Nanowrimo Pep(?) Talk


To you brave souls that are doing Nanowrimo this year, I thought I would resurrect my favorite pep talk from five years ago – a year when I was in college and competing with a friend and somehow, despite a full class load, managed to reach 30k. Ah those magical, nostalgic Nanowrimo times.

To all of you other people who are not doing Nanowrimo or don’t even know what it is, disregard this post. Perhaps next time I will write something for the general populace.

Without further ado, a pep talk from Lemony Snicket:

Dear Cohort,

Struggling with your novel? Paralyzed by the fear that it’s nowhere near good enough? Feeling caught in a trap of your own devising? You should probably give up.

For one thing, writing is a dying form. One reads of this every day. Every magazine and newspaper, every hardcover and paperback, every website and most walls near the freeway trumpet the news that nobody reads anymore, and everyone has read these statements and felt their powerful effects. The authors of all those articles and editorials, all those manifestos and essays, all those exclamations and eulogies – what would they say if they knew you were writing something? They would urge you, in bold-faced print, to stop.

Clearly, the future is moving us proudly and zippily away from the written word, so writing a novel is actually interfering with the natural progress of modern society. It is old-fashioned and fuddy-duddy, a relic of a time when people took artistic expression seriously and found solace in a good story told well. We are in the process of disentangling ourselves from that kind of peace of mind, so it is rude for you to hinder the world by insisting on adhering to the beloved paradigms of the past. It is like sitting in a gondola, listening to the water carry you across the water, while everyone else is zooming over you in jetpacks, belching smoke into the sky. Stop it, is what the jet-packers would say to you. Stop it this instant, you in that beautiful craft of intricately-carved wood that is giving you such a pleasant journey.

Besides, there are already plenty of novels. There is no need for a new one. One could devote one’s entire life to reading the work of Henry James, for instance, and never touch another novel by any other author, and never be hungry for anything else, the way one could live on nothing but multivitamin tablets and pureed root vegetables and never find oneself craving wild mushroom soup or linguini with clam sauce or a plain roasted chicken with lemon-zested dandelion greens or strong black coffee or a perfectly ripe peach or chips and salsa or caramel ice cream on top of poppyseed cake or smoked salmon with capers or aged goat cheese or a gin gimlet or some other startling item sprung from the imagination of some unknown cook. In fact, think of the world of literature as an enormous meal, and your novel as some small piddling ingredient – the drawn butter, for example, served next to a large, boiled lobster. Who wants that? If it were brought to the table, surely most people would ask that it be removed post-haste.

Even if you insisted on finishing your novel, what for? Novels sit unpublished, or published but unsold, or sold but unread, or read but unreread, lonely on shelves and in drawers and under the legs of wobbly tables. They are like seashells on the beach. Not enough people marvel over them. They pick them up and put them down. Even your friends and associates will never appreciate your novel the way you want them to. In fact, there are likely just a handful of readers out in the world who are perfect for your book, who will take it to heart and feel its mighty ripples throughout their lives, and you will likely never meet them, at least under the proper circumstances. So who cares? Think of that secret favorite book of yours – not the one you tell people you like best, but that book so good that you refuse to share it with people because they’d never understand it. Perhaps it’s not even a whole book, just a tiny portion that you’ll never forget as long as you live. Nobody knows you feel this way about that tiny portion of literature, so what does it matter? The author of that small bright thing, that treasured whisper deep in your heart, never should have bothered.

Of course, it may well be that you are writing not for some perfect reader someplace, but for yourself, and that is the biggest folly of them all, because it will not work. You will not be happy all of the time. Unlike most things that most people make, your novel will not be perfect. It may well be considerably less than one-fourth perfect, and this will frustrate you and sadden you. This is why you should stop. Most people are not writing novels which is why there is so little frustration and sadness in the world, particularly as we zoom on past the novel in our smoky jet packs soon to be equipped with pureed food. The next time you find yourself in a group of people, stop and think to yourself, probably no one here is writing a novel. This is why everyone is so content, here at this bus stop or in line at the supermarket or standing around this baggage carousel or sitting around in this doctor’s waiting room or in seventh grade or in Johannesburg. Give up your n ovel, and join the crowd. Think of all the things you could do with your time instead of participating in a noble and storied art form. There are things in your cupboards that likely need to be moved around.

In short, quit. Writing a novel is a tiny candle in a dark, swirling world. It brings light and warmth and hope to the lucky few who, against insufferable odds and despite a juggernaut of irritations, find themselves in the right place to hold it. Blow it out, so our eyes will not be drawn to its power. Extinguish it so we can get some sleep. I plan to quit writing novels myself, sometime in the next hundred years.

Lemony Snicket

Lemony Snicket is the author of  A Series of Unfortunate Events.

… you’re welcome.


This Looks Familar// Two Hands

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I am sitting in the Bangkok airport for the 4th time this trip, and this time it’s not landing as a weary, jetlagged traveler, or to fly to Hanoi, or en route to Laos (on my birthday), but as one whose feet are homebound. My journal and camera are full and my backpack is now stuffed not with Bibles, but market souvenirs.
And my heart is bearing the all-too-familiar weight of farewells.

Why is God so good to me?

In front of me are 16 hours of airplane air and humming and sitting, then like a magic transportation – dadaah – it’s back in Seattle with my family and friends, back to school and schedules and working just a few minutes from the hospital where I was born, the world of Asia once again thousands of miles away.

I’m going back.
What have I learned? Is the thought that immediately follows.

I wanted to know so much, to have everything figured out. I still do. College degree, where, what. A big booming voice would be grand. I’m sure we all feel that way. I knew I wouldn’t get it, but still – I hoped.

Instead what I’m coming home with is a greater contentment with not knowing. An understanding that God has already made it pretty clear what my life work is to be, and that the life we tend to think of as ‘radical’ or ‘extreme’ isn’t really: it’s just being obedient and a natural response to our salvation.
Kinda more simple than I make it.

I am coming back with two lessons, one in each hand.
In one hand, I have learned missions is not a conditional when/where life (when I’ve graduated or am this old, etc, if I move to another country), but rather living life intentionally, always. Missions is my life. As it’s been put so well, to know God and make Him known. To have as my highest aim, glorifying Him.

And in the other hand, the reminder that as I live ‘missions’ everyday, I cannot cannot cannot forget God’s heart for all nations. I lose out if my focus becomes too narrow and all I can love, pray for, and serve is in arm’s length. God’s plans are a lot bigger than that, and I don’t want to miss out on seeing how great is our God, and being willing to be His servant to those who have never heard wherever they be. Especially as there are brothers and sisters facing injustice, discouragement, and persecution even unto imprisonment or death. Today’s world is globalized, which is awesome – but I believe also holds us to a greater responsibility.

This song came to mind as I sit waiting for my next flight. And the story Kendall shared at the beginning really fits with what I’m learning.

I, sir, have never had clarity. What I’ve had is trust.

Regardless of whether I ever receive a messenger angel – wet/dry fleece – snake rod – scales falling off clarity from God as to my exact life purpose, I have His Word to go by, and I want to be obedient to that.

Still in a Dream

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You may be surprised to hear this, but a busy trip does not free time for blogging make.


Somehow the days were completely filled what with plane rides, van rides, tuktuk rides, boat rides, hauling ridiculously heavy backpacks across borders, getting sunburnt – oh, and a bit of fun stuff like haggling with market vendors and sightseeing here and there. And then of course there was socializing with my team – *if I must* – and by the time evening rolled around my brain for some reason did not want to peck out a post on my tablet (tablet, why did they name it that? Calls to mind chiseling on a stone tablet..) or meticulously select and edit photos.

All right, enough excuses. Basically I’ve been having way too much fun. The cities we’ve seen have been entrancing, from the streets of Hanoi that flow with motorbikes like water, to the jungles in Chiang Mai we ziplined through (that’s, right, ziplined. Amazing!), to the 6 hour speedboat ride we took down the Mekong River in Laos, every turn revealing more mountains. We’ve wandered around quiet temples and through crowded markets where haggling now happens by exchanging bids on a calculator with the local vendors until an agreement is reached. We’ve tried food like snails, frog, eel (and they do say once you’ve eaten in these places long enough, you’ve most likely had dog). Mostly we enjoy dragon fruit, mango, the most natural bananas we’ll probably ever have, and the plethora of fruit shake/smoothie options at every restaurant. Oooh and restaurants. We’ve enjoyed Thai, Lao, Vietnamese, Indian – with a bit of “regular” food like pizza or spaghetti here and there – at restaurants in the crowded city central, or a village where those chickens wandering across the road are probably tomorrow’s meal, or by the Mekong as the sun set across the river.

There have been so many moments I’ve sat back to watch my team talking and laughing while figuring out how to hold chopsticks, or squinting against sun and dust as we jolt through the city, crammed into a tuktuk, or humming along as a local church sings in Lao – and it feels like a dream to be here. It feels like a place that just exists as I move, unfolding as my eyes and body move.

I watch the Buddhist monks wrapped in orange praying to a golden head or monument, and cannot wrap my mind around how ancient this religion is, that this is truly what millions of people believe – not just to make pretty buildings or enjoy lighting some candles – and what they trust or lean upon in life. And people think Christianity doesn’t make sense?

That’s another post in itself.

In all of this seeing, traveling, tiredness, joys, and new things, I had the absolutely best team and leader. You know how they say you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family? Same same – I had no idea what kind of people I would be traveling with for 2 weeks, but was blessed with brothers and sisters of kindness, generosity, laughter, and love. Every one of them challenged me with their strong love for Christ and His Word.

In imagining each of them now what I see is their smiles, and their listening faces. They were always ready to quietly and fully listen to what someone else or I had to say – which says a lot more about someone’s character than just that they’re willing to listen, if you know what I mean.

I’m getting choked up, just writing this. That’s happened quite a bit since I said goodbye to them. Always goodbyes in my life, to the most amazing people that make it so hard to leave.

And then you meet more people that show you more of Christ, and life moves on, and God is sovereign, and praise Him that someday there will be a massive reunion in heaven. I can’t wait.

But for now? For now I am staying behind in Laos while the rest of the team has gone home. I am staying with missionaries and really just humbly taking in a lot right now, meeting missionaries and seeing ministries and taking in what God is doing against this country’s darkness through His people.

In ten days I’ll return home, to a very different world.. and we’ll see what’s next. God is good, God is faithful, and again all I can speak is humbled, and privileged.

Bangkok// Surface

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It’s been only four nights now I’ve spent in Asia,  a place of mixed chaos and calm, poverty with patches of wealth, delicious food and roasted dog, everything adding together to become an entirely different world than my American hometown.

I got to my hotel in Bangkok about 11pm Monday night, and spent the next day eating breakfast, reading, and generally just hanging around the hotel waiting for the rest of the team to come in. I stood at the window and watched the traffic flow outside on the busy street but wasn’t quite brave enough to walk around by myself. I moved around my room and the hotel lobby like I was in a stranger’s house, cautiously examining everything and feeling aware I didn’t know what was culturally acceptable.

I did finally step out of the air conditioning and was chatting with a taxi driver when the team arrived around 2pm. They piled out of the van and after a hello exchange headed to their rooms for a quick nap, being pretty exhausted from their long flights.

Afterwards we grabbed some cabs (3 to fit us all) and headed to the Bangkok center. Hello, driving in a third world country! The lines are completely ignored and the shoulder is used to create another lane – motorcycles weaving between everyone. All the locals do just fine, following the unspoken rules of how to merge and move – but I’m positive I would last all of ten seconds driving on these roads before hitting someone.

We walked down KhaoSan Road, a popular place for tourists to come that’s lined with restaurants, stalls selling clothes and souvenirs, and bars. We ate our first local meal together (one of many to come) at a restaurant just down the road, and as we were eating in their outside covered area it began to rain – hard. Hello, tropical rain.

During a break in the rain they also shot off fireworks – for the king’s birthday, I believe. We were at first startled and unsure what was going on, as the sound was more like a gunshot. Funny how small things, things you don’t even realize can be another way, are different.

The next day we took easy: taking another excursion into Bangkok, this time escorted by a local missionary from Ireland, Johnny. He took us to several prominent monasteries with the Reclining Buddha and other Buddhas. Everything was beautifully made – they press small pieces of colored mirrors into the walls to make mosaics that glint and sparkle in any bit of light, then paint the trim with some sort of gold lacquer. Within these sites everything was clean, whitewashed and swept, a stark contrast to the city outside that was filled with debris and piecemeal buildings.

The whole team enjoyed 30 minute Thai massages as well – an experience that was relaxing though a bit painful at times. 😉 The massage was about $9! Everything here is incredibly cheap, though being unknowing tourists we often go to the touristy places which is comparatively more expensive. Taxis are only about 9-10 dollars for a 30-45 minute ride.

We used just about every form of transportation that day: tuktuks, train, ‘tourist boat’, and taxi. The evening meal we would enjoy with the Johnny and his family, relaxing in their community’s salt water pool after.

I know. What a hard trip. 😉

That night the real purpose of the trip began (no, we didn’t just come to sightsee! 😉 ), as we carried boxes and boxes of Bibles into a hotel room and divided them amongst our backpacks. We figure we had about 200 Bibles total, as each of us carried about 15-23 between our checked and carry-on. We stuffed clothing around the Bibles to make our bags look less “boxy” and weighed our packs on the hotel lobby weight/horoscope machine to ensure they were below the 20kg limit.

The next morning we sunk the hotel shuttle low with the weight of our bodies and packs, and rode it back through the weaving traffic to the airport where we took a plane to Hanoi, Vietnam. The Hanoi airport seemed more quiet than usual, the guards more serious and a bit intimidating – but that may have just been in our minds.

Us Americans received Vietnamese visas OK (the Europeans didn’t need one), and we all piled our bags onto wheeled carts and pushed them through customs without incident – no one stopped us to scan our bags. Praise God!

Just to be clear, it is not illegal for us to bring the Bibles into Vietnam. It is illegal for the tribal people these Bibles were printed for to have them. It is humbling to know that while what we’re doing is very needed and good, it is others who daily face the real danger – if caught, they face eviction, pressure to give up their faith, and even death.

Our next drop will be in a few days, so again we are sightseeing, as well as daily devotions talking through concepts from the book Radical by David Platt.

This trip has been cross-cultural in more ways than one, as within our team we have a Scot, an Irish, a German, two other guys also from America, and the rest are from England – in all, twelve of us, seven guys and five girls. We curiously compare everything from education to terms to candy, and so learn about many parts of the world at once.

Annnd this is where the rest of the post I’d written has dropped off a cyber cliff into cyber space for an unknown reason. *heavy sigh* Twice now I’ve compiled pictures into a gallery only to have it disappear. Technology is a gift from God to teach me patience.

Really I was just going to wrap up this blog post by talking about what I’ve not talked about – and by that what I partly mean is, in these 4/5 days I have experienced two countries and cultures that are different from my individual experiences, from my home world. Just a bit. And I’ve no idea besides a long dinner and slideshow when I get home how to tell you what I’ve seen, where to even start on this blog post, so it’s been a struggle writing (and rewriting) it.

The other part I mean is that no matter how well I capture in words what I’ve seen, ultimately these days and this trip are but a glimpse, a skim, of a rich world with a deep history. I see only the surface, but I know there is so much more I could learn and understand. This trip I’m doing little more than snapping pictures, but I could sit and learn and attempt to slip over the language barrier to truly know these people.

The words that have come to my mind a lot during this trip are “humbled” and “privileged.” In many ways – for this chance to be a part of this important work, with such a solid and wonderful team under a strong and godly leader, shown around by missionaries that inspire me with their examples of obedience and service. To be given this chance to see these cities and lives.

The pictures below will fill in this blog post a bit more. I’m not sure when my next post will be, as these take ridiculously long when I’d rather be spending the free time with my teammates or journaling… but I’m still taking photos, and I promise there will be another post, someday, Lord willing. 😉


The Timeless Beginning

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My life has become sitting down. And sitting down. Hallo-ing again my dear friends the clouds. Eating whenever food is brought, and sleeping when I can, and no longer caring how my hair looks, and wondering vaguely just what time it is here – there – how long have I been traveling anyways?

I believe the answer is about 17 hours. 3 of those hours were in the Tokyo airport and the rest of been in flight. My tailbone would appreciate it if I could be vertical – horizontal – just straight, someday. Movies are great (especially a rewatch of Guardians of the Galaxy, yeesss), but a current count of four + no human conversations (as my seat neighbors sleep) is quickly turning my brain to mush.

Fierce hugs and prayers from my family 17 hours ago officially sent me back into the world of travel, aka everything revolving around figuring out where to be when and clinging onto several small possessions (passport and boarding pass), constantly worrying I will misplace them. In the Tokyo airport I was returned to a world where everyone speaks a different language, writes in a different language, watches TV shows that are… not American, and has way more buttons for toilets than are necessary! I am reminded how huge the world is and it is wonderful and daunting all at once.

In about 3 hours I will land in Bangkok (10:45pm their time), and hopefully with little ado make it to my hotel and a horizontal position fairly quickly – then the rest of the team will be landing and joining me tomorrow afternoon. Our first few days will be spent in Bangkok, adjusting and orientation.

I am hoping… along this trip to take you with me. To show you the sights, through my eyes. That’s dependant on me getting thoughts together, on having time to type things up, but I hope to. Thank you for thinking of me, for loving/supporting/praying for me during this trip, depending on who you are reading this. 🙂

Since I’ve gotten on the plane, the trip has felt unreal, like I’m floating outside of time and space, inbetween worlds, just waiting to land. Planes are weird portals, but I’m sure glad not to be on a rickety ship for 3 months, all of my things packed in a coffin in case I die on the way/there. But what a great commitment that required from people in that age, during Hudson Taylor’s life.
Anyhow. My brain is half lucid right now, as for me it’s about 6am and did I mention I’ve watched four movies…? I just wanted to let you know I’ve (almost) made it. 🙂 

Soundtrack during blog post: Prince of Egypt. Singing along silently while the rest of the cabin sleeps.
P.S. Posted after flight, once I had internet again.
P.P.S. Forgive any spelling errors por favor, I am typing all this on my tablet. 😉 

Take Courage, Dear Heart

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Well, that figures.

“But on the other hand…” Describes my life. A lot of the time.

I let this blog gather cyber dust on a cyber shelf for four months, still in its ‘Christmas theme’! Work at World Vision was replaced by a lot of free time – and a lot of mental turmoil over what’s next as I trod everywhere through the web, researching the millions of options. My mind turned into Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof,” thinking well on this hand… but then on the other hand… I learned a lot through the roiling but nothing I could solidify into a post. My waiting blog danced in the back of my mind, asking for a life update, but I didn’t know what to say, how to summarize what was going on.

Annnddd now college classes have started with a fury, I have enough assigned reading to fill every waking moment, and what do I suddenly have a desire to do? Write a blog post! Yeah for the strange productiveness produced by procrastination.

It is bizarre to think that it has now been four years since I was last taking community college classes. But before a mournful sense of stagnation attacks, I remind myself of just how many places I was able to work at and visit over those four years – from Rainier to the Tetons, Oregon to Europe. I remind myself that it doesn’t matter if it feels like I’ve gone full circle, but that I am coming back with a better sense of direction and purpose, with lessons learned and most importantly, so many wonderful friends made!

On my first day of plunging back into a world of papers and lectures and *gulp* thinking, I was reminded of a few old friends that went on their own journey. I’ve been encouraged to reflect that what they obtained is what I need. Let me set aside my terribly interesting International Relations book about the military-industrial complex and liberalism, and take just a moment to share with you what these folk say it takes for school – and life.



“Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven’t got: a diploma.” – The Wizard


The Strawman = always my favorite.

An incognito elder due to my baby face, plunked back among the aimless freshies straight out of high school (or still in high school), I am finding my brain has become just a wee bit rusty over the years. Last week, I puzzled over why I was so tired driving home one day, and determined it’s probably because my mind has grown lazy and now has to start up and work again! So after a long day of school, my brain was tired.

As a believer in God, I think I can tend to compartmentalize what He gives me. I thank Him for food, for income, for the people in my life. I can tend to forget that my capacity to even reason and think comes from God, and that the moments when I am inspired or understand something, God deserves the glory!

As I face every school assignment, every stretching moment throughout life, it is a reminder to rely on the One who makes my body move, my lungs breathe, and my brain work – and to thank Him for it.



“All the same,’ said the Scarecrow,’I shall ask for brains instead of a heart; for a fool would not know what to do with a heart if he had one.’
‘I shall take the heart,’ returned the Tin Woodman, ‘for brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world.”


It’d be great if this guy had a heart. Because he’s carrying around a sharp ax…


I always need to remember to have a heart, whether at work or school or on a city street… it is more comfortable to slip into disengagement. Seeing my fellow co-workers and students as faces, with no lives or history or dreams within them. Losing sight of why I want to study and obtain a bachelor’s. I slip into seeing things on the surface and cease to see deeper relationships as worth it, or focus on just getting by with a good grade without caring about the life impact I could let the class make on me.

In the very first class my sociology teacher lectured on the ‘Why’ – specifically, why were we taking his class and attending college – and how it was important to understand undertaking anything in life. A lot of students don’t think enough before they start college, and they simply get a college degree because their parents and society tell them ’tis the fitting thing to do, and they should get a good edj’macation so they can get a good job, so they can earn a lot, so they can buy a great house and retire well, so they can…? We live every today for the future, and yet do not look far enough.

Though I’ve plunged back into classes with a renewed zeal, it can get rather tedious turning in assignments and plugging through the thick textbooks (though there are pictures!). Enthusiasm for a subject, when it encounters some bumps and difficult areas, can wane quickly unless there is a bigger goal in mind. This may sound contradictory, but to keep my heart engaged requires keeping my eye on the present – right now – and on the why, the future goal. I’m not exactly sure just what degree I am getting and what it’ll look like when I graduate, but I know that I want to get involved in ministry serving the Lord overseas and a degree will ultimately equip me and open doors. And I’m OK with the unknowns. Mostly.

Which leads us to the last fellow and his quest for…


“You have plenty of courage, I am sure,” answered Oz.  “All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.”

Fullscreen capture 4242015 113445 PM.bmpLife takes a lot of courage. Like, a lot a lot. It takes courage to wait on the Lord. It takes courage to move. It takes bravery to tell the people in your life this is what you are headed towards… because what if the direction changes? Or what if you never make it?

The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or, perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and, at length, the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them. -Thoreau

It takes courage to stay undefeated. To be an enduring dreamer. It takes courage to try without knowing everything first. To engage. It takes courage to let go of a dream, and courage to choose God’s dreams above the world’s. It takes courage to pursue – when it feels like everyone else is better at everything than you. It requires a brave person to take the blows of failure without letting go of hope.

This school quarter is already a quarter of the way done. And then who knows what’s next, and next, and next. It’s not for me to worry about. I want to simply focusing on having a brain, and a heart, and courage – for today.

As Joshua was told – Be strong and courageous

As a disguised King once said – You will have troubles but take heart – I have already overcome

And as another Lion once said – Courage, dear heart.



Now back to Kant-


See Beauty// Again

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Heaven walks among us ordinarily muffled in such triple or tenfold disguises that the wisest are deceived and no one suspects the days to be gods. Yet we are often impressed with a conviction that if we were elsewhere in other company or employment or in no company, in turrets near the stars, or in caves underground, enlarged by science, or melted by music, or kindled by poetry, we should come into the conditions of sight & the universal cloud would roll up and disappear.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sometimes the attributes people comment on and compliment in me are areas where I am aware I am deficient, so I work harder to make up for my lack. Such as I am not graceful, I am not observant, I am not good at removing myself from myself and fully listening to people, I am lazy. But I am aware of those weaknesses in my life, so I work harder on those areas. Do you find this true for you as well?

One of the areas I always work hard at is noticing the beauty in everyday life. It is so incredibly easy; all it takes is the pause to look and appreciate. My short breaks during my workdays give me just enough time to wander and take in whatever beauty is casually unfolding.

The woods behind World Vision’s buildings are small, like the last thought in the building plans, a green scribble in the architect’s empty squares between buildings and concrete. But they are just large enough to hold small ponds, holly and ferns and dewdrops and God’s miraculous, living art that needs no encouragement but space to be. Before the pond froze, there were frogs that flew for watery cover with a -zip- and a squeak of panic when I came to the pond’s edge. The water was clear enough for me to see straight through, to the moss and sunken branches and vibrant green on the bottom. If I stayed still and looked long enough, I could glimpse the frogs’ heads as they floated, but with the slightest move from me they disappeared deeper and further into the pond.

Once the pond froze, I could skip rocks and figure out just what size would break through the ice. And when the temperature rose the bare branches, dark silhouettes against the winter sky, filled with caught beads of winter rain that glistened. The sunlight, weak but still gold, and the remaining autumn leaves add a touch of warmth to the winter landscape.

I don’t have to tell you about the beauty in this world. You see it too in a million facets – in the glow and color of Christmas lights, in the vibrant colors of Divine and mortal art, in the smiles of every person, in the laughter with a loved one, in nature’s wild yet calm. Sometimes so instinctively felt and sometimes so forgotten, yet always so obvious when we lift our eyes and take in. For me, it takes a conscious pause to reflect on the wonder of what I am seeing.

In Anne Dillard’s book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (click for full chapter), she muses about seeing, and what blind people experience when their cataracts are removed and they see for the first time. She speaks about the bewilderment that comes with the new sight as the patient has to learn height and depth and size, formerly non-existent perceptions that now dawn and overwhelm.  But when the person is able to move beyond the disorientation, there is wonder. “The newly sighted,” Dillard writes, “see the world as as a “dazzle of color-patches.”

A little girl visits a garden. “She is greatly astonished, and can scarcely be persuaded to answer, stands speechless in front of the tree, which she only names on taking hold of it, and then as ‘the tree with the lights in it.’” Some delight in their sight and give themselves over to the visual world. Of a patient just after her bandages were removed, her doctor writes, “The first things to attract her attention were her own hands; she looked at them very closely, moved them repeatedly to and fro, bent and stretched the fingers, and seemed greatly astonished at the sight.” …Finally, a twenty-two-old girl was dazzled by the world’s brightness and kept her eyes shut for two weeks. When at the end of that time she opened her eyes again, she did not recognize the objects, but, “the more she now directed her gaze upon everything about her, the more it could be seen how an expression of gratification and astonishment overspread her features; she repeatedly exclaimed: ‘Oh God! How beautiful!’”

I worked on this post in the airport waiting for my flight to board, feeling a bit like I was in school again as I became engrossed in trying to capture my thoughts in words and musing over Anne Dillard’s essay. So engrossed, in fact, that there was a “last call for Sarah Ulrich” to board the plane. I wrote this on the plane to Boise as well, the wing from my window seat gleaming from the eastward sun. We floated over mounds of clouds – one of my favorite views of one of my very favorite things. Though “floating” is not quite the right verb, more like “bucking.” The plane shook from the air turbulence and I felt like an unperturbed horse rider, letting my body loosen and sway with the movements so the jolts became somewhat relaxing. I am so sorry for those of you who do not like flying. Talk about a way to enjoy beauty, and wonder.

But back to Annie. Continuing on from what she had read in the observations of the cataract surgeons, Dillard writes:

I saw color-patches for weeks after I read this wonderful book. It was summer; the peaches were ripe in the valley orchards. When I woke in the morning, color-patches wrapped round my eyes, intricately, leaving not one unfilled spot. All day long I walked among shifting color-patches that parted before me like the Red Sea and closed again in silence, transfigured, wherever I looked back. Some patches swelled and loomed, while others vanished utterly, and dark marks flitted at random over the whole dazzling sweep. But I couldn’t sustain the illusion of flatness. I’ve been around for too long. Form is condemned to an eternal danse macabre with meaning: I couldn’t unpeach the peaches…Martin Buber tells this tale: “Rabbi Mendel once boasted to his teacher Rabbi Elimelekh that evenings he saw the angel who rolls away the light before the darkness, and mornings the angel who rolls away the darkness before the light. ‘Yes,’ said Rabbie Elimelekh, ‘in my youth I saw that too. Later on you don’t see these things any more.’”
Why didn’t someone hand those newly sighted people paints and brushes from the start, when they still didn’t know what anything was? Then maybe we all could see color-patches too, the world unraveled from reason, Eden before Adam gave names.

Giving names and raveling the world into reason can add to our appreciation, or it can lead to a loss of wonder. Especially in this day and age, when we can explain so many “hows” with our head knowledge, and in the midst of dissection forget about the “whys.”

Break from the instinctive labels of “trees” and “sunset,” “water” and “peach” and look as if for the first time. Marvel again in colors. In the miracles of the oddly shaped, two-legged breathing creatures that lumber and dance and chatter and smile all around you. In the miracle that you are, from your body to your mind to your soul.

Most of all, remember anew the One who made you.

Remember again the wonder of an eternal God choosing mortal clothing, for the sake of restoration. Consider afresh the undeserved, attentive grace  of our God manifested in the large and small. Today, this Christmas, break outside of the labels and rote lessons and words that have worn ruts in your mind. Consider if you’ve placed God in a box. Personally, I know I can become so inundated with sermons and books and words that I become like one who looking, does not see, and hearing, does not comprehend.

Recall how precious that grace, the hour you first believed.

This time of the year there are voices clear and subtle, clamoring at you to buy and give and come and do… you may even have a lot of voices with good intention reminding you of “the reason for the season,” and to find peace and joy in the midst of the bustle. Humbly I add my voice to the later cause.

Take a moment, right now, to see God and His wonders again. Talk to Him about His love for you. Dwell on Him, in stillness and peace. Pull out a sheet of paper – even just a sticky note if that’s all that’s near. And give to Him whatever comes.

Close your eyes. Open your eyes. And maybe you will find… “It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance.” (Dillard)



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