19 June 2014

jumping fountains

I drove by a scene much like this one this evening.  Kids running around in a jumping fountain...shoots of water squirting up from the ground at seemingly random intervals and in seemingly random locations.

Grief is a lot like these fountains.  I never quite know where or when it's gonna pop up...where or when it's going to gush out.  Last night at small group was one of those places and times.   I was asking the group to pray for the Muslim world in it's current state of what seems a bit like chaos from this vantage point.  I'm reading Malala's story, and my heart strings are tugged by the realities that have been her life, yes, but I don't usually weep when my heart strings are tugged by books I'm reading or articles I read online.  I think that was just the release of the flood gates.  My parents left town on tuesday for a few weeks of rest and relaxation on the west coast.  I think with their departure, my heart relaxed a bit, and so tugs on it's strings made bigger ripples than usual...to mix about 7 metaphors ;)

The group lovingly asked what was going on, as the tears continued to stream down my face as others continued to share and request prayer, etc.  I shrugged my shoulders.  I had no idea.  I've talked and thought about it since and I think it's just how grief works.  I've heard others say this is just how it is - it hits you when it hits you.  Unlike the jumping fountains though, grief does not seem to elicit the shrieks of joy that seem common in the children running around getting soaking wet, whether they were dressed for the occasion or not ;)  Alas.

There's this thing among Christians that we don't talk about.  Well, we do talk about it, but it's all in the name of spiritual growth and edification.  We talk about what "grieving well" looks like, what "suffering well" looks like.  Missionaries talk about "healthy cultural acquisition" or "good language learning technique" or "good goodbyes."  So a gold standard is set - for better or worse.  For better: they provide us a guide along the way as wisdom from those who have gone before.  For worse: they just allow us to judge one another - measuring each other against these standards.  Same with grief and suffering.  I know, because I've done it to other people.  Sizing up their emotional and spiritual life from what I perceive on the outside.  Now, I'm wishing for more grace that I've in times past given to others.  When it comes to grief,  I've decided I only know how to process feelings I'm experiencing.  It has done me no good to try to talk about things I think I should feel or think others think I should feel.  It does, on the other hand, a world of good to go get ice cream with a couple friends after I fall apart and try to figure out where that was coming from and what it was really about, and reflect on whether I'm doing what I can to engage my emotions from day to day in a healthy way.

People make off handed comments about how they think our family is or is not dealing with the current realities of mom's illness and this season of life.  Maybe you think we are putting on "happy faces" too often - which means you think there is a way our faces should look instead. Maybe you think I should cry more - maybe you think the jumping fountain effect is just a because I'm suppressing all my emotions and just need to "deal with them" more...or better.  Maybe you think when I'm at a party, I should rise to the occasion and not be so glum - it's not about me after all. The thing is, my grief seems to know no schedule or social norms, and neither does this terminal illness.  All I can say is that I think I'm not alone in the jumping fountains.

12 June 2014


I don't think this is an actual thing, but the word *looks* like it's definition.  or is it me?
like a visual onomatopoeia.
l o n g. short and TALL. complicated AND simple. jumbled.

this is what I get for not writing in far too long.

maybe it's what paradox does to you when you don't talk about it.

so, let's get that out of the way right here.

Grief AND Gratitude : the unbelievable/indescribable sadness that is ALS AND the unbelievable/indescribable gifts that are encountered along the way

Hope AND Doubt/Fear/Inattention : those squeaks that come from your heart singing when it comes upon something it longs for AND the squeaks of the brakes that is your heart backpedaling in doubt / fear of disappointment / and scramble for inattention.

Fast AND Slow : the pace of life...where did the day go? There was no time for pondering AND there was nothing on the calendar.

just to name a few.

paradox = tension...balance...walk the line...discomfort AND settle...rest...kick back...Confidence...

it's not something I particularly like, but it seems to like me.  Bundibugyo? Mundri? Hotbeds of paradox.  it's not something I'm unfamiliar with.  yet it discombobbles me every time.  but naming it, helps.  saying the words helps (which of course requires the work of coming up with the words in the first place).  describing where it's visible, helps.  the work is worth it.

{ worth it. }  the entirety of a text I just got from a friend to whom I was failing to describe my discombobulation adequately.  a response to my { I don't know...but I'm trying to pay attention }.

I often wonder about the narcissistic side of this whole blogging thing...especially when I'm not globe trotting around the world, experiencing exciting new things / people / places / cultures / smells / tastes ...and settling into life amongst them.  but, the longer I'm alive, the more I realize that this life is so very commonplace.  the things we get ourselves steeped in and convinced we're alone in - are really actually so very common.  yes, they are remarkable - worth remarking about - interesting / valuable / engaging - but also so very common - we're all human and at the core of our lives, though they may look very different on the outside, are such common processes / thoughts / loves / fears.  I think that's why I write publicly, because people tell me "me too!" and it normalizes the whole bit, for both of us.  Because in this season, telling each of you these things over an iced beverage in the humidity of a sidewalk cafe, isn't possible.  And if you want to read, you will, and if you don't, you won't.  And, like I said, for me, the work of naming it is worth it.

so here's to writing more often...

10 April 2014

it's been a while...and hope

Five and a half months, to be exact.  I last posted 10 days before leaving South Sudan.

my oh my. all that's happened since then!  it simultaneously seems like eons ago and like yesterday.  How is it that time does that...or that memory does that to time...?
6100 block of Washington ~ 2 weeks ago

Here in St. Louis, the crocuses and daffodils are poking their heads up, some already in bloom, along with the forsythia and the buds on all kinds of flowering trees lining the streets.  

Four Corners @ Des Peres & Kingsbury this morning
It's a season of hope.  In Mundri, the season of hope looks like this:

One word.  mangoes.  Just waiting to turn a hint of yellow and be knocked from the tree by hungry young hands with sticks and rocks...a dry season provision from the Lord in a time when other crops/food are scarce...the confidence in and anticipation of this turning from green to yellow, from tart to sweet, from firm to tender is such a tangible hope.

The current season of my heart is in a daily, hourly, battle for such hope as these.  My dad requested prayer from our church community last night in a congregational prayer meeting, and in his words "the Fall is overshadowing the Gospel."  Ditto.  The Gospel has shown it's Face in remarkably tangible glimpses...and to those I fight to cling.

Day by day my mom's body is breaking down in front of my very eyes.  Whatever God has for us in this...whatever wretched exercise in Hope or Faith or God knows what else - it is not for the faint hearted...and I feel faint hearted.  Then I hear the opening of Psalm 46...

[Heidi, I am y]our refuge and strength,

    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore you will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
To leave Mundri for this valley, it all feels a bit like the earth is giving way...that the mountains might just be moved into the sea...in the least the waters are roaring and the mountains are trembling...

Refuge and strength.  Refuge and strength.  Refuge.  Strength.

20 October 2013

Katherine and Tim

They make a good pair.

“And another set of questions nagged, about profound and juxtaposed inequality - the signature fact of so many modern cities...Some people consider such juxtapositions of wealth and poverty a moral problem.  What fascinates me is why they’re not more of a practical one.  After all, there are more poor people than rich people in the world’s Mumbais.  Why don’t places like Airport Road, with their cheek-by-jowl slums and luxury hotels, look like the insurrectionist video fame Metal Slug 3?  Why don’t more of our unequal societies implode?...In the hours that passed, I arrived at a certain clarity...I had little to lose by pursuing my interests in another quarter - a place beyond my so-called expertise, where the risk of failure would be great but the interactions somewhat more meaningful...The slumdwellers I’d already come to know in India were neither mythic nor pathetic.  They were certainly not passive.  Across the country, in communities decidedly short on saviors, they were improvising, often ingeniously, in pursuit of the new economic possibilities of the twenty-first century.  Official statistics offered some indication of how such families were faring.  But in India, like many places in the world, including my own country, statistics about the poor sometimes have a tenuous relation to lived experience.  To me, becoming attached to a country involves pressing uncomfortable questions about justice and opportunity for its least powerful citizens.  The better one knows those people, the greater the compulsion to press...There being no way around the not-being-Indian business, I tried to compensate for my limitations the same way I do in unfamiliar American territory: by time spent, attention paid, documentation secured, accounts cross-checked...When I settled into a place, listening and watching, I don’t try to fool myself that the stories of individuals are themselves arguments.  I just believe that better arguments, maybe even better policies, get formulated when we know more about ordinary lives.”  
 - Katherine Boo (Author’s Note: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity) (finished yesterday)

“Do you know how Satan tempted Jesus? [turn this rock into bread, throw yourself off this cliff]...He’s trying to say, I want you to be like Merlin, and I want you to be like Superman, because the powers of Superman, the powers of Merlin, made them in-vulnerable, made them impossible to attack.  You couldn’t spear Superman, you couldn’t nail Superman, you couldn’t kill Superman, because their supernatural power made them in-vulnerable.  Jesus’ supernatural power does not do that.  The grand miracle was the incarnation in which God, the glorious God, the Son of God, became vulnerable.  When the woman with the hemorrhage touched Jesus’ garment, do you remember what happened? How did he know that she had been healed? He said ‘power went out from me’ - he felt weak.  In other words - his strength went to her.  Her weakness went to him.  Isn’t that interesting?  Do you know how often, when Jesus Christ did a miracle, it made his enemies more angry at him so finally when he raised Lazarus from the dead in John 11, his enemies said, “now we’ve gotta kill him.”  Jesus’ supernatural power not only did not make him in-vulnerable, it made him more vulnerable, more spearable, more nailable, more killable.  Why? The very last verse tells you.  How does Jesus deal with our brokenness?  He bears it.  He bears it...not just the disease, all the brokenness, death itself, the curse of us turning away from God, the disintegration, the weakness the suffering the death that is our lot now, fell on him on the cross....strength through weakness...Jesus Christ saves us by becoming weak, by going to the cross and dying for us....how are we going to bless the country, the neighborhood, how are we going to bless the world? How are we going to deal with cancers and slums? We have to become weak and to pour yourself out and to do the great works that Jesus did, is to give your money away, is to give your time away, is to give your heart away, but that’s what we have to do. 
Rodney Stark, who was a great historian, and who wrote a great book called Rise of Christianity [tells of eyewitness accounts from the plague in the early centuries of Christianity]: 
‘The doctors were quite incapable of treating the disease, the people became afraid to visit anyone, and as a result thousands of people died with no one to look after them.  Indeed there were many houses in which all the inhabitants perished through lack of any attention.  The bodies of the dead were heaped one on top of the other and half dead creatures could be seen staggering about in the streets, the catastrophe became so overwhelming that men became indifferent to every rule of morality, many pushed sufferers away, even their dearest, often throwing them into the road before they were dead, hoping to avert contagion....Most Christians in the plague showed unbounded love and loyalty never sparing themselves and only thinking of others, heedless of danger they took charge of the sick, attended to their every need, ministering to them in Christ and many departed their life serenely happy for they were infected by their neighbors and cheerfully accepted their pains.  The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of elders, many in nursing and curing for others transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead.’
Where do you think they got that idea from?”
- Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, [“Healing the Sick” : Matthew 8:5-17] (listened to today)

bearing each others brokenness...Katherine Boo did.  No indication she believes in Jesus... “the profound and juxtaposed inequality” she wrote of and her perplexion at how the walls we insulate ourselves with don’t just collapse on top of us...we as Christians, yes, but also as humans in general, do not love our neighbors by creating walls of insulation/protection/security/peace/beauty...but by going and crossing those lines of “expertise” and comfort that Katherine speaks of, where “the risk of failure would be great, but the interactions somewhat more meaningful”...those lines that protect us from the brokenness and suffering of others...those lines that put us not only at risk of failure, but also put our lives themselves at risk...our “happiness” at risk...our contentment with the status quo...and from experience, when we do, we not only have the honor of bearing the burdens and brokenness of those around us, but also learning from and experiencing their glory...this ingenuity Katherine writes of, their sense of humor, their intellect, their simplicity of life, their creativity, their beauty amidst their brokenness.  Getting into the muck of ordinary lives instead of cruising by on the Airport Road past our luxury hotels and glossy billboards with photos of starving children...the better we know people, the stronger our desire to press into and against the injustice and suffering in their lives.  Jesus could have used his power/position to make himself “in-vulnerable” as Tim points out - preventing all possible harm/threat, but He didn’t...quite the opposite.  Maybe I should take note.

11 October 2013

What's in a voice?

Pittsburgh, PA NLDS Game 3 (October 2013)

What's in a voice?
I have known the sound of nothing so long
Since I was just a flutter
from the tenderness of her "shhhhh...."
to the distress of her "[sigh]......"
from the stern holler of "HEIDI!!!"
to the delight of "Heidikins!....."
her inquisitive questions
her seldom shared life suggestions
There's reason
There's reassurance
There's familiarity
There's functionality
There's correction
There's compassion
There's conversation
Then it creaks and groans and slows...
threatening to halt
A word here, a throat cleared there
I want to pull it back
back from the ALS abyss
A voice, you say?
Would by any other name sound so sweet?
Not hers.
It's just a name - letters, sounds, syllables - you say?
Yes, but it's hers.
It's just a body - bones, muscles, joints - you say?
Yes but it's hers.
It's just a voice - tones, pitches, vibrations - you say?
Yes, but it's hers.
God made this name, this body, this voice.
and He made them hers.
He made my name, my body, my voice.
and He made them hers.
What's in a voice, you say?
It's hers.

20 September 2013


"Hello, is Susie there?" - anonymous caller to 5445 Kincaid St., Pittsburgh, PA ~ circa 1985
"I'm sorry, you have the wrong number." ~ 6 yo Heidi, sure that there was no one by the name of "susie" living at our number.
Sue? yes, but Susie? no.  Turns out it was my aunt Cynthia, calling for my mom, who at the time went by Sue, but back in the day was known by her family and others as Susie.  And these days she's known as Susan.

Yesterday was "Susie's" birthday.  She spent it in the black Honda Civic with her hubby of 37 years,

Labor Day Weekend 201

driving across the flat plains of IL, IN, and OH headed for Pittsburgh, the first stopover on their much needed R&R trip to a family favorite, Maine.  If there's one thing the Lutjens' are good at, it's road trips...

one such infamous trip - to Maine I believe - in the Dodge Caravan

...long hours, long distances, but usually pretty spectacular destinations.

Thunder Hole - Acadia National Park - Bar Harbor, ME
This was one of those destinations (stollen from google images...I can assure you there was not this level of photographic technology around when we visited this spot when I was small - well, or if there was, this pastor's family for sure didn't have it). I don't ever remember Thunder Hole being so sunny and clear, usually overcast and misty...I also don't remember those snazzy guard rails, but maybe they were there and I was too young to notice.  I'm not sure if you've had those experiences in life which when recalled, the sheer memory of which is a visceral experience...feelings I'm sure I cannot put adequate words to...standing on those rocks, covered in sea spray and shivering, watching/listening to/feeling wave after wave CRASH and THUNDER into this rock cove along the ME shoreline...grabbing onto mom or dad or brother/sister for security...not so much in fear, but more in awe, wanting to touch someone else and be sure this was real...imagine our small minds and bodies, literally quaking in the wonder and power of these waves, this noise, this marvel created by the expression of life by God's creation.  May very well be one of my favorite places on earth.

I've been thinking lately that one of the things I'm thankful to my mom for, one of the many things that I love about her, is her shared sense of wonder and marvel in what is around her.  Her facial expressions when she finds out something fascinating or surprising, the dramatic "you're kidding?!?!?!" that often follows such expressions...her love and recognition of the wonder that is physiology and the inner workings of the human body, her appreciation of natural and created beauty of all kinds, from simple things like the color in her salad, to the complexities of pieces of music and grand works of art...her intrigue about people and places that are different from her own experience, her enjoyment of the pursuit of really understanding something and not just glossing over the seemingly "small and unimportant" details...all of these things and more I've experienced all of my life and grown in gratefulness for as the years go by - here's to the hope and prayer that some of it has rubbed off on me!   Marvel she does.  Wonder she knows.

Thanks mom.  I love you.

18 September 2013

He knows

Daniel answered and said, 
Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to him.  And it is He who changes the times and epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding.  It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness and the light dwells with him.’”
~ Daniel 2: 20-22~


physical pain/disability, emotional distress, spiritual distance/isolation/dryness, mental reality distortion, grief, loss, change, unknown, unbearable circumstances, hateful people, corruption, deceit, theft, violation, war, complete exhaustion, presence of enemies, sin...

“there’s a light at the end of the tunnel...” 
- if things are bad now, don’t worry, there’s hope [light] ahead
“shed some light on the situation...”
- if things are difficult or murky, the light will help make things clear
lights, camera, action!”
- first part of the movie making sequence? you need to SEE what’s going on, then you start recording 
                                  what’s going on, THEN you cue in to what’s actually going on
“make a right at the second light...”                        
                                - landmark
- (ever heard “make a left at that place where you can’t see anything”?)
“this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine...”
- “lemme show you my dark corner”? nope
“scared of the dark...”
- place of fear not of comfort
“I wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley...” 
- place where bad things are done and no one can see to rescue you - unknown
“lurking in the dark corners...”
- places where people do not often choose to go
“he has a dark past...”
                                - he has done the kinds of things he would rather keep hidden
“those were dark times...” 
- periods which you would like NOT to revisit
“It’s too dark in here, I can’t see anything! Turn on the light, will ya?”
- The antidote for the darkness? Light.

to know: (verb) = be aware of through observation, inquiry, or information

“know” the facts (information)
“know” the feeling (experience)
“know” the place (observation)

Daniel says God knows what is in the darkness.

He KNOWs it.  He knows all the facts.  He knows the who: names, faces, and stories of all people involved, or not involved.  He knows the what: every detail that makes up this particular story.  He knows the when: the timing of the circumstances, what came before and what will come after.  He knows the night or day, weekend or weekday, the day the month the year the hour the minute, and how inconvenienced/stressed/pressured you are as a result.  He knows the where: home or work, street name and address, state, country, continent, and climate.  And maybe most importantly AND most puzzling, He knows the one we rarely if EVER know...He knows the why:  not the means but the END, the purpose, the goal, the justification, the motivation, the cause, the value, the benefit, the role in your life and the lives of those near or far.

He’s KNOWs it.  He’s experienced it.  Been there.  Felt that. Seen that.  Heard that. Smelt that.  He’s NOT unexperienced, immune, or naive.  He notices.  He’s read the briefing and the background checks.  His nerve endings are sensitive.  All 5 of his senses (and maybe more?) are not only functional but keen.

He KNOWs it.  He’s the ever-present observer.  Nothing has gone on that he is not privy to...not only has he been on the receiving end of all of it already, but he’s also been the witness to ALL of it.  It’s a different perspective than that of participant, but just as valid and important and pertinent...

In our Bible Study chapter on El Elyon last week, in the verse after verse that we read about our God Most High, this is the one that stuck out: 

 “...He knows what is in the darkness...” - Daniel 2:22

What is it though, about these simple words? Well, this post is me working that out...And in the end, I realize that the comfort is in the fact that He knows...not just in fact, or witness, but in experience...the feeling of, the reality of the darkness.  

Now that I stop and think about it, the fact that “He knows” was also the main take home lesson I learned from Dr. Calhoun’s class I took at Covenant Seminary entitled “Sickness and Suffering.”  Dr. Calhoun started the class off by telling us he was not, in fact, going to be able to answer the “WHY?!” question that He knew was looming large in all of our minds, and in his own as well...but he did remind us that God was not untouched by darkness [sickness and suffering] himself - the loss of His only Son, the betrayal and rejection and violation from His people...and the list goes on.  THAT was “worth the price of admission” for me.  After watching children die day after day in Uganda, after watching “big men” eat money and resources out from under their neighbors and those they are intended to serve without accountability, after struggling to  love my teammates well and them struggling to love me well, after hitting rock bottom emotionally, after having every single prop or buffer I was used to leaning on knocked out from under me, and preparing to head back to a long term commitment of more of the same, THAT was what I needed to hear, THAT was the lightbulb I needed turned on.  I needed to know that He didn’t look down from his comfy throne in heaven where everything is peachy keen all the time.  I needed to know that the suffering, the darkness, was not something He doled out to all of us, but something He knew something of Himself.  He knows what it’s like...He knows what is in the darkness...my darkness, your darkness, his darkness, her darkness, OUR darkness.


PS: The same week as the Daniel light bulb, this Op Ed article, coming in from Japan, was published in the NY Times.  A Facebook find for me from a friend from college, it was timely, fascinating, and powerful.  I don’t think Pico Iyer knows this line from Daniel about the darkness.  I don’t think He believes in the God that knows said darkness, but his reflection on darkness or “suffering” is spot on in many ways.  See for yourself.