The Center

Like storm clouds gathering, I felt the darkness creeping in the last couple of weeks. I fought hard to stave it off. Yet, it’s a battle I wage from time to time. 

Just as I sensed clarity and brightness in my well-being, the world fell victim to COVID-19. Each day’s news included escalating numbers of cases and staggering deaths. No treatment, no vaccine, no real plan for a pandemic. I began to read and listen.
 
It is a topic hard to push aside. My best try was to take time off from social media and online news. And yet what I’m trying to ignore seeps in. 
 
On May 25, 2020, it was as if a second catalyst took our country by storm. George Floyd, an African-American man, was murdered in Minneapolis by a police officer.

Continue reading “The Center”

Not the April I Expected

No, this is not the April I expected. And it’s likely not the April you expected either. 
 
We looked forward to March Madness, an indicator April and spring training are ahead. Golf fans looked forward to the Masters Tournament at Augusta and a chance to see Amen Corner. We wanted to go to church on Easter Sunday. People planned outings to Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm (see image above) for the 2020 Tulip Festival. Sorry, folks, not this year.
 
This is the first time I can remember Holy Week when we haven’t gathered at our church on Maundy Thursday. Nor gather on Good Friday to commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus and his death at Calvary.
 
What happened on Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate Christ’s resurrection? Ordinarily, music by brass instruments and the choir singing start the service. Often there is also a children’s choir somewhere in the service. The singing of beautiful hymns offering the message of Easter is a favorite part of the service for me. This Easter the sanctuary was quiet. 
 
We were told to stay home. After all, we are in an elite age group at high risk in this time of the pandemic. And if not at home, we were to stay at least six feet apart. How do you hold church services under these circumstances?
 
Enter Zoom and Facebook Live. We have been virtually worshipping together since March 15, 2020, a total of seven weeks. I miss gathering with the community of believers at our church, hearing the choirs and musicians, and coffee fellowship after the service.
 
Here we are in the last week of April. All around flowers are blooming. Trees budding, rain showers falling, hummingbirds humming, bees buzzing, and more. It still isn’t the April I expected. 
 
With May arriving on Friday, Oregon’s pandemic guidelines loosed two restrictions. The first is the performing of elective surgeries in hospitals and clinics.
 
Also, dental offices may reopen. Yet, dentists countered by noting the risk to staff and patient. Powerful dental equipment in the mouth forces saliva and moisture into the air. In turn, this increases the risk of spread of the coronavirus. We still have a curve to flatten here and this wouldn’t be helpful.
 
With the departure of April, May sits on the horizon expecting some planting to happen. But currently, with our age keeping us away from nurseries and garden shops, we have nothing to plant. Looks like it will be a late planting this year. It’s a wait-and-see proposition.
 
How about you? Was this the April you expected? And will May meet your expectations? Just something to ponder.

Ponder, Proverbs 4:26, path, beach

 

Featured image attribution: Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm

 

Joy in the Time of COVID-19

I did not intend to use the COVID-19 label in my post title, because you have heard enough about the virus without my adding it to headlines. Yet this was the catchiest title I could come up with today. 

One item Bob and I have on our daily calendar is our time for morning devotional and prayers. In recent days, we’ve been following Henri Nouwen. The daily meditation is waiting in our inbox before we get up and out of bed. It’s been a good day starter for us.

Yesterday’s meditation seemed chosen specifically for this time of crisis for all of us. As we read it, I thought of all the things that are happening around us. What could we possibly find joy in right now? My recovery, the birth of our new great-granddaughter Aurora, a friend who suffered a traumatic skiing accident a week ago and is recovering, and the joy of being together in this time of stress and tension. It made us more aware of what joy really is. I thought perhaps it might help someone else if I shared it here:

Be Surprised by Joy

 
Learn the discipline of being surprised not by suffering but by joy. As we grow old . . . there is suffering ahead of us, immense suffering, a suffering that will continue to tempt us to think that we have chosen the wrong road. . . . But don’t be surprised by pain. Be surprised by joy, be surprised by the little flower that shows its beauty in the midst of a barren desert, and be surprised by the immense healing power that keeps bursting forth like springs of fresh water from the depth of our pain.

 

For more information on Henri Nouwen, his writings and work, click here.

Featured image attribution: nicko mcluff from Pixabay

Whisper

Whisper is an intriguing word. It’s a word that can mean more than the soft, hushed undertones of the voice. For example, the dahlia above is faintly colored, somewhat hushed and faded, with a whisper of pink.
 
On Sunday, a guest pastor shared the morning’s message of Pentecost with our children. She asked a couple of questions, both answered by the same little girl. Margo is about four, one of three children in a family where both parents are teachers. Needless to say, a lot of learning goes on in her home.
 
As I listened, it was difficult to hear Margo’s soft, quiet tones as she answered the questions. I listened with the power of intention to grasp what she was saying. My determination was rooted in the expression on the face of the young woman pastor. A look which denoted something profound had been said.
 
When the pastor turned to the morning’s adult message, the theme was the same. In so doing, she also asked the adults questions. 
 
One of the questions was to think of one thing that stood out in the morning’s Scriptures, the sermon, the hymns. Like an epiphany, I was suddenly struck with the image of Margo and her quiet, tiny voice. And by my need to listen intently to what she said.
 
I was reminded of how important it is to listen the same way to what God has to say to me in my daily life. By listening to the still, small voice of God enriches my relationship with Him. It will also broaden my understanding of what He expects of me.
 
The words “and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6 NKJV) come to mind. A reminder that even the littlest among us may be wise in ways we don’t understand.
 
Image attribution: Janine Joles on Unsplash

 

Musical Sunday

First things first on Sundays. Once awake and with my feet under me, I prepare breakfast. It’s simple and quick. I have other tasks to do before leaving for church.
 
This Sunday is special as it’s musical from beginning to end.
 
At church, we expect the sounds of our Children’s Choir. Hearing these young voices is always a joy-filled experience. Children present the fresh and unadulterated faith we all should carry in our hearts.
 
Under the direction of a talented young man, the children sing a new arrangement of Down by the RiversideOur choristers range in age from kindergarten through grade school. Their abilities follow the same range. Their performance gets rousing affirmation with applause.
 
From here, we dash for a cup of coffee and some fellowship with friends and new faces. We can only stay a short while as we have other places to be. 
 
Early afternoon and after a bite of lunch, we head out to attend a concert by the Bach Cantata Choir. This organization is made up of some very talented vocalists and musicians. The choir’s goal is to sing all Bach’s cantatas in 30 years. I have no idea where they are in accomplishing this.
 
Yesterday’s concert was billed as “Super Bach Sunday.” The group’s director offers this concert as a substitute for an annual football game on TV. We were blessed with some awe-inspiring and spiritual cantatas by Bach. Pieces by siblings, Felix and Fanny Mendelsohn, and Handel finished the program. We left feeling overwhelmed in a joyous way. We commented to the director that yesterday was a WOW! performance.
 
It was a beautiful blessing, both morning and afternoon. The feeling will carry us through this week.
Image attribution: Moreland Presbyterian Church

Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith by D.L. Mayfield | Book Review

Before beginning this book review, I want to point out that my scheduling of this book for review was well in place before the Executive Order signed on Friday, January 27, 2017, went into effect. However, Divine Providence likely knew of the events to come, and as D.L. Mayfield’s memoir shares the author’s experiences working with and living among refugees and immigrants in my hometown, Portland, Oregon, it is definitely a good time to look at what Mayfield’s thoughts and reactions are to her experiences. AND this is a good time for all of us to begin to search for ways to help the marginalized among us, no matter who received your vote in November. We are needed now more than ever before to stand up and share the goodness and generosity that made America great in the first place.


A social justice activist and writer shares her personal experience working with refugees and the ways her faith has been challenged and strengthened—leading her to experience the power of God’s love and find her true spiritual calling.

Determined to save the world, one soul at a time, nineteen-year-old D. L. Mayfield left her conservative Christian home to become a missionary to Somali Bantu refugees in Portland, Oregon. But after a decade proselytizing, she realized that she had not converted one single Muslim. “I am pretty much the worst missionary ever,” she despaired.

Yet in her time working with these displaced people, Mayfield’s eyes were opened to something much bigger. “I started to read the Scriptures with new eyes, informed by the people who the Bible was written by and to—the people at the margins of society. And it was so much better than I could have believed. The blessings of Jesus were to be found in the most unexpected places. The kingdom is real, alive, and changing everything—liberating, setting free, healing, and preaching news that is actually truly good, in the here and now.”

Assimilate or Go Home is the story of her awakening. Mayfield shows us how God’s love is transforming lives, and makes clear that instead of saving the world, we can join God’s party by loving all of our neighbors—especially those on society’s edge. With vulnerability and a touch of humor, Mayfield reflects upon how her faith was challenged, and urges all of us to reconsider our concepts of justice, love, and being a citizen of this world—and the kingdom of God.

Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith by D.L. Mayfield
Published: Harper One (August 16, 2016)
Source: Purchased
Format: Paperback, 224 pages

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“I used to want to witness to people, to tell them the story of God in digestible pieces, to win them over to my side. But more and more I am hearing the still small voice calling me to be the witness. To live in proximity to pain and suffering and injustice instead of high-tailing it to a more calm and isolated life. To live with eyes wide open on the edges of our world, the margins of our society.”

BOOK review:

The quote above sums up what D.L. Mayfield shares with her readers in a collection of essays on her life as a missionary serving refugees and immigrants in Portland, Oregon. Mayfield’s experiences are many and at times stun her into wondering why she is doing what she is doing.

Mayfield struggles to communicate with non-English speaking people, and she herself does not speak any of their languages. How do you help those who don’t understand you when you ask if they are hungry, or thirsty, or feeling sick? How do you cope with the feelings of uselessness you feel when you can’t understand these people or treat their needs.

All of these things are the subject of Mayfield’s memoir which explores her feelings of failure and inability to do what she has believed to be the work of missionaries since her childhood.

Mayfield’s writing is pleasant and at times lyrical in her storytelling. Some of her essays even hold a bit of humor and charm in them. However, the underlying facts are brutal to those of us who have never experienced extreme hunger, health needs, or poverty. I think the harshness of these needs also struck Mayfield harder than she ever expected.

The transformation Mayfield experiences during her time serving the Somalis in Portland is clearly one she found filled with an increased faith of her own. Her wisdom is ancient, found in the daily grind of life, and shared as the way she lives her days.

Mayfield teaches us that the benefit of working with those less fortunate is actually a two-way partnership. What she learned from her Somali neighbors and friends was a story of resilience and courage. What they learned from Mayfield was acceptance and kindness. What a lovely story in the end; what a difficulty journey to get there.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who believed as a young person you were going out and change the world. Read Mayfield’s Assimilate or Go Home and you’ll learn just how hard it is to do that. And she’ll show you just how much you’ll be the one doing the changing.

About the Author:

D.L. Mayfield, Author
D.L. Mayfield, Author

D. L. Mayfield lives and writes in Portland, OR with her husband and two small children. Mayfield likes to write about refugees, theology, and downward mobility, among other topics. She has written for places as varied as McSweeneys, Christianity Today, Image journal, and the Toast. Her book of essays, Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith is forthcoming from HarperOne in August 2016.

Connect with the author:

Website | Twitter