Tuesday, August 19, 2014

one ordinary life

The trail along the Salmon River offered cool shade that August afternoon. Countless trees, some of them wider than I am tall, others just fledglings, flanked both sides of the river. My eyes landed on a massive trunk and I craned my neck to see its towering top. If that one tree wasn't here, how different this stretch of trail would be! You could almost miss it, the expanse of dull brown bark beside the trail. But it's absence would change everything. Beside the path on either side, leafy ferns crowded together in the shade of the tallest tree, safe from the sun's scorching rays.

Salmon River, Oregon. Photo: C Imes
I climbed down the bank and walked on the stones, worn smooth by centuries of melting snow. Glancing across the water, I noticed a fallen tree. The steep bank where it once stood proudly had been washed downstream, lacking roots to trap topsoil. I stood there, pondering. You could certainly take a tree like that for granted, one of many, until it is gone. The refreshment of a hike through the woods depends on a great number of ordinary trees, growing up side by side, steadily reaching heavenward and shading the earth with their spreading limbs. (Just outside the national forest, on the drive home, lay evidence of mass destruction, several acres hacked to the ground all at once, with their bloody stumps baking in the summer sun.)

Who are the shade-givers in my life -- the ordinary people whose faithfulness makes this world a place worth living? Good neighbors blend in with their surroundings, seeming ordinary enough. But if we pause to imagine life without their stability -- their day-in-and-day-out caring for their corner of the world -- we discover what a difference they make. Subtract one tree and you have a hole in the sky, fewer branches for nesting, the topsoil washes downstream. A bleak landscape gradually replaces the forest. The exposed branches of neighboring trees grow dry and brittle...

My mind drifts back to Hudson Street, the place I called home for the first 9 years of my life. I can still smell it -- the wholesome aroma of Suzie's bread wafting across the street. It's been almost 30 years, but I can still taste the soft buttered slice, fresh from her oven on baking day. Suzie's hands and face and apron smudged with white flour as she answered the door bell. Warm lumps rising in the oven. Then punching and pulling and rolling the dough until it was just right for braiding.

I can still hear her voice, strong and warm, with its European lilt. Swiss neighbors, like swiss chocolate and swiss bread, are hard to forget.

Is that why I've always felt a part of me come alive at the smell of fresh bread baking? It takes me back to those innocent days -- sandboxes and swings, gardens and neighbors who cared. There were others who didn't -- who were more likely to be drunk and yelling than pulling out their knee-high weeds, but Suzie and Marion made up for the whole lot. They were the stately oaks across my Hudson who kept the rich topsoil from washing away. It was their shade under which I flourished and grew. I know Suzie prayed for us then and still does.

I braided my first loaf the other day and thought of Suzie. Her steady demeanor, her no nonsense, no drama way of life. Her long, black (now white) tresses that I only rarely saw loose, when she brushed them. Every day she braided and twisted them into a bun on the back of her head. Suzie and Marion were nosy in the kindest way. "Mare" used to let himself into our backyard each day to check our thermometer and our vegetable garden, as if he didn't have enough of his own garden, bursting with produce. My brother, John, used to stand with his toes right up to the tippy edge of the sidewalk and call for him, "Mare! Mare!"

I'm guessing Suzie canned lots of things and cooked up a storm. But all I remember is her braided bread, for me one of the most delicious smells of childhood. (I wonder -- is her kitchen valance still hanging? -- the one stuck to the wall with the chewing gum I chewed just for her?)

A cherished visit with Suzie and Marion in 2005
I realize now that some of the houses I've imagined while reading books are really Suzie's house, with its galley kitchen looking out over the back yard, its family-sized table off the living room where her children ate their meals growing up, and where John and I sat after they were grown and gone, to fill our mouths with bread still hot from the oven. The piano with a hymnal close at hand. The living room with its inviting circle of couch and chairs. The box of children's books waiting to be read.

My world was a better place because of Suzie. She may be ordinary, but without her my life would have had an empty place. Suzie sheltered us on Hudson Street, providing a safe haven in a broken world. Her bread nourished the body and her company nourished the soul.

Never underestimate the power of an ordinary life well-lived.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

culinary adventures: grinding our own wheat

By far the biggest culinary adventure at our house was buying our own grain mill. We first heard about home-ground wheat from our friends Dan and Corrie 4 years ago. "Grinding your own wheat" sounds so . . . extreme . . . but I can assure you that Dan and Corrie and their 4 boys are totally fun and relational and, well, normal. They integrated home milling into their busy routine on a missionary budget. We were sold on the idea when we discovered the additional health benefits of home-ground flour, but we didn't have the time or kitchen space in Wheaton to take the plunge, so we waited until now.

The initial investment is substantial, including a mill, 25-lb. sacks of grain and food-grade buckets to store it in.* But the dividends are already rolling in! We can totally taste the difference between homemade bread using store-bought flour and home-ground flour. Our bread is just bursting with flavor, not to mention nutrients that are lost or compromised in store-bought flour. It only takes an extra minute to throw the grain in the mill before starting the breadmaker, bringing our total time for breadmaking up to about 15 minutes a week.

After tasting such delicious bread (and watching Bread Beckers' 'Getting Started' video), we were inspired to try all sorts of other baked goods. Here's a list of what we've made in just two weeks:

whole wheat bread
braided whole wheat bread
whole wheat / rye bread
whole wheat / kamut bread
hamburger buns
fry bread
pie crust
pizza pockets
sausage-filled roll
cheese sauce
whole wheat brownies
black bean / brown rice brownies
banana bread
cinnamon rolls

Check out all the grains we can mill right at home in our NutriMill:

The best thing I learned from Bread Beckers is that you only need a handful of basic recipes that you can adapt for different needs: basic bread dough, basic muffin batter, basic biscuits, basic pancakes and basic tortillas. For example, the basic bread dough recipe can make various breads, cinnamon rolls, rolls, buns, and more. We're getting lots of practice this summer so that when school starts we have the kinks worked out. Here's to healthy eating!

*You don't have to buy grains in bulk,
but it's cheaper in the long run, with the added
convenience of not running out of grain so quickly.
Bonus: look for a bread maker at Goodwill.
We've found them for only $8, like new!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

culinary adventures

Easton helping with homemade cinnamon rolls. Yum!
If it's true that "you are what you eat," then our family has been getting a total makeover this summer! We've been trying to eat healthy for a long time now, but our move to Oregon has given us the time and space to take things to the next level. Perhaps all the upheaval of moving (again!) is balanced out by measurable changes in our diet. I've discovered a couple of phenomenal blogs that have given me the courage to embark on culinary adventures. So, if you're wondering where I am these days ... think KITCHEN and Farmer's Market. Yes, it's absorbed a lot of my time, but we're busy learning new skills and developing new habits that will get easier with practice. The kids have been totally intrigued with the process and totally on board with trying new foods (well, mostly :)).

Here's a list of 10 changes we've made. The first 5 have been part of our routine for a couple years or more. You may remember my blog posts from Wheaton about brain food - here and here - and about once-a-month baking. The next 5 changes are new for us this summer, prompted by close proximity to Bob's Red Mill and a great Farmer's Market and a "chance" encounter with a couple of great blogs: www.100daysofrealfood.com and www.kitchenstewardship.com. Before I say more, a quick word about why I bother blogging about this when I'm not a nutrition expert and this is not a food blog. I'm convinced that we are called to honor God with our whole selves, mind and body. What we eat affects our worship and our testimony. It's also a matter of stewardship -- of our time, money, our body, and this planet's resources. This post is designed to inspire you to take the next step toward healthy eating, whatever that means for you. Eating real food is possible, even on a budget or a tight schedule. Where there's a will, there's a way, one step at a time.

 1. Avoiding artificial colors, flavors, hydrogenated oils, and sweeteners
 2. Limiting sugar (we're now switching to natural cane sugar, honey, and pure maple syrup)
 3. Eating whole grains whenever possible
 4. Baking our own bread
 5. Making our own baked goods

 6. Grinding our own grain
 7. Buying fresh and local produce
 8. Switching to olive and coconut oil
 9. Experimenting with green smoothies
10. "Stock"ing up on the basics

I have many other aspirations - making our own yogurt, cutting out chemically-laden cleaning supplies, growing a garden, and maybe even canning - but these things take time. We can only do so much in a day (usually less), so we'll just try to keep moving in healthier directions. So far it's been a fun and delicious adventure!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

thrust into the spotlight

10 days ago, most people in the world had never heard of SIM, even though our organization has been working around the globe for more than 120 years. The Ebola virus changed all that.

Now Anderson Cooper, Sanjay Gupta, President Obama, Donald Trump, the CDC, the WHO, and just about every other person with access to news in the developing world has heard of it.

Danny and I have been members of SIM for 12 years now, but as we settle into a new community, we're finding that lots of people we meet don't know what it is. Today's press release explains:
SIM is an international Christian mission with a staff of nearly 3,000 workers serving in more than 65 countries. In addition to medicine, SIM serves on every continent in areas of education, community development, public health and Christian witness. While SIM stood for Sudan Interior Mission when it was founded 120 years ago, it is now a global mission known as SIM. Two of SIM’s three founders died of disease within the first year of the organization’s founding. Yet SIM continued on to become one of the largest Christian medical missions in the world.
A few hours ago I watched a live press conference in Atlanta with our director, Bruce Johnson. No doubt his voice was heard on nearly every news network this evening. In the midst of a medical crisis, our SIM leaders and coworkers around the world have an unprecedented opportunity to "give an answer to anyone who asks us the reason for the hope we have" (1 Peter 3:15) in the face of suffering. Bruce did an outstanding job on this occasion, and he'll have many others in days to come. The disease threatening thousands of lives in West Africa may never have caught the attention of the West aside from this direct threat to American missionaries. Kent and Nancy are now known around the world as heroes who put themselves at risk for the sake of others in need.

I, for one, am grateful to belong to a band of people such as these. People who deliberately go where it's not safe. Who serve tirelessly where the need is greatest. Who have been doing so for ages without media attention. And who stand ready to give an answer for their hope in death's valley. Kent and Nancy (and the countless others like them who you will not see on the 10 o'clock news) remind me very much of Someone Else who gave up everything for the sake of the dying and lost His life in the process. May their tribe increase!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

this ordinary adventure

I'm not the only one who has struggled with feeling ordinary. I suspect it's a common ailment of those of us in our late 20's and 30's who set out to change the world -- full of ideas and loaded with energy -- and woke up one morning 2 or 3 children later only to discover that we had, somewhere along the line, slipped into the very lifestyle we were determined to avoid -- an ordinary one.

I've been encouraged by fellow blogger and friend-of-a-friend Chrissy Jeske, who often reflects on this very phenomenon. In fact, she and her husband have written a whole book about it. After an action-packed decade post-college living in rural Nicaragua, China, and South Africa (chronicled in their first book), they did the unthinkable. They bought a house on 2 1/2 acres in Southern Wisconsin, put both of their kids in public school, and started in on the inevitable homeowners' to-do list. Meanwhile Chrissy began a PhD in cultural anthropology and her husband, Adam, got a desk job. Since their timing coincided nicely with ours, I enjoy reading Chrissy's blog posts. She and I often wrestle with similar questions, and she has managed to find adventure in ordinary life.

Adam writes, "When I despair at the long, slow ordinary adventure, I stop and remember . . . God has graciously built into us habits of noticing small amazing things every day, responding wholeheartedly and taking small steps for long-term effect, and that makes a difference." (This Ordinary Adventure, 192, emphasis mine) 
"Today, I can notice the little amazing things around me and I can respond. I can take steps and make plans that will grow almost imperceptibly. I can make some small decisions that will have big effects, like sticking tiny acorns in the earth. When I'm gray and wrinkly, if God grants me that grace, I'll enjoy watching the sun rise behind oaks rather than across an open field. I'll look back on my life and see how small decisions and tiny steps began some very big adventures. I hope to see the results of a life well-lived: my gray, wrinkly and smiling bride; two kids living well in the world; a church filled with people I've known for decades and people who've just come in; projects and ministries that we supported with our money and time; and friends who I got to see start on this ordinary adventure with Jesus. It's doubtful I'll see all of these slow-growing fruits from seeds planted now, but surely I'll see some of them.
"This is a terribly big deal, and it makes me tremble again. Am I really willing to consider everything -- my dreams, my plans, my education, my job, my free time, my money, my friendships, my marriage, my parenting, my house -- in light of God's amazing calling on my life that should still be affecting the world ten, twenty-five, even a hundred years from now? Will I do what is necessary to prepare the ground for a field of oaks that will drop their own acorns, seeding and reseeding in generations of resurrections? Do I have the foresight and the patience -- the faith -- to find the best acorns and stick them in the dirt?" (This Ordinary Adventure, 191-192, emphasis mine)

Planting acorns is neither glamorous nor exotic. It's terribly ordinary. But it's the first and most important step in a process that ensures the world is a different place 50 years from now. In our new house I've been harvesting cups of blueberries every day for weeks, thanks to the foresight of the previous owner, who was not here long enough to enjoy the fruit of her labor. I'd like to think that writing a dissertation (or parenting small children, or serving faithfully at church) is a lot like planting an acorn. Patient study is not a quick fix for the world's problems, but it cultivates long-term growth that will offer tangible benefits for future generations.

What are you planting today that your grandchildren can enjoy? Godly parents? Stronger churches? Shady forests? Great literature? It may feel ordinary, but your wise choices day after day can eventually change some small corner of the world.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

embracing the ordinary

In the two months that have passed since my most recent post, a lot of life has happened:

  • 2 weeks in Israel on a study tour with my Dad, my doktorvater, and my pastor
  • 10 days to pack for a cross-country move and say our goodbyes
  • a garage sale in Wheaton
  • a drive across 7 states to our new home with a 3-day stop in Colorado to be with family
  • Easton's 6th birthday
  • the death of my grandmother, age 93, in Washington state and her memorial service the day after we arrived in Oregon
  • getting settled in our new home and integrating all of my grandma's things into it
  • reconnecting with friends and family
  • a garage sale in Oregon
  • finding a new church in our neighborhood
  • figuring out grocery stores, libraries, parks, museums, etc.
  • a 5-day camping trip with Danny's mom and all of his brothers and their families
  • helping with a week of Vacation Bible School at our home church in Oregon
  • getting the kids registered for school
  • organizing and re-organizing the garage to make room for Danny's office
  • buying a washer and dryer
  • beginning dissertation research again after a 4-month hiatus
With the exception of my trip to Israel, this list is not glamorous. It represents a lot of sweat and a lot of stress, and even a good deal of fun, but it does not appear to be a recipe for changing the world (or making a splash in academia, for that matter). This was brought home to me when I encountered a (very blunt) young adult from our home church this week who has watched the adventure of our life unfold over the past dozen years. He remembers when we set out for the Philippines in 2002, ready to reach the lost for Christ. Our early letters, he says, were exciting and inspiring. But then life got ordinary. We moved to North Carolina to work at headquarters, and our "biggest" news then was playing soccer [sic: kickball] with the neighbor kids. He didn't need to even mention our next move -- a journey into academic obscurity in Wheaton -- for me to get his point: we've become rather ordinary, nothing to write home about.

Fair enough, I told him, and moved on with the task of eating my dinner and getting ready to be mobbed by more than a dozen precious kids, well over half of them hispanic, for a loud and crazy night of VBS. All through the crafts, games, snacks, and Bible stories, I pondered our brief conversation. Was he right?

In my younger years, when we started our adventure in missions, I would have agreed with him. Life was too short to waste it on ordinary suburban life -- a house with a cute front yard, a minivan, 2.5 kids, plenty of time with family, and occasional trips to Disneyland. I still agree that if that's all there is to it, something is amiss. But a dozen years in ministry has taught me that the recipe for a transformed life calls for large quantities of patient, ordinary, faithful investment and only an occasional headline-making event. Going to Israel was great, for example, but the true fruit will come from years of Bible teaching injected with personal passion and on-the-ground experience. 

View of Ancient Shechem from Mt. Gerazim - Photo C. Imes
A Samaritan Village on Mt. Gerazim - Photo C. Imes
 On Tuesday night of VBS, we heard the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, which I've blogged about before. I was excited for two reasons. First, the story was being told in first-person by my teenage daughter, who did a fabulous job!  But I was also excited because I have been there. While we couldn't get to the well itself because we lacked a bullet-proof bus, we drove to the top of Mt. Gerazim and looked down into the valley where the ancient city of Shechem (and Jacob's well) has now been swallowed up by modern-day Nablus. 

We drove right through a Samaritan village and climbed off the bus at the site of their annual sacrifice (commemorating the sacrifice of Isaac on -- they say -- Mt. Gerazim). We saw their distinctive dress and saw first-hand how the 600 Samaritans alive today maintain a distinct identity from their Jewish neighbors. 
A Samaritan Priest - photo C. Imes

It was my first opportunity to spice up a Bible lesson with a story from our trip, and I hope there are many more opportunities in the days ahead. Our lives may look ordinary on the outside, but it's never been about us anyway. We carry inside this ordinary vessel the extraordinary power of the gospel:

"For what we preach is not ourselves [good thing!], but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay [that is, ordinary jars for everyday use] to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. . . . So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:5-7, 18
We have new neighbors who need to meet Jesus, and we'll be far more likely to earn an opportunity to share Christ if we take the time to play kickball with them than if we decide that the effort is not worth our time. So here's hoping for lots of ordinary days . . .

Sunday, May 18, 2014

journey to the holy land

As you read this I am boarding a plane bound for Tel Aviv, Israel. Along with 40 others, I have the privilege of assisting Daniel and Ellen Block on a 2-week Israel study tour. This is my first trip to the holy land. My main objective is to come home loaded with photos and stories to liven up my classes for decades to come.

My dear Dad, who deserves a better shirt 
Our "dream team" includes not only my doctoral mentor, but my Dad and my pastor and his wife. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to experience the land of the Bible with people I love. I probably won't blog until I return, but you are welcome to check my friend Maggie's blog for updates along the way!