Saturday, November 20, 2004

home for the holidays

Life has been so full, not merely busy. Each day has been loaded with significant conversations & decisions about how long we will live here in the Philippines and where we will go next. But here we are hurtling towards Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas right on its heels. The calendar is giving no pause for our deliberation! All around are blinking lights, Christmas carols (here they started in August), and shelves stocked with holiday goodies. Something stirs in me when I imagine the smell of pumpkin pie baking, stacks of leftovers jammed into the fridge, unhurried time with family.

Then I remember ... I live on an island across the Pacific Ocean, and there will be no family. No football game or parade to watch on Thanksgiving day. No mom to help cook the turkey. No dad to carve it. No neighbors celebrating. Just a regular day. We will be far, so far, from loved ones on Christmas. No pile of presents. No chill in the air. No cousins playing by the tree. When the wave of nostalgia first hit me I was tempted to wallow in self-pity. But that same moment there was a twin feeling, a gentle whisper ... "soul thirst."

My longing to be home for the holidays, my craving for yummy smells and cheery music and a cozy living room, is merely an echo of my thirsty soul. Gingerbread cookies, candlelight services, even time with family can't touch my deepest longings. Those can be met right here, in 90 degree heat with construction workers right outside my kitchen window. In my isolation I have 2 choices: to wallow or to burrow. The first, self-pity, is all too tempting. The challenge is to instead burrow deeper with the Lord, to surround myself with His tender mercy, and to soak in the reminder that no matter where He takes me I am found in Him. He is my home for the holidays!

Friday, October 22, 2004


I started a new journal today (a paper one, that is). The last one lasted about 10 months. Amazing how much life can be lived in 10 months, how many questions can be answered! On the first page of my old journal, I wondered what the next season would look like. At the time I was wrestling with some big decisions about my life's calling and direction. I was consumed with trying to figure it all out. Now the questions that seemed so elusive and ponderous less than one year ago have each quietly been answered in the course of daily life. There was no flash of lightning, no sudden epiphany of knowledge or resolution. God simply wove His will into the fabric of my life through simple decisions and changes in circumstance, one day at a time.

The first page of my new journal looks much the same as the old one. Again I'm brimming with questions about our future. Where will we be when the last page is filled? Will our family have grown? Will our work have changed? Will our future be any clearer? But at this moment I'm realizing that perhaps the future is never clear, at least not in the ways we want it to be. Only looking back is the view unobstructed. Such a strange disease of the eyes we have, that we should have clear vision only over our shoulder and not up ahead. The purpose, I suppose, is to cause us to hold tightly to the hand of the only One who can see ahead. With Him at our side, any destination will do.

Saturday, October 09, 2004


I was reading in bed when I had the oddest sensation. First I thought someone was under the bed moving it. Then it felt like I was in a waterbed. I thought I was dizzy. But the whole room was gently rocking; the door and curtain swayed. That's when I realized, "This is an earthquake!" I was frozen to the spot, fully alert, wondering what this would mean.

Then it was over. No deaths. No drama. No damage.

But HE had made His point. For a long time, even through the night as I dreamed, and again in the morning, I felt different. Small. Fragile. Utterly dependent.

What I took for granted only yesterday morning, that is, the solidness of the earth, the immovability of it all, was greatly altered. This massive rock that we are planted on cannot be trusted. Even it is at the mercy of the Maker. It CAN be moved. HE is the only thing certain.

Don't we all need a reality check every once in a while?

Saturday, October 02, 2004


Today is one of those numb and energy-less days where I don't feel like a whole lot of living, loving, or longing is going on. I'm mostly just trying to hang on to memories of what life feels like when I'm really alive. Strange how quickly one can go from soaring to crawling. Is that why Israel was so quick to grumble and complain in the desert, only days after seeing a miracle? Were they like me?

I guess what I'm really wondering is this ... Is it ok to have so-so days? Or is it always an indication that something is spiritually wrong? Is it even possible to feel really alive EVERY day? I worry, on days like today, that I won't ever remember how to get past this 'dead' feeling. Worse yet, I worry that I won't ever have the energy to even try. Then again, I've felt this way before ... lots of times. So that in itself is a little bit of consolation. This, too, will probably pass. But why did it come in the first place?

Thursday, September 30, 2004

leading from beside

I've been reading The Wounded Prophet by Henri Nouwen. It's remarkable, actually, how contemporary the book feels, though it was written before I was even born! I thought post-modernism was a 90's thing, but he's already talking about it in 1970. Nouwen so perceptively analyses the culture around him and forcasts the future of Christian leadership. In effect, he says, "Change, or your ministry will be worthless to this generation!" He describes a generation of youth who are no longer enamored with their fathers and trying to please those in authority. Instead, they seek spirituality inwardly and acceptance from their peers. Ministers of the gospel must be unafraid to venture into the depth of their own soul so that they can ably lead others to wholeness in a fragmented world. Leaders who fear what is inside them will be unable to speak deeply to this generation, he says. Rather than speaking as a father, from "above" your listeners, you must be beside them in the fray of life.

Lord, give me courage to see myself as I really am, and to bring everything I find to You. Remind me that nothing is beyond your ability to redeem. Make me the kind of person who can walk beside the hurting and the questioning and be truly present to them in their struggle. I depend on You for living water to fill my own thirsty soul, enough to spill over into the lives of those you've gathered around me.

Friday, September 24, 2004

confessions of a thirsty soul

In the past week I have watched 3 movies - Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, Princess Diaries 2, and Seabiscuit. The first 2 were obviously written for high school girls, whose biggest quest (at least according to the entertainment industry) is for personal identity & being noticed by a handsome young man. While entertaining, they were far from realistic. I laughed, groaned, and, of course, hoped for Lola and Mia's eventual success, but it was not a soul-thirst-quenching experience. There was no overlap with my own life.
Seabiscuit was different. An unlikely group of men, all beat-up and disillusioned with life, come together against all odds and learn how to dream again. Perhaps the target audience is all of us who are struggling to make sense out of a life that seems a few fries short of a happy meal. Abandonment, grief, loss, abuse, anger, the lure of escape ... and a cautious hope cultivated through relationships set the scene for a moving drama. Better yet, it's true!
All these movies got me wondering, "What is it I really like in a movie?" For me, a movie worth watching wrestles with real life issues and comes through - not to perfection or utopia - but to a place of hope amidst pain. We all know that life on earth isn't 'happily ever after.' What we need to know is that there is another way to live in the midst of our struggles. Hope is not the absence of problems but the ability to look past them because we know that there is more to life than meets the eye.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

that awful emptiness

A fellow thirsty soul and I have been talking (emailing, actually). We've wondered if what we're experiencing is a midlife crisis. Aren't we a little young for that? Perhaps, then, it's an extension of our adolescent search for identity?

We thought we already found our identity. We left Bible College with big dreams and a desire to really make a difference in the world. Were we kidding ourselves?

She says, "I think before college life seemed so full of possibilities and dreams ... then college was so busy ... but when I married and settled down into 'normal life' I was dismayed to see that I was living that 'boring' (though happy) life that my parents lived. They're great people, but they weren't changing the world as far as I could tell in high school. So when I realized I was/am doing the same thing, I guess I'm disappointed but I'm afraid to really do anything about it. I guess I have a desire to be 'radical', but a fear of actually being 'radical,' and I'm not even sure what it would mean to be 'radical.' So maybe that plays into the restlessness...."

She desribes the restless feeling. "I get this sense of emptiness and restlessness that feels horrible, and that is the time when I crave something pleasurable that doesn't satisfy... for me it's the time I often crave a movie (must watch movie, any movie!!!), but dread the moment that the movie ends because then, once again, I will be aware of that same awful emptiness."

We have both realized that God desires to fill us with His life-giving Spirit, and that we can tap into that resource at any time by cultivating a relationship with Him and by obeying what we know to be our task from Him. But, as she expresses so well, "Even knowing the 'cure' though, too many times I still choose the movie or the chocolate ... believing that common lie that if I just line up enough pleasures in succession, I'll never have to face the emptiness again."

So just how radical do we have to be to make a difference in the world?
Has every generation had to fight against the tide of disillusionment?
What about the days when the idea of being radical sounds exhausting?
When we try to tap into His life-giving power but still feel empty ... then what?
What happens if we face that awful emptiness head on?

We'd like to know what you think.

Monday, September 13, 2004

the invitation

"In the palace in the land of mercy
The King looked out from His throne
He saw the sick and the homeless and hungry
He saw me lost and without hope
And moved with compassion
He sent out His only Son
With the invitation to come
"This is your invitation
Come just the way you are
Come find what your soul has been longing for
Come find your peace
Come join the feast
Come in, this is your invitation
"So I stood outside the gates and trembled
In my rags of unworthiness
Afraid to even stand at a distance
In the presence of holiness
But just as I turned to go
The gates swung open wide
The Kind and His only Son
Are inviting us inside
"This is our invitation
Come sinner as you are
Come find what your soul has been longing for
Come find your peace
Come join the feast
Come in, this is your invitation
This is our invitation
This is the invitation"
-Stephen Curtis Chapman & Geoff Moore, 1999 (from Speechless)

Saturday, September 11, 2004

"It is a sign of spiritual maturity when we can give up our illusory self-control and stretch out our hands to God. But it would be just another illusion to believe that reaching out to God will free us from pain and suffering. Often, indeed, it will take us where we rather would not go. But we know that without going there we will not find our life. '...anyone who loses his life ... will find it' (Matthew 16:25), Jesus says, reminding us that love is purified in pain.

"Prayer, therefore, is far from sweet and easy. Being the expression of our greatest love, it does not keep pain away from us. Instead, it makes us suffer more since our love for God is a love for a suffering God and our entering into God's intimacy is an entering into the intimacy where all of human suffering is embraced in divine compassion. To the degree that our prayer has become the prayer of our heart we will love more and suffer more, we will see more light and more darkness, more grace and more sin, more of God and more of humanity. To the degree that we have descended into our heart and reached out to God from there, solitude can speak to solitude, deep to deep and heart to heart. It is there where love and pain are found together."

-Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, 149-150, emphasis mine

Tuesday, September 07, 2004


A friend asked me this morning, "When you get to the end of your ministry year, how will you know you have been successful?"

My first thought was that my definition of success has really changed because of this valley. Perhaps I would have said: linguistic fluency, converts, thriving programs, captivating prayer letters, a growing ministry team. But I've learned that there is little I can do to control these things. More importantly, I've learned that even if all these goals were realized I may still have missed the mark.

So what, then, would success look like? Perhaps it has more to do with my heart. Am I depending on Him? Loving others from a pure heart? Will I be more patient and self-controlled than I am today? Will I be known for gentleness and joy?

These goals are possible no matter what my circumstances. No matter where I live, what I'm doing, how people respond to me, or what tragedy befalls us.

Will I still be thirsty? I sure hope so.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

taste and see!

This one has been great to chew on ...

"Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk,
so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,
now that you have tasted that the Lord is good."
I Peter 2:2-3

Unless I satisfy my craving with pure spiritual milk (where will I find that?) I will remain spiritually immature. It's time to grow up! I have truly tasted the Lord's goodness. How could I turn anywhere else to fill my craving? It's unthinkable. But yet I do.

I'm engaged in a personal experiment this month: memorizing I Peter. (The goal is a chapter a week for the month of September.) It's been years since I've attempted to memorize Scripture. I always preferred study over memorization. But I'm in a different season of life, with fewer opportunities to study and more moments to meditate. So far it's been so rich! When I feel that thirst coming on, I have pure spiritual milk available no matter where I am. Anyone want to join me? Taste and see!

Saturday, September 04, 2004

"You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope.
With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you.
Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
You're blessed when you're content with just who you are
- no more, no less.
That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners
of everything that can't be bought.
You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God.
He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat."

-From Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of Matthew 5 (The Message)

Thursday, September 02, 2004

God is all about kingdom-building, right? And we're supposed to find out what He's doing so that we can join Him in it, right? Why, then, are most of the people I know who are committed to doing exactly that disappointed, disillusioned, discouraged and entertaining the very attractive alternative of delivering pizza in North Portland? This isn't exactly what we pictured. Our graduation from Bible College ushered us into a promising future where we could see God's Word transform people's lives and get to be part of it. We learned to be organized, responsive to people's needs, and competent interpreters of Scripture. Not only that, we have first-hand experience. What a recipe for success!

Why, then, are good teachers drowning in too much administration, while talented administrators in other organizations have a hard time drumming up enough work to do? Others feel constant disappointment over teammates who do not share their vision. Still others struggle to make ends meet. Why are trained Bible Translators fighting cancer? Dynamic preachers carrying the weight of their own strained marriage? Church planters battling depression?

Are we aiming for the wrong target? Have we missed something?
Couldn't God have arranged things more satisfactorily? You would certainly think so!

I'm not sure where we got the idea that things were supposed to click along smoothly for those who obey God. (But it sure is rooted deep within us!) Consider Elijah's ministry experience ... years of lonely isolation followed by a major power encounter, after which he sunk into a deep & fearful depression before he retired. Hmm .... Or Paul? "we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life" (2 Cor 1:8; see also 11:23-29). These are spiritual heavy-hitters we're talking about. And we imagine our life to be any easier?

Larry Crabb has wrestled with these same questions. He says, "It's so natural to think the Presence of Jesus has no greater purpose than to improve the quality of our journey though life - with quality defined as a pleasurable, satisfying, self-affirming existence - a journey where certain things don't go wrong or, if they do, they correct themselves. Marriages should work, biopsies should come back benign, ministry efforts should succeed, and we should feel pretty good about the way most things go."

Crabb continues, "If dreams never shattered, we would continue to believe that lie and value only what God can do for us now; we would value neither His Presence nor all that He intends to do later. And we would not be willing to pay the devastating price required to experience His Presence now." (Shattered Dreams, 157)

In other words, God IS building His kingdom, in an astonishingly upside-down way. He builds by tearing down, humbling, dismantling, and surprising. The borders of our new homeland are not secure. Unemployment is about average. The economy has ups and downs. It's hard to say if things are gradually improving or slowly getting worse. But He lives here. With us. In the mess. His methods of kingdom-building are awfully hard to predict but His agenda is unchanging. He wants us to look more like He does.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The lessons in life worth learning are costly. Pain cuts deeply into the bedrock of our soul, and we are left with two options. We can scramble to numb the pain ourselves (this doesn't work for long) or we can run into God's arms. When deep pain is met with brokenness and dependence on Him, that carved-out place in our souls becomes the very vessel into which joy can flow as we are healed. Could it be that deep joy is not even possible without first experiencing deep pain? As we long for restoration, we come to treasure each taste of wholeness. Pain and disappointment usher us to the place where we can sit in God's presence - - hungry for Him to feed our souls, thirsty for living water. And of Him it is said ...

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." (2 Cor 1:3-4)

Monday, August 30, 2004

Be Near

"You are all
big and small
and wonderful
to trust in grace through faith
but I'm asking to taste.

Your fullness is mine,
revelation divine.
But oh, to taste,
to know much more than a page,
to feel Your embrace.

For dark is light to You.
Depths are height to You.
Far is near, but Lord I need to hear from You.
Be near, O God.
Be near, O God of us.
Your nearness is to us our good."

-Lyrics by Shane Barnard (c. 2003 Waiting Room Music)
"So we're not giving up. How could we!
Even though on the outside
it often looks like things are falling apart on us,
on the inside, where God is making new life,
not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.
These hard times are small potatoes
compared to the coming good times,
the lavish celebration prepared for us.
There's far more here than meets the eye.
The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow.
But the things we can't see now will last forever."
-Paul (2 Cor 4:16-18; The Message)

Saturday, August 28, 2004

gift at low tide

We had been driving along the coast for miles, in search of the perfect view. Washington State has a lot of beautiful coastline, but so far we had seen mostly mud littered with boats. The tide must have been at an all time low. Just when we had gone about as far as you can go without crossing the border into Canada, we stumbled upon a huge viewer's deck overlooking a bay behind an exclusive resort. There were no fences or fees, so we stopped and climbed out to survey the scene. Little did we know that the treasures awaiting us would be below, not beyond the deck.
A floating dock skirted the deck, it's steep ramp nearly pitching us forward into the bay. We found the shadows below the viewing deck pungent and fishy. It took only a moment to figure out why. Rows of solid wood columns had been anchored into the ocean floor, supporting the deck above. Clinging to each log above the waterline were dozens and dozens of sea creatures - brown sea anemone, folded closed for lack of moisture; bright purple and pink starfish, each stretching a foot in diameter; mussels, clamped shut. Just under the surface hairy anemones floated and swayed in the current. Nearly transparent jellyfish pulsed past, freeform. I can't say that it was beautiful, but for someone who grew up in a landlocked state, this quick stop was proving to be quite an education! Because of the unusually low tide, we were getting a rare glimpse of the ocean's hidden life.
Why do I bother retelling this odd experience? As we explored that day, I was reminded of my own inner searching these past months. Being at low tide emotionally and spiritually has not been fun. The odors of selfishness and impatience have often been dominant; "dying to self" does not smell (or feel!) nice. Parts of my personality that used to be vibrant have folded in upon themselves for lack of water. Gifts and skills once fully functional have clamped shut, ill-suited for life on land. But despite these 'losses', I've received blessings that rarely come at 'high tide'. Unexplored areas of my soul have been exposed. I am less self-confident, but freer. Rather than fearing what lies hidden within myself or others, I have found a new contentment, knowing that whatever is discovered there is not beyond His ability to transform into something beautiful.
I do not understand my own soul fully. I cannot pretend to have seen everything that lies beneath the surface. But I know He is there, healing and loving me. And that is making all the difference.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

"When God seems most absent from us, He is doing His most important work in us."

-Larry Crabb (Shattered Dreams, 157)

shattered dreams

"God's restraint has a purpose. When He appears to be doing nothing, He is doing something we've not yet learned to value and therefore cannot see. Only in the agony of his absence, both in the real absence of certain blessings and in the felt absence of His Presence, will we relax our determined grasp of our empty selves enough to appreciate His purposes.

He could do something. Yet He does nothing, at least not what we ask Him to do. Why? To deepen our desire for His Presence, to strengthen our passion to pursue Him, to help us see how preoccupied we are with filling our God-shaped souls with something less than God.

...Through the pain of shattered dreams, God is awakening us to the possibility of infinite pleasure. That is the nature of our journey; it's what the Spirit is doing."

-Larry Crabb (Shattered Dreams, 121)

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

root beer water

I was 15. We were canoeing through lake Bayano, ready to head upriver to bring good news to a tribal (Kuna) village. Who's we? you ask. "We" were 25 teenagers chaperoned by a few really brave adults and guided by a little man who spoke both Spanish and Kuna. But that's another story. It's the water I'm thinking about today. We cruised across the enormous lake and then headed up a tributary in the blazing equatorial sun. For 8 hours straight. Thirsty? You'd better believe it. Each of us had filled our canteen with water from one of two huge drums that rode into the jungle atop our team bus. In their former lives, the huge plastic containers had been storage for root beer & orange soda syrup (respectively). We were reminded of that fact every time we took a sip from our canteens. It's already been 12 years but I will never forget the taste of warm water laced with root beer. We were 8 hours by bus and 8 hours by boat away from civilization. Clearly, this water was our only option. So we drank it. But it was not exactly what you would call thirst-quenching. To this day I have a special appreciation for clean, cold water that doesn't taste like anything.

Have you ever noticed how the things we crave usually don't satisfy our thirst? Just a few days out of the city to rest ... a good book ... an irish cream latte at Starbucks ... a quick computer game. Instead of feeling refreshed I often feel even more restless ... cloudy-headed ... dissatisfied. Am I substituting root beer water for the real thing, and then wondering why I'm still thirsty? Hmm ...

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

journal entry

Each time I write the date I can sense myself searching, wanting to be anchored somewhere, longing to know just where I am and where I've been and where I'm going. Hoping inside for a forgotten memory to just hit me ... "Oh! the 24th! That means only 7 days left until ..." or "Oh! Tomorrow is my birthday!" No such luck. Today is simply the 24th. Yesterday the 23rd. Tomorrow the 25th. No special plans or exciting new journeys. Or are there?
Perhaps any day can be a holiday in the Spirit. Could it be that time spent with Jesus can breathe new life into any boring and forgettable day? I'd like to think so. I sure hope so.

His mercies are new every morning,
never stretched and worn thin like my patience.
He is never gone on teacher inservice days,
never off-line,
never boarded up for repairs.

"The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime;
And His song will be with me in the night,
A prayer to the God of my life." Ps 42:8

Oh, God of my life, lift my eyes from this tired maze of details and decisions that cannot be made. Help me to become so enthralled with Your presence that waiting for answers becomes truly peripheral. I so long for a sense of purpose, energy, and anointing. My soul is thirsty and discontent. Satisfy my soul in You. Only You.
"Measure thy life by loss instead of gain;
Not by the wine drunk but by the wine poured forth;
For love's strength standeth in love's sacrifice,
And whoso suffers most hath most to give."
-Ugo Bassi
(quoted by Elizabeth Elliot in 'Keep a Quiet Heart,' 66)

Monday, August 23, 2004


before I journeyed here
my heart was full
now I sojourn
far from home
emptied of all I once knew

afraid that before I find
my voice in this culture
I will have nothing left to say
what was profound and meaningful before
now seems

so, Lord, I sit here
like the jars at Cana lacking wine
thirsty for You to fill me again
with your living water
so I can again pour
into the lives You've gathered
around me

Come, Lord Jesus,
do your miracle in me.

(from my journal March 7, 2004)
"Let the one who is thirsty come;
let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost."
Rev 22:17

"If you knew the generosity of God and who I am,
you would be asking me for a drink,
and I would give you fresh, living water."
- Jesus