Sunday, September 18

the purpose

The artist William Turner (1775-1851) is someone whose work you may not automatically recognize. He was a prolific painter and hailed as building the foundation for what became the Impressionist movement.

Image resultBut here's what you should know about Turner. When he died, he left over 19,000 paintings to the British nation. Over 19,000! This cannot even quite make its way fully into my brain. This number does not even include all of the commissions he made and sold over his lifetime.

The amount of devotion towards his art is commendable. This was a man who dedicated his life to the canvas. He once wrote that he deplored artists who marry because their attentions become divided between their family and their art.

And the Lord has been teaching me something in Turner, a lesson which began before him and will end after him. How enviable, to have lived a life so dedicated towards one's craft, to leave a lasting image. No, not just a lasting image, but thousands upon thousands of them. How tempting to be consumed in my own art, putting all of my energy into making an artist dead 165 years proud.

But though the ways in which our lives can be spent, the pursuits in front of us, are numerous, they are at the same time remarkably limited. I can serve my God in many ways. I can work in language documentation in Asia. I can be married and have a family. I can be a student. I can write. I can minister to the under-resourced of Central Arkansas. I can paint. But to suppose that I can make all of those the paramount focus of my life, and I have suddenly opened myself up to disappointment. Something will fall to the wayside. One of these skills will remain underdeveloped, overlooked while I put my energy into the pursuit of another.

I can marvel at William Turner's life, for it was certainly a visionary one. But his life was one pulled only in one direction. He did not marry for the sake of his art. His relationships were limited for the sake of his art.

I was not called to his purpose. I was called to work for the Lord of Lords. And so my time is also called to be spent in a certain ways, pushing towards a certain goal. This doesn't mean that I can't spend time writing, painting, ministering as I go, studying as I need. But it means that these in themselves are the not the entire aim of my life. Even language documentation, a role which I have long been waiting to take up, is not the entire aim of my life.

My life is ultimately called giving glory to God, however that looks in my life in the current season. This is my purpose. This is your life's purpose as well, if you are a believer. 

And so may I take this lesson to heart, and may it be brought to mind often, as I run this race, as my eyes are focused only on the prize of the Gospel and the pursuit of holiness.

Wednesday, September 14

taking the leap

Lately, I've felt like a broken record. Relaying the same lessons, repeating the same stories. I have no profound truth which is waiting underneath my nail bed ready to be poured onto the keyboard. No word from above which I feel is sure to inspire. I have only the ongoing words of God, the daily walk hand-in-hand with my Father God which I cannot make more exciting or romantic than the daily that it often is.

And then there is profoundness in even that, isn't there?

The Lord has been imparting the same lessons that He has been working on within me for months and years. He is teaching me bravery. He is teaching me how to take a chance, even in the small things. He is teaching me that even when I said to Him years ago that I was willing to spend my life in whatever way He willed, that's not the end of the conversation. It's barely even the beginning.

And it turns out that, at least for me, it's not the big decision to give my future over to a cause which takes bravery, but the million small steps after that big decision.

It took a great deal of bravery to take this step of moving to Canada. It wasn't so much the stepping onto the plane which took my strength, but stepping off it. Stepping into the immigration line. Wondering if I would recognize who was picking me up at the airport. Wondering if I would make friends and meaningful connections.

And just as my comfort zone morphs and molds itself to fit a new situation, it must undergo change once again. So it must be.

This term, I'm taking two courses in order to finish my training track for Language Survey. One of these classes is called Ethnography. Part of Ethnography trains us to be good observers, to be participants in a culture which is foreign to us. And part of our requirements is that we have to observe an interactional setting for a few hours a week for about nine weeks.

Even before the class was underway, I knew where I wanted to observe. Having already marked out various cross-cultural religious worship centers because of time constraints or travel-issues, I thought on the thriving artist community in this area.

There is a studio which offers art classes to any proficiency levels nearby and I was in love with the idea of being able to be in the presence of artistically-knowledgeable people.

But I immediately wrote it off. They won't let me observe, I told myself. Not when students pay good money to be there. So I researched other options. Each became more disheartening than the last. But still, I told myself it was pointless to try the studio, they would only reject me.

And it was time for bravery.

Sitting on my bed after days of Googling businesses and clubs in my area, a voice came to me. A sudden calmness overtook my anxiety.

Just call them. 
But they might reject me.
Exactly, the worst they can do is reject you. 

So I called them. I explained. The woman on the phone agreed without reluctance. I was written down for observing an afternoon class. Done.

I sat back and let my heart beat a little faster.

I might have missed out, simply because of misplaced fear.

What small bits of bravery are needed for such great rewards.

Tuesday, September 6

mementos

Saturday night, I touched back down on Canadian soil. As I sat in my window seat, my body told me I was still in Central time, though my updated clock said Pacific. Trying to pick out familiar landmarks even in the dark, I ruminated that I had brought back a bit of Arkansas. I had brought it in the timezone my body will not give up for several days.

How interesting it is, that we can carry bits of places with us. And these bits last far longer than the jet lag. They are the things which are inexorably within us, which have been planted, grown, and sewn with the binding thread of experiences.

They are the smell of wet stone, forever linked to the fireplace of my childhood home. They are the feeling of fog, chillness hitting skin while breathing in that smell of ozone in the early morning at university. The smell of my mother's skin cream, kissing me goodnight.

They are the dialects, which I have grown up hearing and to some extent being a part of. Being a linguist in attendance of a linguistic school, my choice of speech are listened to more closely than it might be in other places. A few months ago, I said a phrase which linked me to the part of the world I have grown up in and someone remarked on it.

Even though I was not aware of making a choice, that phrase I said ended up saying something about me. It said that I am a member of a certain culture, that I have experiences among a group of people. That I have called home a place which none of my dear friends here have.

When I came back to Arkansas to visit, I was speaking with some of my church family in Conway, individuals who I have known and done ministry among for about four years. As we were relaxing and catching up, I realized that they tended to favor the same grammar, the same phrases, which I had uttered and which had been remarked upon.


I suddenly felt more at home. "My tribe," I smiled.

And so I thought on this while I unclipped my seat belt, got up from my window seat, and reached for my bags.

I thought on how lucky it is that we are able to carry bits of ourselves with us to far and distant lands. Whether or not we are aware of it.

Whether that memento is something we can physically touch, like the small stone I picked up and slipped into my bag a few days before I moved from Arkansas and now carry with me, or something less seen, like memories or language, I am thankful. And as I gather more bits to myself, I am thankful that these bits, adding up into riches, are not baggage to me. But rather, they make my burden light, my yoke easy.

And so I find myself at a point yet again that I must thank you all for adding to my riches. That even though I am so joyful to be back in my own bed and be able to finally unpack my clothes after three weeks of ziplock bags, I do not need to mourn having to leave my dear friends and family in Arkansas. Because truly, you are here with me, in memory, in language. I cannot help but think of Paul in Philippians as he wrote to them, his Gospel-laden heart pouring onto the page, "...I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1:6-7).

Sunday, August 28

waiting for dawn

Desperately, I found myself praying. “Father, I need reassurance. Would you lead me to encouragement in your Word?”

And He did. I opened my Bible to the bookmarked page, moving the ribbon aside as I looked at Acts 27. I had begun the chapter the day before and had not finished it. It was a story of one of Paul’s imprisonments. He had requested to be taken to Caesar and en route his ship was wracked with storms. It’s a story we’ve all read amidst our seeking of greater and more obvious bits of wisdom. But it’s a story I had never done more than skim, with the thought that Paul sure was a cool guy.

But upon reading it this time, taste of prayer still on my lips, I saw something else. If I was a cartoon character, my eyes would have bulged. Perhaps a sudden ray of light would have broken through the ceiling onto my living room couch as a host of angels sang.

And though I do not advocate reading the Bible and forcing the story to fit your own life, the Lord provided a reflection in that moment.
I read:
“…about midnight the sailors began to surmise that they were approaching some land. They took soundings and found it to be twenty fathoms; and a little father on they took another sounding and found it to be fifteenth fathoms. Fearing that we might run aground somewhere on the rocks, they cast four anchors from the stern and wished for daybreak. But as the sailors were trying to escape from the ship and had let down the ship’s boat into the sea, on the pretense of intending to lay out anchors from the bow, Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, ‘Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved.’ Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it fall away. Until the day was about to dawn, Paul was encouraging them all to take some food, saying ‘Today is the fourteenth day that you have been constantly watching and going without eating, having taken nothing. Therefore I encourage you to take some food, for this is for your preservation, for not a hair from the head of any of you will perish.’ Having said this, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all, and he broke it and began to eat” (Acts 27:27-35 NASB).
I myself have sometimes felt that I have been on a ship waiting for that glimpse of land. I pray, I work, I study, I sit in God’s promise that I will arrive at the destination he has foreplanned. I bob on the water. I wait.

And I have seen signs that the land will soon come into sight. They have come in the way of affirming words from friends, from the interactions with people and lessons in my Canadian university, and from the slow, sometimes halting, progress of the budget established for me. Lately, if I’m honest, as I’m bobbing here on the ship, it’s that budget that seems to block my eyes from view of the land.

I have taken soundings, calculated the distance. It has come back to me, not in terms of fathoms but in dollar amounts. And it can be daunting. Sometimes I fear that I will run aground in the rocks, the shore in sight. I am reminded of the good work the Father is completing in me, the lessons he is instilling, the preparation I have sometimes forgotten to ask for in my haste to get to the shore. Often I, like the soldiers weary after the storm, wish for daybreak.

Have I tried to jump ship? There have been times when I try desperately to take matters into my own hands. But there are other lives at stake, which must be taken into account. As Paul said, unless the sailor keeps to his task, the centurion and his soldiers would perish. For me, it is those on my team on that shore, those people I have not yet met but will. There is a task to be completed. There is land to be reached. And it ultimately it helps neither myself nor those I am going towards, if I rush the process.

So while I wait for dawn, or for that time when plane tickets can be purchased and preparations truly made, I will take food and be strengthened. While I continue to pray, meet with individuals, study, make phone calls, and send emails, I will break bread, offer up thanks to the Lord, and eat.

For this is for my preservation, as I know that not one hair on my head will perish.

Sunday, August 21

the future

Nepal is in my future. And even as I am immersed in my current season, composed of many seconds of decisions making up days, my eyes are ever set on a little country the size of Tennessee, far across the sea. 

How odd, to have my present life invested in North America, to pay rent, pay tuition, go to church, make friends, ride the bus, while spending so much time envisioning life in a country 8,000 miles away among people whom I have never seen. How inconvenient, it sometimes seems, to think so constantly of my life in Nepal and remember that my life is not currently in Nepal. 

It is odd to have so much knowledge and stock in a culture that I must learn about second-hand. And it's odd to speak in the future rather than the present tense. 

My heart is ready to be in South Asia. The Lord put this call within me long before I recognized it. And while it can feel like an inconvenience that I am still waiting and preparing to make my home there, the Giver of Good Gifts has granted me these months of training, preparing, sharing of my passion, and sanctification for the betterment of my work once I am actually on the ground. 

And so I know that this is a season of preparation, a season of joys in North America, a season of sewing together the many lessons the Lord has given me. I know that this is a season the tapestry of praise that my life is will grow. Strings are being weaved as my eyes open wider to see the glory of the Lord. 

I am reminded of Ecclesiastes 3.  
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
And even as I can ruminate on the difficulties of this season of waiting, of looking forward while struggling to see present, I am again choosing joy. I am resting in the fact that there are seasons for everything under the sun, and my current season is pleasing unto the Lord.

And even in the unknowing, in the struggle, I am comforted that the Lord has given me sufficient sight just bright enough to take the next step knowing where my foot will fall. Later in Ecclesiastes 3, it is written that "He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end."

I walk with not only Nepal in my heart, but eternity. Neither of these destinations can be seen in this moment, but they are set firmly in my heart.

So I will walk in joy through each of the proper times for anything under the sun. I am dancing when it is a time to dance, mourn as it is time to mourn, sew and create in their time, and tear apart and begin anew when that is needed. Even my impatience in this current season, as it is a time to wait rather than to run, I am reminded that "everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear him" (Ecclesiastes 3:14).

God has determined all of his work and his work will remain forever. I cannot add to it. I must merely do what it is time to do. Even if that means it's time to wait.

With eternity in my heart.


If you would like to know how to be a part of my future (and much anticipated) work in Nepal, please let me know.

In great love,
Bree

Monday, August 15

how incomprehensible

For the past two days, I’ve been driving through mountains.
On either side, they have risen up
Surrounding me
Often, I am plunged into half-light,
their shadows casting a darkness onto our car


I take off my sunglasses
I feel the sudden change in temperature
It’s over within a few minutes
And I am once again squinting surprised.

In my prayers journaled last night,
Night air chilled and settled on the meadows beneath the mountains,
I praised the Lord that I got to see more of his characteristics
Revealed through the works of his hands which I had never set eyes upon before.
I praised him that the seeming crinkles, the jagged peaks,
Were reflections of his own glory.
And I realized.

I realized that He alone knows the depths of the mountains.
He knows each hollow and incline on those peaks,
Just as he calls each star by its own name.
And as I am enveloped in the shadows of the mountains,
I am silent in barely recognizable distress.
As I begin to understand that I cannot even comprehend the smallness
Of my own body, my life, my vision.

I am under the cover of He who called the mountains to rise up
From their tectonic dwelling under the soil.
The God who knows each hollow and who is larger and even more incomprehensible
Than these mountains I am seeing with brand-new childlike eyes
His presence is larger and far more constant than the mile high shadows cast over me
And in his Largeness,
He cares for me.

How incomprehensible.  

Sunday, August 7

a day in the life: canada edition

My time for the summer term is drawing to a close. Finals have threatened to swallow me whole, most of my conversations revolve around emotions surrounding exams. And while I don't pretend to hide my excitement that I'll soon have a break, I also know that by next week, most of the friends I have made in the past two months will go back to their homes, though a few will return for the fall term.

I can't say that this summer hasn't been full of times of stress and frustration. It's been rather like a day at the beach. The view is beautiful, the sun is warm, but I find that my feet are stuck in the sand and waves continually crash against me, knocking me over. I have just enough time and stamina to get to my feet again before the next set hits me.

Back in February, I posted about what a typical day looks like. The tradition bears repeating. Without further ado, a day in my life...the Canadian edition.

6:45 am

Wake up deep under my covers, to the tinkling of the beginnings of my alarm. Steel myself for what's ahead.

Riding onto campus in the morning - a sped-up video of my beautiful
morning bike ride can be seen in my FB page
Getting ready has to be typical no matter what area of the world you're in. Lunch prep, washing face, makeup. Chatting with roommates. Simplicity.

7:30 am
Bike to school. I live 4 km from my university, in an adorable little yellow house in an adorable little tourist town. It usually takes about 15 minutes to bike this distance.
The air is particularly cool. Normally BC summers range somewhere in the 80s, but this summer has been very cool (though we did have some warm weeks when I arrived at school sweaty and grumpy). Sometimes fog is hanging, slowly rising from the fields as I ride by. I never miss an opportunity to look in wonder at this beautiful place. This sense of wonder usually lasts until I reach the steep hill about 7 minutes into my ride. Cars rush by in naive ease, feet merely touching the gas pedal as I hit something more like a gasping pedal, shifting my bike down and praying that the chain won't fall off [again].

Even if I start out the ride with goosebumps, I always glide into the bike rack breathing heavily and wishing I could shed layers. The video above shows a very sped-up version of my bike ride home in the evenings.

All of my classes are in one building. Even though we are part of a Christian university whose campus we are on, we operate pretty separately.

8:00 - 9:00 am

Got to love those palatal, uvular, pharyngeal, and epiglottal sounds...

Articulatory Phonetics class, Monday through Friday. I somehow got through 4 years of university with only one 8 am class and now I have one every day?!

This class is dedicated to examining and understanding all of the speech sounds that languages around the world work. We transcribe these sounds using the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet). With almost 7,000 languages in the world, that is a whole lot of sounds to encounter. Even after a degree in linguistics, I was in for a shock with this class.

9:00 - 10:00 am

View from the couch (Common Room)
After Phonetics, I usually go upstairs to the common room. I spend a lot of time in this room, lunch happens here, socializing happens here, studying happens here, napping happens here.

10:00 am to 11:15 am

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I have a class called Language and Cultural Acquisition. Basically, this class teaches you theories of language learning and then you put them into practice by planning and implementing language lessons with a lovely Thai speaker once a week for an hour and half.

On Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday I have my Survey class.

11:25 - noon

Chapel! During the summer months, there's some type of chapel held every day in the same rooms we have class in. These have fed me so much spiritually, as they are delivered by people who have been in the field and who understand the perspective I look at the world through.

12:00 pm - 5:00 pm

On days that I don't have Phonetics lab (1:15 - 2:30) I spend this time working on homework. Even with "only" three classes, the course load is heavy. Because it takes 15 minutes to get home, I stay on campus all day. This has actually been awesome because I am in a mindset of getting. work. done.

6:00 pm

Dinner! I'm part of cooking groups, so one team cooks for all of the students, one team cleans up afterwards, and the other two just get to enjoy and be thankful it's not their week to cook or clean.

This is held in the dorms, where most of the summer students live. I made the choice to live off campus for cheaper rent and the ease of not having to move in between semesters, so it takes intentionalality to spend time with all my friends who live on campus.

~ 7:30 pm 

Head on home! As the sun begins to set, the world comes alive. I get to ride down the huge hill I rode up in the morning. As I get close to my home, there are fields on my right, soft grass of the golf field on my left, and always the mountains in front of me. On clear days, I can see Mount Baker in Washington, always taking my breath away.

Most days, I relax by watching a show on Netflix. I'm disciplining myself to immediately sit down with my Bible these days. And there's studying, always studying.

Days are discussed with sweet roommates, joys and successes rejoiced over and failings given a sigh and encouragement.

Breeze through the window above my head, light from my lamp soft against the wall.

The day closes.

And another to begin.