31 January 2014

Five Minute Friday ~ Unlikely Hero

You might consider her an unlikely hero.

You'll probably never meet her in person.

She lives on the backside of the desert, on the other side of the world.

I only met her once and I can't even recall her name.

But I'll never forget HER.

HERO budding, blooming... flowering from HER.

She teaches every day in a classroom very much like this. Eight AM, when her students arrive, they cram - quite literally, into this tiny cement block room with louvered windows, intermittent electricity and never any air-conditioning, even in 120'F heat, and four students to a desk/bench combo. Imagine 50-60 eight-year-olds photo-shopped into the photo. Each one brings a slate and chalk in their backpack or portfolio. There are only a few textbooks and they belong to the teacher.

She is responsible for teaching these children, who speak a variety of languages at home, to understand, speak and read French. She patiently and repeatedly demonstrates the specifics of adding and subtracting, with regrouping. She works to help them learn the history of their country and some basics about science. If she sends a too unruly child to the school's director, she knows that said child will probably receive lashes from an old fan belt from an angry hand determined to enforce respect.

She's never been to university. Her teacher-training consisted of a summer program that lasted about six weeks. All other learning tumbles under the umbrella of on-the-job training. Frankly, however, this is all the norm for most Nigerien teachers. In fact, most of this description is... pretty typical, I mean. In fact, she has it relatively good because she works at a private school. Public school teachers, some years, spend more time striking because they aren't getting paid than they spend in the classroom, interacting with their students.

What set this woman apart was her striving to address the needs of ALL her students. Friends requested that I go to her school, observe her classroom, observe her teaching practices and observe one little one, in particular. That child was an exceptional student, struggled to learn and would most likely never achieve like other classmates. For this young one had Down's Syndrome. In Niger, most students with learning difficulties or handicaps like Down's are removed from the education system. You most often find these children doing menial labor in abusive situations... or begging at a street corner. 

She is a Jesus-follower, so she wanted to be different. She wanted to communicate to this child's parents that Jesus' love was different and therefore made her different, that His love helped her to love what most considered unlovable. She recognized that God makes each and every one valuable and with potential. She was willing to act on the glimpses the Holy Spirit had given her. As a result, ALL of her HER students stepped towards their promise and possibilities.

And she is one of my heroes.

Friday - and once again I'm posting with a group of lovely ladies over at Lisa Jo's
Hope you'll join us!

30 January 2014

Encountering Jesus ~ Wondering at Gracious Words

Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him. Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

“No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.

“You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”

Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”

They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.” (John 7.43-53)
The chief priests and the Pharisees sent someone else to do their dirty work... to capture Jesus. But the temple guards sent were unable to do so... no one was able to lay a hand on him. When the priests and Pharisees later questioned the guards, there comment was that Jesus spoke like no one every had before. 

Look at the verses that were cross-referenced with the temple guards reply to their authorities: 
  1. John 7:26 "But, see, he speaks boldly..." 
  2. Matthew 7:29 "For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes..."
  3. Luke 4:22 "And all bore him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth…"
The description of Jesus' speech in Luke has totally entranced me as I've looked at this passage of Scripture this past week. More accurately, it was the use of the word gracious to describe His words. When I think of someone who is gracious of speech, I tend to think refined, polite, decorous, elegant, well-mannered and tasteful. Now, it isn't that I don't think Jesus did speak that way - it just isn't the main impression I've gathered as I've been encountering the Lord through this study of the book of John. And certainly those moments when He overturned tables in the temple, confronted the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, or challenged long held assumptions and traditions - gracious wasn't the first adjective that came to mind.

But under Holy Spirit inspiration, it was the word that Luke chose to use as he described the words of Savior. Here's what I found out about that word, gracious. According to the Greek, gracious speech means words "which afford joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness;" words that demonstrate "Jesus freely extending Himself, reaching and inclining to people because He was/is disposed to bless and to be near them." Gracious can even be word of polite surprise. 

Polite surprise makes sense to me. The other descriptions? It must be something only God could do because when you look at the actual grammar, vocabulary and content of what Jesus was saying - He confronted people with their neediness, their hopelessness, their futile pursuit of keeping laws and traditions... all with the goal of somehow pleasing God.

Even though Jesus often said difficult, challenging and confrontational words that demanded self-examination, He still communicated His infinite grace those words.

Everyone who encountered those words felt their impact. Many, like Nicodemus, were forever changed. Perhaps that is why the Pharisees were reluctant to seek those encounters with Jesus, especially in moments when they did not have the force of numbers behind them... in their favor. 

As I've recommitted the past several months to consistently immerse myself in the Savior's words, I'm consistently finding that even the hard words in God's Word are gracious words and show God's position towards me... always leaning, always reaching, always desiring to be near me and to bless me.
this week's gratitude list
(#'s 4387 - 4409)
a God consistently, forever, inclining towards me

a daughter feeling much better, much less overwhelmed

reading some really good books

a visit to a cabin in the snowy Michigan woods

safety as we travel

unexpected days off school

healing and protection for friends who've been sick

safety for a friend who has been traveling

starting to get back into the hang and routine of blogging consistently again

Barnes & Noble/coffee/shopping date with my 15 year old

snuggly quilts

Bren has finished his J-term class

Two sickies home today - M&M and Anna - fun to watch them interact much like they did last year when I was home schooling the two of them

doctor friends

little girl brushing my hair - and making my headache go away

snuggling under the electric blanket

another batch of prayer cards arrived

Christmas letter finally mailed

memories of lessons learned many years ago that still impact my life today

gracious words

the challenge to be intention, to let my words always be gracious

ginger tea for icky tummies

chicken broth and chicken noodle soup for colds

Ten most recent posts in this series: 

29 January 2014

Tumbling in the Undertow

I’ll never forget the first time I went body surfing.

Only a tiny part of a much larger set of events, it remains vividly stamped upon my mind
  • Ten years old! 
  • Traveling – on a plane for the very first time that I could independently remember! 
  • On a trip with my swim team and without my parents – also for the first time! 
  • Coco Beach, Florida – a truly different world from where I was growing up! 
  • My very first Shirley Temple, with a maraschino cherry, even! 
Yet something about the white sand, the shimmery rolling waves advancing on the beach, the seabirds soaring and squawking far above, the relentless sun, the brilliant blue sky and a still-to-this-day lesson learned (although not always well- learned)… I occasionally dream of that afternoon, still.

My parents had forbidden me to play in the ocean. They understood much better than I the power of the waves and recognized my ignorance of that power as well as my arrogance in my capacity to handle myself well in the water. I wasn’t to do anything more than wade in the ankle to knee deep froth along the beach....

To read the rest of this adventure, head on over to a life overseas: the missions conversation. This post isn't just for missionary types - but anyone who knows or loves a missionary.

28 January 2014

Yikes! She's FIFTEEN as of last weekend!

And thanks to a frigid Tuesday and lots of recovering-from-being-sick teachers at the kids' school, she and I were able to sneak off together for some mama-daughter time this morning. We'd tried over the weekend, but we spent too long at Barnes and Noble and the coffee shop had already closed by the time we pulled into the parking lot.

It was a delight! Listening to her talk and share without having to filter out other chatterers, stop for interruptions or keep an eye on the clock! Those moments don't happen to often. And she's got the best sense of humor. As a young'un, she was always the extrovert and life of the party. But she's growing up to become a quiet, reflective friend who enjoys people but doesn't often draw attention to herself. She's really quite perceptive and a people watcher/listener!

And the conclusion?

I really, really like this FIFTEEN year old!

26 January 2014

Top Ten (ummmm make that thirteen) Reads (for me) of 2013

13. Unwholly

Rife with action and suspense, this riveting companion to the perennially popular Unwind challenges assumptions about where life begins and ends—and what it means to live.

The first book in this series, Unwind, made my list of top ten reads last year as well.

12. Sweepers

The U.S. Navy made him the ultimate killer. Now they can't stop him...  

It begins with a routine police investigation. A beautiful woman is dead. A detective needs answers. And a newly appointed Pentagon admiral is scrambling for his career and for his life. Suddenly, the inner ring of the Pentagon is being rocked by a living nightmare: a Sweeper-a trained covert assassin, an ex-SEAL scarred by one horrific episode in Vietnam-has gone rogue. And his killing has just begun... 

With a searing insider's view of Pentagon politics, retired Navy captain P.T. Deutermann writes military suspense worthy of Tom Clancy and Nelson DeMile. Now, in his electrifying new novel, a powerful ex-Marine and a courageous woman face a kill zone: of deception, ambition, and sweeping revenge...

As the teenage ruler of his own country, Matt must cope with clones and cartels in this riveting sequel to the modern classic House of the Scorpion, winner of the National Book Award, a Newbery Honor, and a Printz Honor.

10. Hard Face Moon

On November 29, 1864, a village of Cheyenne and Arapaho encamped along Sand Creek in the southeastern Colorado Territory was attacked by Colorado Territory militia under the command of Colonel John Chivington. An estimated 150 to 200 Native Americans were killed, nearly all of them elderly men, women, and children. 

Nancy Oswald, author of the acclaimed young adult novel Nothing Here But Stones, uses the horrific events at Sand Creek as a shattering climax for the story of Hides Inside, a young Cheyenne unable to speak and struggling to gain acceptance as he grows to manhood and seeks to become a warrior.

Strong-willed and independent, Rachel Held Evans couldn’t sew a button on a blouse before she embarked on a radical life experiment—a year of biblical womanhood. Intrigued by the traditionalist resurgence that led many of her friends to abandon their careers to assume traditional gender roles in the home, Evans decides to try it for herself, vowing to take all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year. 

(My comments about this book, as I do not recommend it to just anyone.)

8. Exodus Road 

(And I'm one of the lucky ones who gets to call Laura "friend!")

What if you lived in a place where you knew children were being sold for sex? Would you send your husband into a brothel to find them? Living in Malaysia, Laura's husband, Matt, who was a former youth pastor, became an undercover investigator deputized by the local police. He investigated hundreds of remote brothels, back alleys, and mafia-driven red-light districts, taking their marriage on a journey into the realities of what rescue from sex trafficking really costs. Laura chronicles her personal journey, as well as the beginning of The Exodus Road-- a nonprofit coalition of investigators which has fueled hundreds of rescues from sex slavery, spans several continents, and continues to grow today. This is her honest, gripping story from the front lines which will leave you both shocked and inspired.

(I've blogged about this book here.)

The author speaks from her own experience as well as including many stories from interviews with Christian workers who have gone through burn-out and have recovered. The organization, writing style and illustrations (i.e. graphics) make this an easy read. The first half of the book focuses on symptoms and causes, while the second half focuses more on solutions for recovery.

(Wrote a little about this book here.)

6. The Midwife of Hope River

A remarkable new voice in American fiction enchants readers with a moving and uplifting novel that celebrates the miracle of life. In The Midwife of Hope River, first-time novelist Patricia Harmon transports us to poverty stricken Appalachia during the Great Depression years of the 1930s and introduces us to a truly unforgettable heroine. Patience Murphy, a midwife struggling against disease, poverty, and prejudice—and her own haunting past—is a strong and endearing character [who] courageously attempts to bring new light, and life, into an otherwise cruel world.

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond...

(Looking forward to watching this movie!)

4. Divergent

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself. 

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Khaled Hosseini, the #1 New York Times–bestselling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, has written a new novel about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations. In this tale revolving around not just parents and children but brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers, Hosseini explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another; and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most. Following its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos—the story expands gradually outward, becoming more emotionally complex and powerful with each turning page.

A cranky, atheistic philosophy professor loves to shred the faith of incoming freshmen. He is chosen by a group of scientists to create a philosophy for a computer-generated world exactly like ours. Much to his frustration every model he introduces—from Darwinism, to Existentialism, to Relativism, to Buddhism—fails. The only way to preserve the computer world is to introduce laws from outside their system through a Law Giver. Of course this goes against everything he's ever believed, and he hates it. But even that doesn't completely work because the citizens of that world become legalists and completely miss the spirit behind the Law. The only way to save them is to create a computer character like himself to personally live and explain it. He does. So now there are two of him—the one in our world and the one in the computer world. Unfortunately a rival has introduced a virus into the computer world. Things grow worse until our computer-world professor sees the only way to save his world is to personally absorb the virus and the penalty for breaking the Law. Of course, it's clear to all, including our real-world professor, that this act of selfless love has become a reenactment of the Gospel. It is the only possible choice to save their computer world and, as he finally understands, our own.

(Reviewed this one here... after reading it based on Brendan's recommendation!)

Jessica thinks her life is over when she loses a leg in a car accident. She's not comforted by the news that she'll be able to walk with the help of a prosthetic leg. Who cares about walking when you live to run?

As she struggles to cope with crutches and a first cyborg-like prosthetic, Jessica feels oddly both in the spotlight and invisible. People who don't know what to say, act like she's not there. Which she could handle better if she weren't now keenly aware that she'd done the same thing herself to a girl with CP named Rosa. A girl who is going to tutor her through all the math she's missed. A girl who sees right into the heart of her.

With the support of family, friends, a coach, and her track teammates, Jessica may actually be able to run again. But that's not enough for her now. She doesn't just want to cross finish lines herself—she wants to take Rosa with her.


Have you read any of these? What did you think?

What were some of your favorite reads from last year?

Any books you are planning to read this year?

(Please note that all book summaries were copied and pasted directly from amazon.com .)

24 January 2014

Five Minute Friday ~ Visit

We'd ALL been waiting for this visit for a long time...

Left the frigid, frozen Michigan land.

Drove south ~ until the snow was gone ~

~ Mist replaced the snow... flat lands turned to mountains... and then became flat again...

Finally, we were there.

We visited and laughed while the pig roasted...

Snuck a few early tastes... and burned a few fingers and tongues, I believe!

Played games, watched games, worked puzzles, sat around a fire in a big barrel, ate good food, talked and laughed some more... That was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to good 'ole southern hangin' out together sorta fun!

And a few days later, as we drove away, realized that our visit had ended way too soon. Isn't that always the case when a visit is both savory and sweet?


23 January 2014

Encountering Jesus ~ Confusion and Disagreement

Jesus said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me. You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” 
The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him? Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? What did he mean when he said, ‘You will look for me, but you will not find me,’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?” 
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. 
On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” 
Others said, “He is the Messiah.” 
Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.
Jesus said things that were hard to understand. Things that were confusing. Things that didn't make sense. Things that could be interpreted in several different ways - when listeners relied on what made sense to finite minds. Things that rocked people's boat and with which they disagreed.

And those who heard His words had some pretty typical responses. Jesus divided people... The word picture is a ripped or torn item of clothing.
1. Some recognized Him as a prophet.
2. Some discredited Him and looked for any reason that they could say He wasn't Who He said He was.
3. Some sought to silence Him.
4. Others took a leap... and recognized Him as Messiah.

He still divides today... His Words in the same way of course.

Lately, however, I've been shocked to see how much He shows me my divided heart and mind... Those things He's taught and areas in my life where:
1. I recognize valuable and convicting teaching... but leave it in the realm of wise, good ideas but not necessarily for me.
2. I don't like what I'm understanding Him to say so I stop trying to understand or I look for reasons to question what I'm hearing, ways to continue in my unbelief and disagreement.
3. Sometimes I just tuck my Bible away and refuse to read or study those hard passages that confront me with who I really am.
4. And sometimes, beautiful-growing-trusting-times, when by Holy Spirit grace, I understand, believe, take a leap and then act on that belief.

Like that one daddy in the Bible cried out... "Lord I believe. Now help all my unbelieving!"

this week's gratitude list
(#'s 4360 - 4386)

frosty sleigh rides

little boy tumbles followed by

little girl giggles

envelopes stuffed

challenging questions

hearing from an unexpected person that they heard the between the lines story - and it impacted them

ministering with my big girlies

well-child visits and corresponding lab tests behind us until birthdays start up again

our greater than great pediatrician, the office & nursing staff and the physician's assistant at the office we use - more than once I've wished I could pack them in a suitcase and take them to Africa with us

protection for a tiny one

a new desk


new-to-me-dishes that weren't what I expected but for which I'm very thankful

snowy days

winter sunshine

cross-country skis

toasty electric blanket

checks on that to-do list

rearranging and removing

finally finding the leak

reaching a goal - setting a new one

enjoying some really good reads

funny conversations and giggles with my girlies about handsome phlebotomists

teenage daughters

sweatshirts and turtlenecks

snow shovels

snow boots

thermal socks

Ten most recent posts in this series: 

17 January 2014

Five Minute Friday ~ Encouragement

I've been reading through the book of Acts again...

Seems like I always forget just how amazing those pages are... until I read through them, again. And I'm just four chapters into the book... again!

Something has really leaped off the pages, though, this time. People, lots of people were believing based off of the actions of Jesus-followers... In these first chapters, two key players are Peter and John. Yet Peter is the one who gets all the press. It is his words that are recorded. He seems to be the real talker. He's the one that is described as "doing." Although John's name is included, it would be easy to assume that he was nothing more than a tag-along - not the one up garnering the headlines. I think that assumption would be a mistake. If I understand Mark 3 correctly, Jesus gave him and his brother a name that meant "sons of thunder." Thunder is usually pretty noticeable. There are places where it seems clear that both men spoke up, but not before the crowds and not speaking to the authorities. Only Peter's words were written. Yet the courage and boldness of both men is affirmed, on more than one occasion, in these chapters. Does that mean that John's words were overlooked? I don't think so ~

Because I've also been studying through the book of John. And I'm coming to the conclusion that he was not just a son of thunder, but also a mighty encourager. And I've been wondering if John's words were mostly for Peter's ears... If his presence and spirit helped keep Peter focused and brave... I wonder what it meant to Peter to have a friend enter into that mission with him, risking everything Peter risked, supporting while never receiving the same level of recognition. So neat to see two completely different individuals bravely serving God even when their "doing the same thing... being in the same situation" looked so very different and individual, and to know that their different contributions made a difference. God more than noticed - see how He had Luke record it:
When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they TOOK NOTE that these men had been with Jesus. (NIV)
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