Friday, May 30, 2014

Becoming Better Noticers

These gorgeous plants and flowers are growing in our yard -- perennials and a tree loaded with plums. Year after year these beauties just burst into life without any effort from Tom and me. Spring comes and voila! The garden is alive with a riot of color and exotic fragrances, just because the ground was doing what it was created to do through the winter -- preparing for Spring.

I taught an English class to 7th graders years ago. It was Spring trimester, so the garden was coming back to life after a long winter. I asked my students to pick a patch of ground to observe weekly and to record the changes they saw throughout the trimester. I don't remember any earthshaking discoveries made by the students, or any passion for nature this assignment unleashed, but I hope it opened their minds to the wonders that go on around us all the time, whether we're looking or not.

I want to share two videos filmed by Erik Solheim, who probably wasn't even alive when I taught that 7th grade class. But he certainly has a sense of what I was trying to do by my assignment. In the first video he captured a full year of the life of a stand of trees and shows it in just 40 seconds. The second video is a year in two minutes. The first video is impressive, but the second one actually shows the incremental changes through the year, which I found to be stunning.

Much of what God does in our world goes unnoticed until, suddenly (or so it seems) we see the final product. Yet he is constantly at work on our behalf. We just need to become better noticers!

One year in 40 seconds from Eirik Solheim on Vimeo.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Peach's Surprise Party!

Peach had a major birthday this weekend and we had a party. She thought Tom and I were taking her and Allen to Red Robin for lunch, which we were, but so were a lot of other people -- including Tim from Anchorage, Ted and Gail from Juneau, Dad and Mom, the Crosket cousins and our next generation kids who are in the area. Boy, was she surprised!

Was the surprise a success? YES!

Yes, I do believe it was!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Yes You Can -- Help Give People New Vision!

As a fourth grader, Mary Shay discovered she needed glasses when she couldn't read the road signs for the Alphabet Game. The first time she stepped outside in her glasses, she was amazed. "I could see the leaves on the trees!" she told me. It was much the same for me with my first pair of glasses.

Now, as co-founder and board member of Global Eyeglass Ministry, Mary is finding that people the world over react the same way when they first get glasses.

In preparation for a mission trip to Haiti in February of 2011, Mary and her husband Tim learned of an opportunity to provide vision clinics for people in areas of need. They contacted Kendall Optometry Ministry in Kentucky who for years have provided vision clinics around the world. "Do you know anything about optometry?" he asked them. "No, we're just interested," they told him. "Great! You're just the kind of people I'm looking for!"

They didn't do a vision clinic on that first trip to Haiti but they did on their next trip nine months later. They were hooked. They felt the Lord calling them to do vision clinics as a ministry. But they were both working; it would have to wait till retirement.

And then a friend from church was diagnosed with cancer and passed away within four weeks. They realized that they may never reach retirement. Now was the time to begin. But how would this even come to pass?

Through circumstances only God could orchestrate they got the training they needed, filed for a 501c3, purchased equipment, and organized a board of directors. They expected the first year to be a time of waiting for their non-profit status and fundraising, but just two-and-a-half months after their first board meeting they were sending a fully funded vision clinic team to Guatemala!

Eyeglasses washed, prescriptions read and coded, and in the suitcase ready to go overseas

Global Eyeglass Ministry is an add-on to church mission trips. Say you are putting together a team to go to a Mexican orphanage to hold a VBS and do construction projects. You can prepare your team to hold a vision clinic while they are there, too. No previous experience is required. GEM will train your team and provide all the equipment you need so that you can set up a vision clinic and match people with glasses that will change their lives!

GEM wants people to be able to see clearly. They want to give folks a chance to see the world around them, the faces of their loved one, the words on a page. But even more than that, Global Eyeglass Ministry wants people to be able to see Jesus. So they work with local churches when doing clinics, and they share the gospel while people are waiting their turn to be tested. Whether showing the Jesus video in the local language or presenting a VBS program for the children, they take advantage of the time to share Christ's love with the group gathered.

Mary told me how the clinic works, how in triage they do the E Chart with everyone to identify those who would benefit from glasses, how the autorefractor reads the prescription of the client and how they can find just the right glasses that will work best for that person from the many pairs in the seven suitcases they bring along. It's a high-tech yet highly personal process.

Waiting area (top of photo), Triage (center), and using the auto refractor (bottom)

Even a child can be trained to test people with the E Chart

A volunteer trained for the Vision Clinic uses the auto refractor to determine the client's prescription

She told of people virtually "receiving their sight" through this ministry. A little boy who couldn't see to pick up his toys that he dropped on the floor could now find the things thrown down for him and spent about 15 minutes playing a game of find-the-coin-on-the-ground. Pastors who had retired because they could no longer read their Bibles are able to preach once again. An old woman whose spirit seemed broken could not stop smiling once she could finally see clearly.

The happy client is with team members, including Tim and Mary Shay (right)

The Lord is already doing great things through Global Eyeglass Ministry, and they are only a year old. So far in their three clinics they have give out 321 pairs of prescription glasses and 359 pairs of readers.

Every month I tell you about something someone has done in response to a need that they see, and each month I say, Yes! You can! Well, this month I'm giving some very tangible ways in which you can be a part of this amazing ministry. You can donate money. You can donate glasses (prescription glasses, readers, sunglasses, eyeglass cases). You can place donation boxes around your community and collect the glasses and get them to GEM. If you are local you can wash the donated glasses in the dishwasher. You can cut the plastic for setting up the suitcases.You can pray. You can get training and do a vision clinic on your next mission trip.You can spread the word by sharing this post and the website of GEM.

I left the Shay home last week after my interview with Mary so excited about what they are doing that I couldn't help talking about it when I stopped at a garage sale later in the day.While I spoke, the woman went over to a box in her garage and pulled out a pair of glasses. "Do they take children's glasses? she asked. "These were my daughter's." They are the first pair in my GEM collection box. Can't wait to see all the other glasses that join them there!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Hymn of the Month -- Be Still My Soul

This updated version of a beloved hymn, Be Still My Soul, is sung at a slightly faster tempo than us lovers-of-hymns might be used to singing it, but what a powerful message, Written by Katharina von Schlegel in the mid-1700s and translated into English by Jane L. Borthwick about 100 years later, it was set to the music of Jean Siebelius.

I love Kari Jobe's version of Be Still My Soul. The bridge says, "In you I rest, in you I found my hope; In you I trust, you never let me go. I place my life within your hands alone. Be still my soul!" Ah, sweet bliss. In God alone is our rest, our hope, our trust. We are safe in His hands! So be still, my soul. What have I to fear? Why would I want to withhold anything from the One who remains faithful in every change of my life?

And listen to verse 2: "Be still, my soul! thy God doth undertake to guide the future as He has the past. Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake; All now mysterious shall be bright at last. Be still, my soul! the waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below."

This hymn has truth to meet you wherever you are in your life today! Hear it and be blessed!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Remembering the Mourning Barn

For the past 30 years or so, the barn that stood on Marine Drive just south of town has been Stanwood's community message board. I'm told that it started out as a place to celebrate graduating seniors or promote favorite causes, but over the years the walls of the barn became the place to pay tribute to the many people in the area who died too young. Some folks call it the Mourning Barn.

Every now and then, as we'd travel on Marine Drive between Stanwood and Warm Beach, we'd discover a new name had appeared on the barn. Seldom did I catch the paint crew in the act, but their handiwork was evidence of the grief they could not hold inside. Most recently the barn's walls had become memorials for more than teens as the whole north wall was once painted for a child, the victim of an accidental shooting, and later for a mom who succumbed to cancer.

For many years the barn sat idle and it was showing severe signs of aging. The derelict old barn, loved by many, had become dangerously delicate, near death itself. Layer upon layer of paint, both inside and out, seemed to be all that was holding it together. It was deemed unsafe and would have to come down.

A professional was called in to deconstruct the barn, carefully salvaging all that could be salvaged with a plan to create a permanent memorial in the future. People came to watch the deconstruction, each with their own interest in the mourning barn.

Kyle and Anna Porter were among those at the deconstruction. Kyle is a videographer and he and Anna were there to capture the stories of the barn and share them through a documentary.

I was there too, getting a few last pictures of the photogenic barn. Kyle and I talked; Anna and I talked. And later they contacted me. Would you be willing to appear on camera for our documentary? they asked.

How on earth could I possibly add to the film, I wondered. I didn't even know anyone personally whose name was on that barn! I had been saddened every time there was a new name, and I had felt a bit of the loss that the family and friends felt, but there was nothing tangible I could contribute.  Still, I agreed to meet with Anna and Kyle to discuss the barn.

What a great team, those two! We chatted like old friends as we talked about the barn and about life. Kyle is the son of Anna and David Porter, whose interest over the years has been sustainability, especially in the home construction. Their business is called PorterWorks. But they are multi-talened, and Kyle's expertise in music and video production make this video project a natural for them.

We sat in their deep green demonstration home on the shores of Puget Sound. (I was relieved to learn that it was actually on land, and not in the sound, as Google Maps indicated!) As Anna and Kyle and I talked I began to catch their vision for the video, and by the time I left their home I knew that I would like to be a part of their project.

Last week our home became their studio.

It was only slightly nerve-wracking to have two cameras and a microphone in my living room, pointing directly at me! In her chair near the cameras Anna asked me questions and drew thoughts out of me about my "relationship with the barn." That's what she called it. As a person from the community, how did I feel about the barn? Why did it matter to me? (Obviously it mattered, she said, as I'd written about it and taken photos of it on more than one occasion.) Sometimes from behind the camera Kyle would ask a question or make a comment. They have good minds. They are articulate and know how to get to the deeper matters. The experience helped me find words for elusive thoughts  that I hadn't been able to pull together before.

And so I will be on a documentary! Kyle anticipates it will be ready in the fall. I am honored to have been invited to participate and to get to know Anna and Kyle. They are professional, warm, and honest. They are people of integrity. They made the experience a pleasure.

Thank you, Anna and Kyle Porter, for helping our community as we reflect on the barn that has been such a part of our lives.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

He Restores My Soul

Artwork by Tom Kauffman

In Soulcrafters (our Sunday School class) we're studying the 23rd Psalm. Last week we talked about restoration. We see several things in the scripture that were restored:
relationship (Genesis 37:22; 50:18-21)
health (Exodus 4:7),
fortunes (Psalm 14:7)
cities (Nehemiah 3:8)
the temple (2 Chronicles 24:4,12)
even life itself (2 Kings 8:5)

All of these things were broken, failed as a result of sin, neglect, captivity, destruction, or even death. They all needed to be restored, and each one was.

What about the restoration of the soul, which we read about in Psalm 23:3?

The soul needs restoration. The sin around us and the brokenness within us overtax our souls and use them up. They carries things they weren't meant to carry, and they are crushed under the weight. They are weary, they are withered; they are parched, in need of a "draught from some cool spring." Like sponges, they are all wrung out, and they longs to soak in God's grace and be restored.

We cannot restore our own souls. The soul was made for restoration, but, unlike our organs, it does not regenerate on its own. A scab can grow over a cut on the skin and, when the wound is healed, drop off. It has aided in the body's natural restoration process. But it's not the same with the soul. Its  healing -- yea, its very life -- depends on God. He alone can restore the soul.

And how does the Good Shepherd restore our souls? By making us lie down in green pastures and leading us by quiet waters. He gives us rest and He provides us with quiet waters from which to drink. His presence and guidance, his goodness and love, restore our souls.

Do not seek any other source or restoration for your soul. It is not to be had. Our help comes from the Lord; He alone restores our souls.

What is our response to this merciful soul-restoring Shepherd? Like the psalmist, we say, "Return unto thy rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with thee. For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living" (Psalm 116:7-9, New Century Version).

Monday, May 12, 2014

For Such a Time by Kate Breslin

I met Kate Breslin at her Book Launch Party at our Northwest Christian Writers group a week ago. She was signing her book, For Such a Time, which had just been released a month before. Everyting about her book appealed to me -- the setting (I really don't know why I am so drawn to World War 2 stories, especially about the Holocaust!), the beautifully designed cover, the fact that it is a modern day telling of the Queen Esther story, and the chance I had to meet the author! I purchased my copy, had Kate sign it, and went home to begin reading.

I hardly accomplished anything else until I had read every word in the book. Kate's characters are real and believable, her storytelling enticing. She took me to Theresienstadt, a Nazi transit camp in Czechosolovakia, and dropped me down into it to watch the unfolding of a remarkable tale of love and intrigue, history and future, despair and slivers of hope. It's not a place I could have entered on my own, but it was not so hard to follow as Kate led me through this captivating story.

As commander of Theresienstadt, SS Kommandant Colonel Aric von Schmidt was responsible for moving Jews from various camps to Auschwitz, where they would be exterminated. It troubled him that his secretary, Stella Mueller, with her blonde hair and blue eyes, showed compassion toward the Jews in his camp, especially one old man. But it was that old man, her uncle, who believed that Stella held the key to the salvation of those on their way to Auschwitz.

This Esther story set in modern history, For Such a Time brought me again and again to a place of hopelessness, with no possible answers in sight. Suddenly, with one short sentence, a way would open up that I would never have imagined. The author did not disappoint with easy fixes, nor did she back away from matters of significance, be they issues of faith, conscience and consequence. In the midst of the pain and suffering throughout the story, her characters grappled with the hard stuff of life. They were anything but flat (and you know I don't like flat characters!)

I loved how the struggles of the biblical Jews in the Esther story became more real for me as I read For Such a Time. Although she did not strictly follow the chronology of the story of Esther, each chapter of her book began with a verse from the Old Testament Esther and it fit perfectly with the action in Kate's book. With her attention to detail in her research -- both from scripture and from World War 2 era history -- it is no wonder the book was five years in the making!

For Such a Time was not an easy book to read because it contained a boxcar full of grief and pain. But in its pages you will also find hope and grace, forgiveness and goodness, love, duplicity, power and suspense. Do I recommend it? Yes, indeed!

Check out Kate Breslin's website, where she offers several options for purchasing her book, and watch the video below to get to know Kate and how she was impacted by the writing of For Such a Time.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Celebrating God's Leading

Some of my "kids" and dear Miss Gaupp

I taught school only one year but it was enough to earn me an invitation to the 40th reunion of the seniors in our Christian school that year.

Most of my "kids" are now grandparents; at least one is retired. It was fun to see the spirit of these young people still vibrant in the lives of these mature adults and to share their joys and sorrows with them for a while that day.

Three other teachers were at the reunion as well. Of the four of us, Miss Gaupp is the one that has remained in the teaching profession. I remember meeting her the day I went for my job interview. I don't remember much about the actual interview, but I do remember that I was at the school during lunch. "Do you have something to eat?" Miss Gaupp asked me. No, I told her, I didn't think to bring anything. "Then please have half of my meatloaf sandwich," she told me. How could I not love Miss Gaupp!

She was in her 40s, always loving, gracious, and professional. She was the school counselor as well as a high school english and history teacher. As she was leaving the reunion, some of her former students reminisced with her about assignments they'd done for her and things they learned in her classes. They shared the scriptures that have been part of their lives because of Miss Gaupp and the lessons they'd learned from her. I was impressed by their earnest tribute to her and reminded of the powerful role teachers play in the lives of kids.

You know, Miss Gaupp is still teaching today at 83! "It's just three classes," she says of her assignment at a small school that meets in a church. Lucky students!

The seniors were only six years younger than me, the same age as my little brothers. During those years I was struggling to find my own path. Landing that teaching job was exciting for me, but it was also quite overwhelming. In the weeks before school began I was afraid, and I called out to the Lord for help. It was then that I discovered the passage that has become my life verse, Isaiah 42:16:
I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, 
along unfamiliar paths I will guide them. 
I will turn the darkness into light before them 
and make the rough places straight. 
These are the things I will do; 
I will not forsake them. 

I have clung to that verse these 40 years and have found it to be absolutely true. I sensed God's faithfulness in leading my former students and fellow teachers as well. Our journeys have taken us over unfamiliar and rough roads, but the Lord has led us through, and will continue to lead us...all the way home.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Water for the Soul

Like pure, fresh water to one who is thirsty, truth brings life to our souls. In the past week I have sat under some wonderful biblical teaching and read many things that have refreshed my soul. Most of it will take time to process, but the following truths that have been presented to me this week, I pass on to you, with a prayer that you, too, will find refreshment.

* * * * * * *
Love is our primary calling on any given day. So our question should be, "What is love calling me to do in this particular situation?"   ~ Ruth Haley-Barton at the Pastors Prayer Retreat I attended at Warm Beach Camp 
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If we stand where others have fallen, it's to raise our hands to heaven in praise and to spread our arms as shade for the weary. The Lord enables us to be a tree of rest for others.  ~ Julie Ackerman Link, in Our Daily Bread 
* * * * * * * 
Any old bush will do, when the Lord shows up.  ~ Nancy Nelson, leading the prayer time for our Soulcrafters Sunday School class yesterday. She was talking about all believers being grafted into the same vine (John 15), and how the Lord will accomplish his work through "any old bush" that he chooses. He's just looking for available people to pray and to do what he puts before them.
* * * * * * * 
The best thing the church offers our world is our own transformation. ~ Pastor Sam Schaar in his sermon yesterday

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Soul formation is Christ being formed in you for the sake of others. Transformed, we are the good news that the Good News works!  ~ Pastor Pat Vance, responding to Pastor Sam's sermon yesterday

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Here's one more thought from Ruth Haley-Barton. She suggested that when we get distracted with other things when we are waiting on the Lord, it's just our minds causing the trouble. We can address the problem like this: Mind, I appreciate you; you've serve me well. But that's not what we're dealing with right now." Push the distractions aside and get back to waiting on the Lord.

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Challenge

My son, who reads and writes voraciously and is almost always working on a new story idea, has become my chief cheerleader. Today he challenged me with this: Let's each write a novel and see who gets done with it first!

This isn't his first time to encourage me to write a novel. Each time NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writers Month) comes along he wants me to sign up. Held in April, July and November, people around the country attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. It's a challenge I might consider some time, if I could only come up with a story idea!

Actually, not until recently -- and particularly not until my son began to prod me -- had I really taken the idea of writing a novel seriously. But a couple of characters have begun to roam through my mind lately and I'm wondering if they might not have stories they'd like to tell.

It seems to me that character development is the most significant part of novel writing. No matter how great a plot line is, if the characters are weak the book is weak. Just in the last couple of weeks I picked up two books from the library with intriguing settings, raving endorsements, and promising plot lines, but I couldn't get past the first 30 pages of either book. The characters just didn't seem interesting. I wanted to know more about them than their hair color and home town. The authors had spent too much time introducing the complications that would be resolved as the story unfolded and too little time putting skin on the skeletons of the characters.

A couple of weeks ago my writing son and I went to a meet-up for writers in the area where people shared what they are working on. I wonder if my characters would consider stepping out of my head every month or so and appearing in print for this group to get to know. What a scary thought! But maybe it's time for them to start to grow some skin.