Friday, September 29, 2006

Austin: The Children's Museum

This chicken was Eleanor's favorite part of the children's museum. They had a special pen (literally) for babies and toddlers. This particular booth had a chicken, eggs (plastic), and a button Eleanor could press to hear various animal noises. You can see it slightly under her right hand. At one point, we left the pen. When we came back I set Eleanor down at another activity. She looked around, saw the chicken and headed straight back over there.

Eleanor also really liked this small slide.

Allison didn't.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Austin: Part Zoo

This is actually the San Antonio Zoo (an hour south of Austin). We went there on Saturday. It was a nice zoo, but oh soooo hot. They had a toddler house, where kids under five could explore and play. Eleanor really liked watching the bigger kids.

Here is Eleanor exploring a cave. There were large insects and fossils inside. She didn't seem to notice.

Did I mention it was hot? I bought a slushy-type drink thing. Eleanor insisted that I share, although from her face in this picture, you wouldn't think she liked it.

Eleanor and Allison had a blast playing together, that is as long as Eleanor was "gentle" and didn't steal Allison's pacifer.

I'll leave you with this super happy baby. Such a great kid.

Again, these pictures were taken by our gracious host Marci.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Austin: Part One

We left Thursday evening on a road trip to Austin, Texas with our friends Matt, Kim, and Allison. Matt and Matt went to Austin City Limits, three days of concerts. Kim and I entertained ourselves and the babies. On Friday night we went to see the largest urban bat colony in the world. Unfortunately, somehow we missed seeing the bats. These are pictures that our gracious host Marci took while we waited. I let Eleanor play on the ground, which she loved. She found some rocks and, realizing all the fun she was missing out on at ACL, put on her own rock show.

This is cute little Allison.

These photos were taken by Marci, as our camera is off being repaired.

Coming from the San Antonio Zoo, the Austin Children's Museum, and one CRAZY Flaming Lips concert.

Blogger has been misbehaving, which has caused a delay in posting this.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Mmm. Yummy.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Devotion - Apocalypse

Devotion - Apocalypse

On my desk is a book called "Jerusalem Countdown." It is a
book that has this to say about itself: "Jerusalem Countdown is a
page-turning heart-stopper! Using my confidential sources in
Israel, information from military experts around the world, and
electrifying revelations from Bible prophecy, I will expose this
reality: unless the entire world-- including America, Israel, and
the Middles East--reaches soon a diplomatic and peaceful
solution to Iran's nuclear threat, Israel and America will be on a
nuclear collision course with Iran!"

I didn't add any extra exclamation points, those are in the original
text. The author goes on to say that he foresees a nuclear battle of
Armageddon on the horizon, and very soon. This will be how the
apocalypse, the end times, how the end of earth as we know it
will be played out. All it takes, he argues, is some careful reading
of the bible and some careful reading of the political situation in
the middle east to see this coming reality.

And I'll grant, he's not the only one who thinks this. During the
past six week campaign between the Hezballah militia and Israeli
forces in Lebanon, it has amazed me how many patients I
encounter who are eager to get a "preacher's" take on the end
times, how this is all going to play out, and how Israel bombing
the suburbs of Beirut where Hezballah members live among the
general population, (that is, those who were too poor or too weak
to evacuate) is going to effect Jesus' itenerary for returning with the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

In a disturbingly interesting development, one writer following
the conflict pointed to the similar beliefs about the end times held
by Iran's Muslim president, Mahmoud Amadenijad. It seems that
among certain Muslim groups there is a belief that a hidden
Imam, or leader, who disappeared hundreds of years ago will
eventually return and will stand upon the mount of olives with
Jesus and bring down the rule of God. It seems Christians are not
the only ones who have an idea about how the end shall come.

I have in my email box a group email from an acquaintance
warning about his experiences twenty or so years ago being
taken in by the end times schemes of one Hal Lindsey and
his book "The Late Great Planet Earth," in which he
predicted a similar nuclear apocalypse only this time it was
the Communist Russians who were the threat. All it took
was a careful reading of the bible and a careful reading of
the political situation in eastern Europe and Russia to see
the coming reality of the end of days. But his doomsday
came and went. The sound heard by thousands was not that
of a thunderous nuclear holocaust but a great sigh of
disillusionment escaping the lungs of college students,
seminarians and armchair scholars everywhere.

My acquaintance warned against following folks who had
times and seasons all mapped out. But he couldn't resist to
indulge in a little end times speculation about the current
middle-east conflict (along the lines of Jerusalem

Before that, there was a group in the church who felt that
God's kingdom come on earth and that, little by little, bit by
bit the community of humanity was rising, becoming more
godly, and it would eventually culminate in the end of this
age and the beginning of a new utopia crowned by Christ's
return. You see things were going so well, economies in
Europe and America were booming, progress and
modernization were spreading. All it took was a careful
reading of the bible and a careful reading of current events
to see this new coming reality. The horrors of World War I
and the unspeakable evil that eventually was uncovered by
World War II tended to throw doubt over this school of

But there's just something in us that wants to know how the
story is going to turn out. And part of that something is a
sneaking suspicion that we may just be the end of the line;
the last living souls who will see the end; see Christ's return,
be it Armageddon or utopia. I think it might have something to
do with the correlating fact that if we were to be the last ones, we
might just get out of this world without tasting death, the great

Jesus knew about our propensity for buying into end times
schemes this when he warned in Matthew ch. 24 about false
prophets who would predict when the end would come and fool
many in the "last days."

And yet, Jesus does tell us that the kingdom of God has come
near and scripture tells us we are living in the last days. So what
are we to do? We don't want to be duped by false prophets whose
"page-turning heart-stoppers" clog bookstores and late-night
religious info-mercials. And yet, central to being a Christian is
the confession that Jesus is coming again and will bring with him
a new Heaven and new Earth. How can we hold both of these
two seemingly contradictory concepts in our minds at the same

Ask any of our families next door with patients in the intensive
care units. Ask your grandmother when she's broken her hip in a
bad way and is facing weeks of physical therapy IF she is ever to
have a shot at walking again. Ask the mother of a child
diagnosed with a mental disability or Downs syndrome in utero
who decides to deliver their baby anyway. These people and
many others like them will tell you what it's like to hold in one
hand all the cold hard medical facts about the likelihood, or
unlikelihood of their loved one's recovery or survival and the
hope that they will beat the odds in the other. They know the
secret to surviving in these times of intense pressure, fear,
uncertainty; these times of not knowing how it is all going to turn
out is to hold reality in one hand and hope in the other. To hold
the gravity and weight of how bad it looks, how bad it really is in
one hand and an indomitable hope for the future, for fresh
possibilities we don't anticipate in the other.

I believe we have much more to learn from these people who are
fighting the battle of their lives to accept reality while clinging to
hope, than we do from many of these doomsayers who join
a long line of people, generations long who were mistaken
about being the last. Because, after all, there is only one
who knows the day and the hour of His second coming;
there is only one who knows how this hospital stay is going
to go, there is only one who knows the end of the story. So
to put it another way, we're all in the waiting room. We
don't lie to ourselves about how dark things are getting. But
we also don't let go of the hope that God may yet give just a
little more time.

So we continue living, holding onto what we can see with
one hand and allowing the One who sees so much more to
hold the other.

Lets pray.

[Play Pilgrim Travelers' "Jesus Hits Like An Atom Bomb"]

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Devotion - Living in the Fear

“The screams began at midnight.

I bolted to my feet, still in my sleeping bag. After an eight-mile, rain-drenched solo hike on a wilderness island in Lake Superior, I had reached the deserted campground at dusk. It was early in the season, cold and buggy. Most backpackers would wait until later in June to arrive, when the weather was more favorable and the mosquitoes weren't quite so ferocious. But I was hoping for quiet and solitude, away from cell phones, e-mail, and the demands of family life. After stripping off my soaked clothing and changing into dry longjohns, I heated hot water for coffee and ate some gorp, then fell into an exhausted rest.

Until the screaming.

I reached for my pocketknife and stumbled over my gear, peering out into the foggy dark. Now, it was quiet, the deep silence of wilderness. The only sound was my adrenaline-crazed heart, thumping loudly. Clutching my knife, I pulled my sleeping bag around me and convinced myself I had been dreaming. But in moments, the screams started again. Something wet trickled down my hand --in my terror, I had cut myself. Sucking the wound, I felt pure fear. And I realized I was helpless to do anything to alleviate it.”

These words are the opening paragraphs from a book review by a writer named Cindy Crosby. In that moment of "pure fear" as she calls it, she felt a powerlessness that we all fear; the realization that we are in the midst of something we have no control over. We are in deep and there is nothing we can do to get out. Most of us strive to avoid situations like this, but if we live long enough, we just might find ourselves in that kind of crippling fear.

Crosby goes on to quote another writer, Gerald May, about a similar experience he had, alone in a tent when a growling bear was brushing up against the canvas.

"For the first time in my life, I am experiencing pure fear," he writes. "I am completely present in it, in a place beyond all coping because there is nothing to do." When the bear leaves, he experiences overwhelming gratitude. "Fear like any other strong emotion, can make you exquisitely conscious of living, perfectly aware of being in the moment."

I especially like his phrasing, "in a place beyond all coping because there is nothing to do." Go into the ER waiting room and wait a few minutes and you will encounter people who are in this state. They have found their loved one not breathing, or collapsed, or burned or any other of a thousand scenarios and have done all there was to do by getting them to the hospital and now they sit, like the two campers described above with death rubbing like an angry bear, dangerously close to the thin fabric of their lives.

This kind of raw emotion is so intense, so searing and in many ways so foreign to us that often those experiencing it and those around them don't really know how handle it. In a culture with few acceptable outlets for so called "negative" emotions: fear, anger, frustration, sorrow it is hard to know what is normal and what one is "supposed" to do. We work so hard to "tame" our emotions that when they do pop up we sometimes miss what could be an opportunity to access a depth of life we often only scratch the surface of.

People in the hospital often talk about the way God "got their attention" by means of an accident or illness and the fear it brings. In that moment of stark reality facing the possibility of death or serious injury there is a vibrant, living energy that rises up and pierces through the cardboard mask the cardboard mask of being "fine" we so often wear. I don't think you have to necessarily say that God caused such and such a bad thing to come upon you just to teach you a lesson. But these moments when our terror has broken us out of complacency; out of our mindless marching through our daily routines; I think in these, our Father finds teachable moments. People have told me of things they have seen about their lives that they never had seen "until the accident." "I never knew how much I loved him until I almost lost him." "You never know what's really important in life until you face death." Many have said, and many other sentiments echoing the same truth that those moments of desperate fear crack open new insight into lives glazed over with the relentless monotony of daily pressures and stresses.

The God of scripture and the God I've seen at work in my life are about taking things that should never, by their own rights be able to work, be able to thrive, be able to grow and become good; taking them and like a master grape-grower, twisting, and bending them into something good, wholesome and beautiful. I think those moments of pure, living fear can be redeemed.

Not only can moments like these break down our normal barriers that keep us from seeing what is really important in life, but they can also remind us the value of being fully present. I've talked here before about the many ways we like to put up screens between ourselves and others; cell phones, computers, ipods, pda's, blackberry's all barriers to being really present in the here and now; really with who we're with. The screams that pierced Cindy Crosby's night set loose adrenaline and a heightened her senses. The bear by the tent made the other writer "perfectly aware of being in the moment." because all other possible future moments hinged upon the outcome of this one. If we could bring that presence into our everyday life, if we could harvest the way fear lets us dig deep into the here and now of life; If we could do that I think we could come a lot closer to living the sort of awake, un-anesthetized lives Jesus hinted at when he talked us having life and having it more abundantly; having an eternal kind of life; deep, rich and supremely real; not when we all get to heaven, but now in each blessed moment we're given.

The disciples got a hint at this after the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus tells them to set out on a boat on the Lake at Galilee. They leave without him and a storm comes. Seasoned fishermen, a wild windy night on a reasonably small lake probably wouldn't instill in them the sort of fear we've been talking about. But that wasn't all there was going on that night.

In Matt. 14.24
"But by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. and early in the morning he, [Jesus] came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear."

Now they are in that moment, in that crippling, blinding, yet eye-opening fear.

"But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."

My prayer is that when we find ourselves in that moment, in that all encompassing terror that will sooner or later befall most of us that we will allow it to do what it is there to do: to open our eyes enough to really see. Not to linger in torturous despair, but to see through the living fear, to see the author of that life. To hear in that moment, over the screams, the growls, the howling waves, the voice of one we never expected to see there who says, "Take heart, it is I."

Let's pray.


"...and I've got really big hands." I'm sorry but the animated Jesus was just too good to not use. Hah!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Devotion - Walking Dark Streets at Night

Derek Webb is giving away his latest album, Mockingbird. Get it while it's Hot. This is one of his strongest songwriting efforts yet. He has forsaken his favorite tiresome game of mixing scriptural metaphors and has actually set about saying what he actually thinks in a very unambiguous way and challenging directly the apathy that so clearly disgusts him about Western Christianity. Definately worth a listen (even if he does try a little to hard to sonically reference Sufjan Stevens), and hey he's actually encouraging you to share it with friends in order to download it so you can have that rarest of precious comodities: a conversation about thoughtful and challenging music.


As for this devotion it is the first of a series I'll be doing all week (that is if I get them done in time).

Walking Dark Streets at Night

[Welcome and greeting]
When you work as a chaplain people often say things to you like: "I could never do your job." "Don't you get depressed?" "I could never deal with that much death, every day." It's hard to know how to respond to these things. Sometimes I try to explain that being present with someone in their pain and suffering, feeling it along with them for a while, isn't the same as experiencing it for yourself, as your own. At best, I get to walk alongside people here on their darkest days, remind them of God's presence. Some days I do that better than others. But at the end of the day, I clock out, I go home, I hug my wife and my baby and I do my best to leave the hospital and its stories here. Because it is not MY pain. But if it is your wife, your child, your mother, you carry that pain with you. It is yours.

Two years ago close to this day, I was carrying a deep pain with me. Halfway around the world, my wife was in the hospital. Our adventures in foriegn lands had landed her with a blood clot, a new diagnosis and a mind full of new questions about what this would mean to us. I was past the point of terror, the crisis when you do everything you can to get them to the hospital. I was to the point where it was all sinking in. I spent my fare share of time in my wife's hospital room, looking nervous and biting my fingernails. From time to time she would insist that I go out and explore the city, Singapore (an Island country the size of Manhattan and about as densly populated). Singapore's streets are remarkably clean and their buried power grid allows them to cultivate and groom a beuatiful arboretum of trees not just in parks but all along their streets, branches arching overhead in carefully orchestrated patterns. I learned to ride the subway to get across town. I walked for miles. My backpack, cd player and headphones let me disappear into the background of the city, I looked like everyone else. But inside I was churning up a storm.

To be sure, there were times I felt cared for by God, times I had to see circumstances working out in our favor as his providential hand. But why couldn't that same hand have prevented her illness in the first place? Questions echoed down busy sidewalks and subway tubes in my mind. One such circumstance was the presence of a dear friend, my college roomate's brother, who just happened to be traveling through Asia that summer and took an all night bus down to see us. He knew the city, but he also knew us. We drank too much coffee in the downstairs coffee shop and he listened to me give voice to my fears and my gratitude, my hope and my pain. But at night, he would retire to his hotel room. It was not ultimately his pain.
One family from a local baptist church (which had actually been started by my friend's grandfather years ago) had provided a room for me to stay in that was within walking distance from my wife's hospital. Singapore has virtually eliminated street crime so it is not uncommon and very safe to walk the streets at night. Often I didn't get out until well after 10PM. I remember one night, close to the end of our time there, I was walking and listening to music but I just wasn't ready to walk up the steps to the dark appartment bedroom. I walked down empty sidewalks, past buildings under construction, past busy late night outdoor food stalls, a warm breeze moved in the equatorial night.

After an hour or two, I finally made it to the appartment building and sat down on the front steps and the weight of all the past weeks' events pushed down hard on me. I still remember the words sung deep into my soul through headphones:

"You're a long, you're a long, you're a long way from home..."

I had been listening to a songwriter named Lori Chaffer, and this song was an articulation of the sort of pain that we all run the risk of carrying when we love; a long catalogue of all the sorts of things that weigh us down, that ache deep inside. The list ends with the recognition that all this suffering does indeed place us a long way from home.

I was reminded of this moment from two years ago, recently by a gentleman I encountered in the hospital. I was on my way out the door, ready to leave the hospital when and a staff member got my attention and asked me to come over. We spoke for a while about his wife whose heart had stopped and was undergoing the extreme measures we call a "code-blue." Anytime he mentioned her strong faith and the possibility she might not make it, his face seized up, lips went taught and he took long gulps of pepsi from a plastic bottle. The physician came and told him that they were still doing all they could but that it was very possible that she would not make it through. He thanked her for her candor and said,
"You know, I knew this, I was praying a few days ago when she had gotten real bad then, and you know, I prayed 'not my will but thine be done.' I guess it shouldn't be... but it's hard to really mean that when it comes down to it."

After a long silence I said, "I think it was just as hard for Jesus to mean it when he prayed it in the garden."

It's hard when you face it, because in a very real sense you face it alone. I spent some more time with this man and let him know he would be in my thoughts and prayers (and he was, as I don't take those words lightly) but eventually I went home. It was his pain to carry through the dark night.

When Jesus found himself on the eve of his great pain, the night before he would be taken prisoner, beaten and crucified, he begged his disciples to be with him, to stay awake, to help him carry the weight of this night for a while.

We read in Mark 14.32-40:
"They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." he took with him Peter and James and John and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; rermain here, and keep awake." And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said "Abba, Father, for you all thing are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want." He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Petere, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found the sleeping for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him."

When he prayed those words, and sweat rolled down like great drops of blood, he was in one very real sense alone. No one knew what to say to him for comfort, there were no words, indeed none of his closest friends could even stay awake. He carried the pain alone.

But oh, there was the one he carried it to. There was the one to whom he addressed those words: Abba, Father. When we are most alone and find ourself being crushed under the weight of darkest night on lonely lamp-lit urban streets, in a "family room" that just as often separates as unites families, or in a dark garden, with those closest to us in the world unable to comprehend the depth of our suffering or just how much is at stake; at these times, I hope you may find comfort in the Father at the edge of the breaking point. And you can sing along with these words from the same song that flowed into my ears and resonated in my soul that lonely night:

"You will always hurt, you will always sting, because you won't let go of everything,
until you're quiet one dark night and you give up the fight you've fought so long--
and find that trust is not a game
that naive stupid people play in youth
and you let it rain
you let it flood
you let it drive out all the pain of love."

[from Lori Chaffer "You will Always Hurt"]

Lets Pray

[Play "You Will Always Hurt"]

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Case of the Missing Diaper

Eleanor has been in Fuzzi Bunz diapers for about ten months now. We have twelve of these super spiffy cloth diapers (and have just ordered 12 more in the next size up). About a week ago, when I was diapering Eleanor, I noticed that there was one insert left without a cover. I have searched high and low and have not been able to find this missing diaper cover. If you have information that could lead to the recovery of this item, please notify me immediately as this baby needs a diaper. Thank you.
We think this small ghost might be the culprit.

We should be getting the new diapers on Tuesday. A good friend called us on Monday to let us know that the price of Fuzzi Bunz was about to increase so we should order her new ones before the end of August. The site that I like to order our cloth diapering supplies from (Cotton Babies) was nice enough to tell its customers that the price was going to go up. My favorite thing about Cotton Babies is that they give diaper grants to missionaries and orphanages and other good causes.

I'll leave you with a fun video. Please ignore the horrid hiccups that I was suffering from.

Photo Sharing - Upload Video - Video Sharing

Happy 13 months Eleanor!