Lessons from Handbells

Christmas / Music / Uncategorized

Lessons from listening to a handbell choir

Everyone has their own bell to play.
Each bell sounds different from the others.
Not everyone plays the same number of times.

Some bells need to be played very softly.
Some bells are played loud and often.
Sometimes a bell is played with glad abandon, holding the bell up and letting its tone resound.
Other times a bell is played very briefly, and then tamped to stop the ringing.
Many times bells are played at the same moment, making beautiful harmonies.                                                   

No one gets to do whatever they want.
No one is critical of the sounds the other bells are making.                                                                                             

The sound is beautiful and whole only when everyone plays their own bell at the right time.

Everyone watches the leader (not each other) and obeys his every gesture with no comment.

Playing the bells together beautifully did not happen overnight. It took work, practice, and dedication.
At the end of the song, everyone is happy with the work and the music they were able to make together.

The leader of the choir is especially happy.

The audience is simply delighted.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ, we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”

Romans 12:3-8 NIV

Learning About Brokenness by Actually Being Broken

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Broken Leg / Brokenness


About a month ago I broke my leg while in Orange County to celebrate my granddaughter Emma’s 16th birthday.  Though I had had a knee replacement on the same leg 3 months before, I was well recovered from that and my slip on a steep driveway covered in leaves was just a simple mishap that could’ve happened to anyone.

Nonetheless, it does make you wonder why such a thing should happen!? Sometimes we may think that I was just going too fast in life and God wanted to slow me down!  If that is the case, then mission accomplished, since I cannot walk or drive. I am slowed to a stop.

But the loving Father that I know does not trip his children and put them through pain, suffering, canceled vacations, and endless inconvenience just to teach them a lesson. We do not serve a punitive God. He is not just waiting for us to fail or fall short so that he can strike us down with some difficulty as a learning exercise.

In our desire to see the Lord at work in all things, perhaps we sometimes oversimplify?

I think rather the Bible teaches us that all through life both good and difficult things happen to all people. And all of them happen with God’s permission. We His children then have the opportunity to learn to trust God and be content in a new way,  whether the thing that has happened is good or difficult.

If we see that God’s overall will for us, or the “why” of the things that happen to us, as always having a similar purpose then the events of life seem to come together and be part of a whole.

Why do things happen? What is the purpose of our lives? While we are here on earth, our lives are all about the business of becoming more like Jesus. And any circumstance will do to teach us about that, and how to trust our dear Lord in a deeper way.

For me, the emotional brokenness and learning curve of pain, discomfort, inconvenience, helplessness, anxiety, and disappointment over canceled plans and opportunities are plenty without wondering if God is trying to “teach me a lesson” in the corrective sense.

I can see the hand of a loving God in this fallen world where bad things happen all the time to everyone in redeeming this particular bad thing in my life. I have a choice as to whether my broken leg is a redemptive experience or just a terrible experience. I was recently reminded that these in-between times of life, in the space between what isn’t anymore and what is to come, can be when God does gritty, sanctifying work.

Please pray for me and for everyone in difficulty, that we will allow God to redeem our times of trial by drawing us closer to his dear self.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

Filipinas on my heart

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Babies / Breastfeeding / Cross cultural ministry / If Gathering / Traveling

I had the magnificent opportunity to engage with Filipino village women on some topics dear to my heart a few months ago. An opportunity I almost missed because I am fond of leisure and comfort. But in a rare-to-me display, God pressed it on my heart to accompany my husband. Here’s the story, written for a quarterly publication for our denomination.

The unwelcome thought was hovering at the edges of my mind at the IF:Gathering (a women’s conference) in February 2017. We women were being urged to consider expanding our vision of who God wanted us to minister to. I thought of the Bible study I lead, the woman I am discipling, and also, reluctantly, of the Philippines, a country I had never been to. The idea stayed in my mind and when we wrote names on small tiles at the end of the conference as a reminder to take home, I found myself writing: Philippines.

My husband had already taught several times at the Bicol Center for Christian Leadership (BCCL) in Legazpi, a city in southern Luzon Island. The center was begun by NAB missionaries, and has been headed up by national leader Mayette Ativo-Bueno since 2004. Steve’s next trip was scheduled in September 2017, and I couldn’t escape the sense that I needed to accompany him this time.

I didn’t mention this to him right away, but he saw the tile on my desk. “The Philippines?”  “Oh yes, that. I think I need to go with you,” I admitted. My husband was thrilled at having me come along, but since we had lived in SE Asia previously, I knew well the demands of the tropical climate and the long travel hours. I admitted it was not really my idea, but it did seem to be God’s. Elisabeth Elliot has said that obedience to God is the greatest consolation, and this I am in tune with. I have learned there is no shame in not wanting to do difficult things, but when God makes his will clear we have to trust he will enable and sustain us too. So plans were made.

If I went to the Philippines, I wanted to be helpful, not just an extra passenger. I began corresponding with Mayette about where I might be able to contribute as I am an RN and a private practice lactation consultant (IBCLC) in California. She had the idea to do health conferences around the area and began setting them up with her contacts. I would teach about infant feeding and hygiene to village women and health care workers. Mayette could see that these conferences as a service to the communities would strengthen bonds between BCCL and local churches where graduates were ministering.

My first conference was at a church building in Tabaco City, a small suburb of Legazpi that lies at the foot of the Mayon Volcano. It has been active for the last 400 years, but during our visit it was only smoking! The trip of about 20 miles took an hour and a half as roads are bad and full of bicycles, motorcycles and pedestrians. We arrived to people crowding into the open meeting area of the unfinished building. Mayette had brought a portable fan that worked on batteries, but it was already meltingly hot.

I had prepared three talks, and the original plan was to give them over the course of the day (or so I thought). Now Mayette said instead we would do the three one hour talks back to back with a few minutes break in between for questions. That way we wouldn’t have to be in the heat so long, and we were more likely to keep our audience which was by now about 200. There were mostly women, but several men, a good many children, and a couple of dogs who made themselves comfortable at my feet.  Clearly this was the most interesting thing happening in this village, so anyone passing by wandered in.

Happily, there was also a small group of health care workers on the front row, taking notes and encouraging me with smiles and nods.

The women were attentive and laughed at my jokes, so I felt that they were tracking with me, always a concern when you are communicating cross-culturally. Mayette helped with translation. I taught on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding (no other added foods or liquids) for babies up to six months, especially when clean, quality food is difficult to obtain. I also went through some how-to’s and best practices. I had researched breastfeeding attitudes and customs in the Philippines, so tried to mention things I knew they would relate to.

The questions they asked were interesting, and I was so happy they felt free to talk about what was on their minds. Some of the questions were:

“If a mother needs to breastfeed the baby at least a year, won’t the milk turn sour by then?” (this one from a young father who had wandered in)

“If a mother breastfeeds the baby on the same day that she is doing the washing (by hand), won’t the baby get a cold?”

“If a mother is sick, should she still breastfeed the baby?” (This is a common question I get in the US too.)

At the end of our few hours together, I asked the women what they learned. Here are the encouraging responses:

~Breastmilk keeps the baby from getting sick.

~Breastfeeding protects the mother from cancer.

~If I breastfeed, I will have more money to buy food for the rest of the family.

My second conference a few days later was in Sorsogon City, where BCCL has a satellite location. My husband taught there as well as in Legazpi. It was attended by about 100 women plus the requisite children, dogs, and stray men. I was using a PowerPoint with many pictures of Filipino women breastfeeding to be sure women felt connected to what I said. When I saw all the men present, we asked the women if they felt comfortable. After all, I was going to be showing pictures of a few nearly bare breasted women and in addition we’d be talking about women’s menstrual cycles. The women laughed and said it was fine, they were all married women!

My talks in both cities on hygiene went particularly well as I had found articles and cartoon pictures of typical Filipina myths about women’s health and reproduction. The women even filled me on a few more common beliefs! This topic also gave me the opportunity to remind the women of how wondrously they have been made by God (reading Psalm 139) and how proud they should be of their bodies’ amazing capabilities. Culturally, women in the Philippines are still ashamed of their bodily functions and occupy a more traditional position relative to men as being much less important. I believe the women enjoyed the chance to talk freely about these matters with a health care professional and have many of their concerns put to rest.

In Sorsogon City most of the women were part of Compassion International, receiving benefits through sponsorship. I had brought dozens of small decorated Bible verse cards to be colored, along with colored pencils. Before and after the talks the women greatly enjoyed spending a few minutes coloring and having one each to take home.

My third and last conference was for health care workers, and I hoped for this one to bring lasting change since it is always most effective to teach the teachers. However the night before, the conference was cancelled due to an emergency meeting that was called by the government. We were all disappointed at this. I met with the teary woman who had organized the meeting and left her all my written materials and PowerPoints so that she could use them as the opportunity arose. Flexibility is certainly one of the first requirements for successful missionary work.

This picture is taken from our apartment above one of the main streets of Legazpi of smoking Mayon Volcano and scary electric wires.

Because of my trip I developed a true love for the Filipino people, who were endlessly kind, welcoming, and hungry for spiritual food.  I believe the women were truly encouraged in feeding their babies the best way possible and taking care of their own amazing bodies.

Obedience to the Lord does not always bring pleasure and comfort, but instead something much better: the knowledge of a job well done just for His own dear sake.

Southern Musings from Rand Terrace

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I am in the South again for three days after being away more years than I can say. I’ve already said y’all about a dozen times and been called honey, darlin’ and ma’am, all to my delight! I’ve had grits, fried chicken, and BBQ and been offered sweet tea, though I like it plain.

I attended a thought-provoking lecture by a world-renowned philosophy professor and then discussed it over salad in the student dining hall with friends I’ve known since I was 18. I enjoyed bluegrass at a famous hole in the wall venue and danced to “soul” music under the moon.

I even spent some time doing something that rarely happened as a busy student, I’ve been sitting on Rand Terrace watching the world go by for nearly an hour, enjoying the splendid campus I was privileged to spend four years on. My friends and I have laughed about memories, antics, mistakes, being young; caught up on locations, retirement, and grandbabies.

We all agree that the cultural and physical landscape of our youth is always the one that fits like a favorite glove. The softness of the South is undeniable, maybe indescribable. Sure feels good to be so comfortable.  But California has a deep stake in my life by now.

Best of all has been the many deep conversations with the remarkable people I went to college with. We’ve come from our far-flung places to be remembered for who we were, and recognized for who we are.

It is rich and I am thankful.

Old-fashioned me

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Cooking dinner / Food / Grandparenting / Mothering / Writing

Girl ironing

1. I believe in love at first sight; it happened to me. Okay, maybe not first sight since I am not that shallow, but at first conversation. I knew then,  but he did not for many months. Somehow I managed to keep it to myself until he had seen the light! We’ve been married 45 years, and are each others’ biggest fans.

2. I use cotton handkerchiefs and so does my husband. I even iron them. Not bragging, it’s just what I do.

3. Intimacy in marriage should be part mystery, part direct communication. I’m not going to explain that any further, thus showing just how old-fashioned I am.

4. I cook dinner most every night. Both because I am old-fashioned, and because I like to cook.

5. I still iron many things (see #2). But I have a very cool and modern iron that makes it super easy to get great results. Putting your head down at night on a clean, ironed, high thread count pillowcase is a great pleasure in life, and you will sleep better.

6. I love my children first, my grandchildren second. This may not be old-fashioned, but it seems like conventional wisdom is that the grandkids kinda replace your kids. Not so for me.

7. My husband and I talk all the time, about big and little things. This is perhaps why we are still married? We do not lead separate lives like many more modern people. But we also do many things separately because we are very different people and have different interests and opportunities. And then we talk about what we did and thought. Mostly the talking about thoughts is me.

8. I grow lavender, dry it and strip the flowers to make little sachets, pillows, and lavender wands. Lavender is delightful.

9. I love to make pickles and jam and can them. My shelves of home-canned goods are like a treasure to me, and I look at them with pride.

10. I like real books. I like the way they feel and smell, and I find it’s easier to go back and re- read something I like. But I also use a Kindle.

11. Nothing beats an actual letter for saying important things, even just thank you. There is intimacy and care in putting a real pen to real paper. I confess I do this more often because of my affection for #12.

12. I own several fountain pens with cartridges in wonderful colors and I have lots of pretty notecards and a little bit of monogrammed stationery. There is great tactile and visual pleasure here.

13. And speaking of monogramming, true to my Southern roots, I am very fond of it. On linens, handkerchiefs, and clothing, it is a small and elegant indulgence. My daughters are a little horrified that I have our bed linens monogrammed the old fashioned way……with my married initials and not his. That’s because I’m in charge of the house!!  See? Old-fashioned me.

Another Way to be Resolute in the New Year

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January / Learning / New Year's Resolutions / Time

I recently took an afternoon and fled the red glitter, lego pieces underfoot, and cookie crumbs that have permeated every corner of my home, the detritus of a happy holiday with my large wonderful family.

I escaped to the public library. I found a lovely table all my own facing a window and spent a few hours thinking, praying, reading, writing, and contemplating my calendar. I had found a little notebook no one had scribbled in, and began it fresh on the first page.

Thank you to Emily P Freeman for inspiring me to follow through on my hopes and dreams by giving me a way to form resolutions I thought I could handle. I began by thinking through the past year in specific categories and listing out which things or people gave me energy and life and which ones drained me of energy.

This has led to a few surprising results and a couple of decisions as to how I invest myself in these days of my life. The time spent also allowed me the luxury of enjoying and appreciating all the positives (I actually put a + sign by them) that help to make my life rich and meaningful.

The things that drain me were not numerous, but revealing nonetheless. We cannot always choose to eliminate those activities/people from our lives, and I do not believe that God means for us to fashion our lives around comfort and ease.  But naming those areas as difficult means I am more intentional about how I approach them, more aware, more prayerful since I am acknowledging to myself that help is definitely needed.

A few areas were both energy giving and energy draining. And that is life, not just 21st-century life which we always believe to be far more complicated than life in the past, but just real life. Life is complicated and contradictory, and it is energy draining to try to simplify it more than that.

Emily also suggested looking back over pictures of the past year to relive and pay attention to your life. I chose my top ten pictures of events on Instagram and listed them in my little notebook for present pleasure and future perusal. What an amazing year.

Finally, I made a page of conclusions, ever the finisher. I listed what I need more of (kinda like resolutions!), how I might make that happen, and what I need less of, which mostly means more self-discipline.

It’s a start, and I’m grateful for that. Here’s to a full tank of energy for the new year!

Franee’s Famous Nut Bread Recipe

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Some asked for the recipe……..here it is!


Mix in large bowl with a whisk:

8 cups flour (I use mostly whole wheat)

8t baking powder

3 t salt

Add: 2 cups sugar

1 box raisins

1 box currants

2 cups chopped nuts

I like to mix all of this in by hand to coat all the fruit and nuts with flour.

Add: 4 eggs

4 cups milk

Stir it all up, pour into four greased and floured (I use Pam on sides and parchment paper on the bottom of each pan), and let stand 20 minutes. (I think to let the air bubbles out) Bake at 325  for about an hour. I poke something sharp into the middle to be sure it’s done. You can use 2-3 mini pans for one of the loaves for nice giveaways. They bake around 40 minutes.

The amounts of nuts and fruit are negotiable, use what you have! If you like to use self-rising flour, you can substitute 8 cups for the first three ingredients.

Enjoy, and be sure to laugh a lot!

Thankfulness, that age old cure all

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Christmas / Recipes

Today I mixed up my yearly batch of Franee’s Famous Nut Bread. Franee is my beloved mother in law who went to heaven many years ago. I first had it in her kitchen at Christmas time a few months after meeting my husband.

The bread is rich with nuts, currants, and raisins, and after we married and moved away she gave me the recipe. Now I love making this bread at this time of year and thinking about her. Up to my elbows in whole wheat pastry flour, I was just filled with thankfulness.

I am deeply blessed to have known her and been part of her family for 16 years before she died. She was a woman who’d had a hard life yet was full of love and joy and a healthy bit of crazy. I knew her and loved her, and she knew me and loved me.

That is what it’s all about, my friends.

It is 2 days before Christmas while I am baking, and the whole laundry list of things that need to be done soon is marching through my brain, stress, and anxiety hovering around the edges.

But seeping into my soul as I cook is a simple gratefulness for this woman, for this recipe that I can prepare to bring her back to our minds and hearts, and for the wonderful bunch of people who will be here in a couple of days to eat this bread.

The threatening cloud cover of anxiety just floats away, because really none of it matters. The cure for our so called holiday stress is just to pay attention and be thankful for all the grace, all the blessing, all the good.

Have yourself a merry little thankful Christmas.

Comparison is the Thief of Joy, Even on Mother’s Day

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Mother's Day / Mothering

I shared preaching with two pastors  (one my husband!) this Mother’s Day. Here’s what I said:

Comparison is the Thief of Joy image

Theodore Roosevelt said “Comparison is the thief of joy”, and he was a man who did not try to match up his life with other’s lives. But for us as women, and perhaps especially as mothers, our lives are often filled with the noise of comparison with others and an obsessive need to be perfect. How can we begin to cut through this noise?  This issue is right in the front of the brain of any woman or teenager, but it is a factor in the life of everyone who is human.

Comparison steals our joy and can rule our lives.

Why do we always feel we are not good enough?  We don’t think we are:

  • as good,
  • as organized,
  • as good-looking,
  • as good of a mother,
  • as good of a father,
  • as hard of a worker,
  • as nice,
  • as educated,
  • as smart,
  • as young,
  • as old,
  • as well dressed,
  • as rich,
  • as gifted,
  • as funny,
  • as popular……

you fill in the blank.

We all constantly compare ourselves to what we observe about other people. This information often has little to do with reality, but it is the tape that runs in our heads all the time.  And this tape forms how we feel about ourselves and how we evaluate our lives.

In our age of social media, we have even more opportunities for unfavorable comparisons.  Everyone’s life looks better than mine on Facebook and Instagram, right?

 We are all super aware of our own failings, and we see others appearing to succeed where we fail or fall short.

Putting aside outside appearance for a moment, the truth is we ARE constantly imperfect in our behavior and words and maybe most especially our thoughts towards others.  We know we are not good enough for other people, and we suspect we are not good enough for God either.

We can try to talk ourselves out of this with the comfort of, “You are good enough, and you are wonderful just as you are.” For me, nothing epitomizes this message better than the women’s magazines in the grocery checkout aisle.  Here’s how one woman describes it,

“I sit down and let myself sink into the glossy

comfort of my favorite magazine. With each turn of the page

I’m assured that I can have perfect skin,

that I do have the power to get any man I want,

that I if I overhaul my wardrobe I can overhaul my

life, that if I just commit 15 minutes a day to the

latest workout I can get the perfect beach body! 

Apparently, I can have it all… So why do I feel… hopeless?”

Somehow this message does not work for most of us. We feel we are in a prison of comparison where we are always falling short.

The Bible actually offers a whole new pattern for living which answers this craving we have to be as good as others.  This new way of living is for us to create true community by being honest with each other about ourselves.  Being vulnerable and open about our struggles can begin to build intimacy.   And intimacy can replace this fear that we are not good enough which is the basis of comparison.

With honesty comes the realization that everyone else struggles just like we do.

Vulnerability, being open about what is hard for us, requires an atmosphere of trust and the assurance that we will be safely loved when we are honest.  Do you have honesty and acceptance in a trusted community?  What can you do to build this into your life?

The New Testament shows an example of community as the Christians lived together, sharing everything, helping those in need.  The sacrificial love mentioned in so many places in Paul’s letters comes from this love that was not jealous and self-promoting.

Maybe this sounds good to you, but you don’t know how to go about it.

As a mother, I can tell you I love each of my children beyond their understanding, and regardless of how or whether they deserve it.  If I love them this much, can you even imagine the love of God for us which is so many times more powerful?  We must begin with understanding deep in our own hearts the freeing vastness of God’s love for us.

When I think of the greatness of this great plan I fall on my knees before God the Father and I pray that out of the glorious richness of his resources he will enable you to know the strength of the spirit’s inner reinforcement—that Christ may actually live in your hearts by your faith. And I pray that you, firmly fixed in love yourselves, may be able to grasp (with all Christians) how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ—and to know for yourselves that love so far beyond our comprehension. May you be filled through all your being with God himself!  Ephesians 3:14-19, Phillips Version

When we have let this love sink in, we can really begin to understand God’s grace in our own lives.  Being loved melts our need to do more or appear better so we can get the admiration and acceptance of others.

Psalm 93:4 says, “Mightier than the waves of the sea is his love for you”

When we fix our eyes on God and let ourselves understand his complete approval of us, an approval and deep love not based on outward appearance or on behavior, then we can begin to offer grace to ourselves and to others.

That is my prayer for each of us today.

Nairobi to Kilimanjaro to Olduvai

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Cross Cultural / Cross cultural ministry / Tanzania / Traveling


Next morning our taxi driver from the night before was there right on time at 6:30 am to catch our plane for our short flight to Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Unfortunately, the famous mountain was completely clothed in clouds, so we missed the view.

Safely through customs, all bags arrived, we went to meet Amanda and Bill Batterson and their son Owen who were waiting just outside. They were very happy to have the suitcase full of supplies we brought for them. And we were almost as happy to be doing it for them. So many people have done so much for us over the years, it felt good to make a  difference for this young couple we had never previously met.

We kept waiting for our safari guide and finally called the office in Arusha who said they’d check on it. A few minutes later Isaya walked up and said he’d wondered if we were the ones, but it looked like we were being met by someone already. Loaded up and headed out for a very long day of driving, heading through Arusha, across the massive plains dotted with cattle and Maasai tending them,  all the way to Olduvai, making a much-anticipated stop  at the overlook to the Ngorongoro Crater National Park which  was magnificent.








We arrived in Olduvai Camp in time for the famous walk to Sunset Rock just behind the camp. Our Maasai guide named Laurencia (or Lora) was chatty and affable as we climbed up and enjoyed the view. Below us was a boma or Maasai village and lots of Maasai helping to herd the animals in for the night. Lora said they keep the bank (the animals) in the middle of the village, and keep a guard all night. He sat patiently talking and telling us stories for over an hour, including one about the time he killed a lion. I have an idea this was not a tall tale.


Our tent is lovely and comfortable, quite amazing out here in the middle of nowhere.
We are exhausted by dinner, but afterwards decided to sit by the campfire a few minutes with our Maasai friend who was waiting to walk us back to our tent. It was a beautiful, clear, dark night and I pulled out the sky guide app on my iPad to identify the stars and constellations. Laurenica was very interested in this and held it up to the stars, grinning like a kid. He loved seeing the constellations, many of which he could name.

The memory of this man who still lived as his ancestors have for hundreds of years looking with absolute delight at the night sky through this scrap of technology, this picture will stay with me.