The Answer is WHO

All the thunder clouds of the world seemed to break over my head this week. Bad news came from all sides and there was no umbrella, no pavilion to deflect it.

One friend is having a difficult recovery from a traumatic miscarriage.

A student’s 14 yr old daughter won’t eat.

Another student’s elderly mother is hospitalized. “Can I be honest with you? I never felt love from her and I wish she would die because being in bed is not a life.”

A friend’s heart is broken because the man she has prayed for years for, has chosen another lady to love.

A close family member is still choosing to be estranged from his family.

Next week a friend is going to the doctor because she found a lump on her breast.

A friend gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, but his heart had stopped. A few days later they buried him. They’ve been married about 20 years, and this was their first full-term baby.

I weep and groan and shake my head. There are no words, no quick fix, no simple steps to follow to make it all better again.

This I know:

–the sun always comes again.

–the present moment is not all there is.

–hope borrows joy from future reality.

–negativity and complaining are toxic.

–God never scolds honesty. He can take my beating fists on His chest. He absorbs the heart-broken questions. He is deeply, everlastingly acquainted with sorrow. What He cannot accept is when I worship mini-gods, when I demand of another person or thing what only He can give.

Yesterday I listened to a short talk by the wife of Saeed Abedini, the American-Iranian pastor who is in prison for his faith. (Find it here.) I’m not looking for platitudes or simplistic answers to the grief that swirls around me, but what she said, quoting her husband, answers my grief-soaked questions, the broken-hearted tears, and it is enough for me: The answer to why is who.

Why You Need My Book

In case you didn’t get the memo, my book has a brand new look!

This is the new and improved edition:

ta daa!

 

book cover

Because I’m more artist than business person, it is super hard for me to promote or manage or try to sell my book. But here I am, trying to do that.

Why would you want to buy this book? (This is the first tool of the salesperson, you know: create a need for the product.)

You need this book because you feel left behind while your friends are all doing amazing things like dating, or planning weddings, or having babies. You’re watching it happen all around you but it’s not happening to you. You nearly swallow the tantalizing lie that God is organizing others’ lives, but expects you to manage your own by yourself.

Or some of those exciting things have happened to you but you feel empty and your days blur into each other and you wonder if life is just about surviving every day until the supper dishes are washed.

If none of this applies to you, you know you have a friend who feels this way, almost dipping into desperation sometimes, and she needs a message that she can identify with. She needs to know that she’s not the only one to feel this way, that other women say “You? Me too.”

After you buy this book that you need, you find that you like it too. You like it because of the perky little fish on the cover that decided not to keep swimming in circles. You like it because there are sweet swirly graphics between the chapters. And an engaging study guide in the back.

And best of all? In my opinion?

There are lots of sidebars throughout the whole book–and none of them repeat any words in the text. This is my pet complaint in other books: they have little distracting sidebars here and there, and when I finally read them, it only repeats what I already read on the page, and it makes me impatient. Not in this book. The (pretty) sidebars are bonuses to the text, not repetitive distraction.

This new and improved edition has the same general message as the first edition. This one has been edited for tighter writing, fewer exclamation points, less italics (though you wouldn’t think it, seeing this post) and more clarity.

This book won’t answer all your questions or give you pat answers or neat formulas. But it does walk with honesty into basic questions such as Who is God, and who am I, and what shall I do with my unwieldy dreams?

This is not about taking charge of your own life, nor about proving that your life is better than another’s. It’s about living in the reality of knowing that the greatest thing that could happen has already happened–the creator of the universe chose you for eternity–and nothing can ever, ever change that. It’s about making choices decisively so as to guard against selfishness and stiffness. It peers into others’ stories to give you perspective and a sense of not feeling so alone.

Because one of the deepest fears of a woman is that she is alone. This book confronts that fear and reassures you that you are never, ever, ever alone.

If you don’t need this assurance, you know someone who does.

Order your copy from your local book store or the helpful staff at Christian Learning Resource:

Toll Free: 877-222-4769        Fax: 814-789-3396              Email: clr@fbep.org            Online: www.Christianlearning.org

 

Vignettes of the Week

This week’s days were filled with lesson plans and laughter and music. Conversation and music ricochets around the hard walls and stair well of the school and makes me think that the place is a kind of an alive, breathing organism where we do life and English lessons and love.  There were curved, earnest, little fingers flipping memory cards.  A high five for me from a student who also is  proud of being 40. Endless chatter–and birthday cake– in a class of women who are all buddies.

And best of all, the little crescent moons on a little boy’s face when he closed his eyes to laugh when I asked if he has a snake for a pet. I completely lost my heart to him and his twinkly eyes and can’t wait for a whole year of classes with him and the two other 8 year olds. While teaching children is not my strength, my inner child is really happy with glitter and glue and paint on my fingers. Doing little craft projects while listening to English children’s songs is what I call low-stress language learning, which suits me down to the ground.

Oh yes, and the honesty of the lady who said “I’m not good at anything–this is my complex.” But then she told me how she makes her own almond milk and nutella and she inspired me to try it. And another student, in a lesson about friendship, couldn’t believe how I have a friend I’ve never met, and have Skyped with her only one time. She was so incredulous she dropped her head onto the table. “It’s your personality. You have 1,000 close friends because you’re such an open person.”

I tramped home thinking, I’m so rich, I’m so, so, rich. I have so, so, so many friends that color my world and help make me who I am.

And the week isn’t even finished yet.

 

 

 

A Wonderful Nightmare

I‘m living in a dream.

I say this to myself many times, probably every day. I live in a non-descript eastern Polish town, just east of Warsaw. I walk to school every day and down the street are bakeries and ice cream kiosks and used clothing stores. Our apartment has hot water and wifi. My English students are charming and vivacious and intelligent and beautiful. There are friends in town whom I can always call or visit and who give me way more than I deserve or could return to them. All around me is tangible, rich culture and history.

Sounds rosy.

It is!

And it isn’t.

The hardest thing in this place is the language. It’s the primary reason I’m leaving at the end of this school year. By then it will have been 5 years of speaking fractured, childish Polish and constantly doubting my understanding anyone. Like last week when I asked the landlord if he remembers about the broken oven part, and he said Lavern will take care of it. But I’d misunderstood him 10 days earlier to say that he’d take care of it himself and we’d been waiting all this time for him. I get things screwed up even in English, and don’t hear what people say,  and it’s 200 times worse in Polish.

It puts me in a cage, and I can function, but not fly. It is a bitter thing.

I keep thinking about the bitter water turning sweet in the old prophet’s day and how the miracle is still true.

How what is rosy and sweet isn’t only that.

And what is bitter isn’t only that.

I’m usually an all-or-nothing person, but I’m learning that most of life is not about either/or, but more both/and.

So this monster of a language has shown me grace like nothing else in my life. It has been both brutal and gentle, like when I croaked out my requests at the village store and  the sweet shop keeper said I say ‘butter’ very nicely. The Polish word for butter is one of the easiest words ever and I chuckled all the way home at how eager he’d been to compliment me.

This bitter cage is sweet because it lets me look deeply into my students eyes and say I know exactly how they feel. I know how scary it is to expose how little I know. I know how it is to understand way more words than I can produce. I know how it is to know a word but not be able to access it in all the folds of my brain. (Who was it who said the greatest sermon is “Me too”?) So I can give them understanding on several levels, and it is sweet, the way they like me and keep coming back.

My anguish becomes something good? It’s hard to admit it–indeed, the admission comes through clenched teeth–but I have to believe it because it’s so obvious. The bitter does become sweet.

This bitterness repeatedly hands me sweetness. In four years, I have never had someone shout or get angry at me for not being able to say what I want in their language. They just wait, or suggest another word, or show by gestures. hmmm, I take that back. There were several women at train ticket desks who obviously think the whole world should be able to speak Polish.

This bitter cage shows me that saying “I don’t know” when asked for a word, or to say a completely wrong word doesn’t stop the universe in its orbit . Nothing–especially failure–is usually as bad as it feels at the moment. But it’s painful. Especially to someone who has been called a walking thesaurus. It’s living with clipped wings instead of soaring.

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I took this photo on the train from Warsaw to Berlin, Germany. The hysterical English translation is not unlike some of my mangled Polish sentences.

But this isn’t wasted time, I know. I can’t express myself with words above a child’s level, but I today bumped into an acquaintance on the street and listened to her telling me that she finished her masters degree and is going on Monday for an interview for her doctorate. I congratulated her and said simple, positive, affirmative words and smiled and nodded a lot. She feels heard and cared for, and that’s something sweet, and what most everyone wants most of the time anyhow.

Communication and presence and soul transcend words. This is what helps me survive and even thrive in this town where the average adult can’t speak English. This is what sustains relationships in which I can’t talk above a 6 year old’s level but do experience an ocean of love and the silent language of kinship.

I will always be grateful for living in this place of dreams and nightmares–unutterably grateful. Which proves that sometimes there aren’t adequate words.

Even in an English thesaurus.

What Shape is Love?

 

My personality loves spontaneity and diversity. I like to live large and expansively (not to be confused with expensively!) and strict, sterile routine suffocates me. I need plenty of air to  breathe deeply, and feel stifled in tightly-fitting squares.

However.

Part of living a whole life includes some structure.

There are parts of my day that don’t change. The days are free-form and unpredictable but the beginnings and endings of the days have fixed points that give me stability and rest and predictability.

Coffee is one of those things.

But there’s more. Much more.

Some people call it ‘having devotions.’ I don’t, usually, because it sounds too sterile to me, but for all practical purposes, that’s what it is. It’s my quiet time, the time especially reserved for talking with God. It’s the still point around which everything else whirls. It’s the bread that keeps me alive, the exercise that keeps me healthy, the words that keep me sane.

It’s not all about me, but it’s my initiative, my decision, my deliberately moving into a position to focus and take part in something way, way bigger than me.

I’ve heard many people say they have trouble ‘having their devotions regularly.’ I say this quietly and humbly because I have a lot of trouble with a lot of things, but this particular issue not one of them. I DIE without those fixed points in my days. I get weak and whimpery and grouchy if I don’t keep that structure.

I’m talking about this here, not because I want to talk about me, but to encourage and nudge and facilitate you to find the same kind of sustenance if it’s been alluding you.

There are a ridiculous amount of devotional books out there with laughable titles that could make you cringe. (Don’t get me started!) None of them work for me, but if one does inspire you, or helps you focus, help yourself. What I love, love, love, is this monthly printable of adoration from Sara Hagarty. Every day has a different word to describe and adore God, and the rich words can set the tone for my whole day.

A little  chocolate icing on the cake is Grace Notes, daily readings compiled of Philips Yancey’s books and magazine articles. He’s my favorite contemporary Christian author, and there’s nothing cheesy or schmaltzy about his writing, so reading a page of his words gives me something substantial and dynamic to think about.

I’m not a Bible scholar. Should I be? I read the Bible to live. It’s bread and milk and meat to me. For several years, I’ve read the One Year Bible in the New Living Translation. I love the freshness and variety of daily pieces from both Old and New Testaments, Psalms, and Proverbs. The daily portions aren’t long, and are usually not enough food to feed me completely, but it’s a place to start.

In the evening, before I let myself pick up a book or turn off the light, I pick up my Thanks Journal and write at least one gift in the day.  I’ve blogged about this before here and here but I’ll say it again. Deliberately writing down gifts and reasons to be thankful is the simplest and  most effective way to keep a positive outlook and maintain a life-posture of worship. It’s not magic. It doesn’t help everything. But it helps a great deal.

Relationship with God has similarities to any friendship with a person. Healthy relationship includes seasons of  excitement,  silence, wonder, anger, questions–but always communication in some form. I don’t blog about all the details of my relationship with God because it’s way too intimate to share with many people, but to those who have trouble maintaining communication with the Creator of the Universe, I want to say: do what it takes to fill your part of the friendship.

Your part is to show up.

For my own sake and because I love him, I show up routinely.

He does His part.

A Simple Saturday

Once upon a time, a little while ago, about last Saturday, a very tired, happy girl sat on her tiny balcony to drink her coffee. She was tired because she’d been on a glorious, intense, bountiful choir tour all over Poland for the last 3 weeks, and she was happy because she’d made new friends she’d never dreamed existed, she could putter around her little flat again and water her brave, parched houseplants and drink coffee–plus she still had her voice that hadn’t succumbed to vocal fatigue as it had in other tours.

At noon, the happy, tired girl took herself to the school to clean the place and get it ready for church the next day. But she ended up not cleaning very much because of all the lovely help that also showed up, so she went out to buy cleaning supplies that had run low over the summer. Then, because she had time/money/energy and because she always wants a reason to buy flowers, she trotted off again to buy flowers for some friends. The florist lady, speaking English, helped her expertly and asked when English classes will start again because of course she’s coming for lessons.

Back home again, the girl had every intention to sweep and mop the floor, but was too tired, and laid on the couch for a long time. She read a borrowed copy of Fahrenheit 451 and wished for her own copy to write in and then she had a nap.

The tired, happy girl was invited to a friend’s bonfire for dinner. They were six friends around the fire, with lemonade, glorified ramen noodles over the fire, kielbasa, and apple crisp and tea. All of this was spread out over hours while the sun dipped low and golden and the stars came out. At one point during the laughs and stories of family lore, the girl tipped her head way back and saw the stars sparkling between the tall trees over her. It looked like glitter and diamonds and all the tired went out of her.

It had been a Very Good Day.

A World in a Grain of Sand

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In a disorientated week sandwiched between a summer of crazy weeks, yesterday was blocked off for free time. It was a to be a girls’ day out–seven of us with a friend who is leaving soon.  You don’t celebrate these things; you just acknowledge them and squeeze the goodness out of each minute.

On the train to Warsaw, we talked logistics and plans for the next weeks on Hope Singers. We found a restaurant in the city center and I had my favorite Polish soup, chłodnik: cold sour cream purple with beet juice and thick with grated beets and fresh dill. Fantastic! The pink color is enough to charm me well before the lush flavor hits.

We rented bikes in Powiśle and followed the bike path for nearly ten kms toward Wilanów. It was easy cycling, mostly flat, through shaded parks and past apartment blocks. We took our time. The sun was hot and I was thirsty so I stopped at a roadside fruit stand and bought a treat: fat sweet cherries and blueberries. It was better than water or chocolate, which is saying a lot.

I was last in the string of seven, not being as speedy as some of them, but enjoying every minute.  Suddenly, turning a corner, I recognized where I was.

Just down the road behind that building is the hospital where I was last December.  Maybe I will always be fragile regarding hospitals and operations and waiting rooms because it all washed over me again and I couldn’t stop whimpering. Hysterectomy, that nasty word, and how it shook up the surgeon because it was so much worse than she was expecting it to be, the units of blood and brick of ice on my stomach for hours and me out of my mind in pain.

It was just down around the corner, eight months ago, and now I was biking past, eating fat sweet cherries from my bike basket, wearing sunglasses, the breeze drying my tears.

I don’t know how the heart expands to hold so much sadness and gladness in one day, and even in one moment. But it does.