23 January 2010

Mission Connexion Connection

Last weekend was Mission Connexion NW, the largest missions conference in the Pacific Northwest. I was there to help staff the Perspectives booth for a couple hours which turned into most of the day. Towards the afternoon I was hungry, Ron was thirsty and tired, so we decided to head to the exhibitors room for a snack. Unfortunately we got there as they were cleaning up and the snacks were almost all gone, except for some pretzels. I really should have packed a lunch. We sat down at a table thankful to rest.

Ron asked me where I am at with missions, what I am thinking about it all. I gave some short answers, enough to satisfy if he was just trying to make conversation. But he probed further, so I took it as a sign that he really did want to know, and gushed everything that has been going on in my head and heart. Something about verbalizing it all, real connections between my mind, heart and reality started to develop. God is leading and directing, preparing me for something; what exactly? I'm not quite sure, but here is what I do know.

At the age of 16 I decided that I was meant to be a missionary. The summer between high school and college I had to memorize the following verse as part of a missions team. At age 17 I took the passage as my life verse ~ Matthew 16: 24 "Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”"

My desire to be in ministry, to be a missionary has never waivered, despite all the setbacks, delays, and lack of direction.

In January 2009 a friend encouraged me to join her & her family for a spaghetti feed fundraiser for a ministry called the Micah Project. She mentioned that it was a great ministry to kids.
I like hearing about ministry to kids.
She mentioned it is located in Honduras.
Um, I had no interest in going further south than San Diego. I was interested in Central Europe not Central America. But I figured it's always good to hear how what other ministries are doing and glean ideas.
She even tried playing the single guy card, explaining that the founder would be talking at the fundraiser and he was single.
That gave me pause. I reconsidered attending, but ended up not going; other priorities took precedence over gathering more information about kids at risk from a random ministry. But Micah Project stayed in my mind, although it wouldn't come back to the frontal lobe for several months.

During the summer, as I anticipated and worried about the quickly approaching back surgery, and dreaded another birthday, I decided that by age 40 I wanted to be back in full-time ministry, preferably overseas. A book I had been reading made the point that most people knew what they really wanted to be when they were young, that it's as we became more aware of social pressures and have disappointments in life that we move away from our true calling. Maybe you're wondering what I wanted to be when I grew up; I wanted to be many things depending on the interest of the day. The most amusing, to me, was an attorney, which I can only explain by the fact I had been watching a lot of Perry Mason. But what I always went back to was running an orphanage. I'm not sure where that came from, but I wanted to provide a home for all the children that didn't have one. In high school as girls are wont to do, we mapped out our lives by naming who we were going to marry and how many children we were going to have. My answer to the second question was always, "at least a soccer team worth, " quickly qualifying that statement with "they'll be adopted." So as I thought about where and what I wanted to be doing by the big 4-O the idea of dedicating my life to loving children without family really resonated deep in my heart. To exhaust my days lavishing what love and care I have to give on them. To do my best to emulate some of my heroes of the faith: Gladys Aylward, Amy Carmichael & Mother Teresa. I recognize that with my health issues living overseas may not be wise in most peoples mind; it could aggravate symptoms, especially if I contract some other weird disease and possibly shorten my life-span. Yet we only have this one life and sooner than we think it will be over, so why play it safe? "When I go, I want to go out like Elijah" (Rich Mullins), with my boots on, not hanging on tight to the balance beam.

It is with this mindset that I started to think and pray about how to proceed. My current job allows me ample vacation time, once I build my vacation days bank back up (surgery was going to take me into the negative count), it seemed reasonable to visit two or so places a year to check them out. I didn't have plans as such, just toying with the idea of an orphanage in Africa that some friends had worked at previously, a boys orphanage/Christian camping center in the Caribbean I had come across during my seminary days, Lebanon has some interesting opportunities that my church partners with, going back to Brno, CZ seemed like the natural choice and then there was a vague memory of a ministry to dump children somewhere in South America that I could have learned more about if I had just gone to a spaghetti feed. Figuring out where to go, which ministries to consider, when to visit was something to do in the future. I just needed to focus on getting through surgery and healing, then worry about all of that stuff.

It wasn't much more than a month after I had started making all these mental resolutions that I got an email from the same friend as before, inviting me to a dessert informational time for the Wiggs family who were preparing to join the Micah Project long-term. As an added bonus one of the older guys from Micah would be there to share his story as well. I already had something on the calendar for that day and time. I hemmed and hawed, back and forth, and again, did not attend. But this time I had my mother pick up any material they were handing out. A few days later I picked up the Year End Report of the Micah Ministry from my mom and read through the whole thing. Then read it again. The ministry seemed pretty amazing, why had I been so reluctant to learn more about it before? I needed to learn more, so I started reading the newsletters and the blog with a greedy hunger for more information. My heart sunk as I read about three of the boys running away. Quickly scanning the next few blog entries to make sure they returned I was left without any news. I jotted an email to my friend, I had to know if they were still on the streets or safely back at the Micah house (they had come home). One day, plopped in front of my home computer, reading an archived newsletter, a voice spoke to me. Actually it was my own voice, but a phrase was uttered aloud before it ever crossed my mind, which never happens with my own thoughts, it had to be the Spirit who said, "This is worth giving your life to." Stunned, I seriously wondered if I was crazy. I couldn't argue though, Micah is worth giving my life to. Since that moment I have read every blog post, every past newsletter, rabidly follow their Facebook page, and, well, there is no other way to put this - stalk - the pages of the staff in hopes of learning what is going on in all of their lives, any morsel of news. And for the record, a couple weeks after the aforementioned informational dessert, there was another one that I did attend and was able to met the Wiggs. Somewhere along the way, it happened before I knew it had started, I became invested into the lives of the boys, developed a love for each one without having ever met them - except Oscar who I met around Christmas - and have settled that if this is truly where God is calling me - “Here am I! Send me.” (Isa. 6:8)
A bold claim, especially since I have yet to experience the ministry first-hand. I may be overzealous. I worry that I am misinterpreting what I see as "words" and "signs;" I'm scared of it being true, and of it not. I am looking forward to visiting Micah this summer and seeing where God leads from there.

21 January 2010

Jon + Jennifer = Joniffer

For as much as I fought for Jon and I to have separate offices, I am really glad we are together. Now that we've rearranged the desks so that we aren't crammed into the room like sardines it's actually a very happy situation. Keeping us together has a direct negative impact on our productivity, thus the reason I wanted my own space. But being together, and the amusement it provides is about the only thing keeping me sane at the office these days. I'm getting very accustomed to spending nine hours a day with this dude which is evident by my slip while calling roll for our team meeting on Wednesday. Since the list of attendees goes alphabetically and Jennifer and Jon are both "J" names, guess which two names are in order. Yup, ours. Kristi has taken to calling us "Joniffer" and Wednesday so did I. I meant to say that Jon and Jennifer are online (the meeting was taking place over the phone) but instead, what came out was - "Joniffer is here." I started laughing, I could hear Kristi snickering, and despite my efforts I couldn't correct myself. I just moved on to the next name.

Spending as much time together as we do it's a good thing we get along. Thankfully we get along very well, too well. We sit and chat in the morning sharing our stories of what we did the night before. It's the reverse of a husband coming home and telling his wife about his day. I joke that he is my "occupational partner" - a phrase stolen from Mark & Dave on KEX. Jon usually has good stories to share about his evenings with his wife, I'm eager to meet her after hearing so much about her. I say we get along too well because if something good happened the night before it can be a good chunk of time before we actually get around to working. We have to get caught up and check-in with each other first. It's really amusing.

Sometimes we chat as we go through our email, our backs to one another. But yesterday I had turned around and was facing him. Something caught my eye over Jon's right shoulder. At first I thought it was a feather from his coat or a small hairball from one of his five dogs floating through the air. I asked him what it was and as he looked to see what I was talking about he suddenly jumped up and backed away from his desk. "It's a spider! Ahhh! A spider! I HATE spiders!!" I was in hysterics. I'm used to my mother reacting to spiders but even she doesn't freak out as much as Jon did, screeching like a little girl. Giggling I grabbed a tissue and scooped up the spider and squished it all up into a ball. Jon wasn't sure whether tossing it into the trash was sufficient, he was concerned the rest of the morning that it was going to crawl out. So amusing.

After we had calmed down from the spider incident we started to discuss an article that one of our teammates had sent out about the difference between cat people and dog people. (Cat people tend to be more reserved, and more open; dog people are more extroverted - nothing new) I was curious to get Jon's take since he and Melissa have 4 furry canines of varying breeds. He keeps telling me that I need to get a dog. And I agree. I would really enjoy having a dog. But I won't at this stage in my life, it's not fair to the dog, leaving it alone for the vast majority of the day. Even though I would label myself as a "dog person" Jon decided that unless I actually have a pet I can't claim to be either. If I'm neither a dog or cat person, that, according to Jon, makes me a serial killer - just like Dexter. He knows I hate Dexter.

Working with Jon, sharing an office, having an "occupational partner" has become a blessing. He keeps me laughing, which keeps me sane. Living alone, it's nice to share life with someone during the day. Having someone to share life with, it's interesting to discuss values, morals, beliefs and hear different views. Especially when it often breaks down into laughter. We are Joniffer.

18 January 2010

Just call me 'Baby-face' Streger

Due to deadlines and major projects we didn't have our company holiday party until this past Thursday. For the last hour and a half of the work day we socialized at "Margaritaville." While it was amusing to watch my one co-worker who I'm pretty sure has a little crush on me follow me around the room but never quite have the guts to come talk to me, that wasn't the funniest event of the afternoon.

Earlier in the week I had been talking with Adam and it came up that I had been in Bodega Bay last spring. We had been talking about Hitchcock's "The Birds." (Hate that movie!)
Here's how our conversation roughly went-
Adam: Hey, I've been wanting to ask you, what took you to Bodega?

Jenn: I was visiting one of my very dear friends in Santa Rosa and we decided to go to the beach one day. She pointed out the church and I made her pull over so I could take pictures of the church.

Adam: Is your friend from there?

Jenn: Yeah, she grew up in the area.

Adam: I wonder if I'd know her. Probably not, you're in a different age group, a bit younger, I probably wouldn't know her. (mostly talking to himself)

Jenn: I think we're pretty close in age. She's a year older than me, but I think we're all around the same age.

Adam: I don't think so, do you mind me asking? How old are you?

Jenn: I'm 36.

Adam: (Taking a big step back, putting his hand over his mouth, eyes as big as saucers) Nooo! Really!?!? You don't look it at all! Really!?

Jenn: (Laughing very hard) Yup. I know. Now, how old are you?

Adam: 34...

It was hilarious. People are always surprised, but Adam's reaction was one of the more dramatic I've ever had. I don't look my age, that's for sure. Usually I'm told that I'm very lucky. And I agree. Although it's a blessing and a curse. Unlike most of my friends, I don't have to dye my hair to cover the gray. That's a definite plus. In the work environment I don't get credit for having the work experience or education that I do; I don't look old enough. That's a curse. It's a blessing, and a curse. And oh, so fun to watch people's reactions when they learn the truth. But sometimes I wonder if they're more shocked by how immature I am for my age. I am a kid at heart determined never to really grow up.

17 January 2010

Hope Springs A Turtle

Hope. It's a four letter word. I was taught that four letter words are naughty. Okay, so not all four letter words are naughty - kind, love, care, life, and you would think hope should be one of the acceptable words. But hope is a four letter word that for me has been a naughty word, because hope has brought pain, another four letter word. I have hoped for certain jobs, for relationships, for plans to work out, for any innumerable different things. And mostly have been disappointed. It has taught me to be guarded, reluctant to hope, cautious, and frankly rather cynical. Lessons that most people would say are the hard knocks of life, but are really lessons from the father of lies. Yet God does not allow me to stay there. I was talking with a friend about how, despite being of a bit older age, and the string of broken hearts we've suffered, we still hope that one day we may meet our husbands. We continue to hope for love, for children, and family in the face of growing odds against us. Hope is an amazing phenomenon. Our hope is to be in the Lord. And if rightly placed it will not be disappointed. Our Lord does not disappoint. God instills hope in each of us, it is His call to rely on Him, to draw us forward, and deeper into relationship with Him. Hope helps us see the possibilities that God sees as realities. Because God is hope and our hope is in Him who reigns on high - our hope is eternal. "Hope springs eternal" to rattle off a cliche. For one young girl, she thought it meant it was a turtle named Hope. Maybe I should hope for a turtle.

09 January 2010

"Sarah's Key"

Several nights this week I stayed up late, too late. Curled up in my bed, cozy and warmed by the electric mattress pad with the clock just out of sight behind the lamp base so that I didn't know how late I was really staying up and therefore lessen the guilt. I knew how painful the consequences would be in the morning, but I couldn't help myself. Yes, I was staying up late to read, again, this time it has been Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. I had to know what happened to Sarah, I had to know her story - all of her story; like the other main character in the book, Julia.

Also, like Julia, as an American, I was completely ignorant of Vel' d'Hiv. I admit I have a weird kind of fascination with WW II, Hitler and Nazis, in the same way you can't help but watch a wreck. You know it's going to be horrible, but you can't turn away either. It's a curiousity I can only satisfy in small doses as anything more would make me completely sick. I wonder at myself, how I keep returning to that time and place in history. Part of my rationale is that I can't wrap my brain around something so massive and inexplicably horrible. Jon (my office mate) and I were talking this week, how does a man (Hitler) become so twisted and evil? How does he develop such radical ideas and then rise to power, gaining the support of an entire nation? And yet it is repeated over and over, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Papa Doc, Pol Pot... the list could go on, those are just the ones that easily come to mind. Neither one of us had an answer.

The book is written with two parallel stories, one starting in 1942, the other 2002, that weave in and out and together. Julia, the modern day character, feels almost like a pressure valve and an intermediary. To read only Sarah's story would have been too much, too overwhelming, too sickening, too sad and grieving. Yet it could be worse, much worse, De Rosnay takes a delicate hand with the descriptions. Julia allows us to take a breather, focus on something different for the few pages of her chapter, giving us a moment to recover before diving back into Sarah's heartache. The book transitions about half way through, we start learning Sarah's story through Julia. It is through her storyline in the book that all the pieces come together. While Julia becomes our informer on Sarah, the shared need to know Sarah's story puts us into the story as Julia. The story is gripping. Sarah's Key not only educates but helps remind us of what we'd rather forget, but what cannot be forgotten.

01 January 2010

Fixing in the New Year

Today, I decided to put my kitchen back together after a two week frenzy of baking and cooking (aka - Christmas). It started out with turning on the self-cleaning cycle on the oven. I question the sanity of such a decision and the rightness of having such an option; for I am sure that heating up the oven to the equivalent of a warm night in Hades is not a safe procedure, despite the auto-lock on the oven door. The stench that it produced made my eyes water and my throat burn. I opened the windows, lifted the glass panel in the screen door, and turned on fans – all this on a chilly winter night – in a desperate attempt to expel the toxic air that has filled my home. While trying to watch a movie I sat on the floor in front of an open window so that I could get a few whiffs of fresh air. Surprisingly the smoke alarm never went off despite looking in the window at one point and seeing burning embers at the bottom of the oven.

After poisoning myself with the cleaning cycle I moved on to sorting out the under sink cabinet. Two weeks ago while preparing for a girls brunch at my house I managed to stop up the kitchen sink with potato peelings. After a few attempts at fixing it myself with no luck I called in the big man – dad. In a desperate phone call I asked if he could bring over the snake and fix the drain, pronto! Before the girls came over, if at all possible, please. He obliged, but wasn't sure whether or not that he had put the pipes all back together tight enough not to leak. So we moved my tower of storage baggies and kitchen papers to the garage and left the bucket under the sink instead. Tired of going to the garage to fetch a baggie, it was time to move them back under the sink since the bucket was still dry two weeks later. Everything had just been put back in place, I was closing the cabinet doors when the left door started to hang at an awkward angle and there was a distinctive clink and tink; that of a screw falling from its intended place and bouncing around. After five years in this home and struggling with this particular cabinet door, I was forced to finally deal with the problem. Kneeling down, I removed everything that I had just so nicely put back, laid down partially inside the cabinet, with a flashlight gripped between my teeth to figure out what needs to happen. A few attempts later, a self-education on hinges, and my cabinet door is working just fine now, better than it has in five years!

Next up was cleaning the inside of the microwave. My bean and rice taco thingy exploded and made a mess... almost two weeks ago. As I scrubbed to get off the baked on bits of pinto beans that are almost melted into the walls, I think this job would have been much easier if I had cleaned it when it happened, instead of letting it sit in there while I continued to use the microwave for the past couple weeks. It is all the fault of one bean, which exploded and shot rice everywhere. At the time I was thankful that I had let the plate sit in the oven after the timer went off so that the mess was contained. But now I'm thinking that if it had been on the counter, I would have been forced to clean up the mess at the moment and not now.

I start to philosophize in my head about why it isn't until something is broken and demands our attention, or when we finally get fed-up with something, that we get around to dealing with the issue, instead of addressing it when you notice the symptoms. But that is too heady for tonight. All my procrastinating by getting the kitchen back in order has only delayed the inevitable task that must be accomplished tonight – de-ornamenting the tree and un-weaving the lights so that it can be recycled tomorrow morning. Removing the Christmas d├ęcor is one of the saddest tasks for the entire year. The tree is the first thing to go. I would put it off for another week if it wasn't already prime tinder and if I didn't have a very healthy fear of Christmas trees spontaneously combusting.