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20 November 2017

314/365

Words and music by Caroline Cobb (ASCAP). Copyright 2017 Sing the Story Music.
CCLI # 7097303. Key: G (Capo 3 E). Tempo: 110. Written March 2015.
Isaiah 40:3-5, 61:1-4, 9:1-2

Verse 1:
Pave every road with repentance
Bring the proud heart low
Let the humble heart sing
Break down all your walls, your defenses
Swing wide your gates 
For the coming of the king

Verse 2:
Lo, he has come to rebuild the ruins 
Lo, he has come set them captives free
I know he has come 
To bind up the broken
It's the year of his favor
The year of Jubilee

Verse 3:
People livin' in the darkness
Lift up your heads and see the sun
I see a new day dawnin'
It brings good news for everyone

Bridge (2x):
I see the sun risin’
I see the sun risin’
I see the sun risin’

Verse 4:
One day we'll all hear a trumpet
He will return with reckoning
I'll follow my king into glory
Who here is comin with me?
Who here is comin’ with me?
Who here is comin’ with me? Yeah!

Bridge (2x):
I see the sun risin’
I see the sun risin’
I see the sun risin’

Outro (2x):
Get up, get ready
Get up, get ready
Get up, get ready
For the king to come
 
Who here is comin’ with me?

313/365

The kids filed in, single file and full of energy, wiggling and bouncing and nodding their heads and waving their hands, eager to begin their songs. No doubt, the event kept the majority of the young singers up much past their usual weeknight bedtime and they were excited. The choir came from For the Nations Refugee Outreach in Dallas. But really, these kids came from across the globe. Their faces show the unique beauty inherent in each of God's image bearers, melanin from light ivory European to deep ebony African and the spectrum of shades in-between. The singers opened "Welcome the Refugee," the pre-conference to the MTW Global Missions Conference. 

10,000 refugees from 28 countries resettled in Texas in 2015. Those people represent 10,000 different stories. Certainly, refugees are not new to this country, nor are they new in light of history. From the very beginning of Scripture, we see examples of people displaced, whether it be due to sin and the actions of others, or to famine and disaster, or to human trafficking, or to war, or to religious persecution. 

Those of us who call ourselves Christ-followers also know what it is to be a stranger in the land, as Paul reminds us in Ephesians,  those who were "separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world." We see the mandate to care for the strangers in our midst throughout His word, and we see the promise that His gospel is for people of every nation, tribe and tongue. In the two days of speakers and seminars, we were challenged and exhorted and encouraged to not miss the opportunity to serve the strangers among us in the United States, right here, right now, today.

"Welcoming the Refugee" closed with a video of a Somali woman resettled in the United States being reunited with her husband after several years of separation due to displacement. I watched the face of the beautiful brave woman who gathered her children to wait at the airport customs area for her husband to walk through the doors. And I wept. Tears streamed down my face as I was reminded of faces so similar to hers, in situations so similar to hers, faces that I knew and loved when we lived in Omaha and met the nations in the basement of the church and in the hallways of crowded apartments scented with foreign spices, and in the aisles of my local grocery store. I remembered sharing life through that hard process of learning language, through the shock of the first blast of Midwest winter, through the struggles of parenting in a new culture, through the demands of meeting health demands of a special needs child, through the challenge of beginning life brand new in a far away foreign land. 

My heart remains soft for the refugee and the immigrant and the stranger in the land. My prayer is that many are challenged by the grace of the gospel of Christ to share his outward-looking, stranger-seeking love.





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19 November 2017

312/365

‘Do not cool. Look to Him to keep you burning and shining’.
- included in a letter to missionary Amy Carmichael.

311/365

He writes the Chinese characters under each English word, the symbols that appear to have absolutely no connection to the Roman alphabet. When learning to read, my kids used a phonics workbook titled Explode the Code. Certainly, that is what it takes for this kind gentleman as he slowly and deliberately learns to decipher and explode the English code.

I spend the morning observing and enjoying the international community that comes to the church in Rochester, Minnesota to learn English. These faithful come through the doors from distant places on the globe, brought to the town by work and by loved ones and sometimes by circumstances in their faraway homelands far beyond their control. They greet their friends at the door with broad smiles and eager handshakes. As we are introduced, each welcomes me, today's newest stranger in the church, with a "nice to meet you," and I smile wide, too.

The writer of Hebrews exhorts us, "Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." I wonder, perhaps that entertaining happened just this morning in a church in a town way up north in Minnesota. 

18 November 2017

310/365

“So they all went away from the little log house. The shutters were over the windows, so the little house could not see them go. It stayed there inside the log fence, behind the two big oak trees that in the summertime had made green roofs for Mary and Laura to play under. And that was the last of the little house.” 
― Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods


Just to be clear, I don't remember life without Little House. I can remember going into Plaza Books at Coronado Center in Albuquerque and picking out the next installment in the Little House series. I can remember sitting in the very back space of my mom's Volkswagen Beetle reading Little House books.  (Yes- that would be me seated directly over the engine at the very rear of the car. Yes- that would be me seated without any safety restraint system. Yes- that would be childhood in the mid-1970's.) I can remember reading through the series, and finishing The First Four Years, shelving it, and then starting back in The Big Woods once again. I was The Target Audience of the TV series. I could take my bath, wash, rinse and dry, and be back on the couch before the commercial break ended. 

My kids will attest with nodding heads, the lessons and experiences of Little House have stuck with me to this day. Mary and Laura and Carrie didn't have a VCR in their covered wagon across the plains, and we'll be just fine on our cross-country move, too. Could I too be content with an orange and some stick candy and a corn husk doll at Christmas? That one girl who was such a spoiled bully in elementary school- she was such a Nellie Oleson. I can't look at a grasshopper without thinking of the plague that hit Pa's crops on the banks of Plum Creek. When an Omaha winter seemed to last forever, I knew it was nothing in comparison to The Long Winter in Dakota Territory. The thoughts of Ma making and keeping a home as a pioneer on the prairie have long been a comparison point for me- if Ma can do that, well then surely, I can face the challenges of 21st century life well.

I don't remember how my dear hostess Arlene learned of how I adore all things Little House, but when she did, she promised that she would take me to the cabin. Arlene has many many good qualities, but if there were none other than this promise, she would yet be endeared to me! And so, when setting the itinerary for this trip north, a trip to Pepin filled the space for Monday. 

The Big Woods Cabin sits about 7 miles northwest of Pepin,Wisconsin. It is the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Well, to be honest, it is the replica of the cabin. Goodness, when you think about it, what cabin really could survive 150 years? I found two things about the site fascinating. First- the cabin no longer finds itself in the Big Woods. In fact, at this point in history, cornfields surround the little cabin. But second- the cabin is open all day, every day, completely accessible and in wonderful condition. Doesn't that renew a tiny bit of your faith in society? 

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote, "“The true way to live is to enjoy every moment as it passes, and surely it is in the everyday things around us that the beauty of life lies." Our day-trip along the Wisconsin Scenic Byway was such a delight! To meander with friends and enjoy the views along the way, to savor good food and good company, and even to fulfill a piece of a childhood dream- what more can you ask of a day? 

16 November 2017

308/365

When we left the house in the morning, the skies showed gray and the temps settled low, a pretty cool (and I'm not meaning "hip" or
"fashionable"...) fall morning, even by the standards of the folks who live here. And I was freezing. I gazed out the window as we drove by the cornfields, thinking of my farmer friends, thinking of the harvest yet coming in. And then I realized- there was white scattered over the dark earth. I considered, what could it be?
I even asked my husband, "What's that white stuff in the fields?"
Ummm...
Snow. It was snow.
(full disclosure- I realized my error VERY quickly! And then I had a good laugh at myself, honest, I did!)

Dear Midwest,
You are lovely. But it's the front of November. And I've been living in south Texas and northern Mexico for a while now. My blood has thinned; I really do think it has.

Now I remember what I don't miss...


307/365

I look out the bedroom window, over the roofs of houses, over increasingly bare tree limbs waving their last goodbye to fall. I could have been looking out the back window of my house in Omaha; except for the hill in the distance, the scene was that familiar. I realize once again- I never expected to love the Midwest. But I do.

I love the old houses, built in the early 20th century. I know exactly how the wood in their attics smell, the dust of the years, the bite of cold in the winter as you stick your head through the square in the ceiling. I know exactly the faint must of the basements, the creak of the wooden staircase, the drafts that try to drift through the window case gaps. When we lived in an old neighborhood, we knew that only three families had dwelt in the home before us. That sturdy old house matured during a time when people stayed put and in a place where families set roots for generations.

I love the buildings down in the town, the brick structures that have been used and re-purposed again and again over the decades, the faint paint of signs of years past still clinging to the exterior blocks. I look at the upper windows and wonder who lives over the shops and who has improved the doorways and who dreams about working on the street where generations have made their businesses. I cheer renovations and revitalization in long established areas of town, making the old new again.

I love the old churches, their steeples rising above the horizon, their stained glass windows giving a hint of the beauty inside. I love their pews, smoothed over decades of worship, generations of families filing in next to one another for praise and for prayer. I love the old signs that tell congregants what number hymn they are singing this Lord's Day and I love the rich wood that gleams from years of elbow polish and maybe some Old English besides. I hear the voices of the saints when I walk through the doors, the harmony of voices in song, the petitions of prayer uttered aloud. I think of the community that has mourned through hardship and rejoiced in celebration with one another.

I love the hospitality that greets us here. I love how eager Midwesterners are to show you their best. This week my hosts made sure that we visited The Best Donut Shop in town. They gave us a riding tour and told us how things were and how things have changed. They drove different routes to make sure we saw all the countryside. We finish thinking, what a great town! What can we see next time?!

I will always think of myself as a girl from the West. I'm awfully proud answer "New Mexico," when asked, "Where are you from?" But, I'm equally as proud to share how the nearly eight years we spent in Omaha impacted my life. Yes, my temperature finger has been on the edge of numb for a few days. Even so, I'm glad we have opportunity to be back in the Midwest.

14 November 2017

306/365

Now I taught the weeping willow how to cry,
And I showed the clouds how to cover up a clear blue sky;
And the tears that I cried for that woman are going to flood you Big River,
Then I'm going to sit right here until I die.

- Johnny Cash, "Big River" (1957)

We cross the border between Iowa and Wisconsin just so we could drive the road alongside the Mississippi River. The Big River runs 2350 miles top to bottom, from the Minnesota headwaters at Lake Itasca to its destination end at the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans. The Mississippi/Missouri river system ranks as the fourth longest river system in the world. But at this stretch along the way, it seems difficult to believe that these meandering waters creating only a series of ripples along the way could ever make it that far. The skies have turned gray and rather gloomy by the time we reach the lookout point on the side of the road, the sun not far from day's end. Those old lyrics and Cash's deep baritone voice run through my head, a familiar refrain that today found exactly its own place in time.

304/365

I'm pretty sure that nearly everyone from the Rio Grande Valley would agree- every road trip out of the Valley begins with breakfast tacos. Accordingly, on the stop to fill up the gas tank, we also make our way indoors and line up to place our order. I watch as the workers scurry, alternating between filling a bulk order and the requests of those waiting patiently but anxiously, this surely the first stop of their long day to come. One woman rolls balls of dough with a small wooden dowel; another flips the discs on the grill, checking the tell-tale brown spots for readiness. Finally, our turn at the counter and we place our order, "Dos con juevos y tocino, por favor." She scoops the scrambled eggs with pieces of bacon and fills the center of the tortilla, rolling it all up in a shiny foil wrapper. I walk away and open the package and unroll the bundle to spoon in pico de gallo and salsa verde, taking that nearly always losing gamble that it won't drip onto my shirt in the final bites. The coffee also presents a risk. Although usually known to be pretty good for a gas station brew, today a definitely burned flavor exists, and not even a splash of half and half covers it up. I drink it anyway, watching the sunrise along the way. We are off.

303/365

In truth and in short confession, I know that the rules state No Photography. I'm pretty sure that does not just mean No Flash Photography. But I'm awfully proud of this girl- today is her first day of practice with the team. And I don't have opportunity to stand in the doorway and sneak peeks at her flip-flop twisting and leaping very often. I want to document the moment. So I hold my phone stealthily, as if I'm tricking someone, as if I'm intently looking at the screen and not at my gymnast as she somersaults her way across the springy floor. I know, I know- the lighting is too bright and the subject is blurry and overall, the photo is lousy, and I don't get a second pass. Yet despite all that, for me, this photo I'll keep, a visible reminder of this point in time. This capture of a moment will remind me of the faithfulness of our God to answer prayer and to work out the details when we didn't know how, of just how quickly time passes, and of the girl I could once hold in two palms who now springs across the gym.

301/365

We never know how many are going to show up on a Saturday, and that makes planning tricky. Certainly, no matter the country, young men are known to eat a lot. Today's menu is quesadillas. Tortillas, already pressed, are stacked up, ready to cook on my built-in comal. I slice the queso Oaxaca, the salty stringy ropes that will melt and ooze out the sides of the folded tortilla discs. I cut lunchmeat turkey into ribbons- admittedly, not a traditional quesadilla filling but maybe providing these guys with a bit of protein for the day. I half the avocados and portion out the green half moons, spreading across the plate to form bright fans. The salas are in jars and bottles on the table, my favorite green, Tim's spicy red, and the boys make fun that we can't agree on one. They fill up their plates with spicy crunchy Takis and chicharrones and they fill up their cups with coke. We pray, and thank the Lord for good food, and for good friends, and for the opportunity to enjoy one another. We sit and eat and the boys giggle at each other and at us. They ask us questions about our family and about our home en el otro lado, and try to figure out why we're in the neighborhood. In Romans 12, Paul exhorted the saints to practice philoxenia; literally, to show love to strangers. Today we turn that around, and even though we're the strangers, as the author of Hebrews reminds us, perhaps today we will entertain angels.

28 October 2017

300/365

This hasn't happened in a while.
My friend and teammate looked up over her computer screen and says to me, "I'm thinking Pupusas."
Pupusas.
Yeeeessssss.
It's Friday.
And it's Pupusas.
And it's my friend.
It takes me about one fraction of a second to respond, "Let me ask."
I text my guy.

Now, in my mind, I'm thinking He might say no. He might just want to stay home. I have the leftover rotini. It will be fine...

One minute later, which, just in case you don't know my guy and you don't ever try to communicate with him, is a Personal Best record time of response, he sends back, "Sounds great"
My response? "Wootwoot!!"

Las Pupusas del Itacate wins my Best Restaurant of Reynosa vote. It's colorful- indoors and out. Traditional tables and chairs fill the cozy inside space. A myriad of roosters and other Mexican art fills the spaces and walls. (ok. so maybe NOT all the chunches (that's Costa Rican for "stuff") are really Mexican. And how do folks in India know about loteria, anyway?) We play I Spy and look for something new every time we dine.

And the food. It's really good, always fresh. I order the jamaica, every time. A tray of pickled purple cabbage and green cabbage and spicy carrots with jalapeños and green and orange salsas come to the table when you order. The tacos ala plancha come with plenty of meat and taste great, more so when you add a slice of avocado and the salsa and cabbage. The namesake pupusas are a favorite. On Friday and Saturday, they serve posole, steaming hot bowls of hominy stew with pork, ready to be topped with radishes and cabbage and lime and ancho chile sauce. Oh, and bonus!- all this goodness and the bill comes in very affordable, besides.

We nearly always arrive to an empty dining room, our American dining habits never quite in sync with Mexican norms. On the coolest evenings since spring, everything worked together to create a sweet night. Sharing a Friday night meal with two of my favorite companions, easy and unhurried, was a great end to the week.
Great idea, Kimmy.

299/365

Normally our grocery store offers the usual roses, daisies, mums for sale. Who knew that giant marigolds, in balls of bright orange splendor, could be a thing? The scent of marigolds transports me to childhood, and tending the garden, deadheading the blooms once they dried.

But many other pictures went untaken on this day. Vendors sell their wares on the bridge at the US/MX border. Businesses flash by as I travel down the interstate. A cart collects groceries that will later provide four meals. Tomato meat sauce and then pasta bubbles on the stove.

A phone call provides the speediest of summaries and a promise to pray is later fulfilled. A chile relleño plate and a giant glass of tea with a wedge of lime- I share the corner of a table with one of my best confidants.

Tables stacked with bibles, Spanish and English both, ready for the evening activities. Plans confirmed, prayers uttered. "True" and "False" written on the board, ready to be slapped with flyswatters. Faithful and eager faces gather around, diligently repeating, repeating, repeating tongue twister words. Political commentary offered when we least expect it and the grins and laughs that follow. Hugs from all as we exit at the end of the night.

Watching two of my favorite shows with two of my favorite girls. A bowl filled with a brownie and coffee ice cream. A silly, lazy, ridiculously furry dog lays at our feet. The numbers on the clock turn much too late while I bask in dim and silence. All in all, a multitude for which to be thankful, more than I can number well.

27 October 2017

298/365

Certainly hundreds of different buttons make up the pile I went to work sorting today. How do you even start? Buttons on cards and buttons in bags. Buttons shiny and plastic and wooden and shell. Buttons with thread yet attached and buttons never before used.

Four holes and two holes and shanked.
Light and dark and colored and shiny metal.
Big and little.

And every once in a while I'd fine two, maybe four, one time six, that match. But mostly, single buttons, lost from their pairs.

The entire time I keep one ear on the conversation in the room, trying to keep track should I need to jump in to make clear a word, express a concept with different terms. And with the other side of my brain, I'm thinking about happenings in other places, wondering what conversations might take place, praying for outcomes yet to be determined. 

I break the rule, to be all there, because admittedly, I'm not, exactly. And yet, how does that work in our God's economy, to live in a posture obedient to the command to pray without ceasing? Each move of a button, one place to another, another silent uttering, a praise and a thanksgiving and a petition to Him who is worthy. Tim Keller writes, "Prayer is both conversation and encounter with God. . . . We must know the awe of praising his glory, the intimacy of finding his grace, and the struggle of asking his help, all of which can lead us to know the spiritual reality of his presence."

... on this day, all while sitting still before a collection of buttons.