The Work Of My Hands

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It was right there on the prayer card, the one with us smiling with a squirmy one year-old Sophia in our arms, Edison inside my not-quite-showing-yet belly.  The verse at the back, the one out of all of them that we chose:  “May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us– yes, establish the work of our hands.”  Psalm 90:17.

Because, you see, we had no idea what sort of work we’d actually be doing out there in that big wide “mission field”.  There were vague ideas about helping a local church plant, or reaching out to rural people in the Andes or on the islands, or both.  We knew only that we were called, we were “sent ones”, and we had at least a mustard seed of faith that God would indeed establish the work of our hands.

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I had no idea that my hands would be calloused and bloody and ripped up weekly.  I didn’t know He’d call me to row, to insert myself into a local rowing club so that I could reach out and be a friend to the youth there.  I didn’t know He’d start a Bible study through it.

He gave us all sorts of work.  But this post isn’t about the big Work, it’s the about the small work, the hidden work.  The every-day-always work.

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It’s the rubbing of fat into flour; making all those pieces come together into a new thing, a hot pie.

It’s the joy of bathing a baby.
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   It’s organizing the toys.  Again.  And being glad even with temporary shalom.

It’s being a bed for a sleepy, womb-missing baby.

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 It’s tying up herbs for drying.

It’s writing.

And here, right here, is where my throat constricts and the dams threaten to overflow, you see, I’m over-abundantly blessed by the work I’ve been given to do.  Those dirty dishes I need to wash?  It means WE ATE TODAY!!!  The laundry that needs folded?  It means that we were clothed and had clean water to wash with.  The floors that need vacuumed?  It means that there’s a whole galloping herd of happy children living here, leaving trails of hard-won dirt from their adventuring feet.

There is so much joy everywhere and a lot of it can be found in our work.  Where do you find joy in the work established for you?

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On Necrotizing Fasciitis And Such

We almost lost Kara.

She’d just given birth to a lovely baby girl.  A pain in her leg nagged on.  Suddenly emails and texts and phone calls were rapid fire; prayer chains linked together, and a whole family on their knees pleading for God to spare her life.

We probably all googled “necrotizing fasciitis”, because that was the enemy we were staring down in our prayers, that was the beast wreaking havoc on beloved Kara, flesh-eating bacteria trying to swallow her whole.  The prayers were first, “God please let them not have to take too much of her leg muscle”….then…”Oh, God, save her leg”….then…”Oh, God, save Kara”.

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Baby came home, mama in an induced coma while surgeons cut away the death claiming her leg, trying to claim all of her.  Her husband, Mike, lived in two worlds, at his wife’s bedside and home with his two boys and new baby girl.  Meals came in.  In-laws moved in to care for the little ones.  A cousin and I came down for a few days to help.  It was a hard thing to see, fierce sorrow and fiercer love staring out of Mike’s eyes.

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Talking to mama over Skype.

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What do you say, when a mama who loves long walks in the countryside loses her leg?

What do you say when she asks for the baby to be lifted nearer the webcam so she can see her better and you can feel the ache in her arms to hold her daughter?

What do you say when life suddenly looks so drastically different and you can’t make it all better?

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I’ve failed at the words.  I’ve tried to fix unfixable things.  I’m learning though.  We all need to, being always on the cusp of unexpected sorrows in our own lives and the lives of those we love.  We need to do better.

Here’s a few helps:

1)  Watch this and get this into your heart.  It will equip you to extend true and blessed empathy.

2)  Apply what you learned in #1.

3)  Pray.  Let the hurting know you’re praying, that even if their own words are stuck in their throats, raw and raspy, that other voices are interceding.

4)  Resist claiming to know what God is up to, why He allowed the hard thing to happen, or offering any conjectures about good things to come from it.  Give their pain room to be what it is.

5)  Keep close to God, attentive to His promptings.  He may have specific tasks for you to do to bless the hurting ones.

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“Those who have known pain profoundly are the ones most wary

of uttering cliches about suffering.  Experience with the mystery takes

one beyond the realm of ideas and produces finally a muteness

or at least a reticence to express in words the solace that can only

be expressed by an attitude of union with the sufferer.”

-John Howard Griffin

Wind

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That invisible, upholding, opposing, push.

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  John 3:8 

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“For behold, He who forms mountains and creates the wind

And declares to man what are His thoughts,

He who makes dawn into darkness

And treads on the high places of the earth,

The LORD God of hosts is His name.”  Amos 4:13

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“When He utters His voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, And He causes the clouds to ascend from the end of the earth; He makes lightning for the rain, And brings out the wind from His storehouses.”  Jeremiah 10:13

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 “Then He said, ‘Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake;  and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.” I Kings 19:11,12

“How do you know there even is a god?”

I reply, carefully, slowly, “How do you know there even is wind?”

“I know it’s real because I see it move things, I hear it going past, I feel it against me.  You know it exists because of its affect on other things”.

“Yes, that is also how I know God is”.

 

Presence

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Do you remember when we used to look at faces?  When a meal time was spent with the people at the actual physical table we were sitting at?  Do you remember how we’d mutually try to remember the name of that actor in that one show who later was in that other movie about the heist, and how that wondering and brain-racking ended in a triumphal, “AHA!” when we figured it out together?  Before the age of swiftly answering the question with a quick jab at Google?  Do you remember being present?

Because I think we’re forgetting.

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One of the major culture shocks upon returning from six years in Chile was that young and old alike were to be seen everywhere, bent over their phones, thumbs busy, in their own little worlds.  Even if they were waiting in a grocery line, one person deep, out came the phone, flying went the thumbs, away went the presence.  This was now normal?

I admit that I am a dinosaur.  I have no cell phone and do not desire one.  I still write letters and cards on paper.  Once when I asked for someone’s phone number and handed them my little notebook, they laughed and couldn’t remember the last time they had written a number on paper instead of keying it into a phone.

I am exasperating to my friends.  If we’ve agreed to meet at a park at 11:00 and I’ve left my home at 10:30 to drive there, there is no way to change plans last minute; they know I’ll be at the park wondering where they are.  They can’t get a hold of me if I’m not home, so admittedly I miss out on some fun outings, but you know what?  I am present where I am.

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Along the Caribbean Sea in Honduras

I don’t always handle things graciously.

We had three dear friends visit us in Chile from North America.  They had traveled thousands of miles to see us, to see Chile, to get it all into their hearts and memories.  One evening as we all sat in the living room, I realized that everyone but me was staring at a screen, laptops or phones, all around.  I was alone in a crowd.  I flipped out.  “What are you doing?!?  HELLO!  Why did you travel to another hemisphere just to be looking at that screen when you’re here?!”

I suppress it, but I have an aching desire to throw an adult temper tantrum when I see a couple out on a date, both absorbed in their phones.  I want to go up to them, tap one of them on the shoulder, point at their significant other across the table and say in a voice of awe “Looooook!  There’s a PERSON across from you!  WOW!!!”  Then I would take their cell phone, unceremoniously dunk it into their drink, and walk away.  I assume I’d be charged with destruction of property, but I think I’d smile in my mug shot.

I have found one peaceful way to express my sentiments.  Now, when my husband takes out his phone when we’re together with friends, I quietly leave the table.  If he asks where I’m going, I simply say “I’m sorry, you have left the table, and so I will also”.  He puts his phone away, smiling and rolling his eyes.

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Presence.

It is most heart-breaking to see the lack of it between a parent and their child.

“Mommy, look at me!  Look at me!”, cries the child, bravely balancing on one foot at the top of the slide.

“Uh-huh”, mumbles the mom, staring down at her phone.

“No, Mommy, you aren’t looking!”

“That’s great, honey”, she says, barely looking up before she’s back to that all-absorbing screen.

The child sits down, the child learns that whatever world is accessed through that screen is much more interesting than the one she’s currently exploring.  She can’t wait to have her own screen.

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I am deeply disturbed by how all this technology is affecting kids, not only by robbing them of Mom and Dad’s presence, but of their own.  If a child needs to sit for more than a few minutes, they are handed a cell phone to watch a movie or play games on.  Like boredom and the space for their own thoughts are not important building blocks for hearty imaginations and creativity.  They are being taught that we must be entertained, always.

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It takes away the marvel, doesn’t it?  The awesomeness of this world, even at a grocery store.  As a child, I made up stories in my mind about the people in line with us.  Sometimes we even (gasp!) talked to them.  I read the magazine covers and wondered if Elvis really was hiding out in California instead of being long-dead.

I don’t expect anyone to live as I do, phone-free.  Many use cell phones wisely and kindly, use them to bless others and encourage others, and call tow trucks for stranded old ladies along the road.  Cell phones have saved lives, but also cost lives through misuse while driving.  They are neutral objects in and of themselves, but our use of them, or misuse of them, can cause great harm.

It may help if you think about your cell phone as a book.  Would you get out a book, mid-conversation with someone, and look through it’s pages?  Would you put it right on the table during a lunch date, and repeatedly pick it up and stare at it?  It would only be appropriate if you picked up the book, opened it to the other person with you and showed them something you found interesting.  That would be lovely, no?

With your kids, can you leave the phone at home when you’re at a park, or turn it off when they come home from school?   Can you carve out hours of full presence?  Can you let them squirm and fidget and sprout some imagination while waiting in line, instead of rushing to entertain?  Can we revive being present?  Can we afford to not do so?

Thirty-four Reasons

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Surprise birthday party in Peru; one of the most festive-heart warming-delightful birthdays ever.

Thirty-four years, 1,000’s of reasons why I’m ever so grateful, but let’s go with thirty-four, eh?

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1. My parents, Sharon and Richard, who love one another unpretentiously, simply, and well.  Their strong marriage made for a secure and loving home for us kids.  Speaking of us kids…

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Photo Credit:  Amy Miller Coe

2. My big sister Michele and big brother Ricky.  These.  Two.  Oh, the shenanigans.

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3. Best friend of all time, Kristy Plummer.

4. Finding God and falling in irreversible love with Him.

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5. A year in the mountains with these people where a heart-held faith grew strong.

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6. Marrying this man, this very good man.

7. Friends in Canada, friends in Pennsylvania, friends in Montana, friends all over the world…too many to list.

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8. My babies, my dear babies.

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9. Family.

10. Fresh salsa.

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11. Life in Costa Rica.

12. The simple pleasure of playing board games with the closest of friends.

13. Playing in the ocean….for….hours.

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14. Big, old Mexico and how much I’ve gotten to see of it.  And taste of it, mmm.

15. Living in Chile for six years…are there words for that sort of gift?

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16. Silver medal in women’s lightweight doubles in the 2009 Chilean Rowing Nationals with my friend Carmen Gloria Bustos.

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17. That dear Carmen Gloria, who taught me to push through the wall of pain.

18. Avocados.

19. Snorkeling with bright fish.

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20. Flying through the water with a massive wing span in gorgeous Chile for years and years.

21. Teaching the Bible and seeing God move in people’s hearts; glory.

22. Every. Mashed. Up. Dandelion. That my children give to me with love all shining in their eyes.

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23. These ladies, these Hostetter ladies, and our many memories together, including going to an observatory in the desert in the middle of the night, pictured here!

24. Parmesan, gouda, cheddar, mozzarella, pepper jack.  All cheese.

25. Bazaala Mubili Anania Kiggundu, our Compassion child in Uganda, who is a blessing to us.

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26. Road trips, like this one above, to Torres del Paine, to the Strait of Magellan, to the….

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27. The uttermost part of the earth, Ushuaia, Argentina, most southern city in the world.

28. Backpacking, camping, hiking, ambling in the woods.

29. Banana splits.

30. Good, deep reads.

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31. Honduras and waterfalls all-out-of-proportion.

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32. Cusco and all that terra-cotta magic.

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33. Machu Pichu, a dream fulfilled.  And that none of my children fell down the cliffs.

34. This life, this imperfect and holy and beautiful life.  Ah, God, thank you.

Time Traveler

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It was when I looked out the wavy glass window of Edgar Allen Poe’s home in Philadelphia, in the room where his wife was slowly dying while he spilled out his words in dark tales, as if he could leak all the black out through ink.  The walls were laid bare down to the original plaster, layers of other tenant’s lives stripped away, almost as a plea to peel back time and let us see Edgar at the window with us, an alternatively despairing or maniacally happy man, to ask him questions and see how his words look on his face rather than guess at their conveyance on paper.

It was as I surreptitiously reached out for the doorknobs, the stair rail, the old places where other hands touched and pushed and leaned.

Once in a high school science class we were made to line up and hold hands.  Then the first person would reach out and touch an electric current in a device.  It zinged through our joined hands, the last person receiving the full brunt of the jolt.  I touch those doorknobs, I want to know how they felt in George Washington’s hand, in Poe’s hand, in my hand.  I want to know them through their spaces; I want a jolt of recognition.

It’s as I wait for the tour guides to lead the group through to the next room that I steal a moment of silence in that old space, to hear how the silence sounds there.  What is this longing all about?

ImageFarm kitchen in Colonial Williamsburg. 

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Governor’s Palace, Colonial Williamsburg.

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Palace kitchen, Colonial Williamsburg.

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The Braun-Menendez Mansion in Punta Arenas, Chile.  Alone in an exquisite room with all original pieces, looking here into the bureau mirror where the mistress of the home would have seen her own face reflected back.

Is it just intense curiosity?  A passion for history?  Latent anthropological interest?  One further hazard of an overactive imagination?

It is, I know, why I gobble up period movies like a fiend.  The “willing suspension of disbelief”, that’s how our drama teacher put it, what you need to be led into story on a stage or when watching a movie or even when reading a heart-pounding thriller (which is funny, isn’t it, that words on a page can make us all agitated?).  It allows me to time travel in a way.  I especially adore how the new “Pride and Prejudice” was filmed; the camera “looks” around the room as it pans, showing smudges on the walls, crumbs on the table, and all the glory of everyday life in an era I can only touch through doorknobs and imagination.

The attendant in the hall cleared her voice.  I know she was wondering what I was doing in that lovely room, alone with a hefty camera.  People normally come in, see the room, read the placard and move on.  If she’d have asked, could I have really told her, that no, I wasn’t stealing the baubles or peeking in a drawer, that no, I was time traveling?

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Gloriously Underfoot

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This.

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I’ve been handing over the spoons and kettles, a little more each year.  I oversee, I do the tricky parts.  Yesterday I announced to Sophia, as we walked home from the bus stop, that she’s cooking dinner that night.  This provoked all sorts of jealousy among the boys, who also love cooking.  They knew they’d get a minor role though, so all in all they were pleased.

“Get the chicken from the refrigerator, cut the plastic wrapping, drain the blood and rinse the inside and outside with running water.  Oh yeah, and pull out the innards”.

“The inners?”

“The innards, the internal organs that are included.”

The liver and heart plop out into the sink and Sophia remarks dryly, “I didn’t need to see that”.

I remember not to assemble the ingredients beforehand; that’s a temptation with kids, to lay it all out in a controlled, tight way.  Because having other technicians in our tidy lab is jarring.  But it’s all a part of the learning, right?  To find things, to know where the tool to solve the problem lives.

I showed Sophia how to tuck a wing behind the back, she did the other.  I drizzled olive oil over the bird and she rubbed it in, masseuse-like.

“Take a bit of the salt in your hand and rub it around the chest cavity”.  Sophia peered into the fleshy cavern and jerked back.

“EWWW!  MOM, I can’t put my hand in there”.

“You will do it.  It’s part of cooking.”  Sophia makes a sickly face.  Reuben musters up some macho bravado and volunteers to do it.

“No, Reuben.  Sophia will do it.  You can do it next time.”

My daughter knows how stubborn I am.  She also knows how big her heart swells with joy when she conquers a fear.  In goes the salty hand, done.  She smiles.  We tie up the legs and sprinkle herbs atop and lay the whole bird in a bed of salt for roasting.

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Sophia learns pancake making.

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I learn how not to take over.  Coffee helps.

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I realized it, you know, how God lets me learn through messes.  He’s so patient, so very patient.

There’s something in the end result that He loves that much, so much that it’s worth all the mistakes and false starts and dripping batter and all that time spent.  Because, He doesn’t really need us, you know.  Just like I don’t need my kids in the kitchen; in fact, I could get everything done in half the time with nigh half the mess.  But the end of it would be that they wouldn’t know how to cook.  And I wouldn’t have the pleasure of seeing them go from cracking the egg right down the cabinet front to cracking it with ease and confidence and whipping the whites into a perfect merengue.

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We made a Christian Passover meal one year.  We ground up the grains, we made the matzo bread, we roasted lamb, and made charoset.

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We remembered Jesus’s broken body as we broke that matzo bread in pieces, we remembered his shed blood in the dry red wine.  This food prepared together, with our own feeble hands and broken efforts and hope, brought us to remember Him who came to set us to rights, to reconcile us to the Father, to begin fashioning us now into His beautiful likeness, that we reflect His glory like the moon does the sun’s brightness.  To join us to the patient Father who invites us to come and learn, who does not despise our weaknesses, but makes haste to cover them with His grace.  I feel that side of Him when I hand my child another egg to crack after one is pooling at our feet on the hard tile floor.

May we teach as we are taught by God; patiently, lovingly, and with a smile.