Souls Under Construction (& Monday Muffins)

English: Charles/MGH station, and the Longfell...

A green net covering a high chain link barrier obstructs my view of the Charles River. The Longfellow Bridge is under construction. It will be under construction for three years, causing inconvenience in traffic patterns, heavy congestion in an already crowded area, and ugly, obstructed views.

But it’s necessary. It’s a part of keeping the bridge safe and strong, able to withstand the constant stream of cars, bikes, subway, and people that it’s designed to handle.

Sometimes the only way to make things better is to fix them, to reconstruct them.

And so it is with our souls. There are times when our souls need to be under construction, when that is the only way for them to withstand the constant force of life in all its uncertainty.

I heard once at a conference that our “churches are full of hurting people who haven’t taken a season to heal”. This is part of the under construction process — realizing that your soul needs to heal and the wisest thing to do is to allow time for the construction and healing process to take place.

Several years ago my husband and I went through an extended period of healing, an extended construction period. It lasted over six years. During that time we did nothing beyond attending church and getting together with safe friends. We didn’t take part in any Bible Studies, we were not involved in any ‘ministry’, we did no service. We went through a season of healing and it was invaluable.

Besides achieving the desired result of healing and reconstructing, we learned several things.

1. We learned that we were far more use to God as people willing to be healed than we would have been had we tried to maintain a façade. The Psalmist David in a prayer of repentance says: “A broken and contrite heart you will not despise.” He speaks to the mercy of God, his loving kindness, the bones that God has broken. God has never, and will never, despise a broken and contrite heart. It’s the heart of the proud and the deceitful that concerns him far more.

2. We learned that our worth was not, and never will be, in what we do. Church service, ‘ministry’, getting involved – none of that is wrong. In fact, when done out of love for God it is a gift to be used for his glory. But it does not constitute our worth. Our worth this: we are made in the image of God, his creation, his love. Getting that wrong, thinking this is about what we do is far more dangerous to the soul than taking time out for healing.

3. We came to realize that when you go through a season of healing, God brings people into your life who are broken and need to hear that there is redemption, there is healing. Even in the midst of the hardest parts of healing, we would meet people who needed to know there was hope, needed to know we were also walking the long, arduous path called ‘healing’. Perhaps broken seeks out broken? I like to think broken knows that it can learn best from those also willing to go through the construction process.

4. We learned that the words ‘ministry’ will never be synonymous with ‘God’, and when we make them, we are in a state of serious delusion. If we are not careful, ‘ministry’ becomes God. The word itself is held up as the ideal, instead of God himself being the ideal and ministry the result of our love for him. Defined as ‘the one that serves’ we can see ministry for what it is – not an end in itself, simply a way to reflect a love of God.

5. Mostly we learned that God is close to the broken-hearted. He cared not about our lack of service, he cared about our souls. Deeply, urgently, consistently he worked in our souls to reconstruct them to His Glory. The cuts that we sustained by his hand in the healing process were cuts of a gifted surgeon, done only to rid us of what would harm. And oh how they hurt, how they smarted. But when all was done, when surgery ended, the dead tissue was gone, only the healthy remained.

While a major construction and healing period is over, we are still ever aware of our fragility and propensity to go out on our own, thinking our souls are fully fixed. But the reality is somewhat different. Just as the Longfellow Bridge will go through this extended construction period and emerge stronger, it will always have its points of weakness,need for inspections, and regular upkeep.

It’s something I remember every day as I pass by this bridge under construction, our souls are always and ever under construction.

₪ ₪ ₪ ₪ ₪ ₪ ₪ ₪ ₪ 

Brown Sugar Browned Butter Maple MuffinsStacy continues to provide amazing recipes for me to post. Today’s is Brown Sugar Browned Butter Maple Muffins – a mouthful of title and goodness. Stacy says this: “they taste and smell of warm winter breakfasts to me.”

Tips for Working Cross-culturally in Health Care Settings and Beyond

Through my years of living, working, and communicating across cultural boundaries I’ve realized two things that sum it all up: one — this road is humbling and two – it’s a life-long learning process. Just when I think I have it all figured out, something, someone will come into my life and challenge my thinking and my well-worn tool box of ‘how to live and communicate across cultures’.

This is setting the stage for this post that is co-authored (though she doesn’t know it yet) by my cultural broker, colleague, and close friend Cathy. Cathy has taught me much about living and working across cultural boundaries. We have worked together to bring resources and workshops on culturally responsive, culturally competent care to health care providers in the Northeast for a number of years. Together we have come up with this list, compiled from a variety of sources. While we work primarily with health care providers, this list can be used in other situations.

So here’s our tool box for working and communicating across cultural boundaries:

  • Be aware of your cultural values and the beliefs you hold. This is a first and critical step to being able to effectively communicate across cultures. If you don’t understand the importance of culture — why you value what you do, how you make decisions, essentially how you live all of life, then it will be difficult for you to understand how culture affects others.
  • Become a student of the culture and the community. Even if you’re an expert in a certain area it’s important to rethink your role and be willing to learn as a student.
  • Recognize differences in narrative styles and practical behaviors across cultures. Be willing to research these differences and ask questions.
  • Understand that  limited language proficiency (whether your’s or another’s) does not mean limited intellectual ability. People with limited language skills are usually capable of communicating clearly and effectively in their native language.
  • Have a high tolerance of ambiguity.
  • Seek help from bilingual/bicultural co-workers and individuals – find those who can help explain cultural nuances, the complexity of culture, dual causality and more.
  • Know the role of interpreters and learn to use interpreters effectively.
  • Allow the use of story-telling and props when speaking with others – we learn so much more in a story than in a list of facts. For healthcare providers, realize the symptoms are often in the story.
  • Include the patient and family as partners in determining both treatment plan and outcomes.
  • Recognize the primary person you are working with may not be the decision maker in the family.
  • Use empathy, curiosity, and respect as you work across cultural boundaries. Empathic listening, curious questioning, respectful observing.
  • Be able to laugh at yourself and potential mistakes — if you don’t laugh you’ll find yourself crying way too much.

What would you add to this list? I would love to hear from you through the comments.  

Chive Boursin MuffinsThis week’s muffins are a delicious savoury mixture of chives and goat cheese. Stacy says this: “I used goats’ cheese with herbs and garlic to complement the chives.  Delicious!  This one will be a surprise to those who think muffins can only be sweet.”

For Chive Boursin Muffins head here.

Live in the Land, Do Good, Bake Muffins

Woven throughout the Old Testament is the theme of exile.

We are given example on example of individuals in exile, of a people in exile, of a community in exile. The why, where, and how of exile are detailed in Ezra, Nehemiah, the Prophets and more.

Exile and return.

It is the prophet Jeremiah who speaks practical words into the life of the displaced, the life of the exile. He gives instructions that I would sometimes like to forget, dismiss, say they are unimportant.

But the instruction is there and it is good.

Instruction to build houses and live in them.

Instruction to plant gardens, to settle down.

Instruction to get married, have kids.

Instruction to seek the welfare of the city in which you now live.

There have been times when I have been displaced, feeling as though in exile, and it has taken me a long time to act on this instruction. The instruction doesn’t say the exiled won’t feel longing, the instruction doesn’t promise full integration.

But it gives instruction to do these things despite a longing for another place, another time.

Today I enter into life feeling exiled. I have once again experienced a world beyond and I am basking in the beauty of that time. For a few moments my world was warm and full of color. For a brief time I experienced the chaos that comforts me, the sounds and smells that declare I am home. But today? Today I am back at my official address with my official passport. I’d love to wax wise about how the notion that my passport identifies my “home” is absurd, about how what you see on the outside is rarely what makes up the inside – but I don’t have the energy and besides, you can read other posts where I’ve done just that.

If I could paraphrase Jeremiah’s instruction for today, Monday, as I am reeling in displaced chaos I would say “Live in the land, do good, bake muffins.” So I offer up a prayer for the day: 

“Show me how to live in the land and do good and as you show me, help me to make really good muffins.”

It is a prayer for the day, the hour, the minute.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Jeremiah 29:4-8


Browned Butter Pecan Banana MuffinsToday’s Muffins look amazing! The recipe is for Browned Butter Pecan Banana Muffins. How Stacy finds these is beyond me but I thank her for them. Either click here or on the picture to go to the recipe and thank you Stacy!

A Life Overseas – Words Matter & Muffin Monday


Readers – today I am at A Life Overseas talking about words. And how they matter. Would love it if you would join me.

Here is an excerpt from the piece:

In health care we have a story we call “The 71-Million Dollar Word Story”.

It involves a young man from Cuba, the absence of a skilled interpreter, and a misdiagnosis.

The man was 18 years old and had just graduated from high school. He was riding around with his friend when he complained of a bad headache. He thought it was because of the strong smell of gas in his friend’s car but by the time he got home the pain was so severe that he was crying. He went into a coma soon afterward and he was transferred to a local hospital in a comatose state. The family was sick with worry as they waited in the emergency room for this man to be assessed. The word ‘intoxicado’ was used and, in the absence of a professional interpreter, it was assumed that the young man was ‘intoxicated’, had taken a drug overdose and was suffering the effects. The family had no idea this was the way the words were interpreted. Had they known they could have attested that the young man never used drugs or alcohol, that health was extremely important to this young athlete. Rather, ‘Intoxicado’ was a word used in Cuba to mean a general state of being unwell because of something you ate or drank. It was the only word they could think of to express the sudden onset of his symptoms.

The misinterpretation of this word caused a misdiagnosis resulting in an 18-year-old becoming a quadriplegic, for in reality he had suffered a brain bleed and lay for two days in a hospital bed without proper treatment. Had the hospital staff made the correct diagnosis the man would have left the hospital in a few days, on his way to college and a normal life.

This tragic event resulted in a lawsuit and if this man lives to be 74, he will receive a total payment of……Read the rest of the piece here!


Thyme Chevre Blackberry Muffins

And don’t forget the new addition – Muffin Monday. Today’s muffins are Thyme Chèvre Blackberry Muffins and they look amazing! Head over to Stacy’s blog to get the recipe here or just click on the picture!

On Birthdays and Aunts and Life

August is a big birthday month for us. Each date that we celebrate is set apart on the calendar and in the heart.

Last Thursday, August 9, our youngest turned 18- legal in the eyes of the law.

Nostalgia moves in like thick fog as I think about that day 18 years ago, an August day in Cairo, Egypt when I went into labor 2 weeks early. I gave birth five hours later to my youngest and my tallest. His older sister, on hearing it was a boy said: “oh dawn it — I wanted a sistuh! Now he’ll have a boy face”.

And he did, and he does. In the past year he has gone from boy to man physically and spiritually and it is a common sight to see him on the couch reading Kierkegaard’s A Sickness Unto Death or other literature that feeds his mind and moves his soul.

Just one day later my middle child, Micah, turned 25. He is married and lives in California with a lovely wife and a dog named Wilbur (who we affectionately term our “grand puppy”). He is thriving in the film industry in Hollywood, seeking to live a life of integrity in a cut throat industry and we are proud.

20130812-082525.jpgAnd this past weekend saw us at a family gathering to celebrate my Aunt Ruth. Aunt Ruth turned 90 years old this past April, and though belated, it was a perfect occasion to bring extended family together to celebrate a remarkable woman. Indeed, a remarkable family. We came to Rochester, New York from as far as Oregon and as close as Rochester. We came with a lot of life behind us: births, weddings, and deaths. My cousin Barbara, beloved by all who knew her, died just days before the gathering.

I wrote these words to my Aunt Ruth this past April, and I share them with you today:

Aunt Ruth

I am rarely out of words – but today, thinking of you and your birthday, I struggle to find the words to express my delight at having you in my life.

You are my dad’s last living sister and ever since I can remember you have been a part of my life. I remember your hospitality when we would come back to the United States and visit your family, always in great big Victorian houses with bay windows. While they must have been drafty in the winter, they were magical to this niece – missionary kid growing up in Pakistan.

You have always had a brilliant, inquiring mind that took in all around you, but it is coupled with a generosity and love for people. Those two don’t always go together but in you they met a brilliant match.

You raised smart, talented children and had to face the backwards and broken world we live in when you buried your beloved Kristine far too early.

You are one of my favorite feminists – smart, loving, fun, inquiring, and not giving in to the world’s warped definition of what it means to be a woman.

And today I celebrate your 90th birthday far from you – with great expectation of an in person celebration later on this year.

I love you Aunt Ruth – God surely looks in favor on you as you walk day by day in His Grace.

As families grow and spread their roots, it becomes more and more difficult to bring people together, to feel a part of each other’s lives and share the brilliant joy and the sometimes indescribable pain that makes up life.

Today as I reflect on family I realize how important it is to express love, to come together when possible, to support each other when life gets stormy and forgive each other when the inevitable conflicts of personalities and opinions start to choke out compassion and love.

But there’s more. For coming together is a chance to relay family history and stories, to look at generations past and remember that God is faithful. My cousin Bruce opened my Aunt’s celebration with words from Psalm 78 and though I’ve heard this Psalm before, the words felt fresh and strong, filled with promise:

I will utter hidden things, things from of old—things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. (verses 2b-5)

So we came together to celebrate an Aunt, and Life, and God’s faithfulness to generations. To celebrate with sacred and silly and definitely with cake.


Readers – today I’m excited to begin a new link specific to Mondays. Stacy Rushton, an expat, a journalist, and an amazing cook has become a blogging friend. She connects stories with food and provides her readers with amazing recipes. Stacy begins each week with Muffin Monday. So every week I will be linking you to a muffin recipe straight from the kitchen of Stacy through Food Lust, People Love. I know it’s late in the day but head over to see today’s recipe: Chocolate-Chip Zucchini Muffins.

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