Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Gift of Encouragement

I recently started learning to play the guitar.  I already knew how to decipher written music, so now it's just a matter of converting that knowledge into coordinated guitar sounds.  The mechanics are not complicated -- simply strum rhythmically with the right hand while distorting the left hand into impossible, ever-changing shapes.

I'm not very good at it.

This week was my third lesson.  "Like this," said Mike, and I watched his fingers shifted nimbly from one formation to the next as chords rang clearly from his instrument.  "Now you try," he instructed, and I looked at my own hand with dismay that I could no longer will my ring finger to move from one place to another.

Mike, though, was undeterred.  When I butchered chords, he refrained from commenting and paused quietly as I worked to fix them.  He was not entirely silent, though; he noticed and commented when one of my fingers began to behave occasionally as intended.  And, by the end of the thirty minutes, he had listed several exercises which are challenging enough to help develop new skills while still being somewhere within the realm of what might become possible.

Mike is helping me learn new skills and to troubleshoot when I have difficulty.  I appreciate his teaching.  Perhaps even more, I appreciate his encouragement.  I rarely need to hear from him what I am doing wrong; the guitar itself gives clear voice to my errors.  But, especially in these early stages of learning, I value his patience.  When I feel discouraged, I can borrow his hope.

I am grateful for folks like this -- people who recognize difficulties while neither ignoring nor pointing them out unnecessarily, who see both an individual journey and common markers along the way, and in all of this, who lend courage for next steps.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Encountering Nature, Part 7: Armed

Chris was stung by a lone flier. Then, a few weeks later, Joel discovered a bunch of its buggy friends who had been making their home on the edge of our back porch, near the children's play equipment.

They surely were not malicious or evil, but they still presented a threat.
Asking them nicely to go away simply did not work, but this did:

This stuff is amazing. One second of spray,
immediate effect, threat neutralized.

It's tempting to wish all of life's battles were so easy.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Doing Dishes

I traveled with three friends to Colombia and spent a week there. We stayed in the home of Vincent, Alyson, and young Wellington. They were gracious hosts -- not just sharing space, but truly helping us to feel at ease there. They shared their lives with us and invited us to share our lives, too. They translated language, provided guidelines for safety, explained cultural matters, and answered many, many, many questions along the way.

Food is significant to culture, connecting to such factors as climate, geography, history, politics, economics, and celebrations. Alyson planned a lovely variety of meals, introducing us to all sorts of fascinating and wonderful Colombian foods. I loved returning from our various adventures and other excursions to sit around their table for conversation over the meals she had prepared for us.

Our group did the dishes. It is a small thing, but it was something we could do. I was glad for the opportunity to join in with the everyday workings of the home, each having something to contribute and all aiming to work together. We made no formal arrangements, no schedule. We just all knew what needed to be done there and all were capable of doing it, so one would start gathering dishes after each meal, and another would join in soon after.

I enjoyed those simple times together.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Returning Each Year

It was perhaps around fourth grade that we were introduced to etymology -- the study of word origins and how they develop.  I was fascinated.  As a child, words simply existed, and the concept that they hadn't always been so was a totally new idea.  Thirty years later, I am still intrigued.

Etymology represents changes which seem small yet point to something quite significant.  New ideas require new words, and in turn, new words shape thoughts to form new ideas.  Word origins also suggest relationships between people groups past and present, as new words are almost always derived from old ones.  Etymology may also provide renewed perspective of meaning.

We celebrate our anniversary this week and, word nerd that I am, I looked up the etymology of "anniversary."  It comes from Latin, with the meaning of "returning every year."  It brings up the question: returning to what?

We return every year to the past, recognizing where we've been as we look still toward the future.  We remember when we met, those awkward early days of getting to know each other, the growing love between us, the consideration of marriage.  We celebrate again that special day sixteen years ago when we vowed to commit to each other for the rest of our lives.  We recognize that we have become different over the years of our marriage, and we honor that, too.

In the busyness of life, it would be easy to become distracted, to forget where we've been and neglect where we're going.  I am grateful for anniversaries, when we intentionally pause to return to the past as we continue moving into the future.

And I am grateful yet again for Mark.  He is a good man.  I am glad to be married to him, glad for his place in my life and my place in his.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


This caught my attention while waiting the other day:

That's a pretty big speaker, physically heavy and acoustically powerful, one of several lined up in a relatively small space. These stand boldly near the entrance, creating expectation of high energy and high volume.

It's not the speakers alone which captured me, but rather the pairing of them with the sign beneath commanding "SILENCIO."

Metaphors abound.

Friday, August 10, 2012


As we oriented in Colombia, we met a handful of people who would become significant to us during our week there. They would have roles as hosts, translators, tour guides, teachers, and more. Wellington was one of those people, and he is an ambassador.

An ambassador is a mediator of sorts, moving within the space between groups and helping to bridge the gap between them. Wellington and his American family are immersed in Colombian culture, honoring and integrating both.

At three years old, he is developing language simultaneously in both English and Spanish. Translation for others is modeled often, and he is beginning to recognize that different people and different groups communicate in different ways, sometimes needing help to reach understanding. He likes books, cars, wrestling, imaginative play. He connects with others naturally. He sometimes engages in conversation, and having him around often triggers other conversations, too.

Wellington is not merely a side note in his family, nor a hindrance to their "real" work. Rather, by simply showing up as himself and blooming where he is planted, this little guy is a blessing to those around him.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Encountering Nature, Part 6: Entropy

Parts of our lawn are a beautiful deep green while other parts had been turning brown and dry, so we went out to run the sprinkler system through its cycle and see what we could see. I discovered that one of the sprinkler heads had become blocked by a tree branch which had grown thick in the middle of the spray, blocking the water from a section of lawn. I found other stuff, too -- weeds which had appeared from nowhere to make their home in the bark, bushes beginning to encroach on sidewalk space, grasses taking root in cement cracks.

Of course, this is the normal stuff inherent to caring for a home with the unnaturally imposed order of flower beds, little bushes, and trimmed lawns. It happens gradually, appearing in my irritation as if the plants are being sneaky, pretending not to be claiming their own turf and calling it home.

Here's the thing -- living things change; it's just what they do. Fixing the sprinkler system and setting it loose to do its work without periodically checking in is just foolish. Pulling weeds from the flower beds and assuming they'll stay tidy is unrealistic. Cleaning the house and returning from vacation to find it dusty should not surprise me.

And here's another thing -- we human beings are living things, too. We change; it's what we do. This is true individually, and the effect often is magnified interpersonally. Establishing patterns of relationship with others and continuing in those without periodically pausing together to evaluate and adjust is foolish. Addressing a conflict and assuming all will stay perpetually smooth is unrealistic. Engaging again after a time without interaction and experiencing some hiccups along the way should not surprise me.

As we continue to work toward bringing order back to the physical property of our home, I want to care better also for the landscape of my own soul and the landscape of my relationships -- attending appropriately to changes and adjusting accordingly, removing "weeds" of distraction and broken relationships, cultivating the soil of genuine love and truth.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Lines in the Tile

We toured La Casa de Oracion on Friday as Vincent, Alyson, and Sandra helped us get oriented. Sandra has been involved here for some years and knows it well. I loved hearing the story and seeing the space. Sandra told us of this congregation's history, and as she did, my attention was captured by the floor.

It doesn't match. And not only does it not match, but it is not even very close -- different design, different colors, and a dark seam between the different sections. If this were my church or home, I can't help but think we might try to hide that, going to significant expense and trouble to make sure the floor surface were the same. And, in the process, we would lose part of the story.

Those lines of the floor mark significant times in the combined life of this church -- times of struggle, decision, transformation, new direction. Each of those seams marks a threshold between what had been and what would be as God has brought about growth in so many ways. These seams help keep us from the error of forgetting that the present could not exist without the path leading to it. Together, they honor the past while pointing toward the future with hope and expectation.

Similarly in life, there are thresholds characterized by struggle, decision, transformation, new direction. It can be tempting -- perhaps fueled by fear, shame, grief, or even simply the neglect of nearsightedness -- to cover over those times, 
to redo the "ground" so that the stories of our past blend in with and match the present. But in the error of neglecting to recognize and honor the path of the past, we disrespect our own stories which hold significant line-in-the-sand moments that matter deeply.

I am reminded this week of such moments in my own life, and reminded also of what others have shared with me about their experiences, parts of the paths which have contributed to where we all find ourselves now. I am grateful for such history, and want to keep some healthy "seams" around to remind me to honor what God has already done and to and look toward the future with hope and expectation.