Friday, August 22, 2014

Rural Running

When it takes seventeen hours of driving through the bush to arrive at a village, it is a pretty safe bet that you won’t run into other Americans. In fact, in this particular area, my white skin stood out so much that fingers pointed, adults stared, and children swarmed. One woman asked twice if she could have my skin. I was not sure how to respond either time, except to say that I was pretty sure it would hurt a lot if I tried to take my skin off. And that her skin was quite lovely as it was. She laughed, and so did I. 

Race, privilege, socio-economic status....all these things are stark here, and this woman wanted my privilege. I understood, and despite the laughter, I was once again reminded of the privilege that I never earned, and was simply granted by virtue of my birth. So, I could handle the stares, the swarming, the fingers pointing. It was a reminder of the things I have that I never earned. No, white skin is not better than brown skin. But my white skin told everyone in that village that I had access to things they could never even touch. 

After three days, we moved on to the next town, three hours away. It was a bit bigger; and this rest house had actual toilets, instead of an outdoor squat latrine. It also had electricity, so I was feeling quite excited. But after all the travel, I really wanted to run. In the last village, I had done my exercises in the cramped room within the guest house. But here, I wondered if I could get away with actually running outside.

I asked my colleague, a pastor who had once served in this area. He gave me a weary look. “The children will run after you, and all the adults will be so surprised.” I nodded. It was fine; I could continue to exercise in my room. But Moses, our driver, had a suggestion. “I can drive you outside of the village, and you can run in the bush.” My colleague was concerned, “You will watch her?” Moses nodded and smiled, “I will watch, but I cannot run. I do not have the proper attire.” We all agreed that this was a very kind solution, and I thanked Moses for his generous offer.

A few hours later, after I had changed into running shoes, running clothes, grabbed my iPod, and filled my water bottle, I climbed in the truck. We drove to the edge of town. Moses parked the car. I set my timer and my music and took off, promising to be back in thirty minutes.  

As I ran, the red dirt path wandered over a tropical landscape, banana trees bending in the strong wind. After some time, I passed a very small village, five houses made of mud, covered in thatch. People stared, children waved, and I continued on. 

A little while later, I passed a group of women. They were carrying trees. Not logs - trees. Huge trunks over their shoulders, enough weight to curve their backs as they struggled up the hill. Through the headphones, my music continued to blare, as I greeted the women, bent with their labor. 

When it was about time to turn around, I encountered a work crew. A large group of men, covered in sweat and dirt, carrying picks and shovels. I was far from the truck, Moses couldn’t see me, and I was in the middle of nowhere. I smiled at the workers, they gave me bewildered greetings, and I continued on.

As I ran back towards the truck, I thought about the women carrying tree trunks up and down these hills; the men pounding away at the rocks with heavy picks; children walking miles with buckets of water on their heads. I chose to run and sweat in these hills; they did not choose their backbreaking labor. I listen to music and time my run; they listen to birds sing and hope there is time to get home and do all the chores that await them.

I have the running gear, running clothes, iPod, water bottle, and even a driver who will take me out of town to run on the red dirt. When I return to the rest house, I will eat a granola bar and bathe. Now, it is true that I didn’t have running water for three days. It is true that my only toilet was a shared, outdoor, squat latrine. But it is also true that there was a woman to bring me a bucket of warm water for bathing, and it is also true that in my current guest house, I have electricity most of the time, and running water for a few glorious hours each day. 

Perhaps the most important truth of all this is that I can choose. I can choose to sweat in the hills, or I can choose to rest in my room. I can choose to travel to a remote area of Zambia and deal with squat latrines and bucket bathing, or I can choose to live in luxury and never worry about water, toilets, and electricity. I can choose my career, and I can choose to never carry an entire tree on my back. I can even choose what music I want to listen to, as I run over the red land in my proper attire.

And so, when the woman tells me that she wants my skin, I am reminded that it is not fair. It is ridiculous that my skin, my birth, my origin, gives me so much privilege, so much choice, so much freedom, when her skin, her birth, her origin, limits her options and forces her into a life of illiteracy and poverty.

They make me uncomfortable, these realities. But running makes me uncomfortable, too. And I think they are both healthy things. Struggling with the reality of our privilege is a healthy thing. And while my rural run made me uncomfortable in many ways, I am grateful for the discomfort that it brought. Because we have a choice, with the privilege we have, to work for justice. We have a choice, with the privilege we have, to do something. So let’s all get uncomfortable and do something healthy with our lives - to seek justice, to love mercy, to run humbly with our God.

If you are feeling uncomfortable, check out these links:
Donate to empower women through our organization: http://www.presbyterianmission.org/donate/E051151/
Donate to address global poverty through our organization:
Donate to address global health through Partners in Health: 
Advocate for food aid through Bread for the World:

 *As a post script, Moses decided to run with me the next day. He lapped me, while wearing loose sandals, brown work pants, and an enormous smile.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Um. My Mistake(s).

She unrolled the window, about to throw the used water bottle onto the ground. “Oh, I’ll take that,” I quickly said, hoping to nonchalantly save the world from one more piece of litter. She turned to me with a quizzical look. “Why? Do you need it?” I was now distinctly uncomfortable. “No. It’s just that I have a bag for trash here. I’ll put it in and throw it away later.” She shook her head, “No, that’s fine. I can toss it here.” I was still undeterred. “But isn’t that littering?” I asked. Usually, I would have have held my tongue, but Emelia was a good friend, and I was surprised by the conversation. 

She smiled at me, finally understanding. “No. Watch what happens. One of those boys over there will take the bottle in less than a minute. They use them. It is a waste to throw them away.” With that, she tossed the bottle out of the window of our parked truck. Within two minutes, a small boy had darted over, grabbed the prize, and run back to his friends. I was embarrassed. “Wow. I really didn’t know that.” I had been so high and mighty about the litter, with my garbage bag in the back seat, full of empty water bottles. But Emelia, my Zambian friend, knew that sometimes, the best thing to do is toss an empty bottle from the truck window.

It took seventeen hours of driving to reach Muyombe. The last seven were driven over two track dirt paths, and I was frequently thrown to the roof of the cab as we hit enormous pits. We passed two broken down trucks on that path, and only one other moving vehicle. Along the way, we faced traffic jams from herds of cattle blocking the path, and an occasional ox-drawn cart. The car was swarmed by tsetse flies, which carry the dreaded sleeping sickness, so we drove with our windows up, despite scorching heat and broken AC. Covered in sweat, constantly jostled, like a roller coaster that would not end, and very hungry, the four of us finally arrived in Muyombe, and settled into a very, very basic rest house.

Over the next few days, as we paid for food and lodging, I asked for receipts. Our treasurer in Lusaka needed them in order to reconcile the trip budget, and I didn’t want to disappoint him. But over and over again, the workers refused. I was frustrated, but finally realized that they probably did not have pen and paper. I handed over a blank sheet and writing utensil to my friend. “Could you please ask them to write what we have purchased, the cost, and then sign it?” I figured she might have better luck. Emelia took off to go and find the workers.

A few hours later, when I asked about the receipt, she shook her head. “None of them can read or write. They looked all over, but not one of the workers knows how to write. Only the owner, and he is gone.” Oh. I hadn’t thought of that. She handed me back the paper, covered in words and numbers. “I just wrote it out. I hope that will be good enough.” I nodded, embarrassed again. Yet another time I had simply not understood. I was frustrated that it was so hard to get a receipt, not thinking for a minute about the frustration of those who could not write or read a receipt.

My lack of awareness, after two years of living in Zambia, and many, many travels in rural areas, reminds me of a game that we played after just a few months of living here. Frankie and Johnny like Checkers, and we did not have a Checker board. So, they spent days collecting bottle caps - Fanta and Coke - to serve as checkers, and they colored a piece of paper to make a board. 

Other children gathered around them when the game was finally ready. All the kids took turns playing, but after a little while, Frankie came over to me with a look of frustration on his face. He whispered to me that the other kids were cheating. He was bitterly disappointed, as he had so looked forward to these Checker games. Joel watched a bit and then nodded towards me. It was true, he confirmed. The other kids were cheating. My boys were sad and stopped playing after awhile. Their Zambian friends were confused, but kept on playing among themselves.

Months later, we saw some adult friends playing Checkers. We asked them about the game, and discovered that it was not Checkers at all. It was a game called Draft that looks just like Checkers. The pieces and the board look very much the same, but there are different rules. We realized that the other children had not been cheating; they had simply been playing a different game with different rules. While our kids were playing Checkers, they were playing Draft.

I wonder how often this happens in life, and we don’t realize it. I saw a friend throw a bottle out the window and immediately assumed she was littering. A woman refused to give me a receipt, and I became frustrated that she wouldn’t do such a simple thing. Some boys played a game with my children, and we were sure they were cheating. But they were not cheating, they were simply playing with different rules. And Emelia was not littering, she was providing some children with a useful bottle. And the woman at the guest house was not being difficult, she was offering all that she could. It is so easy to assume that we are all playing the same game, and to become angry, frustrated, or judgmental when we think someone else is breaking the rules.

I hope that next time I am ready to judge, I stop and consider that the other person may be playing a different game. Whether they are from a different culture, different socio-economic situation, different country, different religion, or even if they look like me and seem to be similar to me, perhaps there is a different game going on, and perhaps that is worth exploring.

Sometimes, I like being wrong. And that is fortunate, because I am wrong so often, as the above stories illustrate! But being wrong gives us a chance to learn new games, to learn new rules, to open our eyes to different cultures, different ideas, different ways of living in this world. And I am honored to have people around me who love me even when I am wrong, even when I am embarrassed. They simply invite me in, to play along with them. And, wow! I really do like that game.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Joy Riding on an Empty Tank

I have to admit I was a little irritated. Sure, the children were squealing with joy, the adults were laughing, and the driver's smile filled half his face. And, of course, I couldn't help finding it very sweet. Yet inside, I was feeling some frustration and fear. Why was our driver giving a dozen kids a joy ride through the village, when our gas tank was running on fumes?

We were two hours from a filling station and the gas light was on. In fact, as we approached the village, we realized that we wouldn't make it much further. The driver stopped, and thus began a short trip through another village, wondering if anyone had a little jug of diesel anywhere. After the third home, we found someone with a small container and a funnel. It wasn't much gas, but hopefully it was enough to get us to the little church and then back to the town with gas pumps.

And so, there we were in the village, almost ready to depart, and our driver was zipping along the dirt paths, red dust flying in the air, as children squealed in delight. They had piled into the cab, so many kids that they couldn't shut the door at first. The children squeezed in tight, the driver cranked up the music, and they flew into the distance.

As I waited, I spoke with colleagues and laughed with friends, and finally, when the truck returned with a load of happy children, I found that my irritation had disappeared. One way or another, we would make it back to our hotel. I would sleep in a bed tonight, and ride in the truck tomorrow, and make it to another church, in another village, for another presentation the next day. All will be well.

Sometimes, it is not always best to be practical. I have learned that from my friends here, who value relationship over functionality, friendship over efficiency, and laughter over self-importance. The kids in that village didn't have much opportunity to ride in a vehicle. Their families don't have cars or trucks. The wealthy ones might own one bicycle. But the opportunity to fly around their village in a big red pickup was not to be missed. It was joy, it was fun, it was laughter.

I think life would probably be pretty amazing if we decided to joy ride on an empty tank a little more often. We can take some risks, just for the sake of laugher and friendship, just for the sake of loving life. We can offer what we have, even when it is risky, to bring joy to another person and to ourselves. Our driver offered that precious fuel, in order to delight some children. What can we offer, just for the sake of bringing someone else joy?

We did make it all the way to the filling station, despite the gas light that beamed from the dashboard. And tomorrow we will drive to another village, and the next day, we will continue to drive. As I sit in that backseat, for hours and hours on end, I hope I will remember that one afternoon, when it was filled beyond capacity with beaming, laughing children. Because the tank wasn't really empty. It was enough. We have enough. So let's go for a ride and let our lives rise up in laughter and friendship and joy.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Just Below the Ground

There was once a little girl who lived in a very big city, in a place surrounded by concrete and buildings. She had never been to a farm, and had been in that very big city her whole life. Well, one day, her grandfather came to visit her, and he told her that he had brought a very special present. But when he handed the present to her, it was a cup, filled with dirt. The little girl was disappointed. She didn’t want dirt! Why would that be a special present?

But the grandfather said to her that she should put water in that cup, every single day, and something wonderful would happen. She was very confused about that, but she loved her grandfather very much, and so she agreed to put water in that cup, every single day.

At first, it was easy to do. She wanted to see what would happen! But days went by, and the dirt did not change, and even as she kept putting in the water, she grew more and more disappointed. She tried to keep her promise to her grandfather, but it became harder and harder. Sometimes, she would forget, and then she would have to get out of bed, get some water, and water the dirt. It was hard to remember, and she got very sick of doing it, but she had made a promise to her grandfather, and so she kept on putting water in the cup.

And then, one morning, she woke up, and there were bright green leaves sprouting from the dirt. She was astonished! Each day, they continued to grow and grow. She could not wait to tell her grandfather! 

When he visited next, she ran to get the cup and brought it out to show her grandfather. “Look what happened, grandfather!” she said. Her grandfather explained to her that life is everywhere, potential is everywhere, hidden in the most ordinary and unlikely places. The girl was delighted. “And all it needs is water, grandfather?” she asked him. “No, my dear child,” he responded. “All it needs is your faithfulness.”

The girl watered that dirt, even when it seemed that nothing was happening. She was faithful and committed to that work. And even though she could not see it, something was happening beneath that soil. A plant was growing, a seed was sprouting, and finally, it emerged from the mud.

This is not my story; it comes from My Grandfather’s Blessings, by Rachel Naomi Remen. But I told this story in one of my first sermons, here in Zambia, when I was blessed to preach at the graduation ceremony for a group of new pastors, graduating from Chasefu Theological College. That was almost two years ago, and just yesterday, one of the pastors reminded me of my sermon.

Sitting in my living room, drinking sparkling juice and sharing stories, he asked me, “Do you remember that sermon you gave at Chasefu? At the graduation? Well, I remember it. I was just talking to one of the other reverends about that sermon. That really helped us. That really encouraged us a lot.” I thanked him for the kind words about a sermon I preached almost two years ago. A sermon about planting seeds, and not knowing if there is something growing underneath the dirt. And I wondered why he would bring it up on that day, when I spoke of my frustrations and challenges. Was he preaching it back to me? I think he was, in his gentle, affirming way.

Sometimes, all we can see is dirt. We plant some seeds, and we want to see something amazing happen. But instead, there is just a cup of mud. We see budget challenges and miscommunications. We see bureaucratic red tape and tricky power dynamics. We see a flawed, imperfect system and we wonder if anything will ever grow. We get tired, we get discouraged, we get overwhelmed. That is true in any type of ministry. That is true any time we seek to follow Jesus. That is true over and over again in our lives. We get excited about the seeds we plant, but after a little while, we can get discouraged when all we see is dirt.

And so my colleague was preaching my sermon back at me. The seeds you planted two years ago, he said, are growing right here, in your living room. Because I am a pastor and I am ready to remind you: just be faithful. Just keep watering the dirt. Something is growing, even if you cannot see it.

I am in the midst of many, many travels. From May through August, I am traveling to thirteen different presbytery meetings, all over the country. I will be gone for a week, home for a couple weeks, then gone for a couple weeks, home for a week, then gone again. Just this month, I will be traveling fifteen out of thirty-one days, and next month, I will be gone thirteen out of thirty-one. And I am a bit tired; I just want to skip out on the next few trips. I want to stay in bed and refuse to get out, and put any water in the cup.

But I know that in each and every meeting, I am blessed to see the fruits of someone else’s faithfulness. As I go into these rural congregations, all over the country, I am blessed to see vibrant, life-giving, beautiful churches. I am blessed to learn about the ministries in the communities I visit: home-based care programs for people living with HIV/AIDS, agricultural education, exuberant worship, phenomenal music...ministries of compassion and grace and praise abound. These ministries exist because of the faithfulness of those who just keep at it, who refuse to give up, who pour water into the cup every single day.

I am excited that I get to be a part of this. I am amazed that I am offered the opportunity to walk with my faithful colleagues here in Zambia. And I am overwhelmed by the incredible work that is being done. So, I will keep up my small part, a little bit of water in a tiny little cup, every single day, as best as I am able. Because the faithfulness of my friends here reminds me that there are miracles all over the place, growing just below the ground. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Surpassing Beauty

I had some pretty good rationalizations. And I will share them with you, as I hope you will agree that they are quite acceptable. First of all, the organization employs over 70 rural Zambians. Secondly, it gave us the opportunity to experience the wondrous awe of God’s creation. Third, we chose the cheapest package. Fourth, it is a remarkably unique opportunity. Now, don’t those seem like good rationalizations? I do think so myself. And so, we decided to spend three nights at a safari camp in South Luwangwa National Park. It was not inexpensive, but based on the above rationalizations, we made our reservations.
It was breath-taking; in the midst of a work trip through the rural Eastern Province, we took a detour to one of the most amazing national parks in the world. We watched baby puku nurse from their mothers, giant storks fish in green bays, young impala practice fighting, horns locked against each other. We saw herds of zebra rolling in the dirt, removing ticks from their bodies. We witnessed trios of giraffes walk towards us, as curious about our family as we were about theirs. We stood over a river, keeping a good distance from the crocodiles sunning on the shore, as hippos bathed nearby. 
We were frequently interrupted by elephants, including the ones who stood outside our tent, chewing and chomping our shade tree. 













                                             


One early morning, we watched a leopard up in the branches eating a baby impala. Below the tree, two hyenas waited for the legs of the impala to fall to the ground. Behind us, an owl was hunting, and a herd of guinea fowl squawked in terror. We sat and watched the leopard eat her meal, as the hyena chomped on bones, and the owl swooped towards his prey. In the distance, the phenomenal colors of the sunrise created the atmosphere of a dream. Too much beauty, too much pain, too much awe to absorb.

After three days of such wonder, we departed to continue our work, journeying towards the Malawian border. There we encountered different beauty, different pain, different awe.....   






“Where are your boys?” As we ducked under the thatched roof and emerged into the brilliant sunlight, we scanned the village for Frankie and Johnny. “Hmmm. I don’t know.” Joel and I laughed, as this was pretty much our normal pattern these past two weeks. Spending hours inside a rural church, with walls made of mud bricks, a roof of branches, on rough wooden pews. Speaking and teaching, listening and learning, singing and dancing, praising and praying. Discussing condoms and circumcision, home based care and stigma, church growth and discipleship, grace, love and unity. Meanwhile, our boys explore the village, and we trust them into the care of the community. 

And so, this particular afternoon, as we walked from the dark sanctuary into the sparkling blue sky, we had no concerns about their location. It was time for lunch, cooked over an open fire in a small thatched hut near the pastor’s home. These are the rural kitchens. In the distance, we saw a large group of women, gathered around a fire. Their bright chitenges contrasted the brown earth, and pretty soon, I saw my two boys, covered in dirt and dust, emerge from among the women.


I hadn’t seen them for hours, so as we waited for the meal, I asked my kids about their morning adventures. They had met a boy named Sam; he showed them his house and led them around the village. When they came to a group of women in the distance, they were offered tea and bread. The boys sat and drank; the tea was sweet and delicious, full of warm milk. And then, the women introduced them to Daniel. Daniel was laying on a mealie-meal bag, close to the fire, trying to get warm. He was around Frankie’s age, an eight year old boy, shivering with illness. “Hello, Daniel,” Johnny said in his squeaky, seven year old voice. 

“Will you pray for him?” one of the women asked. Frankie, who can be painfully shy, nodded. With the women, and the children, and Johnny and Sam, Frankie lifted up a prayer for Daniel, praying for health for this boy, a child his own age, living in such a different world.

While all this was happening, Joel and I were in the church, oblivious to our children’s whereabouts, and unaware that they were sipping tea with new friends and offering up their own prayers. 

We went into the pastor’s home, a small structure with a pit latrine in the yard, one room for sitting, one room for sleeping, and an outdoor kitchen, consisting of a fire and a pot. The food was served: goat and greens and nshima. We were offered a traditional Zambian drink: sweetened, boiled, watery corn meal, consumed cold. It is surprisingly good, despite its grittiness. We ate and drank and talked, until it was time for us to go.

As we stood up to leave, our hosts motioned for us to sit again. “We must pray for your journey!” they insisted. We nodded and bowed our heads, and Rev. Mithi lifted up a prayer of remarkable kindness and love, thanking God for our visit, and entrusting our travels into God’s care. We thanked them, numerous times, and set off.













It is a powerful thing to pray for one another, to pray for strangers in such a way that they become a part of your heart. It is a powerful thing to eat together, to share nshima or tea or bread, to share stories, to share lives. It is a powerful thing to remember that all of us have a role to play in the coming of God’s kingdom: children like Frankie and Johnny can sip tea and offer prayers, children like Sam can invite strangers into their homes, children like Daniel can remind us all of our responsibility to create a healthier, more just world. And adults like you and me and Rev. Mithi can live up to that responsibility. A different beauty, a different pain, a different awe....

And now, back to the rationalizations. I do not regret our investment in the safari; it was an amazing experience of renewal, wonder, and joy. But I also hope that I will invest as much in children like Daniel and Sam. I also hope that I will invest as much in rural Zambian communities, who are working against HIV/AIDS, struggling with food insecurity, and still offering hope and joy. I hope that I will invest my time and money in creating God’s kingdom, not just in enjoying God’s creation.


We all have a role to play. And I think it is important that we do not rationalize our spending, or our lives, in such a way that we resist our responsibility, while embracing our privilege. Certainly this is a temptation I face every single day. Appreciating God’s creation, experiencing God’s beauty, these are good, faithful things to do. But we also have a role to play in the building of God’s kingdom, in bringing peace and justice, in feeding one another. I am so grateful for the people in Eastern Province who fed me, and reminded me that the beauty I found in the Luwangwa Valley is only surpassed by the beauty of an outstretched hand, offering my children, perfect strangers, a cup of tea.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Kid Update

It has been a very fun month with the kids! After months and months of rehearsal, Frankie performed as an Oompa-Loompa in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Johnny celebrated his seventh birthday and received three academic awards and a medal at school. The kids are also really enjoying watching the World Cup, and are very excited about their term break. 

Needless to say, we all had the "Oompa-Loompa Dupity-Doo" song in our head for an entire month.

Frankie was the one to carry in the giant chocolate bar.

He had a lot of fun!

Johnny's birthday: There was no power and no water, but he did have a birthday apple crisp topped with seven tea-light candles.

The principal and vice-principal awarding Johnny with his academic medal.

The awards were in literacy, math, and science.

Johnny's birthday party

Six happy children; much easier than the 30+ at last year's party :)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Dandelion Has It


In his book, Peace is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh writes a meditation about smiling. He closes with this paragraph, "Our smile will bring happiness to us and to those around us. Even if we spend a lot of money on gifts for everyone in our family, nothing we buy could give them as much happiness as the gift of our awareness, our smile. And this precious gift costs nothing. At the end of a retreat in California, a friend wrote this poem: 'I have lost my smile, but don't worry. The dandelion has it.'"

Awhile ago, I wrote that I had lost my joy, that sadness seemed to rob me of my smile. In truth, this rough patch had lasted a few months, and I was really ready for the dandelion to give me my smile back! But that image of God coming out to find me, lifting me on sturdy, steady shoulders, placing my feet on solid ground, kept assuring me that I would find lush pastures again. And looking around today, I find that I am in such a field, and that I am surrounded by dandelions. So many smiles, such abundant joy, that I can pick any dandelion I choose and offer up my bubbling thanks to God.

On Friday, a lovely family came to our home for dinner. We spent hours talking and sharing, their son playing with ours. After eating together, the boys set up a tent in the backyard and had a sleepover. We could hear them giggling with their friend throughout the night. A dandelion. 

On Saturday, we had dinner at the home of good friends, who prepared a feast of vegetarian Zambian food for us. Our family has been vegetarian for 15 years, but when they came to eat at our home, we had served them chicken, knowing that in Zambia, special guests are always offered meat. But when we arrived at their house over the weekend, they had prepared seven different dishes, all of them meat-free. After the meal, they read a letter, a beautiful testament of love and friendship, and we spent time talking about culture, sharing stories, and laughing together. Another dandelion.

On Sunday, we celebrated Father's Day with worship and communion, followed by a meal and a rare opportunity to watch a polo match at the Italian Club. We spent the afternoon playing soccer in our yard, which was full of laughter and about a million penalty shots. Dandelions all over the place.

Over the week, we had a very productive meeting of the HIV/AIDS department, I was able to complete a twenty page grant report, and finish up some lessons. Dandelions bloomed as I worked with colleagues; even writing the grant report was a joy, a reminder of what has already been accomplished in our synod. More and more dandelions.

And tonight, we will have a good-bye dinner with friends we love, and it will be hard, but also lovely. Also a reminder that we are so, so blessed to have these friends, so, so blessed by the wonderful, inspirational people in our lives. 

And tomorrow, we will go to another friend's home, and Saturday, to yet another friend's home...Dandelions, dandelions, and more dandelions....

It is not the case that we have five dinner engagements in nine days on a regular basis. But, being the extreme extrovert that I am, perhaps this is God's way of reminding me of all the love that is in my life, all the joy that surrounds me, all the human beings who act as dandelions for me, holding my smile and mirroring it back to me. And I begin to remember who I am, and whose I am, and where I am. And how blessed I am. 

It is nice to have my smile back. Thanks, dandelions. Thanks, friends.