Thursday, December 1, 2011

first thoughts for Advent

Sometimes God shows up in the expected places. 


In the written Word or through His servants. 


Still, He seeps in through the corners of the world.


In a tree by the river into whose bark one whispers secrets. 


Into the hungry eyes of a homeless woman holding her contented child. 


Into the unmarried womb of a virgin, to take form as the illegitimate Son of Man. 


With His presence He sparks mystery in the ordinary, dignity in suffering sacrifice, 


and endows dignity and glory to shame.




[this tiny stone starts mental avalanches from my kitchen windowsill when i wash dishes]

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

at last, another decor/DIY post

As much as I love the riot of color Fall brings, the profusion of textures... I didn't do much decorating this year. Just a few tiny pumpkins... real pumpkins, of course (why have plastic when you can have the real thing that you can compost instead of sending to the landfill?) scattered through my apartment.


On bookshelves...


...and the thrifted secretary I refurbished last summer that now serves as extra storage in the dining room


...and on the other book case in the living room. Which, in the event you're interested, is also a testament to the fact that thrift stores are sources of good things. A few of you had asked for tips on buying thrifted furniture, so here are my few tips:
  • Nothing upholstered, unless I plan on re-upholstering it. They do get steam-cleaned, but besides the thought of creepy-crawlies, sometimes it harbors smokey, musty odors.
  • Wait for the good stuff. If it's not solid wood and it's not sturdy, it's not worth it. The cool thing is that you can often get really solid stuff for only a few dollars, but if it's not what you're looking for... come back another day. :)
  • Use your imagination. My favorite finds have been pieces I modified and used for other purposed. For instance, the bookcase above was a sort of cabinet with awkward, flimsy sliding doors. All I did was pop them off. :) Oh, and I found an old piano bench that I use for my coffee table. Unexpected pieces add character and interest to a room... and you won't pay tons of money.
  • Craigslist is your friend. The window on the bookcase I got free. Oh, and this isn't a decor item, but my espresso/latte/coffee maker was also a Craigslist find. New for $30. Happiness.
  • Get things that you like. Your rooms will reflect your unique personality instead of looking like you bought the whole room pre-made from Sears.
The Mary and Jesus statue I found this summer while antiquing with my older sister, Abby. I've been wanting a Mary statue for a while because she's a hero of mine. I hadn't been able to find one of her with the Child, which is too intrinsic to her story to exempt. So I was more than happy at this find... and thrilled that it was only five dollars. :)


This Celtic cross is almost my favorite, most meaningful possession. I got it in Ireland this summer. The symbol of the cross is pretty huge to me, and all the hand carving on this one... I picked it up and could not put it down.

In other DIY/decor recent stuff, remember the awesome thrift-store lamp I spray-painted this summer?


Well, I was racking my brain for a way to use the same paint to accent the other end table and splash a little more red/orange in the living room. One afternoon, I was doing something completely unrelated when this idea excited me to the point that I ran outside immediately with a glass soda bottle and painted it. My neighbors must sometimes wonder if I've inhaled too many fumes.


Brass and gold accents might be the newest trend in decorating, but I'm not a fan. I liked the detail of the (thrifted!) picture frame, but so far it has escaped a therapy session with Dr. Spray Paint because I haven't decided on a color. Ivory is my go-to color, but I'm afraid there would be too much ivory going on in this arrangement...




I like simplicity. And tiny pumpkins.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ladies in Waiting, an addendum

When my friend Julie read "Ladies in Waiting", she told me she didn't like it. "Well, I like what you're saying," she explained, "but it doesn't sound like you in the YOU sense."

Julie and I have been close friends since we were fifteen years old.  "Close friends" doesn't begin to capture the adventures of sleeping in a tree house and checking on lambing ewes, afternoons spent drawing and telling stories in preparation for teaching Summer Bible School together, and long walks through the woods, taking deep breaths and just reveling in sheer beauty. "Close friends" doesn't begin to describe what it is to have someone in my life who knows the narrative of my life, either having witnessed it or learning it from long talks. Julie knows me, and when she calls my bluff on something, I listen. Because she's usually right. And she isn't afraid to push me to be the best "me".

So, for over a year, an addendum to "Ladies in Waiting" has been brewing. Simmering and bubbling in the back of my head while God uses life to teach me a lot of things. Here are a few of them, and you might find it helpful to see them through "what I wasn't saying" and "what I was saying" in "Ladies in Waiting".


What I wasn't saying:

I wasn't promoting feminism. While it IS my opinion that the feminist movement sprung from a very real need for change, I don't think it is the change we were all looking for.

My biggest reason for this conclusion is the hard edges that form around my heart when I start to live as though I am self-sufficient. Just because you CAN do (almost) everything for yourself doesn't mean you should. I'm guessing this isn't gender-specific, but I only know the female side... and how I lose some of my softness with people and lose touch of the magic I find daily when I start to think and act as though I am enough for myself. You don't need to be helpless to need help. Helplessness is, of course, the polar opposite of tough self-sufficiency, and neither are healthy or honest ways to live.

It is true that strength does not equal toughness. I'm afraid that I react a little to the whole environment fostered by Christian women's ministries and books. You can get the feeling that, to be a REAL godly woman, you need exude some sort of sweet, golden aura and have only one facet to your personality. That most likely isn't what the authors and speakers are trying to create (she adds, hurriedly). I love decorating my house, and I find that the spaces in which I feel most "me" are the ones that combine unexpected textures. Vintage lace on the rough wooden apple crate I upended for an end table. Dried grass heads in an embossed green-glass jar on my kitchen windowsill. I wonder if beauty in a woman should not be of the same sort, contrasting-but-complementing textures of unexpected softness and grit.

This is something I continually learn. One of "my" teen girls used to have seemingly no appreciation for other people's feelings. Obviously, her own had been trampled to the point where she couldn't see past them, but she would get up in the morning and respond to my "good morning, sunshine!" with "don't start with me!" For the longest time, I faked immunity to her negativity. To some extent, that was necessary.... But yesterday she cussed me out the minute I woke her up. Maybe it was my sore throat and a head that felt uncomfortably inflated, or maybe it was the fact that her and my relationship has come miles and miles, but her words stung. Instead of ignoring it, I just stood and looked at her for a few seconds. I wasn't intending to guilt-trip her, but I'm sure my hurt leaped to my face. "I'm sorry I upset you," I finally said, "but it would be a lot easier for me to hear you if you found a nicer way to say it." An hour later, she sidled up to me. "I'm sorry for flipping out on you." I had to blink rapidly before I replied, because I have never heard her apologize to anyone before. I wonder, would she have thought to apologize if I hadn't let her see that she hurt me? I doubt it. And I think this might be one of the gifts women offer. If we are honest about what hurts us, we bring a softness and awareness to our world. Hopefully it goes without saying that I don't mean we should wallow in our feelings all the time and never let anything roll off. I actually will advocate a "Christian woman" book on this topic: Strong Women; Soft Hearts, by Paula Rinehart.


What I was saying:

Learn. Think. Adventure.

I don't know what that means for you. I don't know the aching and the exuberance that fuels your dreams. But don't be afraid to try things that might not be culturally expected of you. Have courage in following the great adventure God has laid before your feet, in all the twisty, learning paths He lets you choose. I don't know the ways He will chip away and add to the sculpture of your person along the way, but one of my biggest changes has been my confidence. Today, I found a two-year-old list of "things about me". One of the idiosyncrasies I had listed was "I love people once I know them. Until then, they scare me." I laughed aloud because, while I sometimes have to remind myself to initiate conversation with someone I want to get to know, I would never think to describe my current self that way. Forging some new and at-first-daunting territory by myself with my job and school has really changed me. I am much more confident, and I love the change God has made in me.

Maybe it's not so much WHAT we do as HOW we do it. A lot of people view feminism as wrong in putting women "in a man's world". Maybe that's not the problem. Maybe the problem is women thinking we need to act less feminine in order to gain equality. Don't be afraid to be a woman.

I remember a lot about the years I helped my dad in the barn, but the cow I remember most distinctly was #257. Oddly, I never named her. The number became as endearing as any name, I guess. She was a stunning heifer. Tall, long- and deep-bodied, good leg and foot angle, straight top line... even her face was the dairy cow ideal: long and narrow. (Sorry, I'm a geek. My dad is an excellent, self-taught cattle judge. He was always trying to breed the perfect Holstein, and he got pretty close.) We got #257 right before she calved the first time, and she was wild as a deer. For her first milking after she calved, Dad waited until the general confusion of all the other bovines finding their stalls had passed to let her in the barn and gave her the length of the entire milking to adjust to being tied in a stall before we attempted to milk her. When Dad squatted beside her to put on her milker, she shot straight up into the air. Levitated. Kicked with all four feet at once. I've never seen the like before or since. We tried the usual restraints for "kicker cows", but nothing worked. Finally even Dad's patience frayed and broke. So I asked if I could try. He agreed. I went on with milking the last few cows to give #257 time to calm down. When her eyes had resumed their natural place inside her head, I stood across the gutter from her, as far as I could get to her right, out of hoof range. I put my hand lightly on her flank and kept it there while she lunged and kicked. Finally, she was still... except for her hide, which was moving up and down and from side to side all around my hand... the way cows can to shoo flies. Talking to her in a low voice, I waited until her flank stopped shivering. I looked  her in her one rolled eye as I slowly slid my hand along her side, stepping into her stall with slow movements. With each progression, I stopped and waited for her to calm if she started to shake or kick. After I worked my hand down under her belly, she let me wash her udder. With extreme care to not let any sharp vacuum sounds escape the milker, I pressed my head into the web of skin between her leg and belly... to make kicking harder, just in case she changed her mind and decided to rearrange my face with her hoof... and put the milker on! I crouched beside her for a while, stroking her belly and telling her how wonderful she was. She never took her eye off me. Dad came to see if I was alive, and he just shook his head and grinned. After that, #257 was the calmest milker we had. She never even got into bad moods and whapped you across the face with her tail when you exited her stall. So maybe I was doing a "man's job". But I did it the way my girl instincts told me to. And it worked.

One of my friends, whom I consider one of my "unbiological brothers", gave me some wise advice. "Don't try to prove anything." So learn and talk about things that interest you. In "Ladies in Waiting", I already talked about why I think this is important. But we need to engage on an intellectual level because we enjoy it, not because we have to prove that girls can think. That is one attitude that is edifying to no one. Really.

My friend also told me not to be afraid to give of myself in traditionally female ways. He agreed that women need to be given a bigger voice in our cultural setting, but he said that maybe the change won't be as threatening to the cultural equilibrium if we females celebrate being female in the expected ways. "Kierkegaard doesn't sit well on an empty stomach," he said. I laughed, but I got his point. So cook meals when you get the chance. Make your living space your definition of "beautiful". Invite as many people as possible to share both. Love on kids. If you're anything like me, these things make your soul leap to life just as much as a theological debate. Celebrate it.

But please don't, as my dad says, "view marriage as the only thing that will bring you satisfaction and piddle around, waiting until a guy rescues you from your boring life". You have many talents. Develop them, and God will use them for His glory. Single or married. I promise.

Monday, November 21, 2011

redemption songs


Just because some of you watch my blog specifically for updated art (hi, Mindy!), here is "Redemption Songs". That is, a very bad capturing thereof. The photo makes it look warped... and the colors lack a lot of their depth... and we won't mention detail. Oh, well. Feel free to come visit me and see it in person, if your heart desires. As far as specifics go, it is acrylic paint on an 18x24" canvas. As far as history goes, I undertook it for my semester project in Russian Culture. We were supposed to find a person or object to use as a basis for a metaphor of the Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin, and present a visual of our metaphor to the class. Most fun project ever, let me assert.

I chose Bob Marley as a basis for my metaphor because both Marley and Pushkin used art (music and poetry, respectively) as a catalyst for political and social change in their countries. Their art endures today as symbolic of their cultures because it is timeless in its emotional, human appeal. I aspire. Oh, I aspire. :)

I'd explicate further, but the inhibition is also the reason for lack of posts lately. Back to homework I go...

Monday, November 14, 2011

war, peace, and art

Hunger and war. Both sufferings disturb me. I knew they often walk hand-in-hand, but until recently I didn't realize how closely related they are.

In my World Geography class, we are studying Africa. Her countries' imports, exports, and economic disparities. Africa... Uganda, especially... and her people have been heavy like a rock in the bottom of my heart for the last five years or so. The violence, the starving children, and the unspeakably terrible things the people endure and die from. If I could have one wish, it would be for their healing.

[Amazing photo by my good friend, Barbara Lapp.]

Until now, I hadn't done much study on the reasons the ugliness exists. The horn of Africa is definitely the most afflicted with starvation, but it wasn't always this way. Poor farming methods weigh in, too, but a huge reason for starvation is war. I didn't know this, but Somalia used to produce enough food for her people and have excess to export. Now, her people are among the world's most desperate for food.

"What happened?" my professor asked.

I wished I couldn't guess the answer, but I could. "War."

He nodded. "Every Somali owns a machine gun, but no one owns a plow."

Of all the possible remedies that crowd my head and make me wonder what my part to play in this orchestra, the throbbing beat of this verse is a recurring theme:


"And [God] will judge between many peoples

And render decisions for mighty, distant nations.

Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares

And their spears into pruning hooks;

Nation will not lift up sword against nation,

And never again will they train for war."

-Micah 4:3 NASB


If it grieves us, how much more anguish must it bring our Father to see His children kill each other as their children die of hunger? It's senseless. Senseless! Horrible and terrible. I don't have all the answers, but I know a renewal of thought is desperately needed. And more possible than we might see.



If I had to choose just one, this sculpture would be my favorite piece of art in the world. It gives me goosebumps and makes my heart thump.

What makes my heart beat even faster is this: God invites us to engage in this vast renewal. He gives us disturbance, a vision, and hands to mold small changes every day. Changes that replace violence with peace.

Maybe someday I'll be able to go to Uganda or Somalia. But today I am here. And so, today, I will work for peace. Here. Now.

Monday, October 31, 2011

still He breathes

we can be soldiers
in a holy army

or

we can be children
in the house of God

and

we can see enemies
where we should see

that

a threat returned
is no love at all

still

Love lets us choose
and misunderstand

and

speak death in our
religious fervor

but

still He breathes His
words of beckoning

and

hopes we will
discover a today

where

peace wears smiles
and open hands

instead

of

fists and
frowns and
guns

Saturday, October 22, 2011

simply complex

Sometimes it is good to have hashing sessions with friends.

About what Jesus meant when He told His followers to "make disciples".
And how we are doing that.
And how we are not doing that.
And how are we supposed to know what parts of our culture are worth holding onto in that endeavor.
And how are we supposed to be willing to give up some traditions or patterns of thinking that inhibit us in making disciples?

About what Jesus meant when He said that He, in fact, IS God.
And then proceeded to act very differently than the God everyone expected.
And what that means about the nature of God.
And what that means about the way we view history.
And what that means about the way we see and treat broken people.

Sometimes it is also good to stop all that discussion and complexity and just burst out:

"You know? I'm pretty madly in love with Jesus."

[I am. I really am.]

Thursday, October 20, 2011

a winner and a discovery

... And entry #5 is...

Andrea Esh!

Congratulations, Andrea! If it's OK with you, I'll bring "Little Miss Kenya" along when I'm in your area next weekend and deliver her to your door. :)

Thank you all for participating. I wish I could give you the joy of giving the money TO the family! I am having way too much fun facilitating this! I'll post a total amount donated later... a few dear people contacted me and said they would like to give later.

Fun fact: the http://www.random.org/ site I've always used for giveaways is based at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland! I'm not sure why I never noticed that before, but it made me feel all affectionate toward the site. Because I was THERE! On Trinity's stunning campus. Here is proof:


Trinity's campus is stunning...

I would feel like I could aspire to be the female C.S. Lewis if I studied in these buildings...




Or, at the very least, Jane Austen. 

So that was my little happy discovery just now. 

Someday I hope to go back to Ireland. You know how all those Irish ballads like "Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore" are all mournful and speak of the land like a long-lost lover or family member? I loved the songs, but thought they were just a bit melodramatic. They aren't. I get it now. 

Also, someday, I will post pictures of my idyllic sojourn in Ireland this summer... and of Gideon & Esther's wedding, for those of you who have been so patiently waiting. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

last week's happenings

Some funny things happened last week. At least, I thought they were funny. You might not agree, and I am quite fine with that because people groan at my jokes just as often as they laugh. I'm fine with that, too. Because I think the groaners are almost the best. But, back to the happenings. Here are a few of them:

  • I met Steve. And Steve died. Steve the rat, that is. This story is not intended to cast my workplace in a bad light, as the maintenance guys do a super job of fixing everything from door hinges to plumbing malfunctions. A rat showing up at work is merely indicative of our northwest-PA locale. Northwest PA has wildlife. Fact. So, there I was, sitting at the staff desk. My girls had a few hours left to sleep when I saw a movement in my peripheral vision. I told myself that I was seeing things because I was tired, but I looked to my left to assure myself this was the case. There sat an upright high-top Converse shoe, and another lying on its side. One of the girls must have forgotten to put them away. So that must be what I had seen, and I imagined they had moved. So I thought. No sooner had I looked back at my work on the desk, than something moved again. Roughly three inches from my left foot. It was about the size of my foot. Plus a tail. (The maintenance guy said later, "Oh, so it was just a baby! Maybe about six weeks old." Funny. Very funny.) I don't scream. Very easily, that is. Alright, I screamed. And shot back in the rolling chair and to my feet before I thought. Mercifully, that chair is on wheels because the results could have been dire otherwise. In psychology class I learned that reflexes originate in the spinal cord because you might die in the milliseconds it takes for neurons to transfer signals to the brain. I guess my body thought I was about to die, because I am positive that signal never reached cognition. Poor Steve shot away across the room so fast that I heard his toenails catching the carpet. I sat down very quietly, hoping he would venture out again because I had never seen a rat before. He must have been quite emotionally scarred, because it was a good hour before I heard rustling and crackling sounds under the baseboard heater across the room. I turned inaudibly and could see his little feet sticking down to the floor behind the heater guard. Soon he stuck his head out and popped out. Rats must have jointed ribs or other mobile parts that biologists have overlooked, because they can flatten themselves so much that pancakes would be jealous if they could. He was so big that the heater guard flattened his ears when he poked his head out, which he did slowly enough that his perfectly round ears boinged up together and silhouetted themselves against the white heater. (I admit that I moved just enough to make him pull his head back in the first time so that I could watch his round ears boing up again.) Then he ran around for a little while I watched him, rather entranced. I think I might like a rat for a pet, but rats should not be permitted to run about living rooms whenever they please. Then I had a crazy thought: what would happen if I had my dad's 2/70 and shot the rat from across the room (a 2/70 is a deer rifle, if that gives you any clue about the absurd things I think and find hilarity to increase with absurdity)? Would there be any wall left? Would I be fired? (Bad pun. Groan here, if you please.) [Epilogue: I did not kill Steve. The maintenance guys did. I also didn't find out that his name was Steve until after it was too late to greet him politely by name. Two days later, my co-worker asked me, "So, have you seen Steve lately?"]
  • My geography professor in formed us that Brazil dumps excess coffee into the ocean to stabilize the global coffee prices, not to keep the fish awake.
  • The co-worker that named Steve (the rat) looks exactly like The Edge did twenty-five years ago. I asked him if he's ever heard that he looks like The Edge, and he replied, "What kind of name is that?" Of course, I felt obligated to educate him and he said that the only reason he would get an education is so that he can be called "doctor". "Or captain," he said. "Actually, I think I want to be called 'captain' more than I want to be called 'doctor'." Captain? As in a boat captain? "Yeah," he said, "the only problem is that I get seasick. So I'll be far inland and my crew will call me and say, 'Captain? Where are we supposed to go?' And I will say, 'I have no clue where you are. But can you call me 'Captain' again?'"
  • Bekah called me and said, "Hannah and I are bored. May we make an apple crisp and bring it to you?" If you need an example of a rhetorical question, please reread the previous sentence. See, last year, Bekah, Amanda, and I all lived together. And, as the weather got colder and the leaves ignited with color, we all started making our favorite fall foods with regularity. Manda made the most bestest caramel corn ever, I made lentils in every form imaginable (and convinced the unnamed skeptics among us that lentils taste as good as they are healthy... I felt so accomplished), and Bekah made killer apple crisps. So Bekah had the phenomenal, wonderful idea that she should continue tradition and make an apple crisp for me this year. I was so excited that I cleaned my house in an hour. And lit pumpkin spice and vanilla candles, listened to music, and felt all festive. Then Bekah called me and said that she had another idea, as the hour was getting a little late for school teachers like her and she has an hour drive to my house. What if we met roughly halfway, in Conneaut Lake? Awesome and random. So we met in the parking lot down by the lights over the docks and the dark water and I jumped into their car armed with a spoon. Apple crisp was consumed and terrible jokes were told and we only stopped laughing to talk and take bites. Well, I took bites. Bekah and Hannah decided en route that they weren't hungry. That anti-climax only added to the randomness of the venture, and some anti-climaxes are quite delicious for some of us.
  • One of my girls was still awake when I arrived at work. She was understandably upset because her home visit had been cancelled at the last minute. We talked for about forty minutes and finally were able to laugh in spite of it all. "Life, huh?" I said wryly. She replied, "It's like a freeway." When I managed to stop laughing (the type of laughter that comes after a rather honest, emotional, and "wish-I-could-freeze-the-moment" type of talk), I asked her how in the world life is like a freeway. Her reply? "Everyone is flying along, all together, but in their own cars. And some people are really bad drivers and you have to keep swerving to avoid getting hit by them and you end up on the rumble strips for a little. But you have to keep focused on where you want to be and how to get there." Amazing. She's 15. And that funny and wise.

Friday, October 14, 2011

about fear, courage, and love

I must have been about 17, and I was milking cows. The bull had followed the cows into the holding area, and for some reason a group of cows thought it was much cooler to hang out with the bull in the back of the holding area than come into the barn.

Dad was doing the feeding, so it would have only made sense for me to go out and herd the cows in. But it was much easier to casually yell for Dad than step inside a concrete-and-metal enclosure with about 2,000 pounds of brute force.

Instead of doing the scary job for me, Dad handed me the manure scraper. Basically a metal blade on a wooden handle, like a hoe, only flat. "Show him the scraper and let him know you're boss. And remember that, if he would charge you, you have the strength to stop him. You plunge the end of the scraper into his nose, and he will stop long enough for you to get away. So don't be afraid. If you're afraid, he will know it."

Somehow, I made my barn boots walk into the pen. The wooden handle of the scraper felt comforting to my hands. I used it every day. I knew its weight. Its length. Its balance. I tried to believe that I could stop the bull if I needed to. But my legs were trembly inside my boots and my voice was a little warbly when I called to the cows, hoping I wouldn't have to get too close to the bull before the cows got the message.

They didn't. And the bull turned his head and regarded me with one unblinking, baleful, bloodshot eye. Almost imperceptibly, his head dropped lower and lower until his chin neared the concrete. His front hooves made tiny scraping sounds.

And I found myself slipping back through the metal bars, the scraper trailing me.

Dad vaulted into the holding area with an amused, "this-is-how-it's-done" grin on his face. He hit the concrete running at top speed toward the bull, waving his empty hands above his head and emitting his signature wildcat scream.

The bull's head snapped up and this time it was his back feet making scuffling sounds as he backed himself into the corner. Knowing the time had come and the time was now, the cows disbanded and headed obediently for the milking area.

That's one of the many things I learned from my dad: don't run away from things because you are afraid.

Now my dad is facing things much scarier than Holstein bulls, and I see him doing it with a different kind of courage. This courage admits qualms. Asks for advice. It mourns. And yet still it runs into unfamiliar territory, propelled by love.

This new kind of courage inspires me even more than the impressive bull-intimidating stuff. Because it is a result of looking your worst fears in the face and not running away for this reason:

"I am convinced that neither death,

nor life,

nor angels,

nor principalities,

nor things present,

nor things to come,

nor powers,

nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing,

will be able to separate us from the love of God,

which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

[Romans 8:38]

If the worst thing you can imagine happens to you, and even in that, you can go to God and find your core unshaken because you are secure in His love for you... really, what is left to fear? I see this kind of courage in my dad. The solidness that comes from finding the very core-est core of your identity to be safe in God's love for you... and simply accepting God's acceptance of you.

When big, scary stuff happens (with the exception of rabid animals and glaring bulls), I tend to be very matter-of-fact. If you can't change what is happening, look at your options. Figure it out. Everything's going to be fine. Your heart can stretch to absorb this and keep on trucking. I feel genuinely calm and a little dauntless.

For a day. Or a month. And then I feel all fluttery inside. Tumultuous and a little bit insecure and panicky. And it doesn't make sense to me because I thought I was fine, you know? I thought I could take this on. Yesterday, I was feeling like that. And I was trying to just power through and it wasn't working too well.

I must admit that it was mid-afternoon until I thought, "Maybe I should talk to God about this."

There is a prayer by Richard J. Foster that I sometimes pray when I don't know what else to say:

"Abba Father
Abba Father
Abba Father
Abba, my Abba!"

And, after calling on Him and throwing the entire weight of myself into His hands, I knew what I needed... to center myself in His love. Security, calm, and courage replaced my muddle.

I am beloved.

My Abba's cherished possession.

And nothing can separate me from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus. My Lord.

That gives me the courage to face things... and not run away.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

a fundraiser art giveaway!

When tragedy strikes, more than emotions are stretched to the breaking point. The dollar cost of recovery can push previously financially stable families to the brink of need. That's exactly what is happening to a family I know well. To protect their dignity and privacy, I can't tell you any more details... But I want to do something to help.

So, I have an idea.

Do you want a chance to win an original piece of my artwork?


"Little Miss Kenya"
Original, done with brown marker on white paper, matted, framed, and hung with a wire gallery hanger.

Little Miss Kenya came to life on paper as I was thinking about the many children in our world who know suffering. During wars and natural disasters, it is the children who suffer most. Homelessness and parental neglect forces children to fend for themselves and care for others when they should be being nurtured and protected. 

Yet children are incredibly resilient. Just a few days ago, I met a girl whom I used to teach in Kid's Club. I remember crying over her, asking my friends to help me pray for her, and yet feeling so much despair because her situation seemed hopeless. Now, three years later, her home situation seems to be the same. And yet she makes bright eye contact, has a curly head of thick hair when before she was almost bald because she tore her hair out, and was poised and polite in public, when before she literally hissed and growled more than she talked. Also, just recently, I got a phone call from one of my girls from work who has been discharged. She doesn't have much of a support system, and yet she's doing well in school and making plans for college. 

In children lives some of the deepest tragedy and the most dauntless hope. "Little Miss Kenya" is a celebration of that hope... and a reminder that a child is utterly priceless. A riveting miracle. 

Do you want a shot at owning "Little Miss Kenya"? Do you want to help a family in need? 


If so, do these three things:

1) Comment on this post, making sure to include your name.

2) Email me at becisms@gmail.com. I will reply with my address.

3) Send me a check for whatever amount you want to contribute. 


I will give your gift to the family and will enter your name into a drawing for "Little Miss Kenya". On Wednesday, Oct. 19, I will randomly choose a winner from those of you whose donation I receive on or before Oct. 19. And yes, I will mail it internationally if someone from... say, Germany, Ireland, Poland, Kenya, or Australia wins. ;) Wow, I know people in some pretty incredible places!

Spread the word! Every time you share this post, whether on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, etc., please comment on this post again to increase your chances. :) 

Thank you all for making this little endeavor a success. Stay tuned for a winner and a total amount of money raised on October 19!

Monday, October 3, 2011

r is for...

When I was about five years old, the younger brother of one of my little buddies was attacked by a rabid fox. The rest of the children on the playground went screaming like sirens up to the top of the sliding board, and his very pregnant mother outran all the men who ran to pull the biting fox off his poor face. She did this with her bare hands and I guess the fox saw, through his delusional fog, the maternal rage in her eyes. Because he took flight into the woods and took up residence in my very vivid imagination.

For years, I scrutinized my pets' behavior and checked their eyes for glazed expressions. When my cat "Milky", named for his affinity for the substance... forget about my vivid imagination... attacked our new Cocker Spaniel, I was terrified Milky was rabid and about to go stark raving mad. Milky was actually suffering from a condition commonly known as jealousy. Tragically, he never recovered. He must have decided that he could tolerate wearing doll bonnets, but that to share the affections of the Yoder family with a darling, perpetually smiling dog was beyond his capacity. He left without ceremony. I was heartbroken, but at least he didn't have rabies.

I hadn't consciously thought about these memories until two weeks ago.

I'd parked my car beside the sidewalk in front of my house and was standing on the porch, unlocking the front door. Across the street, my neighbor was sitting on her porch. This scenario happens several times a day on our street. With several variations. Today I was not standing in the middle of the street and talking to my neighbor before going inside. I was on my porch because she was talking on the phone. It's crazy, how the "what if's" of a close call stand out in retrospect.

As I turned the key in the lock, two very animate objects hurtled around the corner of my porch. The neighborhood feral tomcat, chased by... a coon?

My brain started flashing info in freeze frames. Click. Click. Click.

A coon.

In broad daylight.

In town.

Chasing a cat.

Dee started screaming into the unsuspecting ear on the other end of her phone conversation, "THERE'S THAT RABID COON! I TOOOOLD THAT *@&%# GAME COMMISSIONER I SAW ONE!"

The frenzied tomcat dove underneath my car, fangs bared. I tell you, that cat has fangs. And very expressive eyes. If utterlyterrified would be found in a dictionary, it would be beside a picture on Mr. Tomcat trying to keep a tire between himself and the coon. The coon, relentless as a windup toy that never needs rewound, nipped him. Mr. Tomcat catapulted from under my car, and off they hurtled through the backyards across the street.

While Dee called the Game Commissioner to yell and cuss, I locked my door against a wave of phobic panic. I did not know I had a phobia.

"Phobia," I said to the antique blue coffee pot on the doily in the center of my dining room table. I said it with the same vocal inflections as my Psych professor had used only two days before. "A phobia in an UNREASONABLE fear, sometimes based on a legitimate concern. Usually formed sometime in childhood (Oh, right. The rabid fox.) and might lie dormant for years."

I know what this is. It's a phobia. I know what caused it. So therefore I can be all logical about leaving for work after dark. Right?

Yeah, that didn't work so beautifully.

I confess that I ran the few feet from porch to car while seeing phantom coons zooming toward me in my peripheral vision, unlocked the car door and leaped into the driver's seat, muttering "please-God-please-don't-let-a-coon-be-under-the-car-waiting-to-bite-my-legs", slammed the door, hit the lock... then sat unblinking, holding my breath to stifle the rising panic that a coon had unlocked my car, gotten inside, locked the doors again, and was lurking in the back seat, biding his time to dive bomb my head the moment I relaxed.

Pretty sure I have a phobia. Also pretty sure phobias aren't afraid of logic.

So I called Julie later that day, and she screamed with laughter at me. That helped. Really, it did.

For the record, that coon met his end several blocks away. He was chasing animals and kids were screaming into their houses, and the police were called. This brings us to the moral of this story. If you live too far away for your dad to come to the rescue with... say, a 2/70... and you live within city limits, where such methods of animal control will get you canned, do not call the game commission. They will promise to come the following day and set a box trap. Call the police. They will arrive in minutes and euthanize the crazy creature.

Also for the record, the game commissioner did set a trap. In my back yard. The following morning, another very ill coon was in the trap. I really hope this is the end of the saga and I'm trying tell myself that there probably isn't an entire army of rabid coons in my back yard. I'm also trying to tell myself that the feral cats who were seen being bitten by the coons will go off somewhere and die quietly.

Because I like animals, really. Love them. Until they contract the R-word.

Friday, September 30, 2011

the adventure begins

Raising the lid of the trunk that contains my sweaters, sweatshirts, and scarves, I first felt delight. Cold weather means layering colors and textures and more creativity with clothes.

Rummaging around, delight faded a little and I started thinking things like this: "I wore these last year, and some the three years before that. They still look new, but I am tired of them."

Tired of them? Why? And thus began a week of the question rattling around my brain until it settled into a deep introspection.

Why do I want new things? New things make me feel more confident, I suppose. Well, that's rather nauseating, when I admit it to myself. I look to mere fibers for proof that I am capable of living my life well... when my me-ness wasn't made by me and therefore I'm not even responsible for the entirety of my existence? Well, that just grosses me out.

Especially when I think of many people who are lucky to have two sets of clothes. I say I care about poverty, slave labor in the clothing industry, and living a sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle. I do care about those things. Hugely. But I'm an artist. How things look is a big deal to me. So I justify having a whole trunk full of sweaters because I got them on sale or at thrift stores.

Please understand that I do believe that God wants us to enjoy life and His good gifts. Wearing pretty clothes reminds me that God created beauty and loves it even more than I do. But I know that I can use this truth as an excuse to indulge myself.

I feel God calling me to a beauty in dress that is content. Aware of need and injustice. And knows beyond cognition that He is the source of my identity and confidence.

So, for the next six months, I'm not going to buy any clothes. The adventure begins. Anyone want to join me?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

the spice of life

To balance my school and work schedule, I've been working a few days a week at the off-campus boy's group home. This means that I am only on my usual unit three or so days a week. I miss my girls, but suffice it to say that four boys instead of eleven girls is a huge drop in stress level.

I love the challenge of building relationships with my girls, but both the highs and lows are pretty intense... and they switch with unpredictable frequency. I think guys in general are just more chill than girls.

Yesterday morning, two of them were watching "Hillbilly Handfishin'" while waiting for the bus. T. said to P., "Dude. We should do that." And P. replied, "I can't be a hillbilly. I'm Asian." They gave about two grunts of laughter.

After they left, I laughed and laughed. Yep, I'm a girl.

When a new girl arrives, it takes days or weeks of talking to her, trying to draw her out and showing her I care before she's cool with me. With guys, I don't feel that pressure. I'm just here and not much talk happens between "time to get up, you guys!" and "have a good day at school!" But they must be starting to feel more comfortable with me because P., who was awake when I arrived, came downstairs to show me the drawing he had just finished. I was so honored, and he really has talent. I love meeting other artists and believe there is incredible power in teens, especially urban teens who don't have much familial support, expressing themselves through art.

I hope I didn't fuss over it too much. Ha. Yeah, I'm a girl.

And I love being a girl. I'd miss feeling maternal and feminine.

But I'm glad I can be maternal and feminine and still like watching football, still be invigorated by a good theological or political debate, and miss going hunting and doing farm work with my dad.

I'm glad God likes variety. So do I.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Learning Russian letters

My Russian Culture prof is...

well...

words rather fail me...

but the closest matches would be

unpredictable,

imaginative,

and

outrageously funny.

Today we were starting to learn the Russian alphabet. He warned us that we will need to spend a lot of time rehearsing the sounds and symbols on our own because they will be on the test. "You will spend many hours," he said. ""Not like 22 hours, because that would kill you. But very many."

After shouting the sounds back at him while he wrote the letters on the board for half an hour (and yes, shouting because he won't accept anything less), he squinted his eyes all up into crinkly slits. Looking at each of us carefully, he consoled us, "Learning letters can make you crazy, but there are medications for that."

It was even funnier in his Polish accent.

Monday, September 19, 2011

goodbye, summer...


goodbye, flowers. both inside


... and outside.


goodbye local fruit...


... and long breakfasts on the porch.


goodbye, idyllic afternoons spent lying on the ground with nothing to do but...


... watch clouds charge by like horses in slow motion through the blue sky behind green leaves.


goodbye, sandy toes and weekly trips to Presque Isle.

goodbye, sweet summer

and oh,

welcome, fall!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Rainy Evening


Living on a cobbled street is always charming.
On rainy evenings, it's mystical and romantic.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

something good

I should be working ahead on Algebra homework because I have a Psych exam on Thursday and I really and truly don't want to have to worry about my least favorite class while I study. Notice that I didn't use words like "hideous" and "malevolent" to describe Algebra. This is proof that my extremely right-brained mind is learning how to think in stringent procedures again... after not doing much math for seven years. Thank God.  But instead of solving equations, I am reading blogs and starting to process all that has happened in the past two weeks.

For the sake of privacy I will not say much here, but I think it's ok to admit that our families are broken. Maybe this is just in "plain", Mennonite circles, but the term "broken home" is often used to describe families whose parents are separated. I am choosing to not feel shame. I believe that every family is broken, just like every person is broken. Some types of "broken" are more visible than others. Even healthy, loving individuals and families can hurt each other and take each other for granted. This is something my closest friends have told me repeatedly since my mom left, and I feel it to be true.

When brokenness shows itself in nightmarish proportions, everything about life can feel wrong. It can be hard to imagine this, but


{made by me, so copy and paste if you like without fear of the copyright police}

Whether today's brokenness is job frustration, misunderstandings between people, sickness of someone you love, or grief over losing someone, all of us have our dark places. But please know this with certainty:

Something good is going to happen.

Every day.

Something good.

Something that proves that the world isn't completely hideous and that your life hasn't run into a gray cul-de-sac with the exit blocked by a toppled building. The world is hideous, but it is also beautiful. Look for the orange poppies under the tree on the east side of your cul-de-sac. They are there, and you will find them if you have eyes to see.

How do I know?

Because I know God to be a nurturing god of healing and redemption. Every time I get trapped in gray cul-de-sacs, I see Him working. Preserving. Healing. Making GOOD out of broken. He is the source of GOOD and WHOLE, and He is always here. I see him in my dad's care of his girls, my sisters' and my closer bond, the misty sunrises every morning, and (tonight!) a free concert of Chopin and Schubert's masterpieces.

Because something good is always going to happen, I can feel blows that break me and still say

 I will extol the LORD at all times;
   his praise will always be on my lips.
I will glory in the LORD;
   let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the LORD with me;
   let us exalt his name together.

I sought the LORD, and he answered me;
   he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
   their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the LORD heard him;
   he saved him out of all his troubles.

The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him,
   and he delivers them.

Taste and see that the LORD is good;
   blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Fear the LORD, you his holy people,
   for those who fear him lack nothing.
The lions may grow weak and hungry,
   but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
Psalm 34:1-10


Monday, September 5, 2011

on & on

Driving 11 hours in one day is crazy, especially when you get caught in a doozy of a storm on the way back. But I hunched over the steering wheel with poor Ebony's wipers on full speed and kept plunging along at 35 MPH while other cars stopped underneath overpasses to escape the liquid blizzard. Ebony's headlights were walled in only a few feet ahead, and Ebony and I crept along through the deluge, completely unrepentant of our insanity. I got to spend 5 hours with my dad and ALL my sisters. It was so worth the crazy hours. I really can't describe the way my heart shifts toward them, so all I will say is that blood runs thicker than anything else and that family pain and trauma only deepen real love.

Plus, the water battle was epic. After a free-for-all, we played "drip, drip, drench", a very wet version of "duck, duck, goose". Mad fun. A few people (coughKelsey) (coughCandace) thought we were playing "drench, drench, drown", but no casualties were reported.

I was feeling rather morose at leaving them and plugging along in a submarine across the state to go to work. The submarine wasn't even yellow. And there definitely was no sky of blue or sea of green. But I arrived at work.

My moroseness was shortlived because three of my girls were still awake. We joked around for a little, then I told them "goodnight" and started working at the desk. After a while, M. called me over. "You OK, Becky? Cuz you look like you been crying or something." Is it possible that this is the same girl who once yelled "f*** you, Becky!" at me several times in rapid succession after a serious battle of the wills (over a tiny little rule)?

"Yeah, I'm OK," I said. But I sat down and we talked about how much our parents' decisions can hurt us sometimes and yet how it is possible to keep your head above water and walk upstream, hanging tightly to your own choices.

"Becky, I look up to you. Like, for REAL, for real. You're just a really nice person and I want to be like you." And M. told me that she knows I truly care about her and that's why she has no trouble anymore with doing what I ask of her.

I think I gaped like a freshwater bass a lot during that conversation. I think of my job in terms of how I can give to THEM. But oh, they made my night a lot better tonight. Completely and totally warmed me down to the tips of my green shoes (from Ireland, I might mention. They are quite fairyesque and I sorta like them a lot.).

Then M. said, "I will pray for you!" And A. and C. said, "I will, too!"

After a pause, M. said quietly, "I need you to pray for me, too." She told the three of us things she wants to change and that she knows she needs God's help to accomplish.

So I told them how much I love them and how awesome they are, then I asked if they wanted to pray together before they went to sleep. I'm always hesitant to ask, or even talk overtly about God. Maybe I shouldn't be. But I get so tired of the "cram God down people's throats" thing. It makes me cringe when I see God presented like cod liver oil. I try to focus on loving like Jesus and living like Him. He knows I sure don't do it perfectly, but usually He is merciful enough to give me moments to talk about how much HE loves all of us.

But they jumped out of bed and said, "Yes! We was going to aks." So we prayed together. Just sat at the feet of a Father Who loves His beautiful, broken children. Then they ran to me and hugged me goodnight. Suffice it to say that hugs from teens mean a lot.

Life is hard. Life is good. And, after I get some sleep, I will be ready to take another step.

"On and on and on we pray
That we can break into a brighter day
Nothing worth anything
Ever goes down easy

On and on and on we go
I don't understand this winding road
Nothing worth anything
Ever goes down easy

Goes down easy"
-Mat Kearney

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Prayer for Humility

Lord,

For my focus on myself,
Give me a clear vision of You.

Grant me deep, true love for others
Instead of using others to make myself feel loved.

As I give You my plans, abilities, and aspirations,
Refine them and direct my passions with Yours.

And when I begin to excuse my selfishness,
Be merciful and bring me to repentance

That I may cast away my sin with distaste
And live again in the radiant light of Your Presence.

Amen.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

a fun reminder

I was walking down the sidewalk, my head in overdrive with things to be accomplished within the next few hours and days. I hate when I get like that. All tense and only semi-conscious to the world around me.


"Hey!"

I looked to see who had yelled, and a middle-aged African American guy waved from across the street.

"Yo sure are pretty!" His smile took up half his face, and he kept bobbing his head respectfully.

I waved my thanks and walked on, smiling and relaxed.

And I remembered the words God had dropped into my thoughts earlier: "in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength" (Isaiah 30:15).

Beauty. Quietness. Confidence. Strength.

They're linked, somehow.

Linked, and the result of finding deep rest in God.

Trusting that He sees.

He knows.

And He is capable.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

wishes and dreams

This is one of those weeks in which I walk around with my mouth in a comical twist, caught halfway between laughter and tears. I've always said that I could never be a foster mom; I was sure I couldn't survive the constant loving and letting go, especially when the letting go means sending them into an environment you wouldn't choose for them.

Pretty sure God looked ahead to what I'm doing now and chuckled quietly. Anyone who works in human services, especially in a residential setting, is subjected to high volumes of love and loss, pride in "their" kids' accomplishments, and sickening fear while watching them make really hurtful choices. Saying possibly permanent good-byes to (I'm guessing here) 90 teens in a year takes an emotional toll. Because of confidentiality laws, I am not allowed to contact my girls once they leave, not for three years or until they turn 18. They are allowed to contact me through the agency, which happens infrequently. When it does happen, sometimes it's at 3:00 AM and they are out on the street, partying, and you can hear the hunger for stability and love in their voices. And I wish they would still be here, where I could make sure they are safe from the person who is following them and freaking them out. I could share my crackers and cheese with them when they wake from bad dreams and send them back to bed with a hug and an extra blanket to keep them warm.

Not long ago, several of my girls watched a scary movie right before they went to bed. Bad idea. This has resulted in some severe insomnia and sleeping in the living room before. These girls have lived through shootings and seen some pretty crazy spiritual activity; I have no idea why they watch things that will trigger their own worst fears. Especially before they go to bed. But I did find out later that, while they were watching the movie, M. said, "Maybe we shouldn't watch this at night." And J. replied, "It's OK. Becky works tonight. She can come in here and rebuke the devil." When K. told me, I laughed (I could just HEAR her say, "and reBUKE da DEBbil"), felt extremely honored, and remembered the time I prayed with two of them and invited the Presence of God into their fear and into their room, asking Him to help them feel safe enough to sleep. Immediately, they had.

This time, three of them lay on their mattresses just inside their doorways so they could see each other and talk quietly. With their lights on. Until 4 AM. Because it was a weekend, the time thing was no biggie to me. I asked them if they wanted me to pray with them, and J. said, "When we was all trying to go to bed, I said a prayer and we all said 'amen'. So I think we're good." Oh, mercy. They make me laugh so hard sometimes. Finally, all but J. fell asleep. She literally raised herself, has fought on the streets since she was 9, and is tougher than I will ever be, but she asked me to check her room every 5 minutes to make sure she was still alright. An hour later, she had fallen into a light sleep. When I stuck my head quietly through her open doorway, she bolted straight up in bed, her irises dwarfed by the whites of her eyes. She saw it was only me, and slumped with relief, panting.

"You poor girl!" was all I could say past the rushing of warmth that pressed on my heart. I sat on the edge of her bed, put one arm around her, and said, "God, J. is scared. Please help her to feel safe. Help her to feel how much You love her. Protect her. Thank You for her." The rigidity left her body, and she leaned against me. I held her tight and swallowed hard because she is not very affectionate and not at all demonstrative. The moment was sacred. She lay down, pulled her blanket up to her chin, and I tucked it in around her shoulders. "Sweet dreams," I whispered, then ran out to the staff desk and rummaged blindly for the Kleenex box through the tears of the blinding realization that this, in all probability, might be the first time she had ever been tucked in. I wished I could make up for the years of putting herself to bed, never getting what comes naturally to me because I received it; a little rough-housing while getting ready for bed, reading a story all snuggled in a rocking chair, saying prayers, then being tucked into bed with a goodnight kiss. Peace. Safety.

Five minutes later, she was breathing deeply. Fast asleep, with a little smile on her relaxed face. I probably could have turned the light off without her noticing, but I left it on because she had asked. I wished I could freeze that moment. Keep her safe. Keep HER. Forever.

I can't.

Within the past week, four of my girls were discharged. Three of them within 24 hours. All four are close enough to me to feel like family. One of them has been here for the length of my employment, over a year. That's rare. I tell them I am proud of them. They have changed so much, worked so hard to learn to control their behaviors so the judge will deem them stable enough for discharge. And they are. But only two of the four are returning to stable environments. One is going to another group home, to yet another group of people who won't even know her after another year has passed. One is 18, no longer in state custody, and ready to try to live on her own. I wonder who will be there for them when they are afraid. I know how easily they could end back up on the street, vulnerable to all manner of pain and harm. I know how easily they could be put in jail in a few years for following crowds that get them into fights and drugs. I will miss them.

I love them, but I have to let them go. Let them try their wings. Trust God to protect them and heal them when they crash into walls. When they fall.

Fly high, little birds.

And God will take care of me, too. He always does. I laugh. I cry. I love and let go. I will forever carry the imprints of their faces in my heart, but the process of releasing them to their own choices teaches me to love like the Father loves. Like the Father loves them. And me.

When I arrived at work this morning, a note was scribbled on the white board in the living room. From Dae Dae*, who left yesterday afternoon.

"Dae Dae* is going to miss everyone (meaning Jaye*, Nehna*, and Becky). Keep ya'll heads up high, lovely gurls! :) "

Fly high, dear little bird.

*Variant spellings and nicknames used to protect identities.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

FBCS Class of '11

Nights are cooler, skies are more brilliant, and summer is slipping away.

Fall can mean only one thing for this incredible group of people. High school is truly a chapter closed. I wonder if they will feel a bit wistful. But I know they will remember the accomplishment, excitement, and the promise of a wide open future that they felt on their graduation last spring. Mine was the fun of capturing their energy, their maturity, their love for each other, and their desperation to live for God.

So... to the FBCS Class of '11...


You are loved, believed in,

 

talented and full of some crazy potential.

 

Keep celebrating this truth: God will finish the good work He has begun in you
and is applauding your accomplishments along the way.


Spending one evening with you bolstered my faith in the Kingdom of God that is here, alive,
and at work transforming our world. Thank you!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Affirmation

I clearly remember where I was when Anna told me. I had gone to visit her in the calm of her home, surrounded by the energy, noise, and sometimes violence of Lancaster City. Rocking her daughter as I sat on the couch, she asked, "Do you know what most people think of you?"

"I have no idea." But, inaudibly, I added, "They most likely see how deeply I question myself and probably think my life is falling apart at the fringes most of the time."

"They think Becca has it all together. I have heard countless people talk about how confident and knowledgeable you are." She looked at me dead on as I gaped at her.

That moment is so clear to me, years later, because it was the first time that I realized other people might see me differently than I see myself. I realized that sometimes I need to be honest and vulnerable about my fears and battles because... people can't read me as well as I thought they could.

Maybe I inherited it. Maybe I learned it. But this natural inclination to carry one's self with confidence despite internal questions is both a blessing and a curse.

Pros:

- When working in social services, especially with teens, sometimes you have to appear calm while, inside, you're crouched like a cat, ready for anything. Sometimes you have to make a rather large judgment call and follow through with it, even though you might be terribly afraid that you just made the wrong decision. I know that this ability to appear genuinely calm and confident has served me well. My co-workers have told me so. No matter what your work, there are often people in your care who need to rely on your strength. Even when you're just as scared as everyone else. Maybe even more so, because you know the implications of your responsibility. I'm not saying we should be walking oaks, impenetrable, or dishonest about our weaknesses and fears. But you get my point... before this develops into a study on what strength is or is not.

- Face it. Sometimes life is really hard and you wonder why on earth you're even here. Maybe this reservation of dignity is plain old pride, but I don't think the whole world needs to know when these times occur. I have an inner circle of friends who know Becca's weakest moments and most vulnerable side, which is a treasure I wouldn't trade for all of Buckingham Palace. But most of the world needs my head and dignity in plain sight. I do wonder if this inclination a wild result of all the stoic German in my ancestry mixed with the grit of the Scotch, French Canadian, Irish, and Native Americans who color my blood. (Mom says this eclectic mix is why we kids are prone to some rather odd adventures at times. Like riding in a car trunk for over an hour. Yes, that was me. At 20 years old. But I won't be starting stories here.) At any rate, sometimes you just have to [wo]man up and keep going. It's part of living in a broken world, and I think God redeems this as a strength we wouldn't know or need if the world was as He intended.

Cons:

- Pretence. Sometimes weakness is required for redemption. It's hard to lay aside dignity and ask for help. Yet the moments that build trust in community are the ones in which everyone stops pretending they are fine. That they don't need. In fact, the truest connections are often centered around need. For further reading on that subject, check out my friend Josh's post. Be sure to read the comments, too, which are more entertaining if, as is my utter privilege, you know the commentators.

- People tend to assume you don't need affirmation if you look and act as if you don't need it. It is true that pretty girls often wonder whether they ARE pretty because everyone assumes they already know and don't need to be told. People who seem (and, most of the time, ARE) fairly confident in both their capacities and the Presence of God to sustain them in situations beyond their experience and skill level are rarely affirmed.

And we need affirmation. All of us. I have heard so many talented, competent, beautiful (or handsome, as the gender requires), and visionary people admit that they deeply question themselves. They wonder whether they are truly making a difference, whether they truly do have what it takes, whether they are attractive, or whether they actually are a good man or woman. Because no one ever tells them. This starvation is tragic.

So... when you're starving for affirmation, I'm sorry that someone might not notice. It feels so wrong to have to ask for it, but remember that only God sees your insides. And that your emotions can be invisible even to your doctor who, if he wants to, CAN see your insides. Maybe you need to let your dignity crack a little. Maybe you need to find some people with whom you can be vulnerable enough to let your biggest questions about yourself take the form of words. Maybe no one knows you need it.

And don't forget that the same is true of most everyone else. Give affirmation to people who don't ask for it. Realize when you are viewing someone as above the need for reassurance and look for ways to tell them that they are seen, valued, applauded, and loved. In your work, home, friendships, neighborhood, and church, foster an environment in which people don't need to ask for affirmation in order to receive it.

Now, just for fun, here is a list of some of the affirmations I have received lately. Please don't mistake this as a brag list. It is, rather, a tribute to the many people who speak words to me that I cup in my heart long afterward because I was wondering the opposite and needed to hear them. It humbles me to realize that, for most of these, I didn't even ask.

Carla: "You're just an incredible person." This came at a moment when I was feeling rather small in comparison to all life was asking of me at the moment.

One of my teen girls at work, as I arrived for my shift: "Becky, you getting so skinny!" I didn't notice, but what woman doesn't love to hear that?

Tatianna, a German girl I met in Ireland: "I've been watching you and wanting to meet you because you fascinate me. You remind me of a character from Pride and Prejudice." She said she wasn't sure which Bennet I resemble, but did assure me that it was one of the eldest. This is a vast relief, you will understand if you've read the book.

My dear friend Sharon sent me an incredible email yesterday: "hey, i hope you are feeling loved and significant. (cuz you really are) seriously, of all the friends i have, you are doing some of the bravest and unconventionalest stuff. I am  proud of you -i know it probably doesn't feel very shiny most of the time, and that it is mostly very "daily", but be cheered :) I think God is happy about you." I was a rather extremely shy, cautious, and introverted child, and sometimes I look at the things I want to accomplish and just want to find a nice, cozy stump in a large forest in which to hide. She didn't know it, but this was one of those days.

My supervisor at work: "Some rather nice compliments were paid you at a hiring interview. Two unit supervisors used you as a model for how the prospective employee should relate to this kids. I thought you should know." Um, wow?! I try to do my job well... and see it as less of a job and more of a challenge of loving my girls well, and loving them the way Jesus does... but I do in fact wonder if I am truly doing it well.

Bekah: "You're going to be a great mom someday. Your kids will be lucky to have you." I see parenting as the highest, truest test of a person's character and love. And, though I hope to do it well someday, don't all of us wonder if we genuinely have what it takes?

Carla's 3-year-old son: "I love Miss Becca." And I wasn't even present at the time or had just done something to deserve it. Carla told me about it later. Unless they are made to believe lies for a long period of time, kids see through disguises pretty stinkin' fast. That's why I treasure this affirmation highly.

When I started making the list, I started thinking of more and more people who have deeply affirmed me. So please don't feel left out if you're reading this and you're one of those people. Thank you. Your belief in me and your loving me help me become a better, truer version of myself. You really and truly enable me to live and love with confidence and sincerity.

Let this list inspire you to affirm the people in your life. Make a point of one-a-day, and let it become an unconscious habit.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

after an hour of solitude


Beauty is freed through rest, and rest contained in trust.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

...to do justice, to love kindness...

In "What does the Lord require of us?", I gave a gut reaction to the grief I see caused by the current justice system and gave a few reasons I am opposed to it. 



  • I see the "trail 'em, nail 'em, and jail 'em" (kudos to Clair Kauffman for the great phrase) method as detrimental to all the individuals involved and far less than the healing God wants to grow in the community.
  • "Trail 'em, nail 'em, and jail 'em" is ineffective. It only reinforces a pattern of violence and estrangement that results in more crime and repeat offenders.



In this post, I hope to sketch the story of my interest in restorative justice, a synopsis of what restorative justice, hereafter called RJ, is, and a few models I have witnessed as effective. A lot of meat for one bite. Brace yourself, and I'll try to keep it light.


Prior to the 8th grade, I hadn't given the judicial system much thought. There were good guys and bad guys. But this was the spring before Timothy McVeigh was executed. My teacher told us the charges against McVeigh for the Oklahoma City bombing. He showed us the pictures of the dead children being carried out of the basement of the building, where there had been a daycare, and that image is still seared inside my eyes. Mr. Jay, as we called him, mourned those children and the others who died in the blast, but his reaction to the grief wasn't the anger and hatred I expected to see. He also showed us a picture of McVeigh's face and asked us to pray for him. Mr. Jay didn't tell us what McVeigh "deserved". He didn't ask big, theological questions. He only showed us that he cared about McVeigh, despite what he had done. He helped us see a person... a person whom God loved. 


(It was only later that I discovered McVeigh was protesting the rather insane government force in the Waco, Texas incident and, having had served time in the army, said a few things like this: "Bombing the Murrah Federal Building was morally and strategically equivalent to the U.S. hitting a government building in Serbia, Iraq, or other nations." He had seen the inside of the judicial system on a national level and, concluding that the system was pretty messed up, thought his obligation was to expose it by using the same methods. Please understand that I am in no way glorifying or sanctioning Mr. McVeigh's actions. I only find his actions more tragic since he was trying to say something worth saying, but did it in a way that served up more horror.)


After the school year ended and the date set for McVeigh's execution approached, I became more and more disturbed. Most people said that he deserved to die because he had killed. Intellectually, I almost agreed, but on June 11, 2001 I walked our half-mile lane to the mailbox with a heavy heart and sense of nausea I could neither shake nor explain. I was disgusted and felt guilty, the way I had in second grade when my teacher had made a public spectacle of humiliating a classmate for a wrong-doing, as if we "good kids" should take increased pride in our goodness at our classmate's expense. 


Living on the seamier side of Lancaster City at 20 years old taught me a lot about the judicial system. I saw how much harder and more broken my neighbor boy was after "doing time". I very quickly caught the "us vs. them" subculture created by a system that only focuses on the breaking of state laws and avoiding the enforcers of those laws. Witnessing several incidents of police racism and undue violence further clarified how this rift in society widens. When my neighbor across the street was jailed for dealing drugs, I saw the wide, dark eyes of his young siblings that I had often heard scream with laughter as he had slung them over his shoulder and had carried down the street with fingers outstretched and smiles that would have been blinding if they hadn't been upside-down. I wondered how the pain of losing the only adult male figure in their lives would affect them. Sure, accountability was needed. Just as surely, this sort of punishment was only creating more pain. Did "justice" equal more pain? Should administering "justice" desensitize its administrators and make them act power-hungry?


When I voiced these questions, Clair and Anna handed me a LAVORP newsletter. I read stories of healing for victims and testimonies of offenders that, for the first time in their lives, had to opportunity to face the people they hurt... how they made amends... how they were changed. It was my first introduction to Restorative Justice, and I was hooked. It was a cleansing wind in the confusion and chaos I saw.


So I met with the founder of LAVORP. And he told me stories of what happened when victims and offenders met in sessions facilitated by LAVORP volunteers, meetings where they saw each others faces. Victims voiced their loss and pain. Offenders had the opportunity to SEE the pain they caused. Questions were asked and answered: Who was hurt? Why were they hurt? Whose obligations were these? How could things be made right? 


Instead of crime being defined as a violation of the law and state, is was seen as a violation of people, relationships, and community trust.


Rather than violations creating guilt, they created obligations.


Instead of justice requiring the state to determine the blame (guilt) and impose pain (punishment), justice involved the victims, offenders, and community members in an effort to put things right.


In place of a focus on the offenders getting what they deserve was a focus on the victim's needs and the offender's responsibility to repair the harm. [Based on a list from Howard Zehr's "Little Book of Restorative Justice"]


After years of being privately funded, the state recently recognized the staggering amount of dollars LAVORP is saving them in a virtually non-existent repeat offender rate and is offering partial funding. What really excites me is that people are seeing that Jesus' ways of seeing and treating people... underserving, broken people... actually WORK. In fact, through working with some juvenile probation teens in a residential treatment facility, I learned last year that all of Pennsylvania's juvenile probation cases are being integrated with a RJ-based BARJ (Balanced And Restorative Justice) program. Already some programs like LAVORP are taking on adult cases, even murder cases. I pray that, in time, this model will affect how violence and crime is handled on a national and international level.


 LAVORP's program follows the RJ model pioneered by Howard Zehr and is part of a landscape of change. Through my contact with LAVORP and my reading of books like 




and, for a more in-depth sociological and theological look at both the argument for RJ and how the concept can be implemented in schools and homes as well as state organizations, 



I learned that justice and mercy are not mutually exclusive. When Jesus told His followers to love their enemies and turn the other cheek, He was equipping us with the vision we need to bring about healed relationships. And, not surprisingly, it works. In my five years of working with urban teens on both personal and professional levels, I have come to know some teens who are hurt and hardened to the point where they think nothing of utilizing violence. And I will tell you that, over time, all of them respond to love and very few of them have ever had the opportunity to make amends for their actions. They have only been taken from their families, sent to progressively more restrictive facilities, and left alone by people who should stay with them for life. And yet, they still respond to fairness and care... to justice for both the sins done by them and against them. Justice, as defined by the God about whom was said, 

3 “A bruised reed He will not break
And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish;
He will faithfully bring forth justice.
4 “He will not be disheartened or crushed
Until He has established justice in the earth;
And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.” -Isaiah 42

Do I think there is never an occasion to restrain or restrict those who pose a continuing threat to others? No. But those occasions should be focused on rehabilitation and restoring relationships rather than dehumanizing and enhancing rifts.

 I could tell so many stories... those I have both seen and heard. Perhaps another time. For now, I hope I provided you with a few resources and questions to pique your interest and get you thinking about a better way.. and about what the Lord requires of you...





Micah 6:6-8


6 With what shall I come to the LORD 
And bow myself before the God on high? 
Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, 
With yearling calves? 
7 Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, 
In ten thousand rivers of oil? 
Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, 
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 
8 He has told you, O man, what is good; 
And what does the LORD require of you 
But to do justice, to love kindness, 
And to walk humbly with your God?