Monthly Archives: June 2012

Two Small Coins

Things are really moving along now.  Only a little over a month until we depart Bend, enroute to  Kenya via Colorado Springs, Philadelphia, and Dublin.  The house sale has closed, so we’re sitting around in our rented house with our rented furniture, some changes of clothing, and our laptops.  Our focus now is finalizing our Kenyan immigration/work/license documents, and raising the last five percent of our budget for the next five years.  Overshadowing all of that, however, is saying good-byes and getting together with friends and family one or two or three last times.  To that end, Ann is heading down to spend a few days with her brothers Stephen and Paul in San Francisco, and the whole family is getting together with cousins, aunts and uncles in Ashland.  Every back country ski and mountain bike ride is bittersweet.  After seventeen years of riding these trails and climbing and descending the Cascade mountains with great friends, it’s hard to say good bye.

Part of our mission to Kenya is raising prayer and financial support from a team of people who believe in what we’re doing.  We function as an extension of this team in Kenya.   Forming this team has been a source of continual amazement, humility, and joy, and we’re about 95% of the way to having our budget financed for the next five years!   Almost a hundred different families and individuals have stepped forward to be a part of this project.  The support has come in so many different ways:  old friends, new friends, our church, business associates, and people we don’t even know at all.

One of our most remarkable support raising experiences happened this past Thursday.  Chris, a great guy we hadn’t even met, got wind of what the Mara family had planned.  Without thinking twice, he rallied to our cause, and persuaded his employer, a local private club, to put on a fundraiser for us. Once you meet Chris, you understand that he’s the type of person that other people just like to do things for.  Chris called in all kinds of favors, from donated gourmet food and drink, use of the beautiful facility in downtown Bend, to a legendary singer/songwriter for the evening, Chris Beland.  Local dignitaries showed up in droves, and the night was a great success.  We had the opportunity to talk and show some slides from Kijabe, many great connections were made, and twenty two people decided to support our work in Kijabe!

The highlight of the evening, for me, came from my nephews Thomas, Daniel, and Michael.  My sister Sheila, her husband Bill, and their three boys had just arrived from a 2200 mile road trip from Michigan, and were able to attend the fundraiser.  It was great to have them there, but Ann and I were a little distracted.  We were a little nervous about speaking in front of a group of people we largely didn’t know, and our son Michael was in the middle of a major diabetic crisis.  As we were up speaking to the group, we knew that our friend Mary the endocrinologist was in the back of the club treating Michael for a blood sugar of 460.  He was getting close to being hospitalized, so we were a little distracted when the three nephews came up and tried to talk to us.  We thought they wanted to go home, or get some more food, or something nephew-ish.  They had to get a little emphatic with us to get our attention for their announcement:  “We have $97.34 in our ‘brother fund’ that we were going to use to buy souvenirs on our vacation.  We listened to you talking about how kids in Kenya can’t get help when they get hurt, and we want to give you the money to help those kids. We donated our ‘brother fund’ to your mission.”  As a 48 year old man, I hate crying in public.  But sometimes you have no choice.

Mark’s Gospel talks about my nephews:

Sitting across from the offering box, Jesus was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.

These three guys gave their all.  Things like this remind us of the seriousness of stewardship, using the resources allotted to us to try to shine Christ’s light a little, build His kingdom a little, make this world a little less painful and a little more Shalom.  I think that all of us are called to “give extravagantly” in one way or another.  There’s a little boy in Kenya who, 6 months from now, will know God’s love, and be able to walk, because three great kids put in their two small coins.

ps  The diabetic crisis was before he ate that ice cream cone, not after!

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Stuff, stuff and more stuff…

One of the biggest obstacles to our moving from Bend has been the necessity of clearing out our house and packing up our belongings.  The dread!  I have had nightmares about how we were going to fit all of our stuff into boxes.  This past month has seen that particular nightmare come true!

It is incredible how much stuff one can accumulate over a ten year period.  Last July, we held a garage sale.  The front porch, steps, driveway and garden were completely covered with toys, games, kitchen ware, books, and tools.  Our first customer arrived at 6am that morning after whom came a steady flow of passer-bys, neighbors, and “professional garage sale perusers.”  There really is such a thing!  They start the rounds as early as 6am – coffee in hand – ruthless and ready to steal a bargain!  We got rid of so much stuff in anticipation for our big move next month, and yet…it seemed as if in the last ten months, we accumulated just as much as we had sold!  The initial feeling of liberation passed all too quickly.

In facing this mammoth task in the last few weeks, I have learned a few valuable lessons:

  • Any packing materials that promise fun and laughter are setting you up for complete and utter misery!  There was very little smiling on our end of things!
  • Both Mike and I have very different ideas about what is and what is not sentimental…all giraffes, whether plastic, glass, or wooden, are all worth keeping! Yes!  Our 7 foot tall, solid mahogany giraffe has begun his voyage back across the seas to a new home…in a custom made “coffin” of sorts.
  • My attention to detail and fastidiousness about wrapping delicate items is far more trustworthy than Mike’s “just throw it all into a box and call it good” method of packing!
  • Moving is arguably one of the most stressful events that one can live through.
  • Reducing ones possessions to the bare minimum (albeit 47 boxes) is truly liberating.

And where are these boxes en route to, one might ask?   They are currently making their way to Dublin, Ireland.  We will be making our “home base” in Dublin for the foreseeable future.  Yes!  That makes me very happy.  The boxes will sit in a storage unit for as long as we figure out the next step of this crazy adventure. We intend to stop off in Dublin on the way to Kenya so that we can stuff the contents of 16 of those boxes into duffel bags to carry with us as luggage to Nairobi. Ann, Mike, two kids, and 22 pieces of luggage battling their way through airports and navigating airport trolleys.  I am anticipating a little stress during that particular phase of things!

Our house is now devoid of any character due to the absence of photos, pictures, and various different knick-knacks.  It’s not really our house anymore, however, as we closed on the sale over a week ago.  As the shipping truck pulled off and away from sight, I had an urge to run after it and say that it had all been a big mistake!  Mike and I still look at one another and ask if all of this is actually happening.  It is a very surreal feeling to be packing up, saying goodbye, and moving onto new experiences and places yet unseen.  In one way, it seems as if this move has been such a long time coming.  In other ways, it’s hard to believe that we get to embark on this adventure together as a family.  So many emotions pack themselves into a single day…excitement, fear, being overwhelmed, joy, terror, disbelief, enthusiasm, sadness, anticipation…it’s hard to hold so many feelings at once.  Our over-riding feeling, however, is one of Peace.  Contented that we are on the right path.  Satisfied that we are following our calling.  Trusting in our God to never leave nor forsake us.

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The Constant Gardener

This Oscar winning film’s leading character, Justin Quayle, loves to garden.  He carefully tends to his plants, watering, feeding, and pruning them to bring them to their healthiest, most productive state.  In this dark thriller, loosely based on a true story of corporate exploitation in Africa, the gardener himself awakens only after he is pruned of his most precious relationship.  His wife begins exposing the corporate evil, and is murdered to keep the lucrative secret under wraps.  The mild mannered British diplomat really only awakens to his life after all he holds dear is stripped away.

Though I love this film, I bring this up not as a movie review, but to consider the role of pruning.

Not being a gardener myself, it is not intuitively obvious that cutting pieces off of a plant allows it to produce more fruit.  From the fruit tree’s point of view, this must be awful.  The gardener, who has provided soil, nutrients, water, and sunlight, shows up one day with a clipper in hand.  This previously benevolent character marches up and begins amputating some of the tree’s favorite limbs.  I’m certain the tree would not immediately sense that the gardener was subjecting him/her/it to this horror out of love.  I think the tree would have difficulty, with its pulpy brain, figuring out how this was going to lead to greater joy and fulfillment later in the season.

Where am I going with this?  When you read the wisdom texts of any culture, they tend to rely on agricultural stories to relay human wisdom.  To us this seems edgy, mysterious, obscure, eastern.  But if you think about it, these books were written in the pre-industrial age, and these stories would have been immediately accessible to their target audience.  For those of us who think not having the current model of the latest igadget is retro, digging into agrarian stories can be challenging.

As a follower of Christ, I believe the Old and New Testaments hold inspired wisdom and truth.  True to form, this requires unpacking agricultural parables.  Finally getting to the point, one of my favorite analogies in the bible is from the New Testament book of John, quoting Jesus as he teaches:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes  so that it will be even more fruitful.... No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples….

                   “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love…. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 This is my    command: Love each other.  (emphasis added by me)

There’s a lot here:  love, joy, fruit, glory, and……pruning?

Again, it’s not obvious to me that pruning is beneficial, and, thinking again as a tree, definitely not loving, joyful, fruitful, or glorious.  But there it is.

Now there’s a lot of things in our lives that need to be snipped:  greed, lust, gossip, and violence, are pretty clearly “branches that bear no fruit.”  I get that.  Cut those branches off, and from any perspective, that makes me a better person.  In John’s Gospel, the Constant Gardener cuts those branches off.  From the trees perspective, painful, but helpful.  But now it gets really nuts:  the Gardener starts snipping branches that are bearing fruit!  I’m told by a gardener friend that pruning healthy productive branches, if done wisely and lovingly, dramatically increases the health and fruitfulness of the tree.

Now we’re getting somewhere.  As happens over and over again, we see the perfect wisdom of the Creator in the simple patterns of Creation.

This has all been on my mind because we, as a family, are being pruned.  Healthy, productive branches are being pruned.  Snip after snip.

Great friendships…snip

Great church community…snip

House, jobs, security….snip, snip, snip.

The good news is, we don’t have pulp brains, we can know that our Gardener is wise and loving, and knows that our greatest joy is in being productive branches of the Eternal Vine.  This pruning, while not pleasant at the moment, is going somewhere;  the very pain of leaving close friends makes us value those relationships even more; the jobs, house, and security that brought us joy also hold us back from our true purpose and greater fulfillment.  Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with friends, jobs, and houses:  these are productive branches in our lives.  It says in the story that God wants us to have “complete joy”!  So we rest assured that the pruning is to that end, our greater joy as fruit of the Vine.  As we get closer to moving to Kijabe, we look forward to sharing our joys and challenges with you.


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