beverages, and I couldn’t do anything. Cut off from the power source, my vocation (literally call) became null and void. Utterly impossible to fulfill. Apart from Jesus I can’t do anything. Well, maybe I can sit in a dead shop handing out cups of coffee until my one little pot runs empty, but I can’t fulfill my purpose. Not even close. If Jesus ceases to be my power source, it doesn’t matter how much good stuff I have around me. I might as well pack up and go home.

It’s a funny thing, electricity. It’s so unassuming, unnoticed. We walk through our days totally unaware of how much we depend upon it. Until it’s not there. Perhaps this speaks to that mystery of the hiddenness of God, of the times when He seems to “not be there.” Perhaps the only way some of us will recognize how much we depend on Him for everything is to experience a temporary “power-out,” where it seems to us that we have been disconnected. The silence can be deafening. But it speaks its own message—a message of dependence, of need, of our inability to do anything of value apart from our Source. It’s a message many of us need to hear.

Back to my shop—when the power came back on half an hour after its unexpected disruption, I let out a whoop of thankfulness. (See, I actually like my job). I was back in business, surrounded by stores of good things to hand out to the world—and the power supply to make it possible.


Our Field for the Poor

“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.’” Leviticus 23:22

Thai Soybean Field

The combines are out en masse in the fields around my house. Golden browned soybeans, wheat, and corn are being harvested and stored. It’s a time of hard work, but also celebration for God’s provision this year. For the ancient Israelites it meant that and more. For those who loved God it meant a special season for giving to God and providing for the poor.

Looking at Leviticus 23, I am moved by the compassion of God, who was so careful to make special provision for the needy people He knew would make a home in Israel. As an agrarian society, Israel was commanded to not squeeze as much profit as possible from its fields, but rather to leave bits of grain for the poor to find. Interestingly, this command comes in the midst of instructions on all the grain offerings brought to God during this harvest season. The Israelites were to bring the first-fruits of their harvest to the temple and also leave a remnant behind. It is like God is saying, “Oh, by the way, your first-fruits are mine, and so are your “last-fruits;” caring for the poor as I do is part of your worship of me.”

What does it look like in our society to care for the poor? Most of us don’t have fields; those who do generally don’t have needy people asking to come behind the combines and pick up left-overs. But I don’t think that means we should just ignore this passage. While we don’t have fields for the poor, I think this opens up some startling implications for our lives. The first implication is that not only is God concerned about the welfare of the poor, but providing provision for them is even an act of worship. It is loving what He loves, and that pleases Him. The second and possibly more surprising implication I find relates to how we provide provision for the poor: not only by sending a check to charity or volunteering our time, but also by looking for ways to help the poor help themselves. In this passage the Israelites provided left-over grain and the poor provided labor to gather it. God was wise to set up such a system. It has been found on many mission fields that hand-outs to the poor often do more harm than good. If people are simply given things, they tend to take them for granted, abuse the system, and in the end become dependent on continued charity. Making people earn what they get, i.e. paying a small amount, has been shown to heighten appreciation for what is provided. It also gives a sense of honor and personal worth to the person earning what they need. When possible, it is better to empower the poor to make their own way than it is to only give charity.

I have been asking myself what our “fields” are like in this day and age. Where is the left-over or surplus of our labor that can be transformed into provision for the poor? In a society that builds itself on dollars, what choice do we have but to simply write more checks to charity? I would like to propose that our dollar is our field. Not in the sense of giving but in the sense of spending. Let me explain. In our society, most of us buy what we need rather than producing it ourselves, and it is usually the poor both in our own country and around the world who make those things. In too many cases, the poor in this system are made more destitute in order that others (be it consumer, distributor or producer) may reap more profits. How we spend our dollar and the things we buy have a massive impact on the poor. For many years I have operated by the ethic of stretching my dollar as far as I can, shopping wherever I can get things the cheapest. I am getting the gleanings from my own dollar. But lately I have been challenged to leave that gleaning for the poor, to search out places to spend my dollars that allow the poor worker to go home with something to live on. Now when I go into a store, I tell myself, “Someone is paying the price. Better me than them.” It is hard, costly. But living God’s way often is. I want to be like King David, the man after God’s own heart, who came to worship the LORD with these words: “I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing” (1 Chronicles 21:24).

My current field is fairly small. I don’t have many dollars to spend, and to be honest I haven’t found a lot of places to spend them that leave those gleanings. But at least now I’m looking. I’m not content to only bring my grain into God’s temple; I want to leave part of my grain for the poor. It might not be a lot at first–just a kernel here or there, an occasional choice to buy that dress I need from a socially responsible seller rather than the usual retail store, a decision to get one shirt instead of two so that the worker who makes it will have a decent return for their labor. My field’s gleanings are small, but maybe to that one person it will mean feeding a young family. And to me, it will be a conscious choice to worship God with all that I am, and all that I have. And that’s really worth something.

For further thoughts and resources on this topic, you can follow my new blog at My Justice Journey. I would welcome your ideas and comments.

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