A Great Friend I Never Met

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A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene Peterson, Translator of The Message  -     By: Winn Collier

The book, “The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson: A Burning In My Bones,” by Winn Collier, came today. I just now finished reading the preface, gazed at the map, buzzed through the contents, and read the introduction. Haven’t even read the first page of the first chapter of Part One and tears already fill my eyes. Why?
I never met Eugene Peterson but for seventeen years, a group of women got together weekly at 6 A.M. to read and pray through the Psalms, and Eugene joined us there — in a way. Each week we read one psalm in the NIV, or KJV, or NESV, and then we read the same psalm in The Message, the paraphrase of the Bible written by Peterson. What happened next around that kitchen table was up to the Holy Spirit. It was always unpredictable, surprising, and lively. The room was filled with worship, prayer, singing, meditation, discussion. We wept, laughed, got angry, questioned, rejoiced, and very often one of us would say, “Would you read that section in The Message again, please?” We loved the perspective Eugene Peterson brought to our time in the psalms. His rendering of the psalter gave us great delight and plenty of fodder for deep reflection.
After 17 years of weekly fellowship around a table, Bible at the center, coffee cup in hand at the crack of dawn, we women came to know one another pretty well. I felt like I knew Eugene Peterson, too — his tempo, his imagery, his heart. I mourned deeply when he died in October, 2018. I reminisced about the early morning coffee, conversation, prayer and scripture we had “shared” for almost two decades. I was going to miss him. And yet, it was a great comfort to know that even though he himself might be gone from us, The Message he wrote for us was still here.

I am very grateful to have the opportunity to get to know Eugene Peterson better through Winn Collier’s biography, “A Burning In My Bones.” Reading will begin tomorrow morning. The coffee will be ready by 6 A.M., if you care to join us.

What’s in a Name?

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A Facebook friend shared that she sent a letter to a well known writer in response to an article he posted at his website. The article included a reference to Emily Webb Gibbs, a character from the Sinclair Lewis play, “Our Town.” My friend’s comment triggered a memory of my high school classmate, MerriJo Morton*. MerriJo was a member of my sophomore class when we went to see Lewis’s play “Our Town.”  The character Emily Webb Gibbs made quite an impression on her too, as you will see…

My high school American Lit class was given free passes to a production of “Our Town” at the Seattle Rep as part of an arts appreciation effort directed toward Seattle area high school kids. One member of our group, MerriJo, was not the least bit pleased about going to see the play but was glad to get out of the standard classroom setting for an afternoon. We were all in our seats, the play ready to begin when MerriJo, unhappy and feeling stifled in the theater, began to get noisy and somewhat disruptive. Her behavior generated scowls and urgent whispers of “Shhh!” and “Sit down!” from teachers and classmates alike. 

 Once the play started, MerriJo relaxed and became attentive to and engaged in the stage presentation. No one knew just how engaged she was until the moment in the play when it became clear that the main character, a young mother named Emily Webb Gibbs, had died. Shocked and obviously upset, MerriJo suddenly sat up in her seat and leaned toward the stage as she keened, “No-ooo! No-ooo!” This time, her noisy outburst was met with compassion, tissues, and hugs. Many of the students in the audience were weeping, but MerriJo was the only one who let her feelings truly, intensely, enter into the action of the play. She had crossed the threshold from a passive observer in the audience to a fully involved participant in the story.

On our way home after the play, there was plenty of discussion about what we had just experienced at The Rep, and MerriJo spoke with a seriousness that no one had seen in her before. The play had affected all of us, but it had changed MerriJo.

MerriJo’s emotional reaction to the death of Emily in the play initiated several surprising outcomes. First, it improved some opinions about MerriJo, herself. She earned a new level of respect that day because she illustrated to us how powerful the arts can be, even for someone who was not particularly interested in them.

Second, MerriJo’s grief-stricken response to Emily’s death drew attention to the importance of the ghost-Emily’s question in the play – a question which also happened to be the central theme of the play: Does anyone truly understand the value of life while they live it?

And finally, thanks to MerriJo, I think the actors in that presentation of Seattle Rep’s “Our Town” went home happy, maybe even saying to themselves, “Mission accomplished.” 

True story. 

Has a work of art ever been the source of a profound impact on your life?

*Story is true but the name MerriJo is not.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell — a book review

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Did you know that William Shakespeare had a son named Hamnet? “Hamnet?” you ask, “Not Hamlet?” Correct. Apparently the names were interchangeable in Shakespeare’s day. Author Maggie O’Farrell learned of Hamnet’s existence from her high school English Literature teacher and was so struck by this information that she never forgot it. Move ahead thirty years: After many delays and much research by O’Farrell, the book Hamnet was published in 2020 by Alfred A. Knopf. And what a book it is.

Like a master impressionist artist, Maggie O’Farrell paints her novel about a family and village in plague ridden, mid-sixteenth century England with such exquisite color and beguiling detail that the reader’s mind becomes saturated with the image-rich, emotion-filled story. Of the heart-rending moments in Hamnet, and there are many, the most poignant is the death and burial of a child. O’Farrell’s ability to make deep, mind-fracturing sorrow tangible is astonishing. Keep the tissue box close by, dear reader.

In Hamnet, O’Farrell portrays the inner and outer worlds of Agnes Hathaway, more often known as Anne Hathaway, wife of William Shakespeare. Not that William Shakespeare is ever named in the book, because he is not – not once. We know that the person who is Agnes’ husband is Shakespeare because it is common knowledge and in the story we see Anne’s strangely distracted, bright husband grow into his profession as a playwright. But O’Farrell has chosen to focus her attention on Agnes, and she builds a fascinating, multi-dimensional story of this woman who, according to an interview with the author on Damien Barr’s Literary Salon (March 4, 2021), has seldom received esteem from either historians or novelists. With stunning skill and obvious respect, O’Farrell has made Agnes the undisputed hero of Hamnet.

An aspect of the book that feels oddly familiar due to COVID-19, is the brooding backdrop of the Black Plague. In one chapter, O’Farrell follows the journey of a plague-infected flea from southern Europe to a final landing place in small English town, where it proceeds to bite and infect many inhabitants. In our own time of Pandemic, this record of the transfer of infection from one country to another, from one person to another, was particularly relevant and uncannily spooky.

I read Hamnet some time ago and was so bowled over by it that I could not immediately articulate my impressions of the book. I have found that when I cannot process my experience of a book in words, I must go to another art form to describe the encounter, which is why there is the reference to pointillist art in the opening paragraphs of this review.

Now, I would like to try to describe a strategy in O’Farrell’s writing by comparing it to the wax resist method of dyeing cloth. Wax resist is a technique used in producing vibrantly beautiful batik fabrics. In the Indonesian batik method for dyeing whole cloth, wax motifs are applied to cloth before it is dipped into vats of various colors of dye. The dye does not penetrate the wax, thus “wax resist.” This results in dazzling designs appearing on the cloth at the end of the dyeing process. In Hamnet, there are times when what Maggie O’Farrell does not say creates the most astonishing impressions. Combine this “word resist” skill with the lively colors and rich details of O’Farrell’s narrative, and just as in the beautiful batik fabrics, the final effect of her writing is pure magic. Treat yourself to an extraordinary book — Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell.

How Much Was That?

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HI Claudia! How are you?

Thought I would share this book-related experience with you.

Over the many winters that we have spent in AZ, John and I have enjoyed dining at a little family-owned café in Mesa called Mangos. They serve wonderful Mexican food and also have their own homemade fruit drinks called Agua Fresca. For these drinks they use cantaloupe, watermelon, mangos, lemons, limes — whatever is in season. The fruit flavor is incredible! It’s as though you have put a straw into a freshly opened watermelon or pineapple and sipped up pure nectar. Bliss!

Right next door to Mangos is a  second-hand book store called Book Gallery. I have wanted to visit this store for a long time. Last week we made an unscheduled visit to Mangos and there was time to go into the Book Gallery at last. It resembles a lot of other wonderful old bookstores: Floor-to-ceiling shelves, numerous tables, and carts, and glass cases brimming over with bookish items. The possibility of finding hidden or misplaced treasures lures me into these venerable places.

I had a question so I looked around for help and spotted a proprietor-type person seated in a low chair behind the front, book-laden counter. This being the Southwest, I asked the young man if they carried anything by Wallace Stegner. He asked what I had in mind, and I said,

 “A first-edition of Angle of Repose.” 

He stopped for a moment to study me. Then he said,

“I don’t have one here, but there is one at our other store in Phoenix on Indian School Road. I am afraid it is rather pricey,” he apologized.

 “What do you mean by pricey?” I asked.

 “A first edition, unsigned, is $1,000.00.”

“Oh,” I gulped and hoped the alarm in my voice wasn’t detectable. 

“Come this way,” he said as he walked toward the area of the store that housed their Fiction collection.

I followed the salesperson up a wide set of old, worn wooden stairs and we maneuvered around neat stacks of books to a well-lit corner on the second floor. I saw a small, white, rectangle of paper attached to a shelf. It had an “S” on it written with a Magic Marker.

The knowledgeable bookseller showed me their assortment of Stegner’s works in hardback, paperback, as well as various editions of his many books. None of them cost anywhere close to a thousand dollars, thank goodness. I bought three, all paperbacks: Crossing to Safety ($7), The Sound of Mountain Water ($4), and Wolf Willow ($4)

I had not read The Sound of Mountain Water or Wolf Willow, so I began Wolf Willow (full title, Wolf Willow: A History, A Story, and A Memory of the Last Plains Frontier) last night and was reminded again why Stegner is such a celebrated writer. Here are two paragraphs toward the end of the first chapter of the First Part of Wolf Willow entitled “The Question Mark in the Circle.” In this chapter, Stegner returns to Whitemud, Saskatchewan, just across the Montana border, in search of his boyhood identity. He has sought out the countryside, the river, the town, even his childhood house, but the essence of “home” and “self” eludes him. Then this:


“I pick up a handful of mud and sniff it. I step over the little girls and bend my nose to the wet rail of the bridge. I stand above the water and sniff. On the other side, I strip leaves off wild rose and dogwood. Nothing doing. And yet all around me is that odor that I have not smelled since I was eleven, but have never forgotten — have dreamed, more than once. Then I pull myself up the bank by a gray-leafed bush, and I have it. That tantalizing and ambiguous and wholly native smell is no more than the shrub we called wolf willow, now blooming with small yellow flowers.

It is wolf willow, and not the town or anyone in it, that brings me home. For a few minutes, with a handful of leaves to my nose, I look across at the clay bank and the hills beyond where the river loops back on itself, enclosing the old sports and picnic ground, and the present and all the years between are shed like a boy’s clothes dumped on the bath-house bench. The perspective is what it used to be, the dimensions are restored, the senses are as clear as if they had not been battered with sensations for forty alien years. And the queer adult compulsion to return to one’s beginnings is assuaged. A contact has been made, a mystery touched. For the moment, reality is made exactly equivalent with memory, and a hunger is satisfied. The sensuous little savage that I once was is still intact inside me.”  (p19, Ballantine Books, Comstock Edition, 1973)

Wow. Such skill! He has achieved in those two paragraphs what any memoirist would hope to capture in their writing, I think, and that is: “… reality is made exactly equivalent with memory, and a hunger is satisfied.”

Did I tell you we are in the process of buying a small house here in Apache Junction? I guess this means we will have more opportunities to enjoy Mangos and Gallery Books. We hope to be home to Zimmerman sometime in early May. 

I look forward to seeing you soon!

Much love 

Teri

Lifesavers

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Photo by Nina Uhlu00edkovu00e1 on Pexels.com

                                                 

My husband and I are spending the winter months in Arizona this year. Our residence is in the midst of several mountain ranges but because we are surrounded by houses on three sides, there is only one range readily visible — the Goldfield Mountains. Every morning since we have arrived, I have jumped out of bed and run to the kitchen to raise the white-painted, wooden slat blinds on the window, and in good weather or bad, with the sun blazing or gray, overcast skies, the magnificent mountains are there and they immediately raise my spirits. Why it is so marvelous to see the mountains each and every morning I cannot say, but it is truly uplifting.

Clouds are often in the panorama of the Goldfield range also. They glide by, hover over, or nestle into the caps and valleys of the mountains and soften the rugged peaks and promontories that are silhouetted on the horizon. From this distance, about ten miles away, the mountains appear calm, imperturbable. They seem to offer pleasant assurances and graceful dependability. But I know from trips up dusty mountain trails that they are truly rugged, steep, irregular, stony, and challenging. Does this make them less majestic? Not at all. But it does make me very aware of the potential hardships they can cause.

We are getting some distance from the year 2020 now, but when I take time to consider it, 2020 was like a trip into the mountains; it was rugged, steep, irregular, stony, and demanding. It seems that giant, boulder-like challenges appeared on our life-paths continually. Many days were filled with difficulty. Some days were devastating. Apostle Paul tells us that when the way gets tough, it helps to turn our thoughts toward good things.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things…. And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8

Why? Why turn our thoughts toward the good and beautiful and true things around us? Isn’t that simply sticking our head in the sand? No. This practice, through the grace of God, turns chaos into peace. It turns the possibility of enduring endless dark days into the promise of experiencing light and life instead. Written from a jail cell, Paul’s “list of things to think about” is a life-giving exercise for rugged climbs and hard times.

Author and podcaster Anne Bogel has taken Paul’s life-giving list and turned it into a question: *Once a year, Anne asks her listeners and readers, “What is saving your life right now?” What seemingly insignificant activity or item — a fragrant candle, a beautiful tablecloth, reading a favorite nonsense poem –  brings joy to your day, and provides some much-needed distance from the stony landscape of your daily difficulties? (You can read Anne’s 2021 list here: https://modernmrsdarcy.com/domestic-tasks-saving-my-life/).                                                 

   I think this is a powerful question that opens up an escape route out of a rocky situation. A lifesaver does not have to be expensive or complicated, it simply must bring you joy. When was the last time you sang a favorite song at the top of your voice? Or blew bubbles on your front porch?

The activity that is saving my life right now is the daily, morning view of the mountains from our kitchen window in Arizona. If you can think of something that is a lifesaver for you, take a moment to treat yourself to it, then call someone and share it with them. It just might save their life right now, too.

*In her blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy, Anne Bogel credits Barbara Brown Taylor with initiating the lifesaver practice: “The idea comes from Barbara Brown Taylor’s wonderful memoir Leaving Church. In it, Taylor tells the story of when she was invited to speak at a gathering, and her host assigned the topic: “Tell us what is saving your life right now.”

Where did I put that birthday card?

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My sister Pat, who is 86 today, has sent birthday cards to all our family members for decades. She is finally ready to admit that this self-assigned labor of love is getting the best of her. She read me a birthday note written to nephew Yoji Kono, whose birthday is in November:

“Dear Yoji,

HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY!

I know – your birthday wasn’t belated – this card is.

Besides that, this is my second try. I addressed the first version to ‘Dear Joe,’ (my nephew Joe Junttila.)

In my third try I said, ‘I think the world of you, Rob.’ (my nephew, Rob Hyrkas.)

Do you think I am confused?

Anyway, I hope you had a great time with your beloved family. ‘Hi’ to Genny and all.

P.S. I lost the card that goes in this envelope.

Lots of love,

Pat

P.P.S. Do you think that forgetfulness is a symptom of the pandemic?”

Happy Birthday to YOU, dear Pat, and thank you for the many wonderful birthday cards and loving greetings you have sent to all of the family for so many years. You are the best!

The Gift of Purple

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In our fellowship, the kids in Children in Worship learn about the church calendar through the use of a color wheel. Purple is the color of the seasons of Advent and Lent. Both are times of waiting and holy expectancy. The teacher of Children In Worship explained that whenever the kids see the color purple, a good question to ask is, “What is God up to now?”

A youngster from that class helped his dad take their garbage cans out to the road for the next day’s garbage pick-up. It was sunset. The youngster noticed the color of the sky and said, “Dad! Look! The sky is purple. I wonder what God is up to now?” *

What a great application of the color wheel lesson from Children in Worship. I hope I can incorporate that same exercise into my own life, and remember the meaning of the gift of purple.

*The story of the little boy who saw the purple sky was related by a Children in Worship leader at a training session in Princeton, MN, at Bethel Christian Reformed Church in 2014/2015.

A Place in the Choir

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I attended Mass last year at St John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN. Before Mass started I noticed a young woman had walked into the church with a service dog. The two sat in the front of the church – I sat in the back and a lot of people sat between us as the church was full that morning.

At the conclusion of the Mass, while we congregants sang the recessional, I heard a strangled cry, a sort of moaning, echoing from somewhere in the church. Having worked in health care for thirty years, my emergency response adrenaline kicked in and I searched the church for who might be in distress and may need help immediately. “Call 911” ran through my mind as I stood up in the last pew with my phone in hand, ready to go to someone’s aid. Then I caught sight of the service dog at the front of the church and realized it was this dear canine servant who was singing along with the rest of us, howling away, happily joining in. As the dog yowled merrily, I recalled the lines of a folk tune written by folk musician and singer-songwriter, Bill Staines:

“All God’s critters got a place in the choir

Some sing low, some sing higher

Some sing out loud on the telephone wires

And some just clap their hands, or paws, or anything they got, now.”

And some merrily howl along during the recessional at church. True story.

“The Mass is ended. Go in peace.”

Paul-A Biography by N.T. Wright

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Paul: A Biography

by N.T. Wright

The title says, Paul: A Biography, which is simple and straightforward. But if you surmise from the title that N.T. Wright’s latest book is a dry and dusty retelling of Apostle Paul’s life, you would be completely mistaken. Written in 2018 and published by Harper One, Wright’s newest book might best be described as a probing exploration of the dangerous activities of a world-class, mission-minded Torah teacher. It is, indeed, the breathtaking story of the perilous calling of Paul of Tarsus, the brilliant Jewish thinker and preacher who faced beatings, stoning, imprisonment and death for proclaiming Jesus Christ as Messiah. Thorough, gripping, fast moving, eye-opening? Yes. Dry and dusty? Nope.

In Paul, Wright wants to upset our entrenched notions concerning the Apostle by asking numerous personal questions about him: What was Paul’s life like as he was growing up? Why was he so dead-set against the early Jesus followers? Did he understand what was happening to him on the Damascus Road? After the Damascus encounter, what did Paul think he was doing when he set off on his travels and why was he so successful at achieving his ends? These and many other questions about Paul are presented and investigated throughout the book, but first Wright sets the historical/cultural stage so that the reader can interpret the circumstances of the events knowledgeably. The author writes: “[When] we try to understand Paul, we must do the hard work of understanding his context — or rather, we should say, his contexts, plural. His Jewish world and the multifaceted Greco-Roman world of politics, ‘religion,’ philosophy, and all the rest that affected in a thousand ways the Jewish world that lived within it are much, much more than simply a ‘frame’ within which we can display a Pauline portrait.” (10 Kindle)

In the early chapters of Paul, Wright snags the reader with this biographical hook:

“Paul’s letters give us a few tantalizing glimpses of his life, and this is one of the strangest:

   ‘When God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, was pleased to unveil his son in me, so that I might announce the good news about him among the nations–immediately I did not confer with flesh and blood. Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me. No, I went away to Arabia, and afterward returned to Damascus.’ ” (Gal. 1:15-17)KNT[1] (61 Kindle)

Wright looks at this somewhat odd statement from Paul and instead of giving the standard “Arabia was Paul’s first missionary journey” explanation, he opens a conversation about Paul and the prophet Elijah. Wright compares Paul’s zeal for his ancestral traditions to Elijah’s zeal to defeat the worshippers of Baal. He reminds us that it is Mt. Sinai in Arabia where the covenant between Israel and God was sworn and it is also the place where Elijah fled when Queen Jezebel threatened Elijah’s life after the defeat of the Baal worshippers. Mt Sinai in Arabia is the very location where the once zealous, now hobbled, prophet Elijah, receives his assignment from the Lord to go to Damascus, anoint new kings and appoint the prophet Elisha to take his place. Wright explains that in Galatians, “Paul says that ‘he went away to Arabia’ — just as Elijah did– and ‘afterward returned to Damascus’ — again just like Elijah….”

“The parallel with Elijah — the verbal echoes are so close, and the reflection on “zeal” so exact, that Paul must have intended them — indicates that he, like Elijah, made a pilgrimage to Mt. Sinai in order to go back to the place where the covenant was ratified. He wanted to go and present himself to the One God, to explain that he had been “exceedingly zealous,” but that his vision, his entire world view had been turned on its head. And he received his instructions, “Go back and announce the new king.” (64 Kindle)

Have you ever thought of the Apostle Paul as a prophet? I had never once considered that possibility until reading Paul: A Biography. Wright’s book is filled with these kinds of “wake up and smell the incense” moments in Paul’s life.

 In Paul, Wright chisels away centuries of rock-solid, predominantly European-Protestant notions about Apostle Paul and offers us a fresh, bold look at the first-century, religiously zealous, faithfully Jewish person underneath. This inside look at Paul’s life and culture, and particularly his religious upbringing and early influences, adds a wealth of understanding to Paul’s astonishing meeting with Christ on the Damascus Road. Wright titles his book Paul: A Biography in order to make it clear that he is not writing another historical/theological study about Paul and his letters — Wright has written four books on those subjects — but a volume that is “searching for the man behind the texts.” I believe Wright has achieved his goal.

By following a timeline, an ancient map and reading Apostle Paul’s writings, most anyone can form an idea about Paul’s life and travels. But Wright provides the background for Paul’s letters, poems and prayers; fleshes out his friends and enemies; and offers a passionate account of Paul’s successes and failures, fears and triumphs. The result is that Paul, who, in his letters, consummately proclaims the Lord Jesus Christ as Messiah, is himself masterfully and marvelously made known by N.T. Wright.


[1] The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation by N. T. Wright. (Harper Collins, 2011)

The Allure of Library Book Kits

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Have you heard about book club book kits? They are available from many libraries. Below are a couple of pics of a book kit from my local library. (The unreadable white sheet of copy paper on the table in front of the book kit bag is the Readers’ Discussion Guide. It has suggestions for ways to run a book club and ideas to help get the discussion rolling.)

BCBK’s contain 10-12 books – one large letter edition and one audio book, where possible – and a Readers’Discussion Guide in each kit. They are the only library “book” that has a return date that is six weeks from the date of check-out rather than three weeks. This extended period of time allows users to dispense the books, read, meet, discuss and return the kit, and pick up the next book kit so that the book club can meet monthly.

For those who want to join a book club but find buying a book every month financially prohibitive, or for people who simply prefer to use the library, BCBK’s are a super option. Laura, a librarian at my local library, said that the popularity of BCBK’s is becoming greater every year.

Maybe it’s time to start a book club using book kits? Check it out! 📚

Eavesdropping…

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I eavesdropped on this conversation between two little girls who were in the lobby of the local movie theatre today:

Little Girl #1: “Tolkien is the guy who wrote Lord of the Rings.”

Little Girl #2: “I’m NEVER going to see that movie. It has spiders in it and I’m PETRIFIED of spiders.”

Little Girl #1: (With great assurance) “You don’t have to be afraid. When we go to my Grandma’s house we see the same spider every year. He comes out from underneath her porch.”

LG#2: (Incredulously) “The same spider comes out from underneath her porch?!”

LG#1: (Calmly) “Yes. Every year. He’s really nice.”

LG#2: (Disbelieving) “Every year?”

LG#1: (Confidently) “Yes. We call him Fluffy. He’s really nice.”

LG#2: (Astonished) “You named the spider?!!”

LG#1: (Compassionately) “Yep — Fluffy. He might not be there this year. Someone might have sprayed the porch with spider spray. But he was really nice.”

Does it sound to you like Little Girl#1 just read Charlotte’s Web and is working on a sequel called Fluffy the Friendly Spider?

Stay tuned for next week’s episode of the continuing saga of Fluffy’s Porch starring Fluffy the Friendly Spider. (From the look on her face, I don’t think Little Girl#2 was convinced that spiders are really nice.)

Promises…

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It was Sunday morning before church when I saw it. It was resting in midair, between the rose bushes and our neighbors weathered garden shed. I thought it was an aberration of some kind – a mirage or a hologram or, God forbid, an hallucination. Perhaps it was a distortion of a lawn ornament — I was looking through the wire mesh screen of the sun porch, after all. But no, it was indeed a rainbow, a segment about 2 feet in length and 18 inches wide, floating in the spray of the neighbor’s lawn sprinkler.

What a breathtaking sight! I walked out of the sun porch, down the wooden steps, and across the dry grass toward the rainbow. It didn’t move or disappear as I feared it might. I took a short video of it, hardly daring to believe it would actually show up on my phone, but it did. I stared at the rainbow as it hovered. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I marveled and thought,  “Look how close God’s promises are to us. They are invisible most of the time but they are as real as this rainbow and as beautiful.”

Eventually, Ron, our neighbor, turned off the sprinkler and the rainbow disappeared. Still, I have the jewel-like image stored on a video clip, which you can see at the bottom of this page, and it is in my memory and in my heart, too.

A  dear friend, Tracey Finck, and I have been encouraging each other to look at life with a view to recognizing God’s “holy possibilities,” but the visit of the rainbow brought an additional way to look at our journey here: with the assurance of God’s holy actualities. God’s promises, which are as ancient as the sign of the rainbow, are not simply elegant theological statements, but they are also beautiful, dependable, and mysterious holy actualities.

And that’s a happy thought.

https://youtu.be/EChwmZfQszM

Leaving Your Mark Without Losing Your Mind by Mark Brouwer

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Leaving Your Mark Without Losing Your Mind:

Overcoming 7 Obstacles to the Important Work of Your Life

(Mission House Publishing, 2018)

by Mark Brouwer

Good answers always start with good questions. Here, from author Mark Brouwer, are some good questions that were the basis of his book Leaving Your Mark Without Losing Your Mind:

“When people are drawn to do important work to help others, what is it that:

  • causes them to quit?
  • diminishes their effectiveness?
  • prevents them from even starting in the first place?”

Drawing on years of personal experience in spiritual leadership, coaching and recovery group leadership, and insights from mentors in his field, Brouwer has responded to those questions with solid, valuable answers.

Early on, Brouwer presents this caveat: “Be prepared to read more about problems than solutions. This book is organized around seven roadblocks that prevent or interfere with our engagement with meaningful service. As you read, you’ll likely notice that I spend a lot more time describing each problem, and much less time suggesting remedies…. As Charles Kettering put it: ‘A problem well stated is a problem half-solved.'”

Brouwer does an excellent job of defining the roadblocks to meaningful service in these seven sections: Losing Touch With What You Really Care About; Getting Overwhelmed by the Needs You Encounter; Struggling With Not Having Enough Time; Living With Confusion; Stress Burn Out; Conflicts and Difficult People; and Discouragement. But he also includes plenty of helpful, immediately applicable suggestions for dismantling some barriers, even if you are not in leadership. In Section 6, Brouwer writes about the feelings of discouragement that can arise in a community from frequent conflicts with difficult people. His comments about how to approach conflict and what it means for a community to achieve harmony rather than unity are important, constructive words that can be used in many situations.

If you are navigating a rough patch in your calling as a leader right now, pick up a copy of Leaving Your Mark Without Losing Your Mind: Overcoming 7 Obstacles to the Important Work of Your Life by Mark Brouwer. You will find this book contains thoughtful advice for individuals, delivered with sensitivity and a sense of humor. It also presents help for teams of people in the private or public sector by examining how systems and organizations work – and don’t work. In addition, Leaving Your Mark offers guidance from one who lives the busy day-to-day patterns of life in the church and who maintains the assured viewpoint that, “True community is not efficient – time is the price we pay for authentic community.”

Mark Brouwer has asked good questions, and through research and collaboration, he has produced a book that has good answers. These answers are beneficial on a personal, team and community level. If you have been harboring questions about your calling, you may find your good questions answered here, in Leaving Your Mark Without Losing Your Mind.

How to Read an Eye Chart

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December, 2010

I haven’t hung out with three-year old kids for a long time, and I miss it. I didn’t realize this until today. I work at a medical clinic, and every now and then a child who has come in with an adult needs to be cared for while their grown-up has an exam, or x-rays or blood drawn. Today I happened to be available to watch over a three-year-old girl whose real name I never learned. The name she wanted to be called was “Tangled”.

“Tangled?” I asked – twice. She simply nodded. Now if I had been chummy with more three-year-old kids, I would have known that Tangled is the name of a Disney movie, a re-make of the Rapunzel story. But, alas, I have been buddy-ing with people my own age, so I was completely in the dark. Thankfully one of my co-workers enlightened me.

This happy, lively, three-year old had long, straight, brown hair with bangs, fair skin, and blue eyes. The top of her head did not quite reach my hip, so as we walked along the clinic hallway hand in hand, I saw only the top of her head. I began to chat away on subjects that I thought might interest my young companion.  Tangled, on the other hand, wasn’t much into conversation. She was scoping the place out,  and soon her gaze landed on the clinic’s colorful sticker collection. She said nothing but looked intently up at the wide array of stickers on the display rack.

“Would you like to pick out a sticker or two?” I said. I saw the top of her head bob up and down. “Which ones would you like?” I asked, waving my hand in front of the stickers like Vanna White on Wheel of Fortune. “Farm animals, monkeys, cars?” She shook her head no. “Have you got any ‘Tangled’?” she asked. I searched high and low for the sticker of her choice but came up empty. I offered her everything we had, but she said “No, thank you.” I had forgotten that a three-year old could be so definite about her choices. She had her eyes on the prize and stayed with her decision although the monkey stickers almost won her over.

Her mom hadn’t emerged from the exam room yet, so we went for another stroll around the hallways when I spotted a Kindergarten Eye Exam Chart on the treatment room door. We walked up to the chartKindergaten Eye Chart and looked at it. One by one, I pointed to the symbols on the chart, and asked her to name them.  She got them all – the heart, the star, the cup – and she even correctly identified the ship and the moon. “Very bright three-year old,” I thought to myself. Then I pointed to the flag symbol, not really expecting her to know what it was. “What is this, Tangled? Can you tell me something about this shape?” I asked. She looked at it for a moment and then she glanced up at me and said, “It means my Daddy is gone to fight in the war.” Stunned speechless, I stared down at my little friend.

Her mom came out of the room then, and Tangled ran off to join her. I waved goodbye, and stood in front of the eye chart for a few minutes. What a profound answer that little one had given about the flag symbol on the eye chart. Clear, definite, precise – she couldn’t call the symbol by its specific name,  but she knew what it meant to her: Daddy, his absence, his important work. I think she passed her eye exam with flying colors, don’t you?