off’ring up on ev’ry shore

I’ve been thinking about my childhood as a “Missionary Kid” quite a bit today, mostly because I’ve been in the kitchen preparing my contributions for a Caribbean-themed potluck later this weekend, but also because I’m still reflecting on two movies I had on this morning about the missionaries to Ecuador who were killed in 1956. I would highly recommend that you do the same, as the stories of Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, et al., are told in both “Beyond the Gates of Splendor” and “End of the Spear,”  which are available for free viewing on Hulu, the poor person’s Netflix!  Thankfully my own family’s missionary experience, though trying, did not involve murderous villagers or loss of life. Of course I do not directly compare them, except to note that both stories show sometimes making “big” sacrifices or steps of obedience as a Christian can turn out in a way that makes you feel like you’re falling flat on your face if you don’t have a wider perspective to see beyond the moment. And by “beyond the moment,” I mean it might be well beyond your own lifetime that anything comes together, even. This is a hard thing to grasp hold of!

When I was eight, my family moved to Trinidad so my parents could serve as professors at a seminary that was a part of their church denomination. We were there for two years, moving back to the US when I was ten. Here I am with my two younger sisters. We’re next to “Sister Ross,” the woman who cooked for all the faculty and students (probably ~30 people a day?). This picture is out the side door of the cafeteria – notice there is no glass on the windows? And no doorknob? We were truly in “the bush,” experiencing near 3rd-world conditions! I am especially remembering Sister Ross’ hot, steamy kitchen as I saute sliced plantains and boil chayote squash on this outrageously humid June afternoon

hungry cat, Sister Ross, Bethany (5), Abby (8) and Naomi (3)

Just some commentary on our appearance: We all had hurache sandals, but mine were multicolored because there were no more white ones in my size when we got them. I didn’t like not matching my sisters in our shoes, and I was really frustrated that I had outgrown the sweet acid wash denim outfit that Beth so fashionably models in this photo. But seriously… isn’t little Naomi the cutest thing you’ve ever seen? She was probably 3. And that poor cat is probably the most pathetic animal to ever walk the planet. I think I remember that we were not allowed to play with her.

Experiencing significant life upheaval at a young age, like if your mom begins working outside of the home while you are all adapting to another culture, has a way of changing how a child sees the world. I was a precocious girl, very conscious of the culture shock we faced in both directions – moving to Trinidad and moving back to the States a few years later (the move back to the US was infinitely harder) – and I can’t remember much about life before this time. Plenty of my memories are of fun and carefree kids: playing outside in the rain (even the rainwater was warm!); eating fresh mangoes; our first puppy “Scooby”; seeing parakeets perched in the trees and telling my mom “I didn’t know those actually lived anywhere for real… I thought they were from the pet section at Meijer!”;  little lizards everywhere; and our special trip to the one McDonalds in the whole country where I got a Polly Pocket in my kids meal.  But there were challenging aspects that I remember, too: We went down there with practically nothing – personal belongings like clothing, homeschool books, toys, etc., for our family of five fit into eight trunks, and yet the neighborhood kids thought we must be princesses because we each had a Barbie; We could barely understand the “English” spoken there; Some of the food served to us was really gross, like pigs foot soup, and yet we obeyed my mom’s “look” that said finish your plate and if you say anything I swear I will kill you on the way home;  cockroaches the size of my nine-year-old hand and toads the size of a dinner plate; and on several occasions our small home was burglarized while we were sleeping.

One of the other frustrating things about life in Trinidad was that church took FOREVER. I mean it. Like 2-3 hours. And we would sing the same songs over and over and over. No air conditioning. Some Sundays it truly felt like torture – the hard pew, the sweaty back, the people behind us petting our pretty blond hair. And yet, I have to smile every time I think of this chorus we must have repeated at the beginning and end of each service for two years worth of Sundays:

The name of the Lord is a strong tower,
The righteous run into it and they are safe.

While I was old enough to know about some of the difficulty we all faced, this was an experience that has made my life richer and brighter, and I’m enjoying the memories these tastes and smells trigger for me.

Grandparents visited us the second year - with Poppa at Maracas Bay. He played in the waves with us, and it was the first time I'd ever seen him without that toupee.

For Thy Church which evermore, lifteth holy hands above.
Off’ring up on ev’ry shore , her pure sacrifice of love.
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise!
– For the Beauty of the Earth, Folliot Pierpoint 1864.

“There’s nothing my God cannot do”

It’s been a busy week, full of music, children, friends, and number crunching. I started off helping some friends with childcare and food after the birth of a new baby and immediately jumped into a week of vacation bible school at church. It’s such a challenge to juggle work and church commitments every single night, but I love singing with kids and investing myself in their lives. One of the reasons I love this is because I know music is one of the most powerful tools to firmly impress something in a person’s memory.  It’s pretty sobering to think that those hundred brilliant little minds are far more likely to remember the songs we taught than the stories they heard or even the verses they memorized.

And night after night, I made eye contact with the four- and five-year-olds, making eye contact, exaggerating my arm motions, smiling, encouraging them to repeat the words after me, teaching them

My God is so great, so strong and so mighty
There’s nothing my God cannot do – for you!

in some ways, I felt like I was teaching them a half-truth. Yes, of course, we instruct children about God’s sovereignty and power. But there is more to God’s might than the fact that He can do anything, and I feel a keen frustration that I start this lesson but will probably move away before they are ready for the rest of it. This first part, if understood without further explanation can lead to heartache, disillusionment and rebellion.  So as they grow into teenagers and adults, I hope and pray they will have more teachers and mentors to guide them through the hard and beautiful truth that this mighty, strong powerful God doesn’t always do the things you desperately wish would happen. And that God not doing those things does not mean He isn’t strong and mighty,  or that He is not working in the midst of pain or disappointment. This reminds me that I am outrageously grateful for the friends and teachers who have blessed me and encouraged my growing faith as we shared those lessons of discovery and trust.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy inhabitation of the Most High. God is within her; she will not be moved; God will help her when the morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
– psalm 46, esv.

(ps, I know mom and grandma love the domestic updates: I transplanted a bunch of hostas last week and so far they are looking great)

And like I mentioned at first, there has been some exciting number-crunching going on at our house.  I’ll have more details to share later, but I am amazed at these answers to long-offered prayers. Our life is overwhelmingly blessed.

the holy words will fall inside

I barely slept last night because it was so hot in our house. We are outrageously frugal with our air conditioning. I mean, as long God made cold glasses of ice water, electric fans and clinical strength anti-perspirants,  why should we start shelling out buku bucks to cool our home while most of the world lives in shacks without any sort of temperature control at all? We won’t close the windows and adjust the thermostat, we pledge, until we feel like we are absolutely dying. Friends, that moment of surrender came this morning about 12:45 when we realized the bedroom had not cooled down enough in two hours for either one of us to sleep a wink. In the insanity and boredom, we had a middle of the night pillow fight that finally wore us out enough to break into fitful dozing until the morning. Needless to say, I was completely exhausted and unexcited about most of life all day. After work I saw that a big box of books came, and I lazily thumbed through each one a bit in some effort to decide which one to read first.
Amidst the weariness I found myself so refreshed reading this paragraph, from my now top-of-the-list book:

“I was twenty-seven when I first read the story about the Hasidic rabbi who told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts. A woman asked him, “But why on our hearts instead of in them?” The rabbi answered, “Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your hearts, and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.”
– “the scent of water” by naomi zacharias

I’m really looking forward to reading this and I’ll be sure to share my thoughts on it when I’m through. Have you been reading lately, and reading the sorts of books that really make you think?

fire at Slane Hill

I have many reasons to love St. Patrick’s Day. Although my strongest ethnic identity comes from my Finnish grandfather who blessed us with Saunas and Kropsu and loose familial ties to the “Flying Finn” Paavo Nurmi, I can celebrate this day whole-heartedly because I’m about one-quarter Irish. I love beer, corned beef and cabbage. I love the color green. And if it were possible for an annoying little red-haired leprechaun to give me a pot of gold, I would be in favor of that. I do have a kitchen to remodel.

I also love the nerdy and sacred historical basis for this celebration. The exact details are sketchy, but it’s widely accepted that teenage Patrick was kidnapped from his home in Scotland and taken captive to tend sheep for a druid master in Ireland in the 400’s. In the six years (My God! I whine about much shorter trials nearly every day!) of his slavery, he gave his heart over to God in prayer and was so intimately connected to the Lord that he recounted praying at least one hundred times a day in all weather and all circumstances. These circumstances were pretty awful, being kidnapped to live outdoors as a shepherd and enslaved to a druid master.  In his sixth year of captivity, God led him to run away from his captors and he escaped to be with his family again. Happy ending? Not yet. He was then trained as a priest and called to go back to spread Christianity in Ireland. Legend says he dreamed of the people of Ireland calling him to come and preach to them. (This wasn’t the first time someone heard their call to mission in a dream…)  He brought the gospel to the country of Ireland and ministered effectively throughout the land for 28 years, inestimably blessed by a full knowledge of their language and religious customs. He is famous for lighting a fire on Slane Hill the night before Easter to represent the light of Christ – this against the direct commands of the pagan rulers celebrating a Spring Equinox festival.  The fire burned brightly and incited a showdown with the pagan ruler and his men, but by the power of God, Patrick preached the gospel to the whole pagan army on Easter morning.

The Irish tune Slane is named after the memory of Slane Hill where Patrick shone the light of Christ and proclaimed his death and resurrection on Easter Sunday. We often sing it with the words of the song Be Thou My Vision. It’s a wonderful hymn, and I especially love the “hidden” verse you almost never hear sung in church:
Be Thou my battle-shield, sword for my fight
Be Thou my dignity, Be my delight!
Thou my soul’s shelter, Thou my high tower
Raise Thou me heavenward, O power of my power.
(Be Thou My Vision, English translation by Eleanor Hull)

We also have a prayer from St. Patrick which includes the following stanzas:
I bind unto myself today:
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, his shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name:
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

So. If you think of all this when celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, you will see that drinking beer can be a very spiritual experience.

a dream (is a wish your heart makes?)

I had the weirdest dream last night. I had fasted all day, which I do about once a week. I am a huge fan of fasting as a spiritual discipline. But more on that later. By nightfall, I was very hungry but also very aware of the Holy Spirit. I suppose this means it could have been the Lord speaking to me very powerfully… or my brain could have been expressing its own hunger … or maybe it was just my way of processing the week’s events, which included discussions with two sets of friends about their unnamed daughters in utero.

In this crazy dream, Aaron and I needed to adopt triplet babies. Like the babies were suddenly there with us and we needed to take care of them. There were two boys and one girl. They were all caucasian, which isn’t a big deal except that all the conversations we’ve had about adoption usually refer to children from Haiti or Ethiopia. My expectations of potential adoption for us always include little black boys, but who am I to say what kind of children God could send us?

Back to the dream: I was freaking out about what we would name them all, because I didn’t want to give away my favorite names in case the babies were taken away later.  I was in this hallway with a bunch of people rushing around who had backpacks all over the place (much like a middle school) holding the baby girl and trying to figure out what her name would be. She had a large red birthmark on her jaw and dark hair. I wouldn’t put her down because I couldn’t figure out her name. One of the boys was originally named Carter and he had big blue eyes. No offense to any Backstreet Boys fans,  but that is not the sort of name we picture ourselves giving to any of the little Hummels.  The two boys were in a double side-by-side baby carseat. They don’t even make carseats like that for babies anyway. I don’t think that would be safe. Anyway, we weren’t in a car so that was the least of my concerns – remember, baby girl still had no name. Then Aaron and I were in a dressing room in a big house. The house overlooked a lake or river. Yes, it is definitely a dream of mine to live in a home with big windows over a body of water. And while we are at it, of course, a dressing room would be fabulous. But it had paneling, so, ick. I would have to redecorate in real life. There were piles of clothes everywhere, kind of like my bedroom right now. And the three babies were in their carseats. I needed Aaron to help me, so he picked up one of the boys and held the whole carseat (the little guys had their own at this point) and asked me why the clothes weren’t put away yet. I was wearing baby girl with a wrap. It seems my fascination with attachment parenting practices does not suspend in dreams.

Then we went back to the middle school, where I was late getting in to some sort of presentation at the school auditorium with clunky seats. Also, I had the three babies with me.  Clearly this was a very awkward entrance. All my friends and my sisters were sitting in one aisle. I grabbed a seat next to them and started passing the babies down so everyone could see them. None of the babies cried at all during this dream.

Then I woke up. And now I am writing about it here.

Maybe it will sort of come true someday and we can all marvel at the work of God the creator (“who still guides us on to the end of our days”) in our lives. …Or maybe someone else will think it’s as funny as I do and get a good laugh out of it right now.  Ha!

these have i loved

I’ve rediscovered Rupert Brooke’s poem The Great Lover this weekend. No, it’s not scandalous. It’s about finding delight in the simple details of life. I read it in college and now I tend to think of the line about “the strong crust of friendly bread” when inhaling the yeasty aroma of baking bread and slicing into a loaf of fresh whole wheat.
Along with re-reading this poem, I’ve been considering the importance of contentment, choosing to be happy and joyful in the midst of the life I have right now. It’s a life with lots of house work, job work that I don’t particularly enjoy, frugality/scrimping, and I’m often very far away from people I love. At times it is easy to focus on what is “missing” from my life, like new clothes, a remodeled bathroom, babies, a master’s degree, chances to travel as much as I prefer, ministry opportunities, a housekeeper (ha). But I am so very blessed; I have much to be thankful for; and I’m so much more joyful when I focus on the delights of the life I do have.

So here is my too-short list of the small and significant delights of my heart:
warm cowls and recycled yarn to make a sweater
celebrating Aaron’s 26th birthday
letters and cards ready to be mailed
friends H and B coming for dinner tomorrow evening
summer sausage from Aaron’s big deer
gray nail polish on my toes and fingers
finding new jeans with tags on from the gap at goodwill for $5.00
singing “Be Thou My Vision” in D-flat after dinner
writing in my journal
preparing birthday gifts for Aaron, N, E,  and others
reading my new ESV Bible from JB. This makes me feel extra spiritual. It is purple, which makes me feel extra special.
being married to someone who loves guacamole and fine cheese as much as I do
learning/trying to love Lord of the Rings
humming “Morning Has Broken” as the sunrise streams into our bedroom
fresh snow on our yard
Prairie Home Companion
bananas and greek yogurt
our fireplace
friends A and J, who share good news with tact and consideration
anything and everything by gf handel
heavy blankets over me in bed
cute stickers and stamps
handwritten letters
soaking tired feet in a bathtub full of hot water
the light of the lamp in our living room
freshly wiped counters
finishing projects; anticipating the day I will be a finished project (he who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it)

He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful. …The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy. -ps 111.
Lord, cause your wondrous works to be remembered in our hearts this day. Give us grace that we might trust in your precepts and your faithful work on our behalf for salvation and sanctification. Make us great lovers – of others, of what you have given us, and of you.

The poem is such a worthwhile read: The Great Lover
This article is also wonderful, along the same line of thought, and written by a dear mentor and professor from college: The Romance of Domesticity


I have been procrastinating a little bit today, but I have to say I have a dream where my whole weekend does not revolve in catching up from the last week and preparing for the next. Like maybe next Saturday I won’t have to fold 7 loads of laundry. How do we even have this many clothes? And maybe some weekend I’ll be able to work on a project without feeling guilty about the house because it won’t actually be a disaster. Does this life ever happen for anyone? I am willing to invest in some serious self-discipline if it would make life more ordered.

While it is totally ironic that I’m procrastinating by doing this, I looked up the english word “order” in an English-Latin dictionary. I was actually just looking for the word ordo, ordinis but what I found kind of shocked me. There is a huge list of words! And so many different meanings! Here are a few that I’m thinking about today:
Castigo, Castigare means to reprove, chasten, or punish; to check or restrain. As a participle, castigus, -a, -um, means restrained, orderly and neat.  Because an ordered life means I must restrain and chastise myself for my own benefit.
Modestia, Modestiae not surprisingly gives us the idea of modesty. It means moderation, restraint, propriety, orderliness; respect. Moderation is so often a great sign of respect, isn’t it?
And Ordino, Ordinare means to set in order, arrange, appoint; to govern as a country.  Well all I have is a house and some other little projects. Certainly I can govern just that and succeed, right?

the weary world rejoices

It’s been a year of weariness for me in many ways, and I have been very comforted by the lyrics of O Holy Night during Advent and Christmas.  Striking lines like “the weary world rejoices / for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn” are sung glibly because we hear them so often, but are still very meaningful. I love that the second verse talks about the King of Kings lying “thus in lowly manger / in all our trials born to be our friend” – Almighty God experiencing humility that he might be a friend and comforter in our trials! The last verse, beginning with “Truly He taught us to love one another,” is such a reminder of how the afflictions of this year have brought a new sense of reliance and companionship in my marriage, too. This has been one of the greatest blessings of the year.

For the 2010 holidays, we were very grateful to have a few short days with both sides of the family during Christmas. I have such a short amount of time off work each year and we have to calculate the vacation hours carefully to make the most of it. There’s always so much to decide between – beyond family visits, there is also the option for time with friends, projects on our house, and adventures with just the two of us! We had great weather for our eight-hour drive and enjoyed some long chats in the car on both ends of a very action-packed trip. Unfortunately we took almost no photos of our own, but my sister got a camera so we have lots of lovely pictures from that part of our trip. Here are a few highlights:

After this next one, my Grandma so politely said “Um, Beth… I think everyone else was trying to look good for this shot.”

Also, in that deer-in-the-woods sculpture (we all want it and tell Grandma to pass it on if she’s ever changing her decor), I just discovered a unicorn.  Who puts a unicorn in the same scene with deer?

My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice
Ps 34:2