Wednesday, November 17, 2010


After 35 years away from the college scene, I found myself back in a classroom in a creative writing class. Based on my brother-in-law’s experience as a college professor, I assumed I was as good a writer as the rest of them—or hopefully even better. I looked around at my classmates that first day wondering who they were, and as days turned into weeks I soon found out. Although Alisha’s piercing stood out in her round face and I smelled the smoke of a smoldering fire in her breast whenever she talked about her parents, her writing talents had won her a place as a contributor to the school’s prestigious newspaper. Quiet, red-headed Betsy was an art major who wrote great poetry about her photography. Even David the dental student was an excellent writer. Observing these talented students, my hopes of being their equal melted as quickly as butter in a hot iron skillet, and I decided it was wiser to follow that old adage to keep my mouth shut and be thought smart than to open it and remove all doubt. Happily, during that first month of class my scheme worked and I was able to maintain my facade.

But that soon came to an end. One day the teacher called the entire class out to the lawn to contemplate a water fountain gracing the campus landscape. Delicate arcs of water sprayed from nozzles into a shallow pool and our assignment was to write inspired lines of poetry while looking at the fountain. I stared blankly at the water, trying to think up a clever simile that would impress my colleagues. I imagined the arc of water as prancing horses, maybe a lady’s full, white petticoat, or even a contortionist. Our time was up all too quickly and the teacher called us to sit in a large circle on the grass so each student could read his or her poem to the class. I felt a twinge of panic.

The first person read his four lines using beautiful prose. Strange, I thought, his lines didn’t rhyme. The second student’s didn’t either, nor the third. Like the first rays of light stealing over the mountains, it slowly dawned on me that these students were on a different level than I was. I’d always thought poetry needed to rhyme, but now my rhyming lines appeared somehow amateur and childish. I felt embarrassed just thinking about how they would sound to their “professional” ears. Betsy compared the fountain to a baker scattering flour, and I gasped inwardly when Becky said the fountain was like an orgasm. As my turn got closer and closer, I saw the destruction of my facade approaching like an army tank advancing in slow motion toward its victim. Blood rushed to my face; my heart beat accelerated. Somehow, a fifty-six-year-old missionary seemed terribly out of place in the midst of these incredibly creative young people. Then it was my turn. Slowly, I opened my mouth, and each syllable uttered into that warm, autumn air sounded more like a death rattle than beautiful poetry. Like Adam and Eve after the fall, I had been found out. I felt naked and ashamed.

Throughout that semester, I struggled to write to the best of my ability, but the teacher handed out complements like a miser giving money to a beggar, and I concluded I was just “average”—not the stunning writer I tried to be.
Feelings of inadequacy…who wants them? How many times have I stood before a crowd of people to sing or speak feeling inept and unqualified and praying desperately for God’s help? How many times have you felt inadequate in roles you were asked to fill? Is it just human nature or are these feelings of inadequacy another manifestation of prideful competition? Is there something to learn in these situations? In the past I may not have recognized it, but I am beginning to understand that God is somehow, in these agonizing moments, using these feelings of inadequacy to drive me to lean on his strength.

I’m thankful for the Apostle Paul. After giving a recital of his accomplishments to the Corinthian church, he tells them he was given a thorn in the flesh to keep him from getting proud. (Does that make a light go on?) After pleading with God to take it away and being refused, he proclaims, “Now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me…I am quite content with my weaknesses…for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9b-10).
God used a thorn in his flesh to give Paul a crystal clear picture of himself: a weak, inadequate Paul, who by insisting on doing things in his own strength, could actually block the divine power from flowing through him. Paul needed a “reality check”—just like we do.

Is God the one sending us these feelings of inadequacy then? Not necessarily. Not all feelings of inadequacy are part of a divine scheme. A general feeling of inferiority is not God-sent and is often a result of wrong thinking patterns. False humility, refusal to recognize personal abilities or putting oneself down to look humble, is also of human origin.

We also need to differentiate between unpreparedness and inadequacy. If we are asked to teach a class, but don’t prepare, we may feel inadequate and rightly so, but that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s about responding to what we feel God is asking us to do—be it in our secular job or in a ministry at church: teach a class, preach, sing, counsel, lead a group of people or pray— and in spite of preparing for the task, we still feel inadequate.

Moses is a great example. In his early phase, he oozed self-confidence as he strutted around the country in his royal garb, a well-prepared man who had probably graduated from the best schools, who certainly lived in the best house in Egypt and had the richest, adopted father in the country. Moses was “The Man of the Year!” He was so self-confident that one day as he was visiting the Hebrew slaves, he felt justified in killing an Egyptian man!

Fast-forward forty years. God and Moses are having a conversation and God has just finished asking Moses to return to Egypt to deliver his people. And Moses says, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? How can you expect me to lead the Israelites out of Egypt? Look, they won’t believe me!” Moses incites God’s anger when he says, “I’m just not a good speaker. I never have been, and I’m not now…Please, send someone else.”

Does that sound like the same Moses?

I don’t think anyone likes to feel weak or inadequate. Self-confidence and capability suit us so much better. Yet, God couldn’t use Moses until his unhealthy, self-confidence was broken and he saw himself as he truly was: weak and inadequate for the divinely-appointed task.

So, in living the quotidian life, how should I change my perspective from excessive self-confidence to a healthy dependence on God, without falling into an unhealthy inferiority complex or passivity trap? Strange as it may seem, the word ‘clay’ may be the clue to our finding the answer.

1. Clay is commonplace. It is probably one of the oldest and cheapest materials accessible to man since creation. The Bible compares us to clay through the prophet Isaiah: “We are the clay; you [Lord] are the potter…” (Isa. 64:8) We’re pretty common stuff which may be why we might feel at times like the cartoon character, “Where’s Waldo?” Do I matter in the midst of more than six billion people? The answer is an emphatic YES. If we didn’t matter to God, He would never have died to redeem us.

2. Clay is useful. From Bible times until the present, clay continues to be used even though modern technology has presented us with plastics, stainless steel and other superior materials. Around the world clay pots continue to hold gallons of water and clay bricks shelter a large chunk of humanity. God desires to use us and will use us if we own up to our ‘clayness’—our weakness. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find this place of weakness more comfortable than I thought it would be. It’s so much better to be my real self than posing as Miss Self-Sufficiency.
3. Clay is fragil. Even a child can smash a clay jar or break a single brick, yet when supported by cement and steel its fragility can be transformed into strong, high-rise apartment buildings. We, too, can be useful though fragil. We don’t have to put on the bold face—the big talk. God wants us to be ourselves. Many times I've prayed that prayer, “Lord, help me. I don’t think I can do this.” And then he comes and fills my clay vessel with his own presence and power. I have a hunch this is the true meaning of humility, not, as it is sometimes portrayed, as a poor or illiterate person. Humility is taking off the mask and the costume and allowing others to see the “real” me.

4. The value of a clay vessel is in what it contains. Would you rather have a clay pot filled with a thousand gold coins or a silver pot filled with dirt? Paul exults in our weakness, “But this precious treasure—this light and power that now shine within us—is held in perishable containers, that is, in our weak bodies.” (2 Cor. 4: 7) When we are willing to be seen as clay—inadequate, incapable or even less intelligent than we feel we are—yielded to the potter’s will—the light and power of Christ can shine forth… “So everyone can see that our glorious power is from God and is not our own.” (There’s no room for pride to grow here.)

Jesus is always the perfect example. “Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing” (Phil.2.6-7a). The word ‘nothing’ rings of inadequacy and weakness, doesn’t it? Jesus chose to minister from a place of weakness, not strength. He, the omniscient, all-knowing God, chose to depend solely on the revelation of the Holy Spirit when he walked this earth. He, the omnipotent, all-powerful God, chose to become the helpless prisoner of Roman soldiers. He, the omnipresent, ever-present God, chose to constrain himself to the limitations of the human body.

God calls us to be ‘nothing’ as well. He calls us to minister from our weakness, not our strength, from a place of dependence, not independence. He is calling us to be nothing—so he can be everything.

This, then, is how we should respond when God asks us to minister: Instead of fleeing situations that make us feel weak and inadequate, we embrace them as opportunities to trust God to use us in spite of ourselves. Then, as if on cue, the miracle begins.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

God Delights to Answer Prayer

As I stood facing the congregation, a middle-aged blond lady caught my attention. She sat to my right, and while I played the keyboard for the worship time, I thought I heard a quiet, operatic voice rise above the chorus of worshipers singing together. I scanned the crowd and yes, that voice did seem to come from the blond lady. She looked happy, I thought, but why did she sing out like that? Then it was our turn to sing. Pat grabbed the guitar and we started singing songs our band had recorded years ago. Pat noticed the blond lady singing along. Humm. At the close of the meeting, I stood off to the side to sell our cds. The blond lady approached me bubbling with enthusiasm, "When I was a teenager, our youth group used to sing all your songs..." She hugged me excitedly. "We had your cassette tapes and I still have your records! But, I've never been able to trace you down. Three months ago, I opened my window, looked out and prayed, 'God, I don't know where this band is or how to find them, but I would like to locate them.' Tonight, not only did I get to meet the band, but also the composer of the songs!"

Isn't God just somethin'else??

Monday, April 12, 2010


I hung the third panel of sheers late Saturday night, pleased as punch with the results--the flowing, filmy voil that graced the windows had the effect I'd dreamed of. (I love to bury my face in the middle of all that fluff because it reminds me of a bridal dress.) The next morning I walked into the living room to admire my work in the light of day, but to my horror, the third panel of sheers was shorter than the others...and not just a teensy, weensy bit shorter, but a full inch and a half shorter!!! All this after I'd carefully measured, pinned and ironed the hem and taken the trouble to hang the drapes before sewing to compare lengths.

I don't know what the moral of this story is, but if you do, please let me in on the secret.

Thursday, April 08, 2010


I'm in the process of making curtains for the livingroom and altering old curtains for new windows. I've acquired a lot of savvy from my experience and would love to share it with you.

1) Take a refresher course in math before buying material. That way you won't have to look "dumb" when the clerk asks you how many yards you want.
2 It is smart to listen to the clerk who has way more experience in figuring out yardage than you do.
3) Listen to your husband (if he happens to be with you).
4) If you didn't listen to your husband OR the clerk and have to return to the store for MORE material, try to find a different clerk to wait on you. (Hint: less embarrassing)
5) Avoid sticking yourself with straight pins. It creates pain, and at times, blood.
6) If you notice blood stains on the material, follow this advice I heard somewhere: spit on the blood. Well, they didn't exactly say spit, but the idea is the same...use your saliva which has enzymes that begin to act on the blood stain before you make yourself get up and wash it out.
7) If you can actually make these curtains look nice, Congratulations, you have achieved your goal.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


We sang in church Sunday night, and it had been many months since Pat had played his Ovation. He took it to church and pulled it out of its very dilapidated case. When he reached inside the guitar to check out the battery, just like a magician's hat, out came this: Bella's pajama top and a decoration from the Christmas tree!!! Hmmmm, who was the magician who put those items inside the guitar?????

Sunday, March 21, 2010




It happens every now and then--nights when sleep won't come. This time, instead of tossing and turning in bed, I penned these lines while looking out my window at the lights of Curitiba.


Stop lights blink in reds and greens
Cars rush on in flight
Taxis orange cruise empty streets
No passengers in sight.

Billboards flash in purple hues
Neon paints the sky
Planes take wing in black of night
Wave red and white goodbyes.

Lamp posts don bright yellow caps
Silently they stare
Towers dot the sky with red
While stores show off their wares.

And here I sit in sleepless grays
Coloring the night
From fourteen floors above the street
Anxious for dawn's soft white.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Anything will do

We are getting packed up. Yup! A company is putting all our stuff into boxes and today before I knew it, all the plates had been packed away. I had grabbed two knives and two forks and two mugs. Alas! my hubby came up with the genial idea to use the cutting boards as plates.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Seven little socks
hanging in a row
Whose can they be?
Maybe I know.

The long ones are sister's
The striped must be her brother's
The little bitsy baby ones
Are surely not her mother's!

Looking lost without their mates
hanging in a row
Seven little socks
with no place to go.

I'll hold them to my heart
Pretend I hear a giggle
as I tickle tiny toes
until they're in a pickle!

Then quietly I'll hang them up
seven in a row
and pray God bless the little feet
wherever they may go.

Friday, January 15, 2010


I'm going through boxes and boxes of stuff because we are moving. Today I came across a writing assignment Michael had in the 2nd grade. His teacher asked him to write about "If I Were a Missionary"and answer the following questions:
1) What kind of work would you do?
2) Where would you live?
3) What kind of food would you eat?
4) What would be some dangers you would face?
5) How would you or what would you tell people about Jesus?

Here is what Michael wrote:

"If I were a missionary I would be a singer. I would like to live in the United States of America.
I would eat taco salad every day. I love taco salad.
One of the dangers I would face would be hitting my car in an accident. I would tell people that Jesus died to save them, and that they could be saved."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Marley Molly

The spirit of Marley is in our boxer Molly. The list of things she has wrecked keeps growing. Yesterday she started to chew off the paint by the garage that had bubbled up from the humidity. She escaped twice from her collar--(it is now hanging on a nail on the door)--and we don't know how she did it. She whacked off both of our decorative bamboo clumps that grow--er, used to grow by the side of the house and she helped herself to a huge, blue, beautiful hydrangea flower.

During the Christmas season I had cookies cooling on the kitchen counter. I left for an instant and the front door was open. When I came back, a whole row of cookies was missing. Another day she went for a third of a fruit cake. To spite her, I gave her the old, stale gingerbread men that no one wanted to eat!

I scold, wag my finger in her face, threaten her with spankings, and she hangs her head and looks up at me with those liquid brown eyes--then goes right back to being naughty! What can I do?

Twice she turned on the hose and after hours of water washing into the neighbor's yard, they came to tell us something we didn't know!!!!!!! Molly! Molly! Molly! What are we going to do with you?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

William Shakespeare said it but I'm loathe to find the "sweet" in it. After spending nine months with Michael, Cari, Bella and Caleb--and almost 5 months with Lilani-- parting is far from sweet. I think words like soul-wrenching, tearing apart, yank, rip and wrest are more appropriate. It just plain hurts. Someone tried to console me by saying that wouldn't I prefer they were far away, but happy with life than living close to me and unhappy? Yes, of course, but that doesn't stop the bleeding.
Walking past their now silent, empty rooms brings tears to my eyes, a wish that I could lift the curtain of time and bring them back. When I open my kitchen cupboards and see Caleb's batman glass and Bella's princess glass still sitting quietly in their spots, it feels like they are still close--maybe gone for the day, but surely returning and I can pretend they haven't gone at all.
Any vestige of their presence brings comfort: a lost hair bow, a Dora the Explorer card from a memory game, a baby crib, a mismatched sock, a size 3 camouflage T-shirt, a lonely baby wipe left in the little blue elephant container, toothbrushes and Crest whitening toothpaste from the States, a Canadian coin, an abandoned pair of torn bermuda jeans size 34. And those are just the tangibles. There are also the intangibles: memories of two blonde heads bobbing up the stairs in the morning for breakfast, of Cari on the computer, Michael coming home from work with a cold bottle of coke (!), willing helpers whenever Grandma made tocolate cookies, Caleb's "Tama, tama", Bella's art work, Lilani's smiles, Cari's encouraging words, hearing Michael say, "Want to watch a movie with us?" giggles and hugs, snuggling in Grandma and Grandpa's bed, enjoying Cari's "eye for a good picture", proud of Michael's musical ability....and so much more.

God has blessed each of us with a memory bank--a place to come back to where we can pick up each memory one by one, hold it close for a moment, then return it to its place. The best part is that He has also given us a special person, the Holy Spirit, who understands us perfectly, who consoles and comforts us until the wounds are healed.