Category Archives: Pondering

Hiking Through Life

En route to Nicaragua I’ve had a few hours of silence to reflect on life. And musing about the unconventional path I’ve been walking along stirred up memories from my childhood.

Its early in the morning and someone is shaking me awake. “We’re going on an adventure hike. Get dressed and come downstairs.”

We gather in the backyard, grab walking sticks, and set off into the great unknown.

We live in predictable suburbia where streets look more like the grid on my graph paper than the undulations of trails in the natural landscape, but on this adventure hike, you’d never know there were any rigid lines at all.

Dad bypasses the street blocks and suddenly we’re on a grand detour through the wilderness, venturing through culverts below the highways and weaving amongst tombstones in cemeteries or stumbling over wooden crates dying in an abandoned building.

At times I close my eyes or abandon the walking stick so I can hold more tightly to Dad’s hand, frightened by the dark, damp, and unfamiliar spaces. But I’m never in any real danger and by the time we arrive back at the house, I’m exhilarated. Exhausted, but exhilarated.

The spontaneity of Dad’s adventure hikes used to thrill me. Age has tempered that thrill of risk and uncertainty with a strong desire for structure and routine. I’d prefer to map out my own plans.

But no matter how hard I try to control it, life seldom colors within the lines of my own pretty pictures.

Right now, life looks more like a scribble than a neat and tidy picture. I can’t make out the final image.

And since I don’t know the details of what life will look like next year, my life feels like its in-flux and in-between.

I’m trying to rewind the clock far enough to recall those adventure hikes of my childhood. To remember what it felt like to follow with reckless abandon because I trusted Dad to lead me.

I’m not sure if Dad was trying to impress a lesson upon me but I’m struck by this thought:

God’s leading me on an adventure hike right now. I may not know what the next step is and I may need to hold on to His hand a bit more tightly, but what if I chose to release my control and find joy in the uncertainty?

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A Deeper Longing

deeper longingDo you ever have one of those days when your soul longs to be someplace else? When, no matter how hard you try to assimilate, there remains a disconnect between you and the place you are?

Maybe you’ve moved to a new house or a new city.

Maybe your ideals and values have changed and so you’re struggling to connect with a former group of friends.

Or perhaps your church is morphing and even though you’re in the same place, the body of believers is in constant flux.

Today has been one of those days where I long to be back in Congo. Although the reverse culture shock comes and goes in waves, there is one constant feeling which never seems to dissipate.

It is an unrelenting nagging which reminds me that I’m a stranger in America, this land I call home.

I wonder if this isn’t God’s nudging. A gentle whisper reaffirming that my soul was never designed to live in America. Nor was it designed to live in Africa, Argentina or Southeast Asia.

This world, as I know it, was never meant to feel like home. This land is temporary and I’m a stranger here.

I was meant for so much more. I was created with a longing to live in God’s kingdom. And only with Him will my heart finally feel satisfied because my citizenship is in Heaven.

So until that day comes, I struggle to fit in. But if I desire to see His kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven, I must figure out how to live for the sake of God’s glory whether in America or in Africa.

I must figure out how to live in the now and not yet.

Purpose Driven Job

woman windowAuthenticity has become a buzzword in the business community. Authenticity is the new black.

But I’m discovering that in America, genuine authenticity is hard to find.

Part of my struggle since leaving Africa and returning to America has been discovering my mission here. What is my purpose?

How do I unite the lessons I’ve learned with the passions of my heart while residing in America?

But most of the job opportunities I’ve received over the past several weeks have left me dismayed.

▪ Dismayed because the goals and missions of many companies don’t align with my purpose and passion.
▪ Dismayed because the few companies with which I might align well don’t achieve alignment with their own stated goals and mission.
▪ Dismayed because the companies which tout authenticity don’t actually practice what they preach.

Yet amidst all the rubble, there seems to be a gem.

From the first time Performa Higher Education contacted me and began the recruiting process, they cast their vision…a meaningful mission: helping small, private colleges and universities become healthy

One way they do this is by ensuring student success. If students thrive, the university thrives. I was introduced to the four stages of student success: attraction, belonging, engagement, community.

In a similar manner to how a college might recruit a new student, Performa began wooing me. Before I knew what was happening, I found myself emerging through those same four stages.

1. Attraction

Please consider meeting us to discuss the opportunity at a quaint cafe not far from Milwaukee.

Caffiene and a convo? I can do that.

Over a hot cup of coffee, they inquired about my passions, interests, and goals. They helped me conceptualize how I could utilize those passions with Performa.

I was intrigued. Eager to see how this could be a mutually beneficial relationship. Attracted enough to visit thier Green Bay office the following week.

2. Belonging

Come spend a day at our office. Join us for a workshop with innovative consultant and pioneer of residential colleges, Frank Shushok.

During introductions, I was presented as Performa’s new recruit. But rather than a bystander content to watch from the sidelines, I found myself quite vocal in the consulting sessions, brainstorming ways to translate research findings into architectural solutions.

I could see myself fitting in with Performa and providing meaningful contributions to their work.

3. Engagement

Travel with us to a job site. Observe what we do. Interact with students. Offer insight and suggest a few practical design solutions.

At a reputable college in Iowa, I was introduced not as a recruit, but as a consultant. Even more, I felt like a team member. Touring the campus and chatting leisurely with students, I listened to their stories that I might speak on their behalf to resolve some of the campus issues. My mind continued to ponder concepts which would promote the goals of this college for several days following my visit.

Fully engaged, I was ready to come on board.

4. Community

Come and work for us. Use your talents at Performa and help influence the world by impacting higher education.

Before long, I had become a case example of student success.

So in just a few days I’ll be joining Performa Higher Ed as a campus planner and designer working to enhance environments and hopefully, affect lives. Ready, set, go! 

Ideally, this opportunity might merge my two worlds (Africa/America).

And I wonder, could we at Performa provide an even greater impact by sharing our knowledge and success with higher ed institutions in the developing world?

Maybe someday we’ll help institutions in Africa. Institutions with an incredible potential to produce students who desire to be transformed and in turn, will transform the world around them. Institutions like Congo Initiative’s UCBC. Maybe someday…

Freedom

For the first time in my life, I’ve joined a book club. Sort of. It’s actually a blog read-along.

The book we’re reading is a raw, transparent story about finding your true identity (Your Secret Name, Kary Oberbrunner).

In Congo, identity comes from names. Birth names are descriptive, defining, even prophetic. This past year I sought to understand the significance behind my name and discovered hope in its meaning. You can read more about that here.

So far I’ve only read four chapters in the read-along, but a few passages have caught my attention and beckoned me to ponder at greater length. Like this one:

“…we’re more in tune with our stomach pains than our soul ache. We think more often of our need for food than our need for freedom.”

Deep down in our souls we’re all yearning for something more, no?

  • Maybe we’re too involved in the world to notice the longing in our souls.
  • Maybe the voices around are so loud we cannot hear the cry of our hearts.
  • Maybe, as Kary suggests, our hunger for food is deeper than our hunger for freedom.

And even in America—land of the free—most Americans aren’t living in freedom. No, our lives are just the opposite.

In the prosperous west, we’re in bondage.

  • We’re in bondage to technology, appearances, materialism.
  • We’re in bondage to our schedules, our careers, our goals, our 401Ks.
  • We’re in bondage because of finances, fears, false beliefs, and faulty vision.

But Christ has come to set us free from all that. Maybe discovering your true identity will help loosen the strongholds. May you experience freedom in Christ.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17

Year in Review

An entire year has passed. Don’t worry about reflecting though, the media will do that for you.

Significant moments from this past year will be compiled into a variety of lists: Best and Worst Dressed of 2010, Top 10 Google Searches, Most tragic news stories, Most retweeted Twitter posts,

In America, we excel at filling our lives with distractions. It prevents us from having to deal with the brokenness of our souls.

Because if we really sit down and reflect on our own lives, we know it will be uncomfortable. Painful, even.

Can you remove the distractions long enough to sit still and reflect on your life this past year? It’s not easy, but I’m trying.

Here are some of the questions I’m asking to help me review the year:

  1. What experience brought me extraordinary joy?
  2. What was my greatest sorrow this past year?
  3. What was the most encouraging thing I did for someone, as measured by their smile?
  4. How did I serve at my church? in my family? in my community?
  5. Who have I cheered for?
  6. Who have I listened to carefully?
  7. How did I demonstrate love to an enemy?
  8. When was I most comforted during this last year?
  9. When did I say, “I’m not sure I can do this” and then discover that I could?
  10. When did I trust God with more faith than I had in the past?
  11. Where, geographically, did I find the most delight this year?
  12. What was the most satisfying $5 I spent this year?
  13. What three people had the greatest impact on my life in 2010?
  14. What attribute of His character did God demonstrate to me?
  15. What was the best conversation I had?
  16. What do I understand better than I did in January?
  17. What was the smartest decision I made?
  18. In what areas of my life have I become more disciplined? Less disciplined?
  19. What book did I read that was written before 1846?
  20. How did my presence in social media (facebook, twitter, blog) impact God’s kingdom?

Ask yourself these questions. Be real with yourself. Then be vulnerable and share them with a friend. (Questions added to and adapted from here.)

Goat’s Meat and Beatitudes

With a new blessed mindset, I’ve been studying the beatitudes that I might truly take to heart a new attitude concerning the blessings of Christ.

hunger

neighbor boy in Beni, Congo

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall possess the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

And in thoughtful discussion with a new-found friend, I processed that passage (Matthew 5:3-12).

Like tough, fried goat’s meat, I had to chew on. And chew. And chew. Until finally, it was broken down enough to swallow, be digested, and nourish my body.

“Blessed are the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers.” Pretty straightforward. And though my character has not yet mastered any of those qualities, I understand them.

But I was still stuck on the very first bite of this goat-meat: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

What does it mean to be poor in spirit?

I don’t think it means lacking in spirit. We’ve got spirit, yes we do; we’ve got spirit, how bout you?

To my interpretation, it might be phrased, “Blessed are the people who have a spirit like the poor.”

I’ve spent some significant time living among poverty throughout East Africa. And here are a few general observations:

  • The poor will never, ever decline food.
  • The poor wait in eager anticipation for their next meal.
  • The poor are always hungry; they can always eat more.

So what if my spirit was like that?

What if my soul was always craving, always wanting more of God?

What if my soul had an insatiable hunger to feast on His Word?

Oh, that my soul would be as desperate for God as the poor are for food!

Blessing or Curse?

I realized I’ve been complaining quite a bit.

You were thinking the same thing, you’ve just been too nice to say it.

Complaining is to the enemy is what praising is to God.

Who then, am I serving?

Its time to stop viewing the difficulties I encounter as curses.

Do we all battle the temptation to think our lives are full of curses?

I imagine some of us more so than others. Its easy to assume curses when we or someone we love suffer from a fatal illness, an immense failure, a natural disaster, or a violent war.

But Jesus came to bless us, not to curse us.

Do I believe that?

Do you believe that?

Can we, by faith, trust that what appears to be a curse has the potential to be a blessing?

Choose to receive the blessing, rather than the curse.

And for those of you who have been following, no further update on the malaria situation…other than trying to accept it as a blessing rather than a curse.

Malaria Malady

Yesterday I was diagnosed with malaria. Again.

I know this sounds incredulous, especially since my last bout with malaria was less than one month ago.

But unfortunately, its true.

Malaria is like that lousy boyfriend that keeps coming back. And just when you think he’s gone for good, he’s looming round the corner waiting for you.

So how do I feel?

Oh, apart from the typical aches, pains, nausea, and headaches?
At first blush, I’m glad it was caught early before the disease is fully manifest. But when I ponder it further, I’m frustrated. Disturbed. Disheartened. Unsettled. Grumpy.

Why does God continue to allow this, when I have been so diligent about sleeping with a mosquito net and drenching myself with deet?

Why does Satan insist on tormenting me, stopping at nothing to ensure that my final days in Africa are miserable?

Here’s the scoop:

The doctor believes I may have a resistant strain, considering the number of times I’ve had it in the past few months.

The alternate theory includes that I may have developed a form of “recurring malaria”. (Not certain what this means, but that’s the best translation/explanation they can give me.)

What now?

Well, I’m resting at the house while receiving a course of intensive treatments.
My blood will be retested in a few days. If the malaria remains, I anticipate traveling to Nairobi to receive more acute medical care.

Trying to remain optimistic despite the disappointing drama of this soap opera.

Begone, Unbelief

At church last week we sang an unfamiliar (to me) hymn. In the hymnal, I noticed the original English title listed alongside the Kirundi. I found the complete translation online.

Smiling at the storm. Striving to live these words now etched on my heart.

Begone, Unbelief

Begone, unbelief,
My Savior is near,
And for my relief
Will surely appear;
By prayer let me wrestle,
And He will perform;
With Christ in the vessel,
I smile at the storm.

Though dark be my way,
Since He is my Guide,
‘Tis mine to obey,
‘Tis His to provide;
Though cisterns be broken,
And creatures all fail,
The word He hath spoken
Shall surely prevail.

His love, in time past,
Forbids me to think
He’ll leave me at last
In trouble to sink:
Each sweet Ebenezer
I have in review
Confirms His good pleasure
To help me quite through.

Why should I complain
Of want or distress,
Temptation or pain?
He told me no less;
The heirs of salvation,
I know from His Word,
Through much tribulation
Must follow their Lord.

Since all that I meet
Shall work for my good,
The bitter is sweet,
The medicine, food;
Though painful at present,
‘Twill cease before long,
And then, oh, how pleasant
The conqueror’s song!

Paint Spill Pity Party: Moral of the Story

Follow up from Crying Over Spilled Milk.

After the storm comes the calm.

After winter comes spring.

After the rain comes the rainbow.

After weeping comes dancing.

And after my pity party came perspective:

I certainly couldn’t recognize it in my self-absorbed state, but eventually I realized that this paint spill was not the end of the world.

Alongside perspective, the moral of the story:

In the paint spills of my life—the messy days, the thunderstorms, the seasons of confusion, the heartaches, the times of chaos—I often become too impatient to wait for the Lord’s solution. Other times, I’m too prideful or stubborn to ask for His help.

And in those instances when I try to clean it up by myself, I only increase the spread of my mess. I make it worse rather than make it better. Oh, my weak faith.

So with this new enlightenment, I’ve been thinking WHAT IF…

…I were patient enough to believe that even in the midst of the storm, He’s working it out?

…I abandoned my own agenda and just surrendered to His timing?

…I could trust that He’s cleaning up this mess even when I can’t see or feel Him?

…I stopped taking myself so seriously and began to find the humor hidden in the mess?

Guess I’ve got a lot to work on. Thank God for His Grace.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 “He makes all things beautiful in HIS time.”