Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Magic of Christmas Cards

Today we received another cheerful Christmas greeting with a photo of people we love, and I smile when I see it.

I've been pondering this all day -- we can put an envelope in a box and send it very reliably, even to and from obscure places thousands of miles away, for less than the price of a candy bar. And this particular envelope found its way to us even though it was addressed to our old place. Its cross-country travel, including the redirection to our current home, took only a week. Receiving mail is one of those things that is so easy to take for granted, but when I really stop to think, it's pretty amazing.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Powerful Alliances

I love the story of George and Alice in the TED Talk below. She was determined to solve a tough problem and he was determined to help her. These two very different individuals formed a powerful alliance, with world-changing results. As Heffernan says, "the truth won't set us free until we develop the skills and the habit and the talent and the moral courage to use it."

Heffernan: "I wonder how many of us have -- or dare to have -- such collaborators." I wonder this, too.

I wonder when in Heffernan's other story Joe began to recognize his allies, and how.

I wonder how we distinguish between allies and enemies.

I wonder if you have had someone help you like George helped Alice.

I wonder what the word conflict looks like, sounds like, feels like for you.

I wonder how you reacted to Heffernan's description of such collaboration as a kind of love.

I wonder what problems you have to solve.

I wonder who you might invite to help you by disagreeing with you.

I wonder how we can best enjoy the benefits of those who think similarly while also guarding against forming echo chambers.

I wonder how often I prioritize my own comfort above what truly matters by avoiding what has the potential to be productive conflict.

And I am grateful for the "Alices" and "Georges" and "Joes" in my life -- individuals who intentionally engage, who bring their whole selves to our interactions, who are attentive enough to recognize our differences, loving enough to speak authentically, intentional enough to communicate effectively, and trusting our relationship enough to disagree.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Advent Hope

On Sunday we lit one candle of the Advent wreath, bringing first light to the perimeter of the circle. This small flame will be joined by the remaining candles as the story continues to unfold through the coming weeks, but we're not there yet; it's not time.

This lone candle shining quietly on the wreath represents hope. Hope is not the expectancy of assumption or entitlement, but it is recognition that good may yet come about even in what seems like a very dark time. Hope's strength is most truly known when the outcome matters deeply and remains yet to be seen.

Such hope resonates with my soul, especially as I walk together with others through seasons marked by darkness of depression, grief, anxiety, health issues, unresolved conflict, bitterness, addiction. As I sat pondering the hope candle on Sunday, I thought of people I love in the midst of such times. In some of those situations, the light of hope is still just a flicker, but great light begins with a flicker, and I am abundantly grateful for such hope.

"The people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land
of the shadow of death
a light has dawned."

Monday, December 3, 2012

Advent Wondering

We've been reading the "Anticipate" devotional for Advent this year. When we reached the first "I wonder..." question in the part written especially for families with children, Mark and I looked at each other with wide-eyed expressions and gleefully exclaimed "Batman!"

It was a shared memory from early in our married life, soon after we moved to this area. The two of us had begun leading a children's worship program called Stories of God at our church. Created by a denomination more liturgical than ours, each week's lesson followed a consistent pattern, which provided wonderful structure for working with these 4-7 year old children. Part of that pattern was the "wondering time" -- thoughts posed at the end of the story to help the children connect with it. Similar to questions, the thoughts presented during wondering time were meant to model exploring a parable for meaning rather than simply dictating it.

I don't remember which story we were telling, but probably The Good Shepherd, or maybe The Lost Sheep. Anyway, it was definitely a sheep story, because the first wondering question was this: I wonder if these sheep have names? The children looked at me with puzzled expressions. They were quiet for several moments as they considered the question. Then one's face lit up with excitement as he responded: "Batman! I'll bet one of them is named Batman!" At that, the whole circle of little faces lit up, each with similar ideas.

I suppose this is what the child development experts talk about in those education and psychology texts when they describe the "concrete stage of development." For the most part, young children simply are not ready to come up with the more abstract understandings of parables on their own. As a result, the "wondering time" was a fascinatingly unpredictable part of a generally routine Sunday morning program. Sometimes the responses went far afield, occasionally they found fertile ground, and usually they were somewhere in between. And ultimately, it was in the midst of such variety that I discovered their great value. After all, there's not much point to asking questions we already have all the answers to. Really good wondering time provides space for the unknown, nudging us past simplistic answers and cultivating our souls for growth.

Advent and Christmas are seasons of wonder. Not every question has a clear answer, but authentically pondering them can be significant. Like I learned while leading Stories of God, I want to experience wonder and grow up into it, to pursue understanding while leaving space for mystery.

I wonder where I'll see God at work during this Advent season.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


I have a Ticket to Ride app, a.k.a. "the train game." The computerized players aren't too bad but are generally pretty beatable, so it's nice to have "achievements" to shoot for, too -- usually something about staying within specific, stricter limits, which tends to require adjusting one's approach to win.

Hey, look!  I achieved something!
This concept of achievements is a common theme in game app development. The word suggests meeting a challenge and calls the player to something beyond the usual.

A different game I've played incorporates "missions," which seems to be their attempt at the same idea. The implementation in that one is mediocre, though. A few of the "missions" call for actual skills, but most read merely like a to-do list (e.g., construct eight four-letter words), and a few are blatantly non-challenging (e.g., request hints). Ugh. Why did the programmers even bother creating such goals?

The thing is, even without being well-designed, this tactic manages to increase player engagement and keep people playing longer than they would otherwise. We more readily squander time as the game renames our efforts in terms of "mission," as if we were doing something important.

As much as I'd like for all of this to be about game design, it's not. It is much more about human drives to find meaning and significance, meet challenges, do something extra, go beyond the ordinary. When channeled appropriately, such drives are a great gift. Unfortunately, it is easy to instead become distracted toward focusing on "achievements" and "missions" and "badges" -- externally defined goals completed for some lesser purpose -- at the expense of those things which truly matter most.

Setting aside my to-do list for awhile earlier in the year was a worthwhile experience, and continues to shape my thoughts each day. I'm still learning to persistently measure my moments based on what matters rather than being drawn back to the black hole of The List. I do enjoy when I have a bunch of tasks completed at the end of a day. Still, the truest joy and satisfaction come when I can look back and genuinely know I've lived the day well, approaching it the best I know how while persistently attentive and prepared to change course when God prompts to do so.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Not Car Sales

I'd been thinking awhile about trading in my car for something a little different to provide options for other ways a vehicle could be useful at this stage in my life and ministry. I found one online that was interesting. It still looked good after a bit of research, so I went to check it out. It still looked good after a test drive, so I went to the sales guy and we started talking.

He used the usual sales techniques, of course -- offered water, started high, made conversation, sought rapport, and all that. The weirdest part was when he asked me to sign a paper saying that I would buy the vehicle if we could agree on price and terms. Isn't that the definition of car shopping? And the whole thing took forever.

From what I've read, lengthy waiting is one of the tricks of car salesmen in negotiation as they "take it to the sales manager." I could understand the other tactics, but this was was truly perplexing, so I did a search later to find out how that is expected to help the dealership. Apparently it increases the anticipation and therefore the desire...? Huh. That was decidedly not my experience. Instead, my irritation grew with the increasing sense of manipulation and disrespect. Added to that, I was left waiting with a proposed trade-in value that was absurdly low.

Meanwhile, as the sales guy went back and forth between me and the sales manager, I pondered the proposed trade-in value and thought about my car. It has served me well. Nothing fancy, just good mileage and very reliable. I've had it for over six years and 100k miles. Much has happened in that time, and this machine has faithfully gotten me to and from a lot of significant moments.

It'll be time to trade it in eventually, but thanks to the sales guy's technique of creating long delays, I've got a new appreciation for my good little car, and I'm in no hurry :)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Redeeming Leaves

I always feel a little guilty raking leaves. The tree invested months in making those, and it seems a shame to just toss them away. It's not like I'm grabbing them off the tree, of course; they've already served their purpose and have been shed. But leaves are meant to fall to the ground and decompose into the soil, providing nutrients for future seasons of growth. When I rake and haul away the pile for the sake of appearance, I short-circuit that process.

As human beings, we go through "seasons," too -- cycles of growing, investing, producing, shedding. Moving always forward through time, we are not meant to try to hold on to the unchanging "leaves" of experience, but rather to be transformed, acknowledging the past and allowing it to feed the future rather than simply hiding it away for the sake of appearance.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Making Time

While planning a trip, I contacted friends who live in the area where I'd be traveling. I wasn't going to be there long, and they're busy too, but I hoped to at least stop in for a quick hello, even if just a few minutes and a hug. "We'll make time," they said, and that's what we all did. In the end, it wasn't quite what we'd planned, and that was okay. I was grateful for opportunity to see them and catch up a little with the unfolding story of their lives.

"We'll make time." What beautiful words! We've been heading into "the holiday season" for a few weeks now, and the next five weeks tend to be busy ones within the culture where I live. It is easy to get caught up in that and lose sight not just of the story of Jesus, but also his nature. I've been learning, though, and prioritizing better. Our house will be decorated simply, our meals uncomplicated, and my task list adjusted. I look forward with anticipation to the coming weeks, and especially to time spent with others -- in cheerful celebrations, mournful moments, conflicts and struggles and whatever else this time brings. Jesus was not just physically present during his time on earth; he was thoroughly present. That's the model I want to follow.

I saw this post yesterday-ish and have been thinking about my priorities in the upcoming weeks. Watching The Muppet Christmas Carol is on the list, and maybe even The Hobbit. We'll decorate our home with a nativity set and Christmas tree. I'm aiming to do some baking with friends, look at Christmas lights with Mark, and play games. A couple of gatherings on the schedule will be good for catching up with folks I don't get to see much, and others for closer friends. I'll spend time with some more personally, too, in homes and coffee shops and probably hospitals. I love the whole Advent season at church, and especially look forward to the Christmas Eve service.

I am reminded of this statement from Dallas Willard:

"We can learn how to act quickly without hurrying.
Quickness is an attribute of action.
Hurry is an attribute of the spirit."
(article here)

Yeah, this will be a busy season, and I am learning how to respond in the busyness without rushing, to prioritize, to create regular space for silence and prayer, to re-orient my soul.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Pausing to Reboot

My computer periodically starts to hiccup for no apparent reason, and there's really nothing to do about it except reboot. The interruption is not what I wish for, but it is brief and usually enough to bring my computer back to clarity again, and very much worth the investment of time.

I'm a bit like that, too. My thoughts periodically start to hiccup for no apparent reason, and often the best solution is to simply reboot. It sometimes feels like opportunity stolen from something more important, but it is usually enough to bring me back to clarity again, and very much worth the investment of time.

I am grateful for Sabbath, holidays, and vacations, and I am grateful for power naps.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thankful: Garbage Collection

I rolled the trash can out to the street on Monday evening, and by the time I looked out the front window on Tuesday morning, the can was empty. It's one of those "little" things that is so easy to take for granted -- and it isn't "little" at all. The mere existence of trucks which lift huge plastic cans and dump them easily into a collection bin is pretty impressive. An infrastructure which allows for bringing such trucks to collect trash from each neighborhood each week at a reasonable cost is even more amazing. I imagine there are some awkward spaces to navigate, and I know there are employees hard at work early in the morning, in all sorts of weather. Yep -- garbage collection is definitely on my thankful list!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thankful Jar

My folks have a thankful jar. After Thanksgiving suppers of recent years, we have gone around the table telling what we're thankful for, dropping in a popcorn kernel each time. The "rules" are fuzzy and flexible; nobody gets booed away from the table if they mix it up a bit.

Mom told of Grandma C's influence toward gratitude through her words and example. As Grandma was losing functioning in various areas during her older years, including becoming less verbal, people at church would greet her and ask how she was doing. Grandma didn't have a lot of words available to her anymore for engaging in in-depth conversations, but would consistently pause and then reply with a smile, "I'm grateful." I don't remember those interactions, but I do remember that attitude in her.

We've got a ways to go yet to fill our family's big thankful jar with those itty-bitty kernels. I'm okay with that. After all, the process of getting "there" (filling the jar) means lots more days of gratitude, and that's a pretty good place to be.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Fear and Boldness

Q is at doggie daycare today. I trust that he'll get comfortable and happy there, but he's still kinda anxious. He was pulled in by his collar last time, which added to the anxiety. He seemed more settled when I picked him up later in the day, though also leaped over the fence to reach me when I picked him up, and stayed quite attentively nearby for the rest of the evening. When I took him to daycare this morning, he walked into the building happily and sniffed excitedly through the gate where several dogs came to investigate our arrival, but backed out anxiously when the gal tried to take him in to play. I picked him up and carried him in, which seemed to help... until I left. Oh, the sadness. He did not want to face this without me; he wanted the safety of the familiar.

I, on the other hand, think the doggie daycare place is great. The critters there play together with good folks leading their "pack." They have plenty of water, a clean place to run and jump, and even furniture they're allowed to climb on. I dropped him off with confidence that he would be just fine. And as he begins to feel more settled over time, he will have lots of fun playing there. He will learn to interact with other dogs and will have new opportunities in other places, too.

I've been thinking about Q this morning, about his anxiety and my confidence at the doggie daycare place. It is good to be aware of his fear, and respectful of him in it, to be gentle and kind. It is good, too, to not be ruled by his fear, and to also help him to not be ruled by it.

That is a good reminder as a human being. It is natural to be anxious in new situations, especially when it's unfamiliar and has lots going on. Such situations are often more difficult in times of transition. There is nothing wrong with that fear, and it may be appropriate to engage more cautiously when uncertain, and to seek support from others. It is good to be aware of fear and respectful of fear, both in myself and others, without being ruled by it. Engaging with both caution and boldness, we can learn and grow, and eventually even grow to enjoy the experience.

Oh, and the process can be exhausting -- a nap can work wonders!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Attentive Gratitude

What would we do if the stars came out only once every thousand years?
No one would sleep that night, of course.
The world would become religious overnight.
We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God.
Instead the stars come out every night, and we watch television.
(from Ralph Waldo Emerson)

It is so easy to take for granted our blessings, to become distracted by tasks, to feel overwhelmed by struggles. In the midst of all that, it is good to pause and give thanks for that which seems so ordinary. The Thanksgiving holiday is in recognition of this, I think, setting aside space and time to pay attention, to recognize and  appreciate blessings, and in the process to train ourselves toward gratitude all year long.

A number of my Facebook friends have been doing daily (or daily-ish) gratitude posts. I like that idea, and am glad for their posts, for the reminders to be thankful and for the opportunities to share in joy. I haven't been posting daily thanks, but join in here with gratitude:

Modern medicine
Fuzzy socks
Leaves replenishing the soil
Time with my parents
My husband
Transformation of hearts, minds, lives
Power naps
Food preservation
Intergenerational relationships
Written language
Digital photography

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Carried Treasure

A recent conversation sent me looking for a photo on my phone. Phone cameras have improved so much in recent years, and have become so commonly carried, that snapping photos has just become part of everyday life. I found the photo I sought in those moments, and later made time to glance through the remaining ones. It was like a treasure hunt, except it was treasure I'd been carrying around in my pocket for a year. Here's some of what I found:

Transport of something HUGE! I watched for quite awhile.
Never did figure out what it was, but it was amazing.

Quote found in papers while moving

Enlarge this and take a look at the list of ingredients.
Starts with "lamb lungs" and moves on from there.

The fact that such a genre exists... oh my...

In airline catalog

Pile of mostly-junk mail awaiting us after Bangladesh

I drew this. I liked it. I saved it.

About half the German army seemed to be
flying Southwest on that particular day.

"We live life as if it were a motion picture. Loss turns life into a snapshot.
The movement stops; everything freezes." (Gerald Sittser)

Looks weird, sounds worse.
Surprisingly tasty!

Definitely stir before drinking.

Rock/wire art


And there are 1700 more photos where those came from! Cemeteries, curry powder, cows, snails, dogs, dilated eyeballs, big trucks, big rocks, inflammation, sports, Pittsburgh, platypus, a cookie fortune, feet, food, flowers, family, friends, funnies, furniture, fallen fence, fake firewood, and a bunch more. It looks like a random assortment, and not particularly interesting.

Except to me.

Phone photos often come with stories; they represent people, ideas, metaphors, experiences, all significant in some way. I am grateful for memory, and for this little "carried treasure" of photos.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Lint Hazard

I cleaned out the dryer vent awhile back. I've heard it's a good idea for increasing drying rate, reducing costs, and preventing fires. After forty-five minutes, a screwdriver, several vacuumings, and a bit of blood loss, I could see why such cleaning matters. All told, the pile of lint I pulled out was about the same weight as a tank top. Itty-bitty, impossibly fine fibers caked tightly together with coarse yellow fur.

I found myself pondering lint, stuck with lint images in my head. There's got to be a metaphor here, or some other redeeming feature, right? Probably something about otherwise-insignificant things becoming a hazard when not dealt with over time, or colorful variety becoming a dull gray mass when clumped together without design, or gradual disintegration of self as little pieces of the whole become detached just a bit at a time.

Lots of connections to significance in those. Perhaps something about attention to detail, conflict resolution, each person being both unique and connected in community, the distinction between melting pot and stew models of diversity, or loss of integrity.

Of course, it's also pretty nice sometimes to just look at the dryer and think "ooh, clean vent!" and be happy.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hi Q

Recent days have been pretty eventful for the dog -- shelter life, adoption, neutering, road trip, another veterinarian, respiratory infection, new home and neighborhood, and a visit to doggie daycare with a whole bunch of new friends. And now, as if that weren't enough, he has a new name. We've been talking about changing it since we got him. "Buster" was okay, but not quite right. So, after a week of discussion, his new name is "Q":

It's physics, ministry, games, and poetry all in one. I like it.

Dog identity
Physics, ministry, and fun
Hello dog: "Hi Q!"

Thursday, November 15, 2012


I read this yesterday:
"I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink.  I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face." (3 John 13-14a).

It was written long before automobiles, long before airplanes, long before video calls. To "talk face to face" was no quick and easy task, and John's decision to engage more personally rather than by simply adding more words to the letter points to something significant.


Constellation Orion
Light moves fast -- somewhere around 700 million miles per hour.  Numbers like that certainly sound big, but so big that their bigness seem to lose meaning.  After all, what is 700 million miles?  So instead, we tend to express the speed of light as a more understandable unit: 186,000 miles per second.  Still hard to imagine, but at least it's in range of something mildly familiar.  In other words, light travels fast enough to go the entire distance around the earth about seven times in one second.  (Yeah, I know the earth isn't flat and isn't a vacuum.)

Measuring distance in light-years feels a bit like measuring weight in gallons -- there is a logic to it, but not necessarily the usual logic.  One light-year is the distance light can travel through a vacuum in one year (therefore around 5,880,000,000,000 miles).  In comparison, the sun is around 8.3 light-minutes from the earth (therefore around 1/63,000th of one light-year).  The next-nearest star is over four light-years away.  That is, even traveling 186,000 miles per second, light would take over four years to reach the next-nearest star after the sun.  So -- light moves fast, but space is big, so the magnitude of light-years makes more sense.


Going back to John, I've learned to "measure" significant conversations in terms of distance: How far am I willing to go to approach this conversation in person?  Maybe I'll call it "conversation-miles." Some interactions are just best done face to face, and are worth the investment.

I don't know what John anticipated talking about face to face, but whatever it was, I love that he made the distinction and made it clearly, and I love that it mattered enough for him to show up in person.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Another Voice

I have been blessed with a number of mentor-type people especially in recent years, folks that are both willing and capable of offering perspective and wisdom in the midst of challenges. A year in the hospital environment reinforced the value of consultation, too. So when stymied while wrestling with a sticky question recently, I considered seeking the perspective of a mentor. One person in particular came to mind.

What was my core question, and what information was relevant to the situation at hand? I pondered these as I prepared to call. Putting words to my situation, I knew from experience what kinds of questions and comments would likely come in return, so I considered those, too. This mentor's voice, even just in my head, challenged my motives and spoke difficult truth. By the time I'd established clearly my question and the relevant information, I realized the appropriate path was clear and the call no longer necessary.

That imaginary conversation was wonderfully helpful! Even though it didn't actually happen, it was still based on reality. Our past interactions have helped me to think in new ways and to ask myself the kinds of questions this person asks, so when something came up, this other "voice" guided my thoughts toward correction, new insight and conviction. I am grateful for such people in my life, who provide wisdom needed not only in specific situations, but in the process even speak truth for situations which haven't yet even developed.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Defining Important

My computer's "Support Assistant" interrupted my work to tell me -- in bold red letters -- of Important Actions Needed. And what kind of important? "Take immediate action to help maintain your computer's stability or security." There was something about protecting the hard drive and improving access to driver updates.

Oh, and Netflix.

Since it knew I'd already allowed myself to be interrupted by the Important Actions Needed, the Support Assistant also used that interruption to suggest a few other little adjustments that are recommended but clearly less important, like a BIOS update and something it described as determining whether the system is functional enough to use the operating system.

It had seemed previously like the Support Assistant had been aiming to help me keep a stable system on my laptop. It was plausible, anyway. There is clear business reasoning for helping customers stay happy with their products, one of those things where their goals may correlate to my goals in mutually agreeable, mutually supporting ways. But it looks like maybe they're going in a different direction now, blurring the line between "we want to help you" and "we want to conquer the world with you in it."

There's something to be learned here about priorities and communication, because sometime, somewhere, somehow, someone made the decision to categorize Netflix in the high-priority get-it-fixed group, and the whole system lost credibility in the process.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Space in Between, Part XIV: Winter

Much snow has fallen in the past couple of days. Our neighborhood has been quiet, giving a sense of retreating indoors for a time as the ground clears, and choosing less often to venture out. Winter is like that -- long nights, persistent cold, and commonly traveled pathways sometimes turning hazardous. It brings a sense of hibernation and waiting, of time passing slowly in between seasons of growth. I am reminded today, though, that fallen leaves are even now replenishing the soil, and falling snow again building up the water supply, and while the results may not be seen for months to come, winter still nurtures growth.

Life sometimes feels "wintry" too -- long nights, minimal warmth, hazardous paths. It is good sometimes to venture out regardless, and good sometimes to pause awhile. While the benefits are often not seen until awhile after the struggle, I am reminded today that even fallen fruit of the past can nurture the soil for growth, and present hazards may yet nourish that which is to come.

Winter is not my favorite season in weather or in life. I tend to get impatient waiting for signs of new growth. But today I choose gratitude for the in-between seasons, too.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veterans Day, Observed

Today is Veterans Day, and tomorrow is Veterans Day Observed. To observe is to watch, to notice, to be attentive. That is what I hope we'll do in these days -- not just focus on hearing and speaking words, but also genuinely pay attention to the soul beneath, to hear the hearts in the stories of veterans whose characters are far more complex than the two-dimensional imagery so often used to represent them.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Grateful for Snowplows

My car was covered with a thick layer of snow when I left the house early this morning. It was cold out, and dark, and I was tired. I was suddenly grateful, too, as I thought of the whole herd of folks who had been up through the night driving snowplows. "Yeah, that's their job," says some voice, and I suppose it's true... but that's no reason to dismiss the joy. I have been grateful all day for home, heat, electricity, and snowplows, for the infrastructure which supports all these and more, and for people whose work provides such comfort and security.

Friday, November 9, 2012

11,479 Words

My nature leans toward deliberative, which has its advantages. It also seems to be hard-wired in me. While respecting this, I want also to broaden the ways I think, which calls for attention to further developing use of language. With such ideas in mind, I decided a couple of weeks back to try out a practice of a brief daily morning writing. My goals were simple -- focus, discipline, consistency, and fluency. Not necessarily profundity, but simply getting words quickly formed into sentences and paragraphs, at least 750 words at a time.

Goals achieved!

Flamingo, Cheetah, Hamster, Rooster

It has been a good exercise. The flamingo was easy -- just show up faithfully. But showing up faithfully is an important start to much in life, so I celebrate the flamingo! The hamster represents focus, and required continuing to write without being drawn aside by circling thoughts, internet distractions, breakfast, or whatever. I want to cultivate such focus in other areas of my life, and pursuing the hamster has helped give name to those things which distract me most. The rooster marks the discipline of starting early, which is more difficult as the weather grows cold and my body begs to hibernate, but I know that a consistent morning start sets the tone for the remainder of the day. And the cheetah was just a bonus :)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Second Impressions

Buster and I made the drive back home, arriving last night. I introduced him to the house and yard. (There is a verb I've been seeking to describe his movement, but it's just not coming to me. It's not prancing, not leaping, not running, not walking, not trotting. Darting, perhaps? At any rate, he was excited, quick, and agile.) It would be tough to get any work done while watching him, but I hadn't planned to get any work done last night anyway. He threw his ball, chased it down, and threw it again. He wildly slurped the water offered and then shoved his face into the food dish, sending kibble flying in all directions. When bedtime came, he slipped readily into his crate and slept well through the night. I enjoyed his energy, though felt a little weary as I imagined it 24/7.

Buster has been quieter today. He was manageable on our early-morning walk. Back at home, he has gone joyfully outside a few times, but mostly curled up and slept at my feet. He clearly has energy, but has been so well-behaved. I've been encouraged today; this will be easy!

It seems too good to be true. And, as it turns out, it probably is too good to be true. My snuggly, sleepy, well-behaved puppy went today to the vet, who agreed with my assessment that Buster's behavior is unexpectedly lethargic; he's probably feeling kinda lousy right now due to an upper respiratory infection. We came home with medication to treat it, so he should start "feeling like himself again" -- I'm still not sure what that is like -- within a few days. I imagine he'll stay snuggly and sweet, but there may be some adjustment to the sleepy, well-behaved part.

And I am reminded again of people whose paths I cross just briefly in the course of everyday life. It is natural to form impressions quickly, as if momentary encounters are reliably representative of an entire person. Yes, they sometimes are, but not enough to hold such judgments tightly. Like with Buster, I want to be attentive to the wholeness of the people I encounter in everyday life, alert to both "positive" and "negative" signs which may sprout from deeper layers of experience rather than just allowing little snippets to define their character in my mind.

Perhaps it is true that "you never get a second chance to make a first impression," but we can give each other the grace of choosing to develop second impressions.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Meeting Buster

This is Buster. I saw his photo online, read the description given, and inquired, but a few still photos, a partially-read book about pointers, and words from strangers were not enough. What was missing from all that was the dog himself -- a unique, multi-dimensional creature with genetics and a history all his own. It was time for a trip in that direction anyway, so I decided to visit him to consider bringing him into our home.

I wanted to discover him within the context of relationship, to make a decision based on that reality rather than on breed summaries or on someone else's interpretation of this particular animal. Pointers tend to have a strong hunting instinct, endurance and energy, intelligence, loyal character, and bond well with families, including children. But what about this dog? How would he respond to us, to those of all ages who enter our home, to other animals? Would he follow our leadership? How much exercise does he need? What kind of training? What else would help him fulfill his potential in our home?

The online description -- basic obedience, leash-trained, housebroken, a few tricks -- definitely included some exaggeration. He pulled hard on the leash, walked underfoot, and at one point slipped out of his collar to investigate a cat. He sat on command... sometimes. It wasn't clear whether he didn't know "down" or simply wasn't willing. I didn't bother testing "stay." While not officially housebroken, he did seem motivated to take care of business outside. In fact, that seems to be a hobby he undertakes with great joy.

The photos, online description, and interactions with shelter volunteers seem to describe a different dog than the Buster I met. I was looking forward to meeting such a dog and would have quite readily brought him home. In the end, though, I chose to adopt Buster -- the real version, not the exaggerated one. We made the trip back home today, arriving this evening, and now the real work begins -- establishing roles and expectations, learning to communicate effectively, and establishing good routines. It'll be a process.

Welcome home, Buster.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Bangladesh: Refreshed

The drive to the Nampa area is familiar ground. I know the places to stop for gas and snacks, and I've got a pretty good idea where the various rest areas are in between. As I made the drive recently yet again, I was thankful yet again for not just cars and freeways, but rest areas, too. Those are things I've grown up knowing, and it is tempting to take them for granted.

While traveling in Bangladesh earlier this year, we didn't have those luxuries, but we were offered hospitality by wonderful people who welcomed us and helped us to feel at ease in their country.

Driving back to Dhaka after about a week of travel, several of us were nearing time when we would need to stop. We mentioned this to the local minister accompanying us that day, and he called ahead to one of the CDCs we had visited earlier. They would welcome us to use their latrines.

When we arrived, I was still thinking like an American, I suppose -- stop the van, jump out, return quickly, and be on our way again. But this was not the long-distance-travel rest stop I've grown accustomed to. Several of those serving in the CDC stopped what they were doing to come and greet us at the gate, to welcome us into their space and spend time with us as we waited for everyone to finish.

Then, as we stood there, they offered us tea! "It is a long trip; you need to be refreshed." We were on a schedule; they respected us by acknowledging the time and offering a stand-up tea time in the courtyard rather than a seated one inside. Invitation accepted, the men carried out a large table while several women brought out the delicate china with hot tea and sugar. We all sipped the now-familiar tea as we shared stories together. Those were moments marked by laughter, smiles, and a genuine sense of presence, and I was refreshed indeed.

I remain quite grateful for public rest stops on the long stretches between developed areas in my own country. And I am newly grateful, too, for the generous spirit of hospitality I saw displayed so beautifully on that day in Bangladesh. As one experience symbolic of so many others, too, that "rest stop" is one of my favorite memories from that trip.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Seeing the Obvious

I was sitting in the Salt Lake airport a few years back, working on something-or other while waiting for a flight to somewhere-or-other, when someone standing by the window made one of those surprised noises and a group of people moved quickly to join him. It wasn't immediately clear what they saw, but whatever it was, they were clearly excited about it.

What was going on? Was there a problem? I paused my work to watch and listen for clues. I learned this was a bunch of optometrists in town for a conference, and they were looking at the mountains -- the same mountains that have been standing strong and beautiful in that spot for many, many years; the same mountains that I had taken for granted and learned to ignore.

I looked beyond the group and beyond the windows to the mountains in the distance. They really are beautiful.

Sometimes it takes someone coming in fresh to "fix" my vision so I can see what has been there all along.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Feeling Random

NaBloPoMo didn't quite work out in October, but I still like the idea for similar reasons, and am trying again. So I've sat down to write today... how many times? I've lost track. But my mind has been other places, meandering through lands where words don't line up in orderly sentences, and even fragments scatter at the slightest breeze. In this land, I appreciate the limits and structure of Haiku:

Sun rises, sun sets
Mountains, valleys, tunnels, plains
Landscape of my soul

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Delight in Surprise

'Tis the season for giving thanks, and here's another: I love a really good flash mob.

It's like the healthy twin brother of crime shows, because here's the usual plot -- people are going through everyday life in some common, crowded place when something a little different happens, interrupting the usual-business-of-life stuff. It might be a single instrumentalist, a computer error message, a spill, or even just sudden stillness. Folks nearby are usually the first to notice, of course, and the effect spreads as bystanders become aware that the ordinary-looking people around them are not ordinary at all, and the often-faceless mass of the crowd suddenly takes on its humanity again as those who had been preparing for those moments inject surprise and delight into an otherwise-ordinary day, and the bystanders enjoy the experience, some even joining in with dancing or singing a familiar song. It's like a veil is lifted and something beautiful revealed. And then, often within just minutes, the assembled crowd begins to disperse, returning back to their usual-business-of-life activities -- but changed, even if just a little, by that glimpse of often-hidden beauty in the midst of the ordinary.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Unhindered Gratitude

At a denominational event several years ago, a woman I'd never met saw my nametag, approached, spoke my name, and hugged me tight. Then, through tears, she explained -- it was my name that drew her, because someone with my family name had shared faith and love with someone in her family or other such connection, and she wanted to say "thank you."

I embraced her in those unexpected and precious moments. The name wasn't even mine until I married into it. I had no part in the story she told. And, best I can tell, she was talking about something that happened nearly one hundred years ago. But the expression of her gratitude was not going to be hindered by such details.

As I remember that brief experience, I find myself shaped by it still, and am reminded:
  • Be grateful. Gratitude is recognition of a gift as a gift -- something given not from obligation, but springing from good will. Cultivating genuine gratitude combats entitlement and pride, and instead brings about joyful humility.
  • Leave a legacy. This woman's story is not just her own; it has the imprints of so many more throughout the years -- a few she knows, many she doesn't. A kindness shown a hundred years ago continues to matter in many lives, including now in my own.
  • Remember the story. The story she told me on that day must have been told many times before, passed on from generation to generation as loved ones have talked together about the people and events who have been important to them. Even awesome stories are easily lost without such telling -- and that is a great loss indeed.
  • Rejoice together. "Joy shared is joy multiplied." When she shared her story with even me as a stranger, she gave expression to her joy. And when I heard it, her joy was contagious. Even now, over three years later, I smile at the memory.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

November 1

I woke early this morning and went to write as I watch the sun rise over the mountains. It is the start of a new day, a new month. I am grateful yet again for time.

I've seen more sunrises in recent weeks, usually from my office or living room. I had already known intellectually about the tilt of the earth, its rotation through the day and revolution through the year. It's different, though, to wake each morning and experience the sun having meandered further down the mountain range, another reminder of both change and consistency.

Looking back, I'd planned to post daily for a month, then didn't. There is still merit to the idea; I'll try again, symbolic of and grateful for fresh starts.

Monday, October 29, 2012


I have been intrigued this morning by the idea of The writing process is significant, a means of discovery cultivated by formation of words. First for myself, occasionally also for others, it helps bring clarity to what I think, feel, believe, hope. I want to become more fluent with such words and, as with spoken language, development of fluency requires practice.

So the writing part is obvious, but why

First, the format. Incomplete little notes are scattered about my world -- grocery lists, people to call, tasks to complete, quotes, sprouted ideas, barely-planted seeds of ideas, metaphors, and more. I like the thought of writing "to think out loud without having to worry about half-formed ideas, random tangents, private stuff, and all the other things in our heads that we often filter out" before putting them to words. While I'll surely keep jotting random notes, a quick morning writing exercise may help to sort and sift thoughts, or at least store them more searchably for later.

Starting Small:
the Egg
Second, the badges. While not convinced that I'll do the 750words thing for an extended time, I do intend to use it as a means of developing ideas and language. Sometimes writing is easy, other times not so much. Badges are a goofy little way to mark achievement of goals, adding fun to the process. I've named three to pursue: the Flamingo of Consistency, the Hamster of Focus, and the Early Rooster of Discipline.

Finally, the analysis. Seriously -- check out the site creator's page of graphs and various other tidbits. I love this stuff! Participants' writings are automatically analyzed, too, more like this. The mix of subjective experience and objective analysis is fascinating. The reliably quantitative parts are seasoned with qualitative estimates which may not be accurate but serve rather as interesting thoughts to ponder.

Yeah. Even if it's just for ten days, I like this idea.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bangladesh: CDCs

I've always been intrigued by the theory of child sponsorship programs that help care for children in need through food, clothing, education, etc. It's a great idea, and in terms of strategically applied compassion -- that is, going beyond feeling sympathetic and doing something truly useful to meet genuine needs -- such programs have a lot of potential.

I've wondered, though -- what are they really like? Is the implementation truly strategic? Genuinely compassionate? Do such centers actually bring to fruition what the literature promises?

Mark and I traveled to Bangladesh earlier this year with a handful of others. While there, we had opportunity to visit several Child Development Centers (CDCs) supported through Nazarene Compassionate Ministries (NCM) -- playing with the children, hearing stories of the country and villages and families and individuals, eating and singing together. We had lots of opportunities along the way to talk with a number of program leaders, too, to ask lots of questions and discover what kinds of things they think about as they develop the various programs.

It was amazing!

Tahmina speaks Bengali fluently

These are a few of the sponsored children.
They are learning English, and doing very well!

I tried really, really hard to learn to count to 10 in Bengali.
The kids tried really, really hard to teach me.
Still can't do it, but we had fun.

These CDCs provide children with five meals each week. It's not just food for the days; they study and work to provide nutrients often missing in the children's diets, and teach the families how they can do this, too, using inexpensive, locally available products. This is helping to improve the overall health of entire villages.

Food Security Program

Preparing food for many
Families of many of the children cannot afford basic school supplies, and even young children are often put to work earning money for their families. CDCs provide education to those who otherwise would be unlikely to receive one, including social, spiritual, and cultural activities. This helps not just with their immediate needs but also gives them tools to help their families, their villages, and ultimately their country for many years to come.

Uniformed school children. The school prepared a special
program for us, with dancing, singing, recitations, etc.

School books

The young woman in red performed one of the cultural dances

School children gathered

Some lessons are expressed quite well through visuals!

Music is important in the culture and education

The school children were very attentive...

... and enthusiastic :)

Play equipment

Caring for the physical health of the children is woven through the programs, including stuff like sanitary latrines, sanitation education (e.g., use of latrines, hand washing, etc.), tube wells, medical check-ups, frequent treatment of intestinal parasites (a significant cause of childhood death there), and more.

The well next to one of the schools

Sanitation matters. Even simple latrines save lives.

The programs are run by Bengali people. They know their culture ,
working within it and through it. Here, two actors put on a play to teach
sanitation and other health-related topics in the center of a village.
Advertising not necessary -- when things like this start, people show up.

Music added to the draw and to the teaching

The gathered crowd seemed to enjoy the program

The children are protected, nurtured, sheltered. And beyond all that, they are given love and affection, new experiences, praise and recognition, a sense of belonging, and more. My favorite part of the whole trip -- which is saying something, because I loved it all and was quite impressed by how the programs provide for educational, physical, social, and spiritual needs -- was seeing the leaders' fierce love for the children, and the children's fondness for the leaders.

And there is so, so much more.

It was an incredible experience to see the Child Development Centers in action, not just appreciate the idea in theory. They are created strategically for effectiveness and sustainability, coordinated and run by passionate and gifted Bengali leaders who know their culture and love their people. They're doing great work and doing it in sustainable ways. The world will never be the same. These child sponsorship programs are a phenomenal investment.