One year ago today I fell from a ladder. I broke my nose and a couple teeth and tore a gash through my lip & up through my nose. God provided amazing care at every step of the way, from the folks that came to my aide where I fell to my ER nurses who got me prepped for surgery to my colleagues who operated and provided anesthesia to all those who helped me and Michelle through the recovery process.
As I reflect on that harrowing ordeal, and many other, smaller interruptions to my plans for how best to serve Christ, our students, and our patients here in Kibuye, I come back often to one question:
My plan (continuous, constantly-improving productivity) seems so effective at accomplishing those good things I know God wants, how is His plan (stuttering progress, occasional “wastes of time”) an upgrade? Or, in other words, what valuable treasure has God hidden in these pauses, delays, and lapses of productivity?
I don’t have every answer or even the answer to any particular pause (e.g., what was the point in losing the screwdriver attachment to the cordless drill today on the way home from the shop where I made a bed frame for us, requiring >45 min of searching before Michelle finally found it on the side of the trail), but I like how the question keeps reorienting me towards God and His plans. It is, after all, a principle in safe surgery that the timeout before beginning allows you to verify you are about to perform the correct procedure on the correct patient. Or, as one author of many books on productivity writes, “make sure your ladder is leaning against the right tree before you start climbing.” 😉
Yet even beyond that, it compels me to repent again of thinking that somehow the realization of God’s plans for individuals, families, & communities depends on me. God doesn’t NEED me…yet He is pleased to use me. The interruptions reveal the generous grace of God. He includes us in His work not from necessity, but from benevolence. And now every time you see my crooked smile, you too can be reminded of the God who delights in building beautiful things with broken tools.
Disruption is an opportunity for growth. When I graduated high school I cut my hair short. There were a couple reasons for this. One, it was summer and short hair is cooler. Two, short hair requires less maintenance than long hair. Three, and possibly most importantly, moving away for college was an opportunity to reinvent myself a little bit. The disruption of moving towns, schools, churches, etc. allowed me to press into some character change that I was hoping for over the next phase of life. I wanted to be more disciplined in my duties but also more gracious in my relationships. I wanted to give more attention to spiritual realities and less to physical appearances. Although I have to admit, I believed then as now that balding men who kept their hair short kept their hair for longer…so there was a bit of vestigial vanity.
Now, as two decades ago, our family faces a similar disruption. We are in a different town, working a different job, and attending church differently than usual. Having gained some weight in quarantine (the other “Covid-19”), lost most semblance of a daily and weekly schedule (due to a host of factors), and subsisting between physical distancing and the social media minefield I am tempted to detest this disruption. However, in so many ways, those aspirations of a college freshman are a good reminder of how to respond to this disruption. I still want to be more disciplined in my time management and more loving in my relationships. I want people to perceive Christ in me and to draw closer to Him because of our testimony as a family. I don’t want to waste this pandemic…and did I mention that I need a haircut again?
Luke 22:39-46 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
The Pandemic of 2020 is reaching its peak in the US just as we approach the celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead. In this time of profound disruption and chaos, anticipating even more as the caseload climbs and more fellow humans around the world succumb to the ravages of this disease, my thoughts turned to the above passage from Luke (my personal favorite because he was a physician/historian/missionary). I appreciate the picture of Christ’s humanity that it reveals. I’ll mention just three elements that attract my contemplation:
(1) Jesus had habits. Apparently, when he was in Jerusalem, he would often go across the Kidron Valley to pray in the gardened slope of the Mount of Olives. As his band of followers drew ever closer to the greatest trial of their lives, their Shepherd led them into a familiar rhythm of prayer. It was this regular evening prayer time (foreshadowed by Daniel’s example before the lion’s den) that gave Judas Iscariot the confidence he needed to lead the mob to arrest Jesus.
(2) Jesus knew the fatigue of sorrow. He understood how overwhelming grief can exhaust the will and drain one’s spiritual and emotional energy. He knew that temptation to passivity in the face of catastrophic loss and even warned his follows not to give in. He knew what was coming, he anticipated the threat to his disciples’ faith, and he gave them the tool they needed to face it: prayer.
(3) Jesus was scared. He knew that betrayal, torture, isolation, false accusations, rejection, crucifixion, and death would hurt. He wished for another way. The super-human stress that he faced caused him to sweat blood and required an angelic paramedic to assist him. Yet his response in the whole affair was at once familiar and profound: he prayed. He opened his heart to his Father and bowed his will to the Sovereign of the Universe.
There is a mix of emotions for anyone going into battle, facing a real (albeit small in my case) threat of death. I think I have felt them all even if I lack the vocabulary to describe them. And though I read, study, worry and fret more than I fall on my knees in prayer, I find that it truly is the antidote to fear and the oil in the lamp of faith. Because somehow, deeper still than the dread of loss and the paralysis of sorrow’s chaos, there is love. Love bids me onward, forward, and always upward.
2020-03-11 | Carlan There is a special kind of concern that a parent has for a child, especially an infant. Certainly it is protective. Certainly it is providential. He cares for her helplessness but there is a special compassion for the child’s naïveté. It is as if there is a kind of purity, simplicity of experience that will be marred by suffering and pain. Age and entropy attrite innocence even as they accrete wisdom. We long to preserve that character if only for its transience. Like the fragrance of the blossom, it is as precious as it is ephemeral.
When we looked up the potential causes of Gabrielle’s spasms, my heart sank, like an anvil in a lake. She might have a devastating neurological malady without ready remedy. Even before she was born, Michelle and I would pray for her husband and children, for her ministry and education. In an hour of research, all of those dreams seemed to sublimate and I despaired — for a few hours. I’m not a philosopher or a poet, but I am a Christian, and it was a conviction of the heart deeper even than my loftiest aspirations for my daughter that anchored my thoughts henceforth.
God is kind. God is in control. He is sovereign and good…not just generally, but specifically. To Michelle and to me, God is generous and gracious. He defines right, noble, and benevolent. Moreover, He is intimately acquainted with every event that occurs in our life. Not just that, He is able to order all circumstances for our benefit and His ends. Beyond even this, He has ordained each and every situation such that His glory advances and never retreats, no matter how things appear.
We just spent 24 hours hospitalized at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. We were surrounded by kids suffering from indescribable illnesses and parents in ineffable anguish. We were discharged today with a clean bill of health for Gabrielle after continuous EEG monitoring showed no trace of abnormal electrical activity in her brain. Either it was a false alarm (the specialist-professors disagree on that), a medication side effect from her malaria prophylaxis (not previously described in the literature), or God spared her. I tend to think it was that last option, that God healed Gabrielle, but it may require restarting the Malarone to further confirm.
You have prayed with us and cared for us so well during this saga. Thank you. We were cleared to return to Burundi by the pediatric seizure doctors at CHLA with no additional workup necessary. As far as medicine can be sure, Gabrielle does not have West Syndrome or any kind of epilepsy. I know that tomorrow or even later today another, different pressing need will appear from another corner of your world and I want you to pray for and care for that, but would you grant a humbled, grateful papa one small request? Before you close out the saga of Gabrielle’s spasms in your heart, would you please pray one more time for her and for us? Would you pray that God would use our family and especially our daughter to transform children’s hurt to healing?
(This post was written just over a month ago but never made it to publication. It still very much describes my experience here.)
I love being a professor. Actually, that statement is too narrow. I love being a teacher.
There’s the selfish part. Feeling like you know one subject more thoroughly than another is nice. The pride that rises up when a student asks a question and you find exactly the right way to explain it. The respect you receive from others.
Though I would have to say, for each of those, my experience as a med school professor in Burundi gives counter-examples. Emergency medicine is intrinsically general. In residency one professor used to joke that we knew “the first 15 minutes of every specialty” but little beyond that. The majority of questions posed to this professor are not met with sparkling illustrations and inspired syntheses but with fumbling attempts to cobble together the French vocabulary I have to explain a concept that exists in my mind only in English. And when you say something off-handed that turns out to be a cultural faux pas and offend all of your students simultaneously without knowing it for a week…well, let’s just say that “respected professor glow” disappears.
In the last few weeks I’ve experienced all of the above while preparing and teaching a course on Traumatology. Every career and every job has its ups and downs. Everyone starts out incompetent in their job and builds that competence over years of making and learning from mistakes. Yet I find that the stresses and strains of researching and writing curriculum and diffusing those lessons in the clinical and classroom contexts resonates with something in me. Watching students who struggle to put disparate observations into a larger schema finally “get it” when you ask them the right question to unlock their own curiosity and logic is the unique privilege of teachers. Seeing your students acquire competency more quickly than you did carries no spite or jealousy but joy and a vicarious sense of accomplishment.
Yet what I cherish most is not building knowledge or skills into my students. That is not the best part.
These students come from various walks of life. Some are the children of rural villagers whose whole communities have sacrificed to send one child to university. Others have had the advantages of excellent primary and preparatory schools and educated parents. Some are local and some are from neighboring countries. They are atheist, Catholic, Muslim, Protestant, and a host of other worldview backgrounds that I do not even always know. They have different natural aptitudes and varying degrees of discipline or drive. They are different characters.
And that is the best and hardest part of being a professor. Teachers carry a responsibility to shape the character of their students. Will my pupils have better character because of their time with me? How can I reach in and influence their hearts? How do I prepare a curriculum for that?
In Matthew 23:8-12, in the midst of a scorching rebuke of the pastors and professors of His time, Jesus tucks these gems into the discourse.
“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
I’ve been reading the Bible as a Christian for over 20 years. I’ve read through the Gospel of Matthew unnumbered times in the course of those years. I remember the “rabbi” part. I remember the “father” part. But somehow that “instructor” clause escaped my notice until last week when I was in the midst of preparing and teaching the traumatology course.
It turns out that the best and hardest part of my job just got better and harder. I am supposed to have good character. I am to be humble. Patient love will need to characterize my preparations and interactions. I’m also going to need to drop my title.
BUT…look at the positive of what Jesus said. We have a teacher. We have a Father. Christ, the Promised One, is our instructor. !!!
Somehow the way to be an effective and productive professor just joined the pathway to being a good anything else : point self and others to Jesus.
It’s been 2 1/2 months since we moved to our community called Kibuye located in the rural farmlands of Burundi, one of the poorest and hungriest countries on the planet. In October I started the one and only Kibuye Music Studio, complete with a Kawai upright, shipped new from the States. Most probably one of the only upright, acoustic pianos in the country.
Moving it from the container was a nerve wracking experience, but when all was said and done it only had a couple superficial scratches.
Currently I have 10 piano students from among the team children. Most of the children have electric keyboards in their homes, and one other family shipped over an older upright.
Since arriving we have had the opportunity to host some local Burundian friends and musicians. Seeing and hearing the piano has turned into a local attraction. One young man, a musician at our local church, stopped by and played the piano. He told me it was his first experience to play on a “real acoustic” piano. He has only ever played on small keyboards.
The children are preparing music for the upcoming Christmas recital. I am also eager to see how we can use this instrument to bless the local community, and hope to in the future, hold some concerts for our village. And one day I would *love* to open a music school for the Burundian children!
And it’s over. Has a year really gone by?! In the moment, time feels like an eternity but when it’s passed it feels like a train that’s rushed by in a hurry and one is left hearing the whistle trailing off in the distance. As I sit here on my couch this summer morning in Albertville, with my to-do packing list next to me, and my graduation ceremony behind me, I’ll do my best to recount some lessons I learned during this year of intense French language school.
Immersion language learning is…
1. …one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.
This caught me off guard, maybe because I had taken Spanish in high school, and Greek and Latin in the years following. Language learning had always been fun and challenging. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the physical, emotional, and mental challenges of languageimmersion. At the end of long conversations or a week of class where no English was allowed, I could literally feel my brain throbbing. Each day was a firehose of new words, new verb syntaxes, new ways of speaking and expressing, and desperately trying to understand what those around you were saying. Each day was also filled with many unsuccessful attempts at speaking, though this improved with practice.
2. …at times amusing.
If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. O how true this old adage is when it comes to learning a second (or third) language. I made many mistakes but some were more memorable like when I told the choir I was going to “bother them” instead of “lead them.” The French words for lead (diriger) and bother (déranger) are similar, yet very different. Or when I volunteered to lead Bible study thinking that I was volunteering to make a cake.
3. …emotionally challenging.
We quickly learned that the French educational system is much different than the American system. Upon reflection I can see the benefits, yet it was a painful process. A passing score is 50%. That doesn’t sound too bad you might say, but in reality for us Americans, it feels like a beat-down. I’m used to being an A student, studying well and getting good grades. But that’s almost impossible here in France. The tests are made so incredibly difficult that it’s almost impossible to get a “good” grade. It feels like you are drowning, like you can barely keep your head above water and waves are forcing water into your mouth. In the midst of this storm you find out that you passed, but it doesn’t feel like “passing” in our American minds. Self-esteem doesn’t stand a chance when you miss almost half of the questions. This may be a benefit of the French model, yet for me this was emotionally challenging. I never realised how much value I put on performance and how much self worth I find in success. What a scary thing to build one’s confidence on this constantly moving foundation! It is my prayer that I will learn from this realisation and build my confidence on Christ’s work and perfect score…not my feeble attempts.
4. …takes time.
A month into our time here in France I asked Carlan when he started to feel more confortable in French. I was expecting him to say something like “by month 3,” yet he said, “after a whole year of language school and 6 months into living in Burundi.” What??!! And Carlan is super duper smart. But it’s true. Learning a language takes time. In our fast paced world it kind of goes against our grain to be patient. We want instant results. If we look at children, they absorb their mother tongue for years before even uttering one word. I have been learning and relearning the lesson of patience this last year as I strive to learn French.
5. …confusing to your mother tongue.
Yes, I have had moments when I’ve forgotten a word in English, or accidentally used a French word without realising it. My spelling was never great, but now it’s atroce. I’m constantly asking myself things like “is plant spelled with an “e” like plante or without?” In French it’s: plante, in English: plant.
6. …very rewarding.
Almost no one speaks English in Savoie (where our language school is). When I arrived, I knew next to nothing in French. Every conversation sounded like a mass of sounds with a few “bonjours” interspersed. We went out to eat at a restaurant the day after getting here. Carlan told me what to say and asked me to order in French. I did the best I could but the lady just looked at me confused. Even shopping was scary. What if I couldn’t find something and needed to ask for help, what would I say? Or even more scary, what if someone asked *me* a question! Eek! Yet as the days and weeks of language school progressed, I started understanding more and more. I remember the thrill of my first Sunday when I understood most of the sermon, that was back in January. All of these crazy sounds started making sense! I was surprised at how encouraging it was to have a conversation with someone in *their* language and to understand them and to be understood!
So there you have it, not a complete list, but some thoughts looking back in this last year. I couldn’t have done it without my Saviour and his unconditional love and forgiveness. And I couldn’t have done it without the encouragement of my husband. And I couldn’t have done it without my patient, hardworking professeur!
The years ahead will continue to hold additional language learning as we head to Burundi and learn Kirundi and continue on in French, but I’m thankful for these lessons and hope to continue to learn from them in the future!
Here is a link to a video of our school made by a fellow student (Stephen Abbott). The drone footage is amazing!
Over a century ago in the Occident, a movement was born to celebrate motherhood and mothers. In France, in 1906, a prominent citizen of a little known town organized a party honoring mothers on a Sunday in June. Two mothers received a prize and the town of Artas forever won the claim to being the birthplace of Mothers’ Day. (For reference, Wikipedia says that the US established Mothers’ Day in 1914 under Woodrow Wilson in part due to the consistent lobbying of Anna Jarvis of West Virginia.) It is celebrated the second Sunday in May for many nations but in France it is the last Sunday in May. Why? Not sure, but it affords me the opportunity to write about my favorite lady born in Europe.
It is not necessary to get overly philosophical on the subject of motherhood as its essential role in the continuation of the human race is evident and one needs no explanation of how a mother’s presence empowers one to endure the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. I would, however, like to take this moment on the European calendar to celebrate my own mother with one very bizarre simile.
My mom is like a pine tree.
Every plant has its way of responding to adversity. Pine trees, if they lose their central growing shoot will not sprout a new one from the stump but will let the next tallest branch take over the role of trunk. You can tell from the shape of a pine tree the trauma that it has experienced. My mom has survived being shot at, airlifted out of a conflict zone several times, being thrown into multiple different cultures and geographies, and a breast cancer diagnosis. Each time, she has continued to grow closer to God and if you ask me, she points straight to Heaven, directing the attention of those who know her upward.
Pine trees are also evergreens, which means that they do not lose their leaves in winter. They have several adaptations that enable them to survive in harsh conditions like the waxy cutin that covers their needles, stomata that can close to reduce moisture loss, and a kind of freeze-proofing process that means they can do photosynthesis even during winter. My mom is a bit like that. Though she certainly doesn’t like being cold, she has been productive in every season of life, true to her God-given design. She has at various times in her life been a political prisoner, refugee, nurse, teacher’s aide, volunteer coordinator, and missions administrative assistant. I love that she always finds a way not only to survive but to serve.
Conifers all produce sap. It is kind of like the blood of the tree. It carries nutrients up and down in the xylem and phloem (like the arteries and veins) from roots, trunk, branches, and needles. It is one of those features that allow the tree to avoid “hibernation” in winter. And if you’ve ever come in contact with my mom, you probably noticed that you left with a little residue of wisdom and affection still on you. She has spilled countless words of godly counsel on me (like helping me find my way into medicine, missions, and marriage to Michelle). And I know that as many wise words as she drops on me, she is sending dozens of heartfelt prayers up for me.
My sister-in-law, Christi, is an incredible woman. She has faithfully served in a small and ailing church in a rural community outside of Los Angeles. She has persisted in a job that had become increasingly stressful and domineering in the past year or so. She has done all of this while suffering recurrent bouts of physical discomfort brought on by a missions trip to SE Asia. As she prayed over her response, she concluded that she was to decrease certain commitments and increase others. So, with little fanfare, she committed to a Bible study at our church, Grace Community, quit her job, and took an extended break to visit Europe. All this with a minimum of drama.Often when someone faces down such changes in ministry, job, and life, it is accompanied by sleepless nights, long phone calls to friends and family, and lots of reading / counsel-searching.
Why so little drama with Christi? Please indulge me with three observations.
First, changes in career and ministry profile don’t generate undue drama for Christi because she has a settled faith. The question of God’s sovereignty has already been answered for Christi. And she has seen His provision for years in her own family life. She trusts a good God who is in control of every circumstance.
The second reason these disruptions in externals do not translate to internal disruption is that Christi has already faced fear and survived transition. She moved several times as a kid, left for college, came back to finish college, studied abroad and served internationally. When she took a job, she was ready to learn its exigencies and protocols rather than assuming she already needed to know how to do it. The same applies to her new adventures.
Last in my list but not in real life, Christi has confidence in a safe landing pad. The Rose Family is tight-knit and extremely hospitable. It is hard to imagine any scenario in which Christi would not have adequate emotional and financial support to find new work and service.
I submit to you that the greatest human instrument through which this great theological training, navigation of life’s ups and downs, and haven of familial rest and support came was, in one person: Mom Rose.
Christi is the image of her mother and they share a great many traits and life experiences. It has been my privilege to see the strong and steady influence of Mom Rose on her two girls over these past few weeks as Christi has stayed with us. The character of the disciple is testimony to the faith of the discipler.
A little over a week ago the 2017 Shepherds Conference at Grace Community Church finished up having welcomed over 2500 men from around the US and world to Sun Valley, California for a week of teaching and refreshing fellowship. I cannot recount to you all the stories of providential meetings with various friends from bygone days or the inspiring messages from great scholars and students of the Word…but I would like to highlight one faithful family. Burton Michaelson is a founding members of Grace Community Church and his construction company built many of the church buildings including the main sanctuary where Michelle and I were married.
But at 87 years old, he and his bride, Dolores, are still building up the church in Los Angeles and beyond. He was already on campus at 6:30 AM just to hand out little flyers with the day’s schedule on it to attendees as they entered campus (see photo). And for lunch he helped grill hundreds (if not thousands) of hot dogs so that people could grab a quick bite in between sessions.
Last month I wrote about Grandpa C. and the legacy he left me of faithfulness to the end. In 1 Corinthians 4:1-2 Paul writes to a church that had lost their confidence in him, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” The Michaelsons certainly demonstrate how to be about their Lord’s work even in their golden years.