Friday, October 20, 2017

Ever Recorded in a Toilet?

Have you ever recorded in a toilet?
Receiving a New Testament in her own language!

You can read more about those adventures in my latest newsletter, along with some important updates about life, health, and job. You can also access this newsletter and other ones on my Newsletter Archive page on this blog.

It's a privilege, not a right, when we get to glimpse behind the curtain and see what God is doing in our lives...and sometimes that is only after many years.

Last year, Alan had just such an experience.

Alan was in the process of recording the Gospel of Mark when he realized he was one man short...and his only volunteer was not a good option.

You can read more about this story on the PNG Experience here.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Newsletters and Narnia

The Chronicles of Narnia are one of my favourite series of books. My dad started reading them aloud to me when I was around four years old, and they've been an integral part of my life ever since. Recently I've begun my traditional yearly pilgrimage through the books with a friend, and we've found ourselves sitting with the Pevensie children around the Beaver's dinner table, listening to that marvelous prophecy about Aslan, the coming King.

"Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.” 

(Lewis, 79)

photo courtesy of Jan Magne Sæther,
Sometimes it feels like winter can be endless--especially here in Minnesota when snow can still fall in May. After the long trudge through those monochromatic seasons of life where it's "always winter, never Christmas," you wonder if Aslan will ever come, if there will ever be green and crocuses and warmth and open windows. But there is an end to winter, a death to winter, a defeat to winter. And we live in the anticipation, the assurance, of that coming spring! Happy Easter!

You can check out my newsletter here (don't forget to read the second page!) or you can explore my newsletter archive page (dropbox changed some settings recently, so the broken links have now all been fixed).

Lewis, C.S. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Scholastic, 1995.

Monday, April 10, 2017

A God Who Bears

It’s Palm Sunday, and little girls in twirly dresses with giant bows run around the church waving palm fronds. The worship team declares the joy of this day—our King has come! And, for the first time in eight months, when the congregation rises to go forward to take communion, I walk with them. I can’t stop grinning—what a day for my diet restrictions to finally loosen enough that I might drink the grape juice (though not the bread yet)!

photo by Gary Scott,
What was it like for the disciples—to see their rabbi lift the cup, lift the bread before them in the age old tradition of Passover? And then, suddenly, the script changes, and the lamb that substituted for the Israelites generations before is reclining next to them at the table, speaking now into the words of history.

This is my body broken for you.

This is my blood shed for you.

This suffering, this punishment you deserve is not something you can carry, He says. And so I take this burden. 

And eyes wide open, the sweat dripping blood in anguish, He walks into darkness and bears.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor and theologian who spent time in a Nazi concentration camp before being executed, writes, “Suffering must be borne in order for it to pass. Either the world must bear it and be crushed by it, or it falls on Christ and is overcome in him. That is how Christ suffers as vicarious representative for the world. Only his suffering brings salvation. But the church-community itself knows now that the world’s suffering seeks a bearer. So in following Christ, the suffering falls upon it, and it bears the suffering while being borne by Christ.” (65)

image by Marcus Buckner,
I didn’t expect the tears as I finally took this thimbleful of juice, this symbol of bearing. There’s been minimal progress on the medical front—tests have been screwed up, results misinterpreted, specialists flummoxed. I’ve been too tired to do much more than manage life, much less blog. The other week one of the medical professionals (30 in the last 4 years—I just counted) summed up the general frustration as he stood up from his rolling chair to leave, “You’ll likely just be sick for the rest of your life, and probably never know what’s wrong. Sucks, doesn’t it?”

This is my body broken for you.

This is my blood shed for you.

This is me bearing your suffering.

This is your invitation to follow me, to imitate me. To bear.

Paul muses, “Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies.  So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you.” (2 Corinthians 4:11-12)

To bear while being borne—to let this sometimes aching walk be allowed the privilege of bearing in imitation… well, then Lord, may it be.

So I drink the grape juice and cry and laugh, and stumble through Holy Week toward Easter, when bearing fades beneath joy and uncertainty is swallowed up by assurance and death falls before life.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. "Bearing Suffering." Be Still, My Soul: Embracing God's Purpose and Provision in Suffering: 25 Classic and Contemporary Readings on the Problem of Pain. Ed. Nancy Guthrie. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010. 65. Print.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Walking Between Verses

Sometimes it's a balancing act!
Today is a Psalm 6 sort of day. It is not really a surprise for me—it’s the day after a doctor appointment, and nothing quite rocks my emotional equilibrium than yet another opportunity to scrutinize in explicit detail everything that’s not quite right, and then realize that the laundry list is actually longer then the last time. But my ever-optimistic doctor scribbles with her red pen and comes up with a new regime of more medicine and more diet trickiness and more things for me to try, and it sounds beyond exhausting and overwhelming. “Come back in a month,” she says. “We’ll see if this makes a difference one way or another.”  

If my life was a movie, or a book, I grumbled to myself, we’d sum up this whole period in one or two sentences or maybe 10 seconds of film clips dubbed over with sad violin music! After all, we want to get to the climax quickly—skip the tedious journey and arrive at that moment of victory when the unlikely hero turns the battle, when lovers are reunited, when evil is finally defeated. When there is an end.

Even Luke, the author of Acts, condenses time: Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened….For everyone was praising God  for this miraculous sign—the healing of a man who had been lame for more than forty years. (Acts 3:7; 4:21b-22)
That 41st New Year’s when he finally had his legs back must have been a joyous moment—look what happened this year! God healed me! I can walk! But I wonder, what about the forty years previous…when the calendar flipped over without resolution and the future was as grey and hazy as the past?

A long walk through the mountains (Morobe Province)
It can be a long walk between verses—a walk of forty years perhaps to beg lame beside that Temple, to trudge through the pain of broken relationships, to live in failing bodies and weeping hearts, to wander through the paths of injustice and see evil explode in airport gunfire and human trafficking.

It’s a walk that can have Psalm 6 sort of days.

Sometimes I think we like to pretend the laments are some muffled minor note in the back of the orchestra—they don’t fit nicely along with our tambourines and joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart and cards plastered with serene, sinless lakes. They aren’t pretty. They aren’t the climax. They are the tedium, the middle, the long walk.

Sometimes there is a lot of mud, like here in Gulf Province
 (photo by Debbie Petterson)
But, they are beautiful. Because we have a God who is not intimidated by the heart-cries of Psalm 6 or Psalm 88. We have Immanuel, God with us, who came down to slog in the mud—to touch lepers and writhe under thorns and agonize from betrayal and grieve bitterly at the death of friends. Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani, He cried. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

An eternity for Him between those verses. An ending for us.

“Teach us to number our days,” Moses says in Psalm 90, “so we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Teach us to look around and see our death in full view, so we might walk as light.

We love resolutions because we are made for them—because our Lord dipped down into the depths of Psalm 6 and answered. Our aching walk might span the entire prelude of this life before conclusion—or perhaps only forty New Year’s. But one day the lame will dance, the tears will dry, and the chains of this world will fall away—and there will be an end

which is just the beginning. Hallelujah.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Not Plan B

image from
A cheery voice erupted from the TV above me, startling me out of that glassy-eyed daze that descends after sitting in one too many medical waiting rooms. “I decided that if I was going to die,” the doctor’s recorded voice proclaimed, “It was going to be on my terms. I’d die with good health, not from bad. The power of positive thinking enables my body to be healthy and whole—and if you choose, you can too!”

I blinked. Was he serious? But fire-red brochures pasted on the clinic’s doors echoed the sales pitch: Don’t settle for the life that you have today—accepting it is a form of slavery! You’re entitled to something better. Choose the power of the mind. Choose freedom!
Suffering, our culture says, is something to be eluded, rejected, and if it happens to catch you in the gut like a hard-thrown dodge ball, all the onlookers cluck their tongues in surprise. Duck faster next time! So we eat the latest “superfood” and read books on restoring relationships and try the essential oils and put on our seat belts in our great attempt to delay death and sidestep suffering, but when those bedfellows finally ring at our door, we stare in bewildered shock. Wasn’t I positive enough? Didn’t I deserve something else?

The bridge collapse was a problem. But not a surprise.
But in places like Papua New Guinea, suffering is seen as a matter of course. With few conveniences to provide an illusion of control, ugliness and joy stand visible together. Not a person walks through life unmarked—why waste time on surprise? This is the world we live in—one that is dark and fallen and corrupt, and no power of the mind can gild into entitled wholeness that child’s distress, that blood-soaked country ripped by war, that brain tumor, that man hiding for his life from sorcery, that grieving widow.

Choose freedom, he said. As if challenges and illness snuck up in God’s and my blind spot, and because I didn’t swerve fast enough, think positively enough, I now am living in the slavery of a cosmic Plan B.

But I am already free.

For my trust is not in the script that I think my life should follow, but in the Author Himself. And thus, this is no Plan B.

Dear friends, Peter writes in his first letter, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. God’s ultimate aim isn’t our happiness nor is life an obstacle course to navigate unscathed, but perhaps instead it’s a vehicle that He may choose to use to show Christ in our weakness instead of in our escape from it. And for me, that is freedom, for now suddenly instead of trying to follow Him in spite of my weakness, my weakness is part of how I follow Him.

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. (2 Cor. 4:8-10)

And that’s a beautiful Plan A.

We follow a scarred Captain
Should we not have scars?
Under his faultless orders
We follow to the wars.
Lest we forget, Lord, when we meet,
Show us Thy hands and feet.

Amy Carmichael