Archive for the ‘God’ Category

I spent four days in Kabul when I was seventeen.

I spent days in a lot of places when I was sixteen and seventeen – 32 countries in fact – but that’s another story. This story is one small piece of that larger story.

We, my mom, dad, sister, our Swiss friend, Jacqueline, and I stayed in the home of Tom and Libby Little in downtown Kabul. Tom was an eye doctor who, with his wife and three small children, had moved to Kabul that year. They had been planning to stay just two years, but had now decided to stay there for the rest of their lives.

Somewhere, I hope, in my parents’ garage, is a box containing hundreds of Kodak slides from our journeys that year. Somewhere among them are photos of Kabul. When I find them, I intend to digitize them. Then I’ll update this blog and post them here. In the meantime, here’s a blog I found that talks about Kabul in the late seventies and beyond. This might give you an idea of what it was like. I wish I could show you pictures. If you Google images for Chicken Street in Kabul, you’ll get an idea of the colorful crazy mix that this place still is.

What I remember about those few days in the summer of 1977 was how happy Tom and Libby seemed to be. They had just started this work, and were falling in love with Afghanistan. I remember Libby taking my mom and me down Chicken Street, in Kabul to go shopping. The colors, the smells, the dead animals hanging in the butcher shops, the flies, the women in bright jewel toned shiny flowing burkes that hid their entire face and body, the hawkers, Libby haggling with the shop keepers for everything from butter to scarves, the American tie-dyed long-haired hippies shopping for pot and opium on their way to Nepal on the Kathmandu Trail in search for enlightenment, the men sitting in front of their shops smoking their hookahs, the dust, the music, the crowds, the energy. There were American missionaries who went to Kabul specifically to minister to the American hippy enlightenment seekers. Tom and Libby may have started out this way, I don’t know. But they fell in love with the Afghanis and that’s where they stayed. They warned us in the strictest terms not to mention Jesus, or share our faith with any Afghani. It could be a death sentence for the Afghani and could get Tom & Libby arrested and expelled from the country.

I remember the children who gathered around Tom and Libby’s home waiting for us to emerge so they could smile sweetly, tug on our skirts, and hold out their hands. I remember giving them pieces of bread from a loaf that Tom and Libby gave us.

I remember wondering at the thought that Tom and Libby were going to make this place their home. That they weren’t here for some short-term mission. They had fallen in love with these beautiful people and were moving to Afghanistan, permanently.

We kept up with them for some years through their newsletter, and my dad corresponded with Tom for a while. I wish I had been more self (and others) aware at that time and had stayed in touch with them myself. We heard about them continuing to stay through civil war, the Russian invasion, political uprisings, overthrows, bombings, massacres, the Taliban, and on and on and on…. to bring optical and medical care to the Afghan people.

They had a deep and profound faith in God and exercised that faith by loving the people of Afghanistan. And they were loved in return. In an interview with NPR in 2003, Tom explains why they stayed, even through very dangerous times. He said that he and Libby identified so much with the Afghanis that leaving when it was dangerous, running home to the U.S. where it was safe, seemed cowardly and shameful, when their Afghani friends and patients could not leave.

Three weeks ago, while returning from an arduous trek into some remote mountain villages, Tom and nine members of the medical team he led were executed by the Taliban.

We all believe in something, and that belief governs our actions – whether we are aware of it or not. The Taliban accused Tom of proselytizing, which of course was untrue. Tom didn’t have to tell people about the God he worshiped. He showed them – through his courageous love. The militants who murdered Tom and the rest of his team were also sending a message about the god they worship.

I grieve for Libby and for their daughters. And I grieve for the people of Afghanistan who are being held hostage by this brutal inhuman band of murderers and tyrants, and who have lost a beloved friend who did nothing but give sight to the blind.

Thirty-three years ago they were young and I was younger. I was just beginning traveling down my own road to enlightenment. They had already found theirs giving and loving the people in Afghanistan.

Sunday Sermon…

Ah… from Maine to Louisiana. How much more contrast can there be in one day of travel? In July, no less. I’ve had several people ask me WHY on earth would I travel to Louisiana in July? Am I nuts? Perhaps.

Sandy & Baby Owen

I’m nuts about my friend Sandy. She was actually first on the list. Start in the south and move north as the summer progressed. But there was this small detail of a grandbaby arriving in Florida, and Sandy just HAD to go spend a week to help mommy bond with the baby….. right at the time I was planning to arrive in Louisiana. So we did a rearrange. I started in the middle with Kim in North Carolina, then north to Harrah in Maine. Now finally South to Sandy in Louisiana. In July. It’s hot… but surprisingly, it doesn’t feel as hot as North Carolina did – yet.

Anyway, it’s so good to see my dear friend Sandy (and her husband Paul) AND…. Drumroll please, my husband Steve came last night to join us.

There always seems to be more to write than I have time or you have patience for. So I’ll try to break it up.

I’ll start with the present and fill in the history and background as it feels appropriate. The present is… yesterday, Sandy took me out exploring southern plantations at Crane River Park. Then we went to lunch in Natchitoches.

I love history, so it was fascinating to go on this little tour and ask lots of questions neither of us had thought of before.

I think what struck me the most were the slave quarters under this house. A little stair case led from under the house to a trap door in the children’s bedroom floor. If the children needed something, they would stomp on the floor and their nanny would emerge from under the house. Giant beds, luxurious quilts, for the children. Dirt floor, low ceiling, darkness, heat, and bugs for the nanny. Other household slaves also lived under the house so they could be easily accessible to go fetch the horse and carriage or run other errands. Over the large dining table was a fan called a shoo fly flan. This was attached to a pully system that let out of the house onto the porch. When the family was dining or entertaining guests, a slave would stand outside on the porch (in the heat) pulling on the rope to keep the fan moving. This would keep the flies away and cool the guests.

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I was also struck by how much our guide seemed to minimize the hardships of the slave life. The quarters under the house are being renovated so we weren’t allowed in there, though I did take some pics through the fencing. It was all about this Creole family, their generations, and how they preserved and added on to the house. That was interesting…. But somehow for me, the history of slavery in my own country is more fascinating to me. Especially since my sister recently discovered one of our ancestors who owned a little eight year old girl. So far, that’s the only one she’s found. My Texas ancestors on that side were poor landowner farmers who probably didn’t have the means to own slaves like these large plantation owners, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have if they could. There’s so much more for me to contemplate and write about this subject at some time. It’s been brewing in me for quite a while. But not yet.

Sandy & Paul have gone off to church. Sandy’s a greeter, Paul teaches Sunday School, and I apparently have a have a small sermon to preach. And heck, I’m over fifty now!

I met a gentleman the other day who flatly declared to me: “I’m an avowed atheist and I hate born again Christians.” When he saw me raise my eyebrows, he quickly added that the few individual born again Christians that he knows are nice enough – they’re alright – but as a group he hates them because they’re so judgmental. I laughed and asked if he had ever noticed his own hypocrisy. I mean, he has just pronounced judgment on a pretty large group of people he has never met. And to make it more interesting, he’s judging them for being so judgmental! His words were frighteningly familiar to me. I can remember when I was young and unaware, hearing and then repeating something very similar, about a different group of people. “Why even some of my best friends are fill in the blank here.”

This has stimulated some interesting conversations with Harrah, with my new friend John, and now with my girlfriend Sandy.

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines someone who is bigoted as “Obstinately and blindly attached to some creed, opinion, practice or ritual; unreasonably devoted to a system or party, and illiberal towards the opinions of others.

Whether we’re Atheists, Born Again Christians, “Spiritual”, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Independent, Evangelical, Catholic, Jew, Black, French, Arab, Chinese, Mexican, Confederate, Yankee, (take a breath – did I leave anyone out?) Gay, Straight, Conservative, Liberal…. Do we ever stop and examine our own judgments and listen to the words that come out of our mouths? Do we ever consider our own hypocrisy and the inconsistencies in our own minds? Consider what you hate about another person or group. Then ponder the question, “How does this same characteristic live in me?” I think we can’t see it because it’s the water we swim in. It’s the air we breathe. Where we feel safe and comfortable. We only see it when it’s mirrored back to us in the one we hate.

OK. Sermon over. Altar call given. Benediction. Time for Brunch.

If you’re still reading, thanks so much for indulging my mini-sermonizing.

Now that THAT’s off my chest, I can share more tomorrow about my friendship with precious Sandy.

Giving Thanks, especially this year….

I’d like to post something I wrote last year at Thanksgiving, before I had a blog. I’m pulling it out of the file because it’s still fresh. We’re doing it all again this year, only adding my in-laws. Can’t wait. Pray for the turkey!

Thanksgiving 2008

This year’s Thanksgiving took on a deeper meaning for me than ever before. I hosted my first Thanksgiving feast….. on Saturday.

My Sister-in-Law, Linda, has “owned” Thanksgiving in our family for probably twenty years. My Mom and Dad, my sister and her husband and my niece and nephew all come to my brother’s home in Newcastle for Thanksgiving weekend, joined by their two sons Kyle & Kevin. There are strong traditions, and everyone’s special recipes, killer card games, and a tradition of each one in turn expressing one thing we are thankful for. Inevitably Family is the number one object of our gratitude. We all get along, have fun together, love each other, and generally get through the weekend without all the drama and hurt feelings and tolerating of each other which we hear from some of our friends’ reports of their Thanksgiving “feasts”.

This year, we received a special request from Steve’s daughter Erin, asking if we would host Thanksgiving at our house for Steve’s three kids and their families. We’ve never done this because, as I said, my sister-in-law “owns” Thanksgiving. Also, there are all the other in-laws, ex-laws, etc. etc. to compete with.

But the golden request was made, and I was thrilled. So, we offered to host a Saturday Thanksgiving, allowing everyone to enjoy Thursday with their “other” families. Now, bear in mind, I am 48 years old and have never before cooked a turkey. Oh the advice that came from all quarters…. It was pretty humorous…. Add to that an out-of-town trip just before the big feast. (Fresh or frozen bird, 12 lb or 25 lb, when to pick it up, take it out, put it in, roast it in a bag, out of a bag, barbecue it, thermometer in the breast or in the thigh, stuffing inside or outside, Mom’s southern cornbread stuffing vs. Linda’s Yankee stuffing….). What to make ahead, what to ask others to bring, when to clean the house, set the table, etc. I went on line for help (a week before Thanksgiving of course) and found a simple four-week planning guide for Thanksgiving! Ha!

In the end, everyone arrived, a bit of turkey drama showed up, but Brian and Bill stepped in with their expertise and saved the day. Everyone pitched in and twelve people sat around the Thanksgiving feast. I introduced the tradition of going around the table and declaring what you are Thankful for. When it came to me, I was almost speechless. Looking around this table, in my own home, with my husband, I realized something very significant for me. My deepest sorrow is missing the opportunity to have or raise children of my own. It’s been the topic of my deepest anger at God, crying till my face is swollen and my voice is gone, lying on the floor in a despair so deep there seems to be no way out. That deep hole is still there. I carry it every day, and it expands as I grow older. But here, on this day of Thanksgiving, I join hands around this table with these dear people, none of whom are related to me by blood. They have adopted me, and I them. These are my family. I love them like my own children and grandchildren. What more could I say? I am thankful for my family. In eight short years of being married to Steve I have a full family – the whole thing. My heart is full, my cup overflows. When it was my five-year-old granddaughter Alexis’ turn to speak, she said “I’m thankful for Nani”. In that moment, my life was complete.

In these days of stress, worry, war, darkness, and gloom, I find it is easy to start feeling nervous and anxious. The circumstances seem so out of control. Will I have a job next month? Will we be able to make the mortgage payments? Will my parents be ok? What about my friends who are hurting? What will the future look like? I can loose my bearings. If I was a nail biter, I’d have no fingers left. But when I stop, and let my mind and heart sit at that Thanksgiving table, and gaze at the beautiful faces of my beloved family, the anxious thoughts dissipate, the worry dissolves, and overwhelming love, joy, and peace fill my whole being. I lift my heart to God in gratitude too deep for words and say Thank You. Though Heaven and Earth shall pass away, Your love, your tender mercies, will last forever. This is my Rock.

Who Is God Anyway?

Often I coach Christian clients who worry that they are not spending enough time in the Word or in prayer. They’re not being faithful to their “quiet time”, and are feeling guilty about it. I recently had a client who loves the outdoors “confess” that when she went to pick up her Bible for her “quiet time”, she instead picked up an outdoors catalog. She sees herself as a “strong Christian” and when she’s out in nature, she has a profound sense of worship and communion with her Creator. But when it comes to sitting and reading the Bible, she’s “tempted” instead to plan her next hike into the hills. This got me thinking….and relating…

Who is God anyway, and what does it mean to be a “strong” Christian? How do I have a “close” relationship with God? What does that mean? So often, I feel so distant. Part of me cares and part of me doesn’t. To be perfectly honest, I’m often bored reading the Bible. Not that I don’t enjoy reading it with my friends who come over. We read it like we’ve never read it before, and we debate and react and take the “wrong” side and challenge each other. But when I sit down for my “quiet time” and stare at that big book, frequently there’s no spark. No interest. When given the choice, read the Bible, like I know I should, or read a great novel, or stimulating article, I choose the novel or the article. I mean really. Who wants to just sit down and read the Bible? I know, I know, lots of people. But is that IT? Is that all there is to getting to know God? There are so many other interesting things to do. I don’t like feeling so dead spiritually. And I don’t want to look back on my life when I’m older and regret not cultivating that relationship.

Growing up we read the Bible every day, often twice a day. Every morning we read a chapter the Old or New Testament and the daily Oswald Chambers message to the Christian worker. Every evening we read today’s chapter from Proverbs. In addition, being in Baptist Sunday School, we had weekly memory verses, Bible stories, and Christmas pageants. I distinctly remember winning the prize when I was in fourth or fifth grade Sunday school and standing before the whole church reciting about eleven verses from John chapter three. I felt so proud. When I was a freshman in high school I accepted a challenge from a girlfriend and memorized the entire book of James. Growing up in the missions organization YWAM, Youth With A Mission, I received Bible teaching constantly from my dad and from other “famous” men and women of God who had so much wisdom and knowledge. I was in awe of these people and strove, through the encouragement of my parents to grow into becoming one of them. Over the course of my upbringing I probably read through the entire Bible eleven or twelve times.

So now, the idea of picking up the Bible to read is sometimes well….. not that interesting. What if God speaks in other ways? What if a relationship with God has nothing to do with reading the Bible? What if God isn’t “way up there” in the sky looking down on little me? What if God isn’t male? What if God isn’t interested in the Bible either? What if God is more interested in enjoying the great novel with me? What if God is more interested in my garden than in my “prayer” life? What if God is curious about what I’m going to cook for dinner? What if God is a big black woman in an apron cooking up something amazing in the kitchen, or a forty-something career woman in a windowless office, or a five-year old boy playing soccer, or a four-year old golden retriever? What if God is a warm breeze on a cold day, or the exhilaration of a black-diamond ski run? What if God is that huge harvest moon, or the view from glacier point? What if God is a little girl of mixed race? What if God is a Democrat?????!!!! What if God is all these things and wants to just hang out in my world? After all, isn’t that what Jesus did?

What might be possible if I let go of my “shoulds” in my relationship with God, and just “was” in relationship with God? Not the God I’ve been spoon fed all my life, but the living breathing Creator of the universe, who is neither male nor female, Jew nor Gentile, the God who is Spirit, who can take on and inhabit any form he/she chooses. Who is Love itself. Who does not live in a box, a church, a book, or a routine, but moves, hovers, whispers, and breathes life into everything and everyone. This is the God I want to know. What if this universe that I live in is God’s house, and everything and everyone I encounter in this house is speaking, breathing, singing, dancing, screaming, and shouting the name of God in an infinite number of ways. What if there’s NOTHING and NO ONE in this house who doesn’t loudly manifest God. Then there is nothing, there is no one, on the planet whom I should fear. Then, if my ears are tuned in and my eyes and my heart are open, I will touch God in every breath of every day. Then I am at home in the home of my Maker. Let’s go out and play, shall we?