Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Joy We Share

Due to a short power outage, we had to "punt" this morning on our praise song in worship. Instead of Steven Curtis Chapman, Pastor Brad asked if anyone had a hymn they wanted to sing. Our wee one immediately said, "In the Garden!" (I didn't even know she knew the song!)

So we all turned to the hymnal and sang..."I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses..." I had the scene to the right in my head, from a recent family hike. We belted out the chorus, "And He walks with me, and He talks with me. And He tells me I am His own. And the joy we share as we tarry there... none other has ever known."

I was struck by those words: "And He tells me I am His own." Wow. Me, sinful, meager, small and selfish me. I am His. I belong to God, the Father Almighty. To Jesus Christ, His One and Only Son. To the Holy Spirit.

Me.

His.

I smiled. I know I did because our daughter said, "What's funny?" I replied, "Nothing. I'm just happy." I should've said more. I should've said, "I'm just happy I'm HIS."

I should have explained because this is what I want for her. I want her to know the happiness of belonging to God. I want her to come to church to worship with joy in her heart. I want us to share this joy!

I will speak up. I will tell her how I felt in worship this morning. And not with just her, I will share this joy with anyone who will listen! We should feel joyful in our redemption in Jesus Christ, and we should share it with the world.

May God help me to do this each and every day.

Amen.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Sweet Hour of Prayer

This morning, like most Sunday mornings of much of my life, I attended church. It was a remarkable Sunday in that it was the first Sunday of our fifth year of service here at the Jicarilla Apache Reformed Church, but otherwise, it was a regular Sunday. We sang praise to our Lord; we greeted one another, taking joy in seeing people we hadn't seen in a while. We prayed.

We prayed.

We, God's people here on the Jicarilla Apache Nation, prayed for our families, our friends, strangers in Texas and Louisiana, for housing, for sobriety, for safe travel.

Prayer is a vital and living part of worship at the Jicarilla Apache Reformed Church. My understanding of prayer has grown during our time here. We pray deeply and strongly and powerfully.

We prepare for prayer by singing "Sweet Hour of Prayer" each Sunday. Today, the song was sweet and strong and loud.

The words "In seasons of distress and grief, my soul has often found relief; and oft escaped the tempter's snare, by thy return, sweet hour of prayer" rang through the sanctuary this morning. I knew individual voices reaching up to God for comfort:

A woman who has lost both daughter and granddaughter since we've been here.

A man grieving for his addicted son.

Children whose mother was taken by alcohol, gone too soon.

A grandmother raising her grandchildren from two different families.

And then we prayed our repentance. We prayed for healing. We prayed for our concerns. We prayed for teachers and bus drivers. We prayed for hurricane victims. We prayed The Lord's Prayer. And we prayed for the Holy Spirit to be present in the Scripture reading and preaching.

Hope was preached. Hope was felt. Hope was known in that place. Hope is known in this place. We Christians know hope amidst the distress and grief of life. May we bring this hope to those who surround us in this world.

Amen. And amen.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Finishing Four

Today, we finish our fourth year in Dulce. Tomorrow starts our fifth year... hard to believe. After four years, some things are exactly as I expected them to be... and some things are very different from my expectations!

Sunday Services: Pretty much as I expected. My husband is turning out to be an excellent preacher! I help with Sunday school for a couple of months a year. Kathleen (10) is antsy during services and requires an occasional reminder to engage.

Day-to-Day Ministry: I fully expected to feed the random stranger, living next door to the church. We do do that, but we also give rides, send uncooked food home, and invite complete strangers to join us at the table. We have occasionally hosted an unknown overnight guest in our home... but just recently, a work group transformed one of the church classrooms into an emergency shelter! This will prove very worthwhile, I'm positive. We have also recently become involved in the informal distribution of surplus food from Farmington, NM.

Special Events: Being far from our families, I anticipated that we would spend Thanksgivings, Christmases, and other special events with our small family of three. Nothing could be farther from the truth! We have been graciously included in family celebrations of every holiday, and also of weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries. We have camped with church families, eaten scrumptious holiday meals with 50 friends, enjoyed football rivalries, attended musicals with Christian sisters, and so much more! I do not hesitate to say that if I ever felt lonely in any way, I could easily reach out and find a supportive friend here.

And All Those Kids: I have been involved with children since I was one myself. My mom always called me "The Pied Piper" because of the number of children I had in my life. I knew that I would continue homeschooling our wee one, at least for a while, but I had no idea how many children would come into my life in Dulce!

First, there are the AWANA kids. We've had an AWANA children's ministry for three full years now. It has grown and developed, and I am one of the co-leaders. It is a joy to meet with those 5-18 year olds weekly and explore the Bible with them. It's such a blessing that the adult volunteers and the kids come from many different churches here in Dulce and beyond. We are incredibly blessed by the support of people here in Dulce and in far-flung parts of the United States! We are able to give every single child a brand new Bible and an AWANA shirt. The kids feel so supported and loved!

Second, there are the "science kids." From the beginning, I invited other homeschooled children we knew to attend a twice-weekly science class at our house. It grew from 2 children... to over a dozen!!! On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, from 1:30-3:00, our house and yard are overtaken by kids learning about science and having fun. Some wonderful friendships have been built with these families, and the kids have many terrific memories of our fun together.

And thirdly, there is the homeschooling crowd. I am now homeschooling six children full-time and another one part-time. These include children who have been expelled from one of the local schools, who have been bullied to the point of hating school in one of the local schools, who have never attended school at all, who have special needs that were absolutely overlooked in one of the local schools, and who are talented and gifted and under-served at one of the local schools. It has recently become very clear to me that this too is a ministry. 

I've always looked at the homeschooling as something I do for our daughter, but the need for a quality education is desperate here in Dulce. The local schools have difficulty hiring and retaining quality staff, and the committed long-term staff members cannot do it all. I know I could make an income teaching at the public school, and I have considered it for this reason, but God has made it clear to me that homeschooling is where my teaching talents need to be utilized. I am equipped to reach each of the children in my home, and each one needs me (sometimes for very different reasons!).

So, tomorrow is another day. I'm taking six kiddos in the "Chile Bus" to explore New Mexico history first-hand at the ruins of a pueblo and a 16th century Spanish church. We will study geography and math on the way, read some poetry, and generally have a great time. I'll take some more pictures to share with their families, and on Monday we will write an essay about what we learned on the trip.

May God work in your life just as powerfully. We are blessed. Four years blessed. And we pray that God would grant us many more years of service here in Dulce, whatever it looks like!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

#1680

I have tried to write about Charlottesville, VA, and the racial protests and violence there. I despise the hatred displayed by the Neo-Nazis and white supremacists. I hate the violence that stems from that hatred. I hate the fact that our president did not immediately, completely, or honestly condemn these groups.

I think of the world in which my biracial and multiracial grandchildren are growing up, and I dread seeing them face the racism so clearly displayed in Charlottesville and elsewhere. The faces I love come in all colors and shapes.

I have watched on social media as my loved ones shared their fear, their outrage, their worry, and their interpretation of events. I've also talked with my Native friends here locally. Many feel entirely unrepresented by the current government. They are angry that President Trump has not taken a firm stand against all forms of racism.

I'm heartened by the #resistance. Following the alt* accounts on Twitter has shown me an entire network of resistance workers fighting against the demands of Trump to be silent, to fall into line.

I take hope in much of the church's response, standing firmly with the oppressed. I pray that those who claim Christianity and hold that whites are supreme would wake up to Jesus' true message.

And tonight I saw a new hashtag on one of my Native friends' posts: #1680. If you do not know Southwest US history well, you probably won't recognize this, but it is a signal of strength. Strength of the Native peoples. A refusal to buckle under.

Educate yourself. On today's racism. On the year 1680 in New Mexico. On the lives of Americans of color in 2017.

This viral photo shows the moment a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. Many have commented about the shoes in the road. Instead of looking at those shoes in the road, I am urging all of us who stand against racism to get our boots on the ground. Stand up and refuse to be silent! Do not sit back and wait for justice; get up and work for it!

When you hear a racist comment, call it out. When you see a person of color being unfairly treated, step forward and stand with them. When a policy targets a minority group, fight it. In Zechariah 7, the Bible tells us to resist oppression. Those using "faith" and the Bible to justify their hatred and violence have great need of actually reading the Bible!

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.  Edmund Burke.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Pow Wow Lullaby

photo from internet
Not too long ago, I fell asleep to a pow wow lullaby. It really struck me as I drifted off to sleep that nowhere else I've ever lived has had pow wow lullabies. Jamaica (where I served in the Peace Corps) had a constant reggae rhythm as background noise. The college dorm was just plain noisy, but that pow wow beat was unique and special. It reminds me that I live as a guest on the Jicarilla Apache Nation.

Our family moved here four years ago this month. Our wee one was 6. We had lived in the Midwest for most of our lives when God called us to be faithful strangers on the Jicarilla Apache Nation. Leaving our families and friends far behind, we drove a loaded Penske truck through the plains and over the mountains to Dulce, NM.

Sometimes it's difficult to remember what it was like to be a new arrival in Dulce among the Jicarilla Apache people. But when some friends arrived from the Midwest, their comments and questions brought back some of the wonder present at our arrival here. Things that seem normal now brought inquiries, and our attempts at explanations. It was great fun, and it has reminded me to treasure various traditions and experiences here.

For example, when people visit we usually have a bonfire and invite our Jicarilla friends. As we settled in to enjoy the fire, just chatting, our friends asked when people would arrive. I looked at my phone clock for the first time that evening and realized that our "starting time" (on the church calendar and Facebook announcements) had passed 30 minutes before. It brought a chuckle to me, remembering how we had had to adjust our sense of time when we joined this community. "Whenever," I said. "Time is different here."

Earlier this summer, we heard there was a keesta (coming of age feast for a young woman). We've been to many of these over the years, but always with some Jicarilla friends. The keesta is never advertised or the directions given... you just hear about it and go. This time, with no hesitation, Brad and I just went. We headed in the general direction we knew it was taking place, then spotted the small flags and freshly-graded road. When we arrived, we sat down to eat and chat among people we had never met. We were made very welcome, and it felt like we belonged.

Just yesterday, I was on my morning walk, and I heard a lot of barking and yipping. When I turned the corner, there was a high school aged student threatening three dogs with a stick. I  know these three dogs. They have chased me down several times in that area. I started carrying a pepper spray and have gotten them good a time or two. Three years ago, I would've been upset that the kid was threatening the dogs. Now I knew he was simply defending himself. I yelled at the dogs, "Hey! Go home!" They know my voice. They know my pepper spray. They all slunk back to their yard, and the kid looked up gratefully.

I said to the student, "They're bullies. They know my spray. Have a great day!" The kid never answered, but simply continued on to school. A couple of years ago, I would've wondered what I did to cause trouble. Now, I know that strangers just don't acknowledge each other here as they do in the Midwest.

One of the Midwestern visitors said to me yesterday, "Wow! You're really laid-back about this, aren't you?"

Yep. We are. Laid-back and happy. We love it here. The people and the place fit us well. We've changed a bit over the years, but God has prepared us well to fit in. We are blessed. Please join us in praying for the ministry of the Jicarilla Apache Reformed Church here on the Nation. Amen.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

An AWANA Camp Miracle

We just finished our first ever AWANA Camp in Dulce! AWANA is our children/youth ministry; it focuses on memorization of God's Word. We've had a Monday night AWANA program for three years, and this year we expanded to include a week-long VBS-style day camp. It was amazing! 
We served 62 children and youth from the community. We closed registration after Monday, unfortunately turning away another 20 or so kids because we didn't have the staff or supplies for so many. The students studied the Bible, using the theme "Grace." We had powerful teachers and preachers. The praise and worship time was filled with songs and antics. The children recited their memory verses and performed skits to illustrate God's Grace. Truly amazing!

But my biggest joy came during drop-off time, about mid-week. And it came so unexpectedly, it almost bowled me over. I have to back up a bit to explain...

When we arrived, almost four years ago, we took our then-six-year-old skating every Friday night. The church has had skating on Friday nights for decades, maybe almost a century! We have church members in their 70s and 80s who remember skating at church as kids.

Our daughter made friends at skating with a little girl (We'll call her Debbie). Debbie and our daughter played and skated together every Friday for a couple of years, at least. Debbie's family was hard to get to know. Her grandmother brought her and her siblings each week, and despite my attempts at friendliness, was not interested in interacting with me. At first, the adults even turned their heads away from me when I greeted them. After about a year, they would just look at me. We never progressed to nods or smiles. 

I understand this unfriendliness. It is steeped in generations of abuse of the Jicarilla Apache people by outsiders. It is grounded in the fact that the White Americans slaughtered many of the Jicarilla in attempts to "civilize" the Natives. It is present due to the forced sterilization of many Jicarilla women through the 1970s. (Yes, the 1970s!) I never took it personally, and I believe it would've been a mistake to do so. 

But...

BUT...

Debbie and her siblings came to AWANA Camp! They were there every single day. They were happy to be there. And every day at drop-off, I was there in the parking lot to welcome them to AWANA Camp. Every day, I greeted them with a smile and a wave to Grandma's vehicle.
And one morning, mid-week-ish, the driver's window rolled down and a hand stuck out to return my wave.  Read that again; it's exciting! Grandma waved at me! At White, outsider, me. 

That is God's work. That is what ministry on the rez looks like. Four years of smiling, waving, quiet relationship work. And it is worth every second.

Thank you for your support of the ministry here.

Friday, June 2, 2017

A Slippery Slope


 Our family just returned from an adventure in the Grand Canyon. 42 years ago, my stepdad took me on my first vacation... to the Grand Canyon. I'd never been much of anywhere, and this trip opened the world to me!

So when we had the opportunity to hike to the bottom of the Canyon with my stepdad, stay two nights at Phantom Ranch, and climb back out of the Canyon, I jumped on it. Our 10-year-old hikes a lot with me, and my husband runs marathons, so I wasn't too worried about our ability to make the hike. My stepdad had just done it in March, so we knew he was able to make it. I thought we were golden...

We got up very early on the day of our trek down, grabbed an expensive McDonald's breakfast, and got to the trailhead. We were "all optimism" at this point, looking forward to the 7-mile hike to Phantom Ranch. The beginning of the trip was cool, quick, and fun.

It got hotter, of course, as the sun rose in the sky. It also gets hotter as you descend the canyon. In some places, the rock walls are darker in color and radiate heat in addition to the sun's. We got a bit tired, rested regularly, and continued down. About 4.5 miles down, I began to feel exhausted. I slowed everyone down. Finally, my stepdad took off to drop his backpack at the bottom, planning to return to carry my backpack for me.

The footing was very rough along the South Kaibab trail. I began to have difficulty staying steady. I was drinking regularly and eating as much as I could. I didn't feel sick or cold, both signs of heat exhaustion. I was just exhausted, I thought. My husband lagged behind a bit because of the unsteady footing, as my daughter and I struggled down the canyon. We were getting low on water and were trying to conserve.

About 5.5 miles down the trail, I was suddenly and completely unable to breathe. I gasped in, trying to get air, and made a whistling squeak. My daughter laughed and said, "Who's making that funny sound?" I collapsed on the trail, grabbing for my inhaler as I realized I was in the midst of the worst asthma attack I'd ever had. I couldn't even breathe in enough air to breathe in the medicine. It was terrifying for both of us!

I continued to try to inhale the medicine, getting a little improvement each time. I was able to avoid totally blacking out, but only barely. By this time, I had crawled into a small piece of shade, and my husband had caught up with us. He told me to stay in the shade while he took our daughter to Grandpa, dropped his pack, and came back for me. I had to promise that I wouldn't try to stand up, not that I felt capable of such a thing.

I crawled a little farther down the trail to some deeper shade, leaving my pack behind. There were three people in the small circle of shade, but they welcomed me. In fact, they brought my pack down and arranged it so I could put my feet up on it. I immediately fell asleep or passed out; I honestly don't know which. The people were still there when I woke up. They said they were staying with me until my husband arrived. I thanked them and we prayed together. We all rested for another stretch of time, with time being so distorted for me that I don't have any idea of how long.

Eventually, they saw my husband down the trail, running our way. They took off, saying they would give three whistles when they met him so I would know how long it would be. Hearing those three whistles was awesome! My husband had brought water with him, which I drank thirstily. He had left our daughter with Grandpa, who had also gotten exhausted.

It took me two hours, ten doses of medicine, and a lot of assistance to reach the bottom of the canyon. I wheezed the entire way and collapsed into the creek to cool off. The trip, which was supposed to have taken 4-6 hours, had taken a total of more than 10 hours for me.

I had learned a lot: First, I did have exercise-induced asthma, even though I'd always thought I only had allergy-induced asthma. Second, the first symptom of my exercise-induced asthma seemed to be a feeling of complete exhaustion. If I used my rescue inhaler at that point, I could probably avoid the extreme asthma attack. Third, this was my first and last hiking trip to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

I had spent a lot of time praying during that hike. I had spent a lot of time thinking while I sat in the shady space with my helpers. It seemed to me like this hike was a lot like the slippery slope of being captured by sin. The place I had found myself, completely at the mercy of my asthma, had seemed like such a surprise. I had no idea why my body was struggling so, just like we often have no idea why our lives are becoming increasingly difficult as we slip into sin. It's only when our whole lives collapse that we recognize the signs that marked our sin problem.

There are signs, both of asthma and of being overtaken by sin. We have to watch for them! We must stay awake and be ready! (Luke 12:35) For me, knowing the signs of my exercise-induced asthma opened my eyes to many times when I had been experiencing asthma symptoms without realizing it (over the course of several years). As Christians, we must pray that God will open our eyes to the signs of  our slippery slide into sinfulness. We must be diligent in our examination of our lives. And we must act when we see signs of sin.

Because I was aware of the asthma signs, I was able to hike out of the Canyon after a day of planned rest. It took a long time, 14 doses of medication, and some help with my pack, but I made it without any collapses or acute asthma symptoms. Even though it rained for about 3 miles, making us really cold, and the trail was almost twice as long (but mostly less steep and more shaded), we all did it!

God is good.

PS I will be seeing my doctor in about a week to discuss managing my asthma better.