My favorite spam

Having a blog means peeking into the world is of robotic spammers. They fill blog comments with the most ridiculous defacements of the English language in hopeless attempts to sell junk.

This can be annoying.

It can also be hilarious.

Even at the risk of attracting more spammers to fill my spam filters, I couldn’t resist sharing a collection of favorite spam posts. They have given me many a good laugh.

Ah, spammers, you have blessed this blog with the most heartfelt love, adoration, and surrealism a robot can offer.

In this large and beautifully-constructed grass building about seventy chiefs and Baganda notables were assembling weight loss tips for women.

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In the 1990s, a rubber sheet material, manufactured by Firestone and Goodyear, became well liked construction materials used in building ponds and waterfalls.

Steps, tools, and techniques will be those who become customers. Sites do the football relay coach monty python and the holy grail.

Asked how she could draw and hold a crowd of 3,000 for a lecture, she said weight loss tips for women!

Lacked liveliness, the liveliness of was too deep a pink.

He spun round just in time to seconds, perhaps–of luminous certainty. Now and then they came upon snug nooks.

He imagined that all references to hundreds and thousands were mere fanciful forms of speech, and that no such sums really existed in the world.

Hey there, You have done a great job. I will certainly digg it and personally recommend to my friends.

Then he took leave of his father, and set himself in the boat, but before it got far off a wave struck it, and it fell with one side low in the ends to it and a corkscrew of smoke issuing from the chimney. Meantime the queen went home to her glass, and shook with rage when she read the very not this grand? The beginnings of the new order and called to
him to come in and he could not withstand the temptation, but went in, and forgot the golden bird and his country in the same manner.

Hucky looked, with joy in his enough to live upon so I laid aside my red coat, and set to work, tilling the ground. Frock coat, and a queer, shiny hat arms, swelling the great muscles of his. The boat, however, did not sink, for the good fairy took care of his old velvet jacket, but helicopter raids on enemy villages, joycamp.

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Hope in the bog

nest imageOur daughter sighed in a dreamy voice, “I want this vacation to last forever.”

Those were strong words, considering how unlike the typical Disney-Mecca Pilgrimage our vacation had been.  Her favorite entertainment had been tossing around a watermelon in a pond, sleeping on friends’ floors, and stopping at a playground with a bucket of store-bought ice cream. An unimpressive vacation, though, is exactly the kind of the place where hope surprises us like a water balloon to the forehead.

Along that vacation’s 2,000 miles of driving we listened to a lot of CDs.  Midway through a CD of folk songs from the library, while everyone sang along, we charged into these words:

“In this bog there was a hole, a rare hole, a rattlin’ hole.  A hole in the bog and the bog down in the valley, oh.” (By Nerissa and Katryna Nield. Please enjoy it here!)

Every verse of the song added something to that hole.  First a tree in the hole, then a limb on the tree.  A branch, twig, nest, a bird, an egg.  And in the egg…

Here it grew quiet.  My kids said they had sung this song in music class like this: “And on the egg there was a germ.”  How disappointing.  Would we sail through all this suspense to find nothing more in the bog than a tiny seed of illness?

The version on our CD continued, and instead of a germ came this brilliant masterpiece of a lyric by some forgotten old-time folksong writer: “And in this egg there was some hope. A rare hope, a rattlin’ hope.”

In that moment, I could feel hope bursting right through its eggshells.

Mountaintops and Valleys

Hope hadn’t always been what I expected to find in holes in bogs.  Many of us trudge through bogs expecting nothing but mud and germs.  We expect to find God on mountaintops, but the valleys we treat as in-between misery to trudge through to the next mountaintop.

For years, God handed me one spectacular mountaintop view after another, both figuratively and literally.  I graduated valedictorian of my high school class.  Well aware that this was a high point of my life, I delivered a graduation speech about clinging to the excitement of mountaintop days like graduation.  Six years later I found myself graduated from college, married to a fabulous man, and standing on a literal mountaintop in Nicaragua that would be our home for a year.  Later we lived amidst mountain vistas in Northwest China and South Africa, and the years were filled with mountaintop experiences: seeing Chinese students come to faith, getting a first book published, finishing our graduate degrees, and having two kids.

Sure, there were valleys between those, but most were shallow, and the path onward to the mountains lay within sight.  My husband suffered from giardia, malaria, and a sense of worthlessness in Nicaragua, but we still had the joy of seeing fruit of our hard labor.  We saw projects fail in South Africa, but there were always new projects and experiences to charge ahead into.

It wasn’t until the year we moved back to the United States for the foreseeable future, back to the land of the mundane where I had no job and no plan for the rest of my life, that I sunk into the deepest hole in the darkest bog and widest valley I’d ever crossed.

A close friend was going through a divorce, and everyone else seemed too busy to talk.  Our kids’ friends had four-bedroom homes with jungle gyms in their basements, and we had a tiny two-bedroom apartment with no video games or hundred-dollar dolls, and our kids were soon made well aware of their inferiority in kid-cool-measures. The world I could see looked lonely, harsh, and wrong.

Tracking compassions

In those days I came upon Lamentations 3:19-33. I shared it with my newly divorced friend and clung to it like a life raft in the Pacific.

If ever there was a bog, Jeremiah was in it when he wrote Lamentations.  At Israel’s defeat he watched thousands killed, mothers eat their own babies, his people taken into exile, and God’s holy temple destroyed. Despite his warnings these people have turned their backs on God. His life appears to have been lived in vain.

Then, smack in the middle of the book, Jeremiah rolls out some of the most beautiful poetry in the Bible.  The whole book is in a traditional form carefully crafted with the heart of the poem, the nugget of purpose, set in the center.  He cries out

My soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord. …

For no one is cast off
by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to anyone.

There’s no bog so deep that those words can’t speak into it a rattlin’ hope.  Back in those days of feeling my soul “downcast within me,” I decided to take God at his word—if his compassions were new every morning, I would count them every day.

Thirteen years earlier, my husband and I had started a similar list we called “Amazing Days.”  There we’d tracked crazy experiences—inviting over truant teenagers, hosting an all fried food dinner, and eating deer brain soup in Nicaragua. Now I unpacked our old list with a new angle: counting compassions.  Compassions didn’t have to be incredible.  They didn’t have anything to do with mountaintops.  If Jeremiah could say after the defeat of Israel, “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,” I could count on his unfailing compassions where I was, too.

In the car on a shoestring vacation with my family singing of the Rattlin’ Bog, I could look back and see how hope planted in my bog year had gestated and grown.  My husband had a job he loved, I had started an exciting PhD program, we were settling into ministry and friendships where God’s work around us shone plainly.

Nobody makes it through life without a few boggy valleys, but valleys are exactly where God loves to plant hope.  And hope, the rare rattlin’ hope, hatches in its timing.

I wrote this article for a magazine over a year ago. The magazine closed down  as I was writing it, and I forgot about. I’m glad I found it and was able to share it with you here!

For all the Non-Utilitarians out there

I am getting a PhD in what some people consider the most useless and unemployable of all disciplines: cultural anthropology. According to Florida Governor Rick Scott, “We don’t need a lot more anthropologists.” Instead, he says, we should “spend our dollars giving people science, technology, engineering, and math degrees. That’s what our kids need to focus all their time and attention on, those types of degrees, so when they get out of school, they can get a job.”

If by “practical” we mean earning myself a lot of money and prestige or being assured of a job offer, yes, by those standards, I’m doing something that is absolutely impractical.

And I’m happy with impracticality.

I can think of at least five impractical pursuits that have guided my education and career. Compared to designing bridges or writing computer software, these might seem non-utilitarian, but I still consider them valuable beyond measure.

I recently wrote about those reasons in an article at The Well. Click here to read it. Be encouraged, all you fellow non-utilitarians!

Join us in something crazy

“Why do we still have cereal in the pantry if we’re not eating cereal any more?” my eight-year old son Zeke asked me.

“Well, after Easter, lent will be over and we’ll go back to eating cereal.”

“After Easter?” he shrieked.  “But I thought this was going to take like two years! How much does a well cost, anyway?”

A couple of months ago, our family decided to see if we could raise the money to buy a well somewhere in the world where people don’t have safe drinking water.  We had just bought a well for our own property, and having lived in places where whole communities don’t have access to a single well, we didn’t want to take our well for granted.

So we started asking people if they’d use the Lenten season as an excuse to do something crazy: let your gratitude spill over into giving money for a well somewhere.  For some people, this meant giving up something like coffee or soft drinks and giving away what they’d save.  We also suggested giving a dollar amount that meant something personally, like the amount of your own monthly utility bill. We decided we’d match every gift that came in, up to $15,000, the cost of a well giving safe drinking water to 300 people.

When we asked our kids if they’d like to give up something for lent to save money for a well, our daughter suggested cereal.  She knows cereal is our most expensive breakfast option.  It’s also her favorite option, but she figured we could eat oatmeal and eggs and other homemade breakfasts for 40 days and put a quarter each day into saving for a well.

We asked if that was ok with Zeke. He shrugged his shoulders. “Sure, sounds fine.”

Now there’s a jar on our counter where we drop in a quarter for every day we’ve been eating cereal.

Zeke is right – this is not about to total $15,000 by Easter.  By my calculations, with each of the four of us adding a quarter a day, it will take just over 41 years for us to raise the money for a well.

So Zeke gave up cereal until he’s 49 years old.

He seems fine with that.

But I’m glad there’s help on the way.

So far people have given or pledged to give $5,400. With us matching that, it puts us over two thirds of the way to there. That makes us pretty giddy.

And it’s not too late to join in!

Here’s what you can do:

  1. CLICK HERE TO DONATE for this well. WE WILL MATCH EVERY DOLLAR GIVEN, up to the total of one well for 300 people!
  2. SHARE THIS POST with your Facebook friends and Twitter followers.
  3. Check out Waiting for Water for a free downloadable Bible study guide about Lent and water, plus info on more good water-related organizations.
  4. Talk to your actual, real-life, face-to-face friends at your church or workplace.
  5. Drink a glass of clean water with deep thankfulness.

MLK wants YOU – Racism is about all of us

2008.08.25 30D 047There’s been some exciting buzz in the city of Madison  lately on the topic of race.  Since a local pastor, Alex Gee, wrote an excellent and honest newspaper article about being an angry black man (in the very best possible sense) he’s been bombarded with requests for more writing and television interviews and such.

I’m glad people are noticing.  I’ve lived in Madison off and on over the past fourteen years, and I know how easy it is for racism to linger in silence.

But the stats are mind blowing.  We can’t ignore this:

  • Three-quarters of the county’s African-American children live in poverty , compared to 5 percent of white children.Blacks are 5.5 times more likely than whites to be unemployed in Dane County.
  • African-American children are 15 times more likely than their white counterparts to land in foster care.
  • Wisconsin has the nation’s worst rate of incarceration of young African-American males on a per capita basis, and Dane County is much worse than the state average.
  • Wisconsin has by some measures the widest academic achievement gap between African-American and white students in the country, and Dane County is worse than the state average.

If you can stomach it, there’s a lot more in this Racial Equity Report.

I’m posting this now in part because MLK day is this Monday and that might catch the attention of a few more readers.  But  these things are not going to get better just because we’re all taking a day off work on a Monday or nodding our heads along with an article by a nice black pastor.

This stuff is getting worse, not better.  There are some pockets of courage and determination making big local impacts, like Madison Area Urban Ministry, and the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development at Alex Gee’s church, and Richard Davis’ Institute for the Healing of Racism.

But let me be honest.  When I start talking about this stuff, I feel a little like people are wondering, “Why do you care? You’re not black.”

Alex writes: “My experience is that many white Madisonians have an inordinate fear of being seen as racist. That fear is so paralyzing that it impedes honest dialogue about discrimination, systemic racism and white privilege.”

Preach it.

I admit I get scared that black people will think I’m a silly little white lady do-gooder who doesn’t really have a clue what she’s talking about.

And I get scared that white people will think I must have some guilt complex I need to deal with instead of meddling in other people’s business and trying to fix stuff that we just can’t fix.

I feel like I need to excuse myself by explaining that I have a close relative who’s black, and I’ve spent time in countries where black people are the majority, and therefore racism can matter to me too.

Hey white people, we shouldn’t need that kind of an excuse to make this our issue, too. We’ve all got “close relatives” who are black–they’re our neighbors, our classmates, our kids’ friends, our coworkers. Or more importantly, if they aren’t in any of those categories, we need to ask why not.

I’m not pretending to know what it feels like to be black. But I am insisting that we can make an effort to listen and learn and ask what we can do.

Here’s a couple places we can start:

Read Alex Gee’s original article, or join the facebook group talking about it, or listen to his sermons.

Or pick through this list of 50 daily effects of white privilege by Peggy McIntosh (scroll down to find it), or this blog post reminding us MLK’s life wasn’t “safe” to model our lives after.

Or read one of these books: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration

or Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria

or one of these books on racial reconciliation.

Or attend Madison’s White Privilege Conference this spring.

Or investigate something like this happening in your own city.

As I starting clicking on sites to find links for this blog post, I noticed that suddenly all the ads popping upon my computer started to show black people. Huh – It seems the cyberworld has decided I’m black, because I read articles about black people.  I hope they’re wrong.  I hope there are a whole lot of white people out there who also read articles about black people, and live differently because of it.

And one more thing. Way back in 1922, at a time when race relations were really ugly in the United States, a report was written trying to figure out why riots were breaking out, killing mostly black people in Chicago and elsewhere.  Here’s a piece of what they wrote. (I decided to copy it just as I found it reprinted in The Warmth of Other Suns, so please excuse the 1922-appropriate word “Negro.”) This reminder is as important today as it was back then.

It is important for our white citizens always to remember that the Negroes alone of all our immigrants came to American against their will by the special compelling invitation of the whites; that the institution of slavery was introduced, expanded and maintained by the United States by the white people and for their own benefit; and they likewise created the conditions that followed emancipation. Our Negro problem, therefore, is not of the Negro’s making. No group in our population is less responsible for its existence.  But every group is responsible for its continuance.

Whether you’re white, black, or anything in between or otherwise, what does being responsible for racism look like for you?  Share your ideas here.

What’s beauty worth to you?

image Van Gogh.jpg!Blog“Beauty has been rejected as a standard to live by and as a map to guide us.  Yet without the map of beauty…, ‘we risk falling into a world of addictive pleasures and routine desecration, a world in which human life is no longer clearly perceivable.’”

The above quote comes from a chapter about the life of Vincent van Gogh in Jim Belcher’s book, In Search of Deep Faith (he’s quoting Roger Scruton here).* Belcher describes Vincent’s messed up life: rejected by family, blaming himself for his father’s death, fighting with those who tried to love him, depressed, poor, and selling not a single painting in his entire life. That brokenness nurtured in Vincent a sense of not just the trite fads of the day, but a deep, broken beauty acquainted with failure and suffering.

I’d like to be a person who recognizes and values that kind of beauty.

Finding that kind of beauty happens in little everyday choices.  Lately I’ve been researching what kind of waffle maker to buy.  My readings of many product reviews have taught me that the options for waffle makers are much like the options for most things you buy these days:

  • Pay a cheap price, and get a cheap quality thing that’s made to give you a momentary thrill of purchase and then fall apart.
  • Or, pay a significantly higher price and, if you’re lucky, get something that works, maybe even something crafted.  For waffle makers, for me that looks like a locally made cast iron waffle maker you can use on a stove top.  Reveiwers glowed over this thing. It even inspired a utube video. People call it a keepsake for future generations.

I’d like to be a person who buys the cast iron kind of waffle maker.

But let’s get real. More often I’m the kind of penny-thrift who follows the flow and takes the easy way out and gets the kind of waffle maker that costs twenty bucks and then peels non-stick toxins into my family’s waffles.

Are we really willing to pay what it takes to give people meaningful jobs, to reward craftsmanship and creativity over mechanical precision and speed?

It’s so easy to fall into “routine desecration,” as Belcher and Scruton write. In choice after choice we exchange beauty for its cheap knock-offs and kitchy fakes. We grow addicted to stimulus and we forget what real beauty even looks like, much less what it’s worth.

My friend Marcia and I talked about beauty and my waffle maker dilemma, and she told me about a quote from a book called Kingfishers Catch Fire by Rumor Godden. In the story, an American woman goes shopping at markets in India.  She complains that “most of the merchants sold sham papier-mâché, cheap walnut carvings, machine-spun shawls, and Persian carpets made in Kidderminster.”  In response, a trader puts the blame back on her and her tourist kind: “By your own greed you tourists have debased the very things you want.” He tells her, though, that he sees something different in her: “You at least, lady sahib, are prepared to pay genuine prices for genuine things.”

My friend and I want to be people prepared to pay genuine prices for genuine things.

On my drive home from my last day of classes this past semester, I listened to a guest on public radio talk about what he called “the real humanities crisis” (Gary Gutting, The Kathleen Dunn Show). He said our society pretends that we don’t need or value beauty.  We pretend beauty is not utilitarian, and therefore not worthy of spending money on, not worth setting up social structures to create jobs for.  And yet, he said, our actions and choices every day show we do value beauty.  Every product we buy has something about it that appeals to us because it’s beautiful, it feels good in our hands, it looks right.  We don’t think of beauty as needing a price tag, but deep down we know its inestimable value; we need beauty.

My son and I have started shopping for a ukelele.  He wanted to play banjo, but given his size, we decided to settle for a smaller ukelele.  He can’t wait to pick one out.  I’m as excited as he is.  We’re ready to dish out some cash for this.  I’m a deep believer in music, not just as a useful thing, but as a thing that gives us (like this poem says), “more love compassion, gentleness, good—in short more life.”

I have never regretted majoring in music as an undergrad.  I say that not because piano playing earned me more money than any other job in my first year after graduating (which it did), but because it taught me to recognize beauty.

Music – on ukeleles, penny whistles, cello, french horn, flute, guitar, and piano in our house – is one way our family practices recognizing and living in the depths of real beauty.

What about you?  How do you practice real beauty?

* By the way, there’s plenty more beauty and good challenges in Jim Belcher’s book, too. The book follows the journey he and his family of six made across Europe visiting sites that he hopes will remind himself, his kids, and us as readers, what it means to live in deep faith.  His visits are full of great stories of both famous and obscure Christian heroes ranging from C.S. Lewis’s failing a debate to a village in the Alps  successfully sheltering over 3,000 Jews through the Holocaust. It’s totally inspiring.  And he didn’t even tell me to write this.

If life gives you a well…

Photo from donate.worldvision.org

Photo from worldvision.org

I tell him I was at the university for a decade. He whistles through his teeth.

“Is your mother still alive?” he asks.

“Yes.”

“If I was her, I would wrap you in cotton wool.  I would give you antibiotics every day just in case you get sick.  I would never allow you to go anywhere it is dangerous.  She should take out insurance on you.  You are more valuable than a room full of diamonds.”

-       Jonny Steinberg, Thin Blue, p. 101

Like Jonny Steinberg, a researcher who held the above conversation with a police officer in one of the toughest neighborhoods in South Africa, I have to ask myself, “Who am I to have so much education?”

After four years of undergrad, another three classes as a continuing education student, two years of MBA, and now in my third year year of a possibly eight-year-long PhD program, one asks these questions.  Especially when one’s research involves walking around talking to people who are lucky to have finished high school, much less college, and even if they have, who might not get a job paying more than $10 a day in their whole lifetime.

To those to whom much has been given, much will be asked.  And I’ve sure been given a heck of a lot.  Opportunities.  Education.  Money.  Home.  Water.

Sometimes it’d be easier to just have a little less given to me.

This month we dropped more than the price of my car on a new well.  You might say we didn’t have much choice in the matter—a family needs water, right?  But then, we did get the well.  We did get to choose to dig into savings and cough up the money and hire the well diggers.

Lots of people don’t have that choice.  Our little well chugging out water for my shower and porridge this morning could be saving a lot of people somewhere else in the world from sickness or miles of walking.

Crud.

Over the last couple years my children have latched on to the World Vision gift catalog phenomenon.  It wasn’t something we planned as parents, just something our kids got so excited about that they started spending their own money and raising more from lemonade stands and bake sales. We couldn’t turn down that kind of kid-enthusiasm for a good cause, so we went with it.  Every year our kids get almost as much joy as they do from their own Chirstmas-list writing (ok, not as much, but at least still a lot of joy) by thumbing through the World Vision catalog deciding whether we’re going to get a goat or a pig or a fishing net or a heap of medicines to give to people around the world for Christmas.

Yesterday the World Vision gift catalog arrived in the mail.  By the time he’d walked up the driveway with it in his hand, my son had already picked out what he wants to buy this year (“fish and chicks,” he said, liking the cleverness of the fish and chips pun).

As we’ve improved our own home and land over the last couple years, we’ve made a tradition of trying to match up what God gives us with gifts elsewhere.

When we bought our first batch of chicks, we gave chicks to someone who can use them to feed their family.

When we found a beekeeper who put hives on our property, we gave a hive to someone else.

When my son got a new fishing pole, we gave fishing gear.

When my brother gave the kids a pet rabbit, we gave rabbits.

And this year… this year we got ourselves a well.

Crud.

Also then someone decided I should really have a copy of a bunch of devotionals all about people waiting for clean water.

Sometimes I wish I didn’t know the things I know and believe the things I believe.

The price tag on a deep well through World Vision is $15,000.  There’s also the hand-drilled one for $3,000, or a share for $100.  Or there’s the easiest option: stop thinking about it and do nothing.

Tonight we’ll meet as a family to talk about what to get out of the gift catalog this year.

I’m thinking somebody ought to have an extra merry Christmas somewhere.

A journey through cerebral palsy

Now and then, readers surprise me with requests that I pass along stories from their lives.  Here’s the story of faith that one woman has to share with you all.  Thanks, Marcela!

Raising a child with severe disabilities has been one of the most difficult, but also one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. My son Nathan suffers from a brain malformation that has essentially prevented his brain from forming into two hemispheres, thus causing him significant, and permanent, disabilities.

Nathan1

Nathan cannot speak or walk; in fact, he can’t even hold his head up by himself, and he requires constant care and attention just to get by on a day-to-day basis.

While there was initially a strong element of fear and apprehension at the thought of raising a severely disabled child, our journey through cerebral palsy hasn’t just been a physical experience, but a spiritual experience as well.

Often times, your circumstances are merely shadows of a greater reality, and things which seem, and certainly are difficult on the surface, are actually tools that God uses to teach us and to build our character.

Our life and journey with Nathan is no different, as knowing him, caring for him and seeing him grow as a person has definitely impacted us in a spiritual way.

Power of Prayer

Since our son’s condition causes him a wide array of serious medical issues, there have been many occasions where we feared that he would lose his life.

While our doctors have been excellent, there have been times where we knew that doctors couldn’t help Nathan, and that if we were to continue having him with us, we would need intervention by God on our behalf.

During those times, we’ve petitioned God by way of prayer and have asked him to spare our son. In every instance, God has answered our prayers and made a way for our son to live, whether it is through medical treatment, responsiveness from a doctor or just an unexplainable recovery.

Just this week Nathan was in the hospital and struggling to breathe.  We had been there for several days and he showed no signs of improving.  I posted on Facebook a picture of him, with a request for prayers to our friends and family around the world.

We had not been given a discharge date and still had a myriad of medical issues to resolve.  Shortly after I posted on Facebook, Nathan started to feel better.  People started posting that they were praying, and with every hour, with every post, his health improved.  Less than 24 hours better, he was feeling much better, and had improved so considerably that he was discharged from the hospital!

Nathan2

This is just one of dozens of situations where we have witnessed first-hand the power of good and the power of prayer.  When he was meant to die at birth, we prayed and prayed, and he is here with us.  When he was very fragile and fighting for his life, prayers got him (and us) through.  God has been there with us at every step of this difficult, but rewarding, journey.

Because of those experiences, we know that prayer is powerful and is ultimately responsible for our son’s recoveries. While we know God doesn’t answer every prayer with what we might want to hear, we’re grateful for the times that he has spared our son, and will continue to pray for his recovery, both overall and in specific situations.

Inspiration

Having so many years with a child that wasn’t even expected to live past infancy has been a tremendous inspiration and blessing to us and to those who meet him. While Nathan can’t walk or speak, he is a happy child and it certainly shows through in his smile. Many people will see him and take pity on him, and then he’ll smile and exude a joy and happiness that seems contradictory to his situation.

Yet, he is a happy child; much happier than many kids his age who don’t have nearly as many problems as he does.

The fact that he’s able to maintain a certain level of happiness is a remarkable inspiration and a testament to God working in his life.

Power of Belief

Raising Nathan and walking through his struggles together has strengthened our faith and belief in God, and has shown us that there is indeed power in that belief.

We know that God has sustained Nathan and used him as a tool to bless and inspire the people around him, and we hope that will continue to be the case for many years to come, regardless of what kind of circumstances might come our way.

Marcela De Vivo is an advocate on behald of CSNLG and loves helping special needs children.  Follow her experience with Nathan at PrayForNathan.org.

Why a little obsession isn’t such a bad thing

2013.08.HarvestI have been known to obsess over growing things.

In Nicaragua, it was a garden I fought for and defended through drought, chickens, pigs, and the stares of our skeptical neighbors.  In a tiny apartment in Oshkosh, Wisconsin it was a table of houseplants inspired by my reading of House Plants for Dummies. In a half decade of rented homes it was gardens, often weedy, often blighted, sometimes fruitful.

Last year it shifted to chickens—chickens eaten by raccoons, chickens protected by a fierce and obnoxious rooster, chicken eggs hatching under our obsessive turning.  For months I dreamed chickens, designing and redesigning the fortress of a coop I built, awakening startled by any sound resembling the clutch of a hungry coon around my birds’ necks.

And in between has come the obsession of raising children—the growing project of all growing projects.  Parenting introduces the rhythm of a life-long reason to wake in the night worrying, “How are they growing?”  Always something needs pruning, fertilizing, feeding, transplanting, celebrating.  Parenting is the most obsession-demanding farming job of all.

I’ve been reading lately Mark Buchanan’s book Spiritual Rhythm. His premise is that we go through seasons spiritually, and it’s okay—even necessary—to adjust our actions and expectations as we tumble through those seasons.  He writes juicy descriptions of seasons and their unique beauty and allure, one after the other, reassuring readers that it’s good to slow down, to prune, to shovel snow, to soak in the sun, to assess the state of harvests, each according to our place in life.

In one chapter Buchanan writes about Psalm 1.  The psalm describes a person who delights in the law of the Lord, who meditates on the law, and whose life therefore is “like a tree planted by streams of water.”  Buchanan says this word “meditate” is a lot like obsession.  You can obsess over revenge, over love, over most anything.  For me it’s often over seedlings, chicks, and children.

He points out too that this obsessing leads to something else in this Psalm—delight.

I read this chapter sitting in my tree house in August.  From 30 feet above the ground, I was overlooking a monstrous garden, forests, and cornfields stretching to the horizon, all in the height of green fullness.  For a long time before I read, I had been just staring out, delighting. I thought about the fun of holding my latest nearly fully-grown batch of chickens in my arms, the taste of tomatoes my son and I grew, and the shape of the new apple trees I’m training to have strong limbs for some future hoped-for harvest.   I thought of what it would take to fence some wasted weedy land for goats, sheep, or pigs.  I listened to the sound of birds singing just above my shoulder in this enormous tree house my husband made us.  It is here, now, in the ripe harvest finale of summer, that obsession becomes pure delight.

Obsession, mostly, is not delight.  It is work.  It is sleepless nights, frustration, and thinking upon thinking upon thinking.  For one who finds something worth obsessing over, there are no shortcuts.

This, Buchanan reminds me, is how good lives grow.  Making time for good reading, trying to live lives that please God, training our children in the way they should go so that when they are old they will not stray from it, asking forgiveness when you’re a butthead to your spouse—these things take obsession.  But they yield days and years of delights like today, with stacked shelves of canned produce, fresh eggs for breakfast, and a palpable nearness of the kingdom of God.

But the good news is…

bunnyLast night we heard that a friend of a friend had taken her own life.

Some hours later in the night, our rabbit disappeared.

I’m not saying the two are of any comparable significance, but somehow pet deaths seem to stack up on human tragedies in ways that help me grapple with what’s going on here.

The thing those deaths have in common is that the very first thing one thinks when it’s your dear one lost is, “I should have done more to prevent this.”

I should have made sure the cage door was locked.  I should not have let the rabbit stay in the outside cage overnight.  I should have made my kids take the rabbit in every night, even though it means more work for them.  I should have been more concerned about teaching my kids what is right than about making life easy for them.

There’s a thousand things we could do better in retrospect.

I won’t begin to list the things one thinks when one’s friend takes her own life.  The list has no end.

The thing about deaths, and perhaps all endings, is it brings into stark relief the sin we go on committing every single day.  All the should haves.  All the shouldn’t haves.  The stuff that builds and builds and we never think it really matters.  We see it does matter.  It’s a matter of life and death.

It’s a terrible, terrible feeling knowing that.  The “I should have” after a tragedy is enough to ruin a person.

When I left the house this morning to go for a walk, I told a friend who is staying in our guest room this month about the lost bunny.  He’d also heard about the suicide last night.

He was standing on our picnic table eating a bowl of cereal, watching the sun turn the fog over our field from grey to orange.  Before I turned to go, he spoke quietly.

“But the good news is,” he paused and looked out into the misty distance.  “It’s not all death.”

On my walk I repeated those words.  It’s not all death.  The birds rising and swooping through the air.  The family of ducks dipping their heads in the water by the shoreline.  The orange sun reflected on the water.  The mist rising.

It is not all death, that someone without any guilt took away my guilt, for all the sin I know and do not know, today, yesterday, and tomorrow.

That this someone died, the least deserving of death.

That this someone rose from the dead.

That this someone loved me enough to say “you are forgiven.”

That this someone was there when the rabbit disappeared, when the friend couldn’t bear to go on, with those grieving, with those all around the world.

That this someone is so confident that he has this all worked out and the pain is worth the completion of his plan, that he goes on creating new life day after day.

That he does this in spite of, for the very purpose of spiting, death.

It’s not all death.

It is good news.