Sunday, January 31, 2016

Different Kinds of Questions

Life has changed a lot since my last post. I spent most of Wednesday in the ER, most of Friday at another hospital for testing, and will go back to the hospital for surgery on Tuesday. I am currently feeling rather like an invalid, living with a catheter at home and still struggling with pain and stiffness on my right side, which is making everything more challenging. The biggest challenge right now, beyond sheer physical tiredness, is living under the weight of "what if." Surgery on Tuesday should hopefully show me a little more of what I might be facing.

At the moment, everything feels different than it did just a few short days ago when my body, though not without its aches and pains, still felt like it worked as it should.

I find myself waking up with entirely different questions than I did before facing serious illness. I think my daily (perhaps sometimes unconscious) questions used to be "what" and "how much" -- as in "what do I need to do today?" and "how much can I get done?" Right now the question is more "how" -- as in "how can I get through this day one step at a time?" and "how can I live today in such a way that I am not giving into stress and fear?" and "how can I bring God glory and myself and my family peace through the way I respond to what is happening right now?" I keep reminding myself this is not a bad way to live, though I surely hope to soon be functioning better physically.

My dad reminded me a couple of days ago, when he called to check on me, that it had been 40 days since Mama passed away. Such a biblical number. Surely this has been one of the biggest wilderness periods I've ever known.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Ten Minute Tuesday (#4)

Sometimes natural beauty is the most beautiful of all. I thought of posting a snow picture today (given all the snow we've had recently!) but this lovely piece of malachite called out instead. Not sure what it might prompt creatively, but the design and the color are both stunning.

Malachite mined from Congo, displayed at Transvaal Museum - South Africa. Photo credit: Amazing Geologist (

Saturday, January 23, 2016

A Possible Ninth Planet

In October, I wrote about our family's read-through of Tom Standage's book The Neptune File, which detailed the search for the planet that eventually was named Neptune. Neptune was the first planet that astronomers ever discovered, not by observing it in the heavens, but by making mathematical calculations. These days ever more involved mathematical calculations have made possible the discovery of not-yet-observed planets outside of our own solar system.

How exciting to read this in the news this week, that another planet may be near the outer edges of our solar system! One we didn't know was there, but which might well be there, based on our observations of the orbits of various objects in the Kuiper Belt. If it is there, it is likely three times larger than earth, but smaller than Uranus and Neptune, and probably a gaseous planet. If it's where they think it is, it's so far from the sun that it could take 20,000 years to revolve around it!

It's so marvelous to contemplate the mysteries of the universe and to realize how much we don't know. And so fascinating to think of another planet having been there, perhaps all this time, and we just weren't aware. It makes you wonder how many other things are real and true and solid and beautiful and simply beyond our awareness and field of vision.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

My View, God's View

My involvement in social media, especially Facebook, has both widened my world and made it feel smaller. It's widened my world in that I am able to more readily connect with many more people as well as learn things about them and about the world that I never knew before. It's made my world feel smaller in that I begin to realize how deeply connected we all are, how much we share in common, even those of us who don't really know each other.

I've been thinking about that this week as I'm a little bit on overload with life. Still grieving my mom's loss at the same time I am celebrating her homecoming to glory -- an unexpected month ago today. Time marching relentlessly on and there's so much to do: homeschooling, ministry, household tasks, writing work. Still hurting and aching and dealing with broken sleep patterns. Deadlines that were graciously extended for me in early January are upon me now, and I am writing, writing, writing to get things done, still not sure I can possibly make them. Our difficult fourth quarter financially has pushed us into a hard one again in this first quarter of the new year, and I am needing to pick up extra web content writing at a time when I don't have the mental space or the physical stamina to do it, but I'm doing it anyway because the bills have to be paid. Hours at the computer, even with stretching and moving breaks, are exacerbating my back and hip issues. I am worn out on almost every level, but I am being very careful to keep taking one small step at a time and to keep holding onto Jesus.

In the midst of all this, I am checking in daily at FB, as I usually do, and finding my news feed so full of things to celebrate and mourn that it can almost be overwhelming. I'm not sure there's really any difference in what I'm seeing in my feed right now and what's usually there -- I'm just noticing more, feeling extra sensitive to what I'm reading. My rejoicing feels deeper and my sadness more intense. It's not a bad thing really, and it's not something that I feel I need to stop doing (I'm trying to be careful not to spend too much time on the trivial stuff, but I do love the ways the things I read there can inform my prayers). But it strikes me, not for the first time, how deeply glad I am that God is God and I am not. I cannot even keep straight the interconnections of my own one life, and yet God, in his vastness and majesty and wisdom is able to keep ALL the web of connections straight, not just in my life but in every life. He not only sees them and knows them and loves us through them, he helps us to untangle the threads and see the pattern. He hears the cries and rejoices with the rejoicing and nudges the reluctant and encourages the weary and gently corrects the ones who are wandering and calls out to those who don't yet know him. It is an amazing thing to contemplate from my own tired and sometimes overwhelmed vantage point. He does not grow weary. He does not faint. He does not stop loving us no matter how gorgeously or sadly tangled and complex our lives grow -- and sometimes the beauty and the sadness are so interwoven we can't see where one stops and another starts.

Just this week I have marveled over the first flower grown in space, contemplated incredible art, looked at auroras viewed from the International Space Station, and watched video footage of waves washing up on the shores of Galilee (taken by friends on sabbatical). I have mourned with a family whose baby died, rejoiced with a friend for whom God miraculously provided all the funds they needed to bring home their fifth adopted child, rejoiced with that same friend in the news that she is ten years cancer free, and marveled over the fact that she is not resting on the joys of being able to bring home her little girl, but beginning to raise funds for wheelchairs for other children in the same orphanage. I have smiled over  the stories told my an acquaintance who remembers praying for a certain country when she was a little girl: a country she is currently visiting so she can get to know her newly adopted teenage daughter, a country where it has been difficult for the gospel to gain a hearing and yet where she saw fifteen baptisms of new Christians this week. I have smiled over the excitement felt by some families, children, and yes, teachers, over approaching snowstorms.

This is just a tiny slice of some of the connections that happen to be passing before my eyes over the past few days. It's amazing to ponder the wonders, moments, and stories that God contemplates each and every day from the vantage point of his almighty view. That he doesn't just contemplate them but act within them and through them for our good and his glory is incredibly beautiful and humbling. I am so thankful to be his daughter.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Ten Minute Tuesday (#3)

Paul Cezanne, Still Life with Milk Jug and Fruit, c. 1900. 
Photo accessed at Their photo credit from the National Gallery of Art.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

More Thoughts on Grief

Every time I go through a new feeling or sensation or moment of grief over my mother's passing, I find myself thinking, "no one ever told me that it would feel that way." Then I stop and consider the truth of the thing that I've heard said more than almost anything else in the past almost month since Mama died -- that grief is an individual road, unique for every person who walks it.

I know this is true, and I find both comfort and sadness in it. Comfort because it helps to know there is no "right way" to grieve or mourn, no set time when I am supposed to realize that it's easier now, or when I am "done" with grieving. Sadness because part of me would like the universality of grief to somehow translate more into an ability to understand not just my own process but someone else's process a little more thoroughly. But this side of eternity, we tend to see through a glass darkly, and the best we can do sometimes is just hold out our hands to each other or offer a quiet, strengthening prayer.

It has been eye opening for me to remember my mother in her own season of deep grieving over her father's passing. That was in 1981. I was 13, just like the sweet girl is now, and I remember feeling bewildered when I saw my strong and usually competent mother become weepy and somehow vague and tentative (in that sleep walking way the first days and weeks of grief make you). I didn't understand the fog she was in over her father's sudden and very unexpected passing. I remember feeling surprised when I heard that my uncle actually fainted at the hospital upon hearing the news that their dad was gone. I wouldn't have been surprised if my mother had done the same. I recall that she felt less "mine" during that time -- as though she'd walked into some country I couldn't entirely enter into yet, though I was deeply saddened over my grandfather's death. The depth of her grief was startling to me, and I suspect the depth of mine has been startling for my daughter too. Just the other day, in the midst of a difficult time, I found myself saying something about "not feeling like myself," and she said, "I know what you mean. I miss you."

So part of my grieving has been learning how to stay attentive and focused in a time when my brain and heart want to do anything else but that. There are times and places when it's appropriate that I wander off mentally, and times when it's not appropriate it all and I have to swallow it down with a gentle promise to my heart that I will find a time soon when I can deal with that particular wave. Of course, by the time I get around to tending to myself, that wave has often receded, only to be replaced by something new. It's as though every day I take a step into new territory and I have to look around and gauge what this new country is like.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Ten Minute Tuesday (#2)

Today's image is from, found on the Creative Commons site.

In this season of grief, I find myself drawn to pictures like this, but there is more to this picture of an eagle on a glacier than just grief or loneliness. There is beauty too.

If the prompt inspires you to write, please share! I am sharing any writings from these prompt Tuesdays in the comment section. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Origins of Cynthia in the Snow by Gwendolyn Brooks

One of my favorite poems to read each winter is Gwendolyn Brooks' "Cynthia in the Snow." I posted it here on the blog on a Poetry Friday about five years ago, and it has been, without a doubt, the most visited post on this blog. Apparently other people love this poem too, and go hunting for it, not just in winter but at other times of year. I don't think it's always that easy to find, and its musical playfulness is so lovely.

I first came across the poem years ago, when the sweet girl was very young, in a big collection of children's poems. I didn't know until today that this poem was actually part of a whole collection of poems that Brooks wrote for children, back in 1956, called Bronzeville Boys and Girls. Thanks to Brain Pickings, I now not only know that, I also know that Brooks worked on the collection with the wonderful editor Ursula Nordstrom, whom I've written about more than once here. Why am I not surprised that Ursula helped bring Cynthia into the world? Reading that today just felt serendipitous.

One of the nicest things about the Brain Pickings article is that it provides a big sampling of other poems from Bronzeville Boys and Girls, along with original artwork. Each poem is like a little gem, a portrait of a distinct child doing and thinking and creating and playing just like a child does.

Here's one I enjoyed, entitled "Narcissa."

Some of the girls are playing jacks.
Some are playing ball.
But small Narcissa is not playing
Anything at all.

Small Narcissa sits upon
A brick in her back yard
And looks at tiger-lilies,
And shakes her pigtails hard.

First she is an ancient queen
In pomp and purple veil.
Soon she is a singing wind.
And, next, a nightingale.

How fine to be Narcissa,
A-changing like all that!
While sitting still, as still, as still
As anyone ever sat!
What a wonderful poet was Gwendolyn Brooks. 

Friday, January 08, 2016

The Martyrs of Ecuador

It was sixty years ago today, on January 8, 1956, that Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and Nate Saint entered into glory. They were killed while attempting to reach the Waodani tribe of Ecuador with the gospel. Amazingly and powerfully, their wives stayed on in the wake of their deaths and continued to share the gospel, which transformed the tribe.

In honor of their legacies today, I thought I would repost my review of Steve Saint's book End of the Spear. I originally posted this on back in 2007. Steve was the son of the martyred Nate Saint, and his own dealings with the Waodoni were wondrous. So thankful for all the amazing ways Jesus works in our world.


 "Bringing your family, we say come and live here." In 1994, these were words spoken bluntly to Steve Saint, a North American businessman, by Dawa, a member of the Waodani tribe in the Amazon jungle. What had brought these people together? Why would she suggest to him that he and his family should relocate to the Amazon and live with her family?

Steve Saint wasn't your typical North American businessman. This was not his first time in the Amazon jungle. Far from it. He had, in fact, grown up in Ecuador. His parents, Nate and Marj Saint, were missionaries there in the 1950s. His father Nate was a first-rate pilot who flew for Missionary Aviation Fellowship. When Steve was only five years old, his father Nate and four other missionaries, while attempting to establish friendly contact with a violent, stone-age tribe, were brutally speared by members of that tribe. That tribe was the Waodani, the same tribe now asking Steve, not quite forty years later, to come and live with them. How could this be?

End of the Spear is Steve Saint's moving memoir of his relationship with the Waodani tribe, a group of little known, often misunderstood, and powerfully transformed people. What makes this memoir such a fascinating and riveting read is that the main part of the narrative, the Waodanis' invitation to Steve and his family and their subsequent move to the Amazon, is just one piece of a much larger and complex story, parts of it going back many years. By the time Dawa asked Steve this question, much had happened in both the hearts of the Waodani and the heart of Steve Saint.

The Transforming Love of God in a Violent Culture

The Waodani, once referred to by the denigrating name of "Aucas" (a term that surrounding tribes and other Ecuadorans used to denote their savagery) had almost killed themselves into extinction by the 1950s. Living deep in the jungle, their only communal rules had to do with vengeance and retribution. Tribal vendettas and ancient customs (such as burying one's live children with you if you were speared by another warrior) had claimed the lives of so many of their people that they numbered only in the hundreds. The tribe was also running into trouble with greedy Western oil companies in the 1950s, who wanted their lands. Nate Saint and his four missionary companions felt a sense of urgency to reach the "Aucas" with the good news of the gospel, realizing that time quite literally was running out for this tribe.

Their seeming failure (the brutal murder of all five men on a jungle river bank in 1956) might have been the end of the story. But God was not through moving in the lives of the tribe or the lives of the missionary families of the slain men. As Saint makes clear as he weaves his beautiful narrative, which is part theological reflection as well as memoir, the most painful moments of the story can now be seen in retrospect as part of an unfolding plan, far more beautiful and amazing than anyone might have guessed on that tragic day in his boyhood.

One Waodani woman named Dayumae, who had left the tribe and gone to live in the city of Quito, met Rachel Saint, Steve's Aunt (the older sister of his slain father Nate). She became a Christian, or as the Waodani would later term it, she "began to follow God's trail." Dayumae and Rachel became spiritual sisters, and Dayumae began to help Rachel learn the Waodanis' language. Since theirs was a completely oral culture, Rachel not only had to learn the sounds but find some way of transcribing them and turning them into writing. Once she had a Waodani alphabet, she could begin to work on translating the Scriptures, or "God's markings" into their language. In fact, Rachel dedicated her entire life to this task and became much beloved of the Waodani.

That's because Dayumae, following the massacre of the missionaries, helped bridge the chasm between the missionary families and her former tribe. Some of the widows of the slain men actually took their children and went into the jungle with Rachel and Dayumae, determined to continue the work their husbands had died doing. God used these courageous women to reach out to the Waodani with love and tender forgiveness. To a culture that believed in vengeance, it was unthinkable that a family whose members you had speared would not come after you with spears of their own. Instead, the women and children came vulnerably, wanting to live with them and befriend them. No wonder "God's markings," the story of the Bible, came stunningly to life for the Waodani! They saw its message embodied and lived right in front of their very eyes.

All of this is back story, prelude to the main story that Steve Saint sets out to tell. But he weaves it skillfully into the narrative. He himself was one of the children who went to live with the Waodani. He spent most of his boyhood and early adolescence with the tribe. Many of the Waodani (their name for themselves) embraced the gospel and became God followers. The result was an amazing turnaround in the lives and culture. Steve was adopted as one of them, learning to hunt and fish and survive in the jungle. As a young teenager, he and his sister were actually baptized in the same river where their father had been killed. Some of the warriors who helped to baptize them, who had become their elder brothers and fathers in the faith, had actually been amongst the spearing party that day.

Saint eventually moved back to the United States for college. He discovered the difficulty of learning to bridge cultures and how ill at ease he felt in his "own" culture. But he adjusted. Eventually he got married, started a family, and became a successful businessman with dealings in Ecuador. But he never forgot the Waodani and they never forgot him. When he went back in 1994 to bury his Aunt Rachel (who had lived with them her whole life) their expectation was that he would naturally want to continue the deep ties between the tribe and the Saint family. Of course he and his wife and children would come to live with them.

"Now I See It Well..."

End of the Spear is the story of how they did just that. It's an amazing story for the testimony it provides to God's faithfulness and leading in people's lives. It's also a humble story, the story of a man who didn't always see his own role clearly in the greater plan that he sensed was being woven by the God he loved. Part of the wonder of following along in Saint's journey is seeing how he finally realizes how his skills can benefit the Waodani in a precarious season of their tribal life. For by the 1990s, the Waodani could no longer avoid contemporary culture, which had begun to penetrate their own culture more and more.

Although their numbers had increased dramatically, they were now in danger of becoming dependent on "outside" culture and losing their own indigenous identity and skills. Steve Saint began to realize that he was uniquely placed, because of his own abilities to walk within both cultures and because of the deep spiritual bond between them, to help the Waodani learn to master skills they would need to survive and flourish. He didn't want to go in and give them "things." As they had once taught him how to navigate in a new world, he now wanted to help teach them to navigate in a new world. He would help them to learn to do things for themselves (flying a plane, running a store and pharmacy, becoming health promoters) so they could have a viable economy and maintain their own identity and dignity as they learned to care for themselves and their people. He knew that although they could not read or write, they were intelligently and highly skilled within their own environment. Much of the narrative explains how he began to explore technologies and ideas that would work in the jungle and would be things he and others could teach the Waodani to do.

End of the Spear is a book that can be read on so many levels. It's a theological reflection, one that looks long and hard at the violence at the heart of all of us, and one that delves deep into the providence and sovereignty of a loving God. It's a tribute to the lives of Saint's missionary family, and a tribute to the ancient and yet still emerging and changing culture of the Waodani. It's a love song to God's love and power. It's a reflection on cross-cultural relationships, taking a humorous look at the mistakes and misunderstandings that can happen when people of disparate cultures try to work together. It's a testament to deep friendships, especially the friendship of Steve with Mincaye, an elder of the tribe and a devout God follower, and the one who actually killed Steve's father. It's an adventure story about what it's like to live in the Amazon (eating monkeys and avoiding snakes).

Taken all together, it's a riveting story, told simply and well by a man who lived it...and is still living it today. It's seldom that one book makes me laugh, cry, and think as much as this one did. I highly recommend it.

End of the Spear
by Steve Saint
SaltRiver, an imprint of Tyndale House Publishers, 2005
ISBN 0842364390

Note: "End of the Spear" was made into a feature film in 2006, following a documentary "Beyond the Gates of Splendor" made in 2005. Both are good, but understandably much more narrow in focus than the book, telling only snippets of the overall story. I'd almost recommend seeing the feature film first as it provides visuals of the jungle and gives one some clues as to the pronunciation of Waodani names.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Ten Minute Tuesday (#1)

As I wrote yesterday, each Tuesday I'm going to post a creative writing prompt of some sort here. My plan is to use it as a springboard for ten minutes of writing each week. I hope you will feel free to use it too!

This first prompt is a picture I recently found on the Guardian's best photographs of the day site. It was taken as new year's day dawned in Jiangxi Province in China. I found it breathtaking. You can link to the entire day's worth of pictures here. Photo credit: Hu Guolin/Xinhua Press/Corbis.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Ten Minute Tuesday

With the new year beginning, I thought I would start something new on my blog. I'm calling it "Ten Minute Tuesday."

Each Tuesday, I'm going to try to post a creative writing prompt here. It may be a photograph, a word, a piece of artwork, a poem snippet, or a quote. Whatever the prompt is, I plan to try to use it as a springboard for a ten minute writing. Depending on the results, I may post some of my writing here. The main idea, however, is to have to fun and get some writing exercise.

If you want to join in and do the same, please do! (If you do, I'd love it if you'd share about it in the comments...either a bit of what you wrote, or how the process inspired you.)

The ten minute writing can be writing of any sort: a handful of well crafted (or even poorly crafted) sentences; a bit of a poem; the beginning of a story; a list of words that you associated with the prompt; a brainstorming map for a future bit of writing. If you can't give it ten minutes, then give it two. The idea is to get ourselves writing!

As I've contemplated ways to keep myself moving forward as a writer this year, this seemed like an idea whose time had come. If nothing else, it should generate a good collection of prompts for later use.

While I may miss an occasional Tuesday, I will do my best to post each week.

Quite frankly, I am feeling that I need writing and creativity in my life more than ever this year...but given my tiredness levels right now, I also need to find some new ways to keep myself inspired. If my attempts to do that can provide some inspiration for others, that feels like a win. 

Stay tuned for tomorrow's first "Ten Minute Tuesday" prompt. 

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Grief Feels Like...

I feel like I could start a series of post called "what no one ever tells you about grief." It's strange, because I have lost people I've loved before, and grieved other losses and other hard things, but I have never before felt the giant, absorbing nature of grief the way I have in the past two weeks since my mother passed.

My dad and siblings and I all keeping checking in on each other. We're a family that loves words and stories and we process things by talking them out (always have) and I find we're all fumbling for words to describe how we feel and then laughing or crying or both when those words come up inadequate.

My sister said it best for me today when she said she feels like she's moving through molasses. Yes. My brain is slow; I am having to think and then think and think again about what I need to do next, or what I'm in the process of doing. I would be panicking over work deadlines (there are so many) but I honestly don't have room in my tired, achey state for panic. Maybe that's a good thing.

My body feels like it's been slammed by a truck. I am hoping to be able to see a chiropractor soon. All the usual remedies I use for flare-ups of aches and pains during stressful times are not working. I keep thinking I might be coming down with something, but I think it's just being worn out. Prayers for my low back, right hip, knee, and ankle are much appreciated. Right now it often feels like I have constant discomfort and sometimes downright pain all the way down the right (my right side is always the side that flares-up when I'm sick or stressed, and always has been).

Listening to "Still, Still, Still..." and feeling so grateful, once again, that it's still Christmas. I wish it could last even longer this year. I'm not ready to turn the corner into cold and dark. I love Epiphany...but we need more Epiphany songs and carols, yes? 

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Reading Challenge for the Year

Although I love reading, I am not overly fond of reading challenges. I usually find the parameters too big or too restrictive. I tend to be a very organic reader, letting my interests chase me down learning trails where I find books I wasn't expecting, which in turn lead me to other books.

With that said, I like the look of this reading challenge, which is making the social media rounds here at the beginning of 2016. The parameters of this feel flexible and helpful. I might use this as a springboard to think about some of my reading directions this year!

Friday, January 01, 2016

What Will You Create in 2016?

Happy 2016!

We all slept in (my dear husband too) and it felt so good to start the year with rest.

After having my morning quiet time, chatting with my dear D, and checking in on Facebook, I went over to my emails and discovered a new year greeting from a local craft store. "What will you create in 2016?" was the catchy subject line, and I've found myself pondering the question from a much wider point of view than the craft store folks might have intended!

What will I create in 2016? For starters, I'd like to create a more peaceful, more loving, more creative home. Our family struggled with lots of stresses this past year, some of them small but nonetheless trying and some of them quite large, and while we handled some of them with real grace, there were so many days I know I felt like I just gave in to frustration, worry, weariness. This year I want to stay more centered on Jesus. I want to worry less and laugh more. I want to keep my voice gentler and my touch kinder.

I want to create space inside myself to be more attentive, more loving, more focused on what matters. I want to let the little stuff stay little and the big stuff help me grow. I want to be more grateful.

I want to remember the shortness and sweetness of life. I want to honor my mom's legacy by trying to engage more people in real conversation (where I listen to their stories). The listening part comes naturally to me, but the engaging part doesn't. (Deep down, I am still the shy girl that my mother worried about when I was in elementary school and all the other kids rushed forward to get candy and I hung back and waited and hoped someone would bring candy to me.) I will always be introverted...that's just who I am...but I want to make more of an effort to be fully present to whomever God brings across my path.

I want to read and read and think and think and write and write and write and write and write some more. I want to keep pushing to know more, understand more, love more as I create stories and poems as well as write the things I need to write in my writing projects and jobs.

I want to create a learning environment where S can thrive again and re-find some of her learning joy. We've been limping along for too long in this past hard year. 

I want to draw and paint and color and collage. I know I am not the best visual artist, but I find all those things so relaxing and life-giving. I never seem to have time to do those kinds of things while we're busy trying to stay afloat, but I want to try to make more room.

Speaking of making more room, I want to keep de-cluttering.

And I plan to keep blogging. I am pretty sure that hardly anyone is reading this blog anymore (it never had a huge following, and I've written so sporadically in recent years that the few folks who read it regularly probably seldom remember to check it) but in some ways, that's freeing. I want to journal more of my thoughts about what I'm reading, writing, listening to, and learning from.

2015 held much in it that I didn't expect, including some things I wasn't sure I would weather. But here I stand with a grateful heart. So thankful for the turning of a page and the start of a new year!