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11 December 2017

345/365

DPP11-

(All was calm, all was bright.)

... by the end of the day.

If you stopped by a bit earlier, "all is calm" probably would not have come to mind.

There was the scrambling for teams for soccer. And the actually scrambling during soccer. (Thankfully, the boys were kind to the middle-aged lady playing in street shoes.)

There was the inevitable scuffle in the street before we opened the gate. There was the dividing up groups and there were the few who were kicked out for Unnecessary Roughness.

There were the multiple boys who traded in their lotería cards mid-game because they weren't winning. (I feel you, boys. I know. I know.) They still didn't win.

There was the sweet girl who really looked like she was going to toss her cookies, before she ever ate a cookie. She almost, but never, did, get sick (I know. I took her to the bathroom.). And still, she refused to leave, still trying to participate.

There was the jockeying for tamales, the trading of juice jugs, the grab for cupcakes.

There was the absence of some we hope will come, and the surprise of others we don't expect.

There were the hard realities of life in a hard place today. Hard stories. The things that make us shake our heads and say, "Come Lord Jesus."

And still, at the end of the day, the tree glowed beautiful, and still, there was the hope of not only of the baby born long ago, but also the Risen King.

All is calm. All is bright.


344/365

DPP10-

(a spot for afternoon tea)

After worship and a Treat of a Lunch, today was
perched on the couch,
reading,
pre-Olympics,
bright sunlight,
hot tea,
finally tackling the procrastination of weeks,
smoking up the house to roast squash,
and very good butternut curry soup.

and it was good.


343/365

DPP9-

(Today the sun came out and the ornaments were shining in its glow.)

I spent the morning playing with little friends. These three almost mirror the distance between my own first three, and they make me smile for just that reason, even besides the fact that they are also just that cute. I remember almost palpably what deployment is like, especially in this season, how long the days are, how days are giving and giving and giving of yourself. The chance for a couple of hours away seemed priceless at times.

Sometimes I hear about a mom who has multiple kids close together and I think,
Wow! That's a lot.
And then I laugh at myself. Yes, it is a lot!

That's a lot of messes.
That's a lot of personality.
That's a lot of conversation.
That's a lot of listening.
That's a lot of laundry.
That's a lot of dishes.
That's a lot of preferences to remember.
That's a lot of activity.

That's a lot of laughing.
That's a lot of joy.
That's a lot of patience.
That's a lot of grace.
That's a lot of mercy.
That's a lot of beauty.
That's a lot of gifts.
That's a lot of sweet.

In our house we, only half-jokingly, call a certain period of time, say 1999-2004 or so, as the Forgotten Years. Oh the fullness of it all, caring for the 5 born in 5 years, a dad away more than home, extended family far away. But oh the fullness of His grace to us, always providing, always with us, always near.
That's a lot of blessing.
That's a lot of peace.





10 December 2017

342/365

DPP8-

(We woke up to snow!)

Yeah, we know. For most points north of south Texas (and that would be pretty much all of the United States of America barring south Florida...), the amount of snowfall we received might be considered a mere dusting. But here, we treat the arrival of that icy white precipitation as A Weather Event.

Snow rarely comes to south Texas- "rarely" as in the last snow was seen here was in 2004- the legendary Christmas Morning Snow.  Before that, it was 1895. An entire generation of people Never Saw Snow in south Texas!

For those sort of reasons, we were expectant. One of my girls sent me video at 1:15 am of snow falling. Another set her alarm for 2am and for 3am just to be sure that she didn't miss it. Snow didn't come to Harlingen until daybreak. But it must have liked its trip to the Rio Grande Valley. It decided to stick around most of the morning.

We welcomed the visit! If you ask me, a snow once every ten years or so is just right. It didn't stick to the streets. The temperatures were not cold enough to really freeze. The snow fell wet and heavy on the ground, just wet enough and heavy enough to make a snowball from the roof of the car. A few resourceful folks created tiny little snowmen. Sadly, their carrot noses lay in a puddle by afternoon. It was good while it lasted.

But really, my northern friends, let's make a deal. We'll stop making fun of you complaining about summer heat when it gets to 90 for a few days in a row if you'll tolerate our occasional whining about cold. I mean, come on! We don't have heaters! I'm bundled up in layers in my little cinder block house. The cold damp hangs around- the next day we opened up the windows because it was warmer inside than out. We're good at being hot here- not cold!

Even so, Snowfall 2017 made for a great end of week surprise! See you again around 2030, ok?

341/365

DPP7-

(Who knew that when we finally got this guy groomed, it would be the coldest day of the year? Sorry Dillon, but hey- at least ya got your pants on!)

The day starts with salt instead of sugar in the oatmeal- really, no joking. As far as disappointments go, that ranks pretty high. There's not much recovering from that sort of accident. I keep trying to make arrangements for my day back at the other home, but nothing seems to come together. And the day continues to become wetter and darker and colder as each hour passes.

Some days might best be described as Roller Coaster Days, highs and lows from one turn to the next. The frustrating turns happy at the next errand on the list. For who doesn't smile when busting a newly coiffed dog out of the groomers? He captures the attention of the girls working the registers and the little kids waiting on their moms. He's a people-person, that dog, much more so than his two chaperones.

Then comes the slow couple of hours holding and feeding a baby, holding and sipping a warm cup of coffee, holding and exchanging words with those whom time always passes too quickly. We ponder this and that and laugh out loud, at ourselves and each other, which is the very best kind of time spent, I think. Wouldn't be wonderful to leave every stop with your heart full?

But then, there comes the hurry to stop on the last errand before grabbing dinner to support a local fundraiser, all in time to make the 6pm cheap movie. Everything looks to be falling into place- until the car battery dies, one hopeful turnover that doesn't quite catch, and then, nothing. Our first rescuer doesn't quite succeed, though not for lack of trying. Thankfully, the best place to be stranded with a dead battery in need of replacement is the Sam's Club parking lot. The automotive guys play hero for us, one guy even pulling up his own car to jump start us on this cold, windy, and wet evening. We move the car to the garage bays and they provide a new battery in a matter of minutes. We finish the transaction and sit in the car for a few minutes, heater blasting, just to warm up.

We miss the start of the movie by then. After stopping by the fundraiser to buy dinner, we head home. We are content to be on the couch with a movie there, thankful to be out of the weather, grateful to pull back into shelter after this up and down roller coaster kind of day.

09 December 2017

340/365

DPP 6-

(my little Christmas tree)

"Now Christmas is built on the beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home."
GK Chesterton

06 December 2017

339/365

DPP5-

(today's art probably should be called crafts)

Our last art class of the year. I don't believe in magic, not in the mysterious supernatural sense of the word. But no doubt, art class has been a special place this year. For a few minutes, for a couple of times a week, our kids become creators.

On this night, we ushered in three groups. I knew that the project might go quickly. But our first table-full, girls only, worked deliberately and made every minute last. The second group, the older boys, wrestled their way in the door. I rarely think that they are going to enjoy the project ahead of them. And yet, evening after evening, they surprise us. They settle in and do the project, usually with their own unique style and twist. Yeah, sure, some of them humor us, but we see others really striving to do good work. None of those guys want to take their work home, but they sure scramble to see it hung up in the room.

The last group, the little boys, they are a work themselves. They have a lot to say. (understatement!) We wait for them to stop talking. No one wants to sit next to one kid, with good reason- he's known to lash out, very unpredictably. Tonight he doesn't get his own pair of scissors. We shuffle seats around and create spaces. The little boys, they don't listen to instructions much. They are do-ers. They do. Their trees might be called... abstract.

Over the last year, we've made collages and self-portraits. We've drawn all kinds of animals and buildings and scenes in nature. We've drawn with crayons and pencils and markers and painted with acrylics and tempera and watercolors. We have used white paper and colored paper and newspaper and magazines. We've done a LOT of projects. Without hesitation, I know that we would all say that we are still learning how to do this time well. We are still learning, period. And although we have had ups and downs with these kids this year, days when we are excited to come back and days when we almost crawl home, all of us want to keep on.
(maybe without hot glue...)
(maybe without glue sticks...)
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05 December 2017

338/365

DPP4-

(the thrill of throwing tinsel on the tree!)

Although our event pales in comparison, Tree Decorating Day feels as big as the happenings at Rockefeller Plaza or the White House. Three trees to decorate at three sites; three Colorado Douglas fir pines, which immediately lost a pound of needles when we cut the twine away from the branches. At each site, we set the trees in their stands and tried to fluff out the branches and wound lights around, top to bottom. (at two sites, we started the lights with the wrong end and had to start over. I'm pretty sure that was my fault, both times...)

The festivities began in the morning in the room next door, with the high school deaf kids. They are awesome. High school kids still love the thrill of Christmas and of getting out of their ordinary work for a special project. But, they know what to do. They put the ornaments on in an orderly manner. They divide and conquer, one group putting on hooks, another group hanging. They pose and look at the camera all at once when directed. They thank you for cookies. It is all lovely.

It goes a little bit differently with the lower school. In preparation, we string the ornaments on an line at eye-level. We hand the kids the ornaments and they put them on the tree. Is it a universal truth that all kids believe that if one ornament on a branch is good, 5 ornaments on a branch is better? (grin!) They laugh when they drop a shiny silver ball and it bounces back up to catch. (unbreakable Christmas ornament balls should be counted as a Great Idea!) And then- the tinsel! They throw it, really!- throw it!, on the tree with unmatched enthusiasm. They gather around the tree for a photo, but the little boys keep moving and no one is looking in the same direction. You can't help but laugh out loud in the thrill of it all.

And then, onto the neighborhood and evening activities. Word on the street was that we were having a Christmas party, and so lots of faces we haven't seen in a while showed up. We bust out the lotería boards for the girls and the littles while the older boys play soccer. We rotate through the Bible story- The Star and the Wise Men and Seeking the Newborn King Jesus, and the coloring project, and the computer lab, all with the kids in anticipation of decorating. Just how do you decorate a single tree with a mob of 25 kids between 4 and 15 years old? We try to line them up to take turns, two ornaments at a time. Some creative kids climb the stairs and lean through the rail perilously, trying to get their ornament to the Very Top. Perhaps no tree has ever been decorated more quickly; it couldn't be more than 5 minutes and every ornament has been hung.

I read this morning about the beginnings of the Christmas tree tradition, that in the 1500's the first trees were called "Paradise Trees." I read that the evergreen trees were said to "represent mankind's fall in the garden of Eden." Those first trees were decorated with apples, representing the fruit of that first tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Over time, the apples were replaced with the round bulbs we recognize today, and lights replaced candles, and we have added many more decorations besides.

This day, even as we celebrated the coming of Christ with this old tradition of decorating the pines, we still acknowledge the consequences of the Fall. We mourned the death of the dad of some of our neighborhood kids. We prayed for wisdom and courage over hard situations with people we have grown to love. Yet even in the hard and dark, we have hope in the life to come. At the end of the day, I think we all smile at the thrill of it all.

04 December 2017

337/365

DPP3-

(Star of Wonder, Star of Night- the star on the roof of the community center)

I'm learning new Sunday rhythms these days. It's different, not being with my family or my Texas church family on Sundays. I have moved past tearful, but still, I am yet discovering what normal looks and feels like. Worship is at a different time in a different language. I don't always recognize the voices of the people sitting behind me (though I smile broadly when I do!). I often stumble over the responsive reading. I reallyreally have to pay attention to the sermon or I find myself utterly lost. I'm still learning who is who and I sometimes feel as if I should rehearse in my mind ahead of time if I'm going to say anything past "How are you?" or "God bless you."

Then we go home and my afternoon habits are different, too. Recently, my Sunday afternoon routine would be to spend a couple hours with PBS cooking shows while my guy naps. That channel doesn't come in where I live now. The website won't even allow me to play past episodes. No Martha. No Mary Berry. No Chef Vivian. What does PBS have against Mexico, anyway? (grin)

I pass the afternoon lazy by myself while Tim was running an errand. I hear that there is a hot air balloon event in the downtown, but that's really not my guy's thing. I'm not sure how I haven't yet convinced him to love parades and hot air balloons with the same passion that I do... I resign myself to home, and halfheartedly watch the evening news with him. The notice comes in the middle, you know, the part of the broadcast that isn't exactly fluffy human interest stories (which he would turn off but I look forward to...), but not the Make Your Face Grimace and Your Stomach Hurt stories at the top of the show either.

"And you might want to check outdoors to view the Super Moon tonight. For the first and only time in 2017, a visible super moon will illuminate the sky starting Sunday night...," the anchor was telling us. I check my computer. Moonrise Reynosa happens at 6:09 pm. 
"Want to go see?," asks my guy? 
"You're only humoring me because you didn't want to see the balloons," I accuse him. (That wasn't very nice. I am sorry about that.) 
"Yes. Let's go," I say.

Part of the privilege of living where I do is certainly access to the roof at Larry's, to the Helicopter Pad. Let's be clear- sure, it LOOKS like it could be such a thing, but there is NO WAY that a helicopter could land on this structure and survive! But, the deck sits on top of the roof, and it does allow for a pretty decent view of the skyline. It certainly qualifies as the Best Super Moon Viewing Point in the 'hood. We meet a young friend in the street on the way. 
"Where are you going?" he asks us.
"Super moon tonight," we tell him.
"Super luna!," he repeats with enthusiasm, like he knows. 

Up on the roof, we can hear Norteño music coming from no less than three different places, three different voices, three different beats. We can hear the constant drumming of a kid practicing for the next festival. We can hear cars stepping on the gas and peeling out where they probably shouldn't be. We can hear the train in the distance. 6:09. We scan the horizon for the moon, not sure exactly where it will appear. Nothing. We continue to look, to guess. Nothing. Is it possible to miss the Super moon? I refuse to give up yet. A few more minutes pass and I keep surveying the sky and then! Look! It's there! 14% bigger! 30% brighter! 

Of course, the pictures don't show the glory. Even a super moon looks pretty much like a bright eraser dot from the lens of my phone camera. That's ok. At the end of this day, I sit on the roof next to my guy and in the very ordinary rising of even Super moon, again I am reminded that our God is faithful, as faithful as the sun setting and the moon rising, no matter where I am, no matter familiar rhythms or not.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,    for his steadfast love endures forever.to him who made the great lights,    for his steadfast love endures forever;the sun to rule over the day,    for his steadfast love endures forever;the moon and stars to rule over the night,    for his steadfast love endures forever;Psalm 136:1, 7-9 (ESV)
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03 December 2017

336/365

DPP 2-

(Norweigan reindeer, meet Mexican tile- which has nothing to do with the rest of the story...)

Saturday afternoon and two of our neighborhood buddies meet me at the corner as I make the turn towards home. "We're coming to see Tim," they tell me, "Can we ride with you?" "OK," I agree, "Go tell your parents." They run quick and tell the adults who aren't their parents but who have similar status, and then jump in the car for the one block ride. They wave at the kids we pass and I have to laugh out loud because how did riding in a CRV with 200,000 plus miles become a desirable thing?

They help us unload the groceries and check out our Christmas card family photo while Tim gets the robot out. They drink some coke and poke around with the robot for a bit. And then it's game time.

They play YAMSLAM, a Yahtzee-like dice game and I hear Tim trying to interpret "full house" and "small straight" in Spanish. Inside, I doze off in a corner chair in the afternoon sun. The game nears it's end when two more boys show up at the gate and want in. Clearly, the two already inside at the time aren't excited about that possibility. With a bit of bravado afforded from their protected status behind the gate, our two young friends, not generally known for self-control, lip off a bit to the bigger boys.

From what I am told, in a quick moment later, one of the boys on the outside scales the fence and comes towards the table. And before Tim knew what happened, the kid hits our mouthy young friend on the side of the head. I hear the mini-raucous on the patio and head out to see. The offender is escorted outside our gate immediately with a stern reprimand for his behavior and disrespect. The victim gets ice for his head and lots of consolation and a reminder about his words, too. And we are angry and sad and disappointed and frustrated and...

Clearly, in hindsight there are many ways it all could have gone different. We second-guess ourselves with lots of "they shouldn't've's" and plenty of "we should've's." We talk about modifications we can make to the fence to keep boys from climbing over. We contemplate meeting in different places. Sure, that all might make a difference.

But really, what we all need most is more grace, more peace, more love, more Gospel. Early this morning, I prayed from the Daily Office,
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.
I think we'll be back playing games next Saturday, too. Maybe we can all try again.

335/365

DPP 1-

We received the first announcement about the coming concert in September. We bought the tickets in October. We waited through November. Finally the first day of December arrived!

Let me suggest that possibly the Very Best Way to open the Advent season would be to attend a Christmas concert on December 1. Even better, take a car full of youth. Even better, take your faves! (and maybe, even better, take an adult companion... well, maybe next year...)

Have your daughter sit in the navigator's position, or maybe I should say dj's seat, on the front passenger side and have her choose the tunes for the trip. Stop to pick up the girl who just successfully presented her Freshman project (and bring her a Christmas tree and two Advent calendars because that's what she likes). Go have some lunch at Chick-Fil-A. Make a stop to buy a shirt to replace the one that was the unfortunate victim of coffee spillage (note: for the record- this time it was not me! But we'll allow that girl reveal herself...). Convince the tribe to spend a little bit of time at Half Price Books. Wander through Target for gift exchange treats and a box of cereal and a carton of milk (note: that was for the college student, not for me!). Stop to try on Ugly Christmas Sweaters.
Return to campus. Help to fluff the boxed tree. Charge the phone. Decide that 6 people in one half of a dorm room for two hours might be too much. Waste time at Starbucks. Play Hangman by the rules of the dictatorial uber-competitive sister. Laugh out loud!

Eat at Chuy's! Partake of free nachos and chips and salsa and share the Taco-Enchilada plate and feel stuffed. Navigate your way to the concert parking lot. Enjoy that extra trip back and forth over the pretty lit up bridge when you miss the exit ("keep going" can be interpreted several ways, don't you think?). Don't worry about those multiple u-turns on unlit streets or the GPS recalculating or the exasperated navigator next to you. Worry a little bit about the backseat passengers who need the bathroom now. Park the car. Return your daughter's purse to the car. Return your daughter's camera to the car. Enter the arena at your section, center stage! Turn right and climb 26 rows to the Very Very Top of the arena. Be careful not to trip. Settle in for the concert.

And what a concert! The percussion section from For King and Country left us reverberating toe to head. Why do my eyes water when we start? Was it the fog machine? Was it the thrill of that first familiar line, "Come, they told me, pa rum pum pum pum..." Was it the excited faces of my peeps five seats down? We clapped in time and sang along, even when we could not hear ourselves.

In the devotional I am reading this season, the authors remind us of "What is Advent?"
During Advent, we remember when our Savior stepped out of eternity into time to take on flesh. He came to live among us and offer His life for us, dying for our sins and rising from the grave. At Christmas, we don't just celebrate that He came; we celebrate why He came.We also anticipate Christ's promised return. After Jesus finished the work He had come to do, He promised He would return to establish His kingdom for all eternity. Celebrating Christmas is an act of worshiping the living Savior who will come again to make all things new. Jesus Christ has come, and He is coming again. This is the heart of Advent.(from Joy to the World, Advent 2017 by She Reads Truth)
Celebrating the beginning of the Advent season with A Glorious Christmas tour was indeed glorious.

01 December 2017

Thanksgiving 2017

They came by car and by plane, from points around Texas, from work and from school. We were missing four from North Carolina, but the rest of the kids arrived at home in south Texas even before their parents came back from Mexico.

Empty nest, ha!

We planned out the food and bought the bulk of the supplies a week ahead of time, but even so, I needed my sous chefs to complete the shopping.
And to begin the cooking.

They did not disappoint.
Four, FOUR, pies- pumpkin and apple and chocolate pecan and cherry cranberry with homemade crust, even with little cut-out leaves on top.
Homemade cranberry jelly, with the secret change-up of orange juice and ginger.
Sweet potato casserole with streusel on top. (sorry- no marshmallows around here...)
All waiting when I arrived home on Wednesday evening.

Thursday morning, the turkey took its place in the oven early.
We sauteed veggies for dressing.
We boiled and mashed potatoes.
The guys created the Holliday Onion Roll-Ups.
We toasted the rolls.

And we feasted.

So much for which to give thanks as we gather around the table this year.
We counted family and friends who are family, opportunities in school and work,
new babies,
creativity,
beauty around us.
But I also number challenges and sorrows of the year among that to be thankful for, as they have allowed us to know and trust our God more.
No matter the list, we have been richly blessed.


29 November 2017

DPP 2017

December Photo Project 2017 It's that time of year! I checked the archives and reminded myself that I first participated in the December Photo Project in 2009. The DPP has become a holiday activity that I really look forward to- and this year is no exception. Already I see familiar names on the list. (Hi Emma!!) Thanks Rebecca Tredway for getting it going again this year!

Hey you Photogs! Join me!! Find all the details at the December Photo Project Sign Up page.

324/365

I'm fairly certain that my morning commute beats yours.

First of all, I walk to the office. I don't have to get into a car. No need to check the gas tank on the way or wonder if that warning light was on the last time I drove. I don't have to negotiate traffic or crazy drivers or anticipate what's ahead. Well, sure, I look out for crazy drivers when I cross the street, and sometimes a garbage cart passes me by, but that's nearly always with a wave and a "Buenos dias!"

As I leave my house and lock my door, I stop to listen to the sounds coming from the deaf school next door. "Sounds from the deaf school?" Those who haven't spent time around deaf kids may not realize that many are quite verbal. They laugh, sometimes loudly because they have no sense of just how loud they are. They let out exclamatory noises of approval and disdain. They clap their hands. The deaf are very sensitive to movement around them, so nearly always I catch the eye of someone and exchange a good morning wave and smile.

I walk down the passageway to the Bodega, the workshops for the Isaiah 55 vocational ministries. I often smell the fresh cut wood before I am at the shop, by far the best scent going in this neighborhood! In this season, walking through the Bodega is something akin to passing by Santa's workshop. Our students and neighborhood workers form the crew of elves that creates Forever Gingerbread houses. These little wooden houses are reusable gingerbread houses, created to be decorated and then cleaned and then decorated again. The houses are sold at home parties and craft sales and holiday markets in the United States with sales benefiting the Isaiah 55 vocational programs. I wave at the workers and stop to exchange a good morning hug with Norma, our lead worker.

My longest traffic stop comes in pausing to pet our dogs. There's Neighbor Dog, Vecina, the gentle Pit Bull mix with dark soulful eyes who usually drops to the ground so I can rub her belly. Puppy pushes his way into the mix. Puppy is a tall Beagle-something who makes up for clumsy with enthusiasm. Puppy is yet a puppy and still needs instructional reminders not to gnaw your arm or jump up to lick your face. The black lab female mix, Black Dog (oh, I know, we are so creative in names...) is a whiner. It's been 9 months and she hasn't won me over yet, but I suppose there is still time.

Once out the gate, I turn left. Usually, I share crossing the always dusty and sometimes muddy street with the neighbor's chickens. There's always another few dogs in the street along the way. Sometimes other folks also walk down the street, also making their way to work, and we swap good morning pleasantries. Less than a minute down the road, there's nearly always Miguel at the gate. And there's nearly always the same exchange-
"Buenos dias. Como estas?" (Good morning. How are you?)
"Estoy aquí. Va a llover hoy." (I'm here. It's going to rain today.)
And that is whether there is a cloud in the sky or not.

Makes me smile every single time.


28 November 2017

323/365

O Gladsome Light
Phos Hilaron
O gladsome light of the holy glory
of the everliving Father in heaven,
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!
Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
and our eyes behold the vesper light,
we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
You are worthy at all times to be praised by joyful voices,
O Son of God, Giver of Life,
and to be glorified through all the worlds.
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322/365

The Plan for the Day changes multiple times (but who is keeping count?).
Meeting midday for robotics and lunch.
No meeting.
Soccer game at noon.
No, soccer game at one.
No, no soccer game.
Boys coming at 2 for robotics and snacks.
Boys show up at 2:30.
And hey! Guess what! Soccer game at 3!

Since we live within a 1 minute walk of the soccer field, off we go- up the hill and over the berm and to the fields that are very familiar. With the help of the sweat labor of short-term teams, we have spent the last few summers working to improve this complex of fields. And now we get to sit in the stands we helped build and watch the balls go through the goals we set up and painted, our guys playing a team from the other side of the neighborhood. That's a sweet thing.

We climb the stands and take our seats. And wait. Because 3 really means 3:30. Well, 3:30-ish. We watch the boys chalk the field, powder puffing from the coffee can on a stick. The half-line goes a bit wobbly at the very far end, but hey- this isn't quite the Copa Mundial. We watch the warm-ups, and size up the competition, all while we realize that the rest of the crowd may be assessing the two gringos towards the top of the bleachers. It is fun to know Spanish when people are discussing you. (grin!)

Finally our boys take the field. They are a rag-tag team, at best. Forget your images of organized American youth soccer. The field is dirt, with a patch of grass that probably survives because it is fertilized by local animals when they are staked to the goal to graze. One player's dog is on the field until the game actually starts and has to be shooed away. Our boys don't have uniforms today; they just wear their street clothes. A few have soccer jerseys from their favorite teams or teams they played with in the past. One of our boys plays in his jean shorts and plaid shirt. Our guys earn most of the penalties on the field today; they are street-wise and field tough. Our team didn't even bring water for halftime. We know that our boys can run and run, and they did. We know our boys have some good moves, because we see it in our side yard every week when they play the short game, off the walls, never more than 5 on 5. But this is a BIG field, and they are playing a team that has practiced together. Our team is down 0-1 at halftime, and then kind of lose it all at the very end of the game and lost 0-4.

But, I don't think that they are too affected by the score. We go home and get out the garrafón of water and a few plastic cups. The entire team stops to rehydrate in our courtyard before moving in mob on down the street. No doubt, we spill as much water as they drink, and create a mud puddle under the table. Most of the boys leave with a "Gracias!" and the handshake-handslap-fistbump greeting of the neighborhood and we are left with grins on our faces.

Here's to always changing plans for the day, and being in the 'hood, and soccer on a sunny Saturday afternoon.


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27 November 2017

321/365

A power of Butterfly must be -
The Aptitude to fly
Meadows of Majesty concedes
And easy Sweeps of Sky.

- Emily Dickinson

Gray skies characterize the day. The hours pass slowly, and I probably check the clock one hundred times. It is a Hurry Up and Wait sort of day. 

Finally, I walk over to my house with a friend. There in the midst of drab, a butterfly rests.

Still, I am surprised that such an ordinary thing as a caterpillar morphs into such a beautiful winged creature. Yes, in our Creator's plan, even the mundane is being transformed.

26 November 2017

320/365

In a textbook example of What Not To Do as the administrator of the local ESL ministry, I left town for the two weeks prior to the end of the semester and our annual Thanksgiving Celebration. And as testimony to the quality of our ESL ministry staff and to the faithfulness of our students and our God, I arrive back to the good but surprising news that we are expecting over 100 people for dinner on Thursday. 

100 people? 
We added some more tables and chairs and bought some more napkins. 
And I prayed.

We started the Conversational English ministry at Covenant 4 years ago. That very first week we had no idea who would show up. And so we prayed, and continue to pray, that the Lord would give us exactly the amount of people we could handle. That first week, we had three students, and I can honestly say, I was not a bit disappointed, because I really was thankful that we could be trusted with three students. Two of those three students still attend our classes today. Every week after that we continued to add new students, right up to the last week of the year. The ministry has grown every year since. 

So, when we stood at the door and surveyed the fellowship around us, I found myself both giving thanks and feeling somewhat humbled. We figure over 120 people joined us for dinner the Thursday before Thanksgiving. Those faces included students and staff, family and friends and neighbors. I love that our students want to share the night with their family members and their friends. For a long time, I have heard the prayer, "Lord, bring our neighbors to our church." I know from registration forms that most of our students come from the zip code of the church. I know that a few of our students even walk to class each week. Yes, the Lord has brought the nations to our backyard.

I won't post the close-up photos of our students, because I don't have each of their permission to do so. But I do know some of their stories. One dear friend attends classes with us and at another program in town, and I hear her proficiency improving dramatically. Another of my students holds an engineering degree in Mexico, and aspires to work in that field again, but currently works as a waitress. Never assume! One of my students is young, and has changed classes from beginner beginner to intermediate in just a few semesters, always asking questions, always challenging herself more and more. One of my students became a United States citizen last year, just in time to participate in the presidential election. I see my students and I beam. They are dear to me. 

Micah 6:8 reminds us, 
"He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?
The ESL ministry accomplishes all of that. I'm thankful and exceedingly abundantly blessed that our church opens the doors to share Thursday nights with our English students and staff. 
See you all in January.

319/365

I don't remember not suffering from allergies. "She'll probably outgrow it," the docs would say. Forty-something years later, I'm still waiting. I first had allergy testing done when I was in 6th grade- my back a checkerboard of pin scratches, all welts and itch. Yes, I know you are there, you dust, you pollen, you grass, you mold, you weeds, you trees, you cats... I remember that the allergist suggested to my parents that moving to a new state might be a choice. That wasn't an option.

I took shots through high school, initially twice a week, then eventually once a week, but never less than every two weeks. I'd receive one injection in each arm, wait for the 20 minutes for a check, and then out to the curb with my book to wait for my mom to return. And then I sort of just gave up. I went to college and then I married and started moving and who wants to keep up with new allergists? (I can still hear Harold telling me, "Dr. Zig! Call Dr. Zig!) Over the counter meds improved greatly and it's easy to get used to normal, even when normal means a lot of Kleenex in your life. (Always, always, kleenex! Never scented, never lotion, never Puffs!)

But every once in a while, the allergies get bad and the sinuses get infected and, well, that's not so great. For the last couple of weeks, I snuffed my way through daily life, until I realized that, man, this is wearing me out. I had that tap-your-sinuses-under-your-eyes kind of feeling. Actually, I did try tapping my sinuses to relieve the pressure. It didn't work.

Next stop, Pho #1 (and hey- isn't "#1" a hopeful name for a restaurant, an assumption that there will be more Pho to come?) because what could be better for a sinus infection than pho? Are you familiar with pho? Basically, pho is Vietnamese noodle soup. It is medicinal, I am sure, good for the body, good for the soul. Broth soup in any culture ranks as "comfort food" for me- chicken noodle or caldo de res or Italian wedding soup... But, pho seems Especially Good for sinuses because you can make it hot, spicy hot, that is. Pho has jalapeños and you can add Sriracha, all with the end goal of draining those sinus passages...

Perhaps I set my expectations a bit too high, hoping for immediate relief. Alas. None came, although the pho itself did not disappoint. That night I continued to be a Mouth Breather. In fact, I think I woke myself up snoring. Thankfully my husband and I weren't in the same place that evening...

I considered a visit to the clinic, and I considered that perhaps this one would not resolve itself. So I did what any reasonable person does- I went to the Internet (I know my doctor friends are cringing. So sorry!). I considered "Sinusitis or Allergies?" (thanks WebMD). I researched "10 Natural Remedies for Sinus Infection" (thanks everydayhealth.com). And I ran into one of my favorite advisors at the store and solicited a consult (thanks Kate!).

(Now, I know that at this point many of you are shouting at me, "Neti Pot!! Try the Neti Pot!!" Let me tell you- NO! I just cannot, will not, do the Neti Pot. It is akin to Waterboarding in my book- physical and psychological torture, both. The Neti Pot is NOT an option.)

But, I did decide to give a few squirts of saline a try, a couple times a day. And for 3 full days, that seemed futile, too. I had pretty much determined that the next stop was a prescription for Zithromax (thanks goodRX.com). And then, I thought, I need to blow my nose.

Without going into the gory details on color (yes, there may have been colors) or consistency (yes, there may have been several grades of viscosity) (yes- let's all utter a collective groan of disgust!), I'll just say, I think the saline worked. It wasn't pretty. But after a few minutes of blowing, I was healed.

I gave thanks! I could breathe! And I've been clear ever since!
Let's celebrate with caldo!

318/365

Something like 13 days and 2700 miles later and there remains only 550 more sky miles until I am home.

Well, sort of.
What is home?

I haven't lived in the town where I was born for 45 years (and actually, that wasn't a town, but officially, an Air Force base hospital, perhaps a sign of things to come...). I have never considered calling that "home."

At Christmas time, I will visit the town where I grew up, where a few family members and friends still live- but I'll spend my days as a guest in other's houses and my nights in a hotel room. Although it is familiar and a favorite place of mine, I no longer consider it "home".

Sure, "home" would be the place where I live right now. But depending on what day of the week, that might change, too. No matter what side of the border I am in, when I leave, I say I'm "going home." I qualify my home by location, but recognize the temporal nature of that, too. I mean, a quick count reminds me that I have lived in at least 20-something homes in my life.

In her commentary on homesickness, Jen Pollock Michel writes,
"As writer Julian Barnes put it in his novel Nothing to Be Frightened Of, we live with “the vicious awareness that this is a rented world.” The grass withers, and the flowers fade: Ours is an impermanent life. At the very least, home is a steadying consolation when the lights go out."
I confess, I am easily homesick. My husband teases that I really can't be away from normal life for more than a few days. I think he exaggerates, but I certainly recognize the truth in that statement. I do love to travel, and I do love to return home...
wherever that may be.

25 November 2017

317/365


"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need," Marcus Tullius Cicero reportedly said. Cicero might have made questionable political alliances back in the days of the Roman Empire, but certainly, I wouldn't argue with his wisdom on two of the necessities of life.

Now, to be sure, I will never claim to be gardener myself. In fact, I tend to have anti-garden tendencies, so much so that my family counts keeping a single hanging basket alive past the 4th of July as a victory. Oh, I have Really Good Intentions. I used to spend winter evenings paging through seed catalogs, garden dreaming of spring to come, and never actually ordering a thing. I love to wander the nursery aisles, picking flats of young plants for a garden bed. I so admire my gardening friends- Trish who would take me and my littles on the seasonal garden tour and knowingly tell us every name of every plant; Julie who tells me that she "doesn't have much this year," and still manages a fresh produce and floral bounty the likes I'll never ever see.

Therefore, when my mom, the Ultimate Local Hostess, suggested a visit to the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, I was all in. The morning did not disappoint. We arrived at the cusp of change, and so saw the best of both the end of fall and a sneak preview of Christmas. We strolled through the deep gold and oranges and bronzes and greens of fall, the mums and marigolds and sage and cornflowers showing off their November beauty. We followed the Yellow Brick Road through the Pumpkin Village, where every known gourd seemed to be on display,
forming huts and houses and a welcome to the Merry Land of Oz.

But we also fast-forwarded into the holiday season with the 12 Days of Christmas gazebo displays. Each scene depicts a verse from the Christmas carol; animals and costumed figures and lights and music wait at each stop. The sharp-eyed (and it took a few stops before we figured this out) were treated to additional treats- even the weather vanes at the top of the gazebos gave a hint of the verse of the song.

Finally, we toured A Tasteful Place- the edible display garden on the grounds. We spied red peppers and purple eggplants hidden among the leaves. We admired impressive stalks of brussel sprouts. We refrained from snipping off tastes of the freshest of lettuces and perhaps understood just a little better how Peter Rabbit found himself lost among the cabbages.

For a girl who lives most of the time in a dusty place, that often seems more brown than green, a morning in the gardens was blessing, indeed. Perhaps the next stop should be the library...

24 November 2017

315/365

If you fall in love with the holiness of God, it’s a dangerous place to be. Your attitude towards the nations, the unreached peoples of the world will undergo a profound change.
- John Piper, "Holy and Good- But Never Safe"

All day long, for three days, really, long, full, dawn to dark days, I remind myself, "I am an ambassador for Christ." I talk to people about missions. I talk to people about how to use English to reach the nations. I talk to people about what we get to do every day in northern Mexico. I talk to people about the enormity of the grace of Christ, about ways to serve, about making disciples, about "Go, therefore..." 

But also, I see and hear of what is happening around the world. I talk to friends who serve in places around the globe, who labor in faraway and difficult places, who are doing such remarkable things, who are seeing the answers of the prayers of the saints, who persevere through the seemingly impossible. I am awed and I am grateful. I remember, not so long ago, I looked at those works and thought, "maybe there, maybe we should go there..." 

Today I am thankful for exactly where I am, for exactly what I am doing, for exactly the people I serve alongside. I am grateful.

And one called to another and said:

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.