Sunday, November 16, 2008

cell phone disaster and pictures

True or false. In a Sunday-dash to diminish my mammoth pile of laundry, I threw all my jeans in the washer and didn't check the pockets. An hour later, I opened the dryer door, and there was my cell phone battery. Strange. And my cell phone.

True. Oh very true.

Sigh. Much to my amazement, it turned on after a little charging, but then it couldn't find any signal. My dad, a fix-it man to whom I take all things broken, said, "Give it a few days to dry out, and we'll see." Hopeful. My mom, a faithful pocket-checker, said, "You know, Lara, if you are going to get married someday, you need to start checking your pockets." All you single ladies out there, tuck that away. Being a good wife = not sending anything but fabric through the wash and dry cycle.

It's been a while since I posted. I tell my sixth-graders that when writing, we aim to paint pictures with our words. Our goal should be to show, not tell. But today, I am going to opt out of my own advice. It takes time to craft word pictures. So I will use the real ones instead. Here is an update on the last month or photograph form...

Aaron and I are still doing great! He is a number of amazing things...a servant, a leader, easy-going, funny, thoughtful, and intelligent, to name a few. We're having fun rocking the town of Bolivar.

My class! All thirteen. As you can tell, some of my boys are THRILLED about having their picture taken. This lovely room is where I spend a good 50 hours a week.

The Lord has blessed me with some great girlfriends in Bolivar. I have been known to dramatically think that JBU was the last of good "heart" friends, but no, I have found them here too. Or rather, the Lord has given them. This is a pic from our Pumpkin Party '08. Aaron and I shared a pumpkin, and she was a petite, round thing. The pumpkin. She had a name. I don't remember it now.

I took two personal days the first week of November and flew to see this darling in California. Rachel, Nathan, and Abby are moving back to Missouri shortly before Christmas, and and thought one last LA hurrah was appropriate. The adorable Abby Elise was everything I brag her to be: sweet, cuddly, smart, and SO MUCH FUN.
(I love, love, love, love, love being an aunt. Have I mentioned that yet?)
I also had great sister time in CA, along with the standard brother-in-law banter. Always in good nature.

That's all for now. More soon.
Oh yeah. And don't try to call me.
This is a perfect time to mention that I do, however, love letters...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

the essentials

From my journal, fourteen months ago. Two weeks before I left for Kolkata.

I read Voice of the Martyrs magazine, and I wonder: What kind of alternate universe are we living in? A world where we play cards and buy lunches and dinners out and spend four dollars on mochas, no thought to it, and there is very little dissonance in our world, and perhaps, perhaps there should be more. Your people are having their heads cut off in places like Indonesia, and I am worried about my weight and whether I exercised enough today to counteract the calories I know I consumed. What is wrong with me? Why is my view so skewed?

Persecution should bother me. Poverty should bother me. Ignorance and want should bother me. Injustice should rile me. Instead, I turn my head away and think about other things. I don’t remember You or Your Kingdom. I don’t remember or have a strong enough vision of what You want to do for this world. Show me Your grace, Jesus! Show me Your wild and unending love. Show me how great You are. Show me that You are more than my biggest dream, and that the edges of the things I hope for can be true.

I need You to conquer
my apathy
and my demons
and my bondage
and all the things that keep me from loving,
aiming high and holy.

I have been thinking about disaster recently. In times of disaster, we find that our lives are reduced down to the essentials. All the frivolity evaporates. I want my life pared down to the essentials in times of plenty as much as in times of famine. Then when the darkness comes, there is less between me and the light.

What is Your Kingdom? How am I bringing Your Kingdom?

I touched the edge of the land of famine last year. Barely grazed it with my hip. Here I am, surrounded by bounty again, and again, I forget.

Written last year. But could have been written today.

Friday, September 26, 2008

From the teacher's desk

I miss you, friends. Those of you who still might be reading these occasional thoughts, I miss you. I wish we lived closer.

I am at school right now. It is Friday. Fridays are to teachers as chicken leg bones are to dogs. Or something like that. :) My kids are reading; Fridays they have D.E.A.R. time (Drop Everything and Read), because heaven knows they don't do that any other time of the week. I am grading memory verse tests. Our memory verse this week was this:

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life must lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.'"
-Matthew 16:24-25

Weighty stuff for sixth graders. From their tests, I can tell that some of them achieved the first level of Bloom's taxonomy, knowledge, but how to move them past that? To get them to see Jesus' words as more than two sentences they reproduce for a red number in my gradebook?

I was praying for my class this week. We've been studying linking verbs and the four principal parts of a verb in Language. I want them to know those things, because in the end, that knowledge will make them better writers, and if you can write well, you can impact the world. But my plea for them is that if they never remember a linking verb after the test, they will come to know Jesus in a deeper way through this year. That is my heart's desire.

Do you ever want to give something to dear ones because you know they need it, but you also know they just have to find it themselves?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

When I grow up, I want to be...

I know I am terribly preoccupied when I don't journal. I am generally a once-a-day journaler, and journaling is the way I know what I'm thinking, or how I gauge what state my heart is in, and sometimes even the way I talk to God. I had a friend in college who was a verbal processor, and he would tell me things that he had never thought of before, like he was creating his thoughts as he was saying them, and I always thought that was odd. Different than the way I am wired, because I write about things, and I always know how I'm feeling about something before I speak the words into audible tones.

As of today, I haven't journaled for a good three weeks. That means my life is crazy. And I believe most folks call that crazy by the name of teaching.

I am a teacher. It is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I stand in front of a room of preadolescent boys and girls who are closer to the adolescent line than not, and I am the one in charge. Yikes. I teach them grammar and wonder why there aren't more books written on how to make verb tenses fun. Or geography. Now there's a doozy. Can this blog take confessional turn as I reveal that before last week, I didn't even know where the Atacama Desert was? Well. Now all 15 of us in Room 8 do.

I love teaching. I do. I love the challenge of writing effective lessons and communicating ideas multiple ways so that more kids will understand. I love learning as I go. But the challenge outside the classroom is what's killin' me:

Where is my soul time?

Pray for me, friends. Pray that I will seek Jesus first. I don't know how to handle the currency of time. I know the balance is off, and I yearn to find it again.

When I get back to the journal, I'll let you know. That will be one fine day.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

"I will be with thee"

I hate worry. It is a choking vine, and today, it threatens to use my body as a trellis, wrapping itself up around my legs and torso, stretching out to cover my arms. It is barely 8:30 here in CST, and I have been awake for less than two hours. Yet already the litany has begun. Fears resonating within me, the same ones I bore yesterday, the same ones I laid down at the feet of the Father yesterday.

I will lay them again today.

-The future. That I will be hurt. That I will not know where to go or what to do or with whom to do it. I proclaim that I trust you to write the story. I trust you to guide my heart.
Psalm 138:8: The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever—do not abandon the work of your hands.

-Money. That I will not have enough. That it will run out before I get paid in September. That I won’t be able to save enough, and I will not be provided for. I proclaim that you are the Giver. I proclaim that you are the Provider.
Matthew 6:25: Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear…your Heavenly Father knows what you need.

-Not being ready for school. That school will start and I will not know what to do and I will be an awful teacher.
Hebrews 13: 20: May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever.
2 Cor 9:8: And God is able to make all grace abound to you at all times, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

My life belongs to the One on high. Isaiah says He lives forever and His name is Holy. He dwells in the high and lofty place, but, wonder of wonders, He also promises to live with the one who has a contrite heart. God far-away and God near. The same. He spins the earth, but He sees the sparrow fall.

He sees me.

He sees you.

Nothing is beyond Him.

"All through the Old Testament the Lord's one universal answer to all the fears and anxieties of the children of Israel was the simple words, 'I will be with thee.' His presence was to them a perfect guarantee that all their needs would be may say, 'Ah, yes, if the Lord would only say the same thing to me, I should not be afraid either.' Well, He has said it, and has said it in unmistakable terms. When the angel of the Lord announced to Joseph the coming birth of Christ, he said: 'They shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.'

-Hannah Whitall Smith

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Thoughts from a lady who loved like I want to love

"Never has the world had a greater need for love than in our day. People are hungry for love. We don't have time to stop and smile at each other. We are all in such a hurry! Pray. Ask for the necessary grace. Pray to be able to understand how much Jesus loved us, so that you might love others."
-Mother Teresa

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The longing and the fear

"The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers...
We have given our hearts away..."
-William Wordsworth

I want to live a beautiful life. I want to stop and listen. To have time to read and pray and think and hope. I want to listen to God's call. I want to see with fresh eyes, to notice the wonder and promise of people -- living, breathing image-bearers. The imago dei. 7 billion times over, and yet the enormity of the number does not diminish the miraculous. 7 billion, and no one repeated. 7 billion, and every face a reflection of His.

One girl/woman, almost 24, amazed that a few of her friends are wives and mothers because she herself feels so small and scared. One world. Groaning everyday more, and we are all of us caught up in the illusion that it will last, for why else would we give so much to our jobs and possessions and schedules and so little time to our souls?

The thought has been heavy in me lately that we are missing it. I am missing it, on many days and even for months in succession. "This isn't life," the whisper comes, while I fret about my to-do list and wonder if Peter will let me borrow his car and covet the latest clothes in the JCrew catalog, as if those sweaters and those pants will make happy, successful, and oh yeah, very skinny. "There is more," the voice says. God's?

The frenzy is all around me. I think about that man in Jesus' story who had a good crop. So much harvest that he couldn't keep it all in his barns. He tore them down and built bigger ones. He didn't know that death would come for him that very night. He got barns for one afternoon.

God, give me courage.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Pursued and not forgotten

I'm thankful for a God who pursues us. We run, we fight, we stagger about as if we know where we are going and what we want. We have no idea.

Through the last six months, God has pursued me. Unrelentlessly. Patiently. Lovingly. I have been such a stinker, to put it bluntly. I have wanted to be anywhere but where He put me and have lost no time in telling Him and others that this wasn't the plan I had chosen.

No. But. It. Is. His. Plan.

I remember one night in Kolkata. I was in bed. Watching the ceiling fan whoosh, whoosh, whoosh overhead. Sheila was next to me, but we weren't talking. We were waiting for sleep. All of a sudden, this thought was in my head, crystal clear. It was different from the other thoughts that were drifting through my mind. It felt like--this is as best as I can explain it--God just dropped this thought into my mind, and bam, there it was, and I knew it was His thought. The thought was this: "I am going to move home to Bolivar when I get back, and I will teach school next year."

Since returning home, I've been stuck in a lot of discontent and resentment at being in a place I didn't really want to be. I have forgotten that thought. Sometimes I would remember, but I would write it off as my own. is the exciting part. Through all my wandering this last semester (not literally, as I have been in Bolivar, pop. 9,792 the whole time), God has been working out His ends in my life. To cut out the details as I need to get ready for work, I am going to be teaching 6th grade in the fall at a Christian school. I am SO excited about this. I am taking some masters classes in education this summer, and I have to take some tests in the fall to obtain certification, but I am going to be a TEACHER! There are so many cool things about this job--I get to work with a group of smart, godly people who are passionate about teaching children that everything right and true comes from God and that learning is an act of worship. I get to switch classes with the 5th grade teacher. She will teach my kids math, and I will teach her kids Language Arts. I love English (hello, my major!), and Math is about the most tramautic memory I have from grade school, so this switch-a-roo is most welcome. I get to decorate my classroom and pray with my kids and read to them and teach them to write vividly and descriptively. I feel so alive when I think about this job, and it is the first time in a long few months that I feel alive!

I am so thankful to God for showing me the next step. I don't know if this will be longer than a one year commitment. For this next year, it is right and good. It is so neat how God gives His people passions that will advance His Kingdom. When I was in India, I felt alive too. Working with women and fighting for freedom and redemption made my heart beat harder. Now, for the next season, the passion will be teaching in a small school in a small town. God is big. Is wise. He is fitting all these passions together in a beautiful mosaic, and I don't need to understand how all the pieces fit together right now.

He will keep alive in my heart the things that need to live.

He is able.

All right. Shower time. Then work.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


There are things that change us forever.


I am a marked woman.

My college roommate Kristen is here for the week, a 5'1" package of laughter and spunk. We cook, go on adventures, drink coffee (she will take hers sweet and white, please, and I say, better that than nothing...), and talk about everything that crosses our minds. Last night, we were making tacos for my family. She chops the onion with my mom's knife, tip bent off, blade still good. I brown the beef in the cast iron skillet. Oh how my family loves beef. My chicken loving self is a renegade and hippie. She asks about India. Thank you, dear friend. I remember in my heart a dozen times a day. But I need to remember out loud.

I am still confused and broken over many things of Kolkata. When I ask what Kolkata meant in my life, I am in many ways unsure. Isaiah 61, that beautiful passage that proclaimes God's kingdom as a kingdom better than we even dared to dream, comes to mind. I am still hoping and waiting for the things which come. Beauty to follow ashes. Wholeness to overwhelm brokenness. Joy to replace sorrow. What will God bring forth from those four months in the life of one girl? A girl who left Chicago O'hara last August more sure she needed to go than she had been sure of any other decision in her life? I don't know. I see a big pile of ashes. Strange. Heartwrending. "For what purpose, Lord? For what purpose?"

I dream of going back. I am scared. I am frustrated with this interim period and desperate for transformation that only His hands can complete. To be fully alive in Bolivar. This is what I yearn for, because for a reason I cannot see, I am here. I am here by His calling and by His choosing, and this matters just as much as India did. I am a pile of dark soil. Please plant Your seed in me, my God. Please place your life in the ground.

Friday, May 16, 2008


I didn't realize it had been a month since I posted. Do I even still have a blog?

When I first got home to Bolivar, I had days and days of long openness. No places to go (no car to get there if I did), and no committments to keep. The longer I'm here, though, the more things I find on my plate. It's me and the blue mini-van, cruising around this town from substitute teaching to working at the t-shirt print shop (where, small piece of trivia here, Aaron and I met each other exactly two years ago), from hanging out with K-life kids to meeting a friend for coffee, from painting verses on a friend's wall to helping another friend pack up her kindergarten classroom.

It's good stuff. I want to find the time to listen in the midst of all this activity. Sometimes it happens. Some days it does not. Do you know the feeling?

Peter graduated last weekend! Rachel and Nathan and Abby came to visit! The world's cutest baby is one year old! And walking now! And saying "ba" (ball) "yesh" (yes) and "uh-oh" (uh-oh).

Oh look at her walk. Oh have you ever seen anything cuter?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

remembering Kovita

"Put your elbows on the table
I'll listen long as I am able
There's nowhere I'd rather be "
-Over the Rhine

My friend Kovita is on my mind today. I would like to sit with her and have her grasp my face between her hands. She would kiss my cheeks. Of course, we would have to have cha. Oh goodness, only midday, and I've already had so much Indian tea. She'd smile broadly and shake her head. The absurdity of talking without the clay-cupped cha in hand. Off I would run down the sidewalk to the tea stand, dupatta swishing wildly. Don't bump into the man, watch out for the auto-rickshaw, and good grief, why are there always taxis when you don't need them and none when you do? Hand over five rupees, grab the cup, hold the rim and pray the steaming liquid doesn't slosh out on the way back.

This is the price of a plane ticket away. A price I don't have, not to mention the timing is all wrong. Contentment is the course I'm enrolled in here, and praise is the lesson of the week. Praise, I am finding, is to be my offering regardless of circumstance or understanding. But that is another blog post altogether.

Do you remember when I wrote about Kovita months ago? Kovita lives in Kolkata--she is the friend whom my team and I met on the streets. She's off the streets now and is in a place where she is getting help, but the money to support her stay is running out.

The economics of God's Kingdom continue to challenge me. Forcing me to lay down the way I've been conditioned to think about money. No. It is not mine. No. It will not make me happy. No. I do not need to have a lot of it. And it's not just when I do have a lot of it that I am free to give a lot of it. How am I giving of what I have now? That is the only question relevant today.

There is this thing called Love. It busts into my world, and it knocks down every trophy and prize. It bulldozes walls and smashes the privacy fence. It asks for the key to my lockbox and my bank account. It asks for my heart.

"I was born to love
I'm gonna learn to love without fear "

Monday, April 7, 2008

I scream, you scream

There are days when an ice-cream cone is entirely appropriate.

Last summer, when I worked at an old fashioned soda shop in Colorado, ice-cream seemed to be appropriate nearly every day. I mean, yes, I care about my hips, but WHO can resist Mud Pie? It was my cherished baby of a flavor, and I was so proud of it; I couldn't help but bring it up whenever a customer was having a challenge committing to a flavor. (In my book, that's the point when you seize the day and go for the triple scoop.)

"Sir, you look like you're having a little trouble deciding. May I recommend my personal favorite to you? Mud Pie is a coffee based ice-cream with chunks of chocolate and Oreo pieces. But if you like a little stronger coffee taste and dark chocolate bits, you might go for Espresso Chip."

I had a lot of emotional investment in the coffee ice-cream flavors. I felt a little vulnerable recommending one, because what if the customer followed my lead and then decided he didn't like it, or worse, what if he ignored my suggestion and chose Black Walnut? Honestly folks. Black Walnut???

Dear ice-cream shop of 36 flavors, I miss you. Black Walnut, I do not miss you so much. Nor you, Peanut Butter Cup. You are tasty but impossible to scoop. PBC, have mercy on the forearm.

Today was an ice-cream day. One, the seasonal rain and fog lifted today, leaving a bright blue sky and a temperature tip-toeing into the 60s. Two, Aaron is sick with nasty sinus stuff. We drove out to Wal-mart to pick up his medicine and a box of Kleenex, and well, after spending the big bucks on prescription drugs, it was clear we needed some ice-cream. Dairy Queen isn't my beloved Colorado shop, but the soft serve vanilla cone does hold a place in my heart.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

wonder hunt

"I was thinking about how beautiful the color of green is."
-Rich Mullins

I went for a walk yesterday. I've been trying to cultivate eyes to see beauty in creation. I read Rich Mullins' biography last week and made a resolution to look as he did. He saw laughter in moonlight and redemption in prairies. Many days, I travel with blinders on, my mind a long checklist and my thoughts frenzied bellboys hopping from bullet to bullet.

So. A solitary walk after a full day of teaching first graders. Not an exercise to burn calories, not a way to get from point A to point B, but instead, an effort to see, a pause to listen.

Firstborn daffodils sprung up from grey ground.
Bare trees lined up for roll call against the horizon.
Buds blooming red out of naked brown limbs.

And even the rocks cry out.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Psalm 55:22

I am all at once many things today.
My heart is restless,
wanting to go,
wanting to stay.

I hold more people in my heart
than I can gather near.

Dreams underneath the current of
come and go,
work and play.
Silent, dormant,
still they ache.

From the One who understands the tug,
the contradiction,
the mystery,

these words of peace...

Monday, March 17, 2008

wanna be broken, peaceful, thankful

Another point for the big sister.

What's her tally up to now, anyway? The number of times her wise words have hit my heart at exactly the right moment? Ah, gee. I'm not good at details, so the exact figure evades me. It's probably too high to count anyway.

I talked to Rachel this weekend. The pressure is off with Rachel. No need to impress her, entertain her, ask insightful and thoughtful questions of her, or sound mature. Phew. Don't we all need more conversations like that? Maybe Rachel wishes I made a little more effort to sound mature, because typically our conversations go something like this:

Me: Blah, blah, blah, my life is hard, and I am confused, and blah, blah, blah.

Rachel: Pause. [Insert wisdom. Given in a gentle, gracious, and firm way.]

Me: Longer pause. Oh. Wow.

(By the way, Rachel, thanks for still answering the phone when I call. You're the best.)

The revelation of Saturday's conversation? Here it is. I realized that if I were to tag last year with one word, it would probably be loss. The past twelve months have held several Big Hard Things, India being one of them. And the subdivisions of that city Loss are named Tears, Grieving, Loneliness, Questions, Fear. Did I meet Jesus in a more raw and real way this past year? Absolutely. Am I sorry that it was hard? No. I think the dark makes the light all the more beautiful. But after all of the fallout, I have hoisted an enormous burden onto my shoulders, the burden that, hereafter, I expect everything to be equally as hard and even possibly more painful.

"Lara," Rachel said, "You will have seasons of suffering in your life again. But you don't have to live expecting everything to turn out that way. God is also a God of joy. Of redemption. A God who leads His people out of the deserts and into the gardens."

Lightbulb. I am not believing for myself what I dare to dream for other people--that God will turn my tears to laughter, that He will show me more of His abudance than I knew existed, and that He will restore the seasons of cracked riverbeds and bitter heartache. God is graciously filling my life with good things right now, but I am turning my head away, scared that it will all slide away or evaporate like dew.

I want to be willing to mourn with those who mourn. I do not want to be afraid of the heavy, dry, even desperate seasons of life. But, maybe, just maybe, it is time to join the dance for a bit. Rejoice in the things God is blessing me with. Open my heart up to His healing, His love, His grace. Receive the gift with joy instead of running away frightened.

Thank You, Father, for Your gifts. The dark was a gift, and now, the light is gift too.

For Aaron, who wants to know me and stays even when it means sharing my pain.

For Megan, who makes Bolivar a fun place to live and rocks the 5 am workout with me. You get it, girl.

For new friends I wasn't expecting but thoroughly enjoy.

For a cell phone to call the friends who live far, far away.

For the job of substitute teaching which I am enjoying way more than I ever thought possible. How neat to get paid for something I love!

For my family, who eats my outrageous meal experiments and who loans me the mini-van when I need a set of wheels and who prays for me and with me.

For Bolivar. For this season. For life.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

for a time

"Often it is the dark forest that makes us speak about the open field...Not seldom are our visions of the future born out of the sufferings of the present and our hope for others out of our own despair...The paradox is indeed that new life is born out of the pains of the old."

-Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out

I visited JBU this past weekend. It was my first return since last May's graduation. Then, there were so many goodbyes, some of them the hardest I had ever made, and a quiet three hour car ride home to Missouri. While Mom drove, I thought about four years gone and wondered with just a little trepidation how the following months would unroll. I was going to California. Colorado. Kolkata. Each new stop a bit more unfamiliar than the last.

10 months later, I returned to campus.

For a brief few days, I felt like the college Lara. I remembered how much I like that Lara. She has fun. She runs five or six miles, no problem. She loves 19th century British Literature, but she doesn't have much time for reading, because she would rather have tea with a friend, sitting cross-legged on the tan couch in her apartment. She knows her place, and for the most part, she is confident.

I realized this weekend that I’m not that person anymore. I’m not. I’ve been to the other side of the world and back, and I'm hurting. It is not unusual for the landscape that once seemed familiar and understandable to now seem like a dark forest. I have questions. I have tears.

I want these pains to pass. "For goodness sake," I think. "I've been back for two and half months now. Let's return to normal." I don't want to walk the long, dusty road I know leads to the open field. Is there an instant teleport option, one of the Star Trek variety? I'll take that one. Oh restless heart, how quickly forgotten the truth that it is in the cluster of barren trees He plants new life. A seed unseen.

Last night, I opened my Bible with this earnest prayer: Lord, please speak to me in a way that I can hear and comprehend. This is what He gave, and between the close-crowding branches, I saw a light falling through.

"Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all...He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were." -Romans 4:16:17

Monday, February 25, 2008

when people stare at taco bueno and other tales

What a weekend. It was refreshing and and relaxing and inspiring and a much-needed change of scenery. My friend Meg and I wound our way to Kansas City to visit Meg's sister, Jen. I love Kansas City. I also love Meg and Jen. Throw a few inches of fluffy snow in there, some time for contemplation, good church, fun games, walking around Taco Bueno only using 90 degree angles, and've got yourself a great weekend. Oh, and now if you talk about Wii in front of me, I will know what you mean. Yup. Kansas City gave me my Wii initiation. My mad wrist flick is gonna take me places, I can tell. Megan had already played Wii, but here she is at her initiation into the Quik Trip Taquito club. The only thing better than Taco Bueno is QT Taquitos. (Joking. Please. Believe.)

The Lord spoke to my heart about contentment this weekend. I'm a "feeler." This tendency can be a bad thing because what I'm feeling always feels so true to me, even when it's not. I haven't been feeling contentment lately, but the Lord showed me this weekend that it is a choice. I have to reach out and take contentment. I have to choose it when nothing in me feels it. And this choice is not unauthentic because it "feels" false. It's obedient. Obedience trumps feeling.

And hey, the blessing of today is that I AM NOW A WORKING WOMAN! My mom fielded the 6 am wake-up call for me and gently roused me to ask if I wanted to be a substitute. Oh yes I want to be a substitute even though I am so very sleepy because I stayed up way too late last night not knowing that Monday, February 25, would be the day to catapult me into the world of wage-earning and oh yes I will be in on time and I will be nice to the children and I will try hard not to laugh when they write things in their journals such as "I did nothng this weekend. guess what. I am releted to the queen of ingland."

Finally, Happy Birthday sister! I love you. Scope out 26 for me, okay? Tell him I'll be there in a few years.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

pickin' up and pressin' on

Well, well, well.

I do suppose it's time for another update.

A good perspective births a good life. I'm working on perspective here in B-town. Searching for the beauty in the quiet life. It's here. I've had a lot of time to look, believe me. Lots of time.

I am not a full-fledged substitute teacher yet, but I am well on my way. All the paperwork is turned in, and now we wait for the state of Missouri to examine my fingerprints and confirm that I am not a criminal. Meanwhile, I pray and rest and bake peanut butter toffee cookies. Peter tells me the cookies are awful and then he eats five. I love my brother. Really. I do.

As for the beauty.

Bribing my dad to help me rearrange the furniture in my room. Now my bed sticks out from the corner like an awkward teenager at a school dance. It's a trade-off. Slightly un-aesthetic bed position being the cost. Reward being facing eastward windows, meaning I can see the sun rise when I wake up in the morning. The Ozarks are having some mighty nice sunrises.

Taking a run through the city park. This park, Dunnegan by name, appears in my childhood memories as far back I can reach. Even in winter it's beautiful. A friend and I were talking the other night about the glories of winter trees. Their bareness compels me to notice them more. When they are green and full, I see a mass. One big green blob. Sans leaves, I see shape, I see shadow, I see arms reaching to touch periwinkle February sky.

Celebrating life with others. A wedding in St. Louis for a much loved cousin. In a pew with my father and mother and brother and sister and niece (call that pew "the row of those I love most") and watching commitment and honor and love be exchanged for keeps. A dinner with a good friend. She doesn't mind new recipes, so I go wild. We light the candles and post-dessert, take funny pictures with her digital camera. "Act like someone just gave you a million dollars." "Now like you haven't slept in 72 hours." Ahh. This is good.

Here I am. Chapters are being closed. New pages blank before me. Risking on love again. Sara Groves sings, and I listen. "Even though your heart feels raw, love is still a worthy cause."

I'm finding a bottom line in this mixture of days. Here, love is still a worthy cause. If I can give no other objective or goal for my time at home, let it be that my heart presses on in love. James says it well: we consider blessed those who have persevered.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

w a i t i n g

"But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth."

It must have been crowded in that room, Jesus and all twelve disciples, eleven after Judas slipped out into the night. Crowded and maybe hot. I wonder, were they sleepy? Did they shift positions as the Son of Man spoke, their minds a little confused and foggy?

Jesus told them of the Comforter. The Spirit who would live in them and give them truth.

I hold to this promise tonight. I am confused. I do feel foggy. I can't see into the months ahead. I said no to something my heart wanted this week, and I think the "no" was the answer the Spirit was giving. But I am sad, and waiting for the whatever yes He is going to reveal feels lonely and long.

Pray for this sister in Missouri, if you think of her. There is more than this moment, I know. More beyond this achy night. More. Coming.

A thing resounds when it rings true
Ringing all the bells inside of you
Like a golden sky on a summer eve
Your heart is tugging at your sleeve
And you cannot say why
There must be more

There is more
More than we can stand
Standing in the glory
Of a love that never ends
There is more
More than we can guess
More and more, forever more
And not a second less

-Andrew Peterson

Friday, February 1, 2008

Träumerei (dreaming)

"I've dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they've gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind." -Emily Brontë

of when brokenness becomes a mosaic of pieces so beautiful
of when women are free
of when children have all they need to eat
of when pain is a thing of the past
of when the pinholes of light blaze into eternal glory
of when He comes, and we see His face

In the middle of the night
We try and try with all our mights
To light a little light down here
In the middle of the night
We dream of a million kites
Flying high above
The sadness and the fear
-Patty Griffin


Friday, January 25, 2008

pat answers, true riches

In last-minute fashion, I met with my friend Ben yesterday. Ben lives in Southern California. I happened to be in Southern California for three weeks, but somehow, catch-up coffee did not happen until a few hours before I was supposed to leave for the airport. Hum.

Over decaf, Ben asked me about the contrast between Southern California opulence and the poverty of the city where I made my home last fall. That Ben, he asks some tricky questions. Now, I allow this question--and its multiple answers--to run wild in the privacy of my own mind, but inviting it into the wide, open public makes me a bit uncomfortable. Like I might say things that offend people. Like I might make brash, sweeping judgments that I am not yet ready to adhere to myself. Like if we let this question join us at our comfy two-person Starbucks table, he might begin to flail his arms and make a rucus. I fell silent. I thought for a minute. I resorted to a sensible answer. (Read: "avoid-big-waves answer.")

"Well," I said. "Kolkata and Southern California are very different. I've found it's too hard to live in a constant state of comparision. I have to accept them as two different worlds and try to live my best in each of them."

There is a bit of truth to that, I think. But I think I might have also given the cop-out answer. The problem with completely compartmentalizing my Indian world and my American world is that, very likely, I will forget whichever world is least convienent and most uncomfortable. India, for those of you still wondering.

I don't want to be the nagging voice which constantly reminds others of the disparity between what they own and what most of the world does not own. We know we're wealthy, here in America. It's not that we don't know. We know, and we want to maintain that wealth. Because that "other world," that peculiar and distant world that could sneak into our hearts if we took a look at its hands and feet, feels so very far away.

I will be the first in the line of people who don't really want to make a change if personal comfort or independence are going to be the opportunity cost. That's why the answer I gave Ben is so nice for me. That answer is my good friend when I buy things I don't need. It's my buddy when I start scheming on how I can live a swanky life again. And it sings me a lullaby when I close my eyes to what I have seen and drift off to sleep.

I don't know what answer I should have given Ben instead. But I don't want complacency to be my co-pilot.

What I am going to do? How am I going to live? I am simultaneously excited and scared to have a seat in the classroom of daily American life. I will be here for a bit, as far as I can see. We will see what the Teacher says. He is surely relevant to Missouri 2008, the Jewish Rabbi who is "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation."

Oh Jesus. Have your way in our hearts, and let us see that You are the wealth we truly desire.

"...that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." -Colossians 2:2-3

Sunday, January 20, 2008

"Maybe tomorrow will not be like this"

I love Sandra McCracken's music. I love that I can listen to six songs on her Myspace site for free. I love that I can write blog entries while her voice serenades me.

Rachel and I watched God Grew Tired of Us last night. It's a documentary about the Lost Boys of Sudan. In 1987, when Muslim troops swept through southern Sudan, thousands of young men fled to escape execution. They walked hundreds of miles to temporary relief in Ethiopia and then back across Sudan to a refugee camp in Kenya. The film follows the lives of three men from the Kenyan camp who were granted immigration to the States.

My friends Annie and Brian introduced me to this documentary, and I wanted Rachel to watch it. Typically, she avoids movies that have anything to do with war. After I convinced her that the war footage was very, very minimal and that the documentary is mostly of the lives of the refugees once they reach America, she gave in.

One of the men, John Bul Dau, said that when he was on the trek through sub-Saharan Africa, he looked around at his emaciated friends and wondered, "Did God get tired of us?" Maybe it was the end of the world as the Bible talks about, he thought. Maybe God was tired of humans, and that was why they were starving in a desert. No more family. No more home.

After the movie, I sat in the dim lamplight of Rachel's living room. I wanted to pray for Sudan. I wanted to pray against war. I wanted to ask for peace. I wondered, "Am I praying for things I will never see?" My friends in Kolkata say that they dream for things they will never see. So, yes, I thought, maybe I am praying things that I will never see. What else can I pray? I will offer up these words pleading for peace. I will ask again for hope for the thousands who have no home. I will beg that men lay down their swords and pick up love.

God has said, and I believe: He is near to all who call on Him.

If you'd like to read more about John Bul Dau, this is a good article. And I'd encourage you to watch the documentary!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

One heart on the way down Hadley Street

Rachel and I were driving the other day, she behind the wheel and I beside her, little sidekick Abby asleep in the back. Rachel does most of the driving in California, as a) it's her car and b) LA traffic is scary and c) I rarely carry my license with me. (And once driving without it got me a hefty ticket and a few days later, the worst haircut of my life. I'm not sure how much correlation there was between the ticket and the haircut, but it all happened on the same roadtrip. Aww, college.)

We were stopped at a red light when I asked about the house on Hadley Street. It's a older house, white and flat-fronted. Dignified architecture. The house itself seems to say, "Why yes, I have lived in these parts for a very long time, and I've been a good citizen." But everything surrounding the house says, "Sorry, sucker, your time has passed." Spare tires, old machinery, wire towers with cactus, broken pots, and garden tools ooze out of the carport and onto the lawn and into the spare lot. The pumpkin was what really caught my eye. Think giant and orange. Think the species of larger-than-life inflatable lawn things Wal-mart markets to zealous holiday decorators. It was fully inflated in the front of the carport when I walked by the other day, set on top of an empty papazan chair frame, tilted at a funny angle. That, I thought, has to be at least semi-intentional. I can understand owning a pumpkin (well, sort of) and having no place to put it, but it's January. Why would you have an inflated pumpkin sitting around in January?

I asked Rach if she knew who lived in that Hadley Street house. "Oh, I don't know him personally," she said. "But he's a widower, and apparantly, his house looked normal before his wife died. Now it looks like that."

Today, Abby and I went for a walk, and at the end of our loop, we headed down Hadley Street. The pumpkin was still there, but today, it was flat. We were a few yards past the white house when I saw an older man in front of us. He had velcro shoes with the flaps unfastened. Tan pants and a dark brown suit jacket. "That's him," I thought. He was walking slowly. When he came to the intersection, he stopped in the middle and looked back before shuffling to the other side. Confused. We came up behind him, and he heard us. He stepped into the dirt bed next to the sidewalk and let us pass. He turned his face to look at Abby, and I saw his chin and cheeks, stubbly, unshaven, gaunt. On the left lapel of his jacket, there was a blue plastic nametage. "H. Knight," it read. His eyes lit when he saw my chubby niece, asleep in the stroller, brown-shoed feet stuck straight out in front of her. He chuckled. "Hello, sir," I said, half-expecting him to strike up a conversation. Babies make friends out of complete strangers, I am finding. He didn't say anything, only smiled, and so I walked on.

I walked on. I walked away.

He wasn't like my friends in India, many of whom were so open about their need. When I walked away from them, I turned my face from grasping hands and pleading cries. My heart tore with the pressure of the pain and the dilemma of how to ease it. Today, my heart tore too. I wasn't expecting that, not here in a historic suburb of LA, on quiet and tree-canopied streets. He didn't ask me for anything. He didn't even ask me for a few moments of my time, a few moments of small talk in the stretch of a lonely day.

I will not be able to forget poverty. It's not just in Kolkata, I thought as I turned the corner to my sister's driveway. It's here too. It is in the kind and perplexed face of the widower. Whatever his monetary net-worth, it's absolutely more than that of an average Indian citizen. But his dearth is the lack of companionship, family, love. The walk alone instead of with a wife. The yard gone to pot, perhaps because nothing seems worth keeping up anymore.

The poverty of love is the hardest-hitting.

Oh, how we all need love.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

this present day

I have a wise and thoughtful uncle who wrote me letters in college, and among the pulls of papers and meetings and RA-ing and hanging out with friends far too late into the night, I wrote him back a few letters myself. At intervals, he would send along books with the letters. I am reading one of them now, happily positioned in the peach and blue recliner a family from my sister's church gifted to her. She is married to a seminary student, and seminary students are a good population to give old furniture to. With all the time I have recently found like an inheritance tucked away in a safety-deposit box, I am reading for pleasure, not for a grade. This is a good thing.

The book is a collection of essays by a columnist for World Magazine. Her name is Andree Seu, and she writes with a wit and succinctness I covet. She is one of those writers whose pen (and mind) I wish I could borrow. And never give back. Anyway, she writes this in one of her essays about traveling home to her parents in Rhode Island for the holidays:

"When I arrive home--or is Pennsylvania home?--the lesson, alas, is the same I learned last year, and the year before: that all earthly homes produce as much longing as satisfaction, are signposts and not the city itself. And I thank God both for the foretaste and the vague yearning that keeps me headed homeward, keeps my heart on pilgrimage."

Hmm. I identify with these words. They uncover my tendency to mortify the present. No "earthly home" is ever quite what I am looking for. So I fret about the past and pin my hope on the future and scorn the current pasture.

In today's prayer, I ask this: that God, in His great mercy, would give me the grace to catch sight of heaven's weight in the flimsy and quickly going stuff of earth. In the longing and yearning and in the tasting of satisfaction, I would keep walking Homeward. Live faithfully in the moment at hand; not forget that there is a sequel that will outlast the current volume by a few million pages.

The shadow is coming to full color soon.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

On the way to the airport...

Nathan: You know, it really gives me hope that Sylvester Stallone is 60. Maybe I could be Rambo at 60.
Rachel: I'm not sure I wholeheartedly support that dream, honey.

Me: I think you'd make a great Rambo, Nathan.

Nathan: Thanks, Lara.

Me: But I don't even know who Rambo is.

Rachel: Yes you do. He's that guy who was a boxer in like five movies.

Me: (Pause.) No, that was Rocky.

Rachel: Oh. (Tilts head to the side and sticks the tip of her tongue out. Thinks.) So, who was Rambo? Aren't they almost the same?

Nathan: Nope. Not at all.

I'm in Southern California, where oddly enough, movie actors and their roles are easily confused. At least by folks like me and my sister. I flew into the LA area on Thursday, and I'll be here until the end of the month, visiting my sister, her husband, and my niece! (Who deserves italics just for being her.) There is no agenda but daily life. Since Abby's birth eight months ago, my sister has become a stay at home mom, and for these few weeks, I get to join the routine. I am basking in all the glory of being an aunt, a situation I find increasingly glorious.

It's looking like a quiet set of 21 days. For which I am thankful and content. I want to journal and start running again. I want to write emails to friends I haven't heard from in a while. I want to write even more letters, because for all the charm of an email, I'm still a fan of the paper envelope and its contents.

After the California vacation, the current plan is to head back to my home state for a bit. I'm not sure how long I will stay in Missouri, but I'll definitely be there until the summer months.

The future feels so very vague, and it seems that I am back in that place of last winter, when I was making lists of various options for the next step after graduation. I have to remember that the God who opened the doors to Kolkata is surely the same God who stands before the doors of 2008, and that a year later, He cares for me and my path with just as much compassion and might.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Life, currently

I put on a brown cable knit sweater this morning. "This sweater," I thought, "is a nice warm sweater." Secretly, I was proud of myself for picking a sweater, because occasionally, it happens that I fail to dress myself warmly enough for winter weather. Those days, when fashion wins out over comfort, I spend the whole day cold. And I feel silly.

Missouri must be extra frigid this season. Despite the Rather-Plain-But-Incredibly-Practical-Brown-Sweater, I was shivering in the kitchen by mid-morning. Hopping up and down next to the tea kettle as I waited for it to whistle. My mother came to the rescue with one of her sweaters, a gray woolen wrap-around that she tossed over to my stove-top post. "Here, put this on," she said. Brilliant. Another sweater. Why don't I think of these things?

The layers keep growing. On top of my two sweaters, I am now draped with the most beautiful blanket I own. It's one that my friends at Sari Bari made. Five layers of old saris; the outer two layers are shades of my new favorite colors, deep red and golden yellow. I smell the blanket, and it still smells like Indian laundry detergent. Smell it again.

India is like a old friend I never see anymore but cannot forget. Across the bridges between high school and college and post-grad life, I've said good-bye to my share of dear friends. For weeks and months after the official goodbyes, faces bounce through my memories and prayers. Often. Daily, even.

Only two and half weeks gone since I flew from breeze and coconut trees to snow and ice. At this point, I still think of India every day. I am scared that India will stop popping up with such frequency. My friend who spent a year in Africa warns me of this. "It hurts to remember," she wrote to me. "But it hurts even more when you stop remembering." I carry that fear of India evaporating off of me, disappearing. That I will set her in a hall closet somewhere, behind the vacuum and the box of clothes to give away to Goodwill, and forget where I put her. Maybe even forget she exists.

I'm trying to remember. I pull the sari blanket around me tightly. I read the blogs of my teammates. I play Boggle with my family, a word game my team played every Sunday afternoon. Sand slides through the game's timer, and I almost write down words like "shey" or "ghat" before I remember that they are Bengali words, and as such, will not garner points here in America.

The little things remind me of the big things. Of God and His Kingdom. Of the garden He is still planting and tending in Kolkata. Of my friends who choose every day to stick around in that city a little longer, to pour out a bit more water.

I am glad and thankful to be home. There is, however, a tension in my heart that was not there four months ago. A pull toward the face that is yet vivid and bold in memory's cupboard.

I ask you to remember India with me. Help me remember when I am beginning to forget. To keep praying, to keep hoping, to keep offering up our lives for the work which is not finished.

I also want to share some moments of home...
Boggle time! Kristin, please note that we do not have Super Boggle. Sad loss. But, also please note that I am training my niece up right. Starting her on Boggle at a young age.
Right now, she likes to eat the pen and paper best. I think, though, that she will begin finding words very soon. She's a bright baby.
I had the awesome gift of spending last weekend with my best college friends. I couldn't have hoped for a better reunion. Laughing and talking and singing commenced as if we'd never been apart. Oh, how I love these three girls.

Happy New Year to all!