A Few of My Favorite Things {March 2016}

The good stuff from this month: online, in print, and in real life. ~Elizabeth

Easter morning was incredible, probably the best Easter service I’ve ever attended. The best part for me was the way we sang Kari Jobe’s song “Forever,” which is already one of my favorite worship songs. First some church members acted out the last supper. Then they spent a good bit of time on the burial and the disciples’ grief and mourning, which we sometimes rush through. (And the actors were non-white, which to me felt more authentic.) Then a woman performed sign language as we sang the first half of “Forever.” Halfway through the song we stopped singing, and the actors portrayed the John 20 scene between Jesus and Mary. I’ve always loved that part of the story, but to see it in person was an experience like no other. Then as soon as Mary and Jesus embraced, we rolled right back into the triumphant part of the song. It was amazing, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

The rest of March was a whirlwind of a month. I finished up a big writing and ministry push (including speaking at a ladies’ event), and I’m looking forward to relaxing a bit more in April, including going on a team retreat with our Team Expansion team. I’m going to completely unplug from technology during that time and am really looking forward to both the unplugging and the team and family bonding time.

Two weeks of unbearable heat (meaning even the water coming out of the faucets is hot) were sandwiched in between two weeks of relative cool. But whether it’s unbearably hot or relatively cool, I’m still drinking coffee, and I’ve discovered that coffee really is better in your favorite mug: and my favorite mug is a plain white one.

I’ve also discovered that a coffee break is even better with a book than with social media: and my current favorite is Stephen Hawking’s The Illustrated Brief History of Time (a Christmas gift from last year). I can make it through only a couple pages at a time before my brain is exhausted, the coffee cup is drained, and it’s back to home school.

703779_1035984719770761_6380675332984077553_oI was bummed to miss a partial solar eclipse this month, but our teammates captured an amazing picture of it. To console myself over the loss, I took note of the next time we’ll be able to see a partial solar eclipse in Cambodia (3 years from now).

I had to take a few solo tuk tuk rides across the city for various events. I hadn’t done that in a while, and I took advantage of that time to listen to worship music on my iPod. It was so calming and centering that I think I must have needed those hours to just listen and breathe.

We attended a workshop that explained a spiritual gifts inventory/DISC personality profile that we had previously taken. The workshop helped me understand myself and my husband better, highlighted a spiritual gift I never knew I had, and also offered guidance for how to approach people with different motivations and personalities than myself. (That last part I found extremely helpful!)

I’m absolutely elated that my husband is giving me the gift of one afternoon per week to get out of the house and write! It was his idea and such a surprise, and I’m getting so much more accomplished with these afternoons.

I’ve been drinking Twinings Pure Peppermint Herbal Infusion in the afternoons and evenings, steeping two bags at a time for extra minty power. (Those of you who’ve known me any amount of time know I love mint.)

I’m also loving Spin Pins from Goody, which keep my hair in a loose but secure bun that doesn’t induce headaches or put pressure on my scalp. I know that seems random and superficial, but as a headache-prone person in this kind of heat, the Spin Pins sure are quick, convenient, and comfortable.

And now on to some more useful favorites!

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BOOKS

Jane of Lantern Hill by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I relate to Jane so much. She doesn’t fit in, and she’s searching for Home. (I wrote a little about my experience with this book in this post.) What I love about this book is how Montgomery has such a firm grasp on human nature, yet she tells this story through the eyes of a child. And the descriptive language is breathtaking. You’ll find some of my favorite quotes at the end of this post.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. This was another childhood favorite of mine, and I relate to Meg so much. Just like Jane, Meg doesn’t fit in and is searching for belonging. (I also relate to Meg’s quirky love for math.) I was going to keep this gem all to myself for a little re-read until my older kids spied my copy of it and begged me to read it aloud to them. I relented, and was ever so glad. We read it in three days; we simply couldn’t put it down. A few of my favorite quotes are at the end of this post.

Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis. Lewis’s own statement that “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest” has been my guide as I re-read Jane of Lantern Hill by myself, as I read A Wrinkle in Time with my kids, and of course as we continue to read through the Chronicles of Narnia together. I continue to be amazed by Lewis’s wisdom and imagination, and I’m in a bit of a hurry to get to The Silver Chair, as it’s my favorite. But alas we’re going through The Voyage of the Dawn Treader first, as we probably should. Again, a few of my favorite Narnia quotes are at the end.

Luke: The Gospel of Amazement by Michael Card. I returned to Card’s book this month. The introductory chapters especially give a beautiful, broad sweep of the book of Luke. I could read them over and over again, they’re that good (but unfortunately are too long to quote here).

A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle. I’m still reading L’Engle’s non-fiction on writing, words, life, and God. Sometimes she gets so dense I can’t follow her, but she’s always thought-provoking. I sometimes read little sections at night before bed. A few of my favorite quotes are listed at the end of this post.

Wondrous Encounters by Richard Rohr. I finished working through Rohr’s Lent devotional, but I have to confess that he, too, sometimes borders on the erudite. Sometimes I get him; sometimes I don’t. You’ll find some of his better, more straight-forward quotes at the end of this post.

And lastly, sometimes before bed I leaf through The 50 Most Extreme Places in the Solar System, a book I found two years ago for pretty cheap but had never really looked at it. (So if you want to explore that book, might I suggest a public library?) I appreciate the planetary science in this book, and I finally understand some questions about earth’s mantle that have been bugging me for years.

(A note about the number of books I’m reading right now, as I realize it seems like a lot: At the beginning of this year I committed to read more in print, both with my children and by myself. The Read Aloud Revival podcast had inspired me, and I want to keep enjoying read-aloud times with my kids even as they get older. I also knew I wanted to read less on a screen. This month’s book list evidences implementation of said resolution. But I should also add that with a number of these books — especially the ones I read on my own — I only read a page or two at a time!)

 

BLOG POSTS

You Just Never Know When a Coconut Might Kill You by Amy Medina. A fellow irrational fear-ist! Plus she’s funny.

The Metaphor in the Front Yard by Sarah Bessey. I’m so glad Sarah put this on her blog! I had read it in her January newsletter, but until now there was no way to share it publicly. Do NOT miss this amazing piece of writing.

Out of the Pit and Back Again by Jennifer May. A meditation on Psalm 40, especially for people in ministry and missions. Absolutely thick with insight. Jennifer is also a TCK/MK.

Parenting and the Power of Place by Marilyn Gardner. As a TCK, I can tend to focus only on heaven and life with Christ as my true home. I sometimes forget about the value of physical places — but of course my own memories of Home are always about physical places and physical people. So I was thankful for this reminder!

Hear Me Roar — But Don’t See Me Cry by Bronwyn Lea. She tells the truth about how I naturally deal with my emotions too, by covering over pain with anger. And I have to continually stretch myself in order to deal with the real, underlying issues instead of the icing of anger and irritation.

Good News on a Good Friday by Robynn Bliss. Read this winsome re-telling of the Gospel story.

Standing Up Crooked Together by Craig Thompson. A gracious offer of community and comradeship (I love the word comrade, don’t you?), and a beautiful picture of how the Church is supposed to function.

When You’re Craving Validation Today, Read This by Lisa-Jo Baker. I’ve never read anything by Lisa-Jo Baker before, but I think you’ll have to agree this is beautiful.

I found the next several posts through the hosting The Grove at Velvet Ashes. The theme was “Yoke,” and the link-ups simply overwhelmed me with goodness:

Master of this Yoke by Michele Womble. More great poetry from a lady whose words never fail me in their denseness and richness.

Seeking the Easy Yoke at Jodie’s Journal. This post quotes large sections from Paul W. Chappell’s book, The Burden Bearer. I don’t know the book, but Chappell’s quotes are not to be missed!

Traveling Light Through Life by Dorette Skinner. Astute correlations between life with God and the art of international travel.

Three Secrets of Soul Rest by Leslie Verner. The first point about where our burdens really come from might surprise you — but it’s been my experience nonetheless.

 

MUSIC

This is How Love Wins by Steven Curtis Chapman. This song was part of our Easter service. The video is kind of hard to watch, but don’t miss the chorus:

“This is how Love wins, every single time
Climbing high upon a tree where someone else should die
This is how Love heals, the deepest part of you
Letting Himself bleed into the middle of your wounds
This is what Love says, standing at the door
You don’t have to be who you’ve been before
Silenced by His voice, death can’t speak again
This is how Love wins”

No Longer Slaves by Jonathan and Melissa Helser. I love this song so much. So much. (In fact I wrote all about it here.) The truth about Abba Father’s love for us is what I want, above all else, to teach my children. If I can teach them nothing else, this is what I want them to know. You can listen to the beautiful back story of the song here.

This I Believe (The Creed) by Hillsong. I wrote about remembering Jesus through the Apostles’ Creed, and this steadying, steadfast song came rushing back to me. It’s been a Favorite before, but it’s worth a re-listen for its encapsulation of the foundations of our faith. (And speaking of the creeds, IF:Equip is currently studying through the Nicene Creed. They say it works better on a mobile device than a traditional computer, but I’m receiving the daily emails, so I can still listen to the conversations.)

None But Jesus by Hillsong. I think the phrase “there is no one else for me” pretty much sums it all up.

Cornerstone by Hillsong. This was the first song that played on one of my long tuk tuk rides. Then I arrived at the event, and we sang it corporately. I thought maybe God was trying to say something to me. . .

Where Would We Be by Matt Redman. “Where would we be without Your love? We’d still be lost in darkness. Where would we be without Your cross? You made a way to save us.” Another song from one of my long tuk tuk rides. Love that Gospel message. It never gets old.

This is Amazing Grace by Phil Wickham. We sang it on Easter morning. Enough said.

Sometimes by Step by Rich Mullins. A sermon about walking in step with the Spirit reminded me of this classic song, which I think might be the theme song for my life: “Oh God, You are my God, and I will ever praise You. And I will seek You in the morning, and I will learn to walk in Your ways. And step by step You’ll lead me, and I will follow You all of my days.”

(Speaking of Rich Mullins, you can never have too many of his songs, right? Here’s one of his last concerts, recorded at Wheaton. I especially love his song The Love of God, which was so precious to me last year.)

All Men are Broken by Misty Edwards. I fiercely want to communicate God’s love to my children, but I sometimes (like this month) find myself being more short-tempered with them than I’d like. I had to get on my knees and tell them I was sorry and that God is a much better parent than Mommy. I hope they can learn God is not like Mommy but is infinitely better.

 

MOVIES, PODCASTS, AND VIDEOS

Tracey Bickle on overcoming offense. Tracey’s book Chaos Beneath the Shade greatly helped me in working through some bitterness and anger at the beginning of this year. And it was largely because of her that I began a gratitude journal. This short video is a little snippet of her main message.

Q&A session with Dr. N.T. Wright at Oklahoma Christian University. I love listening to the way Wright answers questions with no hesitation and with such knowledge of the Scriptures. Listening to him makes me realize how very much I don’t know. I first heard Wright speak on women in ministry several years ago, and I loved the way he started with Mary Magdalene at the resurrection as the starting point for including women in ministry. He touches on that in this question-and-answer period and also gives thoughtful answers to questions about controversial topics like predestination. And, he LOVES the Church. It’s so obvious in the way he esteems both the Church and individual Christians. That’s uncommonly refreshing in this day and age.

Christianity and Gendered Eating by Christina Van Dyke. This isn’t anything I’d ever put words to before, but it’s something I’ve felt, and this was so very refreshing a perspective.

Undone/Redone podcast interviewed Jacque Watkins from the Mud Stories podcast, which I also love. Jacque’s story is a tear-jerker, so get ready to cry all over your desk (or wherever it is that you listen to podcasts). Here’s Part 2 of the interview.

This Is Not a Feminist Song by Ariana Grande and the ladies of Saturday Night Live. I should preface this by saying I don’t normally watch Saturday Night Live. But a friend shared this song, and I fell in love. It’s so funny I couldn’t stop laughing, and so true I couldn’t stop singing it. (And be forewarned that there’s one minor bad word.)

Wives and Daughters, a BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel of the same name. An international teenager who knew how much I loved Gaskell’s North and South recommended this one. A gentle love story with well-developed characters, and another triumph of screenwriter Andrew Davies.

 

The rest of the post is just quotes, so if you’re not interested, you can just stop here 🙂

 

C.S. LEWIS QUOTES (from Prince Caspian):

Too often I ask “what would have happened if. . . .” I needed this conversation between Lucy and Aslan as a gentle reminder to stop:

“’You mean, said Lucy rather faintly, ‘that it would have turned out all right – somehow? But how? Please, Aslan, am I not to know?’

‘To know what would have happened? No. Nobody is ever told that.’

‘Oh dear,’ said Lucy.

‘But anyone can find out what will happen,’ said Aslan.”

Then, an experience we have probably all had:

“’Aslan,’ said Lucy, you’re bigger.’

‘That is because you are older, little one,’ answered he.

‘Not because you are?’

‘I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.’”

On mutual joy between Creator and the created:

“But all night, Aslan and the Moon gazed upon each other with joyful and unblinking eyes.”

A hag/witch offers her services to fight evil with evil, illustrating the need to be wary of the source of our power:

“I have some poor little skill in small spells and cantrips that I’d be glad to use against our enemies if it was agreeable to all concerned. For I hate ’em. Oh yes. No one hates better than me.”

 

MADELEINE L’ENGLE QUOTES (from A Wrinkle in Time):

Closely following on that last Lewis quote is a quote from L’Engle’s main character Meg, who was told to fight the evil power IT with something she had that IT didn’t have:

“What have I got that IT hasn’t got. . . . suddenly she knew. She knew! Love. That was what she had that IT did not.”

And then Meg uses all the love she has received from her family and friends and the love she cherishes for her brother in order to save him from the clutches of the evil IT, who had taken her brother captive. Love: so much better and more powerful than hate and anger.

A statement from Meg, on understanding the tesseract (a way to skip through space-time faster than light):

“For just a moment I got it! I can’t possibly explain it now, but for a second I saw it!”

I read this statement as a child and hid it somewhere deep inside me. During engineering school I would pull it out and use it: I always wanted to understand WHY we used certain formulas. If I could understand a proof, even if for only a second, then I knew I could trust it forever. (And this was especially true of “residuals” with Dr. Sitton!)

From Calvin, who doesn’t fit into his own family, on his way to another family’s house for supper:

“I’ve never even seen your house, and I have the funniest feeling that for the first time in my life I’m going home!”

And a word for TCKs and other third culture people:

“It’s my worst trouble, getting fond. If I didn’t get fond I could be happy all the time.” 

 

MADELEINE L’ENGLE QUOTES (from A Circle of Quiet):

These are some of the quotes that brought me to tears, because I was like, um, yes!

“Every so often I need OUT; something will throw me into total disproportion, and I have to get away from everybody – away from all these people I love most in the world – in order to regain a sense of proportion.”

“My special place is a small brook in a green glade, a circle of quiet from which there is no visible sign of human beings.”

“All during the decade of my thirties (the world’s fifties) I went through spasms of guilt because I spent so much time writing, because I wasn’t like a good New England housewife and mother.”

 

LUCY MAUD MONTGOMERY QUOTES (from Jane of Lantern Hill):

Because I think everyone can relate to this in some way:

“Jane opened the most secret chamber of her heart and took him in . . . nay, found him there.”

From the section when Jane first sees the sea on Prince Edward Island, because I feel this way about the sea too (and about palm trees):

“She had seen Lake Ontario, pale blue and shimmering, but this. . .this? She continued to look at it as if she could never have enough of it.” 

Boy do I ever relate to this statement from Jane’s father:

“I can write, my Jane, but I can’t make porridgeable porridge.”

As I said, I like to look at the night sky, and this is one of the reasons:

“’Watch the stars whenever you are worried, Jane,’ said dad. ‘They’ll steady you . . . comfort you . . . balance you.’” 

Thoughts on home and belonging:

“Jane said nothing at first. She could only look. She had never been there before but it seemed as if she had known it all her life. The song the sea-wind was singing was music native to her ears. She had always wanted to ‘belong’ somewhere and she belonged here. At last she had a feeling of home.”

“’This. . . this is home,’ said Jane. Home . . . something she had never known before. She was nearer crying then than she had ever been in her life.”

“’As soon as you hang a picture on the wall,’ said dad, ‘the wall becomes your friend. A blank wall is hostile.’”

“Moonlight was spilling over everything from a full moon that hung like an enormous bubble over what must be a bay or harbor, and there was one splendid, sparkling trail across the water. So there was a moon in P.E. Island too. Jane hadn’t really believed it before. And polished to the Queen’s taste. It was like seeing an old friend. That moon was looking down on Toronto as well as P.E. Island. Perhaps it was shining on Jody, asleep in her little attic room, or on mother, coming home from some gay affair. Suppose she were looking at it this very moment! It no longer seemed a thousand miles to Toronto.”

Thoughts on introversion and the inner life:

“Jane went out and up and sat on the hill . . . ‘to get back into herself’ as she expressed it. She had really been out of herself ever since the morning, more or less.”

“Jane had pushed the window open and the scent of fern came in. Also a strange, soft, faraway sound. . . the moaning call of the sea. The night seemed to be filled with it. Jane heard it and something deep down in her responded to it with a thrill that was between anguish and rapture.”

Because I live in Cambodia and laughed out loud when I read this:

“I made a cake yesterday and ants got in the icing. I was so mortified because we had company for supper. I wish I knew how to keep ants in their place.”

And lastly, some thoughts on grief:

“Jane walked the floor of her room all the rest of that afternoon. She dared not sit down for a moment. It seemed that as long as she kept moving, her pain marched with her and she could bear it. If she were to stop, it would crush her.”

Which reminded me of the quote from Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, which I didn’t read when the Velvet Ashes Book Club read it, but I remember them talking about this quote:

“As long as I kept moving, my grief streamed out behind me like a swimmer’s long hair in water. I knew the weight was there but it didn’t touch me. Only when I stopped did the slick, dark stuff of it come float in around my face, catching my arms and throat till I began to drown. So I just didn’t stop.”

 

RICHARD ROHR QUOTES (from Wondrous Encounters):

Prayers for everyday and everyone:

“God of Spirit and Truth, I know that no change of heart happens without a change of mind, and no change of mind happens without a change of heart. Get me started in one place or the other!”

“God of love and justice, let me know and live that they are not separate. Loving people will do justice, and just people will do their work with love and respect.”

On Jesus’s story of the publican and the sinner, and Hosea’s statement that “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”:

“The Pharisee is the common heroic ‘sacrificer.’ People do not realize that this gesture largely feeds the ego and one’s sense of self much more than anything else. God does not need it. You need it. Sacrifice is unconsciously an attempt to control God, who does much better without our control. ‘I fast twice a week, I pay tithes on all I possess . . . . I am not like the rest of men,’ he says. It looks like you are giving to God, country, church, the sports team, so all will undoubtedly admire you for it.

The social payoffs are so ego-inflating, there is no likelihood that ‘for God and country’ thinking will diminish anytime soon. Sacrifice is often good and needed in life to help other people, but too often it is an attempt to build a more positive self-image by distinguishing oneself from others.”

On prophecy:

“Most of us have been led to believe that prophets ‘foretell’ the future. That is true, and it is also misleading. It is not the point here. Prophets are seers of the big patterns; they see what is always and forever true. Prophets like Isaiah know how God acts by watching and listening, and they have no doubt about the ‘meta-narratives,’ the Real Story that is always going on inside of our little stories.”

On having blind spots:

“Our lack of self-knowledge and our lack of wisdom make humans do very stupid and self-destructive things. Because humans cannot see their own truth very well, they do not read reality very well either. We all have our tragic flaws and blind spots. Humans always need more light or enlightenment about themselves and about the endless mystery of God.”

On sin:

“Spirituality is about seeing. Sin is about blindness, or as Saint Gregory of Nyssa will say, ‘Sin is always a refusal to grow.’”

On prayer:

“The secret in biblical prayer in always to expect God to be true to God’s own name, identity, and patterns of goodness in the past, and not just begging God to conform to my immediate ego needs.”

On hope:

“Hope is not some vague belief that ‘all will work out well,’ but Biblical hope is the certainty that things finally have a victorious meaning no matter how they turn out.”

A Few of My Favorite Things {February 2016}

I can’t believe it’s the end of February already! I started writing again this month, beginning with a piece I submitted a couple weeks ago but that hasn’t published yet. There were also some deliciously cool days this month, which both surprised and delighted me, as cool days are all usually relegated to January. Also a highlight of this month were two (two!!) dates with my husband. There’s nothing I love more than dreaming about the future and processing the past with my favorite man, all over a cup of coffee and a side of palm trees. ~Elizabeth

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BOOKS

Seth Haines’s Coming Clean. Seth’s book took an unexpected turn from doubt and pain into unforgiveness this month. I had only finished half the book last month, but it was already so good I simply had to recommend it. (And the second half did not disappoint!)

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. I read this with my kids this month. There’s nothing like meeting Christ and Him crucified through the pages of Lewis’s Narnia. Nothing.  We also read through The Magician’s Nephew, which was actually quite good and not nearly as strange as I remember it, and then started in on Prince Caspian. (Yes, I am bucking the Creation-to-Christ trend of missionaries, and we are reading the Chronicles in the order I deem fit: first Christ, and then Creation, and then further histories.)

A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle. As a child I met L’Engle through her children’s novel A Wrinkle in Time. It’s one of my all-time favorite books (along with Lewis’s The Silver Chair, for their obvious connection in standing up against Evil, of course).  I’ve been wanting to read L’Engle’s Crosswicks Journals for over two years now but have never made the time for it. I finally cracked open the first one this month and was in tears by the second page. Madeleine was so honest, relatable, and similarly enamored of words that I knew right away we were going to be good friends.

Wondrous Encounters by Richard Rohr. Last year during Lent I worked through a compilation of Henri Nouwen’s writings called Show Me the Way. It was the first time I’ve ever done anything related to Lent and was such a rich experience that I knew I wanted to do a Lent study again, so I bought this book in America last fall. It’s so good that at the end of this post I’ll share some quotes from it.

 

BLOG POSTS

In the Light of Home by Jennifer Trafton. Meditations on home and, for the word-lovers among us, a new Welsh word for its accompanying longing: hiraeth (As an aside I understand knowing the light of a certain place, as I have that kind of relationship with the light in my Cambodian living room.) If you’re an expat or a TCK, or a wanderer of any kind, and you read none of my other recommendations this month, make this the one you do read.

The Race and Contented Competing, both by Michele Womble. Both of these were short meditations on the theme of “Compete.” But don’t be deceived by their brevity; Michele’s words are packed with wisdom and insight. I love it when she links up with the Grove, which she often does in a poetic format.

How Old is Sisterhood? by Idelette McVicker. I spent years attending a Ladies’ Bible Class at our sending church, and they’re some of my favorite memories. One woman was a young mom like me, but most were older than I was by a generation or more, and they literally prayed, counseled, and empathized me through a particularly deep, dark time in my life. This article reminded me of our priceless Thursday mornings together those many years ago.

Things No One Told Me About Grief by Rachel Pieh Jones. That title and that author are all you need to know in order to read this piece. Her words here tell a universal yet personal story.

Why Are We Here? by Jonathan Trotter. A beautiful encapsulation of the Gospel and of Kingdom work, by my dear husband.

Your Blind Spot is Only Blind to You by Kathy Ferguson Litton. This gave me a good kind of “ouch.” It put into words a truth I need to remember and made me feel sorry for the people who regularly see my blind spots and have to put up with them.

Let’s Talk About Sin . . . Again by Cindy Brandt. This article blew the top off my understanding of David’s sin. I already thought he had committed egregious sins, but this opened my eyes even more to the fact that David had power, prestige, and privilege — and he abused them all. No wonder he was so contrite in Psalm 51.

Welcome to the Past (and Why It Matters) by Susan Wise Bauer. Written by one of my very favorite authors, this is the launch piece for a new series on the Psychology Today website.

On Staying, Leaving, and Which is Harder by Abby Alleman. About one of the best and most important lessons we will ever learn — but one that’s usually learned through fire.

 

VIDEOS

Necessity of Seasons by Jonathan and Melissa Helser. Beautiful, honest, and relatable as I attempt both to follow Christ and to string together words that express my followership. A guest writer at Velvet Ashes recommended this video.

Interview with Jonathan and Melissa Helser. This video followed the first one, so naturally I watched it. It offers some really good reflections on God-glorifying art and seeking God’s heart alone instead of the approval of the Crowd. (One of these days I want to talk about Misty Edwards’s conversation on creativity and listening to God at the onething 2015 conference, but I simply haven’t had the time yet.)

Minor Revisions Episode 1 with Jen Fulwiler, an atheist to Catholic convert. I was fascinated by this reality TV miniseries. Not because she chose Catholicism — don’t worry gentle readers, I am happy in my Protestantism! — but because of her journey from unbelief to belief. Atheism proved itself hopeless and meaningless, so she set out on a search for God. Her story is of a changed life and a changed heart. She’s also a writer, which of course I connected with. Here are Episode 2 and Episode 3.

Where’s the Washing Machine? and Why are You Covering Up? by Natural Khmer Lessons. A friend here in country shared a link to these Natural Khmer Lessons in a recent newsletter. They are fun and funny and give some good insight into the cultural differences between Cambodia and America, for any of my readers who are interested in that sort of thing. (In defense of Cambodians, the sun is so strong here that it really can be more comfortable to wear long sleeves in the heat. And my washing machine doesn’t have a central agitator like it did in the States, so some dirt has to be scrubbed out by hand anyway.)

One more cultural story — watching these videos reminded me of the time during our first term when Jonathan was watering the plants outside our front door. Our neighbor asked, “Jonny, do you know how to water plants?” “Uh, apparently not,” he thought. She proceeded to show him the proper, Cambodian, way to water plants: to sprinkle water all over the leaves instead of pouring water on the soil. Funnily enough, growing up as an American I was specifically taught not to water the leaves, as it would make them wilt (is that true??) and to only water the soil. But everywhere we go in Cambodia, people water their plants the way our neighbor instructed us, and every time I witness a plant-watering session, I smile to myself at the differences between East and West.

 

MUSIC

My Soul Longs for Jesus by Planetshakers. Beautiful modern-day hymn that doesn’t merely sing the same chorus over and over again (though there’s a place for that, too, as you’ve seen in many of my “favorite things” songs before). I’ve been singing this song all month. Read the full lyrics here.

I Will Bring You Home by Michael Card. My husband grew up listening to this song and recently re-discovered it. (In fact Jonathan introduced me to Card’s music in general, and I have several favorite Card songs myself.) This song is for the global nomad. I love the “kingdom now and not yet” theology in this song. Jesus is our Home even now, and one day He will also bring us to our final Home. Lyrics are located under the video.

As an aside I’m also planning to read Card’s (relatively) new commentary/devotional books on the Gospels this year. I’ve started on Luke: The Gospel of Amazement and learned a lot already in just the beginning chapters, but am currently sidetracked by a few other books, including Rohr’s Lent book (which I mentioned earlier) and Tracey Bickle’s Chaos Beneath the Shade: How to Uproot and Stay Free from Bitterness, which caught my eye at the onething2015 conference (and which I believe was Holy Spirit-directed).

Sinking Deep by Hillsong Young & Free. Heard this at church this month. It’s a good basic summary of all the things I’ve learned about God and His love and grace over the last several years.

I Will Praise Him, Still by Fernando Ortega. An old song that I randomly remembered this month. Beautiful and true and reflects my deepest desires. (My husband also introduced me to Ortega, and as a teenager, he and his mom would listen to this song on their way to her chemo treatments.)

 

QUOTES

Marilyn Gardner in Waving Olive Branches:

“Forgiveness is not easy. We give up our rights to hold on to wrong-doing, we give up our rights to be victims, we extend grace to the perpetrator. Sometimes forgiveness costs us everything we have, everything we can give. But there is no ambiguity in the Biblical call to forgive, there is no grey area, there is no ‘but what about…?’”

Frederick Buechner (via Marilyn Gardner):

Life is grace. Sleep is forgiveness. The night absolves. Darkness wipes the slate clean, not spotless to be sure, but clean enough for another day’s chalking.” 

I’m a big believer in His mercies being new every morning, and that to access that mercy, we need only sleep.

I’ve talked before about the International Children’s Bible Field Guide, which we are using for family devotionals and which doesn’t shy away from hard topics, even for children. (Better to address tricky questions now, when they still live under our roof, rather than later when they don’t, right?) There’s a section describing the responsibilities of Old Testament priests that concluded with this comment:

“Today when Christians pray for others, or teach them about God, we are being priests to them.”

Sometimes it takes a children’s vantage point to give hands and feet to a Scriptural concept. I’ve always loved the verse about us being “a royal priesthood,” but I had focused more on our ability to contact God directly (through Jesus Christ our High Priest) and on the equality that brings to all believers. I had never thought about the fact that we act as priests to each other when we serve each other in Jesus’s name, and I’ll never look at our shared mutual priesthood the same again.

Speaking of which, I just discovered Revelation 1:6 which triumphantly declares that:

“He has made us a kingdom of priests for God his Father.”

St. Benedict, as found in Kimberlee Conway Ireton’s book The Circle of Seasons (which I’d been wanting to read for years and won in a book giveaway from Amy Young):

“Repentance is praying with tears.”

More and more I’m coming to understand how essential it is for my life and my relationship with God to regularly practice repentance. And yes, it almost always involves tears. (Bonus tip: Kimberlee is currently blogging through the Psalms of Ascent for Lent.)

Asaph spoke straight at my heart in Psalm 73:21-26:

Then I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside. I was so foolish and ignorant — I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you. Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny. Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth. My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.

C.S. Lewis in The Magician’s Nephew:

“For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are.”

C.S. Lewis and Richard Rohr, in parallel quotes from The Magician’s Nephew and Wondrous Encounters:

“All get what they want; they do not always like it.” (Lewis)

“We will all receive exactly what our lives say we really want and desire: Love is always torment for the hateful, and final torment is impossible for the loving.” (Rohr)

Susan Wise Bauer on the 6th century Byzantine rulers Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora, in The Story of the World Volume 2:

“The two of them ruled side by side, and Justinian rarely made a decision without consulting his wife.”

Were they perhaps the first egalitarian couple? Even my sons cheered their marriage.

Anisha Hopkinson (who blogs here and also at A Life Overseas) told this story on her personal Facebook page:

“This morning I about fell apart – in church no less.

The kind of falling apart when you actually hear the screws coming loose in your head and your heart is pounding so hard any moment it’ll break right through your shaking chest and a fleeting, ‘Watch it. You’re going to lose your witness.’ flashes through your mind right before you become completely unglued.

At least this is one particularly helpful thing about my marriage – My husband and I seem to have opposite freak out moments. If I’m about to pop, he’s usually ok, and vice versa.

So while I had my moment in church this morning, he had his when we got home.

And after 2 years living in the melting pot of all things stressful, here’s what we’ve learned-

Be the safe place.

Seriously. Just let the other person have their freak out and you be the safe place that says with your quiet presence, ‘Totally ok. You won’t lose your witness with me. You just let all that out.’

Because there is so much PRESSURE to be this ‘authentic Christian’ person, but what people (or your own condemning thoughts) really mean is ‘yes, be ‘real’ but no mistakes or bad tempers, please.’ Because…

*You’ll lose your witness*

Which is actually just another way of saying, ‘People will see you for who you really are and it’s not at all *Christian* enough.’

Now, I’m not implying abusive or mean behaviours are acceptable, but I am saying – We all need safe places.

Safe places let unglued people freak out and meet them with grace and love, rather than insisting the ones struggling keep all their crap together and hidden with a smile on their face.

Friends, that’s the community I need. One that says: Don’t worry. I’ll be a safe place when you come unglued. You do the same for me.

I’d take that kind of witness any day.”

To finish out this post, here are several Richard Rohr quotes so you understand why I’m loving his Lent study so much:

“You cannot begin to desire something if you have not already slightly tasted it.”

“You could not have such desires if God had not already desired them first — in you and for you and as you.”

“We can only be tempted to something that is good on some level, partially good, or good for some, or just good for us and not for others. Temptations are always about ‘good’ things, or we could not be tempted.”

“As the Danish philospher Søren Kierkegaard wisely said, ‘Life must be lived forward, but it can only be understood backward.’ Jonah knew what God was doing, and how God does it, and how right God is — only after emerging from the belly of the whale. He has no message whatsoever to give until he has first endured the journey, the darkness, the spitting up on the right shore — all in spite of his best efforts to avoid these very things. Jonah is indeed our Judeo-Christian symbol of transformation.”

“Did you know that you only ask for what you have already begun to experience? Otherwise it would never occur to you to ask for it. Further, God seems to plant within us the desire to pray for what God already wants to give us, and even better, God has already begun to give it to us! We are always just seconding the motion, but the first motion is always and forever from God. The fact that you prayed at all means God just started giving to you a second ago. . . . It is not that we pray and God answers. It is that our praying is already God answering within us and through us.”

Yays and Yucks (Looking Back on a Year in Asia Part 1)

— by Elizabeth

NOTE ABOUT THIS SERIES:  I spent a lot of time in December and January reflecting on my first year overseas. Then I wrote it all down. In a 6-part series. Yes, I know that a 6-part series is waaaaay too long, but what am I if not long-winded?? (It could have been worse, you know. I scrapped a few ideas along the way.) My fiancé used to suffer through my jabbering till 2 am nearly every night, despite being in his first year of law school and working 3 jobs on the side. Boy, do I have a lot to say. (Oh yeah, and my fiancé still married me. More evidence of the existence of True Love.)

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I love my life. It’s true. I loved it in Kansas City, and I love it in Phnom Penh.

We learned in missions training about the paradox of yays and yucks — the good things and bad things that happen in life – often at the same time. A friend recently described it as roses and thorns. People make decisions in life after listing out the pros and cons of a particular situation. And then “normal” people take the road that has fewer yucks, right?

Well, if I were to list out all the yays and yucks of living here, my yuck list would be longer. Muuuuch longer. You might question my normalcy. You might question my sanity. And you might question my claim.

So here’s my answer to those questions:

It’s because the weight I assign the yays is much heavier than the weight I assign the yucks. It’s like those weighted percentages in school. How we wish that our grade would depend more on the homework, which usually garners about 10% (sometimes none!). Quizzes are in there somewhere. Maybe a term paper. But the bulk of your grade is based on test scores.

God has granted me some heavy-duty yays this year. He has given us health (by missionary standards anyway). He has given us a sense of home and belonging. He has given me close friends in this country. My marriage is better than ever. (Research has found this is not the norm.) And I have peace in my relationship with God. (To any men who read this, I do apologize that my blessings are heavy on the relationships. But I am, after all, a woman, so what else would you expect??) These blessings are worth more to me than all the language mishaps, cultural isolation, sweat, dirt, bugs, and stinky smells combined. And believe me — there are more bugs and stinky smells than you can possibly imagine.

So in the weighted grade of my life, the yays count like tests, and the yucks count like homework. Go figure.

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 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ. Philippians 3:8

In Search of Christmas Spirit (or, an ode to Christmases past and present)

— by Elizabeth

I remember seemingly endless 8 hour drives in the snow from my home in South Dakota to Grandpa and Grandma’s home in Iowa. I remember being stuffed into a house with 30 other cousins and aunts and uncles and stuffing myself with hoska and rolickies and kolaches (Czech pastries my grandma would make).

I remember my mom’s sugar cookies and butter cookies and thumbprint cookies.  I remember staying up late and eating popcorn and watching It’s a Wonderful Life with my parents and my sisters. I remember being fascinated by our German candle pyramid.

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And I remember “that one Christmas,” when money was so tight that we weren’t going to get any presents, and how it didn’t matter to us anyway, but someone gave us money on Christmas Eve, and how totally surprised we were the next day.

Jonathan and I developed our own family Christmas traditions since we married 12 years ago. We would go to a Christmas tree farm, find a tree that was invariably too large for our miniature apartment, cut it down, and crunch it into our microscopic Geo Prism. String it with lights and childhood ornaments while Amy Grant’s Home for Christmas album played in the background. Watch the Muppet’s Christmas Carol with friends and White Christmas with family. I would make those peanut-butter-ritz-sandwich-cookies-dipped-in-chocolate (what are those things called anyway??).

We continued our traditions (and adopted new ones) when we moved back to Kansas City. More kids were being born all the time, and we would include them in the cookie-baking, fire-making, tree-picking processes.  Every December Jonathan and I would go to Skies restaurant at the top of the Hyatt and eat Sky High Pie – their famous three layer ice cream pie. We would remember our year and dream about the next one. We would drive our family around the city and admire the Christmas lights on Ward Parkway. We would go to Crown Center and absolutely freeze while our children played underneath that enormous Christmas tree outside.

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Cambodia has no cultural cues that it’s time to celebrate Christmas. Life goes on much the same as it has all year. No cold weather. No Christmas lights, no music, just more of the same wedding and funeral tents blocking traffic. No crazy shoppers. (Or perhaps the shoppers are as crazy as they have been all year??)

We had planned to spend Thanksgiving with some other Team Expansion missionaries, but the week before Thanksgiving, our kids got sick with Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. It’s highly contagious, and we needed to stay at home until all our children had caught it and recovered from it. (This means we were quarantined at home for a full 2 weeks, by the way.) So instead of spending Thanksgiving with our friends, we were alone — and lonely. Our friends delivered some Thanksgiving food. I didn’t feel very festive. I didn’t even want to celebrate Christmas if it were going to be different from Christmas in America.

We hadn’t brought our ornaments from the States because of lack of space in suitcases in January. I didn’t want a tree if I couldn’t have my own precious ornaments (reminiscent of a toddler temper tantrum). Then I watched a Christmas movie and read a Christmas book (both modeled after the classic A Christmas Carol story). And then some family visited us at the last minute, bringing some of our ornaments with them, and giving us the motivation to buy an artificial tree.

Later that week I watched Isaac’s Christmas play at church. I listened to these songs being performed by children from all over the world. In the middle of one of the songs it hit me: I can celebrate Christmas in Cambodia — because I’m with others who celebrate the Christ Child.

And I cried.

(Of course.)

We sang all my favorite carols at church that day, from Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel, and Joy to the World, to Oh Holy Night and What Child is This? I felt like I had come home.

We’re going to keep old traditions in Cambodia. We’ll still watch Christmas movies (most likely with the  air conditioning cranked up). We’ll still decorate a tree and listen to Christmas music. We’ll still read the Gospel according to Luke.  But we’re going to make new traditions in Cambodia too. We’ll probably always sing, along with the Bronx-accented camels in Isaac’s play, “I walked so far now my hooves.have.corns” and remember that time when Isaac was singing it in the shower and we were listening and Jonathan wanted to surprise him at the “corns” part but when he opened the door, Isaac was so scared he fell on his backside onto the bathroom tile. (Ouch!) We’ll dance to Straight No Chaser’s 12 Days of Christmas on our tiled living room floor. We’ll joke about how “we spent Christmas down in Asia” instead of the song’s “I spent Christmas down in Africa.”

tree

And we’ll celebrate this Christmas with dear friends.  As long as we don’t get sick again (and feel free to pray for that), we’re looking forward to eating a Christmas meal with two other families here in Phnom Penh — friends who have become dearer to me in my first year in Asia than I could ever have imagined.

Mrs. Trotter’s Neighborhood

–by Elizabeth

I love my neighborhood. I really do. Come with me, look past the trash on the streets and the smell of funky Asian food, and let me show you my neighborhood.

Every day the kids next door greet us with a “Hello Jonneeeeee!” They think that’s especially funny because Jonathan’s nickname, Johnny, is a brand of whiskey: Johnnie Walker. (No one in this country can say his name, and they can’t say Nathaniel or Faith either.)

We play outside on our street regularly. (No worries; it’s a dead-end.) Our boys ride their scooters and race up and down the street. Then they share their scooters with the neighbor boys. They play Frisbee, and sometimes the neighbor boys join in. If our regular tuk tuk driver happens to pass by and see them playing, he’ll stop and throw the Frisbee too. (He’s new to Frisbee-throwing.) And if we forget to take our frisbee with us when we go inside, the neighbors put it on our doorknob for later.

Our neighbors have a push toy for their baby. Faith is in love with this push toy. So our neighbors let her push their baby in it, and they push Faith in it too.

The neighbors also have a plastic chair that is just the right size for Faith. She’s in love with that as well. They don’t even stop her when she drags it over to our door to sit on it.

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The kids next door speak a little bit of English. Our kids speak a little bit of Khmer. And everyone knows Gangnam Style. The recipe for a budding friendship, right? Sometimes my boys play with Legos in their top-level bedroom while the neighbor kids play on the shared roof. Listening to them talk back and forth through the open window is one of my favorite things.

I just walk down the street to buy water. If I accidentally leave the money at home, it’s no big deal. I can pay the guy later. I can’t think of a place in America that would ever let me do that.

It feels like a village. (In fact, we even have a village chief — I know this because he had to sign the papers for us to rent our house.) I love my village. I love my neighborhood. And maybe you remember this song about neighborhoods:

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?

I am glad that mine have answered with a resounding yes.

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Culture Days

— by Elizabeth

A week ago a high school student came to my house for math tutoring. I noticed the neighbor children pestering her as she waited for me to unlock the gate. When I let her in, one of the girls grabbed a handful of my stomach and yanked. As my student pushed her moto into my house, a boy followed her inside and began examining some of our stuff. I told him, “ot tay, ot tay,” which means “no, no.” Then I tried to lead him out of the house – I had not, after all, invited him in. He just laughed, repeated my request in falsetto, and shuffled out slowly.

A day like that makes me want to lock my doors, hide myself in my bedroom, crank up the air conditioning, and watch a movie.

It’s what I call a “bad culture day.”

The next few days I didn’t want to go outside, or even unlock the gate for our house helper in the morning. In fact, I asked Jonathan to unlock it. I just couldn’t handle another neighbor kid violating my house or my body. (These neighbor kids live in the boarding school next door – and I had never seen those two before. They don’t have normal social boundaries, even for Cambodians.)

But today I had errands to do, so I called my tuk tuk driver and walked out my front door. I paid the bill that was due and bought the items on my list. I even talked to my driver. (He wanted to know my opinions about the U.S. election. Opinions I will not be sharing in this blog. : )

Fast forward to this evening. This evening our children begged us to let them play outside on the street. We initially created a play space for them on our roof in order to avoid playing on the street, where children and adults alike touched them too much. We’ve spent a lot of time on the roof in the last several months. Lately, though, they don’t want the roof. They want the street. (That desire in itself is a huge step forward into the culture for them.) So out we went, culture-avoiding-me included.

First Jonathan stopped by a local Khmer restaurant to pick up some supper. We love their fried rice (and its price!). We started eating it in front of the house while the kids played. That’s a very Khmer thing to do. They cook in front of their houses over an open fire, just like they’ve done for thousands of years, and then eat outside as well. Nobody touched me or my children rudely. We talked with the older ladies. One of them particularly likes our children, and told us tonight that it makes her happy to watch them play. Later, when Nathaniel slipped on the wet pavement, they were very concerned for him to clean his scrapes well.

Even Faith, my shy little one, played and laughed with the girl next door. (That was a first, by the way.) We felt a sense of belonging in what we did tonight — eating Khmer food, speaking the Khmer language, and playing with our Khmer neighbors.

It was what I call a “good culture day.”

A day like today gives me the courage to go back out and try again. It gives me the courage to interact with the people – unwanted touches included.

God, give us more good culture days.

Waiting for our fried rice carry-out at the local Khmer place.

Housecleaners, Housewarmers, and Homecomers

The heat in Cambodia encourages people to leave their doors and windows open during the day, and since we lie in a flood plain, the ground is nothing but silt and sand. Those two facts combine to literally coat our houses in dirt. Besides the excessive dirt, household chores like dishwashing and laundry are not quite as automated as in the States, so foreigners living in Cambodia generally need the help of a national house helper. They are, in fact, expected to hire a helper, thus contributing their highly valued American dollars to the Cambodian economy. Having a Khmer person in your house regularly can also help with language acquisition. So . . . when we arrived here, finding a house helper was top priority.

God graciously provided a house helper within the first couple weeks, and I’ve fallen in love with her. She’s trustworthy, having faithfully worked for missionary friends for the past 6 years. She’s so efficient that my house is spotless in just 3 hours a day. She loves my kids like her own grandkids, and she wears a constant smile. She speaks no English, so our communication over the last 7 months has steadily increased from a baseline of zero. In the beginning a friend helped translate everything. Now, I usually understand her in 3 repetitions or less.

She recently finished building a new house and invited our family to her housewarming party. It’s common in Cambodia for people to celebrate moving to a new house (whether they built it or not). They invite their friends and family to their new home and serve them food. The guests, in return, give a gift of money, mainly to cover the cost of the food they will eat (it’s similar to the purpose of monetary gifts at a Cambodian wedding).

At the party, I was able to converse with my helper and her family in Khmer. I sat around a seafood-filled table near my American friend (for whom our helper also works part time).

Aside from the seafood, it felt very natural to be right there, at a Cambodian friend’s house in the Cambodian countryside. It was the first time I didn’t feel isolated at an event as a non-Khmer speaker. I could communicate information about myself and my children, and I could understand some of what they were talking about. Not all, and not without some slow repetition, and not without occasionally requiring my friend’s translating skills. But the experience was far removed from the day I first interviewed my helper and needed 100% translation help.

Although I was thrilled at how far I’ve advanced in this language, I also realized how much more I must learn. Thankfully, this was a pleasant cultural interchange that motivated me to want more. I did, however, marvel at the normalcy of my night. Four years ago when we first contemplated leaving America for the mission field, I never imagined I could feel so at home in such a seemingly exotic environment. God has enabled me to be far more adaptable than I would ever have predicted, and I’m reminded again that wherever He leads me, I can always feel I’ve come Home.