Day Four—A Lesson in Contrast

It was an especially early start as we rolled our bags to the van for a long drive through West Bank to Shiloh. What different scenery as we left the lush Galilee area and headed south to the Judean dessert.

West Bank is largely Arab, of course, and the difference is striking. As an aside, huge amount of humanitarian dollars get spent there including in new construction. We could see the evidence in the form of many large homes and apartments that are newly built but empty. West Bank and the other “occupied territories” present all kinds of complicated issues.

But first, Shiloh.

Shiloh was the home of the tabernacle for three hundred years between the Exodus and the building of Solomon’s temple. What an awesome dig and find! Your friends have not been here.

The team working the dig has done a thorough job (see Associates for Biblical Research) and that makes it extra cool. You can actually see where the tabernacle was erected and it is surreal to think the Ark of the covenant was in that very spot. All around in the surrounding hills, the twelve tribes would have camped prior to their conquest and when they traveled to make their sacrifices three times a year.

In the last few days, we had covered thousands of years from about 64 BC to present history. Now we were stepping another 1400 years back in time from the first century sites we had been largely focused on. I was thankful Curtis was constantly working to help us understand the full timeline of Israel’s colorful history.

And Shiloh definitely holds its share of colorful history. Those hills could tell so many stories over the centuries…from the days of Joshua to more recent civilizations. The site of the tabernacle has been especially convincing through the many pottery finds and even some rare finds such as 8 scarab beetle—the seal of the Egyptian pharaoh which to me is strong evidence for biblical account of the Exodus.

Hannah would have stood there at that tabernacle and prayed in desperation that God would give her a son. A few years later, she would have returned with little Samuel.

I regretted that we didn’t have more time to linger at Shiloh. There have been other civilizations at that site over the years as well (mostly irrelevant to biblical history) and so we really only scratched the surface at that hallowed place.

Masada was our next destination and we soon found ourselves peeling off layers of clothing…some of us eventually making it down to our shirt sleeves for the first time this trip.

What a fascinating place Masada is. Thanks to Herod’s wealth and ingenuity, two thousand years later, we can still appreciate the genius of his water collection and storage enabling a mountain on the top of the desert to house a garrison of men that would virtually never, ever run out of water.

I had been here once before and surprisingly, I think I actually found it more fascinating the second time. There are battling theories about its usage a hundred years after Herod for the last stand of the Jews against the Romans siege (now we are back to 70 AD). I pulled up the history on this and read one lady’s opinion that this has been a mere occupation of days or weeks. Clearly, this “scholar” had never been there to see the synagogue erected on the top, the Torah rooms, and the converted Mikvahs. Jews had definitely made this their home. Not only that, but the Romans trying to lay siege outside had clearly spent some time there as well—they built walls and cities around the city…conquering this hilltop fortress was clearly a substantial effort.

As you know, the Romans eventually did conquer the massive fortress and the story is that the Jews inside had committed mass suicide the night before the Romans entered.

Several of us really wanted to hike the Snake trail down the mountain from Masada, but by the time we were leaving, the trail was closed and we had to ride down in the gondola like your friends did. Nonetheless, Fitbit was pretty happy with me as a job well done.

Our final stop was by the Dead Sea. Only a few of the guys would brave the water considering it was not super warm or super sunny. Since I had been in once previously, and since the changing rooms were locked, I chickened out.

In one day we went from the lush Galilean countryside, through the dirty streets of West Bank, to the simple green valley of Shiloh, up to the dry barren heights of Masada, down to the lowest point on earth dotted with luxury resorts. And we weren’t quite done.

After a quick dinner, we completed our last drive pulling in the Jaffa gate in the dark and winding our way through the narrow streets of the Old City of Jerusalem.

I loved that we were staying in the Old City. Your friends have not stayed in the sold City…they stayed in the modern city just next door that most people refer to when they say, “Jerusalem.” That is, I would soon love that we’re we staying in the Old City. At that moment, I was much too tired to soak in the lively atmosphere between the high walls and stone streets.

One good shower and day four was in the books.

It’s a Hurting World. But don’t let that Discourage You.

Due to some technical difficulties, none of my blogs for 2021 ever actually posted. So, the good news is that I have a backlog of posts all written and ready to go and never yet viewed by another human being. The bad news is that life changes so quickly that what I wrote a year ago seems dated and irrelevant.

In fact, reading my unposted News Years’ post for 2021 felt a lot like pulling out leftovers from a delicious meal only to realize that 45 seconds in a microwave will not do much to revive the cold lumps of has-been cuisine. It’s over. Let them go.

But interestingly, I read a much older New Years post I had written (you can read it here) that still seemed to resonate with me. You see, even as I said “Happy New Year” while bustling through the airport on the first of January, I carried a certain guilt in throwing around the shallow greeting when I know so many hurting–truly hurting–people.

It seems all the dust kicked up in 2020 was settling in unpleasant places in 2021. Friends were dealing with life threatening issues. Friends lost jobs. Some battled with deep inner struggles. Some had difficulties in their marriages or in parenting. We all agonized over a world ever losing its mind.

If I am choosing to be happy, is it because I’m shallow and uncaring? Out of touch with reality? Still on a sugar buzz?

On the other hand, it hardly seems like a good idea to just let myself be down and discouraged. As the fun of the holidays passed and we returned to normal life again, I found myself wanting to choose joy in a hurting world and yet feeling a little awkward. Is it okay to be okay?

I watch my girls often as they laugh and play completely oblivious often to my own inner hurts and struggles much less the mayhem of the world we live in. And then I often have to force myself into sympathy when I see how distraught they become over the silliest of things.

And so it occurred to me…who I am to judge in my feeble mind what is the right placement of hope and grief? Even though I care about my friends and their struggles, I confess I don’t know what is truly best for them. I feel like my sense of what is important and what is not is more sophisticated and mature than my kids’ drama, but then, that’s not a very high standard. How often am I worked up about something only to find later that it doesn’t matter?

My thoughts turned to Psalm 131:

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord
    from this time forth and forevermore.

David, at the time of this writing, is arguably one of the most influential people in the world. He’s the king and Israel is reaching the pinnacle of its importance. He’s amassing wealth that his son, Solomon, will use to build a temple that will bring onlookers from remote parts of the earth. He is considered a military genius. He has experienced incredible blessing of the Lord that enabled him to kill a giant with a sling shot and a lion and bear with nothing but his savvy shepherding skills.

Yet, in Psalm 131, we see him humbling and quieting his soul, confessing that there are things he does not understand, and choosing to hope in God despite his inability to fully comprehend the world around him.

He even chooses the analogy of a small child– I envision a toddler placing his hand in his mother’s, not fully understanding everything that it going on and yet realizing that he doesn’t need to. He can walk along cheerfully–maybe even skip–with the quiet confidence that his mom knows the way.

Maybe that best describes me in the dawn of 2022. I don’t have the naivety to think that the problems of 2021 will evaporate. But I do believe that we can calmly walk on–maybe even skip–knowing God doesn’t expect us to know it all. He encourages us to calm and quiet our souls knowing He has given us everything we need to live joyful, fulfilled lives.

A Thrill of Hope

Melodee was not happy.

But then, she was never happy.

She could only remember tiny fragments of happiness…moments back in her Mimi and Papa’s trailer.  Christmas there had been happy.  She remembered tangled lights that she and her sisters had wrapped around a tipsy tree.  A huge meal Mimi had cooked that Melodee hadn’t eaten because she had stuffed herself with life savers, candy canes, and M&Ms.  She remembered fighting with her sisters until they broke the new radio.  She remembered insisting on wearing her new Christmas pajamas to play outside and then crying when she slipped off her scooter and ripped a hole in the pant leg.  Yep, that had been a happy Christmas.  She had been with her family…such as it was anyway.

She had blocked the Christmas’ that followed out of her mind.  She didn’t look back at the last four years that she had spent in nine different foster homes.  At first, she had made a cautious effort to be a part of each new family.  But all of those efforts had slowly diminished and finally altogether abandoned three homes ago when…well, it didn’t matter now.  All that mattered now was that she didn’t bother to get attached to these people.  The Carriers would just pass her along like every other family had. 

She turned up the music that was already blasting through her earbuds and pulled out the bag of Cheetos that she had hidden in her nightstand drawer.  She tried to be careful not to get cheese on the white bedspread…not because she’d give two rotten bananas for the bedspread, but because she didn’t want to get in trouble for having food in her room.  Again.

The door opened suddenly and Mrs. Carrier stood there holding baby Harper. 

“Hey, Melodee…” Her eyes went immediately to the bag of Cheetos and Melodee braced herself and prepared to act like she couldn’t hear above the music.  I dare you to take these away from me.  She didn’t speak the words, but she yelled them with her eyes.

Mrs. Carrier stood and waited until finally Melodee pulled out an earbud.  “Hey, Melodee, I wondered if you could hold Harper for me for a few minutes.  She is a bit fussy and I’m trying to get dinner in the oven in time for company tonight.”  Melodee had been reminded two thousand times that some old family friends had just moved back into the area and they were coming over for dinner tonight.  Mrs. Carrier acted like it was the event of the century.  Frankly, Melodee didn’t give two rotten bananas.

Melodee rolled her eyes and tried to act inconvenienced although they both knew the truth was that Melodee loved to hold Harper.  She looked around for something she could wipe her cheesy fingers off on.  Definitely not her new Adidas hoodie. 

Harper fussed as she made the transition to Melodee; but Melodee followed Miss Carrier to the kitchen because she knew she had the best chance of a happy baby if Momma was within her sight lines. 

Byron, the Carrier’s obnoxious preschooler, was sitting quietly at a train table in the living room building and rebuilding a long wooden track.  “Watch, Melodee!”  He called happily.  Okay, so he wasn’t really obnoxious.  He was more “obnoxiously good.”  But there are a lot of ways that people can be obnoxious and maybe Melodee happened to not like four-year olds that would sit and play with a train when they were told to.  

Besides, it wasn’t fair.  Byron’s life was everything hers wasn’t.  Melodee had this unexplainable need to make sure that Byron’s life wasn’t perfect and that his parents knew that he wasn’t perfect.

Read the rest of this stories and many other family stories by purchasing the ebook or paperback…”Christmas Candles

You don’t have an Agenda? We’ll be Happy to Provide you With One

So, I guess you could call what was happening in the Senate Judicial committee a “hearing.” Mostly ACB hearing all the things Democrats wanted to say (and have repeated ad nasueum) to the American electorate about medical care, immigration, abortion, and racial differences. Once in a while, though, they did cross over into Judge Barrett’s judicial philosophy and other relevant matters.

It seemed if she so much as opened her mouth to reply, however, they cut her off “for the sake of time.” Some of them had spent a lot of time on their questions and presentations and they wanted to get through them. So… sit there, and be quiet ACB. This hearing may be about you, but actually, well, it’s not.

But I was enraptured. I loved that she didn’t engage in useless debates. She didn’t seem to feel the need to “win.” She listened patiently and proved to have the humility that she professed.

When Cory Booker tried to make her feel grossly inadequate because she has not extensively studied racial disparity and its demonstration in the number of individuals incarcerated, she did not seem to be embarrassed that she simply follows federal sentencing guidelines in criminal cases. Isn’t that what a judge is supposed to do? Follow the law? No wonder he will not vote for her. She has prepared to be a judge, not a racial equality activist.

Her knowledge, maturity, and decorum seems to have reduced the Democratic opposition to “we shouldn’t be appointing a justice as this time.” Wildfires! COVID! An election! We can’t confirm a judge while life is happening in America. Please.

I find the argument that “four million people have already voted” ridiculously uncompelling. Not only because if those four million people had any doubt about how they wanted to vote, they would have waited. But also because the people did vote on who should decide this–in 2016 and 2018 they voted in the elected officials who will be making political decisions through 2020. Republicans have suffered enough of the downside of 2020, they deserve to get what little upside is available.

But there’s really no sense in trying to break down their arguments, we all know it’s an excuse for them not to confirm a nominee who has not demonstrated that she embraces the liberal agenda. She hasn’t said she doesn’t…I honestly don’t know how she will vote on the Supreme Court.

To be fair, Republicans shouldn’t have used an impending election as an excuse to block the confirmation of Merrick Garland in 2016. They should have just said, “no.”

But nonetheless, I found myself impressed. In fact, I think I was more inspired by her than I have been by any living human being in a long time. She was classy, composed, confident. She is the kind conservative that I wish we had far more of in this nation.

Judge Barrett said in her opening that she is used to working in a group of nine–her family. I hope she has significant influence where ever she goes and that her group of nine–black and white–continues to inspire and encourage our country.

Day 12 the Stillness of Dunkirk

The sun was bright; The air was clean and fresh. I could hear seagulls overhead. We were only in an ugly bus stop, but I had the feeling I was going to like Dunkirk.

I had sensed that Dunkirk, France was not a popular tourist destination. There were no tours, no trains, and not much else between Brussels and Dunkirk, so I had built my day around a public bus schedule which meant a very early start.

It also meant I spent two hours waiting for a bus that morning—5:45 to 7:45. The bus had been an hour late which meant I arrived in Dunkirk an hour later than planned. Which also meant I would have only two hours before I needed to catch the only bus back.

I checked Siri and the 1940 museum and beach were a 34 minute walk away. Which meant that I was going to have less than an hour to do both.

It wasn’t ideal, but I did enjoy the walk. It felt so different than the craziness of Amsterdam…I wasn’t constantly dodging bicycles whizzing past me and shops selling trinkets and French fries every four feet.

My walk wound around the port and a few signs now and again paid tribute to the events of 1940 and the miracle of the mass exodus that saved 330,000 troops. But for the most part, it was just a simple quiet walk through a small port town going about it’s Friday morning business. The hills were not alive with the Sound of Music, there was no Tour de France, and no 1992 Olympic Games.

It did take all of the 34 minutes Siri said it would, so I was in a rush by the time I got to the museum. This whole trip, I’ve scarcely been to a museum and now I found one I wanted to see and there was not time. :(. It’s not huge, but I could have spent an hour except that I wanted to save enough time to climb up to the beach.

The beach was quiet too. There may have been a dozen other tourists, but that was it.

I wasn’t quite sure whether to feel glad there was no one there to break the stillness of the place or whether, perhaps, this is a bit underdone give the significance of the events that took place here. (I mean, they only had five magnets on a little stand for a gift shop and the only one commemorating WWII was an airplane. I mean, I like airplanes and all, but this is Dunkirk. Just sayin’)

I practically ran back to the bus station only to find that, once again, the bus was crazy late. Didn’t seem quite fair that I had to spend a third of my time sitting at the bus stop; but I decided just to be glad it was a beautiful day and, unlike this morning, there were benches to wait on.

There was not a direct route back to Brussels, but that was okay because I still had one last place I hoped to see in Belgium: the village of Ghent.

If you ever go to Ghent, do yourself a favor and take the tram to the center of the old city. It’s a long walk.

Of course, I walked.

My plan here was to rent a bike and just ride around the back streets instead of doing the typical churches, castle, canal, and belfry. I’ve seen so many great places to ride a bike the last few days but hadn’t ridden at all.

I’m not sure how, but I ended up doing the church, castle, canal, and belfry stairs. I’ll post the pictures although it probably looks by now like every other little town I’ve visited in the last twelve days. It’s a bit of a shame, because it does have its own little flair…but I guess I’m a little burned out on picturesque towns. I didn’t even want chocolate or ice cream. Shoot, I even paid the 3 Euro for the tram on the way back. And I didn’t even buy a magnet.

It must be time to come home.

I’ve loved my tour of Europe. In twelve days, I went to 10 countries and walked over 100 miles…just me and my black back pack…Full of magnets.

I visited Ireland (Galway, Cliffs of Moher, Bunratty); Cologne, Germany (if it counts); Italy (Venice, Cortina and the Dolomites); Budapest, Hungary; Vienna, Salzburg, and Schönbrunn in Austria; Barcelona; Ghent, Bruges, Brussels, and Dinant in Belgium; Luxembourg; Amsterdam and Harlem, Netherlands; and Dunkirk, France. [I had previously visited four of these countries and at least four others in Europe (England, Scotland, Czech Republic, Switzerland). I had planned to also go to Slovakia, but we’ll have to save that for another trip].

I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of the scenes of Europe, but at the same time, I don’t think I could have crammed much more into two weeks. And when it was all said and done, I lived out of that back pack for 17 days. That’s long enough.

It was a trip I hope to always remember. It was a return home that I hope to forget. I may or may not blog about my return trip, but regardless, let me make it clear once and for all: I do not like JFK airport. Sitting in it for hours on end is awful. Sleeping on the floor there is pitiful. Getting help there is impossible.

So…while New York is not at all a pleasant welcome, it is sure good to be home.

Thanks for taking this trip with me and if you feel even a little bit jealous that you didn’t get to go, picture yourself on the 17th day living from a backpack sleeping on the floor of the airport. Then be glad you’re home.

Day 10 – Luxembourg and Dinant

Up until now, the group tours I have taken have had max a dozen people. Today, we were 50 people strong all on one big bus. The common tie between all of us: English.

That definitely doesn’t mean American. In fact, I’ve been surprised at how few Americans I’ve met on this trip. Far more have been Canadian, Australian, from the UK, or even India. Many times, I’ve looked at someone and thought they were from the US until they opened their mouths.

Anyway, our perky Spanish guide held a large purple sign over her head and hearded us toward the bus. There were a half dozen other tours leaving from the same time and place so it was a bit of a zoo. Thank goodness for her purple paper taped on a wood stick which she held triumphantly above the crowd.

It is a long ride to Luxembourg. But Marium taught us a lot about both Belgium and Luxembourg on the way. Belgium is a country of about 11 million (roughly the population of Georgia); Luxembourg has about 600,000 residents. Both are effectively governed by Parliament although Belgium has a king and Luxembourg has a duke.

Luxembourg, the city, is as old as the ninth century—having originally been settled by the Vikings. Luxembourg, the country, only dates to the nineteenth century. The name Luxembourg means “little fortress” and the city was apparently a very good one. When we got there, we saw some of the old city walls and it was easy to see why the location above the river was formidable.

The main industry in Luxembourg is banking and finance and it is a wealthy country considering its size. Minimum wage is roughly ~$13,50/hr and they have more Porsches per capita than anywhere in the world.

I didn’t really feel like paying 25 Euro for lunch, so another girl and I walked around a bit and then got a wrap at a small corner cafe. I haven’t said this (or thought it) about any food I’ve had so far this trip, but there is only one word to describe it: disgusting. (Mostly mayonnaise with wisps of lettuce, tomato, and prosciutto). I noticed my friend threw hers in the trash can too as we walked as well.

The guide showed us Parliament and the Duke’s residence. There were a number of churches, squares, an outdoor farmer’s market, and all the typical retail offerings of a small, high end town. She also talked a good about the EU, which had its beginnings here and cracked me up with some of her English phrases such as her frequent references to “sky scrappers.”

Leann and I walked across the bridge to the new part of town and back…There is a pedestrian/bike bridge suspended below the car bridge which made for a nice shady place to walk and take some pictures.

By the time we were back, we pretty well felt like we’d seen Luxembourg. There were some nice parks, and overall, I got the feeling that it would be a pretty nice place to live if you’re in the banking and finance world and you really like mayonnaise.

On our return trip, we stopped in Dinant, a very picturesque Belgian village where the inventor of the saxophone is from. We then wound our way up the river; it was a very beautiful drive. The area had had a coal boom in the 60s and 70s but has since lost most of its industry and is now mostly summer homes and strawberry growers.

I felt a little yuk by the time we got back. I wasn’t sure it is was from the long ride or the mayonnaise lunch that I had tried to chase away with gummy bears.

Overall, it had been a good day, but I felt the boxes had sufficiently been checked and I likely won’t be returning to Luxembourg.

Step count: 16,000

Cumulative count: 184,000

Maybe Love is a Feeling After All

Here’s the thing. Just when you think you’ve learned something…or at least worked hard enough to graduate with a credible “B” on your transcript…you find that all you just went through was really just kindergarten.

Next will come first grade. Than second. Then third. Because God loves you too much to leave you the way you are.

I guess the good news is that as long as He is still pruning, we know that He has not given up. He is still a good father; watching and disciplining. He is still a good shepherd; pursuing and protecting. He is still a gentle potter; shaping and perfecting. He is still a wise friend; wounding and sharpening. He is still a merciful Savior; convicting and convincing. He is still a loving God; giving us free will; yet in relentless pursuit of making us more like Christ.

The last few months, I have been trying to be deliberate about being kind. I’m trying to use kinder words and more respectful tones. I’m trying to give a little more and expect a little less. I’m trying not to let my own needs be an excuse for selfishness.

But here’s the other thing. I’m learning how hollow even kind words can be when your heart is not them.

It’s interesting to me because all my life, I’ve been taught the counter-cultural characteristics of love found in I Corinthians 13. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love does not envy… The “agape” love described in this renown passage is that of learning to put others before ourselves. Love is the action of putting you before me.

I’ve been told time and time again that love is not a feeling. Love is a choice. Love is an action.

That’s why I don’t believe in happily ever after…or pretty much any Disney film…or Hallmark movie…because happiness in love is not the result of luck in finding the right person. Feelings come and go…as do good looks, compatibility, magical moments, and Christmas.

Romance is temporary; but love can be forever because love is not a feeling; it an action. It is a choice.

But I’ve always been a little confused by the opening part of that passage, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I have become like a sounding gong or a clanging symbol. And though I have the gift of prophecy…and have all knowledge…and have not love…”

I guess, against the backdrop that “love is the act of putting others before ourselves,” it makes sense that we could be a famous speaker and not have love…because we could be making the bests of speeches while really trying to draw attention to ourselves.

And perhaps we could have the gift of prophecy and understand knowledge and mysteries and not have love…because we are like that. We get big heads and small hearts.

But the third one has always stumped me… “And though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profits me nothing.” Give my body to be burned? Really? What selfish motive could one have in that? Perhaps you would go down in history. Perhaps you would be well thought of by those left behind. But you would also be…dead. So what good would the admiring obituary do you if you are tiny flakes scattering in the wind? Why would a selfish person give their body to be burned?

Is the author trying to tell us that an ultimate act of sacrifice can be done without love?

If so, what happened to the theory that love is an action? Can it be that a choice to do a right action is not actually love absent the feelings…the motivation…the energy…that we traditionally equate with love and romance?

I’ve noticed that as hard as it is for me to be kind, that the recipient of my kindness can sniff insincerity a mile away. Often long before I will admit to it.

While I am focused on my sacrifice, the recipient is often looking through my thinly veiled kindness directly at my tiredness, my crankiness, and my shrinking hoard of patience. While I’m convinced that I am speaking with the tongues of men and of angels, they hear only gongs and symbols.

If I’m being honest, it doesn’t seem quite fair.

Because sometimes a dry, heartless affirmation is all I have to give. And if you don’t like it, you should hear what I’m really thinking. And sometimes, the silence that may seem uncaring and aloof may be the very thinking keeping me from FLIPPING MY LID. Yep. Be glad I’m not talking right now.

I feel like I should get points for trying. For holding my tongue. For saying something nice when I didn’t feel like it. A participation ribbon at least.

But Paul seems to be telling us something different. He is, in fact, pretty emphatic: if your heart isn’t it in, it isn’t love. It’s gongs and symbols.

It’s noise. But it is not music.

So I’m coming to believe that emotion is a necessary part of love after all. That love requires ingredients of vulnerability, sincerity, and energy that transform the noise of our actions into music.

A closer study of I Corinthians 13 would support this. Love bears. Believes. Hopes. Endures. It is more than action. It is something that looks a lot like what we commonly call “emotion.”

I’m coming to believe that emotion is a necessary part of love. It is the energy that brings patience and kindness to life. It is the harmony that ties the melody of our actions to the rhythm of God’s truth.

Did I mention it’s difficult?

It might start easy and get hard. Or start hard and get easy. Or ping pong back and forth between easy and hard. But it’s subject to change; therefore, it’s difficult.  It just is.

I’m convinced that the only thing harder than taming the tongue is cultivating healthy emotions. Long after we have learned to behave and use kind words we have to still force our selves to blaze trails in the mind and go where we didn’t think it humanly possible. Our emotions are the final frontier.

Here’s my conclusion:

I should still say “I love you” when I don’t feel a thing. But I should let it bother me that I don’t feel a thing. I should still use kind words when kind words are all I have to give. But I should be asking God to breathe energy into my words. I should still be gentle even when I can’t be excited, but I should ask God to set a fire in my soul.

Because love bears. Believes. Hopes. Endures. Love includes emotion; it is vulnerable, sincere, and exudes energy.

It is not just the noise of our actions; It is the beauty of our emotions that makes the music.

On Being Kind

It was the kind of tired when the very thought of lifting your arm and your head up far enough and long enough to send a text message seems like an impossible task.

The kind of tired that makes you pretty sure there are two hippopotamus’ sleeping in your bedroom. One is lying on your left leg and the other on your right. You’re pretty sure that absent a crane Dragging them off, you will never be able to move again.

The kind of tired that makes you think that if you you could lift your head, and if you could move your legs, you would crawl to the window, stick your head out, and declare to the madly spinning world…STOP.

Just STOP. That is all.

That was me. That was my December.

So as the new year approached, I had nothing to give. I made no plans, set no goals, made no resolutions. I scarcely noticed that the 8 at the end of the date was turning to 9 except for a feeble attempt to recharge my Scripture memory and catch my breath.

I’ve taken January a day at a time. My main goal: to get through it.

So recently, I started wondering if I could sort of start 2019 over. And asking myself…if I could, what would I do differently? Would I try to lose weight? Save money? Eat better? Work less? Read more? Pray more?

What priorities do I have that need to be reordered? What are my biggest messes that need to turn hard corners and come to Jesus?

Thinking through the last four months, I realized that more than any other challenge I face, I struggle to apply the simple admonishment: “Love is kind.” (1 Corinthians 13).

Love is kind.

I have had a lot of opportunities to apply that verse lately. And I have failed in many of them.

Love is kind.

Kindness, I’ve learned, takes extra energy. It requires humility. It demands quick forgiveness. It means extreme self control. It is a successor of patience. It feeds off creativity. And it is often exercised while clinging to the lifesaver of prayer.

Love is kind.

Kindness is not what you say, it’s how you say it. It is not what you do, it’s why you do it. It rises above the way that it is treated and gives to those whose who take and take and take.

Love is kind.

It’s sympathetic. It’s quiet when words won’t help. It’s vulnerable when tears are unavoidable. It’s slow to judge. It is wisdom exercised with gentleness. It keeps its calm in the middle of the storm.

It’s hard.

In fact, it takes practice. I know because I’ve failed a lot. I’ve tried, and I’ve still failed a lot.

But as I tried to take inventory of my life and make sense of some tough days, I sensed this recurring theme: God is teaching me to be gentle and kind.

In a world gone mad, where women want to prove themselves tough and “equal” to be men, I need to be kind.

In the craziness of the business world and the imminence of deadlines that are not being met, I need to be kind.

In the brokenness of people around me and the constant wave after wave of needs that seem so overwhelming, I need to be kind.

With my type A personality that doesn’t understand why some people are highly unmotivated and pathetically disorganized, I need to be kind.

Even in the face of disrespect, unprovoked anger, or the foggy frustration of exhaustion, I need to be kind.

I share this for two reasons:

One, many of you know me well enough to help me work on kindness. I give you permission to make me read this every day in 2019.

Two, maybe you could also use some kindness. I hope you will join me in the challenge: finding practical, creative ways of being kind. If you need to, read this every day in 2019. Or write your own reminder and send it to me.

Thinking through the first month of 2019 has helped me shape perspective about what it important. Perhaps I will set some measurable goals; perhaps I won’t. This year, I’m setting my sights on pleasing Someone who doesn’t care about check boxes and scales and bank accounts. I may never have the satisfaction of accomplishment on this one; Just the slowly growing humility the fuels a critical element of the strongest force in the world. That’s all I need.

Love is kind.

Celebration of a Life Well Lived (Close to Home – Part IV)

I received word Wednesday that my Grandfather had joined my grandmother in heaven.  I cried on and off through the course of the evening…sad because I miss him already.  Happy, because I knew he was ready to meet the Savior He had served for so long.

I saw him last just a few days before.  He lay in bed in the dim light of my aunt’s living-room-turned-hospice-care.  He was weak, his speech was slurring, and he confessed that he could not remember my name.  Even so, I could tell he loved me and was grateful I came though neither of us seemed to have many words.

I gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek and spent a few minutes plucking out hymns on the piano by his bed.

At 101, I think we would all agree, he lived a full life.  If you’ve read my other blogs, you have some idea of the incredible man my grandfather was, serving in World War II, then as a missionary in Japan, then as jack-of-all-trades in his rather long “retirement.”  He was fun, hard-working, and all-together inspiring.

We loved his annual visits growing up because they were always punctuated with lots of ice cream. But since they didn’t live nearby, I actually got to know him more as an adult than I did as a kid–making long drives to Jacksonville on the weekends.

We biked, talked, swam, danced, and played lots of dominoes as they plowed their way through their 80s and 90s.

Over the years, his hand gradually grew heavier on my shoulder as he walked.  Then eventually, walking had to be traded for a golf cart, a then a tricycle, then a motor chair, and finally, a bed.  Aging was difficult for a man who had always been so strong and independent.  Sometimes, he let it be known that he was done with this life and ready for the next.

My mother and four aunts have been amazing and over the last year have traded off spending weeks at a time caring for him instead of dropping him off at a nursing home to spend his final days smelling like moth balls and staring at a television set.  [They have set a high bar for my generation. :)]

After receiving the news of his passing, all of them gathered at my aunts’ house and I joined them for a few hours.  We missed seeing him in the next room, but though it was quiet, it was not an altogether somber atmosphere.  Most of what needed to be said had already been said. It had been a long goodbye.

In many ways (and acknowledging that the death of no two saints will be the same), I felt this is what it should look like–no regrets, no greed, no fighting, no despair. Just a life remembered.

Today was back at work; business as usual. This evening, I busied myself with cleaning my kitchen and scrubbing the bathrooms.  It was just another day.

But as I was cleaning, I came across a plastic box that Grandma had sent home with me after one of my frequent visits to Jacksonville. I thought it contained mostly legal papers she wanted me to go through so I had never really opened it.

That was the beginning of hours on my bedroom floor pouring through letters, articles, and even a few comic strips, photos, and newspaper clippings.

The clock was turned back seventy years.

My Grandfather has always been a good correspondent and a creative writer.  I have saved many letters he wrote me over the years.

But now, I found fascinating his letters written to his mother from war in 1946 and to my grandmother (his girlfriend) in 1947. Some handwritten in his masculine cursive on stationary supplied by the Red Cross; some typewritten on thin sheets of tissue-like paper.  Some still had envelopes stamped “U.S. Army Postal Service.”

He loved his mother. He loved my grandmother. But most of all, he loved Jesus.

Nearly every thing he wrote was woven with Scripture, his work, the gospel, and the lives of others around him. Even his love letters are beautiful expressions of a resilient faith.

In one letter he wrote of rescuing three Japanese injured in a motor crash. In another, of traveling 30 miles–by train and foot–to see comfort a desperate mother trying to care for her dying son. He wrote about purity. He wrote about burnout and the struggles faced by an Army chaplain and other chaplains who had effectively given up.

He kept a few clippings of articles he wrote–published here and there–and even kept a few of the prayer letters from the mission field (and even after their retirement). He wrote after he moved to Florida that he expected that he would fade away.

I remember seeing him the summer of 2001 and him commenting how he probably didn’t have many years left to live. He felt like the greatest failure of his life was that he had not led enough people to Christ.

I think he was wrong in both accounts–he had rich years left; and he has no reason to regret his life. He reached other teens as a high schooler; he didn’t give up as a chaplain; he pressed on as a missionary; and he didn’t fade away in retirement. He followed hard until the end.

And I’m so glad he wrote about it.

I hope to take his letters with me as we celebrate his life together on Sunday. But I also want to publish some of the highlights of his writings here…mostly for family but also for anyone interested in reading snippets of a live well lived.

Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift.

Living for Jesus (Close to Home – Part III)

The bright sounds of trumpet floated through the air calling children toward the station wagon parked in the middle of the village. Young children, and sometimes their parents, would gather around to hear Bible stories taught using exciting flannelgraph figures.

The ministry was thriving. Each of the three churches they started matured into and took on a life of their own. One in particular, Hamadera Bible Church, still exists to this day.

The Oestreichs added another daughter to their family, Jeannette—whom George named after his mother. Then another, Kathryn, whom George named after his aunt.

During their first furlough, when the family learned they would be adding a fourth child to the family, George promised his sister, Jeannette that she could name it if it turned out to be a girl. Unfortunately, he was traveling on deputation when Frances gave birth. She attempted to call her sister-in-law when their fourth daughter was born, but could only reach her mother-in-law. Mrs. Oestreich said she knew that Jeannette had planned to name the baby girl Marcia, so Marcia it was.

Unfortunately, she was mistaken; Jeannette wasn’t planning to name the baby Marcia. But it was too late.

The fifth child was a boy, George Washington Oestreich, named after his dad. And the sixth was named Lois, but her siblings called her “Penny.”

Not many women have six children and don’t get to name any of them. But, perhaps it goes without saying…Frances was a special kind of wife and mom.

The kids grew up going to a combination of Japanese public school, home school, American boarding school, commuting to American schools in Japan, and attending school in the US during occasional furloughs. This meant that they had pretty much lived their lives being considered “Gaijin” (which means “foreigner” or “outside person.”). Life was always changing.

One afternoon, Frances watched out the window as two boys followed young Jeannette down the street taunting her by yelling “Donguri me,” “Don gurime” all the way home; but once she reached the safety of her gate, she whirled around and yelled “Kitsune me!” (which meant “fox eyes” or “slanty eyes”) and then darted inside.

But perhaps it was for the best that they would never fully “fit in.” Home was not a town in Pennsylvania or in Japan…which meant that home was never a long, long boat ride away.   Home was where a close family became closer still.

During the summers, the Oestreichs would try to spend a few weeks with the chattering monkeys at Lake Biwa, a beautiful place near Kyoto. One summer, a friend gave them a boat that had only one small problem—a hole in the bottom. George did his best to fix it and it worked—unless, of course, you count the time that it sprung a leak in the middle of the lake carrying a load of extremely proper church ladies.

00242_s_15amfm4v2z0242_r.jpgFrances and her friends were none too pleased with the impromptu baptisms, but Frances shouldn’t have been too surprised. From the day at the altar, life with George had never ceased to be an adventure. Whether he was raising pigeons or dreaming up ways to make ice cream in a land with little refined sugar or dairy, George was always up to something.

Years flew by and one by one the kids left for college in the US. Their oldest child, Christine, and her husband came back to Japan as missionaries. Also, George, Jr, or “Gwo,” as he was called, returned to Japan for the summer of 1979 and spent time working alongside his parents. He was strongly considering returning to Japan as a missionary himself upon graduation from college. His best friend, Shuji, had been saved at a branch church “Midori Machi” Bible Church and was also considering full time ministry.

At the close of the summer, Gwo returned to Bob Jones and George and Frances began school themselves—teaching English and living for Jesus. They looked forward to being together again their kids the following summer during a well-deserved furlough.

Just weeks before their terms came to a close, the couple received devastating news. Gwo had been in a terrible car accident and died at the scene.

It was a blow to the whole family, but especially to his parents, who were not able to make it back in time for the service and burial.

Like most parents, they never expected to retrace the final steps of one of their children; especially their only son. He had been effectively forced off the road by a speeding driver. George even found the hood ornament from his son’s car in the tree that took his life.

They recognized the sovereignty of God through the pain, but it still seemed that his “homegoing” was premature. It was so easy to focus on the way that he had been robbed of life. He was never able to graduate from college, get married, make the ministry his own, or have a son to pass on the family name. It didn’t seem quite fair.

But George was no longer a “Gaijin.” He wasn’t just close to home; he was home.

Perhaps it was then George and Frances decided that their work in Japan was concluded. It was time to make their home in the US, closer to their daughters.

00310_s_15amfm4v2z0310Over their thirty three years of ministry, the Oestreichs had seen Japan transition from a war-torn nation into an industrious and modern society. It went from broken and bleeding to self-sufficient and proud. Despite the Emperors’ having admitted to the county that he was not, in fact, “god,” Shintoism remained firmly rooted in the society. And while many of the young people begin to reject the traditions and chains of this dead religion, they often turned to Buddhism or to nothing at all. While the need was still great, the door that had been wide open to the gospel was gently closing.

Still, they weren’t quite ready for “retirement” if that meant sitting around a house all day. For that matter, they had never owned a house. They rented a trailer and took jobs managing the trailer park— George in maintence and Frances in bookkeeping. The thrifty ways continued and so did ministry.

And their years in Japan continued to bear fruit. Although they were few, the Christians were faithful. George’s friend Shuji attended seminary at Grace Community and returned back to Japan to serve as senior pastor.

And, of course, they continued to use every opportunity to win souls to Christ. George listened to kids quote Bible verses in Awana clubs, he led Bible studies for inmates in a nearby prison, and he and Frances both wrote cards and letters to an ever-increasing number of grandchildren…who were spread all over the world.

One week a year he would go visit grandchildren in California, and during the summers they would make the trip back to Lake Shehawken. George would ride his bike, swim, and take peaceful rides in the canoe his father had bought him when he was twelve. Lake Shehawken was a peaceful, unchanging haven in a crazy, fast paced world. In the evening, soft strains of trumpet would drift across the lake. “Trust and Obey,” “Living for Jesus,” and other hymns and choruses were never far from George Oestreich…whether coming by trumpet, booming baritone, or a happy whistle.

When George was 80, the Oestreichs moved again; this time to Penny Retirement Community near Jacksonville, FL. This was officially “retirement” although the only thing that stopped was the paycheck. It was okay; they had always been prudent with their money. They were used to having a little income…and living on a little less.

They stayed active; George rode his bike, swam, gardened, played tennis and trumpet, did landscape work, and taught Sunday School and Bible Studies. As the 80s rolled into 90s, he complained that the folks in his Bible study were getting old and didn’t focus very well. But he stuck with it, noting some of the residents in the memory ward could often sing hymns from memory even when they seemed to have no other recall.

Grandma faithfully cooked and cleaned and managed the finances in addition to her own volunteering activities—sewing, arranging flowers, serving meals, and more. She kept up with the names and birthdays of the five daughters, sons-in-law, nineteen grands, grands-in-law, and non-stop great-grands (28 I think…at last count).

If their family had one complaint, it was that George and Frances were too far away. They took turns trying to convince the Oestreichs to move closer to family. But they seemed content to live their simple, slowing life in Florida where they prayed together every morning and played Dominoes every night.

They held out until the end of 2016. He was 99. She was nearly 98.

——————————————————————————————

And here is where I step into the story. Because I was there to help them with their final move.

It was not difficult because Grandma had reduced their lives to two rooms and, even then, did not seem attached to the few things they had left. They did not want to do long goodbyes. They did not want to do goodbyes at all.

I felt bad for them…although we wanted them closer and believed this move was for the best, I hated the thought of them leaving their friends. Of them having to start over at life. Of having to adjust to a million little changes from where the toothbrush would be kept to what meals would be like. Change can be difficult no matter what the age; I couldn’t really put myself in their shoes and understand what it would be like for two dear saints in their late 90s.

But when I asked Grandma if she was sad to leave, she said, “Wherever you go, you’ll have friends…if you’re friendly.” After years of being a “Gaijin,” she was no stranger to making friends. Again.

But I knew underneath her resolve, there was a realization that it would be hard to make friends this time. She was nearly blind, on oxygen, and she had outlived all of the folks who could identify closely with her life experiences.

As we pulled out of Penny Farms, I turned around to see my grandparents in the seats behind me embracing this new adventure the same way they had done all of the others…holding hands.

I smiled. She would not be lonely. Grandma’s most important friends were coming with her.

(Stay tuned for the fourth and final part – “Celebration of a Life Well Lived” coming soon.)holding hands