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sound of cemeteries

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The Lord knows what we need, when we need it. He knew I needed to visit a cemetery on a hill on a brisk New Zealand spring to find closure, grieve and celebrate a life well lived.

*note, this post was written in October 2014

I’m in Akaroa today. It was a French colony and has a beautiful bay. The weather was excellent—bright, blue skies and brisk spring weather.

I hiked with a friend to an Anglican cemetery on a hill overlooking the city’s lighthouse and bay.
Home at Last
I wandered past tombstones with names of old and dates even older. We then made our way to the Catholic and “Dissenters” cemetery. The Anglican cemetery housed the remains of men and women with English last names. The Catholic cemetery’s stones had French last names, for the many French settlers in the colony, as well as Irish last names. Earlier today, I met a fifth-generation French woman who owns a dolphin tour company.

The Dissenters were English men and men who broke from the Church of England. They advocated for a separation of church and state and called for a Protestant Reformation of sorts in England.

I loved the Dissenters cemetery. On the tombstones are quarter-length ‘tweet testaments’ to God’s grace and their departure to their eternal home.

“Thy will be done” and “in a better place” were etched in tombstones.

With Christ, which is far better

With Christ, which is far better

My grandmother passed away this week. I wasn’t able to return for the funeral. It was really hard for me. Had I been in my city, I could have made it. After exhausting options, I accepted the fact that I’d have to miss remembering the matriarch of my mom’s side of the family.

A year and a half ago I lost my grandfather on my dad’s side. I was thankful I was in the U.S. to grieve, remember and celebrate his life well lived.

But God allowed me to remember my grandmother –not in the way I’d imagined. As I strolled up and down the rows of stone memorials, I realized the Lord was allowing me a chance to remember and grieve. I wasn’t in the cemetery where my maternal grandfather and uncle are buried and where my grandmother was being laid to rest. But I was in a cemetery, and as I read the last testaments and memories that family members chose to forever etch on tombstones, I was able to mentally write ones for Grandmomma.

“Peace, perfect peace,” and “until the day breaks and the shadows flee away,” are two of my favorites.”

Reading these on the tombstones reminded me that she’s in her eternal home. I could imagine I was there in the Lowcountry graveyard.

I didn’t know the people buried there, but I know the bonds of family, the love and the grief.

Some of the dates I saw on the stones were similar to my grandmother’s birth date.

Tombstone in the Dissenter's cemetery

Peace, perfect peace

On the walk down the graveyard hill, I crunched on a carpet of browned pine needles. I realized this was my chance to be in South Carolina—in a “Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe” sort of way. The path behind my grandmother’s house is carpeted with fallen pine needles. Pine needles cushioned the back yard of the home she lived in for her entire married life.

Cemeteries aren’t what you initially think of when you think of a peaceful and serene location. Perhaps an even stranger thought is of a cemetery being a vacation attraction.

But for me, I could celebrate the life of a woman who is now at ‘peace, perfect peace,’ and no longer has to wait ‘till the day breaks’ to find eternal healing and eclipsing joy. I was thousands of miles away—on the shores of “Middle Earth,” but the Lord granted me a window into the time of remembrance that I’d of otherwise missed.

The Lord knows what we need. He knew I’d be at the base of a glacier named after an Austrian leader when I returned the missed calls with a lump in my throat—knowing what words would soon leave my father’s lips and travel invisibly over the ocean to the ‘glow worm cottage’ I was staying in. He knew I wouldn’t be able to make it back to South Carolina. He knew I needed to travel to Austria through the songs of the Von Trapp family in Auckland’s Civic Theater.

Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away

Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away

Grandmomma loved songs. Her Alzheimer’s and dementia claimed a lot of memories – but hymns and Scripture were rooted deep in her mind in areas that disease could not claim.

I remember clearly the afternoon a preacher came by to visit my grandmother. I think I remember that she had had a hard week and her sentences didn’t always fit together and her memory was fading. The preacher made rounds, visiting the elderly and aging in the country.

We sat at the kitchen table, with a view of the carpet of pine needles, and I remember him saying something to the effect of, “Well, Miss Grace, shall we sing?” He started singing a hymn in a soulful and bluesy voice and my grandmother sang along—remembering all of the lyrics perfectly.

The day of the funeral, I went to see The Sound of Music live. The musical is a favorite of mine – my dad would substitute “Tessa Lyn” for “Eidelweiss” in the Austrian ballad. I couldn’t be with my family but through another Aslan-like plan, God closed a door, but like Maria sang, he opened a window. There’s something healing about music. It’s invigorating and the hills in New Zealand are really alive with the Sound of Music. “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” is a powerful song, the soprano singer who played Sister Abbess did a phenomenal job, her powerful voice gave me chills and I closed my eyes during part of it to absorb it. My grandmother was a woman who climbed every mountain and forded every stream.

I was able to watch part of the funeral, via streaming live feed, and I loved the hymns my family chose and I could imagine my grandmother sitting in her pew, singing for memory the songs of the Baptist hymnal. I watched online along with my cousin who lives in Germany.

Carpet of pine needles

Carpet of pine needles leading out to the bay in Akaroa, New Zealand

He donned a tux. I wore last night’s make up—the funeral was at 4:30 a.m. New Zealand time.

As I was watching, my phone data ran out and the hostel’s Wi-Fi refused to wake up from its intoxicated state. Frantically, I ran first to the front desk and then jogged down the dusky dawn streets of Auckland, looking for Wifi.

Starbucks. Must make it, I thought.

I jogged past an abandoned pair of black pumps and was cat-called in an alley. I passed people who’d been out all night. I realized this wasn’t the safest decision—running on a downtown, dark street in an unfamiliar megacity.

Starbucks was still a sleeping giant. I hesitate and pause on the street and start to turn to return to the hostel.

“Are you OK ma’am?” a Samoan security guard in a bright orange vest asked. He was on late-night patrolling the streets after Diwali festivities. Diwali is a South Asian holiday.

I explained my failed mission while holding back tears. He offered to let me use his phone as a hotspot. By the time we had it active, I’d missed the funeral’s finale.

I found a kind Samoan soul who sympathized and let a stranger use his data to connect to South Carolina. I told him he was an answer to prayer. I told him I’d prayed for help, and God sent help.

“God bless you,” I told him.

If anything, my mad dash was a chance to, in a small way, be a witness. If it was a song title, I’d say it was One Direction’s “Midnight Memories—” well, a gospel one, anyway.

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I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness

Thanks to another wardrobe, more commonly known as the Internet, I was able to be at my grandmother’s funeral, even if it was only for a short part. Thanks also to technology, I was able to watch the remainder of the service later on YouTube – an interconnected web of wardrobes. I’m thankful for the maze of mirrors, windows and wardrobes that connected me, in Middle Earth, to a small town with a street name with a Tolkien-sounding name if there ever was one.

God’s plans are not our own. Like Maria found—things turn out differently than we expected. I’ll see you on the other side, Grandmomma.

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On faith and fairy stories, part 3

This is the third installment in a series on faith, myth and allegory. If you’re just landing here, read post No. 1 here.

The Chronicles of Narnia contains strong biblical allegories, “woven into their very fiber.”[1] The theme, Montgomery states, is the redemption of mankind through Christ. “To Tolkien and to Lewis, tales such as the Narnian Chronicles can, by their very nature, serve as pointers to the great theme of Christian Redemption. Moreover, they will establish in the hearts of the sensitive reader and appreciation of, and a longing for, the Christian Story.”[2] Montgomery writes that Lucy, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, comes across a story in the book of a Magician and she tries to remember the story. She is distraught that she cannot remember. She eventually does, and remembers the lessons she learned from Aslan. “A good story—one which will remind the reader of the One who was nailed to a trees on his behalf, and who now guides the believer, expects great things of him through faith, and waits to receive him into his everlasting kingdom when his work on earth is done.”[3]

Tolkien thought Lewis’ writing in The Chronicles of Narnia was too explicitly an allegory. Historian and literary critic Edmund Fuller agreed that Lewis is more explicit in his biblical allegory. He said that the Christian message is present in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but it is deeply buried.[4] “Yet I believe that the relative explicitness of the Narnian books is a positive merit and value in them. It is not so clear that a completely uninstructed child would know it for what it is. But even for the uninstructed, it would lay down a foundation for understanding the Christian mystery in all its basic elements”[5] However, both authors’ writings have connections to Christian theology. Mariann B. Russell said her doctoral dissertation that the stories of Lewis and Tolkien, all “shared a belief that the thrill of adventure could be related to the romantic experience which in its turn could be related to Christian theology.”[6]

The Chronicles of Narnia are brimming with connections to the Bible. Author Lawrence Watt-Evans writes that, “In some ways, the history of Narnia parallels the biblical account of the history of our own world. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, while ostensibly a fairy-tale adventure, retells in its way the Passion of Christ.”[7] In The Magician’s Nephew, the reader watches as Aslan creates Narnia. All of the elements are there, the garden, the forbidden fruit and the snake, which in the book, is Jadis. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund and in doing this, he mirrors Christ’s sacrifice for humanity. The Last Battle is the story of the Apocalypse. The other books in the series continue with biblical connections.[8]

Tolkien wrote that the mind has the capability to create and add meaning to life. The human mind can observe, for instance, that grass is green, and can add meaning to occasions such as births, anniversaries and deaths. The human mind also has the power to imagine things to move. With the mind’s capabilities to create, Tolkien wrote that man is a sub-creator.[9] God is the ultimate Creator, Tolkien believed, but man becomes a sub-creator as an author and myth writer.[10] Tolkien was a sub-creator when he created Middle Earth. Authors, like Tolkien, create a “Secondary World” that one can enter in to mentally.[11] For a moment, when the reader reads the book, he or she believes what the secondary world shows, then, doubt enters and the reader re-enters the primary world, Tolkien wrote.[12] Tolkien acknowledges that human writers, as creators, transpose the stain of sin onto the characters in their tales. Not all fairy tale characters are good as is seen in the case of Saruman in The Lord of the Rings. The beauty of the Gospel is that God has redeemed the fallen characters, redeemed the sin that is so inherent in characters.[13] God is the ultimate and original Creator and He created the universe. Aslan’s breathing Narnia into existence is similar to God bringing our world into existence. Tolkien’s creation of Middle Earth is an example of a creator giving life to a world.[14]

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are not just biblical allegories. Tolkien said that since he is a believer, this affected the standpoint from which he wrote. Kilby thinks that Tolkien shied away from saying The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit is an allegory of Christ’s redemption because he thought that the “allegorical dragon might gobble up the art and the myth.”[15] The stories from Middle Earth, are “a story to be enjoyed, not a sermon to be preached,” Kilby writes. “Yet I think it is clear enough that for many readers the story deeply suggests the sadness of a paradise lost and the glory of one that can be regained.”[16] Redemption is a tangible theme in The Lord of the Rings. Through reading about the genesis of Middle Earth, the reader sees that evil was not always present and that the evil characters did not begin evil, they made a choice to choose the dark side.[17] “The basis for The Lord of the Rings is the metaphor, God is light.”[18] There are many symbols of Jesus in The Lord of the Rings. Kilby says that Gandalf’s struggle with Balrog, where he falls into a pit is similar to when Christ descended into hell. “After Gandalf’s resurrection—it is plainly called a resurrection—the Fellowship gazed on him with something of the same astonished joy that Mary Magdalene and others found at the tomb of Christ.”[19] The examples and connections to biblical themes in The Lord of the Rings abound.

Stay tuned for the next installment.

[1] Montgomery, “The Chronicles of Narnia and the Adolescent Reader,” 109.
[2] Ibid., 115.
[3] Montgomery, “The Chronicles of Narnia and the Adolescent Reader,” 109
[4] Fuller, 91.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.,131.
[7] Lawrence Watt-Evans, “On the Origins of Evil.” In Revisiting Narnia: Fantasy, Myth, and Religion in C.s. Lewis’ Chronicles. ed. Shanna Caughey. (Dallas, Tex.: Smart Pop, 2005), 27.
[8] Kilby, 27.
[9] Tolkien, 8.
[10] Ibid., 12.
[11] Ibid., 13.
[12] Ibid., 12.
[13] Ibid., 23.
[14] Montgomery, 108-111.
[15] Kilby, 141.
[16] Ibid., 143.
[17] Ibid., 137-138.
[18] Ibid., 130.
[19] Ibid., 133.

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Life of Luther

“Blood alone moves the wheels of history,” Martin Luther said.

It’s true, too.

In the Old Testament, blood was required for the remission of sins. Jesus had to spill His blood to atone for our sins once and for all.

Barnas Sears, D.D.’s book, “Life of Luther,” is a biography of Martin Luther, the influential leader of the Protestant Reformation.

I was excited about the book, because I’m a little bit of a history nerd. I’ve got to be honest, I found it a little difficult to get through the book.

Sears knows his stuff. He is an expert in his field and he gives a very detailed account of Luther’s life. He meticulously lays out the backdrop and history and includes many details. His book is great for reference, but perhaps not for pleasure reading.

I’d encourage you to read up on Luther, he is solid and grounded in the Lord.

“Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times,” Luther said.

New Leaf Publishing Group provided me with a copy of this book. My thoughts are my own.

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Radical

I’m an adventure seeker by nature. Some may say it’s because I grew up overseas. Some may attribute it to personality. Some may say it depends on the company you keep.

I’d agree with all of the above, but more importantly, I think my sense of adventure stems from Christ.

In David Platt’s book, “Radical,” Platt challenges the church to live a life of adventure, a radical life, in Christ. He argues that Christianity isn’t the safe, American dream that it’s become. Christianity is not the safe road by a long shot.

I love that.

As the title of my blog suggests, I like the path, that Robert Frost calls, “The Road Less Taken.” Following Christ, wholeheartedly and with all abandon, is taking the road less traveled by. Why is it less traveled by? Because staying in America, working on your 401k and building a family with 2.5 kids is easier. It’s easier to worship Jesus in a packed sanctuary where no one sees you come and go.

It’s harder when you are living in a different country and worshiping in a house church.

But, now, even though I live overseas, I tend to take the cushy road sometimes. It’s easy, for me, to do this because I grew up in Chiang Mai. It’s more familiar than America. Platt’s “Radical” challenged me to take a look at how I am living and see if I am manipulating the Gospel to fit my cultural preferences.

Are you? Is your version of Christianity the American dream? Platt goes into this more detail in his book and I’ll save the details for you to read.

Platt’s book challenged me to take a look and Christ’s message and take a look at my life and find the disconnect in where I am and where Christ is.

This adventure seeker (I’m talking about myself, in case there was any confusion) wants to stay on par with the radical life Christ has for believers. Now, does this mean it is always easy? Not at all. The road less traveled by is that way for a reason. It’s stinking hard sometimes.

Adventure isn’t always fun. Growing up, my parents trained my brother and I to see potentially frustrating circumstances as adventures instead of annoyances. In the same way, our view on how good our life is varies based on whether we choose to see life as an adventure or whether we choose to see it as a series of pitfalls.

Being at the center of God’s will is where we have the most freedom. As I was reminded in the sermon in church today, freedom comes through discipline. We have the freedom to play any song we want and play it well on an instrument because we’ve put in the time and effort into practicing. It’s the same with our faith. We find freedom in Christ when we are disciplined in reading his Word and going to Him in prayer. It’s then we experience the abundant life.

As Brian Regan said in his comedy routine about going to the optometrist, “Who doesn’t have time to see?” (That was a paraphrase) Who doesn’t have time to find abundant life?

Who doesn’t have time to live a radical life in Christ?

WaterBrook Multanomah’s Blogging For Books program provided me with a copy of David Platt’s “Radical.” My thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Run to Overcome

It’s an American Tale.

One of my favorite movies growing up was "An American Tail." I called it "Fievel" and didn't know its true title until adulthood.

"An American Tail" is about the Mousekewitz family–they are mice–that immigrate to the U.S. from Russia in the 1800s–painting a picture of the fabric America is built on.

Meb Keflezighi's story, similar in many ways to the Mousekewitzes, detailed in his book, "Run to Overcome," is an autobiographical tale of his Eritrean family's immigration to the U.S. and his emergence into the running scene.

The Keflezighi family left Eritrea amidst internal violence and made their way to San Diego in 1987–starting a whole new life as so many have done in the past.

It wasn't easy, starting a whole life in a new country never is, but the Keflezighi family's spirit and faith in God carried them through difficult times.

Meb Keflezighi and his 10 siblings worked hard and did well in school and received scholarships to California schools. During this time, in high school and college, Keflezighi blossomed as a runner.

Winner of the 2009 New York City Marathon and world-wide celebrated marathoner, Meb Keflezighi has much to brag about. But, instead of taking the credit, he points to God as the source of his strength in his personal and professional life. His story is a testimony to God's faithfulness through difficult times and stacked odds.

Running is Keflezighi's passion–a passion he excels at. As another famous runner once said, "When I run, I feel His pleasure."

"Run to Overcome" reminded me that life is a race. There are hard parts, there are struggles, there are times when you fall flat on your face. But, we are running to win a prize. Just as Keflezighi learned how to pace himself in races to not wear himself out too early, we need to learn pacing in our life. Life is not a sprint. Keflezighi learned how to run in a manner worthy of a prize.

I want to run throughout life with that kind of pacing.

“Winning in life doesn’t happen when you overcome just one thing–do or die. It’s persevering, knowing that difficulties are bumps in the road, not the end of the world. It’s continuing to do the right things, knowing your time will come. After all, you have to conduct yourself like a champion before you can ever win a championship.”

For more information about “Run to Overcome,” please see http://www.runtoovercome.com
Also, there is a contest on the above website and one signed book will be given away per day from Nov. 1, 2010 – Mar. 31, 2011.
There will be monthly grand prize winners that will receive a signed copy of the book, other free Tyndale titles, as well as Sony and PowerBar products.

I received this book courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers. My thoughts and opinions are my own.

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just the way you are

It’ll be nice to look back on this moment and know that it is over, that this culmination of emotion moved me toward and forward and I am going to be stronger for it and because of it.

Right now, it was enough to stand up and leave the bridge.

I found myself in tears, sitting on a wrought-iron bridge overlooking the river in Chiang Mai. I went there to clear my mind, cry and talk to Jesus.

I’m not going to get into why I was crying and what I was upset over. It’s a culmination of many things that pent up and then came out.

What I will say, is that I needed to trust that this has a purpose and trust that God is in control.

I wish I knew what God had in mind, why I struggle with the same things, over and over, and what the final result of all this will be.

Life is a story. I don’t know the in between, but I know the beginning and end.

It’s hard not knowing the in between sometimes. Good stories always have conflict and good stories also have conflict resolution. It’s no fun when you are in the conflict stage–waiting for the resolution of hurt sucks.

It’s all for His glory. I don’t know what God’s doing. I know that I trust him. I know that I can’t sit and be hurt on the bridge forever, I have to get back to life. I have to get back to playing my role in God’s story.

Getting up from your place of hurt takes courage. It’s easier to wallow. It takes faith. It takes knowing that there’s a God that sees your tears.

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Playboy=Pansy, Fashion and Foibles

In Thailand, Playboy is a brand name for clothes, hats, jewelry and license plates.

True story. It’s not necessarily a magazine here. The playboy bunny is plastered everywhere. I’m not sure if all who don said bunny rabbit know what it means. Maybe it’s best that way.

For the record, all of the cars with Playboy license plates drive like pansies. Playboy=pansy.

If you are going to flash the bunny, at least drive like a playboy.

Playboy license plate drivers characteristically drive excruciatingly slow. They have a hard time committing to a lane, which I find ironic, and they can’t make up their mind where they are going and when they’d like to turn.

I’m sure most of you who know me know that I am a little bit of a crazy driver. This week, I have friends visiting from the U.S. — he’s the senior staff writer with my NGO. I had just finished cautioning them of my driving and telling them to let me know if I scare them when I rear-ended someone. Yep. I didn’t stop soon enough and I hit a car. There were not scratches or marks on either of our cars, but I was sufficiently humiliated.

I’m an impatient driver and I tend to ride peoples bumpers, hence the bump-age.

Also, I have a lead foot. Lead-footed drivers do not get a long well with playboy pansy drivers.

I think they need to own up to the brand they are wearing.

I was thinking today about how I wear the Christian brand and that many times I don’t live up to it. I’m not worthy to wear the brand sometimes. I need to buck up and live a vibrant faith. If we’re going to wear the label, ‘Christian,’ let’s live in a manner worthy of the cross of Christ.

Morale of the story: 1. don’t ride people’s bumpers 2. own your faith

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