Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Celebrating While Under Quarantine

We celebrated this girl on Sunday. Shelter-in-place orders have obviously changed our daily routines as well as options available to celebrate a birthday. It would have been her first birthday away from home, but we were able to have her with us for another year since she has recently moved back from university.

These images were taken in January during winter break.

She is a girl of tradition, so despite real disappointment at not ending her semester on campus, she was glad to be with family for her birth date. When I asked her what would please her, she requested some of her favorite homemade meals and we enjoyed an easy-going day. It was definitely characterized by quarantine orders, but I think this will be a year she remembers.

Breakfast of challah French toast with berry sauce and maple syrup was followed by family "church" in the sunroom. Then we went out for a drive through the beach towns; we made a quick stop for ice cream and a short walk. We ended up at the beach, of course, but discovered it to be closed.

Originally, we were planning on a family picnic dinner at the beach, but as closures became more widespread during the week, an alternate plan was needed. When options dwindle, creativity and resourcefulness are essential to mark an occasion and set it apart from the norm. Oddly, this is a challenge I enjoy! My plan became a rooftop dinner where we could watch the sun set over the ocean. I was going to arrange a patchwork of blankets and cushions, and decorate with lanterns and candles. Instead, Jon offered to set up a table and chairs, and he strung some lights for added ambiance; we decided this would be more comfortable.

It was fun to see Olivia's expression as she climbed the ladder to the roof.

She had asked if I could make one of her favorites: Chicken pot pie. I made individual servings, but managed to over-bake the puff pastry a bit. However, bowls still hot from the oven were perfect in the crisp evening air.

Ok, so the boys either weren't overly keen on pictures or they weren't in photogenic mode. I try not to force.

Her cake was a usual request: Chocolate with layers of berries and whipped cream. Under the current lack of grocery store supplies, I was happy for a friend who found flour for me and then delivered it with cream! The evening ended with a board game by the fire place. 

So, in short, simple enjoyments marked another year of life. Under the circumstances, I'm glad she has an appreciation for quiet, uncomplicated expressions of celebration. 

How time flies! To think of all the change that has transpired since I first held her in my arms, and to realize the immensity of joy that her life produces in mine is beyond my ability to express. She is a precious gift and friend.


Saturday, March 14, 2020

No Change of Plan

Weird week, yes? Everything came to a grinding stop pretty rapidly; each day seems to bring a new plan. Or just no plan. It has been an interesting thing to observe, that’s for sure.

On the upside to all the disappointments of cancelled events, everyone is home together and healthy. That’s pretty much all a mother could dream of in time of national crisis! Now I’ve got to figure out how to make six people breakfast, lunch, and dinner every single day even though the grocery store shelves are pretty much empty. Though I have plenty of food, it’s time to get creative without a few staples. At least we have toilet paper. 

As the schedule began to clear, my eventual instinct was to think, “Yay! Now I have more time! Let’s have people over and serve a big Sunday brunch before we watch the sermon together.” But then came the realization of “social distancing.” I went to the store anyway and found no eggs, no bread, no coffee, no breakfast meats, no yogurt, limited fruit and vegetables… I gave up on the Sunday brunch idea, which is probably best for the sake of good citizenship. Irish cut oatmeal could have worked, though, served with all sorts of yummy toppings; or homemade pancakes with maple syrup and a berry sauce made from the frozen berries in my freezer. I had 8 eggs in the fridge this afternoon before Andrew used some and I could have made other baked goods. There’s always a way, including intermittent fasting, which would just eliminate the need for Sunday brunch! That could also help to “flatten the curve” of another sort! 

Seriously, though, I’m reminded once again that God is in control of the microscopic. (Did you know some viruses are small enough to infect a single bacterium?) Nothing is independent from his plan, including novel viruses, oil wars, economies, politics… and tp supplies. There really is no change of plan, only a change of my expectations for the month. The plan was alway certain from the very beginning of time. This fallen world and human nature, as scary as they can be, are never an uncertain thing in the hands of God. There is always safety and certainty for those who have responded to his invitation of love.

My kids all have plenty of school work that they can access and must complete in the coming weeks, but I’ve got hiking in mind as well. Wild flowers are sprouting, thanks to recent rain, and I see no reason for allowing cabin fever to strike.

Stay well, friends. And love well…


Friday, March 6, 2020

Hello Spring

This week has felt like spring. Fragrance of jasmine and orange blossoms have been wafting in through open windows, and bunches of flowers from the yard fill my house. Those who have been home during the day have sat out in the sun on the deck for lunch. I blended fresh orange-pineapple smoothies for breakfast this morning, and I'm finding myself dreaming up summer dinner parties. Before heading out the door, I tied a colorful scarf onto the strap of my bag.

Next week will bring rain, but I expect to find beauty and wonder in that, too.

I've recommitted to giving Jacob more unstructured play time in open spaces like I used to with all the others. I think it's probably normal that the baby of the family loses out on some of their childhood as family affairs shift to that which is relevant to teenagers and young adults. It's my strong belief that all people need open head space: time to decompress, explore, sort through matters of the heart, meditate... to always be OK with one's own company, and to be mentally still long enough that thoughts of God and eternality come in. Constant academic pressures, extra-curricular commitments, expectations, schedules, and ever-present noise and distractions of life need to occasionally give way. I'd say this is critical for everyone's well-being.

My new goal is to break away with him at least once a week. Mostly it will look like a lunch time picnic at the beach nearby, like we did today. It gave good motivation to work hard before, and the refreshment needed to tackle the last writing assignment afterwards. Maybe I'll even be able to reduce my running shoe tan line.

Jacob is at musical theater rehearsals till dinner time now. It's after 4 o'clock and the cuff of my jeans are still wet. Ah, yes. Welcome Friday!


Monday, March 2, 2020

His Faithfulness on Display

In my small and quiet way, I keep coming back to this journal in an effort to recount the praises of God and rejoice in his salvation (Ps. 9:14). Tonight is no exception.

March 2019

"I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!"
Ps. 27: 13-14

"Turn to me and be gracious to me,
    for I am lonely and afflicted.
The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
    bring me out of my distresses.
Consider my affliction and my trouble,
    and forgive all my sins."
Ps. 25:16-18

"My hope is in you."
Ps. 39:7

March 2020

"Oh, how abundant is your goodness, 
which you have stored up for those who fear you
and worked for those who take refuge in you...
In the cover of your presence you hide them
from the plots of men; 
you store them in your shelter 
from the strife of tongues."
Ps. 31:19-20

The words of today's Psalm have run through my mind all evening:

... To be hidden in the cover of God's presence 
... To be stored up in His shelter

How kind is our God, how steadfast in his love, and perfect in his provisions! He has put his faithfulness on display in my heart once more.


Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Resolved to be at Peace

When the pictures from the sky jump place arrived in my email inbox, this is the image that made me pause and smile the longest. This picture represents a feat I am very proud of, even more than jumping out of a plane in mid-air. (Is it arrogant to express pride, or can it be appropriate to rejoice over personal achievements and progress? I choose the latter because I truly am grateful.)

Let me just reiterate that fear had replaced all interest in jumping after I'd been gifted a ticket to the skydive place.

This moment right here was what I had to consciously and consistently set aside as I anticipated the jump. This moment represented the final and hardest act of resolve. I knew that to scoot my body to the edge of the plane, to sit with legs dangling and body ready to drop, and to do it willingly, would be the single most difficult moment. What came after (falling) was more passive in terms of resolve, and active only in choosing to take in the experience. I didn't allow fear to rule me in the days leading up to our jump, or while preparing on the ground, or during the 20 minute flight up. One single flinch in this resolve and I would have changed my mind in an instant. I'm so thankful I didn't!

Instead, when fear was menacing and threatened to dominate, I was resolute and at peace. I'm proud of jumping, yes, but more so that inner peace conquered over the tyrant of fear.

I'm not naturally a strong person, but when strength of any sort comes, truly, I am humbly grateful. Self-control is both practiced and received as a gift (Gal. 5:22-23). There are so many ways that implementing self-control is needful in my life. Determined self-control or resolve to do difficult things are persistently needed. For instance, resolve...

To take the first steps of a 15 mile run, or to run to the bitter end
To accept an invitation to speak
To let a child grow into independence, to let them risk, or even fail
To accept the unexpected
To attend an event where people who are cold to us are present
To try something new and difficult, to grow
To say hard but needful things
To be a participant and to contribute, to make myself vulnerable; or
To be guarded, to discern, to draw boundaries
To accept not being understood
To break the mold of expectations, to be unashamedly human, to disappoint
To accept my lot (portion), to live open handedly
To remember hardship, to feel and acknowledge, to move on
To let go what cannot be changed
To serve while being treated as a servant, and to continue serving
To love despite cost
To see past this temporal life
To plead for an outcome, then to wholeheartedly trust God

To be at peace in any storm. And to smile.


We are urged to "be filled with the Spirit" by the very same Spirit of God who commands, "Peace, be still!" 

I want it fiercely.

Who cares about a dumb picture and about self-imposed thrills? Who cares about practicing mind games to conquer fear if it's all just selfish and temporal?

I want something deeper.

"The peace that passes understanding will guard your heart in Christ Jesus." That's what I want! How do we find this peace? Because "The Lord is at hand" right here, right now, inviting us into relationship and intimate conversation: "In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Then He comforts our anxieties and quiets us with his love. (Phil. 4)

Set your heart resolutely on Christ who said: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you." 
(John 14:27)


Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Skydiving at Last!

Choose your favorite quote:

"Any idiot can fly a plane, but it takes a special kind of idiot to jump out of one." -Unknown

"Those who don't jump will never fly." -L. A. Almashat

"If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you." -Unknown

To some, we're that special kind of idiot. I'm certainly not a daredevil (I'm even afraid of heights), but I do enjoy a good thrill. In a sort of curious and dreamy way, I've often wondered what it would be like up there in the sky, free falling and then soaring. Those little orange parachutes looked so fun up against the blue sky. I had mentioned this interest to Jon in sort of a casual, non-committed way.

Then he went and bought tickets for our anniversary.

And I immediately became terrified of jumping. I couldn't fathom doing it anymore. No more curiosity, only fear.

We held on to those tickets for nearly a year and half until they were set to expire. Every time Jon mentioned we should set a time to go, I'd avoid him with a hesitant "uh-hum." When the kids asked I'd respond, "Oh, sometime. I don't know exactly..." and I'd hope Jon would take a hint and sell our tickets instead. 

But being averse to wasting money, we set the date just before the tickets expired, and I took on the challenge of ruling my fears. So glad I did. This was a thrill I'm so grateful to have experienced!

13,000 ft.
Countdown to freefall

It's not a feeling easily described. It's a thrilling mix of super-woman and utter helplessness.

I had read that it would all happen so fast, that your mind and body are experiencing too much to process, and that the first jump would be a blur. I didn't want my jump to be wasted like that; I determined to be aware of the moments, mentally present, consciously taking it in. That was my goal, and it was this one objective that helped to suppress and smother fear.

What a relief when that parachute went up!

Without waiting for me to respond, my instructor took us on a "rollercoaster" ride. He asked if I like rollercoaster just as he pulled on the right tether, and immediately we were off. In that same moment I thought, "Shoot! I forgot to tell him I don't want to do that thing!"

This is where the parachute and jumpers are closer to being parallel to the ground rather than perpendicular, and you start spinning in a corkscrew fashion. 

Somehow I still smiled for this part. 

Now, seeing these pictures, I wonder my a smile doubles as my expression of terror. Is there something totally messed up about me, or have I mastered a facade?!

Stable once more, and taking it all in...

Possibly Jon in the sky to the left. It's hard to tell. We were the first pair of eight to jump and Jon was second, but somehow I was not the first to land.

Our landing field below next to the airstrip.

Olivia and Michael came to watch and took some shots as well. The images above were GoPro shots, while the ones below are Olivia's. I've posted each set in chronological order.

We spent a long time in the wait area watching jumpers roll and prepare their gear.

There's no one else I'd rather jump from a plane with...

We bungee jumped when we were dating and took a paragliding lesson for our 10th anniversary (short solo flights with a radio strapped to the harness).

Getting set up and choosing... to trust a stranger.

Would you do it?


Friday, February 7, 2020

A Weekday Run and SF/20

It has been said that women speak 20,000 words per day, while men use about 7,000. Although I probably speak fewer than the average, I do feel some pent up verbiage tonight. My husband is away and the two boys that are home don't need to hear from me at the moment, so I'm coming here to unload my words. You've been warned.

After a good half marathon run this past weekend (not a race, just training), I couldn't seem to get back into the right mind frame to run well earlier this week. After two terrible runs that were cut short, I had a new opportunity today during a one-hour time slot while Jacob had an appointment at school. I typically do pace runs on Tuesdays and Thursday along a route close to the school. It's an imposed race against time because I have to make it back to quickly move on to the next thing on the schedule. My running shorts and T weren't making me want to step out into the cold, while the seat heater of my car was much more pleasant. I lingered while returning some messages. Shoot. Fifty minutes left. As I removed my pullover and popped my earbuds in, the dread of running hard loomed heavy. I prayed, "God, help me to run well."

I used to think I shouldn't bother God with unimportant details of life, as if he was too busy with real issues. I used to think it was immature to pray about mundane, silly, unspiritual things. I believed it was almost irreverent.

But I don't live like that now. God is infinite. To set limits on his desire to listen and answer prayer, or to set limits on his genuine care for every single detail of our lives, is to impose human limitations on God. He doesn't have to prioritize attention and energy because there is no scarcity. He isn't restricted in his care. His power and love are endless. To think God is only concerned about the big stuff of life or about issues of a spiritual nature is to disbelieve his infinite nature. This doesn't honor him, especially since he has invited us into relationship with him. I get to receive his love and care even in the particulars of this temporal life, particularly when I acknowledge in greater detail my complete dependence for all things on him. This, I believe, is an act of worship. I can come to him with full conviction that he is able and willing to bless me. It is like taking God up on his invitation to come as a child.

So with my little prayer made, I ran off into the cold. At one point I noticed a long trail of radiator coolant spilled along the shoulder of the boulevard. Memories of a June day in upper state NY rushed into my head. My sister and I had made the trip from my hometown in Quebec where I was spending the last of my single days with my family. She was 17 and I was 19. We traveled to my brother's college friends' home in a no-where town where my wedding dress had been delivered, the one I had bought for a discount in a North Carolina warehouse during my university spring semester in Virginia. I'd given myself one afternoon to find a dress because that was all my life permitted at the time. And since it couldn't be delivered to Canada, my sister and I made the trip in my old, grey Chevy Cavalier with fingers crossed. After a few hours of travel, we stayed for a quick glass of lemonade, packed up my dress in the trunk and began our journey back. I'm not sure where we were (except that it was even less of a no-where town) when coolant began pouring onto the passenger floor from somewhere below the dash. We pulled into the nearest station and discovered more coolant puddled under the car. No cell phones, of course. Somehow I mustered the courage to ask a gruff, blank-faced man for help. He was my only option. He grumbled when he took a look at the situation, but drove off nonetheless to pick up a replacement part. After his fix I handed him my one $20 bill, knowing full well it wasn't enough but having no other option of payment. We were on the road for just a short while before the episode repeated once more. No more coolant meant no long distance drive. I don't remember exactly, but I must have collect-called Jon or my dad from a payphone, and just waited for hours. It was very late when they finally arrived on that muggy summer night. I was happy to see Jon that night, like comfort and safety washed over me when he appeared. And my dad, like always, got the car going again somehow.

It's funny how some green fluid on the road can bring up memories on a random Thursday run.

My running pace quickened as my body and breathing adjusted. I rounded the corner and began a two mile gradual ascent through the business park. My mind continued to recall the small, dilapidated cars my family used to drive. For most of my childhood, our family of six drove in an economical Chevette, one that had been previously owned by multiple owners. One of us kids rode in the hatchback trunk for lack of space. When it became law to ride with seatbelts (and doubling up was prohibited), my dad jimmy rigged an extra one he had taken from the junkyard or somewhere. We didn't use that seatbelt much; it was much easier to just duck when passing a police cruiser. I remember a car that had holes in the floor clear to ground below, thanks to the corrosive nature of winter road salt and carpet worn bare. As a new driver, I remember a wedge of wood and bubble gum in the mechanics below the hood, making it possible for the car to run. There's more I could relate, so many more details of car adventures and roadside waiting. My dad had a way of keeping cars going long past the normal lifespan.

I never really conversed with God as a little girl, or even as a teen. Once in a while I did out of desperation. I didn't really know that God cared. I wanted to love him, but it was hard to muster up love when I didn't feel love in return. I felt too insignificant and incidental. Yet life just kept moving along somehow, rattling, stalling sometimes, broken parts held together by used gum and wood, coolants oozing and temperatures rising. I was a tenderhearted little girl in it all. Why didn't I know God cared? In all the years of going to church, why wasn't that ever impressed on my heart?

My running continued past a field of solar panels. Tender hearts and churches.... Memories of former days subsided and were replaced by anger at church-goers in more recent time. Unresolved anger? Maybe. Righteous anger? Yes.

What does a mama bear's heart feel like when aroused because her offspring were toyed with and their well-being threatened? I think I might have an idea. It is right for me to feel this anger at what church has carelessly communicated to my kids. It will be a tender mercy of God if they choose to take on the label "Christian" despite what those who profess have displayed to them, publicly and privately.

Anger seemed to fuel my run.

Breathe. Run. Breathe. My legs kept moving as my mind settled, because my merciful God listens to my pleas. I know that all of our pains in life and all the failures of people, including our own, may be the very reasons we lift our eyes up out of this earthy mess and onto him. So I settle on hope in God once more. He is a loving Redeemer.

As is usually the case by the end of my running loop, each breath is accompanied by a little moan. I can endure distance more than I can sustain speed; pace runs are hard for me physically and mentally. I feel slow despite my desire to sprint those last 400 meters. It's a most unpleasant portion of the route as I run along a busy boulevard, traffic and transport trucks traveling toward me and whirling wind tunnels of dust and debris. "Help me, God. Help." It's my usual plea from morning till night.

Once I made it to the particular traffic light that marks the end of my route, I stopped my iPod nano. I listened as my time, pace, distance, etc. were read off. Then I heard: "Congratulations! You ran your fastest recorded mile!" Sure enough, I'd run alright. Of the 1650+ miles I've run with this particular device, I had just run my fastest mile.

"See! God does care!" I practically panted it out loud. Immediately I was excited about sharing this happening with my boys. God's love is limitless. Walk in relationship without reservation. Or maybe run...


I've had these pictures uploaded in a draft for a long time, but always withheld posting for fear of venting in an unproductive way. My pictures kept bringing reactive sentiments rather than calm response. But tonight, as my husband is away using his gifts and talents, I have a renewed appreciation for him and this life we lead. It's a simple matter of fact that the most worthwhile commitments in life will also find certain difficulties and hidden grief connected. Kingdom work is a prime example. If I'm not careful, I will view the connected hardships as parasites rather than thorns: the former saps energy and health from its host, the latter points to the sufficiency of Christ.

These pictures are from the summer of 2018 when Jon and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. For years and years we had dreamed of going to Europe for this anniversary. We loosely planned for it by saving up air miles, and hoped the different facets of our lives would make allowance for such a trip.

But it could not be. Ministry life made no allowance. (I am happy just to let that point be without explanation tonight.)

So in a sort of last minute fashion, we took a weeklong trip to San Francisco instead.

It's a beautiful city, and we very much enjoyed exploring without four other people in tow! We learned a few tricks about city exploration by taking Airbnb tours from locals. We took a biking tour through all the parks and districts of town, and a Nordic hiking tour of Angel Island. It was wonderfully pleasant; we now have a handful of places that we just love.

We saw many of the typical tourist attractions, but also ventured off the beaten path a ton.

Running the hills and climbing the city stairs were on my must-do list. I didn't know Jon was peering at me through my zoom lens as I came up the street and up the stairs. This is what I like to do, even on vacation!

We each had a day of sickness, unfortunately. On the day Jon was sick, I explored Tiburon. (It looks like this is the only picture I uploaded to this blog draft after returning from our trip, and I don't feel like returning to the archives of picture files for more.)

At the end of Jon's recovery day, we spent the evening in Oakland. Mural shots are always fun!

Beautiful Angel Island

We learned that Nordic hiking is a very fast way to move once you get the hang of it. 

When someone thinks a camera "shot" is like a gun shot, they aim the camera like a gun and put the main subject in the bull's eye. Here's a basic photography tip: Don't take gun shots with your camera. Be a little more intentional with your composition and you will have a more pleasing image.

View from the ferry -

We discovered several great shops. We really enjoyed a Valencia gourmet grocery store perfect for picnics; also bakeries, flower shops, and many curiosity and specialty shops. We developed a better sense of the different districts and what each had to offer.

"Je dois avoir des fleurs, toujours et toujours."
Claude Monet

Reality of our life: We are always "followed" on vacation. Ministry needs know few boundaries. If it's not actual pressing interruptions, it's mental distractions that are difficult for Jon to escape. I am accustomed to this, albeit reluctantly at times. 

This is another part of this post/memory that I will just have to let be. 

Nonetheless, what I love seeing here is evidence of Jon's love for God's people and his commitment to the things that have eternal implications. That I love. I can happily get on board with that endeavor and assist or bear up in the various ways required of me.

Sometimes this simply looks like me taking pictures of window reflections while Jon does more important work. Most times, it's exercising immense patience and understanding. It's a lifestyle few people can relate to, and one that some people harshly misjudge.

Tonight, however, I am also reminded that it is through this work and through the church (local and at large) that many of our most treasured and life-giving relationships have formed. This is not lost on me.

We didn't get one single clear view of the bridge on this trip, but the fog was fantastic too. We spent our last morning driving the foggy cliffs over the city.

Jon called tonight with hardly a voice left to speak. He has been going full throttle for many weeks now on a difficult and sensitive project. The work is coming to a climax this week, which is the reason for his trip away. He left yesterday with chills and body aches; evidently extra water, vitamin C, and NyQuil haven't been curative. But he doesn't stop. He leads despite a killer flu. No sick day luxuries. (I do hope no one else gets sick!!)

I have such tremendous admiration for him.

For our 20th, Jon bought skydiving tickets. It took us a while to actually do it, but finally we took the jump at the close of the year. I hope to post pictures soon.


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