So…what was i thinking? Guatemala week 2-3

So, what was I thinking?! What part of immersion Spanish study in Guatemala for 7 weeks was fun?  I was thinking adventure and exploration- the excitement of a brand new culture! Visions of climbing volcanoes, viewing mountain ranges and browsing colorful markets filled my mind… To some extent this is what what Guatemala has been, but on the other hand, it is not!

Spending almost 2 months in an immersion study program is more like a total life displacement. Now I am all about displacement, in fact that is what I do with college students for a living! So perhaps it is in my nature to want to experience this afresh myself. But it sure is different to be on the receiving end of the lessons than being the one interpreting and helping people through those lessons.

As I reflect, I can best summarize my time here so far as a great fast. I am reminded afresh that when we fast, we are greeted with perspective, with balance, with new vision. Inadvertently I have found grace along the way.

I’m fasting from a fast-paced lifestyle. I was always the first one to finish eating my dinner. I was walking ahead of my family. I didn’t want to waste time or have my time wasted. … O wait, my only agenda is to learn Spanish and meet with God. This is a slow life, in fact it has proved to be very very slow. I just love that my family gathers every evening at 730 for dinner. The whole family including Tio who lives next door. We eat very slowly and after we finished eating, we drink coffee/ tea and eat Pan Dulce. Dinner never lasts less than an hour and usually 90 minutes. I have learned to love this time everyday.

Another thing I’m fasting from is the familiar. Now I am observant of everything and everyone around me. Everything is new, nothing is taken for granted, no one is taken for granted. I nicknamed the three stray dogs who live at the gas station and greet me on my way to school each morning. The foreign becomes the familiar and with it comes gratefulness.

I am fasting from some of my favorite things. There is no dessert here and my sweet tooth has gone dormant, it is a good thing! I’m fasting from convenience, fast food, eating out, shopping…and in a strange sense, even the joy of friendships.

I am especially fasting from distractions. My time is spent reading books, journaling, walking to and from school 30 minutes every day. I do not have TV, I’m not spending money, in a sense this is chosen – a very simple routine for this time during my sabbatical. I actually have no interest in wandering about to explore the city, so in some ways this is a self-imposed fast from distraction. My delight comes from routine and simplicity. My joy comes from communing with God during my 2 hours of walking everyday. The task at hand is to engage the 25 hours of Spanish learning every week and do my best to stay present to the task of learning. I have no excuses not to exercise, I have no excuses to not delight myself in the presence of the Lord and his Word. So as in times past, I see that fasting is actually feasting, and as I experience fresh displacement, there is delight.

Sabbatical Misconceptions

So I started Sabbatical. Yippee! There was a misconception in my mind that I was not aware of… that once I entered into Sabbatical I would immediately fall into a state of blissful relaxation, a paradise of calm and centeredness.
*Inner peace is a lifestyle, it is cultivated and takes time and practice.

I also thought that I would meet the Lord in my first week in a powerful way with immediate rekindled passion and revelation… Nope, 2 words
*Soul Detox

yep, pretty disappointing and yet profoundly puts me face to face with my prideful condition, my need for God, and the need for re-alignment in my life!

Leaning into prevenient grace– Tozers description that before I can even seek God, God must have reached out to stir my heart. When the feelings do not lend themselves to feel the warmth of Gods presence, I rest in knowing He has reached out to me in the very act of my prayer, God help me to want to want you.

Paz in Prison Part I

There was a time in my life when I didn’t know a single person who had been in prison or jail (and I didn’t know the difference between prison or jail either)! I thought prison was simply a place where bad guys went who broke the law. I thought that the American legal system was the same as a justice system (it does its best, but we have much room to grow). All this has changed. I learned that in 2002 America surpassed the world in a category, a category that is not necessarily a cause to celebrate – we now incarcerate at the highest rate of any country in the world (Tsai and Scommegna 2012). My growing awareness is like many others and was helped by reading Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow who writes, “The term mass incarceration refers not only to the criminal justice system but also to the larger web of laws, rules, policies, and customs that control those labeled criminals both in and out of prison” (2010, 13).

As an urban minister and as a Christ-follower, I must pay attention to the impact of mass incarceration, in fact, I cannot escape it. Increasingly my heart has grown – for I see both the need, undeniably there are those who need to be restrained behind bars. But I also have learned that true transformation can take place and that the stigma of being a convicted criminal can overshadow and potentially hold back one’s life indefinitely.

I suppose my attitude started changing when I learned the poignant story of a man who would later become my husband – when I stepped away from statistics and discovered a person.  I vividly remember the first time I stepped into the County Jail to visit him. He walked out in a bright orange jumpsuit, such a contrast between the drab cement and the scratched plexiglass.  And the tears…

I suppose I started changing when I saw *Jason’s story unfold. He was a neighbor kid on our street, attending the 701:United gym. But home-life was tough and mom was distant due to drugs. When CPS sent him to Foster care, he suffered abuse and ran away. When he was caught, he was put into juvenile detention center, thus starting his criminal record. I usually don’t think of that kind of story when I think of those incarcerated. But that’s the truth of where many kids begin: abuse, broken families, pain and few role models.

I suppose I started changing when Ivan and I launched The Jephthah Prison Project and began our correspondence leadership/discipleship program with inmates. I only facilitate and resource an incarcerated pastor who selects men from the yard and conducts the class. Their development is profound, their homework reports touching, their devotion to God inspiring, their evangelistic commitment humbling. I have learned much from these brothers.

So, I’m on a journey. I went back to County Jail this weekend. Those jumpsuits though!  Such a hard place. Bars and bars, slick metal seats, waiting, gates, keys, rust over metal inside and out, low ceilings, narrow doors. And inevitably, the tears. Mine this time.

to be continued…

26 months overdue

I stopped blogging sometime back in 2013. No need to list the dry whirlwind of excuses…I simply stopped writing.  Life experiences piled up like bulky telephone books in a dusty corner. But starting in just 2 weeks I embark on a 6 month Sabbatical.  6 months of unhurried time and space. Time to remember those stories, time to recall lessons learned, time to reflect on people, places, work and God. Googling my own Blog site to find it was the first step, forgetting and re-setting my password the second, next, I’m ready to write…

The Feast of the Fast

It is arguably the most pivotal moment in the Christian faith. Thick, rough wood planted in the infamous soil of Golgatha. The cross and Christ crucified. Each droplet of blood that fell was prophetic. For in this act, the cross was stuck in human history making a statement to sin, to death, to all things broken and corrupt “You Shall Not Pass!”

For many of us Lent is that time when we take a moment to stop and reflect on these truths – what they mean for me, for my community. And what better method that grabs our attention than fasting!  For a long while I thought that the point of Lent was fasting. However, a professor gave me some perspective, “Christians today only celebrate the feasting days of our tradition, Christmas and Easter.., they fully enjoy the food and festivity associated with feasting days, but no one practices the observance of the fasting days (Ash Wednesday, Good Friday…) of our tradition anymore.” That made me think- I was totally guilty of being one of ‘those Christians’. As I began to practice the fasting days, I came to understand a wonderful paradox – the fasting days are actually feasting days!! We fast so that we can feast on God’s banquet – his Presence, his heart, his mission!

A large part of partaking in the feast of the fast is prayer. Prayer allows us to just be, quiet and still. Prayer reminds us we are the Beloved. Prayer connects and re-focuses our hearts on Christ- who He is, what He has done, what He is doing now, where He is leading us. But prayer is also meant to be more for Christ-followers, let me explain…

I was watching the movie “The Lord of the Rings” and following the journey of the little band of friends on their way to Mordor. Unfortunately, they are forced to go through the Dwarfven Caves, a dark and dangerous place. They’ve already been in battle and are again fiercely fighting, when all of a sudden their enemies scatter, the shadows lengthen, the cavern becomes still and quiet until a steady rhythm signals a new and even more terrifying enemy. The Balrog emerges as a huge and fiery creature, with coal-like eyes and ox-like horns; he snorts fire and ferociously chases the group to the edge of open pits. Gandalf the wizard urges the group to quickly cross the cavern on a small pathway as he distracts the Balrog. But Gandalf does more than distract, with every ounce of authority and every fiber of his being, he draws himself to his full, erect stature, heavily plants down his rod in the center of the pathway and cries out in the most bold and powerful manner, “You Shall Not Pass!”

This scene has captured me and remains like a snapshot photo in my mind. It is such a vivid picture of prayer in a way that I hadn’t imagined. It is prayer on the offensive, it is prayer with great faith, it is prayer that knows the will of God, as revealed through the Scriptures. It is prayer that fights because it is rooted in Hope, the Hope that He is making all things new.

It led me to pray in a new manner. Alcohol is rampant in our community, it is a disease that is like an out-of-control virus and its grip is completely oppressive. As I see a man with a wheelbarrow carrying another man home in his drunken stupor, I cry out “Alcohol, you shall not pass in my neighborhood!”  A young teen stumbles into our yard where a group of boys are gathered for an athletic event. He swaggers in sporting his red rags and boasting about the bloody wound he is asking us to care for. He starts spouting his allegiance to the local Bulldog gang and doing his best to recruit from our group. “Gangs, you shall not pass in my neighborhood!”

We need to see a new generation of leaders rising up, leaders who will stand in the gap for their communities of need. Who will with love and justice cry out in prayer against the strongholds of oppression. A future kingdom is now breaking forth and is yet coming of no more tears, no more pain, and where perfect love finds its fulfillment as God and man dwell together.

So as you feast on prayer during your fast this Lenten season, I simply encourage you to walk through your community and with the authority you carry as a child of the King, the One who conquered death on the cross, cry out for your community – cry out songs of love and blessings and cry out against evil “You shall not pass.” For in Christ’s death and resurrection, a new way of life is possible.

Word Made Light

In the beginning, He knew. It was a mirror of what was to be.
In the cold, in the pitch black, as water mingled with air, heavy, damp, dark
No up, no down, no way out
Suffocating stillness, eerie void of nothing – yet it held everything
There was no order, it was chaos, it is life as we know it

In the beginning, He knew. It was a mirror of what is to be.
You see, rays pierced the masses, illumination of the dampness
Stillness sharpened by silhouette
Shape and form, order and design
Light flooded that void, that void, became filled

Like vase from clay He pulled light into day
Chaos was made right – He put order into Life
You see Word became flesh and lived among us
Light conquered dark, it combated the grayness

But like a newborn babe our vision was unclear
We kept on searching for what was so near
Even though we saw Light, we reached at shadow
crawling, grasping at illusion
Satisfied with a weak solution

The Word became flesh and lived as Light
He clearly says, follow me and you will find Life

The invitation is open, the switch left on
path illuminated before me
back door open if I’m wrong

But, its like in the beginning, He knew…

Our Foxy Box

No God-fearing Christian would ever purposely claim to put God in a box with the definitive statements that sums up God’s action in a precise word. I never thought that I would be that person, only to find out that this is exactly what I’ve done – put God in a box. The Provision-This-Way Box.
I had read in Matthew “Don’t worry… His eye is on the sparrow.” I remembered Psalms “He will give you the desires of your heart.” I knew in my heart that God would “provide for all my needs according to his glorious riches!” And so naturally, this looked like a new car.
I have faithfully used my little car, 22 years old, 220,000+ miles. After the stereo got jacked it was never replaced, so lots of silence and prayers and singing in that little grey Foxy Box as I lovingly deemed it. It had held stuff and hosted strangers, cradled kids and carted students. We’d coaxed our first Christmas tree to sit in the backseat and stick out the side window! It had been bashed in with a baseball bat, been broken into and backed into. Religiously it carried our bikes and camping gear, made the 16 hour roadtrip to visit family in WA. This was a solid, sturdy and reliable little Foxy Box. But alas, all good things come to an end.
Recently it was crippled when the front axle cracked, it wheezed and overheated in a moment and the AC collapsed. The poor engine leaked fluids, the fan was stuck on high, and it took several minutes to get up to speed on the freeway. Other vehicles would impatiently honk and speed around us and annoyingly peer over to see who would move so slow on a freeway – always surprised by not seeing Grandma in the front seat, and yet Foxy Box really was like a little old lady hobbling along with a walker.
Surely I had paid my dues and lived contently with my Grandma. Loved and cared for her, allowed her to serve as long as possible, but it was time for a mechanic to take over and for us to find “Mr. Flashy Pizzazz” I had been thinking about Flashy Pizzazz- maybe a full 8 seated SUV to carry extra kids, a stereo for the first time since college. Flashy Pizzazz would have a smooth interior and fully electronic features. Surely, even just Pizzazz is God’s will – we are of course in full-time ministry! Of course it is to further HIS work!! I had thought that surely I had patiently racked up enough merit points by now.
But Flashy Pizzazz didn’t show up. We couldn’t risk a heart-attack and take Grandma, we needed to travel to Pleasant Valley State Prison and visit inmates. Of all things, surely this would speak the language of Provision, like a secret code whispered in the ear of God to where he would deem this was a worthy cause, and ‘WA-LA’ Flashy Pizzazz would appear! But again, even Pizazz didn’t show up.
I didn’t understand why God hadn’t provided for us.. Humbly and nervously I went to plant B. Dear friends, may I borrow your car? Within an hour, I had 3 perfectly good vehicles offered to me to use on a Saturday all day. No questions asked. I shook my head, huh? Really? So open-handed? No ‘what-ifs’? I sighed in relief that my needs were met. I sucked in a breath and marveled at how painless that had been. Then, I started at the creative provision of God!
I really had been asking God to meet my needs my way. I had sat him down and talked to him straight to his face demanding what I wanted. A new Car. But The Lord never promised to meet our needs according to our wants. He meets us with His provision, and in this case, He needed to open my eyes to see the Provision of God in all of the ungrateful ways I’d ignored. God’s provision for a vehicle in our life right now, is the provision of a rich and open-handed community. God’s provision for transportation is generous friends who value simple living, sharing, Biblical Community, meeting one another’s needs! They are not tight-fisted, they are not more concerned over getting scratches on the vehicle, and they are not concerned that they will be inconvenienced. I have a generous community intent on being the giving Body of Christ and becoming the demonstration of God’s provision in my life.
I still drive the Foxy Box and I humbly take 5 minutes to accelerate to free-way speed. But I am not wanting. I am so rich. I am totally under the Provision of God, and He is Good.

Tribute to my Parents: Steve & Margie Eckloff

Dear Mom and Dad,
This is a duel birthday and Mothers/Fathers Day letter. A few weekends ago I was pondering the way you raised us (4) girls. A few situations had arisen, and yes I was more or less comparing, not good I know – but I felt incredibly grateful. I don’t want to take life for granted, you just never know. So, I’d rather say a few things while you can hear them. These are a few specifics that are especially meaningful to me.

*Thank you for raising us in church, Bible in hand and prayers on your tongues. The richness of a long life knowing Jesus is such a blessing to me today.

*Giving me a purity necklace and convenant for sexual purity as a teen. It was a promise I didn’t break and even today God has used that example to inspire teens in our neighborhood to purity.

*Reading! Thank you for countless hours of reading aloud “Little House on the Prairie” and for bookshelves filled with books. I am grateful for the knowledge I learned and the skill of speed-reading.

*Somehow this sticks out: money – there was a couple of times you splurged. I didn’t know the cost, but did know it was costly. Youth retreats and my Letterman’s Jacket!

*Thank you for building our house Dad. Thank you guys for raising us to love the outdoors, to ‘spot game’ and be encouraged to get dirty while playing

*Thank you for teaching us responsibility by allowing us to have and raise our pets. I sure loved my bunnies.

*Thank you for modeling frugaility and by choice or not, to live simply and within our means. Today I’m a coupon-er, thrift hunter, bargain-shopper and appreciate the value for saving and conserving. Although I remember how you would wait hours in the car to ‘conserve gas’ Mom, thanks for your hours of patience.

*Thank you for gardening and camping. These are hobbies I get to consider mine now.

*Thank you for your heart for the foreigner. I vividly remember a meal with the new Russian family at Kent Alliance. I am so grateful for a home without racist behavior, attitudes or slurs. I’m sure this welcomed me into loving different cultures.

*Thank you for being healthy! For both being fit and not overweight or sedintary. For vitamins. for always encouraging and supporting our involvement in sports. I’m striving for this as well and just signed up for my first half-marathon!

*Blessing us with love for music and musical knowledge. Violin continues to be a creative outlet and even side-job. Music enriches my life and those around me.

*I know there was so much pain and woundedness in your marriage. In that trauma, I am so grateful I never saw physical abuse. I am so grateful I never heard verbal abuse. I am grateful we weren’t exposed to explosive fighting and anger. And in this, that has of course painfully marked my life as well, I can still say, thank you for staying together. Thank you for your long-suffering. It gives me courage to stay put when things are painful. It gives me hope to see you re-define what success in your marriage looks like and work even today to pursue more peace and joy.

*Thank you for adoping the orphan. You are an example to me on how you reach out, love and support the Roddy’s.

*Thank you Dad for how you befriend the lonely. I admire how you reached out to Hicula and visit the elderly.

*Thank you for alwasy supporting me, but not ‘coddling’ I learned the value of hard work in the jobs I had and wanting the privaledges of a car.

*You allowed me to take risks. Thank you for not allowing your fears to hold me back or for keeping me too shletered. Traveling, leting me move to Fresno for college, study abroad, back packing Europe…you loved me with an open hand.

*Thank you for trying homeschooling, even if it didn’t work for us. I appreciate that you took the risks you thought best for us.

*And very importantly, somehow you didn’t freak out when I told you I was interested in dating an ex-gang member with a criminal record, prison past and parolee! Or maybe you did and I didn’t know! You both amazingly walked with us towards marriage and support us today. Ivan loves you guys and I feel honored to have your blessing.

*You both have always told me and shown me that you love me. I feel secure in your love. You have always supported me and I have never doubted that.

Thank you my parents, thank you for the rich ways God led you to raise me up. I love you both and if you have not heard it in other times, I’m grateful for your listening ears and soft hearts.

with much love and thanks,
your daughter Beth