Monday, June 27, 2016

Four Reasons to Keep International House Guests

Whenever I travel, I try my best to stay with friends and connections. Not only does this cut down on expense, but it also affords me wonderful insider travel tips and home cooking. In return, I try to offer hospitality to international guests when I can. Apart from the obvious benefits of friendship and fellowship, there are other reasons to do so.

Reason One: They expand your understanding of language.

If your guest hails from a non-English-speaking country, you'll have a chance to learn vocabulary and pronunciation from a native speaker. Even with guests from other English-speaking countries, you will find plenty of difference in the way you handle your common language. 

Reason Two: They force you to confront your own culture.

International house guests will notice cultural quirks and point out absurdities that you never even thought to question. ("You mean you cut down a perfectly good tree every year and bring it inside your house? Why not just decorate it outside?") In puzzling out your responses, you'll be forced to see that your culture is just as foreign to outsiders as theirs seems to you.

Reason Three: They bring you treats.

When you travel outside your own borders, you're guaranteed to fall in love with local snacks impossible to find back home. Short of catching expensive and time-consuming flights every time you crave Cheezles, you can rely on visits from traveling friends to keep you stocked. 

Reason Four: They broaden your ministry opportunities.

The best reason to keep international house guests is to fulfill the biblical mandate to offer hospitality to strangers

Some stranger than others. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

No Story Left Unwritten

While out in New Zealand last year, my sister and I spent half a day in the Symonds Street Cemetery in Auckland. We wandered the shade-dappled lanes and let the noise of the city recede as we contemplated the deep thoughts that generally accompany cemetery walks. 

In such moments, I find it impossible not to contemplate my own mortality. I also find it impossible not to wonder about the lives represented by each faded marker. 

Current Western burial traditions have us merely recording a person's name, years lived, and perhaps a brief quote, leaving the dash between the years to represent an entire life. 

There was a time, of course, when it was customary to sketch brief outlines of people's life stories on their headstones. Through reading these outlines and connecting the details to descriptions found on headstones of friends and relatives buried nearby, we're often able to piece together sagas of love, friendship, courage, heartbreak, and sacrifice. 

While Bethany wandered off on her own, I planted myself in front of a particular set of headstones -- that of Reverend Donald Morrison, Christina Ross, and Catharine Ross: a missionary, his wife, and her sister. They'd sailed across the world to Oceania as pioneer missionaries from Canada, and now here they rested with only the briefest sketches of their lives recorded in stone.

There's a story here, I thought. 

I stared at the headstones as if by sheer wishing, I could mine more detail from the cracked facades. 

Then I thought that perhaps these biographies already had been written and that when I got home from my trip, I could get my hands on them. Then I heard my mom's voice in my head telling me that I should write them myself (which is her solution to any discernible gap in the publishing world). Then I thought about the depth of research involved in such a task, felt unaccountably overwhelmed, and wanted to sit down even though I was already sitting down.

Silence stretched. Sunlight filtered through the overhanging leaves. I listened to the distant thrum of downtown Auckland. 

While I've lived a life rich in experience, I've done nothing sweepingly heroic or intensely interesting -- nor am I likely to do so. When I die, I will leave no tantalizing sketch on my headstone to inspire future cemetery walkers. 

My entire life -- with all of its passions, expectations, efforts, disappointments, hopes, and  fears -- will most likely be summed up as a tiny dash between a bracket of years.

And yet there is One who will know my entire story, and He will remember it forever. He has recorded my name in heaven, knows the end from the beginning, and holds my time in His hands.

There is no birth, no life, and no death that is insignificant to Him. 

With Him, no story is left unwritten. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Stay on Point

It's hard not to feel that the world's coming apart at the seams. Responding to the darkness can feel overwhelming. The good news is that responding to the darkness isn't necessarily our job. The response to darkness was settled long ago on Calvary. Our job now is to share the message of the Gospel and lead quiet lives among those blinded by sin.

To the early Christians in the Macedonian port city of Thessalonica -- Christians under direct persecution and facing the added pressures of paganism and potential tyranny -- Paul did not say, "Be sure to trumpet your opinions about the overseeing government and the local politarchs so that your neighbors know where you stand politically and socially on every issue. Push back against the culture!" 

Instead, he wrote this
About brotherly love: You don’t need me to write you because you yourselves are taught by God to love one another. In fact, you are doing this toward all the brothers in the entire region of Macedonia. But we encourage you, brothers, to do so even more, to seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, so that you may walk properly in the presence of outsiders and not be dependent on anyone.
I submit that if our family and friends hear more about our politics and social opinions than they do about the Gospel, we have our priorities upside-down. 

That's not to say that there won't be overlap -- after all, our beliefs influence our behavior, and our behavior is our theology in action. It's also not to say that Christians should not participate in public debate or the free exchange of ideas; however, our communication must be rooted in deeper truth. 

We must allow the Gospel to penetrate the core of human need. The Gospel may be foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved, it is the power of God. Only the Spirit of God working through the Word of God can change hearts and lives. 

The Gospel is our main message, and we need to stay on point. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Florida Summer Is Your Winter: The Evidence is Undeniable

Living as I do in South Florida, I often joke with friends up North that our summer is actually their winter. It's not really a joke, though. Friends who make the mistake of coming to visit in the summer quickly learn that the reality of Florida summer is vastly different from expectation. 

In order to survive this brutal season, we treat it like the rest of North America treats winter. 

Don't believe me? Consider the following evidence.

Support #1 - Holing up Indoors

Don't worry, Northern friends. I do get it. Only those who've been forced to spend the winter indoors huddling under a pile of blankets can truly appreciate the sun's arrival in summer. As one of my Midwestern friends is fond of saying to celebrate the arrival of outdoor workout weather, "Sun's out, guns out!" 

Down here, however, we live by a different summer motto: "Flee the sun lest it boil your face off."

While the months of November through May are nearly idyllic -- drawing visitors from around the globe to experience our lazy winter days -- June through October cause us to question why anybody lives here in the first place. 

Support #2 - Extreme Weather

In the Northeast and Midwest, winter is the time to brace yourself. You dress for extreme cold and fortify your homes and vehicles against winter storms. For us, the opposite is true. Extreme temperatures and damaging storms arrive during summer.

In addition to soaring temperatures, Florida summer also heralds the arrival of our rainy season. (Although I've been using the culturally-accepted terms summer and winter for the sake of clarity, experts actually name Florida's two seasons as rainy and dry.)

These aren't just cute little rain showers, however. They're daily deluges. Almost every summer afternoon in South Florida, towering thunderheads blow in out of nowhere, unleashing torrential tropical downpours accompanied by severe electrical storms. 
In addition to daily storms, we also face the very real threat of named tropical storms and hurricanes. In fact, even as I type this post, a tropical storm brewing in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to become the next named storm, bringing -- at the least -- flooding and dangerous seas.

Is it any wonder that our seasonal residents abandon ship every April?

Support #3 - Complaining on Social Media

Our friends up North spend the winter months recording freezing cold temps and chronicling the snowfall on their back porches. They take to social media to bemoan the many layers of clothes they'll have to don just to take the dog out for a morning walk. 

Meanwhile, in Florida, we spend summer cataloging the days that it's still 90 degrees after sunset (seriously, how??) and the fact that we broke into a sweat while merely walking toward the gym at 6:00am. 


Please know that I'm not trying to turn this into a post about whose seasonal issues are worse. (I think we can agree that Siberia has us all beat.) 

And I'm not necessarily complaining about Florida weather. After all, I choose to live here year-round for a reason. We may spend our summer hiding from the sun, but at least we don't have to shovel it off our sidewalks. 

And I do know that Florida summers are not the exact same thing as your winters. It's just that the parallels are undeniable.

Any place you choose to live is going to have its ups and downs, and -- all things considered -- Florida's pretty great. During the months of November through April, there's almost no place I'd rather be. The skies are clear, the seas a tranquil blue-green, and the temperatures just right for lounging poolside with a good book. 

Once winter rolls around, I'm sure plenty of you would be happy to trade places. 

Bear in mind, however, that we do have other problems.

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