30 December 2010

Salt – Reflections on brokenness, restoration, and this past year

[I journaled most of these thoughts on a plane after a campus ministers’ retreat, called “Refresh ‘10”, in Kansas City the second full week of December.]

“You put salt on our lips that we might thirst for you…” This quote/paraphrase caught my attention last night when the closing speaker, Pete Greig, mentioned it. He attributed it to St. Augustine, and then he added, “and sometimes the salt may come from our own tears. “

But the tears for me haven’t come for some time. Beautiful moments, prayerful moments, enraging moments, surprising moments have happened, and I can tell part of my body want to respond with tears, yet nothing comes. [Heal me, Lord.]

Rewind a few days: The image brought to mind after the conference’s first morning devotion was of water pouring on dry, cracked ground. The water seeped in, yet the ground was so dry that the cracks didn’t go away… A dry and thirsty land. I had this same image of a dry and thirsty land the following morning, too, and of water spilling forth over the cracks, seeping in, providing momentary relief for a land in drought. Maybe Prayer can be these moments of watering – moments of grace for a drought weary soul. [Lord, help me.]

A cup of salt sat on each table as the last session began. We poured some in our hands and put our hands to our lips. Then we prayed…
As I prayed, thoughts – words and images, moving and still – flashed and faded. Each wrestled for prominence although each has valid space in my heart/life right now. I scrawled the words across the page in an attempt to give each image the voice it wanted to have.

Helps preserve

Brings out and enhances flavor


apathy lethargy

… over-sweetened, comfortable lives need some saltiness…

… prevents the car from slipping, yet stains it in the process…

I pictured my heart shrinking and shriveling like the salted slug as I saw the apathetic and lethargic moments of the past year with clarity and shame. It’s not all the time, and it’s not in all things. There are moments of life and energy that spring forth, yet they are quickly absorbed by the dry, cracked soil of my soul – the broken ground of my heart. It may not show on the outside, yet the inside is crying out for refreshment! Yes, healing and restoration began taking place at debriefing in Michigan in March after two painful years of deployment… we miss the people, but we don’t miss the circumstances… yet healing is a PROCESS and it needs to continue.

We know – I know – God called us out and moved us on, yet I still wrestle with why. Was it for preservation of my life / our lives – hearts, souls, minds, and strengths, and for preservation of our marriage, and for preservation of our calls to ministry (rather than burning out, breaking down emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically)? OR did God call us out because I could no longer love well – serve in love, forgive in love, lead in love… ? Was it my failure to love well that caused our departure?

Was it self-preservation – God caring for us as individuals, as children… OR was it Kingdom-preservation – God caring for God’s kingdom and not wanting that defamed any more than it already is?

I feel that somehow it was a combination of both.

The speaker on Thursday night reminded us of John Wesley’s journey – successful in some mission endeavors, yet a failure in others (e.g. Georgia) to the point of questioning vocation. (and I don’t view our time as extreme as Wesley.)

However, God did not give up on him.
And God will not give up on me,
God will not give up on us,
God will not give up on the Church,
God will not give up on the world!

My heart and soul may feel shriveled like a slug…
BUT God can refresh and revive,
God can Restore and Redeem,
God can Resurrect!

The dry cracked ground takes time to restore. Too much rain or irrigation at once will cause a flood as the ground cannot absorb the vast amounts of water. And then it will take time for the flood waters to recede. Too much rain or irrigation trades one calamity for another.

A slow coaxing – a little rain – a slow irrigation will restore the land without a flood disaster.

While my soul wants the downpour, God knows that my souls does not need a flood.

A starving person may want a buffet, yet the stomach needs to start with small amounts slowly.

A dehydrated person guzzling gallons will only wretch it up, yet a slow intake in small amounts will restore.

Blessed are you, Lord, our God, King of the Universe,
Who restores the dry parched land,
Who fills our cups to overflowing (abundance and enough) not overflooding,
Who says, “Open wide your mouth, and I will fill it.”

Blessed are you, Lord, our God, King of the Universe,
Who gives Your children every good thing,
Who provides for all of our needs,
Who gives manna each day (rather than 40-years supply of food at once that we have to carry around).

In this next season of journey I need to open myself up to the small ways that God wants to irrigate my soul – to restore my life. It’s strange, when in drought one can become accustomed to scarcity. In fact, so much so that even when conditions change scarcity can remain the heart-set and mindset – scarcity can become the default mode… This results in one turning down moments of filling, refreshing and relief – for even though the ground can handle the downpour, the default mode of scarcity causes fear of flooding… Why trade a calamity with which one can cope for one that presents more unknowns?

Hosanna – Help me, save me. Alleluia.

17 December 2010

Thoughts from "a university student who follows Jesus"

I came across this at the conference I just attended in Kansas City, and I wanted to share it with you. We actually saw it in a powerful video form, yet I couldn't find that at midnight last night - I could only find the text from a blog site, so here you go:

from our friends with Campus America:

I am a university student who follows Jesus.

I've been formally trained to think critically.  My view of the world is scarred with cynicism and skeptical interpretation.  Rarely is it acceptable that I feel anything.  If I do, I am encouraged to rationalize it away.

I continually face critical thinkers (like myself) who question the Christian subculture I come from.  I try to imagine a counter-cultural movement like I read about in Acts but I'm stuck in the tread of a divide between the sacred and the secular of this world.

On a regular basis I encounter situations where the name of Christ is being defamed by Christians who have forgotten the centrality of His love.  Where sins are ordered in a hierarchy.  Where people must pray through a checklist before being welcomed into the family.  Where people themselves are sidelined for the sake of the sins that precede them.

I know that the world will change only as I change myself, but everyone else seems focused on themselves. I'm torn between changing individuals and changing institutions.  History class laughs at the meta-narrative that defines my existence.  Science tells me that mystery is my enemy and faith is its poison.  My learning is split into departments.  So goes my religion.

I'm a university student who follows Jesus.

I have wept over abortion and I have grieved the breakdown of the family unit.  I have also wept and grieved over Christianity's fear-filled reaction to both.

In fact, I often feel boxed in by the stigma attached to words like "church" and "Christian." I tend not to speak up for the possibility of being misinterpreted.

I have awkward conversations with strangers who seem to be in need, but sometimes it feels like I do so more out of desire to feel better about myself than out of genuine care.

My prayers collide somewhere between "help me pass this test / help my suicidal classmate / please have mercy on the AIDS epidemic."  I'm never sure what order they should be prayed in.

I try tirelessly to see that my schooling doesn't interfere with my education.  I have skipped a test to be with Jesus and I have skipped time with Jesus to study for a test.  I wonder afterward if I've failed some sort of test with God.

I have known a lot of hope deferred and a few longings fulfilled.  I watch my peers poke holes in any hope without offering any hope in return.  Seems like cheap self-defense, but I find myself doing the same.

I'm constantly dividing between the voices in my head.  Discerning what is conviction, what is accusation, and what is simply empty tradition in my exhausted conscience.  I feel compassion in the depths of my soul, but I have learned to quiet it in order to keep my head above water.

Sometimes I sense that God is leading me to obey Him in an act that seems crazy to me.  With all the voices clamoring for my attention it's hard to tell who's talking, so I've gotten good at just talking it away.

I'm a university student who follows Jesus.

I'm on a technology overload.  Inundated with information that is inapplicable to the vast majority of my life.  I check my Facebook profile 22 times a day with the hopes of a red button notifying me of my importance to someone.  Most times there isn't a response to my status update and my status diminishes a few notches in response.

I've had trouble making new friends because I'm busy keeping up with old acquaintances through a computer monitor.

I like the Word of God but I love the summary form Wikipedia gives me of its contents.  I repeatedly have to remind myself that the Bible isn't another textbook to resell at semester's end at a tenth of my purchase price.

My life has a continual soundtrack provided by wires that connect to my ears and straight-arm the annoyance of other peoples' existence… "other peoples' existence"… sooo annoying.

Silence both scares and bores me tremendously, making it seriously difficult to be still and know much of anything.  The natural world has all but disappeared from my daily activities.  My feet are far more familiar with concrete than grass.  My hands know well the texture of my keyboard and the smoothness of my cell phone, but there is no dirt beneath my tooth-trimmed fingernails.

I speak 17 different dialects of the English language: homegrown simplicity, calculated indie-rock, charismatic Christian, academic hyperbole, post-modern pessimist, etc…

I second-guess what I'm majoring in every second day and I can't fathom holding down one job for more than one year.

I eat food like my body is a temple of convenience.  Making coffee takes too much time out of my incredibly important day so I stand in line for 5 minutes to buy a $5 cup.

I'm a university student who follows Jesus.

I'm somewhere in between child and adult. I've lost the innocence of my youth but I've yet to achieve the wisdom of my age.  The tension feels awkward and emphasizes my temporary existence.

I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I'm still tremendously reliable on my parents.  They give me money they would never spend on themselves without blinking an eye.  I question if I'll ever be able to do the same for my kids.  My school loans are more than my parents paid for the house I grew up in.

I may not have the cash, but swiping the card doesn't really hurt anyone, and I've got it down to an art.  I will buy a drink when I'm out with my friends.  I'm not sure I actually like the taste of alcohol, but I've learned that if I drink a beer people won't think I'm such a stiff.  There have definitely been times I have had too much.  Both drinks and affection.

I buy new clothes that look old so I can maintain the appearance of "used and uncaring."

I have often laughed and nodded at common knowledge I think I probably should know by now but don't.

The world still appears wide open, sometimes even intimidating.  But more often I anticipate its narrowing and the possibility that I would remain little more than potential.

I'm a university student who follows Jesus.

Returning always to questions of who God is and who I am, usually in the wrong order.  I have friends but I often feel lonely.  I am habitually watching others watch me.  Am I essential to anyone?

I try not to look in the mirror too long when I'm alone, mostly so I can convince myself that I'm not self-obsessive.

I do the things I hate then try not to hate myself for doing them.  I'm trying to figure out who I am while trying to die to myself.

People have thanked me for being authentic when I have openly confessed my weaknesses.  Sometime I just want them to challenge my pride instead.

Everything feels urgent and rushed, and I'm trying to learn how to rest in the midst of the chaos.  To be defined less by the number of things I accomplish in a day and more by the grounding reality that I am unfailingly loved.  Not easy.

Many days it feels I'm just beginning to know God even though we've been getting to know each other for some time.  I tend to think He has reliable tendencies, but I'm never quite completely confident that I know how He will respond.  Some days not knowing makes it exciting; other times it brings disillusionment and I feel embarrassed on His behalf.  As if He needed me to.

I'm trying to make friends with people who don't know Jesus.  Remember, that's why I have a beer, insert a "swear word" from time to time, and reference U2 in conversation.

I remember something of the religious foundations of my college, but question why today religion is at most tolerated on the periphery of my curriculum.  What foundation is all this academia built upon?

I'm a university student who follows Jesus.

I want to love God with my entire mind.  To stand empowered in my intellect without being run over by intellectualism, losing my heart in its stead.

I welcome the challenge of my faith.  I think a healthy argument can be more respectful than offensive.  Seeing people who walk with a limp having wrestled with God makes them a bit more trustworthy to me.  But I dread the possibility of a life with a divided heart.  I crave resolve and I rarely have it.

I'm haunted by the question of tolerance v acceptance.  Absolute v relevant truth.

Perhaps what I fear most is having a form of godliness that has no actual power.

Some days I have glimpses of the changing cultural norm, and it disturbs me deeply.  What kind of world will my kids grow up in?  The thought suddenly cuts off as I realize I missed the last 4 minutes of notes in class.  I'm still trying to grow up in my own world.

I recall a young leader named Joshua who conquered enemy "-ites" to the tune of strength and courage.  His "-ites" are the "-isms" of my modern day.  Worlds of thought and heralded ideas that promote the self and eliminate any life outside of "me."

Be strong, daughter.  Be courageous, son.  No longer will the stories of our fathers suffice.

I am longing for Kingdom come.  Laboring for it to break in now.  Looking for the places it is already established.  Wondering if they all collide in each moment of my every day life.

I am a university student who follows Jesus.

08 December 2010

Thoughts from a Bus Ride through NYC

Late leaves on the trees dance joyfully as they still cling to the tree (or maybe the dance defiantly against the onset of winter) - maybe more amazing is how they keep time with the music from the headphones next to me...

A billboard with John Travolta boasts a $2000 watch as it hovers above a street corner piled high with garbage waiting for the trash collectors to come. Ironic how we pay millions of dollars to people who entertain us yet pittance to those in the industries that provide basic services we take for granted...

Interesting that a street hot dog vendor has his cart on the same side of the street as the animal control 'Spay and Neuter' mobile unit…

01 December 2010

Thanksgiving in America and BFD

We celebrated Thanksgiving in America for the first time in 4 years. While some things seemed normal, some things took me by surprise.

We drove to my uncle's house at which 4 of my 5 cousins were there with their families. We ate the quintessential turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Although with two kids, we found that we did not overstuff ourselves as we kept tabs on them between bites.
We enjoyed meeting some new 2nd cousins and introducing Ceara and Caleb to everyone, too.

I enjoyed watching Thanksgiving football for the first time in 4 years.

Yet I came across a new term, which surprised me: "Black Friday." Now I had always heard of the term used in ways to denote something negative. Yet my cunning intellect reasoned from the bombardment of advertisements that it meant the day after Thanksgiving. I looked on Wikipedia to find the origin of its use in this context - because obviously retailers intend it positively. I saw an RV parked outside a Kohl's in preparation for a 3am opening. People across the country lined up the day before (on Thanksgiving Day!) to ensure their chances of getting a good deal...

I was astounded and appalled by the degradation of Thanksgiving from a time to remember what we have (which may not be 'things') and give thanks for them to a time set aside to acquire more stuff, more things, more... Maybe I notice it more acutely now because I haven't experienced this insanity for the past few years. Maybe the term "Black Friday" should still have a negative implication?

I know, I know - Thanksgiving... A lot of time well spent catching up with family - I should write about that rather than writing about Black Friday Deals. Ironic this acronym is BFD... I wonder what would happen if "we the people" stood up to our overconsuming culture and said, "BFD to BFD." If we took more time to be thankful for what we have instead of plotting how to get more. If we took all the time, energy, resources, and passion exerted in shopping and, instead, used it to reconcile broken and hurting relationships in our lives or reaching out to those we know have brokenness... God help us - seriously.

I am out of practice at writing. I struggle to articulate a complete thought. I have noticed it effecting my spoken word as well. I find myself gesturing with hands, lips, and eyebrows to finish many sentences. I guess this another attempt in the 'just keep writing' vein.

15 November 2010

Whirlwind Weekend

I know I missed writing last week - I thought about it everyday. I didn't want it to happen two weeks in a row, so I thought I would try to recap the weekend while I wait for my out of Pittsburgh.

Friday I had the tremendous opportunity to hang out with a bunch of college students from various colleges and universities across West Virginia. The weekend had the theme of "Spiritual Disciplines", and they asked me to share about the link between missions and spiritual disciplines. (I stumbled through that on Saturday morning.) Beyond this, though, I enjoyed having time to talk with and listen to these students navigate their faith journeys in this world. I'm thankful the students invited me and the campus ministers allowed me this opportunity.

Saturday as I drove from one college retreat to my next engagement I had the opportunity to reconnect with some friends I haven't talked to in a while. That time served to fill my soul for a bit.

On Sunday I had the opportunity to preach at Trinity UMC in Scotsdale, PA. What a lovely congregation. Nervous though I was before the sermon, stepping into the pulpit felt like slipping on a pair of well-worn, comfortable jeans. So thankful for that time.
After church a lady in the congregation took her 90 year-old Aunt Jenny and me to hear the symphony in Pittsburgh - something invigorating and inspiring about live music...

Today I had shared at two different churches about an hour apart about joining and partnering with people in mission around the world. Each presentation took a different shape with the stories shared and the approach to partnering in mission.

This weekend reaffirmed my call to share, teach, preach, work with young adults, and work in the global community.

Well, we're getting ready to board, so that's all for now.

03 November 2010

Back in the Saddle Again

This past Sunday Courtney gave me the opportunity to preach at her congregation. An opportunity for which I am truly grateful. I have not preached in church for over a year, and I missed it.

I had trouble sleeping on Saturday night...

On Sunday it felt like I was back doing what I was created to do. Woohoo! The song that comes to mind is: "I'm back in the saddle, again..."

I'm thankful for God's inspiration and strength and insight,and for this opportunity.

I look forward to the next opportunity in two weeks in Western PA, and then hopefully here in Saco in the not too distant future.

In other news, Court's parents arrived last night and will be here for the next week. We're going to try to make a fresh lobster lasagna. mmmm. Then my Aunt will come for a week. Maybe we'll try to make lobster ravioli with her.

well, that's all for this week.

27 October 2010

Learning to See - again

I'm on a train heading back to Maine. I spent the last few days in New York City for some meetings on missions with my organization. I'm tired, yet hopeful and inspired.

Traveling has a way of helping me to see things from fresh perspectives...

Court has invited me to preach this Sunday at her church, and maybe because of the stories in Luke dealing with blindness and sight I'm more open to possibilities and thoughts on "seeing" and "sight".

My roommate in New York told me an encounter he had upon arriving. The Subway in NYC had maintenance work occurring over the weekend - which altered the service of some of the lines. He got turned around and, finally, asked for directions of a Subway official. As he headed back to the platform a blind lady stopped him, "Excuse me, from where did you come and where do you want to go?" He told her. She replied, "Well the directions that man just gave you are wrong. What you want to do is..." and she proceeded to tell him the best route. She ended with "I can't believe you didn't see the signs at Penn Station - they're everywhere."
We had a good laugh about that last point - and it had me thinking about we who can "see" don't really "see" at times.

The other story happened to me in Boston on the way down to New York. I had a 2 hour layover between trains and decided to grab coffee and try to write for a bit.
I sat at a table with my journal open, sipping coffee, and people watching. An auburn hair, freckled man set his things down at a neighboring table and proceeded to tally receipts speaking to himself in French and English. After he finished, he packed his bag, turned towards me looking intently, "And you, you have a VERY good week, sir." I paused and asked him if his accent came from Southern France. We chatted briefly, and as he left I said a casual, "Have a good day..." Yet this stood in stark contrast to his intentional parting comment a few minutes before, and I suddenly saw something that I had lost over time. He spoke his words almost as a benediction while I spoke with casual, American, friendly indifference. In every encounter I have an opportunity to speak a word of blessing into and over someone's life, and my eyes had grown blind. When did these cataracts of indifference occur? I don't know - maybe they form when I'm preoccupied or think I don't have time and rush by people. Maybe they form when I don't actively exercise the ability to pronounce blessing.

While in NY we had an opportunity to tour part of the 19-story (I think) building which houses my organization and many faith-based organizations. It's amazing how an elevator ride can grant a different perspective on NYC - which is the photo I have attached.

Well, that's the stream of consciousness for this week.

May you have a VERY good week, and may you know hope and joy in ever deeper ways.

21 October 2010

The "Jesus Loves You" Project - again

The other day I realized that I needed to restart the "Jesus Loves You" project. Honestly (and disappointingly), I can't remember when I stopped the project.

However, the other day as I walked around Biddeford it dawned on me that I had not pursued this project much at all lately.

What is the Project? Well, to begin I have re-posted(and revised a bit)thoughts from a blog entitled "The 'Jesus Loves You' Experiment" (24.March.2009) followed by some other thoughts.
The "Jesus Loves You" Experiment
"Jesus Loves You." Frederick Buechner tells a story in one of his sermons in which he hears this phrase directed at him as he walks through Central Park in New York one Spring day. He says that it catches him by surprise and it takes him a few seconds to realize what just happened, yet as he stops he finds that she has mingled into anonymity in the mass of pedestrians.

I read this sermon about five months ago, and this story confronted me, challenged me, and would not leave me alone. I have re-read it few times. I decided to try an experiment, and it has made a difference in my life. I don't feel nearly as bold as the woman in Central Park to speak these words aloud to those I pass on the street. However, as I walk down the street - or wait in line at the store - or people watch at the bus station, I look at each person and in my head say, "Jesus loves you!" This completely changes the way I see people. I say it in Latvian, and I need to learn the Russian - it helps me "contextualize" the situation. (When we were in Rome I tried to say it in Italian.) It challenges my inclination to judge or take offense or gawk or avert my gaze. It reminds me that God truly loves each and every person - the crippled beggar; the arrogant mafioso; the girl too young to have lost her innocence; "Jesus loves you!" - the important business person; the despondent store clerk; the toddler amazed by falling snow and his mother who needed a few drinks to cope with single-parenthood; "Jesus loves you!" - the bitter man too beat down to be amazed by anything at all; the young couple laughing as they walk arm and arm; the other couple whose yelling leads to blows; "Jesus loves you!"- the men from other countries here on "woman trips"; the young women who go after those men; the driver who cut me off in traffic; "Jesus love you!" - the ...

Sometimes this phrase leads to giving a loaf of bread or placing a coin in a palm or praying for a person throughout the day. Hopefully this can lead to the courage of the Central Park woman, for it is not enough for me to see people as loved by God, because they need to know it, too.

This experiment has me thinking of another experiment along similar lines to carry out simultaneously - the "I forgive you" experiment...

As you go through the rest of your day today, May you know in a tangible way that God loves you and that God's love is for everyone around you.

Biddeford and Riga may seem worlds apart, yet many things are still the same. People deal with hopelessness, exhaustion, domestic violence, crime, addictions, broken dreams, disappointment, failing health, aging parents, 'bad' things happening to 'good' people...

Although these manifest themselves in different ways in different communities, they happen all over the world. The same world in which we CAN make a difference by taking small steps everyday to be peace, to give hope, and to love those around us.

During the last few minutes of writing I have become distracted and struggle to string words together to make coherent sentences, so that is all for now.

18 October 2010

"Just keep swimming, just keep swimming..."

The other day in Court's sermon she mentioned that recently we introduced Ceara to "Finding Nemo." She likes the colors and sounds for about 15 minutes, and then she finds a hangar, empty box, or blocks to carry to another part of the house.

A song one of that characters sings is, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...swimming, swimming..." That's how I feel today.

I said I would write every Monday - whether I had something to say or not. And for those of you who know me, it's rare when I don't. My problem today is that I don't know where to begin or about what I should write. Yet I know that I need to "just keep swimming..."

On Friday, Courtney gifted me a few moments to go and write. Strands of thoughts that had been traveling on different tracks for the past two weeks finally seemed to merge in my head, and in some ways, my heart.

I wrote eagerly. I wrote with purpose. It felt good.

Today, however, I don't know how to put simple sentences together. (It has taken 35 minutes to write this much.)

But, today I need to just keep swimming... just keep typing... just keep thinking... just keep writing... just keep praying... just keep on keeping on...

12 October 2010

Great Fall Day with New Friends

Maine trees have amazing color in the Fall. We have enjoyed watching the colors change the skyline over the past few weeks.

The sun has graced us with its visible presence the past few days. Its light dances on the leaves and makes the clouds' white *pop* against the blue sky.

Yesterday we had an opportunity to hang out with another clergy couple in the area. Their kids are about one-year and four-years in age. Up to this point with Ceara we have avoided the "princess phenomenon" - until yesterday. Our friends' 4-year-old insisted that Ceara dress up in a Snow White dress. They told us, "We tried to prolong this stage, too, in fact all her princess stuff came from friends and family." That being said, it was cute to watch Ceara play dress up with a new friend.

We ate a NC-style bbq for lunch with Maine orchard apple sauce and cider. Nice confluence of two worlds.

Caleb will be 10-weeks-old tomorrow. Wow, has the time flown. He spends his time either eating, cooing, or pooing - par for the course.

Ceara has two new 'habits' - first, she points at the cd player and claps her hands letting us know that she would like us to play some music. Once the music starts, she alternates between bouncing up and down and turning in circles - it's cute when she tries to do those things together. Second, she will pick up a toy purse, put it over her shoulder, look at us, wave, say, "Bye," and then walk into the other room - only to come back in two seconds to repeat the process again and again.

Court started back to work on the first of the month. She has already done two Sundays, and they have gone well.

Dan is getting things ready to begin traveling, presenting, and preaching on mission.

We give thanks to God for our family, for heat in our apartment, for a working toilet, for clean running water, for appliances to help cook and clean.

That's all for now.

27 September 2010

Driving Thoughts (pt.2) - The Matrix, the Counting Crows, and Anne Lamott

I have a friend who set aside a time to blog every Saturday. Sometimes he would blog at other times, yet he disciplined himself to write at a set time every week. I think I will try to do that for Mondays.

I recently drove from Portland, Maine to Charlotte, North Carolina. 16 hours alone on the road gives you plenty of time to sing yourself hoarse to "Joshua Tree." It also provides a wee bit of time to poke through the recesses of grey matter and see what sets to scurrying. I want to explore briefly returning to life in America through the lenses of "The Matrix", "Counting Crows", and Anne Lamott. These are three diverse thoughts, yet please stay with me, as I think they tie together in the end.

Before I started writing this morning I read a post from my friend, Corrigan, who works in Haiti(http://apparentproject.blogspot.com/2010/10/begging-and-dancing.html), and it caused two reactions. First, "yep, he's on to something, but how can I write in light of something like this?" Second - and after more reflection - "This actually goes along with my thoughts on 'The Matrix,'so maybe I will write."

A striking scene occurs near the beginning of "The Matrix" in which one of the characters - Cypher - decides he has had enough with 'real life' and wants to get plugged back into the Matrix. While he plans his betrayal he says, "I don't wanna remember nothing. Nothing, you understand?" As I thought about this quote I expanded upon what this character could really mean. "I want to go back to a life of distractions - a life in which I don't have to live mindful of the realities of this world. I wish I didn't know better. What would life be like if I never truly felt or truly saw? What would life be like if I could only live distracted like others - oblivious (or at least pretending to be) to the real world around them?"

In ways different and at different times along this journey I ask myself similar questions. What would life be like if I didn't see the homelessness and could let it fade into the background of city life? What would life be like if I could tune out domestic disputes down the street by turning up the T.V.? What would it be like to walk into a grocery store...or turn on the hot water...or look at a closet full of clothes... and not think of people around this world with so little? What would it be like not to feel guilty spending money thinking, "Is this really necessary, or should we not buy this and give the money to Haiti, or Cambodia, or education, or the food bank, or...?" What would life be like if I could watch the news and not care? oh wait, I don't. I didn't intend to start out that way. Somehow I taught myself to skim the BBC or watch the news with casual disinterest or calloused cynicism. Even so, I know that I can't return to a life disconnected from a hurting world. At times I want to turn up the radio or T.V. and drown out the world, only to be confronted with real world. I watch movies or T.V. knowing the story is false and the people are just actors and actresses, yet what the story represents are real stories of joy and pain. How do I live in between the faux and the real? - between the joy and the pain?

As I drove around Maine last week I stuck in the Counting Crows for some distraction. A line from a song reminded me of some time spent with a friend a couple of weeks ago. We ranted, raved, problem-solved, and imagined a world in which the Church stood up and acted - a world in which the majority of people who claim a faith actually allowed their beliefs to change their lifestyles - a world in which he and I would actually do something... The line: "'Round here we talk like lions, but we sacrifice like lambs..." Our roar gets covered up by the bills, the new T.V. series, the game, the need for cable or dish, the need for more, the coupons, the flyers, the junk mail, the real mail, the telemarketers calls, the good causes, the political spewing on radio, t.v. and bumperstickers...
Our roar gets covered up, so maybe we try to roar again. At times we roar ourselves hoarse. Other times we roar quieter and quieter into disinterest because there's no use, right? We forget that our roar actually can make a difference. We wanted the roar to route the complacency of the wildebeest, and more often than not we end up trimming our mane and rolling in the dirt to look like wildebeest. If you can't beat them, join them, right?

It reminds me of the scene from "Dead Poets Society" in which the teacher has the student stand upon the desk and sound his barbaric Yawp. Amidst the jeers, snickering, and giggling, the teacher encourages the student to give voice to the poetry of his heart. It does not make sense at first as he goes on about a "sweaty-toothed madman." Yet this moment transforms the student and grows courage in him both to speak the truth of his convictions and to allow that truth to effect the way he lives.

This leads to Anne Lamott. In her book "Traveling Mercies" she describes a time when she struggled to pray. As I sat with my friend a few weeks ago, amidst our diatribe we shared of times when we could only pray like Anne.

"Lord, Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Help me. Help me. Help me."

Driving Thoughts (pt.1) - on the edges of an inside joke

Driving thoughts - maybe this will provide a space to share some of the thoughts that come to me while driving... not that I blog while driving (that's dangerous!) yet while I drive my mind wanders over traffic, trees, and various thoughts, and maybe writing them down will help me to blog and to share more consistently.

I read a comment from one friend to another friend that brought into focus this idea of how serving in mission can leave you standing on the edges of the inside joke. Inside jokes often develop situationally within a relationship. "Guess you had to be there to understand," is a moderate response compared to the extreme, "What happens in [fill in the blank - Vegas, Spring Break...] stays in [blank]."

I loved living in Seattle. Yet even during my time 'in' Seattle I spent time away in other places - and I would not trade those experiences. Yet just as I had those experiences and my life went on, so to did the lives of friends in Seattle. And while we would email and talk on the phone, I missed out on some of the fun and joy, despair and pain. We had a good time when we reunite telling stories and laughing. I was enough on the inside to be a part of the group, yet my absence proved long enough to leave me on the edges of stories.

I have had this experience many times since. I am thankful for all of the friends developed in the places this journey has landed me. Thankful for the memories, inside jokes, and bearing of burdens that has occurred with others along the way.

I remember returning, too, looking in from the edges. I imagined the joy and even laughed a little, though not as deeply as others. I recall wishing I could have shouldered some of the burden. I remember the emptiness in my gut when I heard, "You weren't here. You left. You wouldn't understand."

Courtney and I talk about this from time to time. We are thankful that the thread of our stories have criss-crossed threads with many others along the way. Yet sometimes I/we wonder what it would have been like had I/we just stayed in one place or region. What would it be like not to be on the edges of the inside joke... Yet at the same time, what would it be like to deny this passion and calling to 'go'...

I don't know exactly the point of writing this, only that maybe it's a glimpse of my wandering thoughts.

This thought also leads in at least two directions. One of which I hope to blog about soon regarding the Matrix as remaining a metaphor for my life. The other I will briefly explore now.

The other day some people asked me how their congregations could support people in mission. I replied, "Write to them. Share about your life - whether exciting, trivial, or mundane. Ask them about their lives. Sometimes small specific questions are better than open-ended ones. Question like 'how's it going?' or 'what do you do?' can seem ominous at times... Engage them, let them know they matter and that they belong to a bigger story. Remember that you matter, and that you belong to a bigger story as well."

24 September 2010

An Attempt at Restarting

How do I begin? We know that we have not written consistently over the past few months... Something I (Dan) have wanted to do many times, yet when the time comes I stare at the computer screen not sure how to articulate all the thoughts. Sometimes I think I need to recap everything - thoughts, events, emotions, etc. - between entries and that daunts me. Sometimes I get too tangled in words that I know it would just confuse anyone who reads. Sometimes I just come up with too many excuses.
I just need to write. I wrote in my journal the other day - it felt like Spring! For the first time in weeks (if not months) I felt life pouring from the pen. I once heard (can't remember where, and I don't want to get sidetracked looking for the place) that writers need to write everyday - whether they 'produce' anything good or not. It's like exercise. It's like photography - if you only take a photo once in a while you may never develop the habit. It's like... now I'm rambling.

Part of the silence has come from transition with the accompanying unknown, and not sure how to write into that space.
Part of the silence has come from insecurity - what will people think if I write this or that...

A few weeks ago Courtney and I discussed Frederick Buechner and the impact his writing has had upon us and thousands of other people. In light of the fact that memoirs and self-reflection make up a good portion of his work we asked, "How can someone who writes about himself effect so many in a positive way - especially in ultra-egocentric cultures?" I feel inundated by self-centered advertising, sports' stories, media, people on the freeway, people in public places... People looking out for their own backs first. Wait, not only first, but many times solely - never looking to another. Yet in the midst of those stories we find someone who tells his own story and it brings life.
Somewhere in his writings I read that he writes his memoirs because in some way each of our stories is the story of all of us. He writes not to set himself apart, yet to gather those scattered and driven apart together by reminding them that their stories, along with his story, are all a part of a bigger story.

Not that I vainly think this blog will have the same impact... but thoughts worth considering as I embark upon this journey to write more frequently.

I have a ton of thoughts while driving or walking around town... but by the time I get to the computer the words in my head have disappeared - like catching snowflakes in your hand, running inside to show everyone the beautiful pattern only to realize they dissolved along the way.

I probably need to discipline myself to a certain day each week, or certain days each month... but I haven't set anything in stone yet.

However, writings and reflections will come... Lord, help me.

12 August 2010

Introducing Caleb Rocco

Last Wednesday night (4.Aug) at 11.34pm Courtney birthed Caleb Rocco - We hope you enjoy the pictures.

28 July 2010

Still waiting for Chickpea

Courtney will be 41 weeks tomorrow. On Monday the midwife said all looks and feels okay. We have another check-up on Friday.

The movers finally arrived last Monday. Boxes still clutter a couple of rooms, yet we make headway daily. We need to get more bookshelves, though, before we can unpack some of them.

That's all for now.

19 July 2010

Landed? And Some Initial Reflections

We arrived at the apartment two weeks ago tonight. As always, it seems to be ages in some respects while in others it seems we just drove up yesterday.
We've explored the area a wee bit finding the important things - i.e. hospital, grocery store, thrift store, local pizza place, sandwich shop, Mexican restaurant, ice cream shop, and lobster shack.
We also met the midwives and toured the birthing unit in York, which is where Court plans to deliver chickpea. We feel good about this!
Our neighborhood is almost all rental units. This area used to serve as a mill town (lumber, textiles, tannery, etc) and most of the workers rented. This trend continues even though the mills have been closed for years. (The people below us have rented that place for 11 years.) The history of tenement housing, the recent spat of foreclosures, students from University of New England (UNE is located right down the road), and people vacationing at the nearby beaches has kept the rental market alive and well.
We have not closed our windows since opening them two weeks ago - the humidity and heat would turn this place into an oven. The neighbors on this street keep their windows open, too. Therefore we know many of them by their voices, even though we have only met a few in person.
As Court and I talked about our new surroundings the image that came to mind was "Good Will Hunting" - the accents, the language, the demographic. While we didn't think about it much before our arrival, we feel that part of this next step in the journey involves intentionally being "salt & light" to this street.
I type this sitting in a camp chair we bought at a hardware store. No, we're not at the beach camping, rather I am sitting in the living room of our apartment in Maine. We left NC over two weeks ago, and we looked forward to landing or settling - and while we have had a chance to scope things out a bit - yet we still feel a bit in limbo. I tried to find words for this earlier tonight as we drove around - I think part of it is that the movers have yet to arrive. I think part of it has to do with uncertainty about when the baby will arrive and how life will change yet again.

Ceara has been a champion throughout this process. She continues to be a source of joy and laughter for us. Courtney think she is actually learning to walk faster because our things are late in arriving because there is nothing to hold onto as she makes her way across the room.

Anyway, those are some random thoughts about our new surroundings.

23 June 2010

A Busy Few Weeks & Some Next Steps

The last few weeks weeks have seen us in quite a few places. From 25 May to 2 June, Dan spent time in Haiti, and Courtney and Ceara spent time with a friend and her three girls in Snow Camp, NC. Then Dan attended the Annual Conference for the River Conference of the Free Methodist Church in Austin, TX from 4 – 6 June. Dan flew out of Austin on Monday June 7th.
On Tuesday we drove to DC to spend the night with Court's brother, Todd, and Wednesday we made our way to Kittery Point, ME and stayed with our friends, the Hoffmans.  On Thursday, Courtney had an interview with a UMC church just south of Portland. On Saturday we looked for housing in case the job in ME worked out, and Sunday we rested.  On Monday (the 14th) we looked for more housing in the papers and on-line because we decided for Court to take this job as a part-time pastor. Then Monday afternoon we headed into Boston and took Ceara on her first trip through the North End.  She ate pizza from Regina Pizzeria and had cannoli from Mike's Pastry.  On Tuesday we trekked back up to Biddeford and Saco, ME and looked for apartments to rent. Wednesday we drove to Manhattan (via a brief stop in Brockton to see some of Dan's cousins) and stayed in a guest house in Greenwich Village. On Thursday Dan met with the General Board of Global Ministries for most of the day working out the details of my new job with them (more below), and then we left to see how far we could drive before stopping for the night. Last Friday we arrived in Charlotte in the afternoon.

Dan will be the the Missionary Interpreter in Residence for the Northeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church. A long title, but here is the gist: he will liaise between our mission board – her programs and her missionaries – and the conferences, districts, and congregations throughout the Northeastern Jurisdiction helping to grow in their involvement in mission and encouraging them in ways in which they are already doing mission. Court will be a part-time – and only – pastor at a small church in Saco, ME that wants to grow and has asked Courtney to help them to attain their vision and fulfill their mission.

  We found a neat, little apartment in Biddeford, and we hope to move North before the baby arrives (due date July 22) – so maybe within the next 10 days or 2 weeks.

We hope this updates you... : )

Other Firsts for Ceara

Ceara has also had many other firsts these past two weeks. Our friend, Geneve, made a video slide show of pictures she took of Ceara - you can find it here: www.luminalife.com/data/web/CearaRandall
The photos above document her first: taste of Clam "Chowda"; clam with Belly; trip to the North End and Regina Pizzeria; Cannoli (from Mike's Pastry); flight of stairs; World Cup match; trip to New York City

Ceara's First Birthday!

We celebrated Ceara's First Birthday this past Sunday (the 20th)! Woohoo!
Courtney made cupcakes with frosting, and Ceara enjoyed one along with her first taste of whole milk. mmm...
(I had trouble with my computer and camera linking, so these photos are from my phone)

04 June 2010

Clean Water, Nourishment, and Opportunities for You to Go, too.

(Photos are of water filter distribution, building the chicken coop, and a canal over running its bank in the rain.)
Before we left for Haiti last week, John acquired 40 water filters. On Tuesday afternoon our new friend, Emmanuel, spent time training about 35 men, women, and youth - all in some way related to the Clays' artisan program - to use these filters for their families and community. The smile on their faces lit up the room, and they must have said "mesi" a thousand times as they left.
Clean water - to drink, to clean, to make bottles for babies. Clean water - I take it for granted most of the time when brushing my teeth, taking a shower, opening the spigot to fill a glass. Clean water - alleviating worry about whether or not dysentery will follow a drink or a baby bottle. Clean water...
Our group finished the chicken coop and almost completed fencing in the yard where the chickens will live. We set the fence posts yet were waiting on the gate which was being fashioned by a local blacksmith. We purchased 30 on Monday and they are set to arrive on Saturday. The chickens are already old enough to lay eggs, so within a week or so the Clays should get about 20 - 25 eggs a day - which translates to about 2-3 eggs a week for each of their artisans. Some friends of their across town have had chickens for a few years now and have seen an increase in birth weight in babies of the women with whom they work as well as less malnourished kids in their community. The Clays hope to have similar results beginning in the near future.
Please continue to pray for them and the community of Claireville - the little part of their neighborhood in Port-au-Prince where most of their artisans live. Some of the 12' x 6' cinder block homes survived the earthquake and subsequent aftershocks, yet many live in makeshift tents and shelters because their homes crumbled completely. Hurricane season started the other day and the tent cities will be a horrible place to endure the torrential rain and ravenous wind. The Clays are looking for groups willing to come and assemble some prefab shelters - $2600 for two homes and about 7 days to put them up. Any takers? I'll go back with you, too if you want.
Another opportunity to serve exists for anyone able to quilt, crochet, knit, and sew (with a machine). The Clays want to expand their current jewelry program into making clothes, blankets, quilts, etc. - all things that could be used by people in Haiti and also sold as artisan products abroad. If interested, then let me know, and I can give you more info.
A friend used these words the other day to describe the Clays: "Two people trying to do their part to change their little part in the world."

01 June 2010

Walls and Insignificant Thoughts

The roosters got going about 4.15am today - or maybe they had been going all night and I only began hearing them then. Either way, I couldn't go back to sleep so I took a shower and then sat on the balcony trying to pray, to think, to process this time. I wrote the following in my journal:

"I look outside at the metal gates and cinder-block walls topped by razor wire and broken glass and I try to see more - I want them to mean something. I want a profound and symbolic insight like others have had in such a place, but for me it just is. They are just walls - not the kind to keep puppies or children from wandering too far. No, these walls intend to keep people out - to keep my stuff mine or my life safe - built because that's what others around me built and/or out of fear that someone might take my stuff or violate me.
In the tent cities and "shanty" towns there is no protection like a wall - there is no space to delude one into thinking they control what happens around them...
I find it interesting that one of the first things that people with means have rebuilt post-earthquake are the walls - complete with fresh razor wire and broken glass.
See, that should mean something - that should lead to some profound insight about life, or our relationship to God, or our relationships to each other, or how we cope during/after a disaster... Instead, it's just a wall. Something to separate and divide and remind us that the world is not at peace... "

In a couple of hours we are supposed to go to Citie Soleil - the poorest section of Port-au-Prince. I wonder what that will be like... This afternoon we plan to finish the chicken coop and also train 30 men how to use the water filters we brought so their families can have clean water. More later...

27 May 2010

Cocks Crowing, Chicken Coops, and Charity Cases

What a full day - it began with roosters crowing at 4am - so I got out of bed about 5.30am and sat on the porch taking in the morning.
At 7.30, the four of us - along with 2 students from Regent and 1 student from Judson - met for a time of sharing and prayer...
Then we drove to a newly opened hardware store - yes, an actual hardware store like Home Depot just a bit smaller - and bought material for various projects Corrigan and Shelley asked us to do. John and Bob are spearheading the Chicken Coop Construction, and Curtis and I built a frame for the Clays' boxsprings so that they don't get damaged when the rain comes across the floor of their bedroom. We also bought supplies to build guards on the railings so that kids don't crawl through the gaps and fall.
(The photos are of trying to put all the building materials on the roof, Corrigan and his four kids, and talking at dinner tonight.)
While we drove around we talked to Shelley, and at dinner tonight we had a good talk with Corrigan about disaster response, relief aid, and charity / donations. We learned that the best hospital on Haiti has closed - yes, CLOSED - because they couldn't pay for their expenses because they were giving away medical care AND none of the Millions of Dollars given have gone to help keep this hospital open.
One of the sayings that is common among some people (non-Haitians) who have lived and worked here for a long time: "any idea you have that you think will help Haiti, don't do it because it will probably end up hurting or having negative implications you couldn't imagine" ... The only exception to this would be education...
I struggle to articulate what is in my head, but I wanted to share the thought process journey.
Again, my eyes are closing as I try to finish writing.

26 May 2010

Days 1 and 2 in Haiti

We arrived on Tuesday, and Shelley met us at the airport. As we drove to their newly acquired guest house she gave the guys a quick introduction to the Apparent Project interspersed with comments about their lives and her impression of Haiti post-earthquake.
She took us on a walking tour of Claireville - the tent city near their guest house/workshop where they have decided to focus their efforts.
Their program has grown to 60 artisans! (They had about 12 before the quake, and 30 when I was here in February.). The sounds of laughter of people working together and children playing together is awesome!
Bob, Curtis, John and I have had some good conversations with each other and with Corrigan, Shelley, and some of the interns they have working with them for the summer. We discussed poverty & Haiti - to name just a few: real faith in these circumstances; worship and liturgy; the commonalities with other places in the world and the uniqueness that is Haiti; what social justice looks like in a place like this; and how food aid and emergency meals are no longer needed (there is plenty of food in Haiti, the people lack the resources to buy them. Free food causes a lot more disruption in the long run as it puts local vendors out of work. if the people could be employed and buy food it would stimulate their economy rather than deconstructing it. Well, it's a lot longer conversation than what can be written.)
We visited the new hardware store today to get an idea of what they carry for the building and maintenance projects on our docket for this next week - a chicken coop; bed frames; fix some doors, hang some clothesline...
Well, my eyes can barely stay open.

19 May 2010

oh, and Haiti

We can't remember if we posted this or not...

Lord willing, Dan will travel to Haiti with 3 other guys 24 May to 2 June.
The plan is to meet up with the Clays (www.apparentproject.org) assisting them as we can, and also to meet other people or small groups working in an attempt to build some relationships and connect some congregations in the US with various work down in Haiti.

Please pray for: Dan and the guys; the Clays; and Courtney and Ceara during this time.

The Birds' Songs

I (Dan) have wanted to write for some time, yet I struggled to find the words. Even now I'm not sure how I will articulate these thoughts, but I will try anyway. It could turn into a stream of consciousness or it could lead to helping me discern direction... I don't know, but here it goes...

Birds have had a significant role in my faith journey over the past 10 years. At different times they bring to mind various scriptures that remind me to trust, hope, and 'be still' in the midst of uncertain events. I think of times when: I sought direction and needed discernment in Kosovo; driving through particularly tense situations in Afghanistan; receiving encouragement while finishing my Master's at Duke... - to name a few. Anyway...

About two weeks ago, Ceara woke up about around 5am - a bit too early for her to start the day. I sat with her and rocked her for over an hour. She slept. The sun had not yet lit the sky, yet the birds' songs came through the window loud and clear. I listened and prayed. I thought about the birds singing... They sing because that is what they were created to do. It is part of their being. They sing because it flows out of them. To ask a bird not to sing is like asking a stream not to flow, or asking the wind not to blow.

I thought about their singing. I thought about my heart and my life. At this point in time, what does it mean for me "to sing"? What do I feel springing up from the core of my being that to restrain would be like holding back a stream or stopping the wind? (And as I write, I think that when we attempt to restrain those things it can cause a mess. However, when we harness those things it can provide energy and propulsion - like a mill or a sail or windmill or...)

Two weeks ago at 5.30am I answered the question with "pastor". I feel called to pastor - to preach, to teach, to lead in worship, to connect the global "Body", to help to engage peoples' lives and peoples' faith, to... well, it could work out in a number of ways.

Since then, Ceara has not had any more 5am wake-up calls, yet I have noticed the birds singing everyday throughout the day. And this stirs within me this call to serve as a pastor.

What does this mean for our future? I do not know. We are exploring some options and potential work opportunities, yet we continue to wait, and wait, and wait...

A friend sent this poem to us the other day and ricochets in my head...

Waiting! Yes, patiently waiting!
Till next steps made plain shall be;
To hear with the inner hearing,
The voice that will call for me.

Waiting! Yes, patiently waiting!
With hope that need not grow dim;
The master is pledged to guide me,
And my eyes are unto Him.

Waiting! Expectantly waiting!
Perhaps it may be today
The master will quickly open
The gate to my future way.

Waiting! Yes, waiting! still waiting!
I know, though I've waited long,
That, while He withholds His purpose,
His waiting cannot be wrong.

Waiting! Yes, waiting! still, waiting!
The master will not be late:
He knoweth that I am waiting
For Him to unlatch the gate. "
- by J. Danson Smith

13 May 2010

Some More Firsts for Ceara

Ceara started crawling a few weeks ago, and she "walks" while holding onto fingers. And last week, her first teeth came through - they are still to small to see in pictures as they look like two small rice grains stuck to the top of her gums.(Sorry, no pictures of these.)

This past weekend Ceara went to her first baseball game with us and her Uncle Todd.
Yesterday she made her first trip to the library.
Today she had her first piece of pizza.
Hope you enjoy the photos.

15 April 2010

Moving on ... Sort of

We are moving on ... and while we know the next step we still do not know about the future.

Tomorrow (15th) we will fly to Charlotte to spend some time with Courtney's parents. And that, friends, is our next step. Your questions probably echo some of ours: How long will we spend in Charlotte? Where will we work in the future? Where will we live? When will we move? Where will baby #2 be born?

We don't know the answers to any of these questions.
Sometimes this can lead to a bit of tired frustration and uneasiness. Yet we believe that God will make the way clear to us. Our faith is stretched as we look into the unknown of the future. The other night we ate dinner with some friends in a similar situation, and one of them reminded us (and I paraphrase) , "hey, if i know where i will be in two months or two years, then I won't really trust - I'll just try to make it happen on my own."

We know that we have God-given gifts and abilities, and we want to use them in the best way possible - that the world and people in this world will know God's love in ever deeper and truer ways. We don't want to take a job for the sake of having a job - we could have had those by now. We want to work out of the callings on our lives and the passion in our lives.

I could write in many different directions, but I need to finish packing for the morning flight.

13 April 2010

Some Firsts for Ceara

The last 10 days Ceara has had quite a few firsts - swimming, ice cream, ribs, and raspberries.
Unfortunately I only have photos of the ice cream escapade at this time.

12 March 2010

Haiti Thoughts and Michigan Time

It's hard to believe that 2 weeks have already passed since I (Dan) left Haiti.
I have tried at various times to sum up my thoughts about my time in Haiti and what that means for Haiti and for missions in general - However, my friend Corrigan has done a far better job, and therefore I recommend following this link and reading his thoughts.

Currently Court, Ceara, and I are in Michigan for a time of debriefing and transitioning counseling. We find the seminars helpful and engaging. And the conversations with other pastors and missionaries have opened up a new sense of community for us.

While Court has felt the baby-in-the-belly moving for some time, tonight is the first time that I was able to feel it on the outside. Yippee!

23 February 2010


Here are some photos I took with my phone this past week that I forgot to post earlier...
A collapsed building, a tent city, the house on the mountain in the morning and one of the men, and Corrigan giving a tattoo

A "Three-Hour Tour", A Night Hike, and Beauty Beyond Words

The Gilligan's Island song went round and round in my head on Saturday, specifically, "...a three-hour tour, a three-hour tour..."

Corrigan agreed to help deliver some food and clothing to this community in Jacmel - about three hours from Port-au-Prince. The winding mountain road revealed some beautiful views, yet it also suffered severely in the earthquake. In some places, landslides and boulders had been cleared enough for one lane. In other places the cracks in the asphalt reveal that the road is about two major rainstorms away from tumbling down the mountain altogether.

We arrived in Jacmel after 3 hours, and the Haitian guys with us said, "it's just ahead - we're almost there." We started driving toward another mountain, and after 2 more hours they said, "yeah, we're arriving!" After which we drove for another 45 minutes - and this was on motorcycle trails and goat tracks! It was probably good night had cloaked the terrain so we couldn't see how crazy this was. We enjoyed the adventure part of it. After arriving (and deciding to stay the night) we hiked another 35 minutes up mountain trails to arrive in the community where we would sleep. Corrigan talked with the people for a bit, while I smiled and nodded when I recognized a word or two.

They welcomed us into a small room with a straw mat on the floor and they told us to lay down and go to sleep. But as we laid down they continued to stare at us. Corrigan and I cracked jokes with each other about being in a zoo. Oh, and did you know it goes against common sense to lay down, close your eyes, and sigh peacefully while two guys with machetes sit in chairs three feet away. A little while later I heard snoring, so I peeked through one, half-open eyelid to see one of the guys (the other one had left) asleep in the chair. He must have heard my eyelash flutter because not more than two seconds later the snoring stopped and his eyes opened.

We actually thought it a nice gesture that they cared for our safety, yet I admit I was relieved when he left around 1am.

The next morning we watched the sun bathe the crops on the mountain side with light. We took photos of children and watched them laugh as they saw the result in the little digital window on the camera. We went to the beginning of the church service, and while that could be a separate blog altogether, suffice it to say that we enjoyed watching the children's faces during the service.

We finally left to embark on our trek to the car and the 6+ hour drive back to Port-au-Prince and on that drive enjoyed the beautiful landscape we had passed in moonlight. Corrigan and I had some great conversation about 'missions', about empowerment, about accountability, and about mutuality.

On the drive back I tried to photograph one of the most beautiful things I have seen. (I didn't actually think of it that way at the time - I just knew I had to snap the shutter - yet as I write now that is how the words fell on the page and I like them.) We followed a brightly painted truck (a bit bigger than a large moving truck but smaller than a semi-) brimming with bags of coal. A woman sat atop the coal bags above the truck cab as if she were one of Hannibal's soldiers driving an elephant over the mountains on the way to some great conquest. Her body swayed in rhythm with the trucks efforts to navigate the mountain road as the valley opened up before us. And she sang. I caught a note or two on the wind.

Can words even describe it? How do you reflect that in a photo?

This became longer than I thought so I will write about this morning's earthquakes and my goodbyes in another blog at another time.

19 February 2010

Tattoos, tent cities, and the Apparent Project

I have tried to write this entry a few times, yet I have struggled with capturing my thoughts. I have felt life in my heart and service that I haven't felt for a long time. In some small ways I have had some vision refreshed and some perspective restored. I thought about these things as I lay on a tile floor staring at wooden slats in the ceiling at 6:30 in the morning.

My friend Corrigan spent about 11 hours tattooing people on Wednesday. He is a gifted artist - in all sorts of mediums - so I guess it should not have surprised me to learn that he now gives tattoos as a way to supplement their ministry expenses. Most of the people he tattoos are short-term volunteers who want to remember their time in Haiti - recently this has included those coming to help with the earthquake efforts. The gathered group ebbed and flowed in conversations and laughter most of the evening. Corrigan finished up the last tattoo around 3:15am. The rain poured down and we decided to remain and to sleep at the McHoul's house on the tile floor. (John McHoul is the pastor of Corrigan's church here and he and his wife are doing some amazing work with medical care and child birth ... check them out at www.heartlineministries.org .) I slept better in the few hours on the tile floor than I have for months. I love the feeling of deep down joy that comes in glimpses and moments unexpected.

The school where Corrigan teaches has become one point of coordination and distribution during the relief effort. Because they know Corrigan, he has received food and clothing to distribute to small communities. He involves the youth living in his home with this. Last night I had the opportunity to drive some youth to different places so they could drop off huge bags of clothing for men, women, children, and babies. These teenage boys were super excited and in the car they were singing, laughing, and jumping around. It is awesome to see the effects of positive mentoring and generosity as they gave these clothes to communities in need.

Today I was able to help Corrigan a bit by taking photos of some of the people who make the beads and necklaces with the Apparent Project in order to earn money enabling some to keep their babies, some to feed their families, and some to send their children to school.

Tomorrow we are heading about three hours outside of the city to deliver food and clothes to an area that has experienced an influx of displaced persons, yet has received very little (if any - from what he was told) of the incoming relief supplies.

Wish I could write more, but me eyes keep closing.

18 February 2010

A Next Step

We have a wee bit more direction and a next step.
It looks like we will do debriefing and transitioning retreat in Michigan for three weeks in March (8th - 25th).
Okay, that's it for now.

17 February 2010

A Day of Errands

People have asked what things are like here... Well, not having a before quake context makes it difficult to make that assessment. I have asked a lot of questions to hear others' perspectives and answers to this questions.
Corrigan and I rode around in the truck today doing some errands. I saw a lot, yet took very few pictures. Some areas had buildings pancaked or completely toppled, and other areas had a little rubble in the street but the buildings appeared okay. Some places have had concentrated cleanup efforts, while others have had no one touch them.
The picture is of the lobby area at Hotel Montana - all of the lobby debris was removed about two weeks ago. The debris in the picture is from the back of the hotel. One of the engineers explained the process of sifting and removal to make sure they do not violate any remains. It was interesting to be up there today.
There is plenty of food on the streets and in the markets, yet many people lack the funds to buy them. Some of the aid food is getting distributed while some is held up by bureaucratic tape.
Corrigan and I are off to dinner.

16 February 2010

A mudslide, a march, and a tsunami (?)

Thousands and thousands of people filling the streets singing - loud speakers chanting and bellowing prayers. The hotel courtyard has a great view of this March for Jesus.
In my short time here I have heard Haitians refer to the earthquake as 'the 12th of January' (in a way similar to Americans referred to '9/11'). Yet, many Haitians believe even a bigger earthquake will come because the epicenter of the big one that destroyed Haiti in the 19th century was in Cap Haitian.
As I watched the March a member of the hotel staff told me, "Today is a holy day and we are praying for the Tsunami."
"You mean the earthquake?" I asked.
"No, when the next earthquake comes we do not want the tsunami to come and destroy us, so the city is marching in prayer."
These pictures try to give a glimpse of the march.
Yesterday, after three days a rain, a mudslide collapsed a school near this hotel. I spoke with one of the first responders today - a group of US medics - and he said, "it rips your heart out, you know, we're pulling children's' bodies from the mud who are the same age as our kids back home... and we couldn't save four of them."
Rejoicing and mourning in both hands lifted to Heaven. Sweetness and bitterness in the same, shared cup.
What more is there to say right now...
Just an FYI: Lord willing, I'm scheduled on a flight to Port-au-Prince at 3pm today, so hopefully I will see Corrigan this afternoon or evening.