30 January 2017

The Illusion of Control

There was what some have labeled "a terrorist attack" in our town last night. One or two armed men went into a mosque at the end of evening prayers and started shooting. Six dead. Several more injured, some gravely.

I spent a nice chunk of time today listening to radio commentators discuss the event, listening to some of my Quebecois friends talk about the event, listening to my daughter explain how orchestra practice today was watching a movie because the teacher was stressed and distressed by the event. Each of these conversations was characterized by disbelief that such an event had happened here, and by a trepidation of what else might happen - of what such an attack signified for their future.

People here, at least for the next few days, will feel unsettled and as though life seems out of control. Distant events and tragedies that only happen in far away places on the news just happened down the hill. It isn't supposed to happen like that - and unless you live life like a roller coaster junkie, most don't like that feeling, especially when it touches things that are valued and precious, like life. When terrorism and violence strike close to home (i.e. less than 10 miles from my house), you get a healthy glimpse of what is reality for many in this world.

It makes people used to the insulation very uncomfortable, indignant and wondering if their world is careening out of control.

It is - if they are wondering about their ability to keep "life" under control.

One of the things I learned quickly after moving overseas was that most of the control that I thought I had was, in reality, nothing more than illusion.

The first time I felt terrorist activity hit close to home, the owner of a radio station where Tim had some of our weekly radio programs broadcast drove over a bomb buried in the sand, in town, in Niamey. He died. The next day we were warned when driving on unpaved roads to make sure you followed the clear tracks of a previous vehicle and to never drive through loose sand. At first it was scary. Then it became habit, one that I didn't even realize was so ingrained until we moved back to the States and I actually drove down a dirt road. I felt uneasy and didn't know why until I realized that it was because I couldn't follow any tracks - it had been too dry and the wind quickly did away with any tracks.

The next time, two expats were kidnapped from a restaurant, literally just down the street from our doctor's office and a few blocks distant from our organization's office.

Next, it was watching helicopters fly up the river, by and over our house, fighting terrorists who'd captured several cities in the northern part of Mali.

Then it was the admonition to take a different path to any regular place so that habits and patterns weren't obvious.

Or having soldiers search through the groceries in the back of the car because we lived within the security perimeter surrounding the US Embassy.

Or having our pastor call us and tell us to stay home from church because they feared expat presence might further draw attention to their worship service.

Or being told to shelter in place the day my parents were to arrive for a visit. There'd been a prison break, and no one knew for sure what was going on in town. My biggest fear was that we wouldn't be able to get to the airport to get my mom and dad.

Or receiving a message from one friend still serving in Niamey that another friend from a sister organization had been kidnapped by terrorists.

The nature of these sorts of events is that usually, you don't know you are in danger until it is too late. There is no way to know. You are going about life, not engaging in any sort of risky behavior and then...

I don't fear terrorism. I despise it. My heart aches for those who've lost because of it, for those touched by it, for those who feel they have to resort to using it. I don't want such violence to touch me or those I know and love. I don't want it to touch anyone, anywhere. I think there are things we can do to be wise and to minimize danger. But apart from God's protection and His decision that He still has things on this earth for me to do, I don't think I can control if such an event happens to me or not. Not by where I choose to live. Not by who I choose to allow into my life. Not by who I choose to try and keep out of my country.

What I do fear is the potential influence that such events have on those around me, those who still live with this illusion that some formula or set of procedures will give them control and keep such an event from taking place in their town, or from harming them or someone they care about. Those aren't bad desires, but decisions and procedures and policies that develop out of a spirit of fear - that is the real power given to those who choose to manipulate by terror. "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but has given us His Spirit, who fills us with power, love and sound mind." (how one back translation of 2 Timothy 2.7 - my life verse - has been rendered, but I don't remember which one any more).

I fear the me-first, sensationalistic and materialistic world - and what my children are learning as they become adults in a society that worships self, fame, money, sex and power. I fear that even with diligence, it will creep into our worldviews, and? We. Won't. Even. Notice.

As I was talking with one of my girls about the events that transpired in Quebec City last night, and the reactions she saw at school today, she made an interesting observation: "Mama, we aren't like other religions. We don't need the government protecting us because we already have an all powerful Someone protecting us." We have God on our side.

I'm not in control. It isn't a comfortable feeling. And I don't want to imply that I've figured out the right course of action to take. But what I've been reading of late makes me very, very uncomfortable...

Not being in control isn't nearly as scary as wondering what consequences there will be if we allow fear to become the motivating factor in our decisions - all to try and maintain some illusion of control.

photo credit: gmayster01 on & off 

photo credit: P. Marioné 

24 January 2017

Last time for THAT moment with the last one of my gang

I love teaching. 

I'm passionate about teaching middle school. Fourth through seventh or eighth grade - some days you get the elementary school student, some days you get the high school student but on most days you get the student who's wandering back and forth between those two and totally clueless.

And I love it.

I do enjoy teaching younger children, but not with the same passion... unless you want to talk about teaching little ones to read. 

Or, teaching anyone of any age to read. 

One of the most memorable moments of my life was when, after working with a 60+ year old Zarma woman in Niger for over two years, she haltingly read a primer version of the story of Ruth from the Bible. As she struggled through the words, all of sudden all of the syllables and sounds came together and made sense. She looked at me, her eyes filled with tears of wonder and she emotionally said, "I know this story. It's from the Bible. It is the story of Ruth and Boaz. I'm finally, for the first time ever, reading God's Word for myself. It isn't a pastor or teacher or man reading it to me." I cried, too.

I've been so privileged to work with each one of my children as they've learned to read - either teaching them before they started day school or working with them in the language  they weren't using at school. For most of them, that has been reading in English. For a few, it has been reading in French.

There are so many moments. 

That moment when the code is finally deciphered and the learner realizes that those scribbles on the paper actually translate to sounds they use all of the time when speaking - and mean something.

That moment when reading transitions from struggling and halting and hesitant to fluent.

That moment when the words turn to real colors and smells and tastes and sounds and sensations, both palpable and emotional.

That moment when it is no longer simply reading aloud someone else's words, but interpreting them -and making it personal - to develop them into the story the reader wants his or her listener/s to hear.

That moment when God's story, as revealed in His Word, suddenly transforms from two dimensional to three and finally four or more dimensions, whe the reader is able to have his or her mind blown by His incredible-ness, His so-different-from-mere-man-ness, His powerful-ness, His bigness, His loveliness...

Mary Michelle experienced that last moment, for the first time, tonight. 

She was reading from the Jesus Storybook Bible. I just love its subtitle - every story whispers His name - but I digress. 

She read the following words: 
In the beginning, there was nothing. 
Nothing to hear. Nothing to feel. Nothing to see. 
Only emptiness. And darkness. And... nothing but nothing. 
But God was there. And God had a wonderful Plan.  
"I'll take this emptiness," God said, "and I'll fill it up! Out of the darkness, I'm going to make light! And out of nothing, I'm going to make...EVERYTHING!"  
Like a mommy bird flutters her wings over her eggs to help her babies hatch, God hovered over the deep, silent darkness. He was making life happen.  
God spoke. That's all. And whatever He said, it happened." (p. 18)
As she was reading aloud to me, I noticed that somewhere along the line, she's picked up a tiny touch of a southern accent (like me) - the only one of my gang, apparently, who has. Every single time she read the word "nothing," it sounded more like "nuthin' " This tiny twang showed up in every single -ing word. This fact makes me smile!

But back to the point. She read the above words, gradually slowing, and finally she paused. I thought it was because she was looking at the illustration or waiting for me to turn the page. Maybe. 

I was wrong she turned to me, and in that moment, the total awe on her face was priceless.  

She said softly, her voice trembling a little bit, "Mama, if God didn't have the idea to make people, you wouldn't be here. I wouldn't have you. That would be really sad," as her little hand reached up to cup my face and pull me closer to nuzzle.

I responded, "Hey, if He hadn't made people, you wouldn't be here either."

She startled, then giggled, "I guess that's right...." and her voice trailed off. I stayed silent because it was obvious she was thinking.

"I guess that means He didn't just make the world and the universe and all that stuff out there. He also made words and ideas so that could tell us about Him. Oh Mama! I'm so glad God made words and that He put the words in a book so I could learn about Him. And tell you I love you. And it's even okay that He made French words, too."

That moment! Witnessing His Spirit work in the lives of one of my children? It ranks right up there with the very best of all experiences, ever!

Will she remember the details of this conversation in a few days? I don't know, but I'm pretty sure that, in that moment, God just became exponentially "amaizin'-er," in her eyes. In my eyes, too. At the same time, her view of Mama decreased. I'm so glad that process is starting to happen.

In any case, there's no doubt whether or not I'll remember these details of that moment. I want to. I need to. 

That's part of the reason I put them down here. 

For posterity.

21 January 2017

Five Minute Friday ~ Just my opinion, but I think our process of distilling information needs some serious refining.

Friday, yesterday, was President Trump's inauguration. I didn't watch it. I had an incredibly busy day, was feeling a bit under the weather, and while I think watching would have been a good thing, it didn't make it high enough on the priority list for me to try and make it become a logistical reality.

Social media reactions, however, have me mulling some things over.

In particular, I've been considering the extreme and opposing responses to his inaugural address. Looking at my feeds, I have to wonder if everyone actually heard the same speech, for how could the same 1456 words lead to such absolute extremes of reactions and understandings?

At one end of the spectrum are those convinced he loves the USA and that life will improve dramatically as he begins to actually follow through on his campaign promises. At the other end of the spectrum are those convinced he is selfish and inept and that if he even starts to do anything he threatened, our country cannot survive. 

Clearly, words aren't offered up on a clean slate. 

Rather, our understanding and interpretation of words spoken or written by another person is influenced by more baggage that we typically care to admit. Things such as:

  • personal agendas;
  • perceptions, right or wrong, of the person wielding the words;
  • previous interactions with the actual words used or with the person using them;
  • proper awareness of the context in which words are used;
  • prior understanding of topics discussed; 
  • actual mode of participation in the conversation;
  • grace and pardon one is willing to offer to those whose words provoke unwanted or undesirable results; and/or
  • pliability in accepting those who view things differently.

I could probably expand that list further if I had more time or if more "p" words were coming to mind

I still haven't watched the inaugural address. 

But clearly, most of us need more practice at recognizing that no one is a neutral listener. 

We all favor our own personal agendas as we listen and interpret the speech or the writings of another and our abilities to set those agendas aside to really hear first needs q lot of refining.

photo credit: Geoff Livingston 
The U.S. Capitol Building Readied for the Trump Inauguration 

19 January 2017

How Dare We !!?

Do not gloat when your enemy falls;
when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice,
or the Lord will see and disapprove
and turn his wrath away from them.
(Proverbs 24.17,18)

I'll never forget how physically sick I felt the day a dangerous individual who had harmed others and sinned greatly died, or more accurately - was killed, and my Facebook feed was littered with celebration.  Many rejoiced saying that said individual deserved even worse than the consequences already received.

True enough. I really can't argue that.

Justice HAD been served.

The celebration, however, broke my heart. To know that a soul, one most likely not prepared to stand before God, had entered eternity unprepared? No longer did any opportunity exist for a change of heart for that individual. And people who love Jesus with abandon apparently felt no sorrow that a soul was now condemned to hell.

Actions have consequences. Absolutely! 

In fact, the consequences of my actions make hell a just destination for me, but for God's mercy and grace.

Sometimes I forget that. 

When I get all caught up in the hating of an antagonistic adversary or despicable foe, I totally lose sight of the fact that the only reason I only look any different in God's eyes than does "my enemy" is that because He sees me clothed in Christ's righteousness. Somehow, I start suspecting that my own righteousness and efforts are impressing the Almighty, if only just a little bit.

When that mindset creeps in, when I realize that I'm glad - rejoicing and celebrating because of another's 
  • tottering,
  • wavering and weakening where there was once strength,
  • stumbling and falling,
  • fainting,
  • bereavement, 
  • being cast down, 
  • decaying, 
  • failing, 
  • feebleness, 
  • ruin
  • death?
I do not please God.

The only thing I can think of that begins to compare in my own life is when I see one of my children delighting and gloating in the deserved comeuppance of a sibling. Discipline is necessary and so critical as parents disciple children, but it pains to see one I love so much suffering through shame, guilt, conviction and/or consequences. 

It pains just as deeply, though, to see another one of my children enjoying their sibling's sadness, making merry as another reaps the aftermath they've brought on themselves. The more godly response would be sober sorrow.

Sober sorrow, however, must be the evidence of God's grace. This proverb warns, "Do not let...," words which remind me that rejoicing in another's just consequences or punishment is the natural and worldly-fleshly-sinful response. 

It is God's unfettered grace that enables His own to "not let" rejoicing ensue at the demise of a real or perceived enemy and to genuinely sit awhile with sober sorrow.

1st photo credit: adedip via photopin cc
2nd photo credit: Amarand Agasi via photopin cc
*originally published here, and slightly edited  and republished here.
Still convicting thoughts I regularly need to revisit, so revised and published once again..

06 January 2017

Five Minute Friday ~ Connect

The first thing that actually came to mind when I saw today's Five Minute Friday word, connect, was one of its antonyms: sever.... or the French word sevrage - which can refer to any sort of separation, but I specifically remember it because I heard it A LOT when weaning my kids, each time we reached that stage in life with one of them.

It was hard and often uncomfortable then - even thought right and normal and good...

But the sevrages of this season of life, as we coach from afar our young adults busy about this business of adulting are even harder and more uncomfortable than I ever dreamed.

And just in case you are wondering - the idea that it gets easier after they are out and  more or less successfully adulting on their own a bit? That's hogwash!

We just spent a fabulous 10 days back in Michigan with our extended families... but especially with Brendan, Rebekah Joy and Nadia. It wasn't ALL the sweet smells of cinnamon, vanilla and roses: siblings argue, parents forget and try to insist on things they don't have a right to insist on with their young adults (old habits do die hard), feelings get pinched a little when big sibs run and hang with friends instead of little sibs... and then Mama teases back to make sure big sibs understand that... And then there's the queue for the bathroom when SOMEONE is taking too long, stinky foot smell when someone removes their shoes in close quarters and suffocates the family, disagreements over which game or which TV show, etc.! But all that's just normal family stuff. And there were those really precious moments: surprise sweet 16 planned and organized mostly by big sisters for little sis, thoughtful presents, big bro-little sis dates at Barnes and Noble, lots of snuggles and tickles and good natured teasing, as well as some fierce fights via computer gaming, some dancing (the Macarena to Brand New Day... all eight of them, in the living room) and lots of KPop and animé.

Saying goodbye on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning - that was HARD. And UNCOMFORTABLE. They've all got big life decisions looming: deciding where to go to school, looking at what to do after school and starting to think about what things need to line up for that next step, considering changes to the original next step, thinking about a missions exploration trip, securing a job in chosen field to fund continued studies... In the immediate, one has a long trip back to campus in potentially nasty weather while the other two drive in nasty Michigan winter weather for the next few months.

Tears were abundant.

The more precious the connection, the more painful the sevrage.

I don't always like it; but, I am always okay with it. 

It is right and normal and good. And exciting.

I'm so proud of my adulting young'uns... even as they make mistakes. They are brave, strong, full of fascinating ideas and hopes for future, and most of the time, trying hard to make good choices. They're still learning much about letting God be the only one on the throne of their lives, but then so am I.

I couldn't be prouder.

I can't wait to "connect" again - even though the sevrage that time will still be every bit as hard and uncomfortable.

As it should be.


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