Monday, October 31, 2011

still He breathes

we can be soldiers
in a holy army


we can be children
in the house of God


we can see enemies
where we should see


a threat returned
is no love at all


Love lets us choose
and misunderstand


speak death in our
religious fervor


still He breathes His
words of beckoning


hopes we will
discover a today


peace wears smiles
and open hands



fists and
frowns and

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 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 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.