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21 January 2018


It doesn't make much sense, if you think about it. We most commonly associate the letter A with apple. But we say the name of the letter A with /ā/ and the a in apple as /a/. How do you explain that to someone who doesn't speak English? And the letter C? The name of C says /see/ but the picture says cat with a /k/. Psheesh.

If you grew up speaking English, you probably just laugh and shake your head. But if you are an adult and learning English for the first time, you might rather cry. It's not an easy road.

I'm pretty sure my two new Thursday night English students would tell you that. One is a young man; one is a grandpa. (I give the abuelo a slight edge- I know his two young granddaughter tutors...) Both men enrolled in class this week, ready to learn, but not really knowing much English. In the first 30 minutes of class, we reviewed the first nine letters of the alphabet. Then, to mix things up, we worked on the first dialogue students learn in nearly any language.
"What's your name?"
"My name is (fill in your own name)."
"I'm (fill in your own name)."
"Nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you too."

With a short break for brain rest, that took up our 2 hours of class. It doesn't seem like much, for a native speaker, anyway. But for a brain learning these sounds for the first time, it's a lot. Repetition, repetition, repetition. Lots of gestures. Ask him his name. Tell him your name. Tell me the letters. Fill in the missing letter. We put flashcards of A through H in order. They slapped the board with a fly swatter when they recognized the letter we called out. I cheer when they answer correctly, not at all contrived because I'm sincerely happy with them. I remembered to reward their efforts with a few pieces of chocolate. It came time to finish and they both looked tired, but asked for homework nonetheless.

"Good job! Hasta la próxima semana," I told them with a handshake. "Gracias," they told me as they left the room.

Maybe it should be A for some have entertained angels unaware...


I huddled in my room all the morning, heater at my feet. Well, every once in a while I might think, "Maybe it's warm enough now," and I'd turn off the heater. A few minutes later, I would turn it back on. I filled up my water bottle with hot tea, and sipped on it, mostly to hold the hot mug and warm my hands, all morning. It came midday, and I ventured out of the room.

Just a few steps in my sock feet, I stepped into water. Really Cold Water. Surprise! Water hugged the edges of the walls. Water pooled at the doorway to my living room. Water soaked a good bit of the rug in the center of the room. Water pretty much filled the front of the house.

That can't be good.

I put on shoes and my husband came home to play detective with me. We couldn't find the source of the water so we went to the school rooms next door. Water met us at the door there, too. But we quickly figured out the headwaters of today's springs- a busted hose on the bathroom sink. He turned off the water and stopped the fountain and stemmed the deluge. Thankfully, we have a couple of guys who could clean up that side, so it was back to my own home.

We dragged out the dripping rug and hung it up outside, though it won't dry for a few days. My guy went back to work. I got to work. I pulled out the mop and the bucket and turned on the TV for noise and started swabbing the floor. I listened to a panel of ladies dish on the virtues and woes of outing cheating husbands on social media. I heard the familiar voice of CJ from the West Wing, now the dysfunctional movie mom of Tonya Harding, tell about waiting for award nominations. "Coming tomorrow... 50 Cent!" I'm not usually known to be a daytime TV watcher. I'm not missing much.

By the time the pools recessed, I had mopped up a full 3 gallon bucket of water. I emptied it out and filled the bucket one more time to go over the floor again with hot water and Pine Sol. Then I included the rest of the house for good measure. I mean, once the mop is out, ya might as well finish it all, right? That finished, I heated up another thermos of tea and went back to my room. And turned the heater back on my feet. I just might stay in until spring arrives.

20 January 2018


We live in a place where in January the daily high temperature averages around 70 degrees, and the nightly low temperature falls to about 50 degrees. It's pleasant, even delightful. We kind of think of it as a sweet reward for surviving six months of hot.

But on this day, the peak came early in the day. It topped out at 38 wet and windy degrees. And then it fell. To below the freezing point.

Now, be sure, I have lived in cold places. REALLY COLD. And I know that on the same day, there were plenty of places suffering much colder temps than we were. I know that people in those places scoff at 31 degrees.

But I betcha in most of those places, homes have insulation. Most of us here in Reynosa have cinder block walls. People who live in cold places have central heating these days. We have a little space heater, and a heating element in our mini-split air conditioning unit that tries to crank out some warmth, and five layers of blankets on the bed. I can see my breath while inside my house. And truthfully, I have it good. I know others living in conditions that make mine look luxurious.

Where I live, people face hurricanes with bravery, ready to hold down the fort against gale force winds and flooding rain. Where I live, if temperatures below the 40's are mentioned in a weather forecast, we do our best to imitate little brother Randy in The Christmas Story by putting on multiple layers of clothes, preferably covering our faces, too. We hold mugs of hot drinks. We huddle around the space heater, maybe even the stove, maybe even the coffee pot, anything that gives off warmth, like it is a campfire.

The saving grace in these cold snaps comes in a simple, hopeful, fact- they are short. I have the promise of knowing with assurance that in four days, the sun would come out again. The forecast tells us sun and normal, even above normal, temps are on the way.

Come visit next week. It should be lovely.


Maybe that’s why in the list of heart, soul, mind, strength, in every time that it occurs in the Gospels, heart is first. Because the heart is not an organ of performance; it’s an organ of preference. The heart prefers, and then we do stuff in accord with our preferences. The first commandment is loving with all your preference. Prefer him above everything. Let him be your gold, your silver, your everything, and it’ll change all your doings.
- John Piper, "The Heart of Love is Delighting, Not Doing," Desiring God blog.

The alarm goes off early. It all seemed so reasonable when I suggested the plan for the day the previous night. But the dark and cool of a January morning make early seem even earlier. Thankful for a hot shower, I dress quickly and settle at my desk with my mug and my Bible, my notebook and my pen. I repeat the keystrokes for the week's memory verse, over and over and they start to stick.

We load up and head out, the light of dawn barely peeking over the horizon behind us. A stop for gas. A stop for a taco. A stop for coffee. I argue one stop would have worked just as well. I think about the day, about the week, about the rest of the month. I play ump-jillion games of solitaire to avoid paying attention to traffic while my guy drives alongside the rest of the morning commuters. 

I'm back at my other desk and making a list of To Do's in relatively short order. Administrative work and plans for teaching, overdue correspondence, and the next day's assignments fill my notecard. One by one, I cross them out, only occasionally distracted by Facebook, by playlists. "Like a boss," I congratulate myself as I strike through another item. I head across the street for the afternoon reading and outreach. I play with kids. I stack and restack blocks and keep big kids from knocking down fragile towers and coordinate demolition countdowns. I sit with a little one coloring at a table full of bigs and encourage her to finish her page, finding whatever crayon she asks for next. It's a day of doing.

In a 1967 speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Martin Luther King Junior said, "As for me, I have also decided to stick with love for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to the mankind's problems." Just a few moments later in the same speech, King clarified, "and I'm not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love." He certainly wasn't referring to the simple feel-good "love" of Valentine candy hearts. King reminded the crowd of the requirements of 1 Corinthians 13, of the challenge of doing all things with love, and of the potential to become egotistical and self-righteous even in the midst of doing good things.

Ah... right. It's not about the To Do list. It's about how I do it. It's about who is glorified in the doing. I pray that even on days that are full of doing, my heart will always delight the very most in Him who first loved us.

17 January 2018


After a break for the Christmas holidays and a week of short-term team activity in the 'hood, regular activities around here have resumed. Maybe I shouldn't say "normal," because on this day, we shortened classes because the water was turned off due to fixing a leaky outside pipe. Maybe some sort of disruption is our normal?

As we came into the neighborhood over the weekend, a small mob of kids stopped our car as we turned the corner. "See you Monday?," they asked us expectantly (right after the announcement of "It was my birthday! Do you have a present for me?" and "It was my birthday too! I want a soccer ball, too!," even though only one of those kids really celebrated a birthday while we were away). Then on Sunday morning as we opened the gate to leave for church, another one of our neighborhood kids was passing by and asked, "See you tomorrow?"
Yes! See you tomorrow.

No doubt, we missed these kids while we were away. But we haven't always been sure that they might miss us, too. Without hesitation, one of the biggest impacts of being in a place is simply to be there. We want to be here.

There's no getting around the facts- we are different in this place. We look different. We speak with a different accent. But too, we want to live different. We want to love different. Our hope is in a different place, a different person. We want to live and speak and show Christ.

So as we resume "normal" around here, we are examining again how to do all this well. How do we abide in this place and offer ourselves and know our neighbors and love one another well?

Pastor Scotty Smith offered the prayer, 
Father, help us to see how your hand and heart are at work in everything. You are working all things together after the counsel of your will. You are working in all things for the good of those who love you; and we love you because you first loved us. ("Getting, Being, and Staying Still") 
At the beginning of this new year, I pray the same petition.


Checkers looks a little bit different across the border. In our neighborhood, we play with bottle caps- right side up and upside down. In Mexico, the pieces are female, damas, not male. When the piece reaches the farthest row across the game board, she becomes a queen, not a king. And she is queen with superpowers, no less! Unlike American checkers, the Mexican queen can move diagonally across the board without stopping as long as there is a free space, taking the opposing piece and then continuing to slide to a safe spot on the board. This can prove extremely problematic to the unaware and quickly forgetting American player.

Another difference- Mexican checkers don't jump their opponent; they eat them. Accurate description, sure, but it seems to be kind of an aggressive description. If your opponent has less than 12 years of age, my experience is that they eat your ladies quite joyfully, almost with glee. My inclination tends to be towards compassionate, sometimes ignoring possibilities that my opponent doesn't see. That mercy flies when I see a young mind relishing in my defeat.

That leads to the other problem if you happen to be an American playing Mexican checkers with a kid- they cheat. (Hmm... this might be a problem not matter what country I'm playing in...) As if it's not enough to learn these Mexican rules, then they try to add their personal, and very temporal, conditions. "Sí, sí!" they tell me with wide eyes and a nodding head. "¡¡Puedo hacerlo!!" Thankfully, usually another kid watching the match either feels sorry for me or just doesn't want to see the other kid win, and calls the cheater's bluff.

Cultural differences come in places you might not ever expect. As is often said across the border, "Poco a poco."

07 January 2018


The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
    which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
    and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them,
    and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

- Psalm 19:1-6 (ESV)

Most of the day fills with that too familiar pull of here and there, of then and now and what still will be, of already and not yet, of out with the old and in with the new, of often seen but not really known. At a certain point, and I'd be hard-pressed to explain why even to myself, I felt the hot sting of salt fill my eyes and I turned to move away. How do we move gracefully, gratefully, through the ups and downs and curves of life? 

We finish the last hour of daylight completing the final errand of the day. Expectantly, I look for glimpses of glory along the way. The pastel wisps of clouds change gradually, vibrantly, into brilliant hues, the Creator's jewel-tone colors across the western canvas. The visible reminder, the "no you are not in control, and that's all ok; there is yet better," comes in the afternoon change of sky.

I too want to be like a strong man and run the course with joy.


The text exchange included,
"I am sure that you have had a busy week and you probably prefer to just chill out..."
"hanging with y'all is an entirely different kind of people time :-)"

Time moves at a different pace when spend the afternoon with a baby. Perhaps, especially so when you have a few years behind you, and you don't worry over every cry and grunt and squeak. Maybe even more so when your week up 'til now was filled with long days and lots of people and plenty of cold. An afternoon in a warm and familiar home with a baby- that's good medicine.

Perhaps the easiest, the most peaceful way, to spend an afternoon is simply to hold a little one in arms. I sit in my favorite chair and hardly move, for nearly four hours. Oh sure, one feeding and later another and some rumbles require a couple of diaper changes along the way. I get up once to make a new bottle. Eventually I set him down and cover him up. I pull out my book, but really, I keep watching. After he sleeps for a bit, I do consider something besides the two of us and go to the kitchen to help with a little dinner prep. But really, this afternoon is mostly chair time. It is mostly about the baby.

When he's awake and back on my lap, I wait for his wandering eyes to suddenly focus on mine. The pay-off is the instant when he centers his attention and after a moment, his lip curls into a little smile. His fingers curl around my pinky. When he's eating, it's watching the rhythm of his cheeks moving, seeing him zone into some distant fantasyland of contentment. He slows when his eyelids weigh heavy, too heavy to keep blinking, and he gives in to sleep.

This guy, he can sleep anywhere. He startles occasionally when some noise interrupts the quiet, but he never yelps and settles again quickly. We wonder, does he dream? I think, when will he start to remember? I pray and hope that he always knows such peace. After a time of snoozing, his eyes open suddenly and he returns to consciousness. And we start the routine all over again. It's all the entertainment I need.

I'm humbled to share these hours of easy. The afternoon is all privilege and I leave grateful. And ready for the next call.

05 January 2018


Psalm 130English Standard Version (ESV)

A Song of Ascents.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
    O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
    to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    that you may be feared.
wait for the Lordmy soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
    more than watchmen for the morning,
    more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
    and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
    from all his iniquities.


Crisp air.
Activity, so much activity.
Kids on carts, kids on the field, kids giving hugs, kids playing, kids running.
Horses, donkeys, burros, dogs.
Sparks flicker.
Lights flash.
Saws buzzing.
Generators humming.
Wires and cords and ropes and hoses.
Old to new.
Faded to fresh.
New lumber.
New paint.
Waiting waiting waiting.


This week I accidentally ran over a pretty big rock, big enough that by the time I heard the scraping, there was really not much else to do but go forward. I immediately cringed, and I immediately received a scolding from my husband who was standing nearby. Nevertheless, even just moments later, I forgot about it- until I started to drive again. The next time I got in the car, my daughter said, "Mom, what's that noise?" I had to think... maybe it was the tire? Maybe I damaged it? The tire definitely looked low, so I stopped and filled it up, but even now, I'm still waiting to see if there will be a long term repercussion to that short and quick encounter on a very muddy road.

Even so, if I need a repair, I'll spend a few minutes with the tire guy and then I'll be on my way. It won't be a big deal. It won't affect my livelihood.

This week, we have the privilege of hosting a group of young people from Illinois who have come to serve the trash cart workers who travel through our neighborhood on the way to the city dump. In our city of Reynosa, the majority of trash collection is made with horse (or donkey or burro) and cart. This week, the team is spending their days making repairs to the carts. It's a very tangible service that meets specific needs in our community- making a real difference to a part of the community we live and serve alongside. It's one of our favorite weeks of the year.

In the past we have had veterinarians and vet students, even farriers, to provide care for the animals as well. But unfortunately, no professionals were able to make the trip this time. So on this day, a college student who has a little bit of experience caring for horses and a dear friend who is a nurse take on the work of the vets. I walk with them and hold the box of meds and collect used syringes and pet the horses. What I do is probably not enough to add "Veterinary Assistant" to my resume, but it's something.

The ladies adjust the dosage on deworming meds and stick the syringe through the lips of unsuspecting horses and donkeys. They have tetanus vaccines to administer, thump-thump-thumping on the necks of the animals before quicklyquickly giving the shot. Some of the beasts seem to know immediately that the meds are coming and turn their heads and even start to back away. Others take the dosage completely unfazed and return to chomping on the nearby grass.

It's easy for us Americans to look at horses as giant pets, talking to them in the same singsong voice we might use with our dogs. Sometimes we ask the owners what the name of their horse is, which might be returned with a confused look and "He has no name." These animals aren't pets- they are engines. They provide the means to making a living. The horse gets hurt, and the garbage collector is out of work. And as such, a few medicines to help keep the animal healthy? That can be a big deal. I hope for the best for my questionable tire. How much more would it mean if the bulk of my earnings depended on it working?

Honestly, we see some animals in pretty poor shape. Some appear malnourished and thin. Others have wounds from rubbing on their harnesses, made even more noticeable when the sun comes out and flies appear. It must be a terrible thing when someone of very minimal means has to ration food between his horse and his family. But others take pride in being able to provide for their animals. One man proudly told me that his horse is named "Gordito," "the little fat one," because he feeds him so well. We laughed. Not long later another worker told me that they rent their horse, for about 10 dollars a day, and it's a stretch to make the payment each week.

Either way, our prayer is that by serving these folks, we treat them with the dignity that they deserve as image-bearers, that they know the love of Christ through our actions and by our words. No matter what the culture or where the place, it would be rare to find garbage workers esteemed in most societies. Many might be quick to think as these folks as "the least of these," the poor, the marginalized, the bottom rung of the social tier. But at an even more basic level, our service to these folks is simply to love God and to love others. This week reminds us again that because our God has done the greatest good for us in providing Christ, our lives overflow with love for others, hopefully in very practical ways.

03 January 2018


The first day of 2018 started cold. A drizzly, misty, every-once-in-a-while-actually-rain, sort of wet that feels like it might seep into your bones and go straight to your soul- that kind of cold.

But, though my entire being seemed to be cold, my heart stayed warm.

We started the first day of the year with the first work day of the year, the first team day of the year, out on the field, near the entrance to the city dump. As has been the tradition for a more than a few years now, we have the privilege of hosting a team of college students, and their hearty sponsor, from Illinois. They have come to serve the trash cart workers that travel through our neighborhood on the way to the city dump.

I have the easy job. I get to deliver coffee and greet people and talk to our friends and neighbors. Sometimes I translate a tiny little bit between our volunteers and the folks they are serving. I get to hug kids and learn names and hear stories.

Today I renewed acquaintance with a dear family we served last year as well. They are a couple who has made trash collection their family enterprise. Both the husband and wife have a cart, as well as two sons. The couple, their son and daughter, as well as their horse and donkey, are named the same. If you have a good name, why not share it, right? But as funny as that may seem, the dear woman also told me about her three children who have died, and the struggle they have coming up with the money to rent the donkey each month, and their very difficult living situation. We together remembered the faithfulness of our God, even in the hardest of hard.

And isn't a new year about remembering old friends? What a delight it was to welcome our most dear friends from down the road in Matamoros. Despite the cold and wet, they traveled over to visit us and to bring gifts and greetings. The truth is, not many come over to visit, and for these two to come was a big deal and such a blessing to us! We huddled in my really cold house and caught up on family and friends and ministry for much too short a time. They encouraged and cheered me. I was a terrible hostess, and they left giving me hugs and kisses nonetheless.
Gracias mis hermanos Isaac y Marilyn! Les queremos mucho. Regresan cuando hace más calor!

Hello 2018. We're off to a good start. Just bring a little more sunshine with you soon, ok?

01 January 2018


Dear 2017,

Let's be honest- we had a hard start. Already reeling from tremendous loss in December, we mourned yet again in January. We didn't really recover, not exactly, but we learned to lean in hard on our Savior. We saw his grace and mercy new, time and time again, and in this crazy economy of Already, Not Yet, we kept looking forward. Here it is, the final day of the year, and yes, we find ourselves finishing the year still worshipping the One who is making all things new.

In the in-between months, we were given so much to celebrate- birthdays and graduations, anniversaries and births and announcements of a baby to come. We traveled to new places. We experienced the delight of a beignet and cafe au lait at Café du Monde in New Orleans' French Market. We took in the rainbow hues of Guanajuato homes stacked on a hillside. We oohed and aahed over the orange and golds of the Midwestern change of season.

We heard hard stories in our Reynosa neighborhood, stories of hurt and pain and loss and fear. We heard hard stories in our own families and in families of loved ones, stories of doubt and anxiety and uncertainty. We watched a hurricane come ashore just a 160 miles north of us, and experienced that strange pairing of thankfulness and grief. We followed the news of the world and of our nation, and we often shook our heads. We grieved for families we didn't even know, for tragedy that seemed senseless, for faraway places beyond our reach. And yes, sometimes we were angry- over injustice and over ignorance, over violence and over hate.

Yet even with the hard of all of that, we laughed together. We sang songs together, old and new. We shook our head at the crazy of this world, and at the reality of life that you just can't make up. We played games and watched games and were game to try new things. We know that there is adventure and joy yet to be found.

The greatest experiences yet to come will certainly be found while living another year as a Christ follower, by grace, by faith. I think my prayer on the last day of the year echoes exactly the Valley of Vision prayer for the New Year:

Length of days does not profit me except the days are passed
in thy presence, in thy service, to thy glory.
Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides, sustains,
sanctifies, aids every hour,
that I may not be one moment apart from thee,
but may rely on thy Spirit
to supply every thought,
speak in every word,
direct every step,
prosper every work,
build up every mote of faith,
and give me a desire
to show forth thy praise,
testify thy love,
advance thy kingdom.

I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,
with thee, O Father, as my harbor,
thee, O Son, at my helm,
thee, O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.

Guide me to heaven with my loins girt,
my lamp burning,
my ear open to thy calls,
my heart full of love,
my soul free.

Give me thy grace to sanctify me,
thy comforts to cheer,
thy wisdom to teach,
thy right hand to guide,
thy counsel to instruct,
thy law to judge,
thy presence to stabilize.
May thy fear be my awe,
thy triumphs my joy.

Thank you and good-bye, 2017. And welcome 2018. We are eager to know you.