Category Archives: Contemplations

Five Years in Moscow

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Hmmm…I appear not to have posted for an entire year. But it’s time for this annual one, so here ’tis. I won’t post the links to the previous ones, since you just need to scroll down to the next post for those.

Five years. And since I will turn 50 in a couple of months, that means I’ve spent ten percent of my life here. I can’t really think of anything new that I want to add to my previous list of things to be thankful for, but I’ll update a couple:

My Perch: The church office moved recently, so I relocated to a space in a small business run by some friends. I am grateful for their hospitality and camaraderie. At any moment, I am not surprised to hear one or another of the guys humming or whistling a psalm or hymn…basically Ephesians 5:19ing it all over the place. They bless me. And make me wish I could whistle!

My Progress: I’ve been seeing the sort of spiritual growth that I’ve been fighting for for decades. More joy and more victory. Still a long way to go, but grateful to see the wheels turning.

OK, as I was typing, I thought of a couple more things:

My Persecutors: I’m not suffering any kind of big-time persecution, but I’ve attracted the occasional reviler and evil-sayer, so that’s cause for rejoicing and exceeding gladness.

My Prayer App: Huge recommend for PrayerMate. This has really helped me be more consistent in keeping a prayer list and following through with it. And that’s the foundation of loving my neighbors (and my aforementioned enemies) better.

Might keep this up next year…might not. We’ll see!

Four Years in Moscow

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1 Year | 2 Years | 3 Years

I landed in Moscow four years ago today. Here are this year’s additions to the gratitude list:

    • My ’Pliance
      (Yeah, yeah, I’m cheating on the alliteration. So sue me.) About six weeks ago I became the proud owner of a CPAP. This nifty little appliance is truly the only weapon anyone needs to fend off the zombie apocalypse. Assuming, of course, that there’s only one zombie, and it happens to be oneself. I used to wake up every morning praying that I wouldn’t have to get up…and sometimes (increasingly often) just deciding to stay in bed all day. As I’ve gotten used to my new machine, there’ve been more and more mornings when I wake up rarin’ to get started on my to-do list. This being human business. I kinda like it.
    • My Pain
      Betcha weren’t expecting that one. Neither was I. As I’ve learned to be grateful for the hard things as well as the happy ones, I’ve mustered up gratitude for various difficult circumstances and for my place in God’s story. But one day last fall, it struck me that I needed to give thanks for the central pain in it all: loneliness. No. Way. was my first reaction. Not. A. Chance. But I Matthew 21:29’d it, and was able to be genuinely grateful by the end of the day. Can’t say I’ve maintained that attitude 24/7, but once begun is half done, so I’ll take what progress I can find. That loneliness has been the sharpest in the loss of the closest friend I’ve made since I moved here. I wrote about Eileen last year. We buried her yesterday. But I find I can give thanks even for her dying, because it was as beautiful as her living. God has been kind to her, to her family, to me, to all of us through all of it.

It’s been a hard year, but I’m happy to be right where He wants me to be.

A Recycled Parable

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Here’s a parable I wrote several years ago. I thought of it again this morning when I encountered a lunkheaded Levite harassing a repentant lamb:

A certain sheep went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. Well, she started out in that direction at any rate, but very foolishly wandered off the road and fell into a deep, miry pit.

Now by chance a certain priest came down that road.

“Please help me!” she bleated. “I’ve very foolishly wandered off the road and fallen into this pit!”

“Aw…don’t be so hard on yourself,” he replied. “Who’s to say that being in a pit is wrong? And wandering off isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just an alternative path. So don’t let anybody judge you!” And he passed by on the other side.

Likewise a Levite arrived at the place.

“Please help me!” she bleated. “I’ve very foolishly wandered off the road and fallen into this pit!”

“You know what your problem is?” he asked. “You’ve very foolishly wandered off the road and fallen into this pit. What you need to do is stick to the road, like I do. I’ll be praying for you to get your act together and cease your stupid straying!” And he passed by on the other side.

And a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where she was.

“Please help me!” she bleated. “I’ve very foolishly wandered off the road and fallen into this pit!”

And when he heard her, he had compassion. So he went to her and hauled her out, and cleaned the mud out of her wool, and carried her back to the road.

“I think I’d better go the rest of the way with you, Miss,” he advised. “I’d hate for you to meet with robbers along this road while traveling unprotected.”

“Robbers?” she replied with a laugh. “Oh, there are worse people than robbers to meet out here!”

Three Years in Moscow

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I arrived in Moscow three years ago today. In addition to year one’s list and year two’s list, I am grateful for…

  • My Prescription
    Last summer and fall, I spent three or four months in a haze of fatigue. Several weeks in, I went to the doctor, and after a couple of visits and a couple of rounds of blood work, we had a diagnosis of hypothyroidism and a prescription that gradually brought me back to life. I am grateful for modern medicine that allows me to be a functional human being.
  • My Paracletes
    Amid the physical and emotional symptoms of my illness, a number of people came alongside me. One Saturday I was kidnapped, and my keys were stolen, and a gang broke into my house…and cleaned it. That’s a gift I won’t soon forget. Folks brought meals for a while till I was feeling more on top of things. There were flowers, and there were encouraging notes, and there were (and still are) many prayers. When I was back on my feet, but it was clear that things still weren’t right with my heart, two ladies in particular, Nancy and Eileen (my pastors’ wives), continued to be relentless with encouragement and counsel and lunch dates and checking in and the right kind of pushiness. I am grateful for this avalanche of love that has pounded down on me for the past eight or nine months
  • My Perch
    Another specific megablessing has been my new office. Nancy saw the need to get me out of my isolation at home and installed me in a snug little spot in the church office building. Not only has it been great to get out of the house and interact with other human beings every day, it’s been a great perch from which to observe the life of the congregation. I especially appreciate seeing how our deacons serve our community. Once a week, a couple of them give up their lunch breaks to meet with folks who have practical needs. They don’t just throw money at situations; they get to know people and work on solving the problems underneath the problems. I am grateful to be be near the hub of our church life and to see others being blessed there, too.
  • My Progress
    My pastor often reminds up to judge things by the video, not by the snapshot. In the case of my sanctification, the video is so slo-mo that it takes some concentration and a little imagination to see any action, but I think I can juuuust make out a little creeping progress. I am grateful that “He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.”

And now the suspense begins: Will I be able to keep up this ever-more-strained P-alliteration in next year’s anniversary post? Tune in to find out!

Giving Temptation Backchat

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Thinking about the Romans 6 reminder that I am no longer a slave to sin, and realizing that I act too often as if I am, I came up with the defiant “You ain’t the boss of me!” to use against it when it says, in one of its wheedling ways, that I must do this or that. I decided I needed to expand that a bit, and came up with this ditty. Maybe I’ll make up a tune to go with it, but for now, this’ll do.
Sin, you ain't the boss of me

Joy Doodles #22 and 23

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Joy Doodle 022 sm
The first one was my entertainment on a recent cross-country flight. I knew the motion of the plane would prevent precision, so I planned on the wobbliness of the vertical lines giving it a bit more texture.
Joy Doodle 023 sm
Back on solid ground, I did the second one, which required a steadier hand. At one spot, I goofed and used the same color adjacent to itself. A little cutting-and-pasting plus a little Photoshopping hid it pretty well, I think.

‘Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?’

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“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

No, I wasn’t.

Would I have been if I’d been alive in that time and place?

No, I don’t think I would.

Should I?

There’s an article with links to videos of the least of these His brethren being “crucified” for His sake in Iraq. Should I be willing to watch them as a way of “being there” with them? Am I being a coward not to watch them? My reticence isn’t about denial. I’ve already dreamed about a mass execution after seeing that photo of the truckload of men and boys being hauled away to their deaths, and I’ve wept over some of the still photos that I’ve dared to look at. There’s been plenty to fuel my prayers. And there’s not much else I can do but pray.

There is one more thing, actually: I can redouble my efforts to obey God. Individual sin has a corporate effect. Take Achan’s example. Innocent people died because of his sin. Individual obedience likewise has a corporate effect. It blesses, often in unknown ways. I need to fight harder for their sakes. THAT is where I can’t afford to flinch.

*****

“Were you there when the crucified my Lord?”

Yes, I was. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

Am I there with my raped and butchered brethren in Iraq?

Yes, I am. “We are members of one body.” “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.”

Two Years in Moscow

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I arrived at my new digs two years ago today, and I still couldn’t be more sure that it’s the right place for me to be. Did I ever tell you that God tricked me into this move? I’d never have done it. The only idea I had was to go someplace different for a year or two and then come back to Maryland. But then I was buying a house (because I didn’t want to throw away rent money for two years), and while I was still telling the “I’m just going temporarily to go back to school” story, it slowly dawned on me that such was not the case. Finally a friend said, “You’re not coming back, are you.” I grinned and shook my head sheepishly. I’m glad God’s smarter than I am…and clever enough to guide me where I need to be.

In addition to last year’s list, I am grateful for…

  • My Provision
    I’ve also been tricked into freelancing. It was not my idea of a nice, secure position, and I am definitely missing my disposable income, but I’m overjoyed to be able to do editing, designing, and a wee bit of writing on projects that I know are building the Kingdom. Here are a few I’ve been privileged to have a hand in: Introductory and Intermediate Logic, Against the Church, The Seven Laws of Teaching, Fit to Burst, Beowulf, and the Old Western Culture series. Amid the vicissitudes of the freelance life, I’m also grateful for a nice, consistent layer of steady work doing video review for Next Wave Security Solutions. And although it stresses and exhausts me every time, and I frequently swear I’ll never do it again, a little wedding cake income now and again is nice.
  • My Protection
    At a wedding the other day, the homily reminded me of how blessed I am to live in a community where biblical principles of marriage and parenting are clearly taught and abundantly modeled. Although I don’t get to experience the blessings of marriage directly, just knowing that godly husbands and fathers exist, and seeing the evidence of their faithfulness in the wives and children around me gives me a sense of security. It’s a persistent reassurance that, ah, yes, that Story I’ve been reading all my life really is true. This is gonna sound weird, but I feel like the Syrophoenician woman, who knew the children’s meal was not for her, but was content to gather the crumbs under the table. The crumbs at this feast make a better meal than the biggest helpings at the world’s table.

I’m so grateful that God brought me here!

It Never Entered Your Mind

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“They built the high places of Baal that are in the valley of Ben-hinnom to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I had not commanded them nor had it entered My mind that they should do this abomination….” Jeremiah 32:35, NASB

It never entered God’s mind that parents should murder their children. I am grateful for those of you parents who never let that thought enter your minds, either (or chased it right out again if it did), when your kids were conceived under less than ideal circumstances. You live in a culture that tempted you with a way out, but by God’s grace, you didn’t take it.

The world told you that it would be too embarrassing or too expensive or too burdensome or too risky to have your babies, but you rejected the very notion of the horrific alternative. Thank you for your defiance.

Some of you endured pressure from family, friends, and other busybodies. Thank you for your longsuffering.

Some of you chose the hard path of blessing another family with a baby, and blessing your baby with another family. Thank you for your sacrifice.

Some of you opened your arms to receive little ones who were not flesh of your flesh but became heart of your heart. Thank you for your hospitality.

Some of you chose the hard path raising your baby alone. Thank you for your courage.

Some of you manned up and married her. Thank you for your responsibility.

Some of you resisted the temptation to sock the doctor in the jaw when he suggested your child wasn’t worthy of life. Thank you for your holy indignation.

Some of you endured the reminder of terrible sin perpetrated against you. Thank you for refusing the absurd logic of trying to make things right by adding wrong to wrong.

All of you shine the light of life in a culture of death. Thank you for telling the story of God’s grace with your lives.