I Give You My Heart

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One of the many gifts I received from the kids (others included custom jewelry and original artwork).

So I just got back from Burma.  Yes, I still call it that.

I get excited when we break through the clouds to see the rice fields and farms dotted with golden pagodas.  As much as  you can get excited when you’re brain dead and saddle sore.

Burma is fairly homogenized–80% Buddhist.  Yet diverse–there are over 250 languages.  It has breathtaking views.  And ugly slums.  It’s GDP per capita is well below the poverty line (about the same as Syria).  Yet, there are the very rich.  In fact, I was shocked that the Rangoon airport is now home to high-end retailers such as Bolova, Swarovski, and Dolce and Gabbana–a sign that Burma (where we couldn’t use plastic of any kind up until a few years ago) is rapidly changing.

Some things needed to change.  Decades of violence, persecution, and poverty.

And a few memories I want to hold on to forever.

Time won’t permit me to do more than scratch the surface, but here are a few snapshots from this recent trip.

Long Drives.  Long Days.

We waited several hours for our pick up ride to Hope.  There’s nothing quite like spending four days in travel for five days in country…and then spend the better part of the first day waiting for a ride.

My “to do” oriented mind took a little while to adjust to new pace.  But I really had no choice.  And before long, I was loving how I lose all concept of time in Burma. I can go an entire day without looking at a calendar or a clock.

I spent a lot of time driving around in the back of a truck last week.  And a lot of time just sitting with a kid on my lap.  Or walking around holding little hands.

I did nothing.  I loved it.

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The Joys of Hard Work

A lot of hard work was done while we were there.  Just not by me.

The official purpose of our visit mostly centered around the finishes for Hope Children’s Home, the facility Remember constructed in 2015.  We have been investing in the lives of about 60 kids from difficult (or non-existent) family situations over the past several years.

The men on the team worked diligently on woodworking, plumbing, and electrical needs.  I love how they incorporated the kids into their work and started teaching them valuable trade skills.

And then in the evenings, they would join in and play, sing, and strum guitars with the whole bunch.

They even wore the “man skirt;” Longyi.

New Clothes.

When we arrived, I couldn’t miss just how grungy some of the kids looked.  Especially the little ones.  They have neat, clean school uniforms, but on days when they are off, anything will do.  And I mean anything.  In fact, it doesn’t have to be clothes; tattered pajamas work just as well.  Not only would the fashion police have locked them up permanently, but during this “dry” season, the dirt had no respect for their laundry efforts.

I was especially taken with one of the youngest little girls.  She was making do with a tank top that was so ill fitting, the neck line hung halfway to her waist.  In the modest culture,  she made up for the lack of fabric by wearing a fleece jacket with a broken zipper.  She tried to hold it closed but it was eighty something degrees, and beside that, it’s hard to play frisbee while holding a jacket closed.

I was kind of surprised since we have brought and bought the kids clothes recently.  But then,  I’m still learning about how things unfold at Hope.  So we made it a point to at least get some new shirts for all the younger girls.  Not trying to leave anything to chance, Anita and I brought them inside and had them each change into their new shirt.  But soon as we sent them on their merry way, they changed back into their old shirts.  Maybe they were saving the new ones.  Maybe they were too young to care.  But we weren’t clothes heroes this time around. Kinda funny in a way.

Mind you, I did confiscate the ill-fitting tank top.  And I have no regrets.

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Yes, they’re all girls…Keeping their hair short is typical until they are deemed old enough to take care of it.

 

Learning Names.

I’ve been to Burma ten times.  And I’ve learned about ten names.  Maybe.

They are just hard.  They are all different, yet all the same.  So…foreign.

So this time, I tried.  Really tried to learn their names.  I didn’t get them all, but you can see I had good teachers:

 

American Isn’t All Bad

Two words: look closely.

wires

 

The Second Plague

So, just to give you some context on this one, I hate frogs.  They are spiders, snakes, and mosquitos all rolled into one for me.  There is something about croaking sliminess that jumps that I prefer to live with out.

So here you go:

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Yes, that is a frog on the toilet paper roll.

Croak.

But that wasn’t the worst. Here’s the moment that could have made you rich if you had it on video:

I was in the girls’ dorm where we were trying to do a bit of a makeover on the bathroom.  I tried to demonstrate for the little girls how to take a shower in the inside stalls–instead of the outside cistern.

Since my Burmese is rather, uh, limited, I was relying heavily on charades to explain to them what and how while fully dressed in one of the stalls.  I thought I had a rapped audience until one of the girls’ interrupted:

“Teacha…Pappa!”

I looked where she was pointing in time to see an enormous frog perched on wall inches from my nose.

So the demonstration ended rather abruptly into giggles as I jumped out of that stall faster than was probably necessary to avoid being eaten alive by the slight green monster.

Curious George

One of the boys asked me to read to him and I promised I would after dinner.  Then I promptly forgot.

But he didn’t forget.  After dinner, he sought me out with Curious George in tow.  We settled down in the library and I read the book.  Then another.  And another.  And another.  And another.  A small group listened attentively through eight full Curious George books.

The craziest part: they couldn’t understand a word.

They listened attentively through page after page of Curious George randomness in a foreign language.

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These kids are so different.  So much less saturated in media and entertainment.  So much more willing to engage in simple games–bubbles, Frisbee, or hopscotch.  They love to laugh, love to play, love to give, love be affectionate.

Mind you, they are still kids.  Still under construction.  Still in need of discipline.   Teaching.  Parenting.  But for everything I could teach them, there is something they could teach me.

They are lovely in a way that their mug shots just don’t communicate and in a way that made me absolutely fall in love.

Dirty Faces

One more story that I just have to tell.  The little ones and I were entertaining ourselves by making music videos.  It was good fun all around.  But we got to one particularly cute song and I accidently messed up the settings on my phone and it turned out like this:

Again, using charades, I tried to explain to the little crowd of girls (and boys who had joined) that their faces were washed out and we needed to re-tape.  I kept trying to demonstrate until the light bulb seemed to come on for one of the girls and she began urgently explaining the problem to the other kids.

“Sorry! Sorry!”  They all chorused and went running off.

I was completely surprised to see them all rush to a tub of dirty dishwater and vigorously scrub their faces.  They were still apologizing when they got back until I was the one in tears apologizing.

They thought I was telling them we needed to redo it because they were dirty.  They thought I didn’t like runny noses and crusty eyes.  But it wasn’t that at all.

I need to learn Burmese.  I love these people

Evening Devotions

After dinner, the kids had devotions.  They play guitar and sing beautifully.  They especially love to sing into a microphone being blasted through a needlessly large amp cranked up enough to make an airliner need earplugs.

Some songs they sang in English including:

This is my desire
To honor You
Lord, with all my heart
I worship You
All I have within me
I give You praise
All that I adore
Is in You

Lord, I give You my heart
I give You my soul
I live for you alone
And every breath that I take
Every moment I’m awake
Lord, have Your ways in me

[Hillsong – I Give You My Heart Lyrics | MetroLyrics]

I don’t know that they understand the lyrics completely.  Maybe none of us do.  But I know this: I want them to understand.  I want them to mean it.  And if a passion for Christ can be shared, I hope we understand and mean it well enough that we can share it with them.

And I hope it requires a few more trips.

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After praise and testimonies from the team, we prayed together.  In fact, they had our team gather and they surrounded us and prayed for us.  All sixty of them.  All at once.  It was my turn to not understand a word.  But it was the most beautiful sound.  Sixty young voices lifted in heartfelt prayer for us.

I cried.

And if you were there, you would have too.

There you have it.  I’ve taken several thousand words and I’ve barely scratched the surface.  But it’s the best I can do in a single blog post.

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And to all of  you who sponsor these kids or to gave to the construction of Hope, so many thanks!  Maybe, one day, you can come and get your own fresh cut flowers, original artwork, and custom jewelry.  And maybe you can be part of passing on a passion for Christ that enables us to sing together: Lord I give you my heart…have your way in me.

Episodes of Sunshine

 

In my last blog, I promised a 2017 list coming soon.  Turns out, today is as soon as I could.

So here’s the list.  Things I’m thankful for.  Not exclusive and not in any particular order..

1. Costco is carrying Lindt dark chocolate.  Thank you.  Why did that take so long?

2. My large…VERY large…collection of original artwork.  After years of being an Awana leader, Sunday School teacher, first grade aide, babysitter, and aunt (now of 18!).  Let’s not forget missions trips.

I would put my collection up against that of anyone’s.  At least in quantity.  I haven’t kept it all.  I just couldn’t wihout renting a self storage unit.  But just the same, I have a bunch of treasured creations from little people everyone.  And I love it!

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3. While I’m talking about my art work, and, because I found so many while sifting through artwork, I’m thankful for all the notes friends have written me over the years.  If you ever wrote me a meaningful note, I probably still have it.    You may not even remember it, but I probably read it last week and cried.  Because, sometimes, that’s what I do when I’m happy.

4. My garage.  And the ability to get in my car in the rain with all the junk I’m forever toting around getting soaked in the Sunday morning downpour.

5. Sundays… NFL… Patriots.

6. Hope.

I’m convinced hope is the most painful of all virtues.  Because it doesn’t let me give up when we want to give up.  Won’t let me quit when I want to quit.  Makes me hang on when I want to let go.

Hope is so stubbornly stubborn.  Like a kudzu vine it keeps coming back.  Like a pitbull… once it clenches its teeth, it’s just done.  Decision made.

Despite all of the frustrating miscarriages of hope here on earth; I’m thankful for the highest calling of hope: to anchor us to heaven.  Hope will attach our soul to the life to come in unforgettable, unquenchable, unyielding confidence that makes all of life’s disappointments not matter.  I’m thankful for hope.

7.  Flowers.  Especially roses.  But also tulips.  And daisies.  I can’t seem to grow any of the above, but I think they are beautiful just the same..

8   Kara Tippetts and the legacy she is still passing on a few years after her transition to heaven.  She knew a think or two about faith and hope.  I started to blog about her a while back, but I lost my work in a computer glitch and I concluded it just wasn’t meant to be.  I probably couldn’t do it justice.

But I’ve read all of her books and I just thought: wow.

9.  Stuart…all my family actually.  But Stuart is the newest member.  I got to hold him on Christmas when he was just a few hours old.  He is a keeper.

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While we’re at it, here’s Riley…giving me a private ukulele concert.

 

I’d better stop here before I get started…remember…I have 18 and they are all the best!

10. Weather and the variety of seasons…and the fact that even some of the grayest of days have moments of grace and episodes of sunshine.

Thank you, Lord.

Are there any happy people out there?

This is a reblog of a post I wrote a few years ago.  I wanted to share it again in case you missed it.   And so I could share some of my 2017 list (coming soon).

Yes, it has been three months since I’ve blogged.  I pretty much gave up blogging.

But recently, some friends encouraged me to continue.  The type of friends that I’m honored even take the time to read my writing–much less miss it when it isn’t there.

One kind soul even took the time to ask if I was “okay.”  So here is the short story:

October and November were difficult months.  I’m not gonna lie.

December was peaceful, pleasant, and even fun.  But with the peace came sort of a spiritual “dryness” that left me really with nothing to say and definitely, nothing to shout above the din of viral videos, cute cartoons, pithy comments, family photos, Christmas music, personal notes, and far, far better blogs than I’ll ever write.

My theory is, when I have nothing to say, I should be quiet.

But there is a competing theory that there is never a perfect time to write.  Life will always be messy in some respect or another.  Sometimes, I just need to do it. Even when it is easier to just be quiet.

Anyway, so in December, I was kind of a cautious happy, not a confident happy.  I tried to blog a few times, but I wasn’t quite able to pull it off. And this week, my spirits seemed to be in a steady decline and by Tuesday afternoon,  I would listen to anyone who would tell me a tale of woe.  And when anyone else would listen, I would tell my own tale of woe.  Pretty soon, I felt like one unhappy person surrounded by a world of unhappy people.  6 billion unhappy people is a lot of unhappy people.

And we would all say, “Oh, and Happy New Year!”  at the end of the tale.

Like suddenly, the clock would strike midnight and we would all reset to happy. (No pressure, January 1).

Seriously, though, I found myself asking, “Are there any happy people out there?”  The poor aren’t happy.  The rich aren’t happy.  Students aren’t happy.  Working people aren’t happy.  Retired people aren’t happy.  Parents aren’t happy.  Kids aren’t even happy.  How messed up does a world have to be for kids not be happy? 

I’m willing to wager that if I had been at Disneyworld on Christmas Day, I could have found for you boatloads of people singing the blues to “It’s a Small World After All.” If the happiest place on earth is devoid of people living happily ever after, what hope is there for the rest of us?

I read somewhere that the key to happiness in a relationship is the constant belief that the other person is better than you deserve.  The more I thought about that, the more I have realized there is a lot of wisdom in that simple statement.  Perhaps because, whether they realized it or not, the author’s conclusion was essentially the biblical principles of humility and gratefulness…with a touch of contentment.

I’m convinced that the same truth applies to happiness in life.  Choose to believe that your life is better that you deserve.  And that is the truth—whether you believe it or not.

I don’t intend to be trite—I know that some of us were created to think constantly, feel deeply, and care passionately (not only about our own hurts, but about others’ as well). It can seem cold and even irreverent to cast aside feelings of hurt for feelings of hope.

But, nevertheless, it is never wrong to embrace the joy that humility and gratefulness bring. So, I started to do something new this New Years.  Not a resolution, but maybe a new tradition.  I decided to write down one hundred things I was grateful for—one hundred.

Some came quickly…and in no particular order: New Kitchen cabinets. Working heat.  Ministries I get to be a part of.  Grandparents.  My Sunday School class.  The Bible.  A working car.  Dish soap.  My phone.  Salvation.  Julie Anne.  Photos.

Some brought to mind a negative counterpart…my health (but not migraines).  My paycheck (but not taxes).  But I put a lid on that: no list of things I’m not thankful for.

My resolve was tested before I even hit 20.  My day included poorly timed reminders that all was not well in life—or at least not the way I want it.  But when you keep in mind that what you deserve is hell, that kind of puts a different perspective on things.  Life is good when it is better than you deserve.

I got to 50 without too much trouble. Then I started again:   Roses. Indoor plumbing. Nieces and nephews. A hope of heaven. The USA. Our troops. Sundays.

I named people God has brought into my life; current and past. The Lanes—who let me stay at their house and drive their car for free for 8 weeks while I studied for the bar exam. My sisters and brother – who let me buy annoying toys for their kids. Candi Grinder – my high school yearbook advisor who told me I was good at graphic design. The Kinzers – Clients who have come to be special people in my life.

That brought to mind a story that I just have to share…I was in Kentucky by myself and the weather was an ungodly 1 degree. I needed to leave and I couldn’t get the car to start. It was bitterly cold—my brain was frozen and I couldn’t really think of what to do next.

Jerry Kinzer—one of the wealthiest men I know—happened to call and asked about something. I confessed that it wasn’t the best morning in the world and that I couldn’t get the car to start. Jerry could have done nothing at all. He could have said he was sorry. He could have given me the phone number of a tow company. He could have sent one of the 100 or so men that work for him to come and give me a jump.

But a few minutes later, he showed up in the 1 degree weather, hooked up the cables he brought with his ungloved hands, and jumped the jeep so I could get on the road.

There are a lot of stories like that in my life. There are a lot of people like that in my life. And before I even got to 100—I was wholly convinced that my life is much better than I deserve.

Are there any happy people out there?

I don’t know. But there is at least one happy person.

In here.

 

Memorize. Memorize. Memorize.

I am one of those people.

One of those people who makes a list of goals on January 1.  I usually make a budget.  Write out a calendar.  Start reading through the Bible and get on a fitness program.

Organization excites me.  I guess that’s why I love New Years Day.  I love getting a new calendar.  Starting new financial software.  Filing the stacks of papers on my desk and making all new files.  It’s glorious.

But over time, I have learned that when I make a long list of goals, I usually get to the end of the year and realize I accomplished about half of them.

And when I write a short list of goals, I usually get to the end of the year and realize I accomplished about half of them.

Almost every year, I have Scripture Memory in my list of goals.  And almost every year, it ends up in the half of goals that went by the wayside.  Around January 5.

Not proud of that fact.  Just being honest.

So I give Katie Blatchford credit for her convicting question to me yesterday…”Are you on a Scripture memory program?”

So I’ve purposed to try in 2017.  Again.

If you, like me, understand the benefits of memorizing Scripture but need a little extra “something something” to keep you going, here are some ideas:

Katie told me about Beth Moore’s blog and Scripture Memory program.  It has you choose your own verses and memorize one every two weeks.  You get a spiral 3×5 card holder to record and review verses with.

I had also recently taken a look at the Fighter Verses Scripture memory program.  It has a plan for one verse a week and you can subscribe to have them e-mailed to you.  I also downloaded their really cool app which has, not only the verses, but some commentary, and the verses set to music.

Music is a good way for me to memorize, so I listened to Psalm 40:8 set to music about 100 times while I got ready this morning.  I plan to do that all week although, admittedly, it’s a verse I memorized as a kid so I think I already know it.  [Also, I was also reminded of one the big reasons I consistently stall out with Scripture memory–the battle of the versions.  The version I used for Scripture memory as a kid isn’t the same most programs are in now, so it gets confusing and sometimes a little counter productive for repeat verses.]

As I was downloading the Fighter Verses app, I found out that there are actually quite a few apps out there specifically for Scripture memory.  So no excuses.  Shoot, they even have an app that will listen to you say the verse and beep when you get a word wrong.

Yep, there’s an app for everything.  Including budgeting, working out, counting calories, meal planning, keeping your house clean, and even blogging.  So…I guess that means I’m pretty much out of excuses for everything in 2017.  Too bad they don’t make an app to live 2017 for me.

I won’t stay organized in 2017.  But this time, I’m determined to at least stick with Scripture memory.  That’s why I’m telling you.  So at the end of 2017, Scripture memory will be in the half of goals with a check mark by them.  Actually, I want it to have a check mark even if it’s the only one.

 

If I Were King

I don’t know about you, but this election cycle about has me thinking we should go back to a dynasty system where nobody runs for anything and kings are just born and not made. 

But I don’t really mean that and it really has nothing to do with this post. I’m just really really sick of seeing two specific but unnamed people on the news. 

Anyway….

This post is about keys. 

Because if we did have a king in the US; and if that king was me; I would get rid of keys. Period.

I hate keys.

Keys hate me.

Keys, or lack thereof, are the reason I have kicked in my own garage door, broken a plate glass window, sat outside in the rain and cried, and not so very long ago, walked with my nephew all over Sturbridge Village with our heads down before sitting outside in the cold for an hour waiting on a locksmith. 

I am about $500 poorer thanks to locksmiths I have paid just in the last few years. There are a lot of other things I would rather have done with that $500. Shoot.  I would rather have given it to you. 

(And that is only that low because, at least once, I stayed locked out of my house for three days rather than pay a lock smith to get me back in.)

Of course, my best key story involved a 2:00 am search for a single Toyota key…my grandma in her pajamas…raiding the cash drawer in the dining hall…and dragging innocent civilians out of church…But many of you have heard the details of that epic adventure and since being let out on parole after that memorable night, I’ve been on fairly good behavior. 

That is, until this week. 

Like many of the episodes in my long list of key losing misadventures, this one involved a borrowed car. The borrowed car that means a single key…a loose key…left to its own devices…wreaking havoc…reducing to tears a girl that tries so hard to be brave…and robbing me of hard earned cash. 

Some things were never meant to be single. 

Keys are one of them. 

But due to my recent travels back and forth to Kentucky, I’ve been driving a borrowed van (which I liked until today) and carrying around a fat black fob that has a few simple buttons–the controls to my dignity, my schedule, and my happiness. 

It started when, between two 420 mile drives, I tried to squeeze in a house showing. All seemed to go well until we were locked up and ready to go on to the next house. 

My clients, their two little girls who had been on extremely good bahvior, and me.   With no key. 

The next twenty minutes or so involved walking, unlocking, musing, and searching, before finally discovering the key was, in fact, in my purse all along. The little trouble maker was hiding in the folds of my black purse and evidently escaped the first 1,456 searches.

Thankfully, my clients were understanding and their girls were–well, they deserve medals. 

It was just a few days later when I was leaving the office in Kentucky and couldn’t locate my key (I’m so used to the keyless entry…where would I be, who would I be without keyless entry???). I did my best to dig for the same black key in the same black purse holding a water bottle, laptop, and armload of files. It was a futile effort. 

Finally, I headed back inside where I dumped the entire contents of my purse onto the table and pawed through the items. Whether it had been on the purse or my table, I don’t know, but I found it!  I practically ran outside and fired up the van before the key had another opportunity to escape. 

I drove halfway accross the parking lot before I noted– with terror– that my armload of files was blowing across the parking lot. Apparently, I had set the stack on the hood on my first trip while looking for the key. 

To make matters worse–much worse–my laptop was precariously perched against the windshield. My first impulse was to slam on the breaks, but I knew that would be, well, let’s just say I would rather donate a few weeks of my life to holding a sandwich board on a street corner than recreating the files saved on that precious sliver of carefully arranged atoms. Much rather. 

Thankfully, I was able to glide to a stop without incident. And after some effort in the start of a summer downpour, I was able to chase down the various papers that were rearranging themselves around the dampening parking lot. 

But the incident was not without afterthought. I mean, I couldn’t just go on like this. I couldn’t just let this devious little fob continue to wreak it’s havoc. I had to have a plan. 

So I made a plan. 

It was a great plan. 

I left the key in the cup holder. I left the van unlocked. I mean, who does that?  No one would expect it. No one would notice it. The places I parked, no one would steal it if they did notice it. And it would eliminate so much potential for disaster such as forgetting it in my back pocket and having it end up in the toilet (which may or may not have happened over the course of this narrative). 

Okay, so if you are any kind of a sleuth at all you can probably figure out what happens in the next chapter of this story. You probably know jolly well why I’m sitting in a planter in front Moes getting alternately eaten by ants and bitten by mosquitos and watching the sun go down in Irmo, SC writing a blog and feeling my evening slip into the abyss of unfortunate key stories. 

The key is right in the cup holder where I left it, but at this moment, I’m really wishing that I at least got the instant gratification of flushing it.  That would have been way cooler. 

But I have a take away: if you are looking for a business, locksmith is where it’s at. 

Seriously.

You can call every number in the area under locksmith and what you will find is that, apparently, you can run a successful locksmith business without even having a working phone number.

 You can have a website that was designed in 1992.

 You can have a Facebook page with a photo of your niece eating a marshmallow. 

The cool thing is, you stay so busy, you don’t even  have to work. For that matter, you don’t have to answer the phone. Or, just for fun, you can answer the phone with a slick customer service slogan like, “Hi, can I put you on hold?”

And you can exercise absolute power by letting divas in blue jeans stay on hold for indefinate periods of time until the call eventually drops. 

And if a particularly persistent customer, such as the type that finds themselves far away from home locked out of their vehicle, consistently calls back, you can right all the evils of the social injustice of our society by asking a long serious of questions such as “what color is your car? (Which should be illegal under discrimation laws) and then promise to have a tech call them back. 

Apparently, you can make so much money, they don’t ever have to call customers back. Or maybe you can choose based on whether you like their car color. 

Basically, you can do whatever you want. 

And when you show up, you can change your price to any amount you want.

 It’s your business. 

But you better get in the business soon, because I’m warning you, if I become king, no more keys. Period.

I know, I know, people are always trying to help me out with ideas of hidden keys and keys with neighbors, and I appreciate all that. But they also say you can’t fix stupid. And when it comes to keys, I’m afraid that’s the category I fall in. 

So no more keys. 

I mean, how much worse off would we really be if we just left our stuff unlocked?  I for one, would be $500 richer.

And I wouldn’t have all these ant bites.

And I would be home by now. 

Just sayin. 

Last Day of School

I remember my high school graduation. The song my senior class sang. The note I tried to hit and didn’t quite make. The hat I threw that almost knocked me unconscious on the way back down. The speech I gave…last because I’m a “W”. Which also meant I was at the front of my recessional. Unfortunately, no one followed me off the stage and I ended up marching down a very long aisle by myself. I tried to smile enough to make it look like I did the right thing and it was the rest of the class marching down the wrong aisle on the other side of the auditorium.

I knew that night that school wasn’t really over for me. I was already studying so I could earn another paper certificate that said I knew something. Four more years to go. But I was ready for the next challenge because if I had learned nothing else over the prior twelve years, it was what hard work looked like.

Because I was born lazy. Really lazy.

I didn’t like chores. I didn’t like school. I didn’t like to work. Or anything that looked, smelled, or sounded like work.

I didn’t like to exercise. I didn’t like to do math. I didn’t like to clean my room or even make my bed.

So God gave me two very critical character building influences in my life that really boil down into one: Homeschool. And my mother.

And that’s what this story is really about.

My mother was a stay at home mom as long as we were home. But she worked. Yes, goodness knows, she worked.All 1982

My mom raised kids, taught us school, ran an Awana club, ran a homeschool group, cooked, cleaned, paid bills, and taught us and a lot of other girls so many other things…sewing, painting, decorating, driving, and so much more.

I must have made her a little bit crazy because I was not a fan of work. I didn’t like to sweat. I didn’t see any point in doing the same type of math problems day after day, page after page. I didn’t really think I needed to know what happened on this planet 5,000 years ago or even 500 years ago. I didn’t see any point in running around an empty track. And I hated, hated, hated practicing piano.

If I got a lecture about racing through assignments, cutting corners, and being sloppy, I got 1,000. How I hated that lecture.

And I was only one of five kids.

So…here’s the thing: Day after day, my mom trained me and my siblings. She taught us to study, to do chores, to practice music, to memorize Scripture. She taught us to work. Yes, goodness knows, she taught us to work.

After years of persistence by my mother, I made it to graduation. But she had two more kids to go. Five more years of homeschool.

Two more kids who didn’t like doing the same math problems day after day, page after page. Who didn’t really think they needed to know what happened on this planet 5,000 years ago and who hated, hated, hated practicing piano.

When my brother—the youngest—graduated, Mom had been a mother for 26 years and had been homeschooling about 23. She deserved a break.

So here’s the other thing: After all that, my mom went to work.

She started teaching kindergarten, but she didn’t stay with the half day of letters and sounds long. She was turned into a high school science teacher. Physical Science. Biology. Physics. Microbiology. Life Science. Chemistry. Biochemistry. It varied from year to year, curriculum to curriculum. Just when she got something down, it would change.

Over the next twelve years, my mom worked as hard as the US President. She studied. She taught. She wrote tests. She designed PowerPoints. She helped kids prepare science projects and hosted science fairs. She drove back and forth to school on her days off to turn eggs in incubators. She took pictures of birds and flowers that she could use for future presentations. She built robots. She cleaned up roadkill so she could use animal skeletons for future classes. Yep, true story.

Now things were different. She wasn’t the principal. She wasn’t the parent. But some things were the same: she was generally dealing with lazy students who gave a rip about the pictures of flowers and birds.

So, it was a good thing that she is a hard worker. It was years of long days, short nights, and super short summers. Years of commitment. Years of pouring her energy into lazy kids who didn’t want to learn science…and a few who did.

She got paid. But let’s just say, she didn’t do it for the paycheck. That would have been insanity. Okay, it was insanity.

But that’s my mom. Did I mention she is a hard worker? Insanely hard.

And after years of teaching and training, she has made an impact. If on no one else, on me. I no longer think it’s futile to do pages of math problems or study history of the world or practice music. I no longer race through projects and cut corners. Some of that comes from time and maturity, but most of that maturity came from godly influences. Like my mom.

This week marks my mom’s last “last day” of school. She is retiring from her job as a full time teacher. I couldn’t be more excited for her. Or more proud. She has invested so much more than science in so many lives. They may not all appreciate it now, but they have all learned something.

And I know this: if they passed one of her classes, they worked hard. It was far more than robots, hatching eggs, and handling animal skeletons. It was hard work.

Pages of problem solving.

No racing through projects; no cutting corners.

And today, I’m as proud of my mom on her last day as she possibly could have been of me on mine.

Thanks, Mom. Job well done. Now, enjoy a long, long summer!

Rest for your Soul

I was exhausted. I hadn’t had much sleep the night before…and that was just the night before. The last several weeks had rolled one into the next without me ever getting a break that felt like a break.

So…needless to say, it felt good to be headed home with something of an evening left. I planned and re-planned what I would do with it several times. And of course, every plan ended with: go to bed early.

I needed rest. Not just physical rest…but sleep would be a good start.

I did a few things on the way in—take out the trash, grab the mail, let my dog out, and take a deep breath. It felt so good to be home. In a quiet house. With a quiet evening in front of me.

But as I opened one of the letters I found in the mail—from my mortgage company—I felt my blood boil. I have only had this mortgage for about six months and it has already given me a lifetime of grief. Just for example, in February, they sent me a letter saying my monthly payment would go up by $600 a month. $600!

I have called the company multiple times and spent a considerable amount of my life listening to their hold music. The last time, I had been assured they would adjust back the payment and all I needed to do was wait for confirmation in the mail. That’s what I was expecting this letter to be.

Instead, it was a delinquent notice.

A delinquent notice was especially maddening because: 1. The customer service rep had told me that I did not have to pay until we got it all straightened out; and 2. I had gone ahead and paid anyway.

And this was the thanks I got: A delinquent notice.

I waiting through the first twenty minutes of music. When a rep finally came on the phone, she transferred me to someone else. Another twenty-five minutes of waiting.

Meanwhile, while my evening disappeared, so did my patience. When the next poor soul came on the phone, I had had it. My weary brain just didn’t care.

I started at the beginning and gave her the blow by blow of how this happened and how many times I had been assured that this was all straightened out. How I had made the payment. Then been told they wouldn’t accept it. Then been told that they would. Then been told that they had…and now this notice…the longer I talked, the madder I became until I am sure I fulfilled every stereotype that customer service reps in India have of rude Americans.

She put me on hold.

I wanted to throw my phone in the bath tub.

When she finally came back, she was again apologetic, but she explained that they wouldn’t accept the payment because it was $92 short. There was no way to dispute this since I have no idea what my payment should be since I hadn’t received the letter they would supposedly send to tell me what my new payment should be. But it was important to me that I not be delinquent.

My coveted evening was gone. I was deliriously tired, so, in a tone that would remove all doubt about whether or not I was happy with their services, I said I would pay the $92 dollars over the phone and be done with it.

She said that was fine and proceeded to take my bank routing number and account number.

As I read the routing number, she stopped me to clarify, “so this bank is America’s Christian Credit Union?”

I was so embarrassed.

Regardless of how incompetent this company was, I regretted that I had represented Christ and Christians with this attitude. Consider the level of abuse that Jesus took. Meekly. Quietly. Without fighting back.

And here I was…upset with the poor little girl in India trying to help me get my tangled mortgage straightened out.

Yes. I said finally. That’s the one.

I attempted an apology to her, but hung up the phone ashamed. The situation was extremely frustrating, but I knew Christ would not have treated her that way.

As I crawled into bed, my adrenaline still pumping from my anger, and my shame still flowing from my sin, I thought about the words of Christ:

“Come to me all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me. For I am meek, and lowly in heart. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus doesn’t promise us no work. No labor. No yoke.

Life in Christ is not an extended vacation. It’s not a day at the fair.

But what struck me was that the antidote to weariness was a Christ-like heart—one that is meek and lowly.

This is profound.

How much of our weariness is from our own anger? From fighting for our own way? From trying to change circumstances that we can’t change? From frustration with people who don’t do what we want them to?

How much of our burden is trying to meet the many demands of pride? Of trying to live up to the empty shadow she casts of life as we think it should look?

Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your soul.

Rest. For. Your. Soul.

I don’t think it’s coincidence that I keep running into that passage—morning reading, a friend’s wall, an index card that surfaced where I had jotted it years ago. There’s a lesson for me in it.

And I don’t think it’s coincidence that April 28, seven days after my mortgage company promised me I would get a letter, I did. That is, I got not one, but four letters. One said I owed $92. One said I owed $600. One said I owed $1700. And one said I owed $2700.

I laughed. I called them. I waited on hold.

After thirty minutes of waiting, I was informed I have actually overpaid and have a credit. They apologized for my four letters and said they are dealing with a computer glitch.

Ya think?

I may have to sell my house to get away from these people, but I was kind on the phone and dealing with it took considerably less energy than the last phone call which had left me completely spent.

Maybe they will get themselves straightened out before they have a class action law suit on their hands. And maybe I will learn the secret to rest for the soul.

Neither are terribly likely, but I’ve come to appreciate the progression:

Come to me—you who are weary Learn of me—for I am meek And you will find rest for your soul.

 

Day 6. Jerusalem!

Our last day started at the top of the Mount of Olives…where Jesus spent a good bit of time and, in fact, wept over the city of Jerusalem.  It was also where Jesus and his disciples went after the last supper.  The mountain got it’s name from the many olive groves–including the Garden of Gethsemane (at least, as we know it). The mountain was used as a burial site and has about 150,000 graves…including (by tradition) the graves of some of the prophets.

From there we walked to the Garden of Gethsemane.  There were quite a few people there which didn’t give much opportunity to appreciate  what it would have been like the last night before the cross as the Lord prayed in agony.  I wished the trees could talk–some of the trees still thriving there may date back to the time of Christ.

Jesus was arrested and taken down into the city–a steep walk even now.  There are lots more sites and cathedrals along the way, but we were more excited about sticking to the actual story than taking in the tradition, relics, and various churches–all wanting their piece of the holy land along the way.

The first trial would have taken place either at/near the temple or the house of Caiaphas–somewhere with a courtyard.  Jesus had broken the Sabbath in their minds on many occasions, but that was not a capitol offense, so the Pharisees needed something else.  Thus, Jesus was charged with the capital crime of destroying the temple.  But when they could not find the required two witnesses to corroborate any of the accusations, they got him on another charge–blasphemy.  He claimed to be the Son of God by His own admission.

Actually being there–even in a rebuilt city–gave us some appreciation for the various places Christ would have been taken that night.  The determined religious leaders covered quite a bit of ground, taking him from the Mount of Olives to Caiphus, to Pilate, to Herod, to Pilate, then the place of the execution.  Most of the way is now in the Muslim quarter of Old Jerusalem although the alleged “Via Dolorosa” winds through a good part of the city…mostly 30 feet or so above where Jesus would have actually carried the cross.

IMG_0432The temple itself, of course, is now a Muslim holy site.  One of the nearby shopkeepers,however, in exchange for our willingness to browse in this shop, gave us access to the rooftop of a Muslim school with incredible views into the Temple Mount.

The people who had seen Jesus in Bethesda–just steps away from there–heal a paralytic, and so many other signs and wonders now yelled, “Crucify him,” “We want Barabbas!” and even, “We have no king by Ceaser!”  Even Pilate could tell that He had been delivered up because of envy, but he feared a riot…so he let the people have their way.

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A view of the remains of the pool of Bethesda

At some point, Jesus was taken to the governor’s headquarters, stripped and scourged.  And from there, he was taken to Golgotha–or the place of a skull.

There are two prevailing views on where Golgotha or Calvary is and the fact is, no one knows for sure.  But we went to the place called the “Garden Tomb” which helped us catch a glimpse of what that last night might have been like.

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You can’t see it well from this picture, but there is a definite skull like rock formation in this cliff…and it otherwise fits the biblical description of the crucifixion well, being just outside the city walls (at that time) and in a traffic thoroughfare where they held frequent executions.  It may have actually been on the parking lot or the cliff above…again…we don’t know.  But either would stand in stark contrast to the fanfare of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher–which is partially owned by six different spatting denominations.

From there, the body may have been laid in the garden tomb, hewn out of the hillside nearby.  Again, we don’t know, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter.  Why would we look for the living among the dead?His bones aren’t there…or anywhere.

He is Risen! 

The past, present, and future of Jerusalem is a story unrivaled by any other place.  As we walked the streets, the words of the song, The Holy City rang in my head.  One day, Jesus will return in like manner as He left.  May He find us celebrating the fact that He came, lived, died, and ultimately won victory won over sin and death.

Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
Lift up your gates and sing!
Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna to your king!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 5. The City of David

IMG_0358We started out our day Friday walking to the City of David.  This is confusing, so hang with me here…

David found Jerusalem, taking the hill from the Jebusites and moving the capital from the Judean area of Hebron into a more central area not previously identified with any tribe.

IMG_0355He built a fantastic city which has remains (recently excavated) that we believe include his palace.  They even found some clay seals which have some of the names of biblical authorities around David’s time.  The clay–which would otherwise have disintegrated–was inadvertently “fired” but later conquerors of Jerusalem providing us some little bits of history thousands of years later.  Pretty cool.

In that time, for defensive reasons, people like to build cities on top of hills.  But most water sources were in the valleys.  Which is why you would have daughters.  Preferably, a bunch of them.

But even if you had girls to carry your water, there was another problem–a city without an internal water supply was not defensible at all.  So, as we have seen at other places, the people came up with some truly ingenious ways of working through that issue.  In this case, it included building a fortress around the water.  It is not completely preserved, but parts of it have been excavated and they are incredible–especially considering the types of tools that would have been available to them at that time.  Basically, bronze.

Jumping forward, years later, King Hezekiah would come up with yet another solution.  He changed the city wall and dug an amazing tunnel through the mountain–600 yards to divert that water and bring it inside. The Bible recounts this story and the fact that they started on the two ends and managed to meet in the middle.  It is almost unbelievable, but our eyes saw it and half of us had the fun of walking up the tunnel back into the city, ending near the pool of Siloam.  The water is still cold–running as high as our thighs in some places.

Tell you what, things they built back they were built to last.  No wonder Hezekiah liked to show off. Interestingly, the Syrians did come to attack Hezekiah, God struck them with blindness and they did not prevail at that time.

Some of the history is hard to picture even standing there on the spot because the cities have been built, destroyed, and rebuilt so many times over the thousands of years. Walls have been moved; buildings have changed purposes, etc. Until fairly recently, there was not a lot of effort to excavate or preserve much of anything in the City of David…the old, old Jerusalem. In fact, most of it is just an Arab neighborhood.

Of course, we know that the first temple site was also in the City of David (annexed to it, actually), not built by David, but by his son, Solomon. That temple was destroyed and later reconstructed by Ezra.

The next really impressive temple was actually built by Herod, not long before the days of Christ. It was really more of a political move for Herod and it served to both appease the Jews and provide for a center of commerce. At Jesus’ time, there was a new Jerusalem (now, the “Old City”) on the mountain above the City of David, and on it, Herod enclosed a huge site into a large table (now, the “Temple Mount”). The stones used to build this site are incredible. We saw one 6000 tons: is was 32 feet long and 15 feet deep. Curtis used the level app on its phone and we could see that 2000 years later, it was still perfectly level. The stones aren’t cemented together in any way—they don’t have to be I guess. Even now with our modern tools, a 6000 ton stone isn’t going much of anywhere.

As Jesus prophesied, the temple which stood there during his day was completely torn down and hundreds of years later, the Dome of the Rock was built there and the Muslims claim it now as a holy site. The temple mount remains, however, as an incredible tribute to Herod’s construction prowess. And, of course, it is still the site of much biblical history from Jesus as a young boy to his throwing out money changers just days before his death. The massive size of it also gives perspective on how many pilgrims would have traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover in those days. Thousands from all over would have heard and known of Jesus and taken the stories back to their cities and villages.

Gilad thinks of Jesus as one man in a sea of similar ones who claimed to be a Messiah—some who were trouble makers and some who were crazy. Had it not been for his two incredible PR people—Peter and Paul—he doesn’t think he would have made much of a splash in history at all. (Of course, there is this little thing of the resurrection that set Jesus apart, but more on that tomorrow.)

He said, somewhat critically, although perhaps just as an observation, “You people see Jesus is everything. You read the Old Testament and you think everything points to Jesus.”

And he’s right.

And I’ve seen Jesus in Israel—from the City of David (his great great-great-great grandfather) to the stories we heard of recent Jewish history while watching  Jewish boys playing in the streets of the Jewish quarter.  The story is one of law and grace.  Law which came through Moses and grace which came through Jesus Christ.

The Jewish people have a history that ties together the Old and New Testaments. That fact that they are still around at all after the wars, desolations, holocausts, dispersions, and drama that checkers there past screams of a God who chose them to be His people and who sent his Son as a Savior.

Day 4. In a Dry and Weary Land

 

Our first stop was a bit of a drive from Jerusalem so Gilad kept us entertained by helping us understand more of the complicated political history and current issues of Israel. There doesn’t seem to be any end to them. Seeing as it was Israeli Independence Day, we also got a history of the country. Gilad’s version was a whole lot different from what I learned in school. It was interesting in hearing it directly from a native though.

Our first stop was Qumran–the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. We had to talk Gilad into letting us stop there and were so glad we did. What a fascinating place to help connect the dots for these incredible copies of Scripture so well preserved for a thousand years. I don’t really have time to tell the whole story in this blog, but it’s worth reading. In fact, I’m inspired to study up on it further myself.

We saw ibex beside the road on the way from there to the Dead Sea. I tried to get a good shot of the ibex and failed dismally. They are sort of a cross between a deer and a goat. Very graceful looking and believed to be the inspiration behind Psalm 42:1.

Masada was our next stop…one of Herod’s palaces–built as a fortress on top of a relatively flat mountain overlooking the Dead Sea. It looks like the top of a mountain next to the Dead Sea anyway. It is actually not much of a mountain…about 60 feet above sea level.

Masada had two lives. The first under Herod, the second as the refuge for Jewish resistance to the Roman rule just before the destruction of the temple in AD 70. Masada was the last place taken by the Romans, and given the unique military advantages of the fortified mountain and the provisions left by Herod one hundred years earlier, it took a huge Roman army months to conquer the tiny Colony. There’s an Alamo-like ending to the story which our guide has his own variation of. Whether the last stand ended by committing suicide, surrendering, fighting to the death or escaping is now a bit of a mystery. Hollywood tells the story of a suicide pact, so there you have it…a reason to doubt that version.

One the most amazing achievement for the architects of this historic site is their means of capturing and storing water. The state of California could probably benefit from some of Herod’s engineers. It is truly amazing how an arid place with no natural water source and two inches of rain a year can survive, but that was true of Masada and Qumran.

The Dead Sea had a lot of attributes of any other beach…lots of people, not so much clothes, and loud music. There were a bunch on nuns in the changing room though. That was a little different.

Stephen and I got in the water and everyone else stood on the side and laughed at us and took pictures.

The Dead Sea is basically everything you’ve heard it described as. Salty.

Perhaps the best diversion of the day came after that when Curtis decided he and Stephen would ride camels. That turned out to be 100 shekels very well spent. Ask Anita for the proof. If ever there were priceless photos, she has them. That’s all I’m gonna tell you.

Just driving back to Jerusalem was interesting. It put a backdrop to so many passages of Scripture. From David as a shepherd to him hiding in caves…to the Psalms about a dry a weary land. There are still huge open spaces doted with sheep, goats, and wandering shepherds. In the thousands of years since his life, much has changed.  Some things have gotten very complicated. But much has not. I suspect the road from the Dead Sea to Jerusalem largely has not.