Saturday, July 16, 2011

Outdoors



It’s been fantastic being outdoors these last few days. The temps are in the 70’s and the sun has been shining most of the time (like 22 hours/day) . Al showed me how to carve bark right off the birch tree so I’m planning some new basket making strategies. Yesterday we sat by the lake and had our coffee watching beaver, otter and eagle compete in the latest episode of Nature's Got Talent. Entertainment at it’s finest!

It isn’t all paradise though. My head is full of huge lumps from mosquitoes. Alaska mosquitoes are often mistaken for bush planes and they go for the hair. A phrenologist would have a hay day with me.

I’ve also discovered there is something that grows in Alaska that parallels southern poison ivy. Maybe it’s southern poison ivy. I shouldn’t be surprised. If there are southern Baptists here, I should have suspected southern poison ivy (that is NOT a spiritual commentary).

The scars have only just faded from the unfortunate poison ivy experiment of 2007 (some of you will recall my shame). Now I have a new patch of ugly itchiness on my leg. I know it will be with me for a while, so I’m calling it my Northern Lights tattoo, if anyone asks.

When my two commercial itchy creams (and one is prescription) didn’t phase it, Al just shook his head, made a poultice by boiling some weed growing in my backyard (which has an Indian name that no one knows how to spell) and had me hold it on for a few minutes. The inflammation subsided almost immediately. Wow! I woke up in itchy restlessness at 4AM, reapplied the creams that didn’t work, waited a while, then dug through the garbage for the remnants of my plant poultice. I heated it and reapplied it, and it’s 5PM now and still no itching. Did I mention Wow??!!

I was relating this story to Al’s brother, Thomas, and telling him I was going to gather lots of that plant, when he casually remarked that the medicinal plant and the poison plant look almost identical. Sheesh! That MIGHT be useful information!

Today we spent at the river fishing. Fishing the old fashion way: baiting a hook, casting it out there in just the right spot, reeling her in at just the right speed and Voile! I landed a 30 lb. salmon! It was harder to bring in than I thought. For every turn of my reel, the fish swam farther away. I yelled out, “Is this reel broken or what?” Al and Thomas just laughed and I huffing and puffingly finally pulled it in. It took forever but it sure was beautiful.

I know I’ll be sore tomorrow (but not itchy).

Monday, July 11, 2011

God Speaks

Last week a lady from the village (who knew I was hosting a ladies Bible study) asked if I was planning to have Sunday worship services. Without hesitation I said, “Yes, starting this week at my house.” I posted announcements in the post office and tribal center, but nobody came.

But as I was preparing for it, I happened onto Psalm 147. It’s a beautiful praise poem that begins,

“How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him!”

As I read through it, I was particularly drawn to verses 10-11:

“His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man. The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.”

For some reason I kept coming back to these verses. I read them night after night. I recited them over and over. I prayed them to God and had them memorized without really trying. I felt God was trying to speak something to me, but the deeper meaning was just beyond my grasp.

On Wednesday the phone rang. It was the tragic news that Steven, the son of my dear friend, Annabell, had fallen while hiking on Beluga Point. He fell 40-50 feet and landed on a rock. His neck and back were severely crushed, as well as several other bones. Barring a miracle, the doctors say he will never walk again. He’s 31.

I flew over to the hospital the next day, prayed with the family as Steven went into surgery, helped out as I could, then returned to the village Saturday with Annabell's brother and sister. It wasn’t until I was back with my Bible, back in my solitude, that I returned to my verses. Now I understood.

Today (Sunday) people did come to worship. I shared the Psalm with them. We prayed for Steven, for his family and for each other. God is speaking in this village. If only we will have ears to hear.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Like Children

Some friends from Anchorage came over yesterday and brought their two children, ages six and eight, to celebrate the Fourth of July. We built a fire on the beach from sticks and birch bark and roasted hotdogs. We played with our own fireworks then walked farther down the beach to enjoy the day with some others.

This morning I’m thinking how much life resembles children. No really, just think about it. Life has to be vigilantly watched, carefully managed, it tires you out. Just when you think you can sit down for a few minutes, something springs up in your face and, though you long to say, “Not now, please”, it won’t wait until you’re rested and ready.

It demands you! It wants you to carry its backpack and you know you have to, because the things in that pack are the very things that will give you peace later.

When you want to just relax and enjoy the beauty of the fireworks, life has to go to the bathroom. You know what I mean.

Life, like children, (if you want to do it right) cannot be turned over to someone else. You have to stay right there in it, moment by moment, accepting what it brings, trying to stay patient, always making decisions that are mostly small but sometimes very BIG. You have to learn to differentiate or you’ll go crazy.

Life tugs at your shirt when you’re trying to talk to your friends or do something with your hands. If you try to put it off, it will grow more persistent until you stop in your tracks and tend to it. If you’re gentle, it will smile at you. If you’re harsh, you can count on drama.

When you turn your back for one second, life goes through your things and starts asking questions you’d rather not answer. You wish you had hidden your valuables more carefully. Next time you’ll be ready for it (right!). It notices little things that others overlook and draws attention to itself with YOUR stuff. Don’t you hate that!

So what to do when life is dragging you along too quickly and you’d like to stop and regroup but you can’t. You remember that children, in all their annoying, exhausting glory, fill your heart so full that it overflows. Nurturing is tough, but oh, so worth the trouble. When they grab your hand and snuggle close, when they give you the beautiful pebble they found on the beach, when they plant a sloppy kiss on your cheek out of nowhere, when they take the wings you fastened on them and find the courage to jump and flap for all they’re worth (and NO, we really DID NOT do this to the children yesterday), when love blooms…….then you know that it all makes sense, it’s all part of the cycle God created for you.

My own children grew up, but they will always be growing still. Same with my sweet life.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Thoughts on Children's Ministry - Part 1


To those of you who felt obligated to make sarcastic remarks about sending your kids to me for VBS, I say “Let the torture begin!”

Seriously, when I reread my last post I thought maybe I would expound a little bit on the topic of children’s ministry (and try not to be cynical). It’s a deviation from my "God Help Me In The Alaskan Wilderness" theme, but it’s on my mind.

First, as an adult I can look back and see that the First Baptist VBS I attended (and disliked) as a child was not very child centered. I don’t know if it was representative of the day or not. I doubt if the spiritual formation of children was a hot topic in small town southern churches in the 60’s. Adults were front and center in the learning environment and didn’t pay much attention to how the children were responding. “Data driven” meant your dad drove you and JimBob to the movies (“Wuz yew and yore date a’driven to the show last night by yore paw?”) If children were orderly, then things were going well.

And, to be honest, I was a handful as a young child. My best old friend Louise says I was a bully (I think she was just a cry baby : ). I do remember being a good-time girl, a rule breaker and sneaker-arounder. I have probably suppressed memories of being chased and beaten by frustrated VBS workers who knew their own children would never behave like that.

But I do think it’s unfortunate that a great many adults who work in children’s ministries in churches today (mostly mommies) are untrained and na├»ve. Having been a classroom teacher for hundreds of years, I see how children interact and work at school in contrast to how they behave at church. It’s like night and day.

Church, in all it’s manifestations, is often condescending and patronizing to children. We want every child to feel happy, successful and to come back next week. So we focus on entertainment and foolproof activities (like the crafts I described in my earlier post). God forbid a child should leave church feeling introspective or uneasy.

But statistics show (I can’t believe I’m talking about statistics in my blog. What’s happened to me!!?)….Anyway, I’ve been told that the majority of children and teens who are involved in church end up leaving church (and the faith) as adults. This is not good!

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about the dangers of “cheap faith”. Nowhere is that more evident than in children’s ministry. It’s as cheap as it gets! I really believe it insults the intelligence of many children. They know their school teachers require so much more effort, discipline and creativity. They lose respect for the church and all it stands for.

Maybe a rich and lasting faith has to come slowly and painfully, like…..reading, writing and math. Not always fun, but well worth the effort, don’t you think?