I just need some space…

Last year, which was my first year of grad school, I lived in a house on the same road as the building where I took all of my classes, only a mile away from campus. To save approximately fifty cents per day on gas and a parking pass, and to ensure that I used my body to do something other than stare at a computer screen on a regular basis, I walked to school every day. Rain, shine, snow, sleet, ice, etc., like the mailman or just a regular poor student / midwesterner. I had some of the most beautiful, peaceful moments of that year on my walk to school. A disclaimer: some days, walking to school absolutely sucked. I don’t want to overromanticize it. Walking to campus in the middle of summer with a bag full of my heavy dinosaur laptop and then stuffed with lots of other things I may or may not have truly needed, I fantasized about owning a parking pass. Despite my less-than-stellar attitude some days, my choice to walk to school and the house that allowed me to do it were some of the best things for me. 

Last year was the most time per day  I’ve spent doing difficult things so far. I spent a lot of my days thinking, mostly about things that other people told me to think about. (For my own good, of course – that’s how school works.) I took furious notes in  lectures. I read articles and textbook chapters with a lot of words that I didn’t really understand. And then studied it all. In order to make a tiny income, I had an assistantship where I was assigned to work with a researcher in my building, and so I read about her research and tried to help her with her research and Googled about topics she was interested in. I learned new tactics to force myself to keep using my brain longer than I wanted to, like rewarding myself with chocolate (which very quickly turns into eating chocolate constantly any time you’re working.) My mind was very full a lot of the time. 

I had a detailed calendar on my computer that was mostly colorful boxes marking things I was supposed to be getting done all day, with barely-visible amounts of white space. I updated it somewhat obsessively. I tried to maximize everything (trips to the grocery store, drives anywhere, class) by always doing at least two things at once. I did get enough sleep, but I could have easily filled those hours with productivity, too, if I wasn’t so stubborn about getting enough sleep. I rarely let my walking pace slow below brisk. I ate a lot of meals over my laptop or precariously balanced on my steering wheel while going at least 7 over from one commitment to the next. Maybe your life isn’t exactly the same in the details (and I hope not – I do really count on being the only driver holding my lunch and steering with the same hand when I do that),  but I bet I’m not alone in the pace, the urgency, the feeling of days being stuffed past their capacity more often than not. 

My commute to and from campus was one time that my mind got to be free, every day. It took about a month and a half for me to realize how important that was. Sometime in October, I started to label my walks to and from campus magical in my mind. The leaves on the trees lining my street looked like fall, and due to my schedule and shortening days, the walks were usually pretty well-timed with sunrise and sunset, when the light hit the colors just right and everything looked its best. I spent most of that year rushing through my days or planning them to the minute, and the miles to and from school each day were a safe spot that the rush couldn’t reach.  I discovered a podcast I liked and listened to it a lot of days on my way to class, approximately fourteen minutes of calm before joining in with the cycle of classes and research and trying to find the right person or the right room, which always felt too fast or crazy or boring.

In the winter, the walk was muffled by snow, and the snow also made the street look like a Christmas movie. (I’d be remiss not to mention the days that I truly thought my eyeballs were going to freeze open; but for the most part, the walk was peaceful and what I needed.) I listened to Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine, and then Cold Tangerines, the audiobook versions, and probably looked a little off while doing it because I either laughed out loud or wiped tears off my cheeks every day. I think I cried because the walks were the one time that I had a little space; I could think my own thoughts and dream and feel inspiration rather than feeling deadlines breathing down my neck. When I look back at last year, the walks are a sharp contrast to the whole rest of my life. They are the space between the lines, the pauses between the music notes, or, for an analogy that hits closer to home for me, the intervals of not eating between meals that make food taste extra satisfying. They made me feel something that I knew was true – that all the parts of who I am matter, not just the parts that helped me get stuff done and be on time. They were good for my soul. Of all of the things about the place I lived last year, I am most thankful for the walks, and a few other things.

I’ve been getting to know myself better, and one of the things I’ve learned is that I need walks, I need space. In overwhelmingly busy patches of my life, I feel like all I want is space. I feel as if I could lay in a bed and stare blankly for hours; I feel like I’d never get bored of letting the next episode play. But then I try giving myself big spaces, open weekends, and sometimes it’s too much (or too little?) The truth is that I crave work and activity and falling into bed exhausted, too. What I want is the perfect balance: long walks and also satisfying, effort-demanding work; quiet time by myself and also loud conversations. The walks last year were beautiful because they inherently were: peaceful, and outside, and reflective. But they were also beautiful because they were interspersed with their opposite, and they added what I needed to feel like a whole, balanced human.

Lately, it feels like someone messed up my balance by giving me way more space than I wanted, and I want to find the person responsible and monologue about how I had a great thing going, and how dare they mess it up? Of course, I can’t do this. My next best plan is to add, and add, and add, to collect items on my calendar and hobbies or to draw another box to check off. And that’s good; I think it makes me feel normal and sane. But I want to keep the spaces, too.  I remember how I cried and laughed every day last year during my walks to campus, how the space let my mind and heart go places they couldn’t when I was in the middle of things. That makes me want to keep spaces, to protect them, to make sure I remain a whole human, who works hard and has a schedule, and who also dreams. 

 Like a lot of people, I’ve been taking more walks in the last couple weeks, down a different street because I moved. My neighborhood is small and mostly bare of trees, but across the street there are winding roads and basically a forest, and a creek, so I pretend I live in the neighborhood across the street and go for a walk. They’re a favorite part of my day again, quieting the rush of information from social media and the news and my mental to-do list for a few minutes, a space. The walks feel similar to the ones last year last year – I see sky, and trees, and I get to talk or be quiet, to move without hurrying or actually getting anywhere. Of the things in my life right now, I think I’m back to being most thankful for the spaces. 


Beck Haase – New friend to the fire

We welcome special guest to the fire Becky Haase. One of my favorite parts of our virtual campfire is that I have become the honored recipient of many friends stories about how God has worked in their life. This is what happens when we create a safe, supportive environment around a cozy backyard fire – the stories just flow. I’m so thrilled that my friend Becky took the time to record her story and had the courage to share. I know it will encourage you as much as it did me. Welcome to the fire Becky… We’re so glad you’re here! Beth

I have never written a blog before.  It is outside of my normal comfort zone to share thoughts through public media.  However, with the recent directions I’ve been given directly from God, I believe it is time to do several things outside of my comfort zone.

What is that comfort zone?  As an only child and an only grandchild on both sides of my family, for me, that’s HOME.  I could entertain myself for the rest of my life at home.  Even better is when my immediate family is there too.  We could do nothing together and it would be the best of days.  However, I am sure God would prefer that we reflect His love and grace to the world and not just within the four familiar walls of our home.  Which leads me outside of my comfort zone.

There had been talk of me getting a different job for a while.  I have been with the same company for over 20 years, holding several different positions.  I have been in my current position for over 10 years.  While I love what I do, unfortunately I am very underutilized, which results in a lot of time spent being bored at my desk.  Couldn’t I be doing more?  What a waste of time and talent.  But what other position is there for me?  So I was looking; not extensively, but looking for opportunity, when out-of-the-blue, it finally came along.  

A friend and colleague contacted me about a job opening.  “If you are interested, get your application in today!”  So I did; on a super busy night I struggled through online forms, made sure my resume was perfect, and threw together a cover letter, which I hadn’t done in over 20 years.  The next morning I had a request for an interview the next week.  

Now I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of thing that turns my brain into full ON mode.  What if this?  What if that?  And most importantly, CAN I DO THIS?  1,000 miles an hour; especially when you are sitting bored at your desk all day.  That afternoon I checked in on Facebook and there it was:  a post from a cousin of mine.  It was a meme about holding on to those you have in your life because they won’t always be there.  While that is poignant enough, that wasn’t what really struck me.  It was the statement she wrote with it:  “And don’t waste your time being scared to try new things and outside your comfort zone!”  Have you ever heard God scream at you?  It was like He was speaking directly to ME with that sentence.  OK, I will consider it!  So I prayed, a LOT.  I prayed for clear direction.  A billboard would be nice, don’t you think?  Just once…to know what God wants for you without having to wonder if you’ve done the right thing.  

The next week was the interview.  While it went ok, I didn’t get the feeling that the person I interviewed with was very interested.  I found out that the new job would mean no longer doing several of the things I dearly love about my current job.  It would mean overcoming some weaknesses to learn things that I’ve never been good at doing.  It would mean getting outside of my comfort zone.  The good news from this experience is that, because I currently have a good job, I did not dwell on the situation during the next 10 days while they deliberated on their choice.

Then it came:  the call.  I got the job!  Now the ball is in my court.  Do I really want all of this change?  Can’t I just sit here and be satisfied where I am?  This is easy.  This is comfortable.  And as humans do, by this point I had completely discounted the fact that God spoke to ME loud and clear before.  I was looking for the billboard.  And then, there it was!  Driving home from work that day.  There in the sky was the brightest rainbow I’ve ever seen.  All I could think when I saw it was, “God keeps his promises.  He will carry you through this.”  I think it was at that moment I knew what I had to do.  

Yet I spent the next 2 days trying to decide; trying to talk myself into it.  Is this REALLY what I’m supposed to do?  Do I HAVE to listen to God?  So I prayed more that night.  I prayed for one more provision of clarity.  Just to make sure I’m hearing it right.  

The next morning, the Lord provided just that through my daily Bible verse in my email:

“But you, son of man, hear what I say to you.  Be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.”  Ezekiel 2:8, ESV

OK, OK!  I GET IT!  

Needless to say, I made the call, took the offer, turned in my notice to my current boss and prayed more.  Now I need peace.  And it came.  I have had the strangest peace about all of this.  I am not anxious, I am not afraid.  Because the same God who sent his son to bear my sins and bring me eternal salvation is the same God who will see me through this adventure.  He will lead me to those I am to witness to; he will help me overcome my weaknesses; he will see me through the challenges.

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  Philippians 4:13, ESV

This is truly a leap of faith and most certainly a step outside my comfort zone.  I am so thankful for the opportunities that lie ahead and for God to carry me through.  It amazes me how many different ways God speaks to me.  How does he speak to you?  Are you listening?  What opportunities for Him lie outside of your comfort zone?

Remember Me? Remember Me!

“My goodness. Who do these children belong to?” The question, coming from my father-in-law, seemed an odd one as he gestured with interest toward our three kids.  It was a hard thing to realize he did not know them—at 94, both his memory and his eyesight had faded considerably.  But my husband readily responded, “Why, those are our children, Dad…this is Katrina, and this is Louisa, and this is Ted.” As they were introduced, our kids (ages 12, 9, and 6) stepped forward and smiled into Grandpa’s face, the better to be seen by him.

John held up the camera he was carrying and said, “Dad, would you like to have your picture taken with them?” Grandpa looked delightedly around him at his grandchildren and said, “Why yes, I believe I would!”  So the kids climbed up on the bed where he was sitting, gathered around Grandpa, and John took their picture.  After a bit of chatter, I took our children out to the nursing home lobby so John and his Dad could visit in peace.

In due time, we came back to the room, and Grandpa again remarked, in surprise “Well, where did these children come from?” John again introduced our three youngsters, and Grandpa exclaimed, “Well, I’ll be! I think I’d like to have my picture taken with them!” John smiled and agreed that this was a good idea and motioned to our kids. With sideways grins in our direction, the they climbed up on the bed again, gathered around Grandpa, and John took their picture.

These were bittersweet moments during one of our last visits with John’s Dad in the summer of 2001.  As difficult as it was that he did not know his grandchildren, we got some wonderful photos of them all together on this occasion—photos that we treasure, to be sure. 

In many ways, Dad Mehl’s loss of memory was especially striking because he was always a strong advocate of memorization, including Bible passages, the catechism, or really anything he learned.  He grew up in an era when learning things “by heart” was the order of the day, and it was common for him to remind us that the things we know by heart give us “hooks to hang our thoughts on.” He was also fond of the Latin phrase “Repetitio est mater studiorum” (in English, “repetition is the mother of study”). He read widely, had a broad scope of knowledge, shunned calculators, loved word puzzles. He had a keen, active and organized mind which carried him through many life experiences and situations, touching lives and leaving solid foundations.

Our visit with Dad Mehl and the snapshots of that day have been on my mind in recent weeks because John and I have learned of several people among our extended family and friend groups who are also facing the effects of memory loss. Some of these people are recently diagnosed, and some are to the point of entering “memory care” facilities.  And while John’s Dad, at 94 years of age, might reasonably have expected to have failings of mind and body, these friends are much younger and may have many years, yet, to live. 

There are two related themes that seem common when families face the loss of memory in one of their own. On one hand, the ones with memory issues may fear that they, themselves, will be forgotten—and their loved ones likewise hate this thought. If the situation deteriorates and being cared for at home becomes impossible, will they be remembered?  Or will they live out their lives in an institution, both forgetting and forgotten? And on the other hand, loved ones anticipate with sorrow the day their husband, wife, mom, dad, sibling, or friend will see them, but without recognition. For all concerned, the phrase “Remember me” is both a question—”Remember me??”—and a plea—”Remember me!!”

Recently, for my personal Bible study, I began reading 1 Samuel, which opens with the story of Hannah, mother of Samuel the prophet.  Many of us know about Hannah. She was barren and longed to have a child.  Her situation was made more difficult by the fact that her husband’s other wife had several children and felt free to mock Hannah for the fact that she was childless. (And let me just say that I appreciate the fact that Hannah’s husband was loving and tender toward her, not seeing her as a failure or disappointment… Still, his question, “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” may be evidence that he did not fully understand Hannah’s grief!)

Every year Hannah’s family group went up to the temple at Shiloh to worship and sacrifice during the Feast of Tabernacles.  There came a year when Hannah had apparently reached her breaking point.  Unable to eat, she rose from the meal and went to pray, and with many tears she made a vow to God, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life…”

Remember me. Have you noticed that the phrases, “Remember me” and “God remembered” appear frequently in the interplay between God and his people, especially in the Old Testament? In our experience, a plea like “Remember me,” spoken to another person, most often means something like, “Hey—don’t forget me!” knowing that this is all too likely to happen.  But when God’s people raised this plea in the Bible, it was a request for something far more active and purposeful.  When Hannah asked God to remember her, she was not simply asking God to acknowledge her existence, but she was begging him to act on her behalf.

Acting on our behalf.  What a powerful way God has of remembering his people.  It’s so much more than tapping his forehead as he recalls, “Hannah…Hannah—Oh, yeah! Hannah’s that barren woman with the spiteful sister wife.” It’s not simply His calling to mind who we are but his coming to our aid because we are His. In Hannah’s case, this meant opening her womb and giving her a son. When we ask God to remember us, we acknowledge His power and ask him to act on our behalf when we are overwhelmed and completely lacking in power–whether on a personal scale or a scale of worldly proportions.

God’s “memory” is a remarkable thing. A quick search produced this short list of people and things God remembered, sometimes in a response to a plea to “Remember me” or “Remember your people,” and sometimes simply because He is a faithful God:  Noah and his family, Rachel, Abraham, and God’s covenant with Abraham, the children of Israel in Egypt, Samson, Hezekiah, the thief on the cross next to Jesus. Most notably, God remembered (acted on behalf of) the entire world, mired in sin and in need of a Savior.  As promised already in Genesis, He gave His Son Jesus for the sake of the world and every single person in it. Through Jesus’ saving sacrifice and resurrection, he has provided for our complete forgiveness. 

When we ask God to remember us, not only in our sin, but also in our disappointment and our suffering from the mortality of our bodies—even the bewildering situation of memory loss—we can be sure that he does, because he has.  Hannah’s story continues in 1 Samuel 1:20 , where we read that, when they returned to their home, Hannah’s husband, Elkanah, “made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son.”  Acting on her behalf, God made it possible for her to have a child, Samuel, a leader of God’s people–and later five more sons and daughters.

Do you have stories that can start with the phrase, “God remembered…?” I do. That’s part of why I write. From very real needs of daily life, to waiting on Him and his timing, to relationships among family and friends, to my need for forgiveness, he has acted on my behalf, beyond my human ability to comprehend. Quite often, God remembers us through the actions of other people, in ways we hardly expect. He has done this in my life, and I pray to be ready when the opportunity arises to be that person for others–especially to be aware that the words, “I remember you!” bring great assurance from God, but are also treasured when spoken and demonstrated person-to-person.

We are now in the midst of the season of Lent. There is much to be remembered in these weeks, beginning with the shame of remembering and acknowledging our sins before the Lord. We would like to just forget them, but in truth they are “ever before us,” as David wrote in Psalm 51.  And how well we know that forgetting them does not remove them. So we plead with God, “Remember me! Act on my behalf in my sinful condition!”  In return, God calls on us to remember him—his mighty deeds, his miracles, his judgments, his mercy and his promises, kept when he sent Jesus to be our Savior.  We consider these and stand in awe of them.  

Perhaps most remarkable, in this season, is to ponder the one situation in which God does not remember.  It is not a memory failure, but an act of will.  In Isaiah 43:25 he reminds us, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” We lay the burden of our sin before the Lord, and Jesus takes it on himself, and God removes it “as far as the East is from the West.”  Remembered no more.

We may sometimes feel that we approach God tentatively, doubtfully– “Remember me?” Instead, because we have been made his through Jesus, we can be confident in our plea—“Remember me, O Lord!  Act on my behalf! Act on behalf of those I love!”  And when we read God’s command to “Remember me!” let’s do it with praise for His power to act in our most powerless situations, whether in our immediate circumstances, or in the scope of eternity.  In our humanity and our mortality, our memories may fail, but God has demonstrated again and again, “Remember me? Remember me! For I remember you, my child. For now and for eternity, I am acting on your behalf.”

Hope in the midst of Hurt

New friends to the fire: Tim and Hope Mehl

We welcome Special Friends to the fire and MCN Missionaries: Tim and Hope Mehl. After I read the latest edition of their Missionary Newsletter I knew it had to be shared around our fire. Their message was an important reminder of everything I needed to hear about God- in the midst of a world that sometimes feels like its spinning out of control. Welcome to the Fire- Tim and Hope – we’re so glad you’re here! Beth

“I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you.” -John 14:18
           Greetings in Christ! I hope this newsletter finds you well. Today I write this from my desk, in my office, at Concordia Middle School. It’s been 5 full weeks since we’ve had class which is longer than any summer break our students have ever had. Needless to say, on our first day back at school they were bouncing off the walls with excitement to see their friends again. Some of my students look visibly more rested so as scary and hectic as this coronavirus outbreak has been, there have been good that has come from it too. We started school officially on February 25 with a few stipulations from the government. We are required to take everyone’s temperature twice a day, everyone must wear a mask, and hand sanitizer has been made available everywhere. So far, Taiwan has really been holdings its own against this virus with only 31 active cases, where as our neighboring countries have numbers in the hundreds and thousands. In general people don’t seemed to panicked about the virus anymore. As with anything it became old news and while everyone is trying to stay healthy, the air of anxiety around the country seems to have mostly passed. But as happens sometimes, with the end of one storms comes another. 

            On the early morning of February 6th, our administration building on our school campus caught fire due to faulty wiring. We thank God that no one was hurt, but because the fire was burning for hours before anyone noticed, the entire first floor was turned to ash. All of our school records, grades, and important documents were kept on paper, and nothing survived. The computers that were in the building were also destroyed if not by the fire and smoke, then by the fireman’s hose. To add to the devastation, this building was built in the 1960s when Taiwan was at a time where there were no such thing as licensed contractors, building companies, or safety codes. Because of this, the entire building could not be insured. The school estimates it will be about $300,000 USD to fix, which in Taiwan is an enormous amount of money. Many people are devastated to say the least, but while it is easy to feel down or ask “why us??”, we remember that God does not promise that our journeys will always be easy, but he does promise that he will be with us every step of the way. The morning of the fire many of the faculty came together in prayer asking for God’s guidance. As our principal said “Concordia was built on God’s love … and we will trust him as we face difficulties and challenges…”

           How blessed we are to work at school where we can use this as an opportunity to show people the peace we find when we trust God. How amazing to be able to show our coworkers exactly what we have been teaching our students all year!

           I have included the principals translated letter to the faculty in this newsletter. I praise God that we have a principal with a heart for Christ to lead us. We don’t know what will happen to tomorrow, we don’t know how badly this will affect the school, enrollment numbers, or any of those details we get so wrapped up in, but we do know that if we fix our eyes on Christ, the end result will be better than anything we can ask for ourselves. Principal’s Letter to Faculty ( SEE BELOW)

Praying Together
The morning after the fire the faculty came together in prayer.Blocked Off
Thankful for firefighters who put the fire out in record time! Today the whole building is blocked off and no one is allowed in. Fire Damage
This was taken inside the administration building the day of the fire. The walls were still radiating heat when I stepped in. 
Masks in Japan
With school canceled a few extra weeks, we took a few days to see Japan (this was before the outbreak was bad there). We feel so fortunate to live so close enough to do 

Concordia Middle School Feb 6th Fire Prayer Letter
The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD is enthroned as King forever. Psalm 29:10
…we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance. Psalm 66:12
The morning of February 6 the administration building caught fire. An inspection showed the fire was
caused by old electrical wiring. We were blessed that no one was
in the building to become injured, and that the fire did not spread.
Only one office was completely destroyed. Other offices,
conference rooms, electronic supplies, walls and ceilings were all
affected by smoke and water damage. The smoke ash is a toxic
substance, harmful to human health. Therefore, the administration
center needs to do demolition, ash removal, professional cleaning
and scraping of contaminated and damaged items, and restoration
of the administration center.
The day of the fire, the chairman of our board of directors
immediately came to the school to pray with, encourage and
comfort everyone. Principal Huang gathered all of the
administration coworkers and in three working days, cleared out
the damaged materials, cleaned, and moved usable goods into
temporary administration offices around the campus. Phone
and computer lines were restored, and office furniture was
improvised so that our work could continue as quickly as
possible. Many volunteers, “old Concordians,” came of their
own volition to help, and it reminded me of the 1022 earthquake. At that time, Principal Chen had us all
work together to restore our campus. Concordia Middle School was built by God’s love. God has not
promised us that the sky would always be blue, and that the flowers would always smell sweet, but He has
promised us that He is with us, and we can trust Him as we face all difficulties and challenges in His strength.
His faithfulness and love will lead Concordia into a promised land flowing with milk and honey.
Among the photos of the fire, there is a picture of “a cross in the ashes.” A twisted window and a tree
poking into it came together to make a cross shape. Looking at this has comforted us during this traumatic
time. Like it says in Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him,
so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Concordia wants to learn humility and grow through this trial.
Principal Huang told the coworkers who gathered immediately after
the fire, “We will have a fresh start.” Isaiah 41:10 says, “So do not
fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will
strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right
hand.” Concordia is a school that was built on God’s promises. I am
confident that in God’s protection, and with the cooperation of all
Concordians, we can continue to walk forward, and shine His light.