Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Story of Three Houses







Ever since my sister left last summer, Anna and I have been going for morning walks together, continuing on with the habit that somehow created itself apart from any intent, will or determination of our own.

We are not fanatical about it. We don’t go every day. We don’t have a set time.  Our morning walks meander through our lives, adjusting to its ebb and flow, rhymes and seasons  (even when there is no discernible reason).

Sometimes abundant, sometimes scarce, but every time these walks happen, they seem to hit the spot for both of us.

Our path takes us through our neighborhood, across a busy street into another quiet neighborhood with a trail around a lake skirting a small patch of woods the developer thoughtfully left behind after plowing down everything else to build the mini-mansions. 

We admire those mansions. But, we are more likely to be taken by the giant blazing fireball glowing on the east horizon and the interplay of its glory with the clouds in the sky above and the lake below. 

Or by angelic winged creatures unceremoniously wading through the shallows on their two stick-like legs, raking the bottom muck in search for a snack. 

Yuck!

Life is inhaled and exhaled between our breaths and steps, life is chewed, tasted and digested as it falls like crumbs off our breakfast tables on these walks.

Sometimes we fantasize about what it would be like to live inside one of those gorgeous houses in a perfect neighborhood with a lake and a path through the woods.

I LUST after that house, I moan.

Which one? She is suddenly animated beyond what is suitable for the morning hour. 

The one at the very beginning of the trail. On the edge of the lake. In the cul-de-sac!

Oh YES! Me too!

If that house ever goes on the market, we have to enter a bidding war over it.

No, we’ll just sell everything we own, buy it and move in there together. It’s big enough for both our families.

We laugh as we imagine life with BOTH our families inhabiting the house's secret interior. 


Its owners are as mysterious and invisible. 

We wish we could meet them and ask what it feels like to actually live the dream… Is it worth the sacrifice? Do their kids like the trade-off? Does their spouse love or resent this slab-and-concrete perfection?

But we never see them. 

So, our questions are doomed to remain unanswered as we continue on our walk, leaving the lusted-after mansion and it's perfect location behind. 



What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? Matthew 16:26

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Of Water, Vivaldi and Wine







Some may think they got the short end of the stick. 

That they are the second class citizens, the no man’s land dwellers. The lowly servants without a place either in the limelight or in the cushy audience seats covered in darkness.

Neither here, nor there... the backstage crew.

They are the conductors of empty chairs, the directors of beat-up music stands, the composers of chocolate chip cookies.

They are the shadows dressed in black, blending with the background because they are meant to be invisible.

They are meant to be unnoticeable.

There is no question in anyone's mind that they aren't the real gig. 

They arrive before the lights are on and leave after all the lights are out, not because they have to, but because they want to.

They are there when the only music heard is the scratching of the grand piano against the wooden floor and the clanking of the stands against each other.

Some may think they got the short end of the stick…

… maybe because they don’t understand…

...that their ear is the first to recognize...

... when notes become music…

… when syllables become a song...

Their lips are the first to taste water-turned-into-wine...

They are the first witnesses of the resurrection of Vivaldi and Mozart from the dead…

Still, some may think they got the short end of the stick…



When the host tasted the water that had become wine (he didn’t know what had just happened but the servants, of course, knew), he called out to the bridegroom, “Everybody I know begins with their finest wines and after the guests have had their fill brings in the cheap stuff. But you’ve saved the best till now!” John 2:9-10

Thursday, May 04, 2017

May the Fourth Be With You

I rarely revisit the oldies, but thought it would be fun to make an exception to the rule on this day. May the Fourth Be With You!



We can thank my mother-in-law for introducing Star Wars into our children’s lives by getting our 5 year old son his first Star Wars LEGO set. He ripped the boxes open and within seconds our home was invaded by the Imperial Stormtroopers and the Droids.

I was mortified.

Star Wars?!!! He is waaay too young for Star Wars!


It wasn’t the complexity of the building process I was concerned about, because that never seemed to be a problem for our pint-size engineer. What bothered me much more was a matter of introducing complex adult issues into his immature mind, and the challenge that creates for me as his parent. But, like it or not, the door was open and there was no going back.

From that day on, my son turned into a miniature Star Wars maniac. So far, he’s been mostly preoccupied with recreating cosmic wars against his little sister. Along the way he somehow acquired a prodigious amount of information about the characters and the plot and various twists and turns in the storyline. He learned the difference between the Imperial and the Rebel blaster, the who’s who and what’s what of the Imperial Army and the Rebel Alliance, and all the whys and therefores of the narrative that molded the worldview of generation after generation since the first movie was released. He bought a Star Wars Visual Dictionary with his own money(!) and would spend his free time memorizing its content.

Now, all this wouldn’t be so surprising if it wasn’t until this afternoon, years after the initial encounter, that he saw his very first Star Wars movie. Watching him watch the movie was as much (or more) fun as watching the movie itself. It was as if he had all these loose pieces of a puzzle, and he finally saw how they all fit together, he could finally place them in their exact spots in the larger, 4-D story-puzzle. His delight was quite contagious. During dinner, he continued chatting enthusiastically about all the fascinating trivia he picked up during the afternoon Star Wars extravaganza. In the course of the conversation, my husband casually mentioned George Lucas and what his intent might have been for the unfolding of the various episodes in a certain sequence.

George… Lucas?!!
 Our son muttered hesitantly… And who is this George Lucas? 

There was no doubt that he was utterly confused. You could tell that he was scrolling down the imaginary database of Star Wars names and faces, from Emperor Palpatine through Chewbacca and Ewoks, but there was no suitable match for the name “George Lucas”.

It was now our turn to be confused. How is it possible that with all these years of borderline obsession with the Jedi and their pecking order, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, and R2D2 and Obi-Wan Kenobi, our son never ever heard the name George Lucas?

We looked at each other and burst into laughter.

Hmm …George Lucas…. George Lucas…. Well, he is kind of like God to the world of Star Wars. Without him, there would be no Star Wars, nor the galaxy, nor anybody or anything else belonging to this galaxy far, far away. He created it all. This amazing world exists because it first existed in the mind of George Lucas.


It took several minutes for the news to settle in his shaken-to-the core 9 year old mind screaming for a paradigm shift. Until this moment of revelation he was so preoccupied with the fascinating universe which George Lucas had created that for a brief while he simply couldn’t compute the information about the existence of the creator of that universe.

There…there is a George Lucas… there IS a George Lucas and I never even knew it!


In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Resurrection Duck






We watch him, a tormented soul, standing on the grassy easement of a narrow two-way street near our house.

It’s Easter morning. The sun has just risen so the traffic is light.  Those who were going to the sunrise service are singing hymns celebrating the empty tomb.  The sleepy-heads are still sleeping in their beds waiting for the second resurrection.

He waddles to the curb and as he is about to step onto the street, the car comes from around the bend so he hops back to safety.  He hesitates for a while, gathering courage for the next attempt.

On the other side his three friends look helplessly, waiting for him to join their party.

His next attempt is interrupted with the speeding motorcycle zooming from the opposite direction.

He races back as fast as his short webby feet would allow him. Back onto the green. Back to safety. 

With each failed attempt the road grows wider and more menacing to his unblinking eye. Practically impassable.

I can’t stand watching his tortured existence any longer.

I look to the right and to the left -  the road clear - I spread my arms wide, a  featherless monstrosity flailing furiously, bearing down on him full speed.

The prospect of becoming an unexpected addition to the main course of an Easter banquet, overrides his paralysis of fear.

For a split-second I think I gave him a heart attack, before he lifts off and flies across the road.

When he safely lands among his friends, I don’t think he fully realizes yet that he has wings… that he can fly. The adrenaline is still rushing through his body, a whale of a story forming inside his little head to tell anyone who is willing to hear. 

His terrifying attempts to cross the road. The feeling of being stuck. Alone. The hopelessness. The paralyzing fear. The ugly mean giant who viciously attacked him... 

... when it finally hits him,


I can FLY!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Missing Child of Easter






Tucked between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is mostly overlooked, largely neglected middle child of Easter.

Saturday, also known as Sabbath.

The Day of Rest.

In this country, it is a day jam-packed with chocolate bunnies and jelly beans, church potlucks and carnivals, Easter egg hunts and other fun activities to kill the time between Good Friday and the sunrise service on Sunday.

I often wonder, though, about that first Sabbath, the first day of rest after the crucifixion of Jesus.

After the drama, the chaos, the noise, the horror – the nightmare of the day Jesus died, how in the world did the friends of Jesus find it in themselves to honor the commandment of God to keep the day of rest as they obviously did??

Everything happened so fast.

Everything happened so unexpected.

Were they reeling from all the thoughts and emotions that swarmed inside them, drowning in confusion and the turmoil that they were simply spent? Emotionally, physically, spiritually exhausted, so they entered a coma of sort, shocked and disengaged as they reached the threshold of human limit to bear grief.

Or did they, while going about their day, slowly, gently, quietly wrap in burial cloths their hopes and dreams, and lay them to rest alongside Jesus’ dead body, remembering with shudder the rolling of the stone, closing on the grave with the final thud?

Were they gathering the little strength that they had left to prepare for facing unimaginable, facing the new week, the first day of the new Jesus-less era, wondering how were they going to survive a minute, an hour, much less an entire day with him gone… knowing its forever?

Or were they somehow, someway able to receive the rest that God gives to all those who trust His goodness even in the darkest, longest night?

I wonder what the friends of Jesus felt on that day...  that must have felt like a thousand-year long sleepless night of rest...


Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Bad News of Easter




Quite awhile ago, I heard somebody say,

If you were the only person on Earth, Jesus would still come to die for you.

Over time the statement got buried under tomes of theological head knowledge, its gritty truth never really trickling down into my heart.  

Year after year each Easter celebration I would give genuine mental consent and sincere lip service to the events in Jesus’ life that culminated on Friday’s crucifixion.

Knowing how the story ends, we seemed all too eager to hoppity- hop over to Easter with it’s colored eggs and chocolate bunnies celebrations, as if glossing over what killed Jesus is going to make it magically (or, some might say, miraculously) disappear.

With so many bad news in this world, we don’t want to dwell on the negative.  

Since we have the Good  news, we have to share it and have to share it quickly.

But, good news isn’t good unless you are willing to hear the bad news first.

So, with your permission, I'll share some bad news.

The cross of Christ is God’s final declaration on human goodness.


If we don't want to take God's word for it, life has a way of convincing us sooner or later.

What this means is that best, most wonderful, kind, industrious, talented, impressive, intelligent, good looking, successful person you and I meet (including the one we see in the mirror) has a dark, broken interior we all try so hard to conceal behind a façade.  Religious façade probably being the most grotesque of all.

Some of us are so convincing that we start believing our own Marketing and PR or Facebook feed.

As if this is not bad enough, it actually gets worse.

Our brokenness is unfixable.  We are irreparably messed up and there is nothing, absolutely nothing you and I can do to fix it. In fact, by trying to fix it, we often make things even worser (does that word exist in English language?)

This truth is so sobering, if we allow ourselves to linger in it for a bit, it has a potential to radically alter the way we see ourselves, the world and people around us. 

Some of us might be driven do despair. 

For some, this despair might be the best thing that happened in the lifetime of escapism and denial.

The Good Friday is God’s final heart-wrenching declaration on human goodness.

There is none. 

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

The Taste Test





It really was a dumb, no-win question.  

Are they any good?

If I had thought of it, I would have known that there was one and only one way to find out about the true nature of the advertised mangoes.

I would have to go to the store, get some and try them myself. 

That’s the way with some things in life.

Having stumbled upon enough tasteless, unripe, stringy, woody,  rotten mangoes  – as well as tasted some really good ones,  I find I am becoming more of a skeptic.

I don’t just jump in with both feet simply because somebody posted it on Facebook.

I don't believe it just because I see it, or hear or read about it.

Are they any good?

Well, come and see for yourself.

When Phillip told Nathanael that they found the One promised through Moses and Prophets, Nathanael was skeptical.

There have been too many fake Messiahs parading through history. 

Our age didn’t invent fake news.

How do you know who is the real deal?


Don’t just trust my word for it.


Don’t just believe because somebody says it.

Come and see for yourself.




O taste and see that the Lord is good. Psalm 34:8

Monday, April 03, 2017

The Mango Tango



Few days ago the manager of my favorite produce store posted a picture on their Facebook page of a pallet stacked high with boxes of mangoes. There was also another close-up of beautiful shiny fruit with $2.99 a box as the advertised price.

I was hooked.

Those mangoes at that price…?!??! The deal was too good to pass.

Just one box wouldn’t be nearly enough for our family. I was already calculating in my head how many boxes - 

...mango salsa, mango smoothie, mango-Key lime pie, Caribbean mango salad...

- we could accommodate when, What if they aren’t any good?, popped inside my head.  

Remember, last time you bought mangoes they were so tasteless you were the only one willing to eat them…

As much as I hate hearing my Rain-on-the-Parade Voice of Reason, I had to admit he got a valid point.  Even the favorite store has a bad apple - or mango - from time to time. But, I wasn’t going to subject myself to another truckload of unripe fruit that went from mediocre to rotting... and they weren't even on sale!

In order to ensure I won't make the same mistake again, I typed up a simple question in the comment box under the pictures,

Are they any good?, then hit the return on my keyboard and saw my words posted on the Internet for the whole world to see forever.

Are they any good?

ARE THEY ANY GOOD????

It was like a delayed reaction.... What was I thinking???!!? I didn’t mean to be insulting but… what was I hoping for...???

For him to cordially reply with,

Oh, they are terrible, just like last time, but we got so many that we are simply trying to unload them to the gullible fools like you.  

Or,

They are bland but tolerable - what do you expect at that price? 

Or, make some other similar self-incriminating comment posted on Facebook, effectively ruining our relationship and their business forever and ever?


Pleading the fifth in this case seemed like the most prudent approach.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The Walking Wounded







In her book, The Last Best Cure, Donna Jackson Nakazawa quotes a physician speaking at a women’s health conference:

Walk into any of our waiting rooms and it’s full of women in the thirties, forties and fifties. The American woman in her prime is our prime patient; she is the walking wounded of our day.

The quote has been haunting me for months now.

The American woman.

In her prime.

The walking wounded.

Of our day.

Who would have guessed?

Who would have dreamed of such a thing?

The woman who ‘has it all’...

.... her life 'a-dream-come-true' by most standards..

… in the best years of her life…

… living in one of the most affluent - 'the land of promise' - countries in the world…

This woman is a walking wounded of our day.

The irony so severe it would be easy to dismiss as implausible.

On the day when women are recognized and celebrated all around the world,  I marvel at the waiting room statistics that defies logic.

How did we manage to get so fooled?

What happened socially and culturally to perpetrate such tragedy? What is going on inside the American woman to send her on such trajectory of self-destruction?

Every day I am surrounded by ‘American women’ - capable, competent, strong, tirelessly involved  in political, religious, academic arena. 
Always willing to step up to the plate. 

Always there to help and serve.  

Truly impressive.

We applaud them.

We admire them.

Some of us even envy them!

And then, seemingly out of blue…

In her prime…

… the wounds she’s been covering up for so long, now a diagnosis.

Her superhero costume exchange for the hospital gown.

The weight of the whole world she’s been carrying for much too long, pushes her over her weight limit.

The American woman in her prime - the walking wounded of our day...


Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

Monday, February 06, 2017

It Ain't Over 'Til It's Overtime





We started getting peppered with, ‘Are we at the point of no-return yet?’  during the first half of the game last night.

It’s still too early to tell…

One touchdown after another…prospects looked pretty bleak.

What about now? Are we now at the point of no return?

Wanting to know the end before the actual ending runs in our family.

We fended off the question with the sagely wisdom of,

It ain’t over ‘til it’s over, scooping the home-made guacamole with spicy nacho Doritos, but I admit I had my doubts.

Yes, come backs happen. 

But so do the decimations. 

We’ve seen a few of both with our own eyes and there was no telling what would happen with this game. Will there be an upset? Or, depending on the side you root for, a steady humiliation that ends in defeat or smooth sailing that ends in well-deserved victory?

By the time the half-time show rolled around, I thought Lady Gaga was going to be the talk of the Super bowl 2017.  And the cool drones.

We sent our kids to bed shortly after the second half started, both of them firmly convinced that the outcome had already been decided. That there was not much game left worthy of staying up to watch.

The rest is history.  In fact, a lot of history’s first were made last night. Not being a football buff, I can only name one or two.

The one that struck me the most was the first Super Bowl ever that had gone into overtime.

Sometimes life feels like that. We feel that we've reached 'the point of no return', and that the winners and the losers have already been decided before the end of the first half. Not much game left worthy to stick around for.  

Our best and highest hope is that there will be plenty of tasty snacks to keep us munching away until bedtime.

But, life has a way of upsetting our bowl, of serving us surprises. 

Sometimes (in fact, more often than in Super Bowl)  it actually extends into overtime! 

The clock is up, but the game is not over.

It’s the final stretch, the final seconds that decide. Those can change everything.

This is good news, really good news for the apparent losers.

There is hope!

This is also an unnerving piece of additional information for those of us who think we've already got the victory in our back pocket.

I suppose, that’s what makes life interesting to the very end. And how the history is made along the way.



Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. Revelation 2:10

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Lost and Found






This week, on Monday, I lost a hat.

On Tuesday, I lost a bike lock and another hat.

On Wednesday, which is today, I managed to lose my credit card.

I am not joking.

Some may argue,  perhaps justifiably so, that I am losing my mind.

The good news is…

On Monday, which happened to be the coldest day of the year so far, after backtracking a mile and a half on my bike, adding three extra miles to my 8-mile itinerary, I found my lost hat.

On Tuesday, the second coldest day of the year, I found the ‘other hat’ which blew off my head into a busy street, just few hundred yards behind me.  It was ran over by several rushing cars before I was able to rescue it. Except for a few scuff marks, no permanent damage. 

As for the bike lock, I had to ride all the way back home looking for it. I admit, there was some negotiation going on inside my head between me and God - being omniscient, clearly He knew exactly where the lock was.  I scoured every inch of the 4-mile path but didn't see it anywhere. Gravely disappointed and a bit miffed, I made it to our driveway. The disappointment and the miff turned into happiness the moment I saw the lock, basking in the cool winter sun, in the same place where it fell off the bike right before I left home.

Today, while standing in the checkout line at Wal-mart, I discovered that my credit card wasn’t where it should be inside my wallet. I froze in place, even though the weather outside was rather warm. Then, I mentally backtracked my steps all the way to Ross department store where earlier in the day, I used it in the process of returning an item I'd purchased almost a month ago.

I clearly remembered forgetting to remove my card out of the credit card machine.

To drive back to Ross, I spent twice as much gas than the total cost of the returned item - not to mention the time and the stress! All this in 'hope against hope' that the card would be in the possession of an honest Ross’ employee rather than some lucky crook who could be thanking God this very moment for His generous provision of a free $10,000 credit limit at my expense.

The Loss Prevention person greeted me warmly, and after I explained why I was there again, he  asked me for my name, walked over to the Customer Service desk, verified the name on the card and handed it to me.

To describe what I felt at that moment as 'relief' would be the understatement of the year.

Every day this week, I’ve spend extra time, energy and money to retrieve my lost belongings. Even though their monetary value was negligible, I went through all the trouble, in the cold weather, riding against the wind on a bicycle, looking for them until I found them. 

Crazy, isn't it?

Then it struck me.

If these lost objects made of wool, metal and plastic were valuable enough to me to go through all the trouble of finding them, how much more are we - body, soul and spirit - worth God's 'trouble' so we can be found?

It’s so easy to get lost, to feel lost - a small, insignificant person in a large, big-issues world of refugee crisis, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, Presidential orders, Supreme Court appointees. 

A tiny, disposable, replaceable cog in a greater machine with the mission to save the world...

It’s so easy to compare ourselves to others more important, more successful, more 'this' or 'that' than us and doubt whether anyone notices... whether anyone cares...

... that we are lonely...
... that we feel forgotten...

... that we are drifting away like a wind-blown hat off somebody’s head...

Perhaps all this is so easy because it is so hard to really believe that we are worth the bother...

...worth the effort...

 - by God and by man -

... that it takes to be found again. 





If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? Romans 8:32



Monday, January 23, 2017

Chain Reaction






It really isn’t as uncommon as one may think, this still-as-a-glassy-surface-of-a-lake-on-the-outside-but-churning-like-a-magma-chamber within.  

Smiling on the outside, broken within.

Calm on the outside, raging within.

Poised on the outside, ridden with questions and emotions within.

Eventually, the veneer cracks, volcano explodes or we simply get exhausted, get desperately weary of wearing a mask, and the inside seeps out.

The inside belches out and usually we are the ones most surprised of all by what we hear and see.

We are the ones most shocked by the discovery of how woefully little we know and understand ourselves…

This fresh awareness of the discrepancy, even contradiction between the appearance and the substance, the 'inside' and the 'outside' which dawned on me in the linear accelerator room triggered an interesting chain reaction (yes, pun intended!)

By its sharp contrast it reminded me of the words I've been chewing on since Christmas.... the words which suddenly struck me as incredibly radical and insanely rare:

The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood... 

... Like Father, like Son,

Generous inside and out

True from start to finish.     John 1:14

Not,

Generous on the outside, but kind of stingy within;

Not,

True when he started but turned out false at the end.

With Jesus, it’s what you see is what you get.

Generous through and through. True at the beginning and all the way to the finish line. 

The way he talks, the way he lives in every detail, all the time!

No faking it. No masks.  No need to impress or manipulate. 

No overpromising and under-delivering.

No hidden agendas or ulterior motives. 

No fears and insecurities, and buckling under pressure. 

No packaging falsehood as 'alternate facts'.

Yes is yes and no is no.

How deliciously refreshing!

How delightfully simple!

How absolutely, totally, completely humanly impossible…

Friday, January 20, 2017

Inauguration Consternation





With half of the country cheering and the other half booing on this Inauguration Day, with friends and family equally agitated on both sides of the great divide, something completely different occupies my mind today.

It’s something totally unrelated, something quite personal and, in the large scheme of things minor, almost insignificant  relative to the most controversial, most divisive elections we've had the privilege to witness in the history of the United States.

I even hesitate to bother writing about it.  But, the bur is real, and write I must, if for nothing else than to scratch where it itches me the most...

Shay and Jenny were my technicians today. I've just met them, so I can’t say much about either of them, other than that for about forty-five minutes, as a part of their normal, day-to-day job, they’ve jostled me around  on the top of the table inside the linear accelerator room like a human Raggedy Ann doll. They squeezed and bunched up my skin and arranged my bones in the most awkward, unnatural positions ensuring that everything was just so.

In response, I instinctively kept realigning my neck and my limbs, looking for a more comfortable placement.

We’ll do all the work, they try hard to be patient with me, but, you HAVE TO be still. You can’t move. You must remain still.

I don't know whether they are authorized to speak on God's behalf or not, but they use the kind of voice as if this is a matter of life and death, or at least serious injury.

I take a deep breath but keep the, Easier said than done, tucked inside the inaudible under.

My mind orders my rebellious body, STOP fidgeting. Just BE still.

My body backfires like a grumpy toddler, I can't 'just be still'! I am hurting. This is painful. It’s taking too long. I am tired and my nose is itching.

I say out loud, on behalf of my nose,

My nose is itching.

Jenny leans over and scratches my nose with the corner of the cotton blanket.

Thank you, says my nose, that feels much better.

I take another breath and find I am able to relax a bit. I close my eyes, embracing the moment of rest, unwanted as it may be. 

I lay so still I feel Earth’s rotation under my back. My body, indeed, is perfectly still, I realize, but inside, my soul is in uproar. 

This is so interesting, I observe, How’s it possible for a body to be so perfectly still but on the inside a storm is raging on…? 

...for the exterior to be as calm as a glassy surface of a lake, while the depths are churning like a magma chamber?