Friday, December 26, 2014

Songs of Christmas -- Simeon

Through Simeon's Eyes

You held the newborn Jesus in your arms, Simeon.
Oh, I would like to have been there,
looking at you
as you looked at Him.

Your arms held the consolation of Israel,
the hope of the world.
Your eyes held all the promises of God,
revealed in a baby.

righteous and devout man of God,
man of God,
you had waited for this moment.
And when it came,
you took the child in your arms
and blessed God.

"I have seen your salvation, Lord,
the Light and the Glory,
just as you promised!
You can take me now,
for I have seen your salvation."

But you weren't finished.

The one who looked Salvation in the eyes
now looked at his mother.
"Many will rise and fall in Israel
because of your son,
and many will speak against Him.
The hearts of men will be revealed
and a sword will pierce your very soul."

Why the bitter with the sweet?
Why the pathos with the promise?
What shadow clouds your eyes,
Simeon, man of God?
What do you see?

Consolation of Israel,
Hope of the World,
how we long for you.
Give us the eyes of Simeon,
the heart of Simeon.
Let us see in the face of the Christ child
the Light and the Glory.
Whether bitter or sweet awaits us,
whether joy or sorrow,
Give us the eyes of Simeon.

(Ginger Kauffman, 2014)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Getting to Know Joni and Ken Tada

I thought I knew Joni Eareckson Tada. She is just a few months older than I am, so her story was of particular interest for me. I knew that her name was pronounced "Johnny," and not "Joanie," as many mistakenly think. I was aware of her diving accident that led to her paraplegia in 1967. I saw the movie, simply called Joni, in which she starred in 1979. I had seen her paintings, done with a brush between her teeth, and heard her sing the old hymns of the church, which she has loved since childhood. I knew that she started a ministry called Joni and Friends, an international disability center, providing radio and television programming, family retreats, wheelchairs for people around the world, and many other supports and resources for individuals with disabilities. I was aware of their training seminars and resources to equip the church in serving the disabled population. I was pleased when she got married in 1982. I had heard in the past few years of Joni's struggle with breast cancer. And so I thought I knew Joni Eareckson Tada.

But I was completely mistaken.

When I recently read Joni's book, The God I Love: A Lifetime of Walking With Jesus, I realized that all the things I knew about Joni were only the surface details of her life. I met the woman herself in the pages of her memoir.

From Joni's earliest days, as the youngest of four daughters born to her beloved parents who gave her a passion for nature, the sea, and horses; through the days and years following her life-changing accident and her total dependence upon others for life's details that most of us perform without even thinking; to the Lord's deep work in her heart and life; to her travel to countries where the disabled are hidden from public view, as if they didn't exist -- through these and many other experiences so clearly recalled, I got to know this amazing woman. I glimpsed her suffering for the first time, and I was moved repeatedly by Joni's backstory.

Joni in the early years after her accident

The book whetted my appetite to know more about Joni and the man she married, Ken Tada. So I read Joni& Ken: An Untold Love Story. It is an intimate look into their marriage of over 40 years, a tender, honest story of love, depression, difficulties, and cancer. But it is also a story of dedication, faith, and deepening love in the face of great suffering.

On their first date, Ken got a glimpse into what life with a paraplegic would be like. He'd taken her to a lovely restaurant with a beautiful view of the ocean. He'd handled himself well, even though most of the responsibilities that fell to him -- lifting Joni into the car, feeding her, raising her glass to her mouth -- were new for him. But then there was the leg bag which needed emptying. She would normally have one of her caregivers assist her in the women's restroom, but, after an uncomfortable moment or two, Ken rose to the challenge and wheeled her outside where he could care for matters under a tree!

Ken and Joni at home

There were issues during the marriage, however, that caused stress between them, especially the constant strain of issues related to Joni's condition -- the paraplegia, the chronic pain that began in 1997 and has persisted, and the breast cancer diagnosis in June of 2010. In Joni & Ken, they tell the story of God's work in their lives individually and in their marriage. This is not the story of a famous person (Joni) with a few stories about her husband thrown in. It is the story of Joni and Ken, of Ken and Joni. It is their love story.

And it is the story of their love for God and His overwhelming love for them.

Did I know Joni before. No. Do I now? A little bit. And I can tell you that I have been so challenged by the faith, perseverance, and commitment of both Joni and Ken. I was deeply challenged in my own walk with the Lord, even convicted, as I read.

Do you know Joni and Ken? Here's your opportunity to see into the lives of two of the most honest, real, down to earth folks you'll ever know. You'll be blessed and challenged as you get to know them.

(If you'd like to know more about Joni's breast cancer, here is an excellent interview that Kim Lawton of NJTV did with Joni in 2013.)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Songs of Christmas -- The Angel

Angel Messenger

Shining angel, majestic messenger from God,
what happened in Heaven
the day of the First Sin?
Did you and all the angels of God,
you who do His bidding,
gasp in disbelief
as you watched the seed of doubt,
cunningly planted,
take root and blossom into
Did you weep for all that was lost that day --
and all that was found?

Oh, the pain you have observed 
from your Heavenly perspective,
the chaos,
the brokenness.
Did you know that God was working out a plan?
Were there whispers in Heaven?

Today he sends you to shepherds
with a message for the world:
"A Savior has been born!
Find a baby in a manger,
God's Son,
Christ the Lord!"

No wonder the angels of Heaven
burst into song!
"Glory to God!
Glory to God!
The Peace of Heaven has arrived!"

Ginger Kauffman, December 2014

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Olde Towne Grainery TeaRoom & Galleria

Are you looking for something special to do this Christmas season? Plan to visit the Old Towne Grainery TeaRoom & Galleria. It is on the second floor of Mt Vernon's Grainery, just north of the Transit Center. The spacious dining area can accommodate small or large groups. When I was there last week with my friends Joan and Karen, we had the TeaRoom to ourselves. But earlier in the day the place was bursting with Red Hat ladies and a large group of gals from a local Bible study.

I was surprised by the long list of teas available, many I had not heard of before. I chose Haiku, a subtle and satisfying blend of white tea and peach.We each ordered the Cream Tea, which included two large scones, lemon curd and Devonshire cream with our bottomless pots of tea. It was $8 a person, with menu selections ranging from $8 per person to $35 for Tea for Two. With a la carte items on the menu as well, there is much to choose from for lunch or tea. Even from our limited experience, I'd say you are sure to find something to delight you from their kitchen.

We had an opportunity to meet both Sharon and George Eldridge, who opened the tea room a year  ago. They are gracious and friendly. Sharon told us that she had never made scones until they opened the tea room. Well, she can certainly add "Scone maker extraordinaire" to her resume!

It is clear that the Eldridges also love antiques and artwork. When the elevator to the shop opens on the second floor, you find yourself in a gallery which continues throughout the establishment, with antiques decorating the rooms as well. Most all of them are for sale.

Year-round hours for the Olde Towne Grainery TeaRoom & Galleria are Wednesday to Saturday, 11:00-4:00. But for the month of December they have hosted High Tea and Delightful Music on Sundays. The final event will be this coming Sunday, December 21, from 1:00 to 3:00, featuring the Starry Night Chamber Ensemble providing soft classical music. Reservations are required. You can call them at 360-419-9090 or order your tickets here.

(photos courtesy of Olde Town Grainery TeaRoom & Galleria)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Songs of Christmas -- Mary

Mary Sings

A lot has been said about Mary, but today we let Mary speak for herself. After meeting Zechariah, with his nine months of silence, and a never-speaking Joseph, it is good to hear the words that flowed from the mouth of Mary when the angel told her she would be the mother of the Son of God. After a bit of discussion, she told Gabriel, "Yes, I see it all now; I'm the Lord's maid, ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you say" (Luke 1:38, The Message).

Mary left immediately to be with her cousin Elizabeth, who, in her old age, was already six months pregnant with her son John. Upon arriving Elizabeth recognized her as the mother of God's Son. Even John, in his mother's womb, leapt with joy at Mary's presence.

Mary, with her knowledge of scripture and prophecy; Mary, who knew Messiah was coming but didn't know she would be part of his story; Mary, with her humble, obedient heart -- Mary sang this song of praise, found in Luke 1:46-55, The Message:

"I'm bursting with God-news,
I'm dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened --
I'm the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It's exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now."

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Songs of Christmas -- Joseph

Silent Joseph

You have no song, Joseph.
Indeed, you have no words, none,
in all of Scripture.
As the adoptive father
of the Son of God
we do not wonder that you were silent.
What words could you possibly have uttered
that would have been more poignant
than your silence?

When the angel spoke
in the midst of your agony,
you did what you were told.
No questioning.
No arguing.
No whining.

"Don't be afraid to take Mary as you wife."
"Give him the name Immanuel."

And when God led you though dreams
you rose from your bed in obedience.
"Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt."
"Get up, take the child and his mother to the land of Israel."
"Withdraw to the district of Galilee."

man of silent submission,
man of undaunted obedience,
man of God's own choosing
to raise His Son,
you have no song.

Ah, but you do.
Your song is your submission, your obedience.
It is your rock solid confidence
in the God of Abraham,
Jacob, Judah, Perez,
Hezron, Ram, Amminadab,
Nashon, Salmon, Boaz,
Obed, Jesse and David.

Your song is your willingness
to be a part of God's plan
from generation to generation,
even to your father Jacob.

Your song is loud and clear, Joseph.
Your song is sweet submission.

(Ginger Kauffman, 2014)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Christmas Through the Lens of Emmaus

I've been going through the gospels the past few weeks, reading out of The Message. I just finished the book of Luke today, which ends with one of my favorite stories -- the road to Emmaus, when two sorrowful, confused followers of Jesus come upon a stranger who doesn't seem to know anything about the dreadful things that have happened in Jerusalem. They describe Jesus to the stranger and tell him, "And we had our hopes up that he was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. And it is now the third day since it happened." Then they mention the women who have gone to the grave but found it empty (Luke 24:20-25).

With that, Jesus begins to open their eyes to who he is. "So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can't you simply believe all that the prophets said? Do you see that these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into his glory?" Then he started at the beginning, with the Books of Moses, and went on through all the Prophets, pointing out everything in the Scriptures that referred to him (25-26).

It was after they had shared a meal with Jesus, when he blessed and broke the bread, that they recognized that this stranger was himself Jesus. And then he disappeared.

Back and forth they talked. "Didn't we feel on fire as he conversed with us on the road, as he opened up the Scriptures to us?" (31-32).

I am so glad this story is included in the Bible. In it we meet people who actually walked with Jesus and still didn't know him. As often as he told them that he would be crucified, buried, and raised, they did not get it. And surely they did not grasp that everything in the Scriptures was pointing to him.

Thick-headed and slow-hearted. That's what they were. And that, so often, is what we are. I'm not sure that, had you or I been among Jesus' followers, we'd have gotten it any better than they did.

But that is not the main point of this story. Cleopas and his companion on their way home to Emmaus that day were overwhelmed with grief because they did not recognize Jesus for who he is. This encounter is here to tell us the truth about Jesus, that all of Scripture is here to showcase him. He is the One spoken about by Moses and David and all the prophets. He came to show us the Father and to restore the relationship between God and man that had been broken in the early chapters of Genesis.

Paul brings the truth of Jesus into clear focus in Colossians 1:15, 18-20 (The Message): We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God's original purpose in everything created...He was supreme in the beginning and -- leading the resurrection parade -- he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he's there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe -- people and things, animals and atoms -- get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.

As you prepare for Christmas this year, see Jesus, not just as the sweet babe in the manger, but as the risen Lord. Open your eyes and your heart to the fullness of who Jesus is. This child, this baby, was God in the flesh sent to bring healing to all the "broken and dislocated pieces of the universe"!

Don't sing the Christmas carols glibly, mechanically. Listen to the words, bask in the truth. And rejoice that God has a plan for this broken world.

Let Jesus open the Scripture to you, pointing out everything that refers to him. Grab hold. Throw yourself into believing him and celebrating him. Let this Christmas be a joyous season for you as you worship Jesus, the infant born to die and be raised to life for you, and for the whole world.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Songs of Christmas—Zechariah

Photo Credit
Old Zechariah

Old, you were old, Zechariah,
you and Elizabeth,
too old to have your prayer answered,
too old to have a child.

But your prayer was heard, Zechariah.
"A baby," the angel said,
"a son."

Dumbfounded, you were dumbfounded, Zechariah.
"How can I know for sure?" you asked.
Wrong question, Zechariah.

Dumb, you were struck dumb, Zechariah.
dumbstruck, nine months silent.

You were humble-struck by the one who struck you dumb.

When you held your son --
"John," you wrote, "his name is John" --
your tongue was loosed.

Awe-struck, you were awe-struck, old Zechariah,
father of the promised child,
in awe of the promise maker,
in awe of the promise keeper.

Filled, you were filled, Zechariah,
filled with God's Spirit,
filled with his praise
filled with his truth.

Old Zachariah, dumb-struck, humble-struck, awe-struck Zechariah,
tongue-lossed, praise-singing Zechariah.

(Ginger Kauffman, 2014)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hymn of the Month -- Sing Your Praise to the Lord

Thanksgiving month. Shouldn't our Hymn of the Month feature a song that draws praise from the depth of our very souls?

This exuberant song by Rich Mullins is based on Psalm 113. It was released in 1981. I guess you could say it is a contemporary arrangement of a very old hymn!

Rich invites us to sing anew, remembering the joy we felt when we first came to know Jesus. And he implores us to sing aloud the song that someone else is dying to hear. It's the song of the Lord who is exalted over all the nations, and his glory is above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? (Psalm 113: 4-5). Is there any god like our God? Indeed there is not! From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets the name of the Lord is to be praised (v. 3).

So go ahead and pull out the stops today. Sing your praise to the Lord!

(Here is a link to the lyrics.)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Add Mystery and Fun to Your Teaching

I just read a delightful book,  a mystery story for children, but it is so much more than that. It's The Mystery of the Missing Lion by Alexander McCall Smith. You might know him from his series, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, featuring Precious Ramotswe. I loved the stories of Mma Ramotswe and the cast of colorful characters who fill the life of this clever sleuth.

In The Mystery of the Missing Lion we meet Precious Ramotswe as a nine-year-old child. On a trip to the Okavango Delta to visit her aunt, Precious becomes involved in the filming of a movie. When the actor-lion disappears, Precious uses her skills of observation and clear thinking to help find him.

This is one of three books in McCall Smith's Precious Ramotswe Mystery for Young Readers series. Iain McIntosh's illustration bring the story to life. In this book children receive some good sense lessons -- reminders about manners and examples of paying attention to details -- as well as learn about life in Botswana and the geography and animals of the delta, all while following Precious on her adventure. It would make a wonderful addition to the curriculum of any teacher in grades 3-5, whether in a classroom or a homeschool setting.

An illustration by Iain McIntosh from The Mystery of the Missing Lion

Indeed, the book has a Reader's Guide after the story, offering a pre-reading activity, discussion questions, and other curriculum connections for your students.  (Here's an example. Language Arts: Write a description of your favorite character in the book. What questions would you like to ask this character about his or her life in Botswana?)

The author spent most of his childhood and youth in what is now called Zimbabwe. He returned to Scotland for university, earning a PhD in law and going on to teach law in Great Britain as well as Botswana. He began writing in the 1980s and has authored over 50 books. Many are set in Botswana, others in Scotland, some in Portugal, and possibly even some in other parts of the world. (I can't be sure, since I've focused on the books about Precious Ramotswe.)

If you're looking for a something to spice up your teaching, you can't go wrong with the Precious Ramotswe Mystery for Young Readers books. Check out Alexander McCall Smith's website here.

Author Alexander McCall Smith with one of his young friends

Monday, November 10, 2014

Is There a Bear in Your Future?

In her memoir, The God I Love: A Lifetime of Walking With Jesus, Joni Eareckson Tada tells a story that took place four years after the diving accident that resulted in her quadriplegia. She was with her parents and two of her sisters in Canada's northern Rockies, the first cross-country trip they had taken since the accident.

On this particular day her parents had gone into the village for supplies and her sisters were preparing for a hike. Seated in her wheelchair near the picnic table, Joni watched as they put on their hiking boots. Jay placed a book on the table for Joni and dog-earred the pages so that she could turn the pages. ("My shoulder muscles weren't very strong, and I had no movement or feeling in my hands, but with a shrug and a bicep-swing I could nudge things, like pages, with my armsplint," Joni explains.)

She watched Jay and Kathy hike until they were tiny specks, then she turned her attention to her book. "But on the very first turn of the page I shrugged too hard. My book slid off the table and plopped on the ground." And there was no one around to help.

Until the accident, Joni's life had been full of action -- horseback riding, swimming, racing -- and music and gusto. Left alone in the shadow of the mountain without even being able to pick up her own book was so very far from the life she had known. She realized that she was on the verge of another Feel-Sorry-For-Joni-Day. "Please, dear God, come rescue me by this picnic table," she cried.

Since she couldn't go out into God's creation, she asked the Lord to bring his creation close to her. Maybe a butterfly or a caterpillar, the wind or an eagle overhead. But there was no answer,

She told her sisters about it when they returned, exclaiming over the majestic view and the deer they had seen. "Well, maybe he hasn't answered yet," Jay replied.

That evening Joni sat across the campfire from her sister Kathy. Joni saw a movement behind Kathy, maybe a big black dog, coming toward her from the woods. "Kathy, don't move!" she whispered. But Kathy thought she was joking. But when the bear was just inches from her, sniffing her back and grunting, Kathy was convinced. Distracted first by the marshmallows, and then by Joni's wheelchair's foot pedals, the bear made its way around the fire.

Sister Jay, washing dishes inside the camper, must have heard the whispers outside. She threw open the door and yelled, "Bear? Where?" Joni concludes the tale with these words: "At that, the animal whirled around, nearly knocking the picnic table over. Pots and pans went flying and clattered to the ground. Frightened now, the bear lunged past Kathy and disappeared into the night...

"...It was very late when my sisters put me to bed. Only after the crickets stopped chirping outside my screen window and the night was deathly still, did it strike me: Oh, my -- Lord, you did it. You answered my prayer. And what a first-class answer! This was no butterfly or caterpillar. This was gigantic.

"'A bear,' I whispered into the night. I couldn't wait for the morning to tell my famiy about the way God answered my prayer.

"This wasn't just a favorite vacation memory for me, to be hashed and rehashed by countless flips for the special page in the photo album. It was an affirmation of God's faithfulness. He answered. The Lord of creation had answered. And it was such a 'yes' answer -- such a big yes -- that it made me forget all the other times I'd prayed and God had said no. I realized this was peace -- the kind, I'd read, 'which transcends all understanding, [and] will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.'

"He gave not only a bear. He gave peace."

I know that many people long to have God reveal himself to them. "Just show me something that will remind me that you are here, that you care about me, that you're even listening..." Yet you get no answer.

Perhaps God isn't going to give you a butterfly or a caterpillar. Perhaps he's going to give you a bear!

If you find yourself today in Joni's situation, hold on. God is faithful. He is here; he does care; he is listening. The Lord said through Jeremiah, "Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know" (Jer 33:3). The psalmist declares: "The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them" (Psalm 145:18-19).

You may just need to wait a little longer.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Hymn of the Month -- How Marvelous

This is the same song sung to the same tune -- just a bit different style -- that we used to sing in my home church. I love seeing younger people pouring their hearts out in worship in this video. Sing along and be blessed today!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

How Would You Describe Jesus?

If I ever run out of diversions at my house, I can always go find one of the dozens of old notebooks that I have stashed in boxes and drawers and sit down to read. Here's something I wrote in 1997 that I came across today. 
A good novel would include a description of the main character. Not one of the gospel writes included a physical description of Jesus. You'd think they'd at least have mentioned his eyes! 
Jesus' physical description seems irrelevant -- totally inconsequential, as if to give a description would detract from the message. 
Jesus' most noticeable characteristic was not physical. It was his authority. 
They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law (Mark 1:21-22).

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Our Leavenworth Tradition

We were in Wenatchee on Saturday, looking at the sky change from bright sunshine to threatening black clouds faster than I've ever seen. The wind was picking up. We were on our way to Leavenworth to meet our friends Judi and Arlin for our annual Oktoberfest afternoon. During our 30 minute drive to Leavenworth we were in such a downpour that we passed up the fruit stand we'd waited all year to visit. We pulled into a parking space (probably vacated by fleeing tourists who decided to sit out the storm in their hotel room!) and found our friends, then trudged up the street to Gustav's, joining dozens of folks seeking shelter and food, and settled in for a good long chat.

Judi and I met when we were teenagers. I started noticing her and her twin brother at youth events and just knew that if we ever met we'd be good friends. It turns out my hunch was right. We ended up as college roommates through our entire four years at Seattle Pacific University, and our friendship has only grown sweeter over the years.

As we ate and talked and laughed Arlin said, "That bug has circled the top of the glass many, many times!" We looked to see a fruit fly speeding around the top of my drinking glass, making the full circle in just two or three seconds. He skillfully raced around the edge of the glass without falling off, and then we noticed him trying to climb my straw! Though he tried and tried to find his footing on the straw, he just couldn't seem to do it. He would slide back down to the glass' edge then make another trip around, stopping once more to attempt climbing the straw.

See the bug on the right edge of the glass?

This went on for several minutes. The next thing we knew, he had turned around and was racing back around the glass in the opposite direction. Was he dizzy, needing to get his balance, or was he obsessive compulsive, planning to take as many trips the new way as he had the old way?

It turned out that he was persistent. His goal was to conquer the straw, and that's just what he planned to do. After a mad dash in his new direction he mounted the straw and run up it, all the way to the top! Success!

"Oh, boy, oh, boy, there's the straw!"

Down the straw, around the glass again, up the straw, down the straw... This little guy had known what he wanted and he wasn't satisfied until he'd figured out how to make it happen. I marvel at his determination as well as his logic. It seems to me a rather complex problem he was tackling (at least for a bug), but he stuck with it until he had worked it through.

When the sun came out we joined the press of people on the streets and in the shops. We got our picture taken under a gargantuan maple tree and saw the fire breather performing. 

Rain notwithstanding, it was a wonderful day. It's a bit of a rush trip for a one day outing, but it's a tradition I hope we keep up for a good long time.

Do you want to know more about Leavenworth's events and places to stay, shop, and eat? Check it out here.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Radically Normal Book Tour

 I recently sat with Josh and Marilyn Kelley in their nearly empty living room, chatting about Josh's new book, Radically Normal, and the ten-month promotional trip they plan to take.

Josh spoke with ease about his own struggles as a "squeaky clean" kid growing up in a Christian home, a young man who earnestly loved Jesus and strove to follow him. But he struggled with just what it meant to be spiritual. Take the witness of Radical Randy, for example. A street preacher, Radical Randy was other-worldly in every way. Even his greetings oozed of Jesus -- in response to a simple, "How are you?" his answer was always, "Blessed, brother!"  Josh was confused by Radical Randy and others who seemed to be super-Christians. Admiring their zeal, he was uncomfortable with their obsessiveness. Was that really a requirement for living all-out for Jesus?

Years of life lessons, including the closing of the church Josh pastored for several years and an 18-month stint as a Starbuck employee, helped him come to understand the joy that comes from when one becomes radically normal. 

What does it mean to be a normal Christian? This is the thrust of Radically Normal. How do we avoid the extremes of Complacent Christianity on the one hand and Obsessive Christianity on the other? Is it really possible to pursue radical obedience to Christ in our normal, everyday lives? And just how do we do that? These are the issues that Josh Kelley addresses in Radically Normal. Filled with stories and a readable, conversational style, it's the book he wished he'd had when he was younger. 

It's the book I wish I'd had too! I found myself identifying with what Josh had to say. Memories flashed to my mind of my trying so hard to live for Jesus that I couldn't see how to just let him live through me. It's an easy trap to fall into. 

So how is it that a guy who writes about how to be a radically normal Christian without having to sell your house and become a missionary has now sold his own house and is setting out on a nearly year-long trip? Isn't that kind of an oxymoron?

It's all of matter of one's intention, Josh told me. Do you want to do something because you feel called to it or because that's what you think others want you to do? "For us, it's not a radical choice. We've always talked taking time to travel around the country," Josh said. "When our church closed and the book came out, we thought it was time to take that trip we'd always wanted to take!"

House sold, van packed; heading out on a grand adventure!

The Kelleys' things have been packed into their van, put into storage, or disbursed to friends, and their grand adventure has begun.  Marilyn will be homeschooling the girls along the way, as well as blogging about the trip. The girls are doing 4th and 6th grades, great ages for exploring the country and meeting lots of new people. She's also working on a book of her own to encourage pastors' wives.

They plan to head south, through the western states, and then travel to the east coast through the southern states, up the east coast, then back through the central states, arriving in Washington State next summer. They'd love to meet you. If your church or college or other group would like to have them stop in to share the book, preach, or just hang out, please get in touch with them. They'd especially appreciate places where they could stay for a couple of days or more. Asked how we can pray for them, Josh and Marilyn said their two biggest needs are speaking engagements and places to stay. Add to that safety on their travels and growth and development as a family. 

Click here to learn more about Radically Normal and how you can get a copy of the book for yourself. Follow the Kelleys on Josh's blog and on Marilyn's blog. Their grand adventure just might change your life!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Let's Talk About Camping*

I first learned about this amazing tent-trailer when a friend posted it on Facebook last weekend. If I ever planned to explore the outback of Australia, this is how I'd like to do it. The technology, the convenience, the creativity is just breathtaking. I think I could even get into camping if I had a rig like this!

I actually used to be really into camping, but it was when I was a kid and had only two obligations: to do what I was asked when I was asked, and to have fun! I loved camping -- those family outings that took us away for a weekend or a week at a time and parked us somewhere near a river or lake or ocean, the station wagon and trailer jammed full of food, clothing, bedding, gear and games to keep five kids busy and happy. Food tasted better when it was cooked on the camp stove or over the fire -- pancakes and bacon, grilled cheese sandwiches and a big pot of bean with bacon soup, an aluminum foil packet of chicken and vegetables cooked in the coals. After lunch we'd go exploring, looking for seashells or pinecones, fishing in the river, or driving up winding mountain roads. What could have brought us more joy than s'mores and singing, telling jokes and playing games around the campfire after the sun had gone down? Nothing I can think of.

There was, of course, not a lot of joy in trying to get comfortable on an air mattress inside a tent that had been placed, inadvertently, on a slope or a rock no one had detected when camp was set up after dark. And then there were those mornings when you unzipped the flap of the tent and took your first step out, only to discover that it had rained in the night and just outside your door was a stream that hadn't been there when you'd gone to bed.

The long walk to the public restroom was never quite as scary as the experience of using said restroom when you finally got there. But that was what you had to give up for all the fun stuff you got to do.

Looking back on it, I wonder why my parents went through the massive effort to get us ready for a week-long camping trip. I have friends who do the same kinds of things for their families now, but in the 50s and 60s there were fewer conveniences to take the hard work out of getting ready for the fun. And there were certainly no UEV-440s back then!

Ah, but we did have a tent trailer when we were kids. We five kids ranged in age from three to nine when the trailer became part of our lives. We usually arrived at the campsite in the evening, after Dad had worked a full day, and our parents would start the process of unfolding the two beds from the center of the trailer and extending them over the edges of the trailer. They'd put the poles in place and drape the canvas taut over them, fastening them to the sides of the trailer. They'd level the trailer out and secure it in place, drop the step down so that we could get in, then we'd all start hauling our supplies out and setting them up. By the time we'd finish it was late, but our home on wheels would be tidy and the workout had us ready for a good night's sleep.

The trailer resembled a sardine can once we were all tucked in for the night. With a parent and a little boy on each of the narrow beds and an air mattress for the other three of us kids on the floor between the beds, there was little room for anything else in the trailer.

As far as I know we don't have any pictures of the trailer. But this one looks most like the one we had of any photos I found on the internet.

I looked at lots of pictures before I chose this one. It was the zipper that pulled me back to my childhood andreminded me of the claustrophobia that I experienced when we were all crammed into the trailer but also the sense of safety, knowing that we were all seven together when that zipper was down. Maybe it's the many times we couldn't really get the tent dried out after a rain that gave it its own peculiar odor, not a bad smell, but a kind of heavy smell. It filled my nostrils when I saw this photo and my breathing changed slightly.

I felt the trailer sway slightly in my mind as I imagined being inside. When you'd put your foot on the step it made a bit of a clanging noise and it moved slightly, reminding you that everything about this camping experience was temporary.

Well, not everything. I still have my memories, and they are nothing but sweet.

* * * * * * * *

*Sometimes, on dreary winter days when we were young and we couldn't play outside and we were out of ideas of what to do inside, someone would pose a question: "What do you want to talk about?" We all gave the same answer: "Let's talk about camping!"

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Church of the Beloved

Do you remember the Wedding Camp that Tom and I went to over Labor Day weekend in 2011? Tara, the daughter of Tom's closest friend, married Nathanael at Ghormley Meadows Christian Camp in Naches, Washington, and invited their family and friends to join them for the weekend. I've never been to another marriage celebration so relaxed or so sanctioned by community as Tara and Nathanael's.

Tara and Nathanael

So why bring it up again, three years later? Because the couple is a part of Church of the Beloved, a Christian community in Edmonds, along with many of the folks we met at the wedding. Ever since that weekend we had wanted to attend a service there, and last Sunday evening we finally had a chance to worship with them.

Housed at Rosewood, a century-old house that, over the years had been a hunting lodge, a brothel, a place to train German Shepherds -- Nathaneal pointed out the tree under which Rin Tin Tin is said to be buried -- and a nursing home, had fallen into disrepair when Ryan Marsh, pastor of Beloved, inquired into purchasing it. Set in a residential neighborhood in Edmonds, the large house with several bedrooms now provides housing for renters as well as space for Sunday evening services and other church-related activities.

Rosewood Manor

A community garden fills much of the back yard, as well as children's climbing toys and a sand box.  If neighbors want to use a patch of the garden they are welcome to it. The chicken coop is empty at the moment.

Here's what the Beloved's website says about itself:
Have you ever been invited to share a meal with someone you didn't know well where you felt truly welcomed? You've been there, right? 
Stories are told around a common table; warm dishes are shared among strangers and friends; laughter, drink, or a song stops time just long enough to remind you that you are human and you are not alone. 
We think God would show up to a table like that -- and that He has, and still does. 
At Church of the Beloved our name reminds us of our purpose in the world, to be loved and to be love.
Everything about our experience Sunday told us that this group of folks is intentional in the way they live in the world, just like we experienced at Wedding Camp three years ago.

They are a people who work together and play together and fellowship together. At camp everybody found a job to do, working in the kitchen, helping set up for the wedding, cleaning up, whatever. There was plenty of time for hiking or paddling a canoe, playing bocci or doing the zip line. And eating in the dining hall gave us a chance to fellowship over a meal.

Helping set up for the wedding reception

Taking my turn in the kitchen

Not where you usually find the mother of the bride on Wedding Day!

Announcements on Sunday included an upcoming potluck and an invitation to show up next Sunday to  dig a ditch. The theme of the service was Confession and after the message people could respond at any of three stations. One was a table where people shared their thoughts on confession. Listening in, I was moved by their openness to the Lord and to one another.

Two things stand out as fundamentally important in the life of the Church of the Beloved: children and holy communion.

Several children came in with their parents -- a darling curly haired girl wearing wings, toddlers, a young boy who joined the pastor at the communion table and mimicked his hand motions. Some were demure, some grew restless; all were welcomed. Partway into the service they were dismissed to Godly Play, but they came back in time for communion.

The communion table was set when we arrived. In the middle of the living room, with chairs and couches all turned to face it, the table was a large slab of a tree, maybe 8 or 10 inches thick, with an irregular edge and the rings of the tree highly polished. It was set on four tripod legs and held two cups and the bread. When it was time for the eucharist, Ryan filled the cups, gave instructions, consecrated the elements and made the invitation.
The table of Jesus is your place of gathering.
Here you are welcomed, wanted, loved.
Here there is a place set for you.
So come all you who thirst and hunger for life.
All you whose souls cry out for healing.
All you who are weighed down with worry.
All you who go hungry in a fat land.
All you who search for meaning, or belonging but cannot find it.
Jesus invites you.
Draw near and trust that God is with you.
The children came first, gathering around the table. Pastor Ryan squatted down, handing each one the bread and speaking to them of Jesus' gift. They found the lady with the juice and dipped their bread. A mother whispered something to the pastor and he placed his hand on her small girl's head and prayed for her before she took the bread from him. The tenderness of the moment didn't end with the children. Each one who came to the table was offered all of God's grace for all of our needs.

When the service came to a close, we were sent home with this blessing:
And the blessing of God,
Host of Creation
The blessing of Christ,
Guest of humanity
The blessing of the Spirit,
Source of Communion
go with you
for the sake of the world.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Hymn of the Month -- Lead, Kindly Light

It is my guess that you'd have to be quite into church music to be very familiar with the hymn Lead, Kindly Light. At least it's not one that I have known well. I hear it in my head played on a big pipe organ and sung as a king of dirge. You may have a different experience with it than I, but this is what comes to mind when I retrieve it from my memory bank.

Lead, Kindly Light was written as a poem in 1833 by John H Newman and set to a tune by John B Dykes in 1865. In 2007 The Telegraph published a short but interesting story of the origin of the hymn.

I recently came across a re-write of the song by musician Audrey Assad. She's updated the words but kept to the intent of the original lyrics, and she's given it a new tune. It is one of the loveliest songs I've heard in a long time.

Lead, kindly light, amidst the grey and gloom
The night is long and I am far from home
Here in the dark, I do not ask to see
The path ahead -- one step enough for me
Lead on, lead on, kindly light.

I was not every willing to be led
I could have stayed, but I ran instead
In spite of fear, I followed my pride
My eyes could see, but my heart was blind
Lead on, lead on, kindly light.

And in the night, when I was afraid
Your feet beside my own on the way
Each stumbling step where other men have trod
shortened the road leading home to my God
Lead on, lead on,
my God, my God,
Lead on, lead on, kindly light

© Audrey Assad Inc (BMI) / Heavily inspired by Ven. John Henry Cardinal Newman's poem of the same name>

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Today's Purple Sunrise

My friend Colleen Rupke took this photo of the sunrise over the Cascade this morning
Today's pre-dawn sky was the color of eggplant against mountains the shade of a nearly black plum, finally ready to eat. At 5:50, it was still an hour until sunrise, but the hint of color brought with it a hint of the day's promise.

We've been a one-car family for the past three months and occasionally I commute with Tom the 33 miles to his office so that I can have the car for the day, then return to pick him up in the afternoon. It's not a great longterm solution, but it works for now. I've witnessed a lot of sunrises with my husband this summer, and that has been worth the inconvenience.

When we began our treks together it was just after the first day of summer and the sun was rising about 5:15. The sky was already bright enough to read in the car without a light, but who could read? Colors streaked the sky, horsetail clouds formed whispy patterns around us, and fog often lay just above the ground over the farmland and along the slough in Everett. Some days were so glorious that I forgot to breathe. Each trip found the sun rising a few minutes later than the previous trip, providing us a tangible reminder of nature's clock.

Sunrise was 6:49 today. I couldn't get enough of it. How often we've remarked that we should have had a camera on our morning trips to work, but even if we had it, you can't exactly stop along the freeway to snap a shot.

After dropping Tom off I was determined to find a spot where I could pull off and get a good, long look.

If you know Everett, perhaps you remember the overpass by the Evergreen Cemetery which will take you from South Broadway (overlooking Lowell), across the freeway, then down on to Broadway. It has not been kept up -- that is, there are lots of weeds along the sides of the road -- but it is still in use and still offers a great view of the Cascades and the Snohomish River valley. It's not wide enough to pull over but there was no other traffic on the bridge so I did stop momentarily and drink in the view. The sun had still not risen but the sky was turning orange and the clouds, light grey puffs that scattered across the sky, were lit from underneath. Fog settled in the low places, faint enough to see forms -- trees and buildings -- in the distance.

Even the sewage treatment plant just north of Everett was radiant in the moments before the sun appeared above the mountains. Reflections in the pond were filled with pinks and yellows and oranges and purples, and the details in the mountains above were beginning to be washed out by the brightening sky.

The sun had fully risen by the time I turned off I-5 onto Hwy 532. I was too far north by now to see it until, heading west, it glared in both my rearview mirror and my side mirror, temporarily blinding me. By the time I pulled into our driveway the day looked like any other. It might be, too, except that I had seen the sun rise this morning and had known the secret of its splendor. It had whispered its beauty to me and filled me with its wonder.

It just wouldn't be right to waste a sunrise.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Looking Ahead

It'a just two weeks until I reach the 5-year anniversary of Three Minutes to Nine. I woke up one morning in 2009 to find my son on the computer. "Please hurry and get off the computer," I told him. "I'm going to start a blog today." I was as surprised as he was. Before noon I was up and running. I've loved every minute of blogging.

I have ideas for things I'd like to write about. They cover the gamut from the technology of Lewis and Clark to teens and texting, from fascinating people who give away money to children who raise funds for others, from stunning books I've read to the amazing people who wrote them. The problem is this: as I pursue the crazy array of topics that come to my mind, I don't get much else done in a day.

This fall I will begin leading a women's Bible study. That's just one of several things, including other writing projects, that I want to give my attention to over the next months.

So here's the thing. For the time being I won't be blogging on any regular basis. I'll try to share a Hymn of the Month and maybe a Yes You Can post each month, and other thoughts along the way, but they may not post three times a week at 8:57 a.m. Just so you know.

I will continue to post the link to my blog on Facebook each time I publish. But let me suggest that you follow by email or subscribe to Three Minutes to Nine. That way you'll be notified whenever a new article is posted.

I'd love to hear from you at

I'll close today with the following video. In April, when the folks from PorterWorks came to interview me for a documentary called In Their Memory, which is the story of Stanwood's Memorial Barn, they recorded me reading a blog post I published about the barn in August of 2012. I was delighted last week when they sent me a link to the YouTube video they had uploaded of my reading. I hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

When Jesus Stood

In all of scripture, I am aware of only one passage where we read that the exalted Jesus stood. We normally read that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God and has been there since he ascended into Heaven (Mark 16:19, Luke 22:69, Acts 2:34-36, Ephesians 1:20). Kings sit on thrones, and that's what Jesus is -- the King of kings. Being enthroned denotes a king's power, authority, and honor. In Christ's case it also shows his deity. He is the Son of God, having completed the work the Father had sent him to do. Taking his place beside the Father is a sign that his sacrifice was sufficient to pay for the sins of the whole world. "It is finished!" he cried from the cross. Indeed, it was finished so that he was able to take his rightful place beside his Father in Heaven.

He's not resting there, as if to say, "Phew! I made it!" No, he is working on our behalf -- pouring his Spirit on the church (Acts 2), revealing himself to people (Acts 7), encouraging the church (Rev 1), interceding for believers (Romans 8:34), advocating for us (1 John 2:1), and offering us mercy and grace in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

All of this Jesus does from his throne. But one day Jesus stood.

It was the day that Stephen -- a man full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, faith, God's grace and power, a man who did wonders and miraculous signs -- was dragged before the Sanhedrin to face charges of blasphemy (Acts 6-7). He stood before those gathered that day and recounted the story of God's appearing to Abraham, the history of the people of Israel and their rejection of God's Son. Stephen, whose face was like the face of an angel, lifted up Jesus to the people. His words were truth and should have convicted them, but when he blamed them for killing the Righteous One, they were furious.

But Stephen full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God" (7:55-56).

As the action builds at a basketball game and a player wrests the ball away from the other side and breaks for the basket before the final buzzer sounds, the crowd jumps to its feet! In solidarity with their team, the fans cannot keep their seats. I wonder if that's not part of what was happening when Stephen looked up and saw Jesus standing in Heaven. He was affirming Stephen's words. As Stephen had been Jesus' representative before his killers, now Jesus stood for Stephen to show that they were on the same team.

Besides that, judges in the Roman court system would stood to pronounce their final verdict. Was not Jesus standing to pass judgment on the scene being played out on earth? "Stephen, I am with you. I do not believe the lies that are being told about you. You are my beloved follower, and you have not failed me. Neither will I fail you!"

The death of Stephen is the first record we have of a Christian being martyred. It is also the first record we have of the ascended Christ showing himself to anyone. Since then, millions of Christ followers have been martyred for their faith. Even now the heat is being turned up on those who stand firm for Jesus in the face of persecution. Perhaps the Lord is once again on his feet, showing himself faithful to those who are faithful to him.

Keep looking up. The Lord we love is faithful and stands for us. And one day He will return and set things to rights. In the words of Samuel Rutherford (1600 - 1661), "O, sweet Jesus, take wide steps! O my Lord, come over the mountains in one stride!"

* * * * * * * *

Photo from Project Guttenberg
A sermon by J. Ligon Duncan was particularly helpful in thinking through this issue

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cama Beach State Park

We couldn't have picked a better day for an outing to Cama Beach! I met Karen at Terry's Corner on Camano Island yesterday morning and we drove south 13 miles to Cama Beach State Park. One of the state's newest parks, Cama Beach was a family fishing resort from the 1930s till 1989, when it closed.  It reopened as a state park in 2008, with its rows of upgraded cabins along the beach, a camp store, and a branch of the Seattle-based Center for Wooden Boats in the middle of the park. More recently the beautiful Cama Center Great Hall was built on the bluff above the beach. With high open-beamed ceilings and a stone fireplace, it provides a lovely space for events as well as the Cama Beach Cafe and Catering. That's where we started our adventure, enjoying a cup of coffee and a scone on the deck overlooking the cabins.

Life in the cabins and on the beach is slow and simple. We saw families gathered around their picnic tables, a lazy dog lying in the shade, and folks playing on the beach. A group of young children barely old enough to read carried GPS devices and were learning how to geocache! No private cars are allowed in the cabin area, so all supplies are shuttled down from the parking lots on the hill above the cabins. Summer reservations fill up fast, though the park is open year-round.

We poked around in the Center for Wooden Boats, where toy boat building classes are held during the summer and people can rent boats to take out on the sound. I stepped into the large boathouse and saw the beautiful boats stored there, the sliding door at the back of the building opened to the boat launch, and I felt so calm and peaceful. I remembered the joy I experienced last summer as I read The Boys in the Boat. One of these days I hope to go to the Connibear Shellhouse to see the Husky Clipper from that amazing book! For today, it just seemed so welcoming to step inside this boathouse.

Outside the sliding wooden door there was access to a boat ramp -- a set of railroad tracks that went down into the water, covered with kelp and barnacles. Inside the building was the remnant of the mechanisms (cranks and pulleys) that were used to get the boats launched. The system is clearly not in use today, but here's what it looked like years ago.

Here's another indication of the popularity of Cama Beach in years past:

After I returned home, I got an e-mail from Karen, calling me her "amiable rambling friend." She says they're hard to come by. So glad we found each other!

If you're interested in learning more about Cama Beach, click here. It includes a nice video you'll enjoy.