Monday, September 30, 2013

Dr. Fred Smith complained to us once about the way that information travels at the speed of light these days.  When his mother and father-in-law went to present day Cambodia as missionaries, their possessions were shipped in crates designed to be used as their coffins.  He and his wife took six weeks to get to their first place of assignment and there was a monthly telegram drop.

I'm never more than 24 hours from anywhere it seems.  I'm always a phone call away.  And this changes things.  This complicates things.

The saddest part about serving overseas is death.  It hurts to be so connected and yet so removed when someone dies.  I think Facebook will one day catch up with this - it will handle the death of a loved one cautiously.  Perhaps in the future you will have an approved list of people from whom you would like to hear bad news and only those posts will come up first.

When Jonathan died, I found out from the post of a person I just really didn't like.  He wrote, "I never knew you Jonathan Pound, but you seemed like a cool dude. Sorry you died." I'll never forget those words, or how deeply they cut when I first read them.  I had called Jonathan the evening before and was angry that he didn't pick up.

I knew that Bob was in his final hours, and I'm grateful that I learned of his passing from a friend.  It makes everything easier and more pleasant.

This is one of those small things that people don't think about when they talk about mission.  Missionaries miss all of these milestones.  Nowhere ever feels fully like home.  Family gets a new meaning.  Goodbyes mean everything and nothing all at the same time.

I confided in Bob once that Ukrainians hate it when people call their country THE Ukraine, but that according to the rules of English grammar the article should be used.  From that point forward every conversation centered around THE Ukraine where I served.  Bob hated mandatory adjectives.  He hated the way he felt compelled to say "... and his LOVELY wife."   If he just referenced her as so-and-so's wife it would be rude - and he wanted just once to say, "... and his TRAINWRECK of a wife."

I had planned to fly from Illinois to Washington DC before flying out of Dulles this last time in the states.  But for whatever reason I didn't buy my plane ticket in time.  I rented a car and drove instead.  I had time for a lovely stop in California, PA to eat at a greasy diner with Bob and Ruth.  Our previous meal had been a vegetable medley over a mound of quinoia.  We ate a meat lover's pizza and drank giant sodas.  Ruth got fries drenched in all kinds of creamy sauces.  It was a perfect meal.

On my drive, one thought kept crossing my mind over and over again.  "If you fill your life with remarkable people, your life will be remarkably full."

I live such a full and rewarding life - and this is precisely because I have filled it with people of character and integrity.

Going the Distance.  In His Grip.  For the Win.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

A lazy Saturday

I'm never ready for winter.  While I yearn for three seasons during the others, all year long I dread winter.  I dread the snow and the ice and the arthritis in my hands and feet flaring up for months on end.  Sometimes at night I pray that God will eventually see fit to send me somewhere warm, but I keep ending up in places that are wrapped in white tinsel for nine months of the year.

My prayers will continue to focus on an Indian summer sneaking up on us in late September, but in the meantime I am mentally preparing myself for the first snowfall anytime this week.

I wore my flipflops today and a too big sweater, but I refused a coat and a decent pair of socks.  My last protest against the winter went as well as most of my protests do.  The foot-prisons are coming.

And Valya, with her big coat and floppy artists' hat led the technicians and Olya with her short hair and cute beanie hat stepped to the front of the crowd and welcomed everyone to the film festival.  Rain cancelled the center square venue, but it was just as well to sit on the large porch of the palace of arts and generate electricity by bicycle.  How hipster is a bicycle powered film festival, right?

It seems that hundreds of hipsters line the porch with their oversized glasses and ill-fitting clothes.  You can only tell genders by beards or lack of beards.  That's the trend these days.  And the movies are delightfully quirky and the bicycles are restored antiques and the wine is warmed with exotic spices - and everything is so perfect.  I wish that autumn could be suspended in time and last forever.  The sights, the smells, the conversations.

And the night ended in the Indian restaurant around spicy curries and flat breads.  Nikita almost died a year ago from massive head trauma, but all that remains is a slight slur of words.  Yura looks like the boy scout that he is.  The conversation flies from topic to topic.  Seagull, cameraman, organizational - these are the words that I learned in Ukrainian over dinner, these were the only words that I didn't know.  It's at some point between the spicy soup and the spicy lamb that I am simply struck by the beauty of everything - by the scars from Mikita's multiple brain surgeries, by the grammar and vocabulary forcibly stuffed into my head, by the common grace of sitting around a table and enjoying something out of the usual.

I read someone's wall post encouraging the YOLO attitude that defines my generation that used to be packaged as carpe diem and defined generations before mine, and I was struck by the simplicity of it.  Don't have regrets. If it was good it was good, if it was bad it was experience.  And I'm not there yet.  I'm not a  YOLOer by any means, but I am struck by how often fear keeps us from new experiences.

And I still won't be ready for winter in time.  It will still surprise and befuddle me, but I think I'm going to stay warmer this year.  I'm going to keep people close and share in new experiences and laugh too loud and drink mulled cider more often.  I'm going to wear whatever sweater I want, and not apologize for showing up to the university dressed like a homeless person.

I'm going to survive this winter.  I'm going to thrive this winter.  

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Success is found in faithfulness.

When I think of the most successful people I know, I tend to think of people who are happy.  I don't have many friends with millions of dollars.  I don't know many executives at fortune 500 companies.  Yet I know many, many successful people.

People who have held fast to God while the storms of life swept over them time and time again.  Prophets who continue to do what God calls them to do even when it is not popular.  Pastors who choose to preach the Gospel rather than family values or other attendance boosting topics.

Pastor Volodya and I had a conversation today about faith.  It has always come easily to me.  I've always held faith and doubt in the same hand.  My mother always gave such a strong example to live by faith.  There was always enough, and there would always be enough.

I have a hard time dealing with people who don't have any faith.  It frustrates me when people lack the basic understanding that God will take care of it, whatever it may be.

These conversations in the church, these conversations about how pastors and churches have to have "vision" where "vision" is a marketing term for bigger, better, shinier - these conversations bother me.  It always amuses me when they pull out that one verse in the Bible that in some translations supports their concept of vision.

Because instead of vision we need to have faith.  We need to be able to see past today, to see past the "death tsunami" that is coming, to see past the sinner crumpled on the floor and to see what God sees.  To see that we will have freedom from our sins.  To see that our churches will recover.  To see that God has a plan and to see that God's plan stretched beyond next year.

I think of my most formative moments in the church, and often those moments happened in times of struggle and grief.  I saw pastors become real.  I heard them cuss.  I've seen them cry.  I learned so much from them and the way they handled these situations.

Some lament small churches.  Because I grew up in a small membership congregation, my pastor ALWAYS had time to meet with me.  I'm glad that I didn't grow up in a big, fancy church.      

I'll always remember my first scotch.  I was staying with Lee and Nancy Paige, and Lee had been the senior pastor of one of the first mega churches as they emerged in the seventies.  He had written books on contemporary worship that now seem so dated and out of place.  He invited me to join him for a night-cap, and he told me that he has served churches of 80 and churches of thousands and that the real ministry only happens in the little churches.  He passed away some years ago and his wife took over the little church he had been shepherding.  Her sermons are great.  I've always trusted his prognosis about "real ministry."

To have faith is to know that God will take care of some things.  To know that God is working out the details in ways that will surprise and delight us.

Let go and let God.


Monday, September 2, 2013

The frosting was made from a pudding packet and a bag of sour cream.  No one was more surprised than I by the fact that it actually tasted good.  The occasion was the surprise visit by ten visiting young people from Kyrgyzstan.

My mother always laughs when I throw together a meal for a large group of people.  When her closest friend comes over she is paralyzed for the entirety of the preceding week with the dread and fear of hosting.  What will she prepare?  Which towel will she lay out?  What if a tornado hits and we don't have enough bottled water for our guest?

My sister and I have always excelled in hospitality.  It's equal parts all-in bravery and our absolute lack of concern about what others think of us.  Where our mother frets about the stain on the carpet, Rebecca would just place a pillow over it and explain that she's doing the Indian thing now.

I've always loved throwing a party, and my philosophy is always, "the more the merrier."  The trick is to always cook for thirty and either eat leftovers for a month or buy more bread to stretch it a bit depending on how many show up.

I remember the year that mom slaved away to make a cranberry chutney for thanksgiving.  She painstakingly minced all of the ingredients, eager and excited to try a new dish.  She was afraid of anything going to waste so she just made a sampler sized portion, with a promise to make more next year if it was well received.  She explained the ingredients and what chutney meant at the dinner table, and took a spoonful and passed the bowl to her right.  Grandma Airgood held the little green glass bowl in her hands and said, "There's not enough here for everyone to eat it."  Before passing it to the next person without taking any.  We all dutifully passed it to the next person without sampling any.  We never heard the word chutney again in our lives, it became one of the cuss words we weren't allowed to say.

My gift is hospitality, because I am really good at being hospitable and also really good at receiving hospitality.  There have been months where I lived entirely off of the kindness of others.  I couldn't have survived and made it on my own without gladly accepting hand-outs and hand-ups.  Like the month I just ate at the Methodist church in Toccoa.  Showing up at lunch time and looking for a group nibbling on sandwich halves might seem humiliating, but I was poor and people were kind and generous.  The ladies knitting group never questioned my presence or the fact that I took leftover home with me.  Grandma Alma gladly paid my Wednesday night meal ticket after that one mean old man complained that I hadn't paid.

I think that I'm good at hospitality because I had to receive so much of it.  It makes me wonder about the other gifts of the spirit.  It makes me wonder if we would have more of them if we only needed and experienced them more.