Thursday, December 4, 2008


Mary's main preparation for the coming of Messiah was to adjust to the unexpected and the unwished-for. To God be the glory! (Luke 1:46-55)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Two months gone

So where have I been for two months? First, Morocco, where I lost my handbag, struggled through an Atlas Mountains trek we had looked forward to for years, and ate enough dirt (or something) to make me sick into early November. Then to studies in Dublin, and now teaching in Albania, with few days home in between.

All the while struggling and often succombing to avoidance behaviors, as Jesus' shekinah glory feels too bright, an all-consuming fire from which my humanity shies away--and I'm not sure why.

Yet I know God is good, and am hardly abandoned, to His glory and praise!

From the balcony

November 9th. Each morning I enjoy Your presence, and notice places of emptiness in the actions of the day past. Too often of late they are the same places. In the rarified atmosphere of Your morning presence obedient embrace and engagement seems simple and desirable, but by evening all is murky and irrelevant in my default to mindless avoidance of Your shekinah purity and its demands.

I think maybe I should stop praying until my life becomes a prayer, until my actions reflect listening obedience.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Extravagant Welcome

I sit here pecking away at my laptop, easy-chair turned to face the view. Erratic stone-walled patch-work rolls down to the Irish Sea. Brilliant greens mix with the darker, duskier colors of waning heather and gorse.

In this place, I have permission to be quiet. It’s okay to lie in late, or to rise early to read, pray and drink coffee behind closed door until I feel ready for conversation. My room invites me to work or relax, with coffee pot, fruit bowl, ample lamps, music, books and candles. The garden and the hills beckon, but so does the fireplace in the living room. Meals are regular and simple, but made celebratory with views, candlelight and gentle companions.

Luke talked this morning about a dinner at Simon’s house.
[1] You know, Simon the Pharisee, that Simon. The meal was proceeding well, and then this WOMAN arrived. Not on the guest list, and with her reputation, not likely to be. We’ve had some odd interruptions at our house, but never yet has a street person wandered in sobbing to pour sweet-smelling ointment over a guest’s feet and rub it in with her hair!

As Luke unfolded his story, I noticed Jesus’ comments about the welcome He’d received at Simon’s house. Simon is all worried about reputation, and feeling critical of Jesus, his invited guest. Jesus was experiencing something else entirely:

“Do you SEE this woman, Simon? I come into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

Truth is, Simon DIDN’T see her. He only saw a disruption, a sinner. Seems he didn’t really see Jesus, either. Certainly not for who Jesus was, but not even as a “real” houseguest. No water to wash His feet, not even that basic courtesy. No double-checked kiss of warm welcome, as we give and receive all the time in the Middle East. No anointing to bless his Guest and set His coming apart as something special.

Over 25 years Ken and Eva Needham and Curt and I have swapped hospitality, so far in Alaska, England, Scotland, Ireland, UAE and Turkey. I love being in their home. They see Jesus, and they see me. Their various homes have all celebrated creation’s beauty, and been rich in thought life, and deeply prayerful listening—places designed with guests in mind. Masters at balancing their own work and solitude with attending to their guests, their peace is contagious. Patterns to imitate, people to learn from.

We saw a stranger yesterday.
We put food in the eating place,
Drink in the drinking place,
Music in the listening place
And in the sacred name of the Triune God
He blessed us and our house
Our cattle and our dear ones.
As the lark says in her song:
Oft, oft, oft goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise.
(Unknown author)

[1] Luke 7:36-50

...and God joined the conversation!

When is “prayer” a genuine conversation with the Living God, a Person wholly other? When is it more an exercise in analysis, self-awareness, and Biblically-principled problem-solving? These are not intellectual questions for me, but a hopeful journey towards transforming awareness of God’s real and personal Presence.

I awoke this morning with the memory of two conversations. One was between Jesus and a smart-mouthed Samaritan outcast beside a well in the heat of mid-day.
[1] The other took place along a weary road leading out of Jerusalem, when the resurrected Jesus joined a couple heading to Emmaus three days after the crucifixion.[2] The Samaritan woman had never met Jesus and had no idea who he was, but freely engaged this stranger in spirited religious debate. The couple knew him well, and loved him, but had just watched Him die.[3] They were kept from recognizing the fellow traveler who questioned them and listened as they grappled together to make sense of their confusion and grief, and then opened the Scriptures to them with authority.

Prayer, in its simplest definition, is conversation with God. What captured my attention in that morning space between sleep and waking is that both the woman and the couple were doing just that. They were engaged in dialogue with the Living God. The thing is, they didn’t know it! They did not even imagine themselves at prayer.

In both instances, Jesus reveals Himself, His Presence with them, before the conversation ends. The revelation surprises them. And it changes everything about their stories.

Could it be that you and I are sometimes engaged in conversation with Jesus, the Living God, without knowing it? That our thoughts, our attempts to make sense of our confusion through reason and principle can be prayer, with God very much engaged in the inner dialogue even though we can’t seem to get out of our own heads?

How do we know?

I think maybe it’s in the surprise! The moments when suddenly we see our dilemma in a whole new way, a redemptive way beyond our own personality and experience. That’s what happened with the lonely, embittered woman, and with that devastated couple.

Oh, Lord Jesus, surprise us! When we don’t know how to pray, aren’t sure what to do, and can’t see You with us in our confusion, grief, or our bitter disappointment with ourselves and others. Surprise us with Your presence and Your grace!

[1] See John 4
[2] See Luke 24:13-35
[3] Luke names only one of the pair, Cleopas. One of the Mary’s who watched and waited beneath the cross was married to Clopas. Could Luke’s unnamed one be her?

You look right at me, but what do you see?

After nearly four years with us, our beloved Nadeek moved on last June. He’s a hard act to follow! How would I ever find someone new to care for the house, much less bond with him?

By mid-July avoidance was resulting in disarray. The balconies lay deep in sandy dust while I barely kept up indoors even in the quiet of just Curt and me and summer’s few guests. I got this idea--maybe the security guards downstairs would know of someone in need of a day or two of extra work.

With trepidation (would this open a can of worms?), I chose a moment when I knew the guards on duty were the friendlier ones who speak a bit of English. I approached their desk with my question.

“Oh yes, Madame! We have a friend….” “But does this friend clean houses?” As I feared, the worm-can opened. No, the friend had never cleaned houses, but he was a nice guy who needed extra work. “Does he speak any English?” “No, Madame.”

“Well, I’ll think about it….” I thanked them and turned toward the elevator. “But wait, Madame!” What now? Big smiles, alert eyes: “Now that we have told you about our friend, would you please tell us about your friend Jesus?”

I had looked right at them, but what had I seen?

John tells us about a hot dusty day in Samaria when Jesus was road-weary.
[1] Likely people-weary, too. They stopped by a well where he could rest while the disciples went for food. This woman came along, right at mid-day, to draw water. Believe me, in the heat of the Middle East no one would do that unless she wanted pretty badly to avoid other people! Jesus saw her with her water-jug and asked for a drink. She gave Him water, but was crabby about it, rude and mouthy.

The thing about this story that captivates me is that Jesus didn’t just see a woman with a jug. He saw a whole person, with desires and disappointments, and the need for eternal solutions. He saw her, and He saw how to turn the conversation into a story that would matter for eternity. How I long for that kind of alert compassion and discernment!

Back to my own encounter…. Long story short, two months later, Pawan and two other guards from Nepal and Ethiopia, have become regulars in our home, joining ongoing studies when they can, sharing meals and community. We are learning to know them and their lives. Curt gently walks with them through Basic Training for Real Christians.

I did hire their friend Deepak, a sweet 20-year old from Nepal who often hums or sings quietly as he works. He comes afternoons for 2-3 hours during his break from his other job. An apt student, he easily mastered new tools like vacuum cleaner and iron (“just please remember that’s the hot end!”), though the dishwasher remains a mystery. (I can see the wheels spinning. “Why does she put the dishes in that box?”) Pawan tells me Deepak loves working for us, that he says I treat him “like a son.”

Last week I took Deepak to the lobby so that Pawan could translate while I told him I would be away for six days. Pawan caught me again! “Madame,” he said as soon as he finished translating my instructions, “Now you can tell Deepak about Jesus!”
[1] John 4

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Neither hot not cold...

We have this place in Kas, Turkey, a whimsical, quirky 5-story villa perched overlooking the Mediterranean, that we dream of opening as a quiet space for retreat and refreshment. All those balconies and rocky nooks in the garden turned into places of prayer and solitude, a kitchen equipped to turn the region’s local produce into celebrations of God’s creative goodness, and community areas on main floor and rooftop for nourishing community.

Though today 99% of Turks are Muslim, the nation is rich in biblical images--the geographic backdrop of much of the New Testament. Paul put in at Patara, a few miles up the coast from our place. Not so far inland
, he planted churches at Colossae and Laodicea. Later John took Jesus’ mother, Mary, and settled in Ephesus—or so goes the tradition. Before he died, he wrote Revelation, which includes seven prophetic letters to seven Turkish churches.

I know your deeds,” says Jesus in the letter to the church at Laodicea, “that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Rev 3:15-16.

Words to make one squirm—a challenge to one's passion for Jesus and His gospel.

But recently I learned something fascinating about the geography and history of the ancient spa-towns of Laodicea and nearby Colossae and Hierapolis. These places were spa-towns famous for their springs! Hot geo-thermal mineral baths at Hierapolis drew people from all over to soak up their restorative properties and experience healing. Colossae’s cold mineral water provided invigorating refreshment from summer’s heat. In Laodicea itself, though, tepid springs turned the stomach and made people nauseous.

Any Laodicean would easily catch the implications of John’s imagery. The letter to Laodicea speaks not of a failure of passion for the gospel, but a failure to generously, consciously serve up its life-giving properties so that we spill out refreshment and healing on the world He brings to our door. The quirky village house on the rocky hillside becomes a spiritual spa where people drink in refreshment; or splash, float, and immerse themselves in healing restoration. Stopping for awhile to leave invigorated for the onward, upward journey.

Likewise, your place and mine right today. For it’s not about the great location, or all the balconies--the beauty of the vessel, but about what God puts in it to be served up and poured out. We just have to be generous enough, prayerfully dependent and outward-facing enough to do it!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

On prophecy...

One of the ways prophecy can bless us today is as we let it remind us that God exists outside of linear time. I call it “the eternal now,” where all things are present and complete, where even you and I are fully formed in Him. That’s the reality, the perspective God sees! You and I—well, we live in the “already/not yet.” Already Jesus has come and indwells us through His Spirit, but His second coming and the final fulfillment of Biblical revelation is yet to come, and something we see only dimly. Truth is, no prophecy is really understood until God fulfills it, and even THEN we generally need Him to explain it to us. But we are blessed by prophecy when we allow it to wash over us with God’s sovereignty, His beauty, His faithfulness, His extraordinary power to do whatever He says He will do.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

No one to wash their feet

Is there a better metaphor for cultural differences than the public toilet?

A pit stop at a gas station, shopping mall or movie theater in UAE gives graphic demonstration that we are indeed at the crossroads
[1]. Check the various stalls and take your pick. Traditional? (That’s a ceramic platform set level with the floor, designed for squatting.) Western? (My readers know this one!)Toilet paper? (A nasty contact with filth that grosses out many in this world.) Backside-sprayer hose? (Running water is necessary to lots of folks for ritual cleansing and purity. But I so want to know how one dries oneself enough to get dressed again!)

Hospitality manifests in providing choice of toileting style. Even in our apartment, we have sprayers installed in the guest toilet and maid’s quarters.

That the prevailing culture here is Islam manifests in the prayer-time mess.

A key tenet of Islam is ritual prayer five times each day. To prepare, one must purify oneself by washing hands, face, head, and feet--three times up to the ankle. Since few public toilets offer a convenient place for washing, the faithful resort to the sinks. Result: water everywhere! Nobody likes it. I took this photo at the Istanbul airport.

A quick google while last in the US taught me that we non-Muslims don’t tolerate it very well, either. Any number of news articles railed against the mess, the practice, and the affrontery to be so public on “our” turf.

Back in April I sat barefoot and cross-legged on a chapel floor and listened before a lovely stained glass of Jesus washing Peter’s feet
[2]. I could hear the collective gasp as Jesus took up the basin and wrapped himself in servant’s towel. I regarded my own feet and Peter’s protest welled up in me. The event is pregnant with Jesus’ magnificent humility as he stoops from eternity to lovingly attend to the stuff that clings after a day of following him, but it also speaks of our human need for purification to be fit to rest in his presence. Those weary men needed washing, but there was no one to do it until the Lord of the Universe displayed such love.

Islam requires clean feet to come to God’s presence, but provides no one (and often no place) to wash them. And the rest of us are irritated by the mess. I wonder—how can you, how can I serve as foot-washer to a Muslim neighbor? What act of grace, what gentle humility, what open acknowledgement of a need would provide winsome, even provocative relevance that would draw her into the presence of Jesus himself?

[1] At Home at the Crossroads, posted 20 July 2008
[2] John 13:1-17

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

From the departure platform

I pull up to the curb on the departure platform--again. I crawl out of the car, and help drag bags out of the back.

Mid-day and 42 degrees Celsius. Sweat beads on Margje’s face and flows down Gordon’s as they wrestle luggage, stroller and babe dressed in their destination garb—black trench-style jacket over long slacks and blouse for Margje, with scarf around her shoulders ready for the mandatory head-covering of Iran. Long trousers and long-sleeved shirt in place of Gordon’s favored shorts and polo that announce his Afrikaans heritage. I take Eli-Anne from her mom for a last hug. Margje and I embrace and the tears flow. Then to Gordon for the cheek-to-cheek etiquette that gives way to a bear hug.

Though they’ve been out of their apartment and staying with us for the past ten days, we’ve all managed to ignore the coming separation. Such dear friends that Eli-Anne knows us as “Grandma” and “Grandpa.” Best camping buddies, dune-bashers extraordinaire, game partners and co-hosts with us of innumerable adventures and feasts. They stood alongside us as Daniel-fans and Cait-supporters, taking Eda in as family with the rest of us when she and Dan married in January; we stood with them as doting grandparents through invitrio, pregnant health crises, and their first year as parents.

I drive home (in Gordon’s SUV, now owned by Dan) and walk through a house so empty without Eli-Anne’s giggly, jumping explorations. Curt comes home and no 15-month old runs to hug his leg and crawl into his lap. No sharing of their days between the two men. No foursome in the kitchen pulling together something wonderful to eat for dinner.

Curt and I both grew up in mobile families. We’ve lived in transient communities before. We’ve moved a fair bit ourselves. But never like here. Expat life in UAE is defined by the frequency with which people come and go. Someone new to welcome and make place for; someone you’ve allowed in as a heart companion takes off on a different journey. When Gordon called to tell us about the job in Tehran, my heart cried out even as my brain told me that if they didn’t leave we’d be gone in a year anyway.

I’m thinking about that cracked-pot thing. With each dear leave-taking we crack a little bit more. Or maybe that’s a choice. Will we seal the cracks against the pain and form a shell that looks nice but is a hard surface that people connect with and bounce off, with nothing real coming through? Or will we allow ourselves to crack open a little bit more, so that the life of Jesus continues to pour through?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Out of my head...

Sometimes when I pray I try to picture Jesus in the room with me. As a thinker (you know--“thinker” as opposed to “feeler,” one of those intense folk whose guiding star is analysis and logic—and, honest, I can’t help it!), I have not always been sure when I was truly at prayer, talking to and listening for the eternal sovereign God, and when I was still trapped in my own head analyzing, applying truth, imagining what I think God might think. To picture Jesus can help. As I move out of internal conversation and into communion/communication, He surprises me like fresh wind. Another is present Who introduces surprising perspective, a way of seeing that I am simply unable to get to on my own.

Journal: 25 February--Abu Dhabi and a full house. “To picture You, Lord, present in each room of this house…. As I look around our bedroom, suddenly conscious of my environment, I’m struck by evidences of Your grace in our life together: Cait’s childhood art, ‘miracle’ furniture we could not have afforded, the artistry of the carpet under my feet. The kitchen: You see what I eat and HOW I eat it (with furtive guilt, or with gratitude and health), and You are present during all the meal prep, fellowship and laughter. The living room: the words on the wall become Your words; the warmth and space reflect Your safety, welcome, protection.

Journal: 2 July—the flat in Kas, Turkey. “Early morning, watching the town awake. When I close my eyes and try to picture You, Lord Jesus, I again sense You standing and stooping to serve us communion—the same impression I had as we prayed together on the balcony at the Gokseke house Sunday night. This balcony and that other—places You have chosen and anointed to share Your flesh and blood. Dare I believe this image is from You and not my own hope alone?”

Journal: 4 July 2008, home in Abu Dhabi after nearly four months away. “Your presence here today: You twisted the tree that became the lamp. You knew the Indian carpenter that carved the flowers on the high bench, and the American one that built the oak sofa 100 years ago. You gifted Steve Gordon to paint, and You love the women who knotted the carpets, and the metal smiths of Oman, Afghanistan and Iran who pounded the pots and trays. You created cows that give meat and leather, sheep that provide wool, peacocks, whale bone, moose, and sand for concrete and glass.

“You call forth the creativity in artists and inventors—people You gift to see possibilities in raw materials. You see and love the workers who work today in the heat of Abu Dhabi, Suleyman who installs his handcrafted cabinets in our kitchen in Kas, and the sweet daughter who helps him.”

Journal: 21 July 2008. “This morning as I turn my mind to focus on You, Jesus, here with me, I am awed (and timid) to recognize that life lived in Your presence is HOLY.

“We are children-at-play in whom You delight as we listen and take You seriously with childlike trust, and as we ‘work out’ our day before You with the sober understanding that our “play’ has purpose, hope, reality. For a child, ‘play’ is serious business, concentrated, abandoned in time and energy, experimental, and rich in love.”

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Love those movies...

At lunch an Afrikaans friend shared that she had gone to the Friday matinee, all by herself, to see Mamma Mia! “I love the movies!” says Anne-Mi. When she was a child growing up on a farm in South Africa she received 10 cents a week for doing chores. “A lot of chores!” she recalls. Come Saturday she would dress herself in her very best “because that’s what you did back then,” and go to the matinee. It cost seven cents to get in. With the other three cents, she bought Stars. Stars were pink and very chewy. Three cents would get her 10 or even 12. Then she would go into the theater, always to the very front row, where she would sit right in the center. “That way,” said Anne-Mi, “I was always sure that I saw the movie first!”