Sunday, December 31, 2017

Journeying Through Pages

Reading through 2017

People who know me well, know that I love to read.  This year I wanted to read 52 books and I was very close.  I greatly surpassed my goal if you count all the Children's books I read this year, especially if you counted the 10 times I read The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss (but I won't).  I have to admit that this quantity of books was mostly made possible by the Text-To-Speech feature on my kindle and San Jose traffic.  I also want to thank my Fuller professors for making it so clear to me how much of what I was reading was by old white men, and widening my reading lists. I benefited greatly from that challenge this year, though I still have far to go.

I'm posting this mostly for my own benefit, but thought I'd recommend a few books I read this year as well.  The books are listed in the order that I read them.  The titles that are in bold are my top reads from this year that I highly recommend.

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“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” 

  1. The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
  2. Legend by Marie Lu
  3. Love Warrior: A Memoir by Glennon Doyle
  4. Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis
  5. Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love by Anna Whiston-Donaldson
  6. The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit
  7. Soul Keeping: Caring for the most Important Part of You by John Ortberg
  8. Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
  9. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah             Seriously, you just need to read this book.  Trevor was born in South Africa during Apartheid to a black mother and a white father; literally his being born was a crime.  He uses his humor to talk about a difficult childhood and the brokenness of the world. 
  10. Homegoing: A Novel by Yaa Gyasi
  11. Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted by Shannan Martin
  12. For the Love: Fighting For Grace in a World of Imperfect People by Jen Hatmaker
  13. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
  14. The Insanity of God by Nick Ripkin
  15. Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids With the Love of Jesus by Elyse Fitzpatrick
  16. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  17. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  18. The Road Back To You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
  19. The Problem with Forever by Jennifer Armentrout
  20. Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler
  21. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
  22. Love Lives Here: Finding What You Need in a World Telling You What You Want - Maria Goff
  23. Yes Please by Amy Poehler
  24. Find Her by Lisa Gardner
  25. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson                            Most U.S. citizens will admit that the correctional system in the U.S. is broken.  But this book is mind-blowing.  Bryan Stevenson's work with death row inmates, battling discrimination and prejudices in the justice system is noble and something you should know about.
  26. The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  27. See Me by Nicholas Sparks
  28. Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult
  29. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch                                                                                                     A dying father writes the things he wishes he could teach his children and talks candidly about the process of dying.  Great book to get a good perspective on life.
  30. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics - Daniel James Brown                                                                                             I read this book because it was recommended to me by a good middle school friend who said it was incredible.  I would have never picked it up myself, but I'm so glad he clued me in.  It is just a great book about real people and the triumphs and difficulties of life.
  31. How to Be Here: A Guide to Creating a Life Worth Living by Rob Bell
  32. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
  33. We Should All Be Feminists - Chimamanda Ngozi
  34. A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master by Rachel Held Evans
  35. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
  36. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  37. Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Couter                                                                                The life story of a child who spent many years in the broken foster care system in the U.S. and was adopted as a teenager.  Anyone who has a heart of children in foster care and adoption should learn from this brave young woman.
  38. Three More Words by Ashley Rhodes-Couter
  39. Coming Clean by Seth Haines
  40. The Captain's Bride by Lisa Tawn Bergen
  41. Becoming Home by Jedd Medefind
  42. The Sanctuary by Ted Dekker
  43. David and Goliath: Underdos, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell
  44. When God Says Wait: Navigating Life's Detours and Delays Without Losing Your Faith, Your Friends, or Your Mind by Elizabeth Lang Thompson
  45. Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves
  46. Free of Me: Why Life is Better When Its Not Really About Me - Sharon Hodde Miller
  47. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
  48. Tossing and Turning by John Updike
  49. Stronger Than You Know by Jolene Perry 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Embrace Your Inner Ezer

It’s not always easy to embrace my identity. Or to fully understand it.  To believe that I am loved, known, and valued.  Telling teenagers that they are known, loved, and valued is something I have dedicated my life to doing.  And yet, sometimes I need to remind myself that it is also true for me.

I have to silence the voices of the lies that tell me I will never be enough. 

There are plenty of overt voices, but I think we also have to be aware of the subtle ways that we are making girls and women feel or believe that they are second-class citizens, just because they are female. 

The church has been a subtle voice that has made me personally feel less than. 

There are so many voices who have told me because I am female, I cannot possibly hear the voice of God in the same way as a man.  That I must always be under the authority of a man when teaching coed groups.  All these voices trying to tell me that I am not hearing God's clear calling on my life correctly.  

Thankfully, they were never the only voices that I heard.  There is an army of witnesses that have spoken truth over me, who have affirmed and encouraged me.  Unfortunately, the truth hasn’t always been the loudest voice in my head. 

Here's the reason for the soapbox moment: I recently learned that our English Bible translation might be part of the confusion about the value of women.  
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In Genesis 2, God decides to make a “suitable helper” for Adam.  “The help” is the woman who is later named Eve.  This word has always been difficult for me because it seems demeaning… like I was made to help fulfill the man’s needs, or to do the things he is unwilling to do. 

Here’s the blow your mind truth that I just learned.  The word that is typically translated as help – really is a strong word.  The Hebrew word to describe the woman that God is going to create is ezer.  Ezer means “strength” or “rescue”.  Meaning God created Eve to be Adam’s strength.  God created women to be rescuers in times of other humans’ great needs.  

The word ezer is found 21 times in the Bible.  Twice we find ezer in Genesis, in reference to Eve.  Three times the nation Israel begs other nations for military Ezer – strength, rescue.  However, ezer is used sixteen times to describe God’s great power and strength; His faithfulness to rescue us in our distress. 
Psalm 33:20 - We put our hope in the Lord. He is our (ezer) help and our shield.

Psalm 70:5- But as for me, I am poor and needy; please hurry to my aid, O God.  You are my (ezer) helper and my savior; Lord, do not delay.

God could have called women anything he wanted.  But He chose a word that means strength.  I’m so sorry that’s been lost in translation.  But women, let this truth wash over you… You are strong.  You are of equal strength as men.  You were not created to be his helpmate, but to be his strength.  God used a word that describes him to describe you.  God didn’t call us a helper.  He called us strength.  

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YOU ARE STRONG.  So today, hold your head high, and embrace your inner ezer.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

I Stand With HER!

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October 11th was International Day of the Girl and it stirred something in me.  I have a front row seat to watch the cycle of poverty, machismo, under-resourced public education (or lack of education), and broken governmental systems fail girls, teenagers, and women. I understand the pressing need for girls to be educated and empowered. 

I think of Sophia* whose mom is selling herself on the street, and whose dad is selling drugs on the same street.  Sophia moved out of their house fearing for her own safety, and thankfully found refuge with some loving neighbors.  However, Sophia dropped out of school because she feels she has to pay her own way in the world and she can't cause financial strain on the family who has taken her in.

I think of courageous Eva.  She's a teen mom due to sexual abuse.  When she shares her story, she recalls that her own mother sold her to men to support her own drug habit.  She continues to live in a highly volatile environment, but hopes for a different future for her daughter. 

I think of Lara who tells me that the only role for women that is valued in her neighborhood is becoming a mom.  So she doesn't understand why anyone would want to delay becoming a mom.  Mothers are valued and have someone in their lives who is always going to love them.  That's why she dropped out of school and purposefully became pregnant at a young age.

I think of Carolina who misses school on a regular basis to care for the brood of younger brothers who fill her house while her parents work to try to keep all the bellies full.  She's extremely responsible and works hard but is failing her classes. 

I think of Maria who after struggling and failing to pass the 7th grade, her parents pulled her from school.  They basically told her that she could not instead of looking for educational support. 

I also think of Maricel - an amazingly courageous women who walks the streets of an at-risk neighborhood to show teen moms that they are loved, valued, and have great potential. 

I think of Reina who chose to build a house in that same neighborhood so teen moms could see a healthy, loving family who wants to support them. 

I think of Guadalupe who herself is striving to break the cycle of poverty with her own education.  She's finishing up her first year of university.  While studying, she spends time to visit other teen girls in a highly impoverished neighborhood.  She wants the teenagers in that neighborhood to know they can succeed in school too, and help their families have a different future. 

Girls need to be in school, given opportunities to make a future for themselves.  I think we can all say, "Yes, I believe in girls all over the world receiving an adequate education."  We want to stand up against governments and social structures that are denying girls access to education.  But I also want to stand up for those women who are on the front lines everyday.  Maricel, Reina, and Guadalupe don't need a special day to remind them of the human rights of girls and women.  Nor do they need to be encouraged to fight for them.  These women are my heroes.  I stand with them in the fight for basic human rights for girls!

*Names of girls have been changed for their privacy and to protect them.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

BeLOVED, Sweet Daughter

The last few weeks I’ve been on a rollercoaster ride.  I’ve learned some things I honestly wish I didn’t have to deal with…  I learned about some ugliness that I would like to simply erase from my mind and history.  But it happened and I’m still dealing with the consequences of other’s actions.  And I’m learning to take responsibility for what is mine, and not take responsibility for what’s not.

This situation has forced me to really examine once again my identity and who I want to me.  I don’t want to be a person who simply reacts to what happens to me.  I want to be a person who invites others to embracing who they really are. 

Hear this great truth from my friend Henri Nouwen –

“’You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.’ That voice has always been there, but it seems that I was much more eager to listen to other louder voices saying, “Prove that you are worth something; do something relevant, spectacular, or powerful, and then you will earn the love you so desire. Meanwhile, the soft gentle voice that speaks in the silence and solitude of my heart renamed unheard or, at least, unconvincing.”

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Let it be convincing.  Remember – no matter what happens around you, YOU ARE LOVED!  You are the beloved.  The Lord looks at you and is well pleased.  BE LOVED, my friend!  Celebrate the love and embrace it.  

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Weight of the Papers In My Hands

I can't even begin to describe the emotions and thoughts that have been twirling around in my head and mind these last few days.  It feels too big to grasp - too much hope, too much opportunity for disappointment.  

Over a year ago, I made a very public announcement that I was moving towards the process of adoption.  I had to let people in at the beginning.  I live as a result of the generosity of others and wanted them to be aware of what God was calling me to do and that I would need their help.  A year has past and finally I have received the final documents necessary to be able to turn in my application packet.  All the official documents with their official seals and their official translations.  The papers feel weighty: futures held in the balance of a bunch of paperwork.  

I have found my heart wanting to protect itself this past month, because a yes and a match is not a guarentee.  But as I´ve been challenged to write things I want my children to know... here's what I´d like my son to know today.

Sweet boy,

You have not be forgotten.  You are seen.  Your story is not complete.  I´m fighting for you.  This is the verse I´m declaring over you today:

"Now to Him who is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly more than all that we dare ask or think [infinitely beyond our greatest prayers, hopes, or dreams], according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen." 
(Eph. 3:20-21, Amplified Bible)

Superabundantly more- yup... more than we can even dare to ask.  And I´m daring to ask a lot for you.  

I am sad that today I don´t get to hold you close, to pray over you, and remind you that you are loved.  But know I am praying for you.  And you have the absolute best Father there is!  He is with you now.  And I´ve asked Him to hold you tight and whisper His love in your ear.  And I´m praying that His voice will be louder than anything else that might be going on around you.  You are loved, champ!

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

The KNOWN Stranger

“Humanity is like a gigantic spider web.  Touch it anywhere and the whole thing trembles.  For as we move about our world, a kind word here, an ugly act there, what we do for good or ill will touch this person, this person will touch another, and so on, until who knows where the whole things ends.  No man, no woman is an island.” 
–Frederick Buechner

On August 28th, 2006, I caused my world’s spider web to tremble.  My life changed radically as I sat staring out the window of a plane that had landed in San Jose, Costa Rica.  Just hours before, I had waved goodbye to my parents as they stood helplessly crying at the security gate in Indianapolis, Indiana; I had just moved to Central America.  An entourage of Young Life staff met me at the airport, and took my to lunch before they took me to my “home” to meet my “family”.  I moved directly into tico (Spanish slang for Costa Rican) culture and full-time Spanish.  I was surrounded by new people, smells, and sounds.  I stuck out; I’m a nearly albino, freckle-covered red-headed gringa.  My status as a stranger is impossible to miss.  It's amazing how fast someone can become a stranger.  In one day, I had gone from a place where I was known and loved by many in a culture where I knew what was accepted and “normal” behavior to be a stranger lost in a strange, new land.

You’d think 11 years later, I would no longer feel like a stranger.  But the word stranger still seems like a good description most of the time.  Obviously, I still physically stick out.  My Spanish is pretty good but my accent immediately gives away my very much non-native-ness.  There are days when I declare that I am Tica de Corazon (Costa Rican at heart) and I honestly feel it and believe it.  (I do cheer on the Costa Rican Men’s Soccer team over the USA and encourage you to watch them in the World Cup next summer – they are incredible!)  Most days I follow cultural protocol without having to think about every move.  Wear pants even though it’s really hot and humid.  Throw the toilet paper in the trash can.  Greet everyone with a kiss when you walk into a room, and don’t forget to kiss them each again when you say goodbye.  But there is always something that reminds that I don’t fully belong.  I’m still an outsider, a stranger. 

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This week I sat across the table of another immigrant friend who said, “I really just miss being known.”  Her honesty resonated with me.  At first, I was saddened by the fact that I feel there are such a small number of people that surround me that make me feel truly known.  But then, I was excited because I’ve been given the opportunity to understand a piece of so many people’s journeys: people who find themselves living outside of their passport country for a myriad of reasons; people who are strangers. I also realized how incredible it is to know that we are known.  We are KNOWN.  Every hair on our head counted; every tear carefully caught; every thought and prayer heard; every passion, hope, desire, and dream recognized and celebrated.  I’m not a stranger to the Creator of the Universe.  None of us are.  We are known deeply.  Know that today.  You are not a stranger to the King.  You are beloved and known.  

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

To My Tribe
tribe [trahyb]

any aggregate of people united by ties of descent from a common ancestor, community of customs and traditions, adherence to the same leaders, etc.
a local division of an aboriginal people.
a division of some other people.

It takes a village to raise a child. It's true children become healthy adults when they are raised in a community that loves them and invests in them.  However, I think this proverb falls short.

It takes a tribe to thrive, to live abundant life.

I have an incredible tribe!  So, I just want to take a moment to be thankful to my tribe, to the people who surround me and love me.  Those who invite me into their lives, who give me space to be me and let them in.  

... for the invites to join your family for dinner and be a part of normal family rhythms.
... for texting and emailing just to check in or be encouraging.
... for making me laugh.
... for reminding my sweet nephews that their tia loves them so much.
... for crying with me.
... sitting next to me at church.
... for celebrating with me.
... for asking how to pray, actually praying, and following up later.
... for challenging me to grow and walking with me through refining processes.
... for simply reminding me that I'm not alone.

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Thank you.  I know that I am so much better because I'm not living this life alone.  Thank you.