VBS Redoux….

vbs_4828cLast week I was a part of an amazing group of volunteers at our church that put on VBS (Vacation Bible School). I was the storyteller. The theme was Standing Strong. Each evening I told a different Bible story that emphasized an element of that theme.I had two helpers, together the three of us, interacted with over 80 children. We were animated. We were dramatic. We had a lot of fun.

However as I reflect back on the week I think I taught some bad theology and it’s making me really nervous and a little sick to the stomach.

Monday we reflected on the fact that God’s love helps us stand strong. Tuesday we learnt that family and friends help us stand strong. Queen Esther and her cousin, Mordecai, illustrated that particular truth. On Wednesday evening I dressed up in a wig and a moustache, pretending to be Nehemiah, whose life story still teaches that prayer helps us stand strong. The story of the death and resurrection of Jesus reinforced that trust in God helps us stand strong. And finally on Friday the eight year old king of ancient times, Josiah, showed us that the Word of God helps us stand strong.

But I don’t think it’s true.

All my life I’ve been told I need to be strong. I need to be ok. I need to muster my courage, bolster my energies and take on the world. All in God’s strength. Along the way I learned that I wasn’t really very strong but on days like that I quickly learned to fake it. I forced a bravery. I swallowed my limitations and I pretended. Imaginary strength, that I did not feel, allowed me to go through the motions, paste a smile over my grimace and do what needed to be done. On the inside I might have been wasting away, yet on the outside I looked like I was being renewed day by day.

That doesn’t sound right. How is that Standing Strong?

Children know their limitations. If they don’t know how to tie their shoes they admit it. If soccer isn’t their thing they seem to know it. If they can read really well but can’t seem to do math they understand that. How dare I stand in front of them and begin the bad brain washing? Of all the nerve, that I would put my hands on my hips, and say with a dramatic swagger that we’re to stand strong.

Here’s the truth…. we don’t need to be strong. In fact, Jesus invites the weak, the broken, the wounded. There is power in admitting our humanity. When we claim strength, we deceive ourselves. We break, we bruise, we burst. And it’s ok to not be ok. (I’m learning this slowly…)

I don’t want to be complicit in teaching the next generation that standing strong is the ticket. I want my children and their cohorts to understand, perhaps for the first time in all history, that our humanity is what draws Jesus to us. He created us! He’s crazy about us. It is so okay to be human. And being human means being weak and limited, bruised, battered, fragile and forlorn.

I want to redo VBS… I want us to get back to the Very Basic Stuff that makes the good news oh so good. I wish I could do it over again. I would tell those eager children that God’s love helps us admit our weaknesses and push into His strength. I would emphasize that we were created to live in community. Family and friends help each other. We can admit our needs and receive help and care from each other. There is strength in that! If I could do it all over again I’d still put on the goofy wig and the sticky moustache but I’d accentuate that the gift of prayer helps us push into our friendship with God, it gives us a safe place to be honest with what we’re feeling, what we’re thinking, how tired we are. We can “come to (him)….(when we are) weary and carry heavy burdens, and (he) will give us rest”.

I’d tell them that trusting in God strengthens our faith. We can trust him with our burdens because he deeply cares for us.  And finally I’d tell them God’s words do bring life and courage and joy. They do give direction and something beyond ourselves to think on. God is strong. We are weak. We learn that when we reflect on what God says.

The week since VBS ended has been a difficult one. I have felt battered and beat down. My weakness rises like bile in the back of my throat. It’s been hard to swallow. What relief there is in knowing that I don’t have to be strong.

This Very Basic Stuff is what Vacation Bible School should be about. You’re never too old to learn that you can take off your mask. You can bravely live debilitated and feeble. Vulnerability invites grace and grace smiles at fragility and whispers, “Come”!

It’s All Borrowed

stop watchI wrote a post for today. And I was passionate about the topic, and wrote fluidly and clearly.

I scheduled it to publish at 8:30 this morning. And then an hour after arriving at work a colleague came running. “You’re a nurse? Come quick, we need you.” 

I am not a clinical nurse, I’m a public health nurse/educator. But God gives grace for the moment and emergency mode went into high gear. Pulse taking, cold compresses, sitting on the ground with a woman I’d never met, waiting for the ambulance. It’s minutes that count. It’s moments that change lives.

And all of it? It’s all borrowed. These bodies, these lives – they’re borrowed, we don’t own any of it.

I stop by a colleague/friend’s desk afterwards, both of us usually gregarious at this time of day, laughing about our families and their (our) flaws. Known as the loudest in the office, we talk quietly. She was at the emergency room last night with a father-in-law. They talked options with a doctor. They talked ‘end of life’, ‘resuscitation’, ‘medication’, – it was hospital speak.

“It’s all borrowed” she said. “We think we’re living better but we’re really living more. We want more this, more that – even the good times we want more of them. More house, more vacation, more money. If we were living better, we’d recognize this borrowed time, borrowed life. But we’ve confused better with more.”

A friend posts on Facebook that a bomb went off in Kabul. Across town. They are not hurt – but their friends have windows blown out of their homes, and for sure people have died.

Nothing to wake you up on Tuesday like realizing it’s all borrowed.

And I think about how careful I am when I borrow something from someone. I care for it. I use it wisely. I bring it back. I repay it.

What will I do with my life today? What will you do with your life today?

Because it’s all borrowed.

“You are not your own. You were bought with a price. Therefore, Honor God with your bodies” 1 Corinthians 19b,20

All is Grace

All week Grace seemed hidden in heavy rain, short tempers, and the Great Unknown. All week it took faith to see that those too were moments for Grace. The question I asked of myself: “how is it that I am willing to say ‘Yes’ to my name being in the book of Life but unwilling to say ‘Yes’ to the rest of what is offered?”

And then Saturday comes with this glorious burst of sunshine and beauty that catches the heart, for all is Grace.







“Now We See Through a Glass Darkly”


We have two side windows in our living room, and in the evening as I sit on our couch looking out these windows, I learn a bit more what it means to “see through a glass darkly”. 

I can make out shapes, I can see pockets of light shining through windows – but I can’t see comings and goings, I can’t see detail, I can’t see the colors.

And so it is with spiritual truths. I can see shapes and pockets of light, I can meditate on those. But I don’t see the detail. I don’t see the comings and goings. I don’t see the colors.

And this is my life of faith. I know there’s a house out there across the street, because I see the pockets of light. I know there’s a garden with flowers and buds – pink, white, coral colors. I know there are people and porches and cars. And I know in the Morning I will have full vision. I will see clearly what was missing in the dark – the detail and the color that I missed.

So I wait in faith of the Morning, when I shall see Face to Face.

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”  – 1Corinthians 13: 12


Early Morning Warnings

I get off the subway early. We, the early morning crowd, share a special bond. We nod to each other, though we don’t know each other’s names, places of work, or families. It’s the “We’re up with the birds” look, a “knowing” look. A “we’re up while everyone else is still asleep waiting for their alarms to ring” look.

I pass by people who I see almost everyday, say hello to Mary who sells the Boston Herald. And today Mary says to me, as she periodically does: “Watch your bag honey”. And I nod and thank her.

And so I watch my bag. Because Mary knows this area well. While I think I know it well, I’ve only been walking this route for a few years. She has lived and worked this area for many more. and she knows the various characters that live life on these streets. She knows who you can trust, and who you need to watch. She knows that poverty and homelessness does not mean you are automatically a good person who has fallen into hard times, does not mean you are automatically trustworthy. She is an astute observer of human nature and knows that the mean come in all sizes and income levels.  The sly and the underhanded, the mocking and disrespectful – these are not just categories that the middle-class and rich fall into.

It’s an interesting dilemma for me as a white privileged woman. I observe many white middle-class Americans, I read their essays on the poor and I wish they would talk to Mary. Because their subtext is that the rich are bad and the poor are good, the rich deceptive and the poor honest, the rich rude and the poor kind. But if we’re honest we know that’s not the case.

I have met wealthy people who give graciously and responsively, aware that every penny is from God. I have met poor people who would (and did) kill their last chicken to show you hospitality. I have met rich people who wear arrogance around their necks with their latest Gucci scarves, and poor who mock and yell and rant at all those who pass by.

And so Mary periodically tells me to watch my bag. She tells me who to give to and who not to give to, she tells me who to watch out for and when I should cross the street and go to the other side. And I listen – because Mary knows these streets.

Picture 188These early morning warnings teach me a couple of life lessons. One is that the worst and the best of humanity are represented in all spheres of society; the second is that in life we need our “Marys” – those people who know where we walk and can help us discern true and false, can help us walk in the ‘good’ way, the wise way.

Mary’s early morning warning made me think of one of my favorite verses in the Bible. It’s a verse that gives instruction from the prophet Jeremiah:

Stand at the crossroads and look; Ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is – and walk in it.~ Jeremiah 6:16a 

So on this early morning, just as I chose to watch my bag, I will choose to ask where the good way is – and walk in it. 


When God is in the Details: Tigh Ban – The Little White House.

I am honored today to share a guest post from Wilma Brown. When I first met Wilma I was at my most unlovely, and as a house mother she showed grace on grace. I will never forget a dorm room, my tears, and Wilma’s comfort and affirmation. Because of the wonder of social media, we have been able to reconnect. Read more about Wilma at the end of this post!

Going back ‘home’ after an overseas assignment is a daunting task. You have changed and so has ‘home’. It is one of those times where you are desperate to see God in the details. This post is a testimony to God in the details.


Mid- September 1978 found me on a walking/climbing holiday in North West
Scotland – the area known as Torridon.  Accompanying me on the trip was an
application form for a teaching post in the North-East of Scotland, in the Spey
valley.  I felt little enthusiasm to move there, but was conscious that I needed
to earn my living, and it seemed there was no pressing need of language teachers elsewhere, especially as the new school year had begun in August.

I can remember laboriously filling out all the details and sending it off with a
heavy heart.  I knew no one in that area, far from my old Scottish stamping
grounds and very far from Pakistan.

I received a letter asking me to go to Inverness for an interview, lost the
letter and managed to turn up a week early – those assigned to interview me were not available so I returned home.

At least I didn’t go a week late!

I did make it to the interview and duly got the job.  My heart felt somewhat
heavy.  As I write, I can feel that trepidation once again.  It had honestly
been easier to fly to Pakistan than to brave the unknown delights of the
Scottish Highlands!

English: Grantown on Spey

Then God, with His wonderful timing and sense of humour took over.  I learned
that a new rector had just been assigned to St Columba’s, Grantown-on Spey,exactly where I was going.  He and his wife were from the USA and had been in
Britain for several years.

Lovely friends offered to help me move in to a little bungalow and bought me a pressure cooker (more memories of Pakistan!)

I arrived at the school to find the Lord had brought another Christian teacher,and later learned people had prayed earnestly about that.

I went to church my first Sunday and was immediately warmed by the welcome from Douglas and Arabella – and invited to lunch!

To crown it all not many weeks later I went with my new colleague and friend to a prayer meeting in the little white house, a cottage deep in the woods near Loch Garten.  The occupants of the little white house were Major John and Mrs Diana Pott, a couple in their late 50s.  It was they who had prayed so earnestly for Christians to come to the school.

That evening I learned that they and I had something in common, besides our Christian faith – we all knew Murree.Indeed they had been married in Holy Trinity Church in the 1940s.

I still marvel at the way God cushioned my path; the way He worked out the details.

I wasn’t there very long, but the friendships made endured, and I still have and use the set of saucepans the students gave me when I left to marry John (I chose them with money collected!) and remember the remark of one of my toughest but most loyal pupils: “Not much of a present we gave you, Miss!”

After traveling the UK and the world, Wilma Brown now resides in Royal Tunbridge Wells, a large town and Borough in west Kent, England, about 40 miles south-east of central London by road. She keeps in touch with friends and her ‘kids’ and students from Pakistan through social media and more. 

Invitation to Breakfast

I love eating breakfast out at restaurants. Perhaps it’s because I rarely do it, but when I do, it’s always a vacation feel – a sense of the unexpected.

Israel, Sea of Galilee (Lake of Tiberias)

So it was with new eyes that I read the line “Come have breakfast” in the gospel of John.

The verse comes after Jesus has been crucified and has risen, appearing to different people. First he is seen by Mary, then by the disciples and finally by others. He’s on the banks of the Sea of Galilee watching the disciples fishing in a boat on the sea. They have fished the entire night and they’ve caught nothing. Their nets and stomachs are empty. But this man on the banks of the sea tells them “Just try it one more time.”

Just one more time.

So they do it. Weary, frustrated, hungry – they still try one more time. And the result does not disappoint. They catch so many fish that they can’t even bring the full net in. It’s too heavy. You can picture it – fish jumping around in the net, strong men trying with all their muscles to hold the net but they have to throw some back.

And that piece is amazing – this picture of trying one more time and filling a net.

But the compelling piece is on shore where Jesus takes the fish and fixes it for them – those hungry, weary humans. Those men who he has eaten with, walked with, stayed with for three years. He knows them. He knows their frame, he hears their hearts – and he invites them to breakfast.

“Come and have breakfast!”*

Said with full knowledge of all that the invitation means. Come rest. Come sit. Come and be filled. Come – have breakfast!

It’s an early morning here in Boston. The quiet of the city morning is broken by a raucous group of homeless who are waking to the day. Except for coffee shops and a brand new Walgreens that boasts a 24-hour day, all businesses are still closed, their steel barriers down from the day before.

And I have an invitation to breakfast from One who will give rest on a weary Monday.

Maybe you haven’t fished all night – but maybe it’s something else. Maybe your worries have kept you up to the wee hours, your mind occupied with so much that concerns. Maybe something else has kept you up all night – tears flowing because it’s safe when no one can see them. No matter – you have an invitation to breakfast from One who gives rest.

*John 21:12

“Embrace the Chaos”

Lowell used to tell visitors to “Embrace the Chaos” when we lived in India. Anyone who’s ever been to India can quite quickly agree that there’s always so much going on! Just stand on a street corner in Old Delhi and try to identify all that you see and smell and hear and you’ll be hard pressed to not admit that it feels a little chaotic, a little out of control!

I guess this week I’m feeling some of that sort of chaos…but of course we’re still far from India!

When my dad comes to town we find projects for him to do. He loves to stay busy and we love to have the work done. Dad can do anything really. He works with wood, electricity, plumbing, tinkering, motors, moving parts, engines, paint! You name it, my dad can do it!

This visit we thought he and Lowell would build us a deck. The back porch has been precarious since the day we moved in. The plan was to knock it down and build a new porch with an attached deck. Being good citizens meant applying for a permit. There was some confusion about the placement of the posts and the size of the porch. The permit people took some time in approving our plan.

Meanwhile dad destroyed, at my request, our ancient box style closet in our bedroom. Our bedroom is small and it seemed to me that we should knock out the closet and put up one of those more streamlined, tidy looking, “easy to install” closet kits you see all the time on TV. But then the permit for the porch arrived. All work on the closet came to a screeching halt.

All of our closet stuff was in our son’s room. Our son was all over the living room floor. Mom and dad stayed in our room. We slept in Adelaide’s room. Adelaide slept in with Bronwynn. And we still have a guest who’s staying in Lowell’s office.

Nothing was where it should be.

Lowell went out to borrow his dad’s truck so he could load up the lumber they’d need. On the way home he discovered he had forgotten his phone. On the second attempt back toward home the old truck blew a tire. His dad had neglected to throw in the spare.

This week we’ve also had dance rehearsals and recitals. Adelaide auditioned for a specialty dance company earlier in the week as well but yesterday I got a phone call from the dance school that Adelaide hadn’t made the dance company she had auditioned for. I knew I’d have to break that news to her later in the day.

To top it all off I was scheduled to speak at a live webinar with a friend on expectations and burn out. I discovered that our headset was broken. My computer is still dead (did I mention the hard drive expired while I was away?). Thankfully I could use Connor’s new machine but it has a new fandangled version of windows on it and it seemingly does random things at odd moments. After getting kids out the door, painting two walls in our bedroom (because since the closet is down it would make sense to paint now!), and settling everyone else, I zipped over to Best Buy to purchase a new headset. With a new headset in hand, Connor’s machine, my notes, I drove through the drive through for a sandwich (I forgot to eat!) and raced to the church in search of some quiet. I couldn’t figure out how to navigate the internet but one of the pastors quickly helped me sort it out.

It was a day!

It was chaos!

And if we’d been in India Lowell would have said to embrace it!

When I was preparing to speak on the spiritual habits of Silence and Solitude for the retreat I was just at (the irony is not lost on me!) I happened upon these verses in the gospel of Mark,

“That evening after supper, many sick and demon-possessed people were brought to Jesus. And the whole city had gathered at the door. And he healed many who were ill; and cast out many demons…and in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place and was praying there”.

Talk about chaos: “And the whole city had gathered at the door!” That’s how I felt yesterday. The whole town was banging on the door of my sanity–paint buckets and stacks of stuff, daughters and dance rejections, the truck and the tires, piles of wood, piles of clothes, piles of people, electric drills and saws and hammers, broken headsets and dead computers. Mom can you take a look at this new game? Robynn can you run to the store and get? Where do you want me to put this? Mom I need you to remind me. All of it banging at the door.

How did Jesus respond? He had already had a full day….his chaos continued on into the evening, after supper, in to the night. Jesus responded to each person. He healed and ministered to the hurting, the sick, the confused, to the oppressed. He brought freedom and peace. But in the morning, knowing his own soul and his own needs, he woke early and went off on his own to pray.

When I arrived at the church, my phone buzzed with an incoming email. I paused and took the time to read it. A friend had emailed me the prayer she had prayed for me. The words for peace and rest and restoration, in the midst of the crazy, washed over me. I sat in the car alone and breathed. I shed a few tears. I let those wash over me too. There was a moment to stop and I did. I sat quietly and prayed out my own heart’s prayer: for endurance, for joy, for the capacity to embrace it all!

I survived yesterday’s chaos. Today will have its own share, I’m sure. When it’s all gathered at the door, I hope, I’ll remember to pause, breathe, pray. I think that’s the way we embrace it.

A text message I got yesterday from a friend read, “Just lean into chaos and find shalom”. That’s what happened when I sat in the car. I found a small piece of shalom.