I'd describe this blog as a place for the purposeful ramblings of Ruth and others. You get to read my thoughts. Will you please share yours, too?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Beginnings and Ends

Forgive me for not writing much lately. This month has brought many changes in my life, many of which I chose not to share too deeply in a forum this public. Also, recently I've found myself reflecting on life more by living it, rather than writing about it. I haven't spent too much time in front of a computer the past few weeks. I still have things that need to be written, though, and I know there will be time for that.

I started this blog as a way to express myself, to put into writing those things that were rolling around in my head and needed to be sorted out in some comprehensible way. I still desire to write as a way of making my thoughts, feelings, and views more real but I won't be using this blog for that purpose anymore. It's time for this blog to end and for something new to begin.

To those of you who know me...you know how to contact me. I'll let you know where you can find my words!

To others who don't know me but have come to know who I am a bit more by visiting...thanks for reading, pondering, thinking, and reflecting with me.

In Christ,
Ruth

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Back In Town

I am back in The Woodlands from my trip to Sacramento/Denver/Chicago/Pennsylvania (and all the other cities in between)! I haven't even been back to my apartment, though. We drove through the night and I went straight to work.

I have stories and thoughts to share, but not now. Here are some of the things I might tell you about...
-Views from the airplane window (with pictures!)
-The Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco
-Perfect weather for running in Sacramento
-My 30 minute conversation with Chris, a man standing on a street corner with a sign that read "Homosexuality is Sin"
-Oneness as a way of understanding God
-The Tree of Life vs. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (what does that second tree's name mean?)
-a "DTR" as the sun was setting on the plains in Kansas
-hitting golf balls at the driving range
-Learning to use "we" language instead of "I" language
-Chicago style pizza
-I realized I am my mother
-Wrong turns as opportunities
-Parallels between relationships and faith when it comes to risk-taking and surrendering to the unknown.
-Brian's wedding
-Niagra Falls
-The "HEY COW!" game

Monday, September 19, 2005

New Post

It's been a while since I've clicked that icon on the Blogger Dashboard hasn't it?

So, what is new since September 6, the last time I posted?
Let's see...
-I'm living in a new apartment now. Antoinette and I moved into Whispering Pines Ranch on Labor Day weekend.
-I went to Round Top, TX for a choir retreat and had a blissful drive home on Scenic Highway 390.
-I spent three days in San Antonio with the WCPC staff at an Alban Institute conference on building church staff teams.
-My fingernails are getting so long that I really need to file them because it's hard to type.
-I went running with a group of people from the YMCA who are training to run the half marathon in January and I think I'm going to give it a shot, too.
-I changed my flight to Vancouver so I get to spend two days with Stephanie this Wednesday and Thursday, before I do a reading in my cousin's wedding this weekend.
-I got a date for Brian Donovan's wedding on October 8.
-I figured out that I am going to stay at my aunt and uncle's house while I'm in Sacramento for the National Youth Workers Convention the last weekend of September.
-I used randmcnally.com to map out my road trip from Denver to Chicago to Pennsylvania to The Woodlands, which is happening the first week of October.
-I took some pictures with my new phone and checked my e-mail, too.
-I went on the internet with my new HP iPAQ.
-I went to the Dave Matthews Band concert and had a fabulous time.
-I have made some great realizations about myself and made some important changes as a result of going to a counselor.
-I started to read Through Painted Deserts.
-I started to read Captivating.
-I have enjoyed both books, even if I haven't finished either one!
-I bought a new entertainment center from IKEA and now my 13" t.v. looks even more pathetic and tiny.
-I started setting up the "nook," the space Antoinette and I have created to drink coffee and have quiet time. It's precious. Cozy, too.
-I made my bed a record four times in the past two weeks.
-I have missed my friends, as my schedule has been quite full.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

E-mail from Spend


This picture is of Spend Angasishe and Emma in Siavonga, Zambia. The following is an e-mail I got from him on Saturday:
Hi Ruth,

Many warm greetings to you. I hope you are doing fine and really working hard to sharpen your youths. Greetings to WCPC. I am missing you guys but no problem because spiritually we are together. My condolences to you people in the USA for loss of life in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama during the period of Hurricane Katrina. When I see those pictures on CNN TV it brings a lot of sadness for the many people who are now homeless. Together lets cry to our Jehovah God for strength so that we can pull through this tragedy. We will be praying for you in our Sunday service.
Convey my greetings to the WCPC. More news shortly.

Brother in Christ,

Spend

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Devastation

I have heard much about the way Katrina has ravaged areas in Louisiana and Mississippi but I haven't seen any images yet. Currently, I don't have a t.v. so I haven't seen the news footage that I'm sure has been showing the awful scenes that are unfortunately reality for many. Getting lunch today, I overheard people from New Orleans talking about the homes they've abandoned and the lives they've left behind. One man was planning to drive back to hopefully salvage (for his new bride) the tangible memories of their recent wedding. I overheard discussions debating whether or not to keep paying the mortgage on a house that was surely destroyed. Insurance questions, moving issues, how long will they be stranded? It's not everyday that a mother talks about moving in to her daughter's college dorm room, yet finds out that's not even a possibility because the roommate's family is already living there... This storm has turned people's lives upside down. The Astrodome is a housing shelter. People are displaced in their own country. People wonder "why?" and there are no answers. I wonder if the Youth Mission Tour we had been planning in New Orleans for next summer will still happen. Will this event cause our trip to be that much more crucial and appreciated, or will the agency we were planning to work with cease to exist as a result of the flooding? I don't know. So much is left unknown right now. I can't even imagine how people are coping. It is amazing to see people step into action as much as they can, though. The way Houston is working to serve the people that are seeking refuge here is amazing. Maybe through this God will remind us that we need to take care of each other.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

I'm an ENFP

ENFPs have a tendency to overextend themselves in both their physical and emotional commitments. Their proclivity to procrastinate and to overlook details complicates their circumstances. ENFPs often move on to new ventures without completing those they have already started. Their charming personalities can show signs of irritability and over-sensitivity when their desires to please different people come into conflict. During times of stress, ENFPs feel alienated. They then engage in deceptions that serve to obscure what is occurring within themselves.

The ENFP finds symbolic meanings behind the immediate circumstances. These meanings are construed as foreboding problems when ENFPs are under stress. Having a pervasive feeling of losing control over their own independent identities, ENFPs will feel virtually split apart by intruding circumstances. They will be "besides themselves" and "just not all there" — as if something, or someone, has taken away the essence of who they are. Not feeling like themselves, the ENFP will become subject to their own feelings of shame for being a phony, a fake or an impostor. If stress continues to grow, they may attribute malevolent schemes to others in order to explain away their fears.


So accurate it's scary! I kind of wish that wasn't the way I handle stress, but yeah, it's pretty true--with the exception of "malevolent schemes"--I'm not so sure I go that far with it...
Danielle gave me this link to a personality test website and since I love those things, I took the survey. I'm curious...what is your personality type? I wonder if your description will be as on target as mine was.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Laura's Engaged!

One of my college roommates got engaged last Saturday! I am proud to say that I was the first phone call. Well, that is, after she called her boyfriend to accept his proposal.

Confused?

She was with all of our friends from college for a ladies' weekend (I was the only one who couldn't attend...) in Minnesota. She only gets to see them about once a year and Drew knew that she would want to celebrate something like that with her friends. So... She was showing all the girls her photo album from when the two of them went to Europe. When she got to the end of the album, she noticed a card that was placed in one of the photo sleeves. It was a letter from Drew that ended with the question, "Will you marry me?"

Bawling, hugs, screams, smiles, sighs...she and her closest friends got to experience the moment together. How great that Drew knew how much that would mean to her. What a guy.

I just hope I can go to the wedding. I already missed out on being with her for the proposal. I don't want to miss out on the wedding, too! I hope it's not scheduled for the same time as the youth ski trip.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Christian Definition

"When someone is driven by love in any way, he or she is driven by Christ. Whoever has love, has the love of God, even if he or she does not confess Christ in words. There is a hidden Christ; he is much too great to be confined by human thought."
-Eberhard Arnold


The quote above was used with an article, written semi-anonymously by a Christian, on his views of Muslims. Here's a part of what he said.
Whenever I share my idea that Muslims are Christians who don't know it yet, I get shocked looks from my conservative evangelical friends, who say that without professing Jesus as one's savior, one is doomed to hell for eternity. But their arguments remind me of those medieval stained-glass windows of demons with pitchforks dragging people into fires, while above them, angels are carrying saints into heaven.

Rather than worrying about whether someone has been saved, my feeling is, “You have been saved, whether you admit it or not—by Christ's precious blood at Calvary.”

What advantage is there in being a Christian if all are saved? Well, I think we have an intimacy with God that others may lack. And certainly Christ’s spirit in us makes us want to obey him willingly and joyfully—not as drudgery. No one else but Jesus could make me love everybody I meet,...even though I’m sure I don’t express this love as I ought.
What are your thoughts about this concept? In his article, the author openly admits it's pretty controversial and I will state that as well. That certainly shouldn't keep us from conversing about it, though.

Here is the link to the article from which I took this excerpt.

I can't improve on the thought-provoking questions he includes at the end of his article, so I'll just leave you with them, to ponder and (I hope) to answer.
To the reader of this piece: Are you offended? If so, why? And if not, do you know of any others who may be thinking this way?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Jesus Postcard

This picture was sent to me as a postcard. I started laughing out loud last night when I got home and saw it in my mailbox. Granted, you'll have to forgive the fact that the quality of the photo is not very great (it's a photo of a photo that has been through the U.S. Postal Service). But, man, it's too funny not to share. Some might think it's a bit sacreligious, but I think it's hilarious. My friend was searching about what to do for a wedding present for his friends. He took this picture of himself, had it blown up to an 8x10, put it in an ornately gaudy frame, and signed it "Good luck on your marriage. Love, Jesus." When he told me the story, I started laughing and he said he would send me a personalized one as a postcard. Mine says (in case you can't read it), "Thanks for all of your hard work!! Your friend, xoxo Jesus." Too funny. I'm definitely going to put it somewhere so I remember not to take myself too seriously. We all need a good laugh now and then, don't we?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Seeing Outside

From Thomas Merton's chapter Consciene, Freedom, and Prayer in No Man Is an Island:
When we look inward and examine our psychological conscience our vision ends in ourselves. We become aware of our feelings, our inward activity, our thoughts, our judgments, and our desires. It is not healthy to be too constantly aware of all these things. Perpetual self-examination gives an overanxious attention to movements that should remain instinctive and unobserved. When we attend too much to ourselves, our activity becomes cramped and stumbling. We get so much in our own way that we soon paralyze ourselves completely and become unable to act like normal human beings.

At times the psychological conscience quickly gets paralyzed under the stress of futile instrospection. But there is another spiritual activity that develops and liberates its hidden powers of action: the perception of beauty. I do not mean by this that we must expect our consciousness to respond to beauty as an effete and esoteric thing. We ought to be alive enough to reality to see beauty all around us. Beauty is simply reality itself, perceived in a special way that gives it a resplended value of its own. Everything that is, is beautiful insofar as it is real--though the associations which they may have acquired for men may not always make things beautiful to us.

One of the most important--and most neglected--elements in the beginnings of the interior life is the ability to respond to reality, to see the value and the beauty in ordinary things, to come alive to the spendor that is all around us in the creatures of God.
Last night some of us ate at a Vietnamese restaurant and when I opened my fortune cookie, I wasn't satisfied with the theology of the message inside: Pray for what you want, but work for the things you need.

So, I opened another one and smiled, truly hoping that the message on that slip of paper is accurate of me: You find treasures where others see nothing. I think we will encounter the divine in the most surprising places, if we're aware and looking. Not just looking, though--seeing is a better way to put it.

I need to balance a healthy dose of self-introspection (so I can better grow into the person Christ calls me to be) with a focus on and appreciation of things, ideas, and people outside of myself. I want to live life every day, not just think about how I could/should live it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Rainbow Brite


What happens when jr. high kids have markers, free time, and their youth director within reach? Yes, they gave me rainbow higlights while we were on the San Antonio Mission Trip this summer. It was great! My worry that the color wouldn't wash out in the shower only lasted momentarily. Plus, if it hadn't washed out, what a great story that would have been. People at church got a kick out of it when these photos popped up during the Mission Trips Slide Show last Sunday. Fun times.

"Yes"

I am so amazed at my new pastor's willingness to say "yes" to things. Even when it's not an immediate "yes" he seems to always have the attitude of investigating the possibilities.

You need a PDA? OK, go buy one. And don't be cheap about it.
You don't have a computer at home? We have to fix that. The church should consider paying for your internet so you can keep in contact with kids.
We need to incorporate more music within the youth ministry. Let's see how we can do that and look into going outside of the church if necessary. What would it take to pay someone to do that?
You've been working on your days off or going on trips and you need an additional day of rest? You just let me know and we'll work it out.

He really wants to equip me to do the best job I can. How refreshing and empowering!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

En Vino Veritas

That's Latin for "in wine the truth." How true.

When our inhibitions are down, for some reason we are less apt to keep the facade going. We stop pretending to be something we're not for the sake of appearances. We recognize that it's ridiculous to try and impress people who already like us, and by being real we'll actually be received much better. Rather than working to be accepted, we know that who we are is enough. We can take our hand off the closet door briefly enough to let some of the junk that we're hiding spill out. How amazing it is when it feels safe to do that without worry of shame or condemnation.

Am I suggesting that people go out and get drunk so they can be honest with people? Of course not. What I would love to see is more freedom to naturally be vulnerable like that with more regularity.
I know I need it.
Do you?
Or are you just going to pass because you already have it all together?
Hm, I'm not buying it.

I like it that I have people in my life who call me out on things with immensely loving motives. I am very grateful for you.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Church Newsletter Article

The following is what I wrote for the August edition of my church's newsletter. It kind of sums up my summer, so I thought I'd also share it here.

A Reflection from Ruth
Director of Youth Ministries


As many of you know, I have been traveling a lot this summer. Africa during most of June, Mo-Ranch at the end of June, San Antonio in July, and Mexico in August! Every trip I’ve been on has been an incredible blessing. I had wonderful opportunities to grow spiritually, and I had tons of fun laughing, playing, and working with some of our fantastic youth—you are so great to be around! The only hard part about this summer was being away from my church family for so much of it. I have missed you terribly! But I trust that as the summer comes to an end we will find our way back to a sense of routine and soon we will be spending time together again more regularly. I’m looking forward to that.

What did I gain from going on these trips this summer, besides my skill of packing and unpacking a suitcase? I gained a broader vision, a humbled spirit, a renewed sense of the importance of community, and an overwhelming sense of wanting to do everything in my life with purpose. My hope is that these things will not just remain with me, but that elements of them might be spread to others. How about I share a little with you right now?

Broader vision. My first trip overseas gave me just a glimpse of how vast this world is, and God showed me that it is my responsibility as a Christian to care for all the people in it. That doesn’t mean I have to be involved in overseas ministry to have broad vision, though. There are people directly in our midst that need to be shown care. Having broad vision isn’t having “far away” vision; it is having kingdom vision. What am I doing (and teaching others to do) that furthers the kingdom of Jesus Christ right here in my immediate circumstances as well as around the world?

Humbled spirit. From being served tea in a tiny living room, to worshiping in awe of the grand beauty that surrounded me at Chapel on the Hill, to looking into the smiling eyes of someone who knows that they might not eat tomorrow, I learned that putting myself aside is so important if I’m going to truly see that other person and value who they are. This is especially true with my understanding of God. When I place myself and my issues in relation to God’s glory, I am able to see just how magnificent my Lord is, and that makes the intimacy of his love even more wonderful.

Community. It defines the African way of life. At Youth Celebration we explored being at home in God and extending that loving hospitality to others. Members of Fuente de Vida are vulnerable with each other, praying about everything, both joyous and difficult. Let’s be different than the individualistic culture we find ourselves in. Let’s provide a sense of safety and belonging to all, enabling us to trust each other so much that we are unafraid to authentically be ourselves. I think we will then start to put the needs of others before our own, knowing that we will also be cared for as we do.

Purpose. My ultimate job in life is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. It’s yours, too. The cool thing about it is that we can be Christ’s followers in every situation, no matter what the context. My living relationship with God can give purpose to things I would otherwise see as pointless, if I view them as a way to worship him.

I can’t wait for the amazing opportunities that are both ahead of us and taking shape right now! I hope you’ll be a part of it with me.

Friday, August 12, 2005

German Engineering

Today I saw two brand new Audis on the road. (sigh) It reminded me of a funny moment that I'd like to share with you, to reveal how sometimes my girl hard-wiring gets mixed up with some of the, uh, less-typically-girly attributes I posess.

Carrie and I were sitting through movie previews, waiting for the feature presentation to start. A preview for Transporter 2 came on. The first image is a slow-motion shot of a man in a suit, sauntering past the front grill of his car.
We both let out a noticeable gasp and Carrie says, "So. Hot."
I said, "I. Know. I absolutely love Audis."
"Uh, Ruth, I was talking about the guy."
"Well, yeah, he's good looking, too."
The Audi A8 W12 fishtails and changes direction to evade the one chasing it, and then the engine revs ferociously when it lands on the ground after being airborn.
"Wow," I exclaim.
"You're talking about the car again, aren't you?"
"I can't help it. It's just so beautiful..."

So, when that movie does come out, I'll have to go with people who won't make fun of me for the strong possibility that I'll be drooling over the car more than the man driving it. But he's definitely hot, too. Mostly because he's driving an A8. Just kidding...

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Agua de Vida

Today I witnessed so many ways that water brought new life--to dead things and to living things, making them even more alive.

I went running in the rain this afternoon, which was glorious. The cool air and the wet drops on my skin (that, for once, weren't sweat!) made the jog even more refreshing and invigorating than usual. In that sense, the water enlivened me and helped me experience life more fully.

On that run, I observed two dead things were brought to life by the water.
-The clippings of a freshly mowed lawn, grass that had been alive but was now dead, smelled stronger and sweeter after being soaked in the rain than I've ever smelled grass when the roots have been in the ground.
-The wet scent from a fence made of cedar planks, timber that had once been trees but was now in the form of flat lifeless boards, was so inviting that I slowed down to suck in the fresh smell a little bit more.

Later that afternoon I noticed another dead thing that was given a new kind of life because of the rain. A dragonfly's wings had been soaked by the water and he was laying on his back by the pool at the Seay's house. Because it was dead, I was able to pick it up and investigate something that I would not normally have be able to appreciate that fully had it been alive. There were so many intricacies I could hardly believe it! Looking at that little creation gave me a glimpse of how God's imagination uniquely knits together living things. After staring into its eyes for a while and admiring the lace of its wings, I put it back. When we were all swimming later, I noticed that a group of ants had also found the dragonfly, but they weren't as gentle with him as I had been... (Sing it with me, friends who know the Lion King song. It's the circle of life...)

Water also gave new life to the Seay children. I was with Carrie this afternoon while she watched Hanna, Trinity, and Solomon. Hanna and Trinity had been quite outgoing from the first moment we were hanging out and that enthusiasm continued in the water. I love the way kids play with such abundant excitement! Solomon was a bit timid, though. He was slow to warm up to us, a bit fearful. Something in that boy changed throughout the course of time we spent in the pool, though. The water brought him to life, changed him from a shy boy into a courageous hero.

Water has the power to change things. It even brings a new kind of life to things that are dead. No wonder baptism has such significance in our understanding of transformation and new life in Christ. Have you been made alive by the living water He offers?

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Ecclesia is...

...so much more than church. It's an event, an experience, a community that I look forward to joining every time I can. Sunday evenings are transformed when I get to go, and I am transformed as a result of being there with everyone.

It's not just the worship service, you see.

The car ride down is a time for conversation. This time I got to ride and talk with Danielle and our conversation extended as we sat in traffic on I-45. It didn't bother me at all that we were late to church because I thoroughly enjoyed our chance to talk and get to know one another.

The worship service is a time to praise with songs and prayers, hear truth, celebrate the sacrament of communion, and experience our living God through it all.

The lingering moments in the sanctuary after church are a time to catch up with people, meet new friends, observe grace-filled personal interaction among individuals, watch kids gleefully run among the pews or bang on dad's drum set. And, of course, that time after church is necessary to decide where we're going to go eat.

The meal after church is a holy part of the evening in its own right. Fellowship, conversation, laughter, and ideas are all shared so freely. There is never any pretending, never any expectations to fill with each other. We just are. We are ourselves and we are whatever we are at that moment--whether that is happy, sad, tired, worried, confused, or any of the other feelings that fall within the spectrum of the human experience.

The car ride home is another chance to connect with a smaller group of people. Music and conversation vary, but typically neither one stops for a moment because we're so eager to get in as much as we can before we all drive our separate ways once we reach the Sawdust Rd. Starbuck's parking lot.

It's real. That's what Ecclesia is to me. It is so refreshing to me and I'm going to miss it in a few weeks when I have to stop going on Sunday nights.

Moved By Beauty

My first Moleskine journal is now filled with words after a busy and thought-provoking summer, so after Carrie and I went to see a movie I stopped by Borders to buy a couple books and a new journal. The coffee table books on the bookcase near the register caught my eye and I started flipping through one on beautiful places in America and then another on U.S. National Parks. As I looked at the photographs I found myself having to catch my breath, close my gaping mouth, and hold back the tears in my eyes. I couldn't handle the beauty of what I was seeing. Many of the pictures reminded me of times when I had seen those places in person and I found myself longing to be somewhere like that again. I am so grateful that my parents raised me with summer camping road trips to experience and appreciate nature. It's a part of me, which gives me such a strong desire to live somewhere picturesque. Someday.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

I'm Not Superwoman

A parent of one of the students at my church said to me the other day, "Ruth, you need to ask for help more. You have a lot to do and you can't be so independent to think you can do it all on your own. If you were able to do it all, you'd be superwoman and then we'd all applaud you and be in awe, wondering how it's possible. But, you can't. And, when you let things slip because you didn't ask for help it makes people start to second-guess you. It takes a whole lot more "atta-boy"s to make up for a few "aw, shit"s. Let people help you."

I need to improve my ability to manage people and tasks. I need to be better at breaking down a whole and getting others to share in the parts. These things are incredibly difficult for me, but I know that I have to learn these skills if I'm going to be able to carry on in ministry. It doesn't matter that they don't come naturally to me, I have to learn them. Somehow. In moments like this, I really get frustrated with myself, recognizing and being confronted with the areas where I know I'm weak. I hate being weak.

I just got back from Mexico, where I am known as "la mezcladora" (the mixer) for my skills in mixing and shoveling heavy cement--one of my favorite activities. I lifted 110 lb. bags of concrete mix that guys in the group couldn't lift. When we were raising and pouring the buckets of cement onto the roof, I pretty much stayed on par with the guys. I love proving that I'm not a frail little flower of a girl that has to depend on someone else for power or strength. (Maybe it's a way of compensating for the fact that I know I have very obvious weaknesses in other areas of my life. By proving I'm physically strong maybe it'll make up for the organizational weaknesses that are so glaringly evident in my eyes.) The Mexican construction foreman told me, "Eres muy fuerte." (you are very strong). I hate being weak.

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ's power may rest on me. -2 Corinthians 12:10

OK, OK, I get the message.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Mexico

I will be in Acuna until Friday, August 5. See you soon!

Bird's Eye View


Ten points to the first person who can accurately identify the location of this photo. (My Chicago friends have a significant advantage.)

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Thomas a Kempis on "Men"

OK, OK, I know that he wrote this with the understanding that "man" means "humankind" but it does give the passage an interesting slant if you read it as if he is solely referring to the male species.

From The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis:
Men are fickle, remember, and change quite quickly, and even more quickly do they disappoint you;
Ha! He continues:
but Christ abides forever and stands firmly beside you unto the end. We ought not place great trust in men; they are, after all, mortal and all too frail--though at times we do find them helpful and dear to us. Nor should we be overly disturbed if they sometimes disagree with us or even act against us. Today our friends, tomorrow our enemies; and vice versa. Men are as changeable as the wind!
What do you think about that? I'm hoping for comments from both men and women.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

An Important Blog

I don't have any links to other blogs on the right side of the screen. No reason, really, I just don't. But if I did, this one I'm telling you about would be on it. Will you please visit the site and, if you do list other noteworthy blogs on yours, will you please add it? It would mean so much to my friend and all the imprisoned boys he is working with.

Tim is living in South Africa right now and he has been involved in a literacy program in the prison, working with young men ages 17-22. They write, in a wide variety of styles and on a range of subjects. They want their words to be read. They want an opportunity to be heard and you have the chance to do that for them. Jesus tells us that when we visit those who are imprisioned, we visit him. Maybe you can't physically go and see these young men, but going to spend time with their souls in written form does honor them in the same way. I hope you'll take some time to extend yourself outwardly in that way for their sake. How will they know if you did or not? Well, that's not really the point, but there is a comments section. How encouraging would it be for them to read that people all over the world are reading what they have to say and are caring enough to remark on it? Imagine that, my friends. That's powerful.

Youth Speak From Pollsmoor Prison

Most Recent Photos


Walking in the Light
Originally uploaded by (t)ruth.
I have re-organized the way my photos are organized.
There is a set for each part of our trip: Lusaka, Namumu, Siavonga, and Touring. They are all posted chronologically.
There are a few other sets, too.
-Ngombe Ilede has the pictures from the Sleeping Cow baobob tree excursion.
-London
-Africa Images is a collection of some of my favorite pictures, in no particular order.
-From My Camera (finally) includes all the pictures I took on the trip until my battery died.

Click here to go to my flikr sets.

Lost in the Labyrinth

If any of you have ever walked a labyrinth, you know that there is only one way in and one way out. It appears to be a maze, but really there is only one path and no dead ends. You simply follow the path to the center, and retrace the same path to exit the way you came in. It has been a spiritual exercise for centuries, and there are many ways to walk it that help one become closer to God.

We walked a labyrinth as a small group at Mo-Ranch. The one we did is laid out in stones and sits in a grove of trees that overlooks the Guadalupe River. I decided to focus on one particular verse on the way in, a second verse while I was in the center of the labyrinth, and a third on my way out. Here is how I recounted my experience when I scribbled furiously shortly after I exited. May it be a blessing to you and may God teach you gently as he did for me that day.

On the way in I repeated Matthew 11:28.
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest."

I was repeating the verse over and over. I even got out my little pocket Bible so I could physically read the words. Walking, reading, repeating. I got lost. How is that possible when there's only one path?! Perception is tricky. I thought I was at the center because I saw it so close to me. I assumed that I should be entering. Who am I to think I know the way better? I distanced myself from others, wanting to go at my own pace rather than follow or have "my space" invaded by someone behind me. Wait. Isn't this labyrinth God's space?

Turn around, on the way back out, retrace steps, I saw that rock before, disoriented, confused, frustrated. I feel like I screwed up. How many times have I felt this way before? Focusing too hard on the path itself, on the external, ignoring the people around me and the Lord that wants to lead me. Head in my Bible, looking at the words rather than living the phrase he's beckoning me with. Come to me, Ruth... Don't try to make your own way--just come the way I've set out for you. Don't over-think it; just come... A gentle voice, not harsh. Mine is the scolding tone I hear in my head. The breeze whispers, come... Forget your retraced steps, you'll make it there if you just keep going. You didn't screw up, you just gave me an opportunity to redirect you and reposition you. You're ready now... Come...

Other people entered, so I waited for them to pass me. The only way i'm going to get to you, Jesus, is to follow others to you. (Sigh...) I am going the right way. Oh, I see now. I was close to the center. I could see the center, close enough to touch it. But it's going to be a little longer until I'm there. You're going to lead me out, away from the center, as the very way to bring me in.

When I reached the center of the labyrinth, I sat on one of the large stones and contemplated the next part of the Matthew 11 passage. "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." -Matthew 11: 29-30

Yes, Lord, you do teach me. Gently, not in a harsh way. You are humble; you don't say, "I told you so." It makes me want to put my pride aside and be humble like you. I will take your yoke upon me, I want to be led by you. Yes, your yoke is easy--when I don't try to go my own way, that is. The only burdens on me are my own, because your burden is light.

I'm ready to take this truth out into the world now...

As I took my first steps on the path back out, I began repeating Acts 17:28. "In him we live and move and have our being." I had to put some kind of physical movement with it to reinforce the words.

I chose some prayer postures to demonstrate what the words meant to me.
In him: Palms layered on one another, pressed against my chest to remind me that because I am in him, he is in me.

We live: Arms beside my body, elbows bent very slightly, palms facing out, and fingers pointed to the ground, reminding me that in addition to our spiritual lives, we are physically alive and we do walk on this earth.

And move: a conscious movement, sweeping my arms from by my side to the next posture, almost like I am opening my wings.

And have our being: arms extended out at shoulder height, slightly bending elbows upward, palms facing up in the air, back a bit arched and chin tilted up so my face sees the sky. This kind of posture is a bit awkward for me, a person who does not like to draw attention to myself much or extend myself that boldly and openly. I prefer to be a bit more inwardly-focused. Yet, the posture I took was exactly the kind of "being" Christ empowers us to have. We are to have our being in vast openness and freedom, in bold assurance of our redemption, in security that lets us hold our head high to gaze in God's loving face, not cower and bend in shame.

As I continued to repeat the verse and move through the prayer postures, it became a circular statement. "In him" was just as much the beginning of the phrase as it was the end of the phrase.
In him we live and move...
...have our being in him.
I recognized that it was the "in him" that was the key.

When I got to the exit, I turned and noticed that I had a very good view of the part of the path that came immediately before and led into the inner circle. I paused, remembered what Jesus gently taught me, and I took a deep breath before moving my feet and hands those last few paces. I'm still walking and praying. Jesus is still gently teaching me when I am humble enough to let him.

Monday, July 18, 2005

An Optimist's Fears

I am generally a glass-is-half-full kind of gal. I tend to believe that life will be OK and that everything will work out, one way or another. And you know what? It usually does. Somehow, it almost always turns out just fine. And...most of the time it turns out far better than I could have planned. I don't understand it and I won't try to explain it, other than to acknowledge that our savior's grace is beyond my comprehension.

My pastor said something in his sermon yesterday and it really resonated with me. "It didn't work out the way they envisioned it, but that doesn't mean it didn't turn out the way God intended."

This said two things to me.
1. Having a vision is a good thing. (Just don't get so tied to the plan that you fail to allow God to move in it and beyond it.)
2. God's intentions usually surpass what we see for ourselves.

Often, I don't come up with a plan or a vision for myself. I prefer to keep myself open to whatever life is going to toss my way. I am glad I have this ability because it keeps me flexible and it forces me to pay attention to what the Lord is in the midst of doing in and around me. This might be the very thing that enables me to be such an optimist. If I never have any set expectations, I can never truly be let down. Each new chapter is beyond what I was imagining because, really, I never imagined much at all! However, I have been thinking ahead lately. I've found myself wondering about what my future holds. I'm very satisfied in my current reality and I don't see my circumstances changing for at least a few years. But I am looking several years down the road beyond that, imagining, hoping, dreaming. What might be? I'm scared to shape some kind of vision, though, because I don't want to be disappointed if it doesn't pan out.

I have never been majorly let down when I've made a choice and gone ahead with something. My fear doesn't really come from doing something and failing--most things I try end up working out in some way, like I said earlier. Plus, if I do screw up, I'm happy to learn from a mistake. Something worthwhile is gained from trying and not succeeding. At least there was an experience had and a lesson learned.

What is really hard for me is hoping for something, only to have those hopes dashed. As a result, I'm afraid to have real confidence in my hopes. If I put too much stock in my dreams, especially if what I desire is totally beyond my control, I worry that those dreams will fail to materialize. Then I'll be left feeling defeated and foolish for having dreamt in the first place. That's not a fun place to be. When hopes get crushed, it seems as if nothing is really gained except disappointment. There is nothing to show for a lost dream, just a void left where the vision used to be.

But, as scary as it is, I must hope, especially for the things beyond my control, because (duh) I can't do anything to make those things happen. Christ commands that I have hope. He is our hope. I guess the shift in thinking I have to make is that when my hopes are let down (because inevitably they will be) I have to look beyond my personal disappointment and see the bigger picture of what God's ultimate intentions are. It might not work out the way she envisions it, but that doesn't mean it won't turn out the way God intends. I need to remind myself that just because my hope has fallen flat before, it doesn't guarantee that is going to happen every time. That's pretty much the definition of hope, isn't it?...seeing beyond the circumstances of the past, trusting that things can be different the next time around.

I guess I really am an optimist, even if sometimes I'm a slightly fearful one. Here's to hoping... I'll bet God has something in store for me that is beyond my wildest imaginations. I hope.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

House of God

As I was sitting in the sanctuary during worship this morning, I realized that I have truly missed my church. I know that every time I've been out of town in the past seven weeks it has been with people from church, and therefore I've been connected to WCPC the whole time, but it's not quite the same as being here on a Sunday morning worshiping together with everyone else. I felt connected to something beyond myself. I sat in the pew this morning and I had a deep sigh of relief. Finally, I get to be here with my church family. That was a good feeling. I felt known and missed as I conversed with people around me. There was a comfort level and an energy that I appreciated so much this morning. I don't know if it necessarily came from anything particular in the service, because it actually felt like it was coming from within me. I feel at home in my church. God's house is my home, too. Of that I am extremely grateful.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Back Again

I'm home from San Antonio. I just spent the week on a mission trip with some jr. high kids. I love 'em. I must emphasize this--love them. However, if any of you know what the definition of a jr. high kid is, you'll understand why I'm glad I'm home.

Guess what? I'm actually here for, count 'em, TWO weeks in a row before I leave for Mexico on July 30! Two whole weeks in my apartment. Can you imagine that? It's sad that I'm excited about that fact because two weeks in the same place should not be something abnormal...

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Quiero Bailar

I am enthusiastically anticipating going salsa dancing tonight with Antoinette, Dayle, and Natalie. (It is a wonderful thing that Mi Luna opened up in The Woodlands because now people are more willing to go dancing since they don't have to drive downtown.) I can't wait to get a bit dressed up, have a couple tasty beverages, and dance.

Here's the thing--I'm actually going with the goal to dance. I like salsa dancing and I want to get better at it. The only way to do that is to dance more. I'm not going there with the goal of been seen by the men that line the perimeter of the dance floor, just hoping that one of them will ask for my number. No. I will be honest, though. I do want to look good while I'm there. It's good to be noticed because salsa dancing requires a partner. Since it is my goal to dance, I'll do my part to be seen as a desirable dancing partner so my chance of being asked increases.

I feel comfortable salsa or meringue dancing with strangers because there are steps to follow, parameters that keep it controlled. In the past, some of the most fun I've had dancing was because I said yes to a stranger and he turned out to be a terrific leader, which made me feel like an incredible dancer. That's fun. That's not always the case, though.

Sometimes guys (who aren't very good dancers) ask me to dance with the expectation that I should be the one to make it interesting. They get irritated when I'm not throwing in all kinds of fancy moves. Sorry, buddy, not my job. I'm going to stick to the basic steps unless you, as the leader, choose to direct me differently. Yes, I get it that not every guy knows how to lead well. But, honestly, that doesn't matter. Even if he doesn't really know what he's doing, but leads with confidence and is out there to have fun, or asks for some direction and then puts it into practice, that can be just as fun as dancing with a really great leader who knows exactly how to place you where you need to be.

Dancing is fun when it can simply be two people doing their best to have fun, follow the steps, and dance to the music, not some suggestive means used to try and hit on someone. I wish I could announce to all those gentlemen that I'm there because I actually want to dance! Nada mas. I hope the four of us ladies have a good time tonight. I think we will.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

I Felt Like Forrest

Last night I felt like I could have run forever... Seriously, my body didn't want to stop. I came to an intersection and stood to let a car pass, but my muscles propelled me forward just barely after the car whizzed by. The blood was pumping through my veins and the endorphins were flowing freely. I felt so energized. The air was warm and when I sucked in the humidity it coated my lungs in a way that never made me feel short of breath. After mile 6 it was getting dark and I knew I had to head back home soon. I tried to start my cool down by walking but it actually felt uncomfortable to walk. I felt like I was going in slow motion and I needed to move faster just to keep up with myself. I had no choice but to start jogging again. I thought I would trick my body into getting tired, so rather than try to slow down--that obviously wasn't working--I sped up. I started sprinting, thinking that it would make me so worn out that I'd have to stop and walk. Not really... I kept going about another mile. It was the strangest thing I've ever experienced. After running 7 miles straight, I still felt like I could have run longer. However, I started to walk for my cool down, which was about another mile. Every inch of me was drenched with sweat (even though the sun wasn't out, it was still close to 90 degrees) and I needed to cool down before entering the frigid air of the apartment. I didn't want my muscles to tense up, so I put on my swimsuit and walked over to the pool to wash off the sweat and stretch my muscles by swimming a few laps. It was phenomenal. I really wonder how much farther I could have gone...

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Rich Acting Cheap

I read this article from yahoo news and I pasted parts of it in this post. The very last paragraph is the one that struck me the most. There is nothing that prevents us from tackling poverty but a lack of political will. Why are we so unwilling? I just don't get it. I don't pretend to understand the ins and outs of politics, but I do know how to sense indifference and it's just sad to me that people who are capable of causing so much positive change are unwilling to do so.
EDINBURGH, Scotland - Activists kept up pressure on leaders of the world's richest nations Tuesday to lift Africa out of poverty, but Britain's Treasury chief said those who believe human misery can be eliminated "with the stroke of a pen" may be disappointed by the results of this week's G-8 summit.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has made Africa and climate change the central themes of Britain's G-8 presidency, and he describes global warming as "probably the most serious threat we face."

Blair, who has been battered domestically over his support for the Iraq war, has pressed those two issues with such zeal that the increasingly chaotic situation in Iraq has all but disappeared from the summit's agenda. Yet that by no means guarantees a summit free of acrimony.

At the heart of Blair's difficulties may be that his closest ally, President Bush, does not share the ambitious goals he has set for the summit.

Although the leaders appear ready to wipe out $40 billion worth of debt owed by 18 of the world's poorest countries, Bush has not accepted Blair's call for a massive increase in aid to Africa and seems unlikely to back British ideas about urgent action on climate control.

Geldof said Britain was pushing hard for a deal to help Africa, but sounded pessimistic. "I am not sure the others want to do it, which will be a grotesque failure," Geldof said.

Treasury chief Gordon Brown, who has worked closely with Geldof, U2's Bono and other campaign leaders, said he has warned them to temper their expectations.

"I know that what you will say is that what we can achieve is perhaps not good enough, but we have got to bring the whole of the world together," Brown, in an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. television, said he told Make Poverty History organizers. "What Britain says is one thing, (and) what we can persuade the rest of the world to do together is what we will get as the outcome of Gleneagles."

In addition to the proposal to double aid for Africa by 2010, Blair's Commission for Africa has also recommended a second $25 billion increase in aid to Africa, to $75 `billion annually, by 2015.

Oxfam, the British relief agency, said Tuesday that children would die without swifter action.

"2010 will be five years too late for the 55 million children who will die waiting for the world's richest leaders to deliver on their promises," said Jo Leadbeater of Oxfam.

But Bush has rejected the British targets, saying he could not commit a future U.S. administration to meeting them.

His administration boasts that aid to Africa has tripled since Bush took office in 2001, and that it plans to double the 2004 level to $8.6 billion by 2010.

Bush has sought $15 billion over five years to combat AIDS, mostly in Africa, and last week called for spending $1.2 billion to cut malaria deaths in half by 2010 in Africa.

Since the 1960s, however, the United Nations has called for rich countries to increase aid to 0.7 percent of their national incomes. U.S. spending now is at 0.17 percent, lagging behind the Europeans.

"So far France is in the lead, saying they will reach the 0.7 percent target by 2012, followed by the U.K. with 2013, and Germany and Italy with 2015," Leadbeater said. "Canada, the U.S. and Japan aren't even at the starting line."

Brown spoke of his frustration on the issue.

"It makes you angry because there's nothing in science or technology or medicine that should prevent us from tackling poverty," he said. "It's a lack of political will."

Friday, July 01, 2005

Feels Like Home

The title of this post was the theme of the conference at Mo Ranch this week, the main point being that our True Home is in God, which means "home" is not confined to one particular place. That being said, I'm excited to go home once I leave the office tonight.

The week was wonderful in so many ways. And, surprise, surprise, I'm tired. Are you sensing a pattern that follows every time I return from one of these trips? More on Mo later. It is a magical place that I can't wait to tell you all about.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Enclosed in Glass

Windows up, doors closed. Pump the air in, suck the life out. Pleasant, comfortable, cool, isolated. That's how we live, preserved in glass containers like science class specimens. Today's indoor forecast calls for a constantly regulated 74 degrees and as little human contact as possible. Home, to car, to work, to store, to home, to bed. Repeat.

The following is a portion of an e-mail I sent to my friend Tim, who is currently in South Africa right now. It expresses a few of my thoughts upon returning home from Africa, where people are everywhere and life takes place out in the open.
I know it's only been a couple days since I've been back, but I'm afraid I don't really fit here anymore; maybe I never really did. Things are different, a good different. I don't think I'll ever be able to find contentment striving for the things so many people here are working toward. It's just not for me.

I was watching Ed on tv the other day and I had to mute the commercials because the incessant and irritating noise of "watch this"/"buy this" was bothering me so much. No wonder people never feel like they have enough in this consumer society. Yuck. I don't want it.

I'm driving around The Woodlands and the streets are smooth, people (generally) follow the traffic laws, and things feel safe and sanitary, polished even. What's missing, though? People. They aren't walking along the side of the road. They aren't milling around a market or someone's home, kids aren't playing in the streets. Everyone's shut up in a building or a car. It feels so artificial. All you see are things, no people. Maybe one of the reasons I liked Africa so much is because I enjoy people so much and there, they were around all the time. Life was on display at every moment. Actual people living actual lives, even if the lives they led were messy or sad or poor. Their lives aren't hidden like ours are here. Maybe that's why they have the misconception that you can tell who has AIDS by looking at them, because so much of the rest of their lives are transparent and known by the people that surround them.

I don't want to idealize Africa and bash America, that's not my goal. I just feel more alive there, you know? Even if it's a conflicted, gut-wrenching, why does this disequilibration exist in the world? kind of alive, I would take that over the numbness that seems to infect us when we're too comfortable. So, I guess it's good that I'm feeling uncomfortable here in my cushy surroundings. The question is, what is my response?

life happening in the street

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Changes

I was gone three weeks. I know that time passed while I was gone, but for some reason I thought that nothing here would be different when I returned. It is, though. I'm noticing it in subtle and obvious, insignificant and deeply important ways. Here are a few things that have changed since I left for Africa:
-We have a new pastor at the church.
-Certain trees with white flowers are blooming.
-They're playing new songs on the radio.
-My office is freshly painted and the furniture has been rearranged.
-They now make Diet Coke with Splenda.
-A friend started dating someone.
-My roommate is leaving in less than a month to go to Sri Lanka on a mission trip.
-All of the people living in our apartment are now 26 years old.
-My friends' friend died.
-All of the wood benches at Woodridge Park have been stained.
-Lake Woodlands has a newly created peninsula jutting into it.
-My friend and his fiance bought a house.
-There is a new shopping center being constructed on Sawdust Rd.
-My cousin Sandy set a wedding date.
Time doesn't stand still. Things are always changing.

Monday, June 20, 2005

I'm Back

Although I wish I was still in Africa, I must admit that my bed feels pretty comfy. I have missed all of you and I can't wait to use this blog as an avenue to share some of my experiences while I was in Zambia.

I have posted just a few excerpts but more is to come, keep checking.
I am dating the posts by the date they took place, which means you need to scroll down to see what has been added.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Victoria Falls


Victoria Falls
Originally uploaded by (t)ruth.
I knew that seeing Victoria Falls was going to be amazing, I knew we were going to get wet, and I knew I would see rainbows (there are two in this photo if you look closely). I wasn't prepared for how incredible the experience would be. John Harrison took this picture of me and shortly after he took it we were standing on the bridge you see in the background of the photo. We realized that, because of the mist from the falls, the rainbow made a complete circle around the bridge. It was one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen--a circular rainbow. it was breathtaking.

Monday, June 13, 2005

How do you picture Africa?

What is the Africa you imagine?
Grass huts? I touched one.
Baobob trees? I was inside one.
Toothless faces? They smiled at me.
Bare feet? Their toes and my Tevas left side-by-side prints in the dust.
Cooking by fire? I smelled the smoke.
Large sun sinking on the horizon of the bush? The orange and pink hues seeping through the window are tinting my paper with soft pastel shades.
Men on bicycles, hauling firewood? I just waved to him as we passed.
Women in brightly colored chitenge dresses? I wore one.
Eating without utensils? There is still nschima under my fingernails.
Grassland plains with wiry leafy trees? My van window is framing that very scene right now.
Women carrying babies on their backs and everything else on their heads? It's so common I didn't even take a photograph.
Tribal chiefs? I greeted one in his native language, Tonga, as he shook my hand.
Flies landing in the snot and tears of a baby's face? I swished them away.
Drums beating and voices chanting melodies? I danced and sang to the music.
Widows? They said "twalumba apati" (thank you very much) when we visited them.
Orphans? I became friends with several.
AIDS victims? I shook her hand and gave her a hug.
People crammed into the back of open-air trucks? I now know after sitting with 50 other people that there is always room for one more.
Mosquito nets? I slept under one.
Washing clothes by hand? I learned how.
Wild safari animals? I was five feet from a zebra, ten feet from an elephant, and 15 feet from a giraffe.

Then let me tell you about the Africa you might not picture:
Cell phones.
Subway sandwiches.
Internet cafes.
An electric keyboard, speakers, and microphones during a worship service.
A female presidential candidate.
satellite television.
Spongebob Squarepants lunch bags.
Shiny leather shoes.
Ironed slacks and sharp ties.
Computerized hydroelectric power station.
Female pastors.
Air conditioning.
Engineers.

Africa is so much more than the things you might expect and the things you might not. Its people tell you much more about its identity than any other description can. That's why you have to go there and meet the people. They understand grace, hospitality, and love more than anyone I've ever known. I am different because of knowing them.

Friday, June 10, 2005

The Poor Give Generously


Those who have little give much, can't pay the p.o. box cost, yet they send tangible love over the rough road.
Clothes cast off, taken by unwashed hands.
Bring your hands by my chin, let my falling tears cleanse the dirt and dust that covers your palms, it will make us both clean again.

The woman in this photo is the one who inspired Marcel Kafusha and the UCZ Siavonga Main Congregation to start reaching out to the people at Mpango preaching point with not only the Word of God, but also material goods to meet their physical needs. When he met her the first time, she was holding both of her twins in her arms. Women usually carry their babies with a chitenge, a long piece of fabric that can be used so the mother's hands are free. This woman had two babies and zero chitenges. Marcel encouraged his congregation to have their first clothing drive so that the next time they went to Mpango, they would not arrive empty-handed. When we arrived this time, she only had one child. The other had died on their way to the hospital for treatment.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Church+School


Today during our meeting in the staff room at the school, I was so encouraged by the partnership that the United Church of Zambia Siavonga Main Congregation (UCZ Siavonga) has with the school in their town. They are working together to make sure that orphans and vulnerable children in their community will get an education.

Last year, the school compiled a list of children that were unable to afford schooling. While public education is free in Zambia, there are many costs required to attend school: fees, uniforms, supplies (notebooks, pencils, pens, etc.). Several of the orphans and other children are simply unable to come up with this money. The school sent out a plea to the community, asking people to sponsor these children so they could be educated. There were over 200 children on the list.

UCZ Siavonga responded.

The church had just begun its Outreach Foundation, a ministry inspired by their partnership with our congregation. When two UCZ members came to WCPC in 2003, they noitced how our congregation cared for the needs of vulnerable people in our community. That concept had never really occurred to them before. They were mainly focused on caring for the needs of those within their church community. After their interaction with us, their vision expanded to reach out to people outside their walls.
The focus of their Outreach Foundation has three parts:
1) Education for orphans and other vulnerable children
2) HIV/AIDS Education
3) Empowering widows and widowers who are vulnerable

To respond to the need, and fulfill the first aspect of the Outreach Foundation goals, they raised money to send ten children to school! This was the greatest response in the entire Siavonga community, and they were the first of only a few churches to contribute. The School Manager (the Principal) said, "We support the church, the church supports the school, and the school supports the country. We are all working together for the future of Zambia."

During our meeting, we opened and closed with prayer, and the pastor of the church, Evanglelist Mullilo, did a short message on Matthew 25:35-40. Remember, this was a meeting at the school! The school recognizes that they need to work with the churches so they are presenting a united message.

Written on the blackboard in the staff room was this quote, "African orphans are our collective responsibility." They are living that truth.

Siavonga Basic School


Siavonga Basic School
Originally uploaded by (t)ruth.
Today during our visit of the Siavonga Basic School, which enrolls students from grades 1-9, I learned a great deal about the educational system in Zambia. It was an invaluable visit.

Let me tell you a little about the structure of the school. Each grade, 1-9, has four sections for each: a, b, c, d. These sections take turns using the facilities during the day, which means, in order to serve all 1,538 students, they have to go to school in shifts. Each child is in school for only four hours a day. There are 32 teachers, including the Vice Principal and the School Manager. In all grades, the following subjects are compulsory: English, Math, Science, Geography, History, and Religious Education (how's that for a change in our whole "separation of church and state" philosophy?). In grades 8 and 9 subjects like Office Practice, Civics, Home Economics, and Technical Drawing are optional. The students all wear uniforms, and the cost of these is sometimes what keeps students from attending school.

I asked the Vice Principal how students are evaluated and how it is determined that they are able to move to the next grade. She told me that first grade is taught using the "Break Through" model. They are taught reading, writing, and grammar in the local language, Tonga. Once they are able to handle these concepts capably in the local language, it is considered that they have "broken through." This is the criteria for moving on to second grade, where they will begin to learn English. They must have a clear understanding of the local language first. In second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grades, every student is moved to the next grade. Whether they have an understanding of the subject matter or not is of no consequence. Everyone moves. At the end of 7th grade, every student takes an examination to enter 8th grade. They cannot enter 8th until they pass the exam. All 8th graders move up to 9th grade. At the end of 9th grade there is an examination to enter secondary school. Grades 10-12 are held at a different school. Everyone moves together from 10th to 11th, and from 11th to 12th. In order to graduate secondary school, each student must pass their final examination at the end of grade 12. Remember, though, school is only taught for four hours a day! It was reported to us that even students who graduate from secondary school only have the equivalent of a tenth grade education in the United States.

In many classrooms, the teachers may have only one textbook and one student workbook. Obviously, this means that the students are not getting the level of practice that they need to master skills, nor do they have the opportunity to study additionally at home, since they don't have the resources to take with them. It was hard to see the lack of materials, but it was encouraging to witness teachers who are committed to doing the best with what they have. They care about the future of their country and they are doing everything they can to equip the next generation. I admire them very much. You know, I think I could potentially see myself teaching there.

Differences in Education


School Children
Originally uploaded by (t)ruth.
We visited the school today and it was very eye-opening. It was grateful that there were so many children enrolled in school, but I did find myself questioning the level of education they are receiving.

As much as I complain about the school system in the United States, I realize now that my complaints often revolve around the fact that there is TOO MUCH offered at American public schools: too many opportunities for involvement, too intense of a commitment required for extra-curricular activities, too much pressure to perform, too many A.P classes at too young of an age, too strong of an emphasis on getting into college, too great a worry about fitting into a peer group.

None of those things are a concern here. They have too little funding, too little space, too little supplies, too little resources, too few teachers, too low education level of teachers, too little consistency.

In the U.S., if a student doesn't attend class, it's probably because they're ditching or they're faking sick to avoid turning in an assignment. Here, if a student is absent, it's likely because they had to stay home and care for an ill parent or they had to work to help sustain the family financially. What a different world.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Morning Prayer Service

Worship this morning was so incredible! Their voices blended so wonderfully and the way the song leaders prompted us for the next part of the song was beautiful. Traditional hymns sounded so much richer with the African influence. Their voices were so strong and deep and smooth. Debi said that when they sang, it sounded to her the way it will in heaven. How true. The most meaningful song to me was when we were praying and after the first of three prayers, they broke out into song spontaneously and the prayer they sang was so thick with Spirit. It seemed to me that their song of prayer was a deep sigh of happiness, gratitude, and blessing straight from the lungs of God. He breathed on me through their harmony with one another. So many of the students were so willing to share their musical talent and they all invited and encouraged participation from the rest of us. But, the did it naturally. We just intuitively followed their leadership without them having to direct us or invite us with words or hand motions. That shows me that our desire to join them in praising God came from something internal; it wasn't because of an expectation or a sense of requirement. We wanted to sing because we were moved to sing.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Dirty Feet Cleaned

Some of the students' and faculty's children were playing soccer (football) with a bunch of plastic bags tied together with string in the shape of a sphere. I was mesmerized by their feet. Covered in dust and dirt, the soles hardened so they didn't even need shoes. The rest of them was relatively clean, but those dusty feet... I came to understand with more clarity what Jesus discussed with Peter just before he washed the disciples' feet. Mine got a bit dirty as I played, too. I didn't need a shower, but I didn't want to go inside my room with my feet that dirty. A hose was left running near our rooms. I rinsed my feet and my flip flops and I silently thanked the absent gardner who left the hose on so I could cleanse my feet. John 15 sprung up in my brain..."I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener..." Thank you for washing my feet.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

London Language

We are driving from the airport (Gatwick) into London. Everything is so proper here, right down to the road signs. They crack me up! They use so many more words to express something properly. We crass Americans really do butcher the English language. It's embarrassing. Sometimes we even replace words with symbols. Here, it's common to see the word "diverted" on a roadway sign, so it naturally becomes part of the vocabulary. No wonder they seem to speak more intelligently. What to people in the US have? Arrows pointing.

Some actual signs I saw along the roads in London:
Road liable to flooding
Diverted traffic
Free recovery awaits here (instead of Tow Truck Stop)
Cars approaching Heathrow straddle two nearside lanes
The slip of the road may cause closure
Thank you for driving carefully and considerately through the roadways
Variable speed limits ends
We apologise for any inconveniences caused
Give way (=Yield)

Monday, May 30, 2005

Fly Away

Worries melt away
Everything will happen
Escape
Release
Away
Flee
Free
From what?
What do I feel tied to?
Responsibility
Monotony
Dream-squelchers
Naysayers
Complainers
Not today, not tomorrow, nor the day after...
Sigh

I can breathe now that the pressure of performance has been lifted off my chest, anxiety off my mind. They can't reach me up here! Three weeks to me. Whee!

To do list, tossed.
Cell phone, off.
Worries, gone.
Smile, on.

Lord, you are taking me just where I need to go--into your presence, into your peace. I feel it washing over me. I can't escape the relaxation you provide. Show me your glory, tell me it's all OK.

Zambia Mission Trip Itinerary

Just a few hours until we meet at church to head to the airport...
(To all those who were placing bets to see if I'd be late, it's 12:20 and I'm here! We don't leave until 3:30. How's THAT for being early?)

Many people have asked, "What will you be doing there?" The answer to that is simple and difficult. The reason it's hard is because we don't have one particular task. The reason it's simple is because the answer is, "whatever our partners in mission request of us!" This trip is one of mutual encouragement. We will be partnering in God's mission, as we minister side-by-side with our friends in Zambia. We will be building relationships with them, they will involve us in their already active ministries, and if there is any way for us to be of service, we will jump at the opportunity.

Our theme verse:
Romans 1:11-12.
I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong--that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith.

Our Mission Statement:
The purpose of this trip is to further our mutual Christian witness in cooperation with our mission partners in Zambia. We will encourage each other in the challenges of our work and ministry in our separate locations. May all that we do honor the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Zambia Mission Trip Itinerary:

May 30: Depart Houston

June 2: Arrive Lusaka
JUSTO MWALE THEOLOGICAL COLLEGE

June 6: Arrive Matinangala
NAMUMU ORPHANAGE

June 8: Arrive Siavonga
UNITED CHURCH OF ZAMBIA

June 13: Depart for touring
CHOBE GAME PARK
VICTORIA FALLS

June 18: Depart Lusaka for travel home

June 19: Arrive Houston

(You may have noticed a significant gap between departures and arrivals to and from Houston. This is because our flights are routed through London and we're going to spend a short period of time there each direction so we don't have two monster international flights back to back.)

I hope you'll be aware of where we are throughout the course of the trip so you can specifically pray for us! Thanks to everyone who has been so incredibly supportive of me so I can experience this once in a lifetime opportunity. (Well, maybe I shouldn't say ONCE in a lifetime. Africa might get in my blood and I may need to return... You never know.)

In Christ,
Ruth

Indypendent Woman

Did you hear? A 23-year old woman named Danika Patrick placed 4th in the Indy 500! If only I had stuck with it, that could have been me... No, I only did novice racing for fun; no indy cars for me. Oh, I just realized, no driving for three weeks. Sad.

A Fun Game

I'm going to be gone for three weeks, right? Could it be possible that you might be wishing for an update on the blog during that time? Possibly. But here's what you can do instead...
Use that scroll bar on the right and pull it down to any ol' spot. Wherever you land, read that post and comment on it. Fun for you now, fun for me when I return and get to read random comments on random posts from the past. Are you in? Scroll away...

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Looking Glass Lies


the "after" shot
Originally uploaded by (t)ruth.

Why does the mirror lie? Because it only speaks what I tell it to say. It may reflect me as I am now, but I only see her as she was. Who is that person in the photos? It can't be the same girl in the mirror, they look so different from one another. The pictures aren't lying. People aren't lying. I'm the only one who has been lying to myself. I haven't meant to, honestly. It's just that until now, I haven't had the ability to see my new self differently because I spent 26 years seeing her one way. That view of the outward me is changing. I'm not the big girl anymore. But I'm still very much me--the me that I love--and that is not changing. I'm just done believing the lies I've fed myself for too long. It's about damn time!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Aging Grandparents

I've always had this idea that my grandparents are invincible. Other people have experienced the sickness or death of their grandparents, but I've never known that. My mom called today to tell me Grandma Rajala has been in the hospital with some heart complications. She is doing better and will probably be released on Saturday. Nevertheless, mom is driving up to Michigan now to be there with her parents and her sister, Gladys.

Apparently, Grandpa Rajala has been having a hard time with it because not only is his wife in the hospital, but his brother Arnie, who lives across the field from them on Rajala Rd. (I'm not making that up) was taken to a nursing home because he's not doing well. I called to talk to grandma in the hospital and she mentioned Arnie. When I asked what was wrong with him she said, "Old age. He's 83. When you get to be as old as him you start to just expect that things are deteriorating and that it's just a matter of time before your body wears out."

Grandma is 81. (So, what does that mean for her?)

She proceeded to tell me that Grandpa is showing the early signs of Alzheimer's. He's been forgetting things lately. He tinkers with equipment and machinery, taking it apart but then not knowing how to put it back together again. Not a good idea when one of those things is a sawmill that is used to cut all of the winter wood needed for the wood-burning furnace that heats the house...

I always took it for granted that my grandparents have always seemed healthy and I've never considered what life would be like without them. What would happen if they couldn't live alone anymore on their 40 acres of property in the upper peninsula of Michigan? What if I never get back up there to visit before they're gone? These are questions I've never visited before. Apparently, I'm getting older, too.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Less than a week left

I am leaving for Africa next Monday.
It's so close, yet my laundry is so far from being done...can't pack until it is...
How do I pack for over three weeks in one suitcase, when we won't be able to do laundry?
This is my main concern right now.
Something tells me that I will have other things as priorities on my mind once I return.
My friend Brian (the one who gave me the nickname Truth) called me today. He spent some time in Sudan and his fiance, Erin, spent the past year in Kenya, so Africa is very close to them both. I asked him what I need to bring back with me and he said, "the heart of the people." I was thinking along the lines of artwork, souveniers, but he got to the main point.
I know my mind will be transformed by going there and I am eager for the ways God will speak to me through His people in Zambia.
Keep me in your prayers, during this week of preparation and while I'm gone May 30-June 19.

The End

Is it silly to feel sad about losing something you never really had to begin with? No, I don't think so. I must say, it's amazing how quickly disappointment can turn into understanding, understanding into peace. I have had a lot of really good realizations lately, both from my conversation with Carrie on Sunday night and through the conversation last night by Woodridge Park's Blue (or, should we say, chemically-altered Green...) Lagoon. Thank you, Lord, for meeting my needs in everything. I trust You even when, especially when, I would have planned it differently. I would have picked "To Be Continued..." but You scripted "The End." You're the author. We'll go with Your way.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Psalm 119:1-16

This was the Psalm today in my One Year Bible and it really blessed me. The psalm is a Hebrew acrostic poem; there are 22 stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The 8 verses within each stanza begin with the Hebrew letter of its section. (Just some interesting info I thought I'd pass along...)

Happy are people of integrity, who follow the law of the Lord.
Happy are those who obey his decrees and search for him with all their hearts.
They do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in his paths.
You have charged us to keep your commandments carefully.
Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect your principles!
Then I will not be disgraced when I compare my life with your commands.
When I learn your righteous laws, I will thank you by living as I should!
I will obey your principles. Please don't give up on me!
How can a young person stay pure? By obeying your word and following its rules.
I have tried my best to find you--don't let me wander from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your principles.
I have recited aloud all the laws you have given us.
I have rejoiced in your decrees as much as in riches.
I will study your commands and reflect on your ways.
I will delight in your principles and not forget your word.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Canoe Ride

Last night four of us took a canoe out onto Lake Woodlands and paddled around. It was splendific. The air was really still, the lake was quiet, and the moon was brilliant. We saw a bunch of animals (including the metal dragon that inhabits the lake--I learned his name last night and already I've forgotten it...) and some ginormous houses. It was a really pleasant night. I highly reccommend it if you ever get the chance.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Christian Enrichment Ministries

The Christian Enrichment Ministries team had a planning and visioning retreat today and it was so much fun! We used to be called the Christian Education Committee. The name change happened for several reasons, mainly that we felt our role was to nurture spiritual growth in a way that extended beyond the conventional didactic approach of a teacher passing on information to a student. It's so much more than that.

We explored a lot today, including how we can better identify the ministries that do exist at WCPC in a way that makes them more accessible to people. If people know what to expect from a class/study/group, they might be more willing to give it a shot. Right now there is really no way to differentiate one group from another and there is a lot of confusion. Also, it would help us establish a system of labeling programs and ministries so they can be organized by where they fit along a spectrum of one's spiritual journey. Then, it becomes easier to guide someone to the next opportunity for growth when they're ready, or challenge someone to take the next step. The system for identifying the ministries has to be broad enough to apply universally to all nurturing and learning groups in the church and simple enough to be remembered and referenced easily.

I was thinking about it and these words popped into my head during the retreat today:
Search
Seek
Study
Serve

"Search" would refer to entry-point type of programs that are non-threatening, mainly social, and not as focused on spiritual depth.
"Seek" would be the type of ministries and groups that are highly relational and use creative and dynamic approaches to aid people's learning and growth.
"Study" would apply to the groups and classes that people who are wanting more intentional depth could attend.
"Serve" would be the leadership opportunities, taking what you've learned and pouring back into the lives of others, guiding them in their spiritual walk.

What do you think?

Friday, May 20, 2005

Blissful Day of Nothingness

I am making the pad on the computer chair wet right now because my bathing suit is still damp from my adventures in the pool with four little girls. Michelle and I were laying out by the pool and we decided to take a dip to cool off a bit. The girls came up to us, introduced themselves, and immediately we were friends. They returned again when I took my second cool-off dip and I couldn't shake them after that. Not that I'm complaining; I love little kids. They were drawn to me for some reason and every second one of them was saying, "Ruth, look at me!" "Ruth, watch me do this!" "Miss Ruth, I'm going to swim over there in one breath, will you watch?" They were swimming under me, hanging on me, sliding off me (the tanning oil was still making my skin a little slippery!), hugging me, tapping me, jumping to me, you name it. It was amazing what a little attention from an adult did for them. I originally wasn't planning to get my hair wet, but I couldn't help it. I had to join the fun so I pulled out the hair tie and dunked my head. I did my own under-water somersaults and handstands. Then I wowed them by swimming the ENTIRE length of the pool underwater, something their minds could barely comprehend. Oh, it was fun.

The fun in the pool followed an already excellent morning.

I went for the most amazing run today. It was hot and I was sweating profusely, but for some reason it was a very satisfying kind of sweat and the heat made my muscles feel massaged. I stopped half-way at my park and swung on the swings. The breeze felt so wonderful. Then, I decided to lay down on the concrete slab and looked up at the sky for a while, praying while I admired the clouds as they swirled and feathered. I continued on my run, smelling the numerous flowering bushes and trees, and I noticed a blackberry bush. I picked a few and the sweet fruit was just the refreshment I needed to bring a smile to my face as I started to walk and cool down. I got back to my apartment complex drenched in sweat. As I passed by the pool, I took off my shoes and dove in! It felt fabulous.

This whole day has been full of all kinds of relaxation. I feel so good right now.

Yeah, I know

Words are strung together, ideas repeating. The same idea, said multiple ways, doesn't always communicate better. But isn't repitition the root of memory? That's what my high school Psychology teacher taught us. Shows how much Mr. Parker knows... Speaking in metaphor seems clearer for some reason. That doesn't make any sense. But it does. Understanding is a funny thing. I get it. But most of you won't because you don't know the context from which I'm speaking.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

I love my mom

I talked to my mom yesterday and it was wonderful. I don't call her as much as I should, I don't take care of the responsibilities I have to her like I need to, and I don't show her often enough just how much I care about her. But I do love her. I miss my mom. I'm 26 and I miss my mom. I'm very much OK with that. In fact, it would make me sad if I didn't miss her.

On Mother's Day the woman doing the children's message talked about how mothers show love. She had pictures of different parts of the body: hands, ears, eyes, mouth, and she reminded the children how mothers demonstrate love with each one of those parts. Stroking your hair, giving a hug, cleaning a scrape, listening to you when you're sad, watching the road to make sure it's safe to cross, looking at you as if you are her favorite thing in the world, smiling at you, kissing you, telling you she loves you. I'll be honest. My eyes welled up a little that morning as I was sitting in the pew by myself. I wanted my mom to be there to stroke my hair and give me a hug.

Yesterday, my mom used her ears and her mouth to show me love. She listened to me talk and she spoke words of encouragement and blessing that I needed to hear.

Can I just tell you, my mom is a phenomenal woman! I'm going to brag about her a little bit right now...

She grew up in a tiny little town in the upper peninsula of Michigan, smack dab in the middle of nowhere. When she graduated from high school, she wanted to experience something different than the insulated, country life she had always known. She got the opportunity to be a live-in nanny for a wealthy family in Chicago, so she packed her bags, got on a Greyhound bus, and headed for the city. I still laugh when she tells me how she reacted when she tried to follow the directions that were given to her by the family she was going to be working for. It said, "When you exit the bus station, head toward The Lake." (If you're from Chicago, you know that "head toward The Lake" means head east if you're downtown, because that is where Lake Michigan is located in relation to the city.) My mom, remember she grew up on 40 acres of woods, was expecting to actually see a body of water. She stepped onto the gray street which was shadowed from the sun by the skyscrapers that lined it, and she was utterly confused. Lake? Where's the lake? I don't see a lake. I only see buildings! How can there be a lake? Everything is concrete! Welcome to the big city, Jane. She took that on and never looked back. I admire her courage and her adaptability.

My mom has always shown me that a woman is a complete creature, both soft and strong. My mom is tender. She is a loving woman who knows exactly how to be with kids in a way that makes them feel so special. She gives her husband a little shoulder massage in passing, just to reach out and remind him that she loves him. She is a nurse, which tells you a lot about her patience, compassion, and care for others. My mom is also tough. She is the one who hung the gutters on our house, not my stepdad. She mows the lawn, fixes appliances, and installs hardwood floors when necessary. She lifts heavy things and she sweats.

I love the example that my mom is to me. She has taught me a lot. I've ignored many of the lessons she tried to teach when I should have paid attention, and I am so sorry for the ways I know it's been maddening to her at times. But I have still learned. Most of what I've learned from her is just by watching her and knowing her. She is such an example to me and I would be so happy to turn out like her someday. Whenever I read the last chapter of Proverbs and I see the characteristics of the Wife of Noble Character, I think of how perfectly it describes my mom. I am so lucky to have such an amazing role model. I love you, mom.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

New DMB cd

What's wrong with me? How did I miss this? The new Dave Matthews Band cd came out and I wasn't aware of it. I was in Starbucks yesterday and they had it for sale so I bought it. I still haven't had a chance to listen to it, though, so I have no opinions yet about how it compares to previous albums. Tonight I'm going to make a point of going for a drive so I can hear the whole thing in its entirety.

I love Dave Matthews Band because of the musical complexity and the intriguing lyrics. They have a way of approaching topics like love, life, faith, loss, sex, doubt, beauty, and identity with a candid yet questioning tone. To them, everything is fair game for celebration or analysis and I like that because I, myself, spend a lot of time enjoying and pondering life. Sometimes the musical style of the song directly parallels the theme of the words. Other times, the musical arrangement is a complete antithesis of the meaning, which suggests there is more to consider about what is being communicated than might appear at first glance. They're deep. They're creative. They're oh so talented.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Playfulness

On Sunday, I had several opportunities to play, and it helped balance out the two very high-responsibility tasks I had for the day (delivering a message during the worship service in the morning and facilitating a potentially tense parents' meeting in the evening).

I talked and joked with Sarah, a three-year-old at church who was making goofy faces at me, playing with my hair, and pretending to eat invisible bugs.
I got to give first grade Abbie a hug so big that I lifted her off the ground.
I threw confetti at kids as they walked in the Youth Room. (by the way, I still have to clean up the floor...oops.)
I went to various fast food places with a group of loud high school students and I got to be slightly obnoxious right along with them.
I got to catch bubbles.
I played in a fountain barefoot.
I rode a grocery cart from one end of the parking lot to the other.

It was a very full, very fun day.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Shared Custody of Carrie

Last night Carrie was telling people that Antoinette and I had shared custody of her. It was making me laugh, but it's so true! The three of us love hanging out together, but sometimes each of us needs our one-on-one time with Carrie. Antoinette and I have time to talk, just the two of us, on a regular basis at our apartment. But we have to schedule it with Carrie. Last night, Antoinette and Carrie had dinner, I met up with them at Johnny Rocket's and the three of us had dessert, and then Carrie and I sat in the park and talked.

There is just something different about spending time with someone by yourself, compared to how it is when a group of other people gather. It takes a unique group of people to hang out together and manage to have meaningful conversation. A lot of times for me, the depth comes when I can spend time with someone alone. I tend to be more open and vulnerable when it's just me and one other person. Here's something I've noticed. I can have a significant conversation with Antoinette, and I'll have basically the same exact conversation with Carrie separately, but if I were spending time with both of them, it's not as likely that I would disclose as much. Why is that? I still do share a lot with both of them together, though. One of those unique groups of people that I mentioned before, who can discuss things of significance? Usually it includes those girls.

What's your preference? Do you like spending time with people individually, or are you more comfortable in group settings? Are there certain people in your life that are only one-on-one or that you only see in groups?