Sunday, December 25, 2016

Speechless Christmas

It’s really quite unlike me.  Words have always come easy to this a mile-a-minute girl. Some might say, Too easy.

As far as I can remember, I could talk.  Very quickly writing followed all that talking.

Most of my life, I’ve been expressing myself through words.

Spoken words.

Written words.

But this year… this year that changed.

I’ve been struggling to put into words the thoughts and emotions of this year’s Christmas season like never before.

It’s not that I stopped thinking and feeling – quite to the contrary!

It’s just that I continually find myself laboring over finding the right words to clothe those squirmy thoughts, those wiggly feelings sloshing around my soul. I browse through my internal dictionary and thesaurus, pick a word, maul it over, only to discard it as woefully insufficient.

There is a mile-high garbage pile of words resting in the cluttered corners of my mind.

How do you condense life into a mere string of syllables? How do you confine what moves and breathes, sighs, laughs and weeps into motionless scribbles, quick sound-bites and 140 character tweets?

I am frustrated and humbled by the process.  I feel out of control and vulnerable. 

I feel like my tongue is glued to the roof of my mouth and my pen has dried up.

I am through with you words!, I want to say. I am done with you and your impotent, insufficient ways! From now on, I am a gardener!

Then a thought catches me by surprise,

Maybe there is something to this… perhaps that’s what Christmas, sort of, is … might be… could be... all about…

The Word – The Word! -  that spoke world into existence, the Word who talked to Moses and children of Israel, poured his heart out to prophets and kings… The Word who spoke and was ignored, dismissed, misunderstood, thwarted… the Word who fell silent for 400 years…

The Word finally said,  

Enough is enough. I am done with mere words. I am going all out here… I am going… human! I am going naked! Male child… A boy… No more mere words… no more empty talk… I am going out on a limb here… No shortcuts… no shorthand…. From start to finish, with My people… from the beginning to the end… their God. In their joy. In their sorrow. Their joy, my joy. My joy their joy. Their sorrow my sorrow. My sorrow their sorrow…

And so it begun. God-Man, wordless, speechless babe cradling inside its soft flesh the living breathing Word.

 The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.
John 1:14

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Shortest Distance the Longest Journey

Bethlehem lays six miles south of Jerusalem. Six miles isn’t really that far. It’s within reasonable walking distance, a day trip. But some of us find it incredibly hard to turn away from Jerusalem’s thrills – exhausting as they can be - away from the endless supply of adrenaline rush we spiritual junkies crave so much.

Most of us don’t do it willingly.

Most of us rarely choose this path.

More often than not, we are thrown on it.  Our Jerusalem party is interrupted by a phone call, a tap on the shoulder…

… and we set out on what feels like the most treacherous voyage. 

The darkest night. 

The loneliest place on Earth. 

All one can do is put one foot in front of the other and the next… again and again… 

Some call this journey the longest, 18 inch journey that leads from head to heart. Some of us take years, decades, perhaps even a lifetime to walk this path. 

Then we stumble upon (or perhaps are guided to?) an intersection - a strange juncture where songs of angels are mixed with bleating, mooing and the smell of farm animals, and of shepherds who, of course, also smell like animals. It is likely that we don’t even realize we are drawing near… near the place where Hope is wrapped in the soft baby skin, and the Word is silent in the makeshift bed of hay…

…the embodiment of unsparing grace at the sight of which angels fall prostrate…

… the unfailing love made human, in whose arms both children of Jerusalem and children of Bethlehem can find rest for their weary souls at last.

And with fresh eyes we see that our journey has only begun.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

When God Misses the Target

Just six miles south of Jerusalem lies the place God chose as the birthplace for his son. If it wasn’t impossible for God to have bad aim, one might be tempted to think that he missed his target by six miles.

By all human standards, Jerusalem had everything going for it as an indisputable favorite to host such momentous event. 

Rich religious history. 

Impressive tradition. 

Glowing reputation.

Its facilities and resources were far superior to anything Bethlehem had to offer for hosting the birth of God incarnate.  In the eyes of the event planners selecting the caterer, Jerusalem would be the New York City’s Le Bernardin and Bethlehem...?

A banged up food truck!

The real estate agents tell us it’s all about location. Location, location, location.

I find this very interesting.
Something inside me is naturally drawn to Jerusalem - its buzz, action, excitement, the promise of significance and validation it seems to offer. It’s the place to see and be seen. 

I can be inside Jerusalem, so engrossed by all the fascinating who’s whos from the invitation list and their impressive resumes that I completely miss the Guest of Honor!

I can be inside Jerusalem and miss God by six miles.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Lesser of Two Evils

Nobody noticed we were slowly but surely painting ourselves into a tight culinary corner. With time, all the wonderful vast choices the good Lord put within our reach were reduced down to two.

It was either Tyson or DiGiorno.

Personally, I didn’t care for either. And against my better judgment, I willingly conceded to both.

We never put our foot down to stop the insanity. We must have been fooled by the fact that nobody appeared to be dying of hunger around us. Our stomachs were getting filled plenty but it was more like eating Styrofoam than sushi or sarma.

In the process, our palates atrophied along with our taste buds. Our children couldn’t tell the difference between a turnip and catnip, Our noses vandalized by seductive air-fresheners and scented candles, couldn’t smell basil from cilantro anymore.

We started slathering Chick-fil-A sauce on everything and calling whatever was buried under ‘tasty’.

Forgotten were the days of thyme and sage in our messy kitchen…

Gone was the smell of bacon fat and caramelized onions that made our stomachs growl like a roaring lion…

Gone was the fire of all four burners running red-hot, the bobbing lids making our house steamy and us sweaty yet glowing…

Our onion-tears dried up. 

We were eating without tasting.

Watching without seeing.

Listening without hearing.

And even though our stomachs were filled to the brim every night, they felt strangely empty…

Which made me wonder...

What is worse… ?

Eating without tasting...?

Or not eating at all...?

Monday, November 07, 2016

Breaking the Speed Limit of Life

Some may say it was simply life catching up on us.  We were two busy, exhausted parents dealing with rather significant health issues...

Who could blame us for wanting a break, for taking a short-cut or two?

Especially when we discovered that our more discriminating toddler actually preferred surrogate dinosaurs-shaped chicken over its more gruesome counterpart? And that we could save time, energy and eventually even money while still having our hungry bellies filled...

Who could resist such a deal?

Others may shake their heads and say that just like everyone else, we too were duped into mindless following of the global frenzy of busy...

... two arrogant fools hell-bent on saving the world while squandering our own and our children’s souls, accelerating when we should have been stopping and evaluating...

... breaking the speed limit of life and praying to God we won’t get caught.

Regardless of reasons or faults, we joined the army of parents all around the country who were chomping off tiny dinosaurs’ legs in PG-7 rated family dinners, pretending to have fun while kids giggled, making sure they don’t see through our charade.

None of this happened overnight. We slowly slid and skidded. Nobody meant any harm. Everybody thought this was actually helpful. We were ‘spared the hassle’. We had ‘more important things to do’… 

Like the Once-ler's Thneed, we became convinced that we needed it!

Thus our bustling, blood-and-gut splattered, alive kitchen turned into a fine dining for the toddlers containing warmers for nutritionally-empty artificially-flavored convenience foods prepared by nobody we knew, and nobody that knew us.

Friday, November 04, 2016

The Fine Dining for Toddlers

It hasn’t always been like that around here – I mean, frozen pizzas, the 3-minute Ramen Noodles and 11-minutes assembly-line chicken nuggets in the shape of little dinosaurs. We never meant for our house to become the fine dining for toddlers!

Our chickens used to have legs and breasts, gizzards, back and neck.  

We didn’t hire hit-men from Publix for $8.99 to execute the dirty work for us, to bail us out of the mess and the gore that eating fried chicken represents.

The mess and the gore were an integral part of each meal, not sanitized out of it..  

When we got married, our kitchen became one-of-a-kind, steamy, sticky, bustling melding pot of two very, very different worlds and styles, taste buds, culinary experiences and philosophies. We had almost as much fun there as in our bedroom. 

At first we fought a lot because we didn’t understand how our different personalities could possibly work together. Eventually we were able to relax and enjoy some of the best home-made foods from around the world and share it with few gutsy friends and neighbors willing to join us at our dining room table.

Stuffed Peppers. Paprikas. Sarma. Curry. Musaka. Chilli. Sopska salata. Masala. 

You could never predict what might be cooking in our household. Until you could actually smell it.

And it smelled gooood... at least most of the time.

I brought the Europes and the Balkans and my husband contributed the rest of the world spawned out of his international travels, which we later were fortunate enough to combine.








We had the best of both… no – the best of all worlds under our roof. 

And then… I don’t know what happened...

I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able. I Corinthians 3:2

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

The Kick-Pork-Butt Roast

Every so often, usually when the dinner table is cleared and the dishes piled in the sink, there is a knock on our front door. It’s dark outside and I am already  in my bathrobe, settled in front of the TV watching reruns of Criminal Minds while the rest of the family is too preoccupied with whatever they are doing to even hear the knock-knocking.

Hey! I yell, Can somebody get that door – I am in the bathrobe!

It’s me, Juergen, I recognize our neighbor’s voice coming from the outside. My mind and heart at rest that there is no serial killer or a door-to-door Kirby vacuum peddler, I unleash the kids who swing the door wide open, all too eager to see what Juergen is bringing to us this time.

See, he conditioned our kids perhaps too well. He never comes to our door empty handed, and most of the time he apologizes for the late arrival – the dinner took much longer to cook, or he was kept late at work so he had to start late, as if an apology is needed when you are on the receiving end of a gracious gift.

I hope you enjoy it – it took ten hours in the smoker…

For the family accustomed to frozen pizza, 11-minutes Tyson chicken nuggets and 3-minutes microwavable Maruchan ramen noodles bowls, ten-hour-smoked-pork-butt-roast represents a life in a galaxy far far away, even if it’s only two doors down.

Even though I already ate, I can’t resist.  I don’t share my family’s enthusiasm for convenience food and whenever the opportunity knocks to enjoy some real, home-made-from-scratch adult deliciousness, I take it.

Mmmmmmm… this is sooooo good!  My pleasure is contagious, at least to the other adult in the household.  We don’t even bother with forks, scooping pieces of meat with the tips of our fingers, holding off the licking part until we couldn't take another bite.

It’s a bit of a delayed reaction, but eventually it hits us both – first me, than my husband.

This has a KICK to it!

Yea, it’s a kick-pork-butt roast!

Everything that Juergen has brought to us over the years has been delicious. One may even say, inspired. He is a hard working truck driver with many overtime hours, but he loves to cook. And his love shows in every meal he prepares.  His cuisine generally hugs the mild and gentle side. Tasty and mild.

But this… this charted a whole new territory. It was still as inspired as ever but the added kick made it awesome.

Next time I saw him, it was pre-dawn morning a couple of days later. I was going for my walk and he was heading for work. I waved his red truck, he rolled down the window.

Juergen, that was awesome! Thank you so much.

Oh, I thought it had too much pepper, he said in his usual modest way, but that’s what the recipe called for...

It was PERFECT amount of pepper, I assured him. EVERYONE in our family LOVED it!

In that case, next time I’ll make two batches…one mild, and the other...

No! Noooooo!!! That’s not what I was trying to say….I am mortified. You…you  are just making me...


But he laughs and waves…  

…And inspired…

puts his engine in gear …

to make some 



kick-butt roasts of my own

…as he rides off.

Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. Matthew 5:13

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Gift of Sanity

Serbian word for being sane - priseban - can be translated as ‘being present to yourself”.

Living with/close to yourself. Being attuned to what is in your mind and heart, to what you are thinking… what you are feeling.

I like that. A lot.

In the age of distractions, with widespread epidemic of diversions of all kinds, there is a continual current of ‘being absent’ – first to oneself, but then, in a cascading reverberation, to the people we meet on the streets, in the stores, people we sit next to in the churches and business meetings; people we share our home, dinner table and bed with. 

And through it all, perhaps, maybe foremost, absent to God. The One who chose to declare, to reveal Himself as I AM. Ever present Presence.

Not too many people seem to be terribly concerned with this plague of absence. It doesn’t reach the news. It doesn’t trend or go viral on social media. Nobody is sounding the alarm nor sees it as a possible root of much ill that torments our world today.

When my sister came to stay with us, she was so fully present – body, mind, soul and spirit – to the best of her abilities, according to the need of moment, for the entire duration of her visit. 

Attentive. Available. Bringing no agenda of her own... Just being here with all her faculties, ready to listen, ready to serve in ways practical or profound. Serious or silly.

Even more shockingly, she was willing to not do, not serve, not ‘help’ if the doing and the serving and the ‘helping’ wasn’t really helpful.  If it was more for the sake of the ‘helper’ than for the one on the receiving end of such ‘gift’.

Her being present to herself, and then, in turn, present to me and each member of our family had cascading results felt by each of us, although some of us may not have recognized them as such. We simply enjoyed the many varied benefits of such delightful person who happened to be our family, much in the same way we enjoy a good meal without thinking too much about what it took to get the meal from the barns and fields through the kitchen onto our dinner plate.

It gave me a rather striking visual of what living with Jesus, His Spirit always present, attentive, available, ready, may look like…

…if we choose to be present – truly present - to ourselves and to Him…

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

The Gift of Presence

When I asked my teenagers what was the best thing about their aunt’s visit, after thinking a bit, T1 responded,

The best thing??? Just having her here with us, being present with us, was the BEST thing…

Not the presents she brought from the far off country... 

Not all the grungy, slave work we avoid and she'd done while with us, without a word of objection or complaint. 

Not even the mouth-watering meals she prepared for us to enjoy day after day after day.

Her presence WAS the best present.

I am shocked that a 15 year old boy obsessed with technology and video games would even register on that level of interpersonal relationships, much less be able to articulate it.

But, it's true. 

She was fully present to each of us - mind and body, heart and soul - to the best of her abilities, according to the need of moment, for the entire duration of her visit. 



Bringing no agenda of her own... Just being here with us, all her faculties keen, ready to listen, ready to serve in ways practical or profound. 

Serious or silly.

She continued being in touch with her family at home via Skype and even did some work – normally a busy architect in high demand. But that not only never interfered with her availability to us here, but her 'other' life actually enhanced ours, bringing a fresh dimension to our run-of-the-mill existence.  

This gift of presence, in stark contrast to the endless distractions and hyperactivity embodied in the spirit of our age and culture, was like a breath of heavenly air we got to savor for full five weeks. 

Some may consider this an extravagant luxury. Others an absolute necessity on which the fate of the world and our own soul survival depends.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Sister Love

After five unforgettable weeks together, yesterday I dropped off my sister at the airport and bid her a tearful good-bye.

Now, there is a giant hole inside my heart that only a sister can fill.

Her first visit was fourteen years ago. Since then, we exchanged a ton of e-mails, talked on Skype countless times. We paid a couple of all too short, rushed visits to her and the rest of my family in Europe. One can say that we could have, should have done more to arrange more time together.

But life has a way of interfering with could-haves and should-haves.

Just as, sooner or later, life has a way of forcing the true love out into the open. 

She spared no expense in coming, paying her own way, apparently blind to sacrifice of leaving everyone and everything behind for such a long time.

Days and weeks before her coming, I was cleaning like a mad banshee, clearing out as much clutter as I could, making room for her both in the house and in my schedule, daydreaming about what it’s going to be like to live with her again under the same roof.

I admit, I was a bit apprehensive, too.

Will she feel at home? Will we drive her crazy? (I know we will – it’s inevitable!) How are we all going to adjust to another person inside our little family’s rut? How’s she going to adapt to not just our family’s but also this country’s strange ways and rhythms, values and habits?

I understand that most people can’t afford such extravagant luxury of the gift of time. Sure, we had some exceptional circumstances that justified the incredible splurge. But, during those fleeting five weeks, I realized that there is nothing – nothing ­– that can replace an extended time of living together, under the same roof, sharing life, meals, laundry, recipes and everything else.

An open-book life with no place or desire to hide or keep secrets. 

It was the most refreshing experience I’ve had in a long, long time.

I think it gave me a tiny taste of what it was like when Jesus left his home and country, Father, saints and angels and moved in to live with us… 

...what a gift that was and how life-altering the experience would be not only for those who received him but also for the Son of God himself. 

The Word became flesh and moved in with us... John 1:14

Saturday, September 03, 2016

The Secret Power of Innocent Questions

One exceptionally busy year, Ash Wednesday sneaked up on me utterly unprepared.  I woke up that morning, suddenly realizing what day it was.

Being too early - Before Coffee - my brain was still in the mushy pre-caffeine state.

What should I be fasting from?.... What should I be fasting from?

Since nothing was coming to my mind, I had enough sense to throw the question at God, asking Him if there might be something - anything He would like me to give up for Lent that year...

Then I jumped out of bed – by now we were already running late for school – quickly forgetting all about the Lent and my question, until I got back home to the peace and quiet and the second cup of coffee to enjoy...  

That’s when I noticed that my beautiful lima-green iPod earbuds were… gone!

With them, gone was my peace, quiet, and the anticipated enjoyment of the second cup of java, which sat abandoned on the kitchen counter, turning cold and bitter.

It wasn’t until late that afternoon, having circled my bike route on foot three times, that I finally conceded. 

I was both resentful and mystified….

I felt my earbuds were taken from me without my consent. I definitely do not like my things taken from me without my consent. It’s called stealing. But, it's hard to pin that on God, since I am quick to profess that He owns it all anyway.

But, even more than that, I was baffled.

Why in the world would God – GOD?!!?!! - need my favorite EAR BUDS???

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Secret Power of Failure

Needless to say, my Facebook fast was a total fiasco from Day 2.... Well, actually the night of Day 1.

I cheated. I peeked at friends' walls. First I nibbled, but the wretched, weak-willed person that I am, eventually I gorged myself on cute cat and hamster videos and the scrolling river of newsfeed stories until I got so sick of myself that I wanted to vomit. 

In the morning, I felt remorseful and promised God that I’ll do better. 

He DESERVES better!

Just give me another chance.... and another...

To my credit, I mostly refrained from posting... but only to discover that I was getting green with envy for all the 'likes' everyone else was getting while I was stuck in social media wasteland, ignored and deprived.

As if the Facebook fast fiasco wasn’t humiliating enough, the following year I came back for more.

On Ash Wednesday, I solemnly promised God that for Lent I’d give up... whining!  

As they say, You don’t know you are addicted until you try quitting.

The Whining fast had the same humiliating outcome as the Facebook one.

You might think that either I am crazy or I glutton for punishment, or both, because year after year, Lent after Lent, I kept coming back for more.

I almost couldn’t stop myself.  

I almost couldn’t resist being humiliated, and battered, beaten into spiritual pulp, on my hands and knees, my sweaty, dirty face planted in the mud...

I can't even begin to explain it.

It's the weirdest thing.

Last year, my husband, who's been watching me with great curiosity fail all this time, got excited – perhaps a bit too much - when I announced that for Lent I was fasting from giving unsolicited advice.

He should have known better, knowing my track record with these fasts...

Sunday, August 07, 2016

The Secret Power of Self-Denial

I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but it was the beginning of a love affair of sorts.  Something that slowly morphed into a secret obsession which made me restless towards much of my ‘old’ life, what used to occupy my thoughts, time and emotional energy; 

…what I used to love and now begun to merely put up with.

Alas, yet again, I am jumping ahead of myself….

Some may call it providence, others coincidence, but my acorn prayer was flung at the sky right around Lent that year.  

Now, I’d been a follower of Jesus for decades but never have I participated in time-honored self-negating practice of Lent.  Century after century, all around the world and all around me other people would deny themselves good things of life during this period of self-refection, remembering Christ's sacrifice and, what I perceived as self-imposed suffering. 

Not I!

Not even an inkling of desire to join in, basking in the completeness and sufficiency of what Jesus did for me … Nothing to add, nothing to take away...

But for some inexplicable reason, almost on a whim, a thought crossed my mind that perhaps it’s about time for me to be nice to God and even give him something...

Something I really liked.  Something I really enjoy.  Something that would represent sacrifice for me to give up.

At the time, I didn't even think about whether God would like it or not, but that's an altogether different story....

The first thing that popped inside my head was,


Facebook?!!!??? NOT FACEBOOK!!!! I  protested in anguish.

But, in that instant I knew that during my first Lent I will be fasting from my favorite social media platform.

I haven’t even begun, and I was already miserable.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Secret Power of Unknowing

I really don’t know why God answers some prayers and some He appears to ignore.

As a parent, I leave a number of prayers of my children unanswered.


Mom, is it O.K. if I kill my sister? Or,

Why can’t I play with the butterfly knife? Or even,

But I am starving, why can’t I have raspberry-cheese roll five minutes before dinner?

Clearly, I am a mean parent.  If I was a good parent, all my children’s prayers would be answered with unequivocal “YES!”

Still, some prayers appear to demand answers.

Take Jesus. He was God’s good kid. His only good kid. Still, He prayed, and at least one of His prayers seemed to fall flat on God’s ears.

Father, if you are willing,remove this cup from me

This is where we stumble upon mystery.  This is where we fall headlong into a mystery.

A mystery of trust even when it hurts.

A mystery of hope even when everything seems hopeless.

This is where the sidewalk ends and faith-thicket begins.  

Where the beach ends and ocean begins.  

Where the roof ends and sky begins.

But, I digress again.

I have no idea why God decided to answer that prayer of mine:

God, You who created this world out of NOTHING, make me a gardener.

Maybe because the impossible is His specialty... ?

Maybe He has a soft spot for gardening, as that’s the first thing we see Him do after the amazing feat of creation – He plants a garden!

I have no idea.

Or, perhaps, there is always a long line of people praying to God to change the world by making them successful missionaries, preachers, pundits, experts, know-it-alls, writers, talkers, speakers, politicians....

... and the line is woefully short of those brought to such despair that they are willing to let go of who they thought they were in order to allow God to change their own pathetically insignificant tiny back yard....

I don't know....

But, for whatever reason, that tiny little acorn prayer landed on the good soft soil of God’s gardener’s heart, and He said,

I’ll take THIS one!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Secret Power of Prayer

The one lonely desperate thing that was left for me to do – and it wasn’t pointing a gun and pulling the trigger, as many these days interpret as the only thing left to do – either at themselves or another person – but that’s a different topic for a different story… But,  I digress… I did that one desperate thing from the bottomest rock bottom of my hopeless heart.

I prayed.

I know.  It sounds so revolutionary.

Some would say, Big deal. People pray all the time.

Which is true. They do.

There are all kinds of prayers and all kinds of people.

But this is not a study on prayer or study of people, just an account of one single prayer and the effect it had on one single people that is me.  

It’s more like a story about an acorn and how it became a tree than anything else.

But, again I digress…

This is what I said to God that day:

God, You who created this world out of NOTHING, make me a gardener.

Looking back, I could have prayed a slew of other things… But at that moment of hopelessness, it boiled down to…

Who God is and what God does. 

Namely, omnipotent Creator God doing the impossible.

And then, the inexplicable,

Make me a gardener!

What was I thinking???

Most honestly, I don’t know.

I don’t know why I prayed that. I had no gardening aspirations whatsoever. I am a city girl not a farmer. A writer not a dirt-digger.

But, maybe somewhere deep down, beyond the threshold of conscious understanding, I knew that it would take a radical change of identity to change my dire dismal yard/neighbor situation.

Maybe I knew beyond logical explanation that it would take a different person than me to accomplish what I wanted to see in my garden. With my current resources and the current persons at hand (namely me and our two highly destructive toddlers) the only way a change could happen would be if I was willing to change my identity.

And with this prayer, I was saying an unequivocal O.K. to God to do the impossible and change me. 

I think only absolutely completely totally desperate people are truly willing to become the change they want to see in the world. 

Sunday, July 03, 2016

The Secret Power of Despair

Most of my life, I lived on the 5th floor of an unattractive apartment building on the outskirts of Belgrade.  My mom was a plant fanatic and we had greenery growing in every corner of our tiny apartment, crowding the balcony and climbing the walls on both sides of our front door.

I neither inherited nor shared my mom’s enthusiasm for horticulture.

On rare occasions when she left her precious plants into my care, they suffered greatly. Seeing their wilted dying state, she would invariably ask me the same question,

Don’t you have any soul???

I never understood how watering soulless vegetation had anything to do with possessing a soul.

When we got married, I moved from the 5th floor of aforementioned apartment building into a 4 bedroom house with a front and a back yard.  It took us less than a year to kill just about everything green that grew in our yard without even trying.  

The concepts like ‘lawn’, ‘mowing’ and ‘irrigation’ were completely foreign to me.  In fact, they were so foreign that I didn’t even notice the slow and steady demise of our once well-manicured green property, compliments of the previous owner.   That is, I didn’t notice it until our next door neighbor Bob, who shared the same fanatic gene with my mom, started dropping hints. 

Helpful suggestions. 

Discount coupons on blow-out specials in our local home and garden center.

They all fell on death ears.

Over time, the hints and suggestions deteriorated into silent treatment (apparently I was deaf already, so why bother saying anything at all) dirty looks and formal HOA complaints about our crappy yard (his words!).

That got my attention.

OMG, our neighbor must HATE us!

This was so contrary to my Christian beliefs and it broke my heart. I knew it wasn't Bob's fault. We were the ones who were not good neighbors.... 

...But over a stupid grass??? I tried to rationalize. 

Irrational as it seemed to me, we've become those neighbors with a trashy yard everyone dreads to have.

There are no words to describe the depths of despair I felt. 

You see, this wasn't a matter of trying harder. I'd already tried as hard as I could.

This was a matter of identity. I knew who I was.  I was a city girl who grew up on cement and asphalt, loving it! I was the hater of all things creeping and crawling. I was a serial killer of all things green.

I was a writer, for God's sake, not a gardener!

We were doomed. 

There was only one thing left.  One lone last-ditch thing I could do and I did it from the rock-bottom of my heart.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

The Secret Power of Tranformation

I've been going through a box of old photos, scanning some for use in a secret Shutterfly photo book project (I guess it's not so secret any more :-)).  In this both exhilarating and tedious process I came across the above photo of my parents helping us build a garden edging.

It stopped me in my tracks.

In addition to the three treasured people, pausing briefly from what they were doing for me to snap the shot, each holding a tool in their hand - a circular saw, a post digger and a shovel, the photograph captures in embarrassing detail the landscaping condition of our back yard at the time.

I was stunned.

We forget so easily. I forget so easily! Our memories inevitably fade with time - not necessarily a bad thing, since we are to live in the present and not in some idealized (or demonized) form of our past or idealized (or demonized) form of future.

But it was good for me to see this photo, and be reminded of the humble beginnings of what now looks like this:

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. At least!

But, as I reflect on both these photos, one taken years ago, and the other just yesterday, I can't help but think that in a certain sense, no picture and no word can give true justice to the full story I know exists behind this dramatic transformation.

The story that can be captured neither by a crafter of words and sentences nor by the lens of the point-and-shoot camera.

The story of transformation that only the all-seeing God knows, quietly unfolding day in day out, under the sometimes sunny other times stormy skies, on this tiny plot of land, without audience except for the squirrels and hawks, blue jays and cardinals...

The easily-ignored miracle unfolding slowly and unpretentiously, undetected by the noisy world attracted to flashy appearances, demanding easy fixes and instant miracles.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Secret Power of Suffering

In the curious ways of God’s providence, this is the second time we’ve encountered two major crises running parallel in the world around us and inside our own home. 

In 2001 my husband had a major cancer surgery just few short weeks after we became parents for the first time which took place just few short weeks before 9/11. The world on the outside and the world on the inside were crumbling and mingling together as we watched the news and leaned into the stories of survivors, first respondents and families who lost their loved ones.  Even though we were not in New York nor did we know personally any of the victims, somehow, but the virtue of our shared vulnerability, by the stabbing pangs of suffering, we connected with the grieving.

We grasped for words. We let our tears roll. We gasped for courage in the face of surreal. We were one with complete strangers by the common thread of frailty of life.

The waves of heartbreak and pain of those days – the sheer volume of lives affected and the depth and breadth of loss – framed our own little journey of pain and fear.

It somehow put our personal journey in the larger context. In some sense it amplified it. We thought we already had our hands full, in fact, more than we could handle and then we were swept by this tidal wave of story after story after story of heart-wrenching accounts of grief and death.

In another sense, their grief somehow diminished our own.

We were not the only people enduring suffering. 

Fast-forward fifteen years to Orlando, Florida. What many consider the Happiest Place on Earth. Our City Beautiful. This time it was my turn to be recovering from the surgery when the news hit of the deadly shooting in the gay night club Pulse.

Forty-nine young lives cut short in the largest mass shooting in the U.S. history, in our own back yard!

As the entire city reeled from the initial shock, we were again side swept by our own personal journey of reckoning with the brevity of life and uncertainty of the future.  And once again as we’ve leaned into the heartbreak, pain and courage of the past two weeks we find the larger story framing our own little journey.

Both augmenting and subduing the trauma. Making our story of pain smaller and bigger. 

There is something incredibly humbling and even noble about being so utterly incapacitated, so powerless, so out of control, so dependent.  We know in the depth of our being, that this is way out of our league. That we are desperately in need for Someone stronger who will walk with us - who can carry us - through the unthinkable, who will help us endure the unendurable.  Someone able to assure our storm-tossed hearts and minds...

You are not alone. I see you... I know you... I love you...,You are not alone... You... are... not... alone...

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; 
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you... Isaiah 43:2a

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Map and the Guide

I found the treasure map the same week my doctor called and while I was sitting on the bedroom floor leaning against the frame of the bed, she said,

You have cancer.

S&#t, I thought, then repeated it several times.  The doctor has already hung up and I was still holding the phone in my hand. 

I just found I have cancer and I am all alone here. I couldn’t even cry. 

Immediately after that, I remembered the map. The treasure map and the narrow treasure hunting path that starts with a shipwreck. It certainly was a shipwreck of sort, for sure an end of one journey – the life as I knew it pre-cancer – and the beginning of another.  There was no going back and staying on the wreckage-ridden shore wasn’t really an option.

The narrow path leading away was an obstacle course of one challenge after another.  Jumping over Niagara Falls…. Swimming across lake with the Loch Ness…  Treasure or no treasure at the end of the path, it became abundantly clear that I don’t have what it takes to brave this journey.

I am not strong enough.

I am not courageous enough.

And the map, that was supposed to give me ‘heads up’ and encouragement along the way proved to be a handicap and a hazard.  It was overwhelming.  

Just as life, at times, is beyond words overwhelming.

I can’t follow this path that takes me through the ambivalent landscape of poisonous healing, across the rickety bridges of toothless hope and besides sleeping monsters of despair.  I don’t know if I have it in me to make the next step much less to complete the journey.

In some other world, at some other hour, I would analyze and theorize and sermonize, dissecting words like dead laboratory animals, splicing the meaning from the shreds of some second-hand experience.  But, today I couldn’t do it.  I just couldn’t do it.

Today, I realized that more than a map with a clearly laid out path before me, what I really needed was a guide.  I needed a reliable, experienced guide who knows the treacherous terrain first-hand. I need a guide whose authenticity, whose most desirable qualifications are verified not by his knowledge, or education or eloquence, but by his scars.

On this journey, it was slowly dawning on me, I have no use for a guide without a scar.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Shipwreck

If we were willing to admit it, most of us feel a bit uneasy, a little squirmish about life as it really is. 

We want something more. We want something better.

Everyone wishes they had something they don’t .

The grass is always greener on my friends’ Facebook pages.

Each of us wishes we didn’t have something we do. 

We want to change, but when push comes to shove, change is difficult. Sometimes, it seems almost impossible.

I used to say that the only way people would change is when the pain of status quo becomes greater than the pain of change.

I still believe that this is largely true in most cases, but there is a bit more to our lives’ stories than the physiological truth of greater-pain-pushing-out-lesser-pain.

But I digress…

Squeezed between desirable not-havings and unwanted havings,  we think a chest-full of treasure would magically solve most if not all of our current problems.

We all have our own vision of a relatively easy escape from our current predicament. 

A sail-boat ride across the smooth seas, with favorable winds in our back, interesting company and ample entertainment to help time pass by until we happily reach our desired destination, strong, healthy and well-rested, buoyed by our new acquired sense of accomplishment, feeling successful for getting through without a scratch or scrape.

Some people have exceptionally vivid imaginations...

The question remains, What happens....

What if the boat which is meant to take me to the answer-all chest, a glass of Cabernet in one hand and the selfie-stick in the other, suddenly runs aground, it’s innards spilling into the raging seas?

What if I find myself awash some god-forsaken island in the middle of the sea-monster infested ocean, looking like a drowned rat, the pieces of the wreckage all around me along with the shards of the empty goblet?

What would I do then?
This is why the Map I found the other day caught me completely off guard.

Because on this map, unlike any other, the real quest for hidden treasure doesn’t really begin in the port as I board the ship.  The real treasure hunt doesn’t truly start until AFTER the shipwreck!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Compass

In the bottom left corner, the Map has a compass rose, showing directions.





Now, on any ordinary, calm, clear day, when you know exactly where you are and where you are going, one may wonder why would you take up any space at all for something seemingly as useless as a compass? I don't take a compass when I go to the supermarket!

But, every treasure hunter who’s been around long enough would testify about the absolute necessity of an accurate compass.  

If you’ve never been lost or disoriented - in the woods, in a storm, in an unfamiliar city, in the dark  – you would be foolish to rely solely on your own experience, knowledge and senses (useful and important in their limited ability as they may be)  to show you the way.

The seasoned travelers who have journeyed far and wide know very well how easily you can lose your bearings and get turned around. I’ve gotten hopelessly lost in broad daylight by taking just one little wrong turn in my own city. 

In the context of space travel, being even a half a degree off here would parachute you onto a wrong planet or galaxy! Imagine shooting for the Moon, and missing the Milky Way?!!!

Many a captain would testify how difficult at times it can be to determine what’s up and what’s down, what’s right and what’s… left… They know they must rely on their navigational instruments which sometimes go against their own sense of orientation and direction.

This is very difficult to comprehend and even more difficult to follow, when your whole being is screaming, “This way!” and the Compass says, “No, hon, East is THIS way! Trust me and just follow my directions.”

But the maker of our Map is clearly familiar with the vagaries of treasure hunting escapades and  has given a prominent place to the compass rose showing us the direction of the True North.

Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father but through Me.  John 14:6

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Treasure Hunter

Today on my walk to school I found a Treasure Map!

It was beautiful, I would say even fancy – a laminated card-stock artistic portrayal of a mysterious island, ready to endure the best and the worst of a toddler’s love and rage. But the Maps's attractive appearance was just a part of it.  In addition to being illustrated the Map also had a list of specific steps to guide you, the Treasure Hunter, to the secret hidden treasure.

Being a bit slow, it dawned on me that some of us need all of the above – the laminate protection, the illustrations AND clearly articulated steps if we stand any chance of ever finding the coveted riches.

When I got home, I pulled the Map out of my backpack and begun to examine it more carefully, like anyone would if they were to learn what they need to do to acquire the buried chest.

The list was clear and simple.  I give it to you here in its entirety.

  1. Jump across the waterfall.
  2. Tiptoe past the sleeping spider.      
  3. Run across the wooden bridge.     
  4. Hop through the base of the volcano.  
  5. Snatch the key from the statue’s mouth.     
  6. Swim through the Sea Monster’s lake.     
  7.  Leap into the ocean.    
  8. Paddle across the raging seas to the island.    
  9. Dig for the treasure!
That’s it! Easy-peasy. Peace of cake.

I verified the Map's instructions' authenticity, tracking the steps along the clearly marked path, and sure enough - there was a waterfall, a sleeping spider, a rickety bridge, a volcano, a statue with a gaping mouth, a lake with a Sea Monster in it, a raging ocean and another tiny island with a treasure chest on it. 

Immediately I knew the Map was authentic.