Monday, January 2, 2012

Christmas in China 2011

Merry Christmas 2011 
Dear loved ones, family, and friends! ~

 We join our hearts with you …from around the world on Christmas Day 2011. Aren’t we blessed people? Nothing separates us from the love of G0d that we have through our faith in His Son! We’ve loved having our hearts stirred as we’ve sung the carols of Christmas throughout these last few weeks.  Caroling in our neighborhood on Christmas Eve, with a little marsh mellow roast over the open barbeque grill, giving the children a sweet treat as we sang…  Wonderful singing each Sunday of Advent with families of faith in our West Fellowship, even a snazzy jazz rendition on this Christmas morn…  and of all things .. a Swedish tradition for 700 years or more~ smorgasbord and Santa Lucia herself, joining the celebration.  This brought back sweet memories of singing the part of Lucia when I was a teen back in Chicago.  In the only scary moment of the program, Lucia fainted.  As she recovered, all of us in attendance, walked  around the block singing “Lucia” while we lit up the neighborhood with Light and lights of our candles.
We were gifted with a wonderful 4-day visit by Helen. We’ve mutually adopted one another. On her way from Tennessee, where she and her husband, Michael now live, she stopped by Central Asia to see us, en route to Kenya. In honor of our divine appointment at Starbucks in Fullerton, CA in March 2007, we stopped to sip and soak in the delicacies of the Father’s goodness and kindness to us.
As we sat near the ground, watching this young woman work ~ we were so impressed with her diligence and resourcefulness as she skillfully mended our damaged duffle bag.  She was a careful craftswoman as she used an old, hand-wound sewing machine to do her work.   We are humbled as we watch people stretch every penny and resource.  The ground we sat on felt “holy.”
Several have asked “is there really no heat?”  There is no indoor heating in our part of the country… Our portable heaters provided our heating, along with small hot-water-type bottles we can heat by electric and wear around our waists or warm our hands by. As you can see we are content; while it’s cold, He knows our frame… and supplies by teaching us how to manage. 

 He’s still providing and it looks quite different – but He’s the SAME! … and His loving kindness remains to us.  We find ourselves “following the same Star of old” and finding the trail marked by peace and joy.  Loving & being loved by Him, 

                                                                               Bethyl Joy and Vance

Dumpster Divers

Dumpster Divers

I watch out my windows here a lot.   I see a lot of oldsters taking care of napsters.   They make the circuit in our apartment courtyard, the easily led pushed along by the nearly dead.   As they walk, two or three trash bins are in view.   More often than not, the geriatric set will stop, lean over, peer down, and dig around.    Look for treasures.   Never can tell what might be in there,

Watching this Discovery Channel out my window has been instructive as well as entertaining.  The folks that are dumpster divers are also survivors of their own intense history.   They are the few who remain after forty million fellow citizens st*rved to death in their generation.   The most common greeting when meeting a friend amongst this age group is, “Hello, have you eaten yet today?”  Giving and receiving a meager bit of food often made the difference between living and dying.

My mentor mother back in the USA I’ve come to call “MM” for Mother Mine.  Harriette’s an expert is taking her little trolley down on tracks in your interior and emerging hours later triumphant with goodness.    She mines the mind with an eye for treasure; dives into apparent dumpsters and surfaces with jewels.

Makes me think:  what trash have I examined lately, looking for treasure?  When I talk with you, do I sort through your words for value, something glittering?  When I mine my own mind do I discard slag and grab the one pearl?

I joke that as a psychologist I am a waste management engineer.   I help folks get rid of stinking thinking that produces poopy feelings.   Even my name, Vance, comes from the old English for “thresher”, the device that sorted chaff from wheat.

          Jesus too came to claim his treasures from amongst great piles of evil.   He had an eye for those who had an eye for Him.   Those who received him became his treasure. He peered, dumpster dived out of heaven to earth, claimed bits of glitter for Glory.   Will you join him, and me, today?  Maybe that’s what being missi0nal is all about—not geography?      

Happy Christmas Dumpster Diving!
Vance Bethyl Joy

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Living in the Lurch

          This coming week, September 3rd, we leave the UK for China, Grasmere for Kunming.  The two worlds couldn’t be more opposite.   A sleepy village of a thousand or so folks to a big city of six million.   A little of the known for a lot of the unknown.  A familiar language and culture for the unfamiliar.   

All of this makes for a swirl of bittersweet feelings.    Leaving our time here in the UK feels a bit like a death.   It involves the loss of new friends, safety feelings, a sense of being “at home”.  Our friends here at St Mary’s prayed for us in the church meeting a few days ago, and again this morning in the service, commissioning us; I felt so warm to be a part of that body of folks.  It did, however, leave me feelings a bit like Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration wanting to throw up a few shacks and stay awhile, wearing thin my welcome, hitchhiking on and hijacking the glory of His moment for my own personal security operations.    
The better, more strenuous option is to embrace our status as exile on planet earth.   This battles with my proneness to snuggle down, feather my nest, fuel illusions of permanence.   Exiles are defined by one overwhelming characteristic—they’re not home.   So there ya have it—we live in a present but not yet kingdom of heaven.   I feel the snuggling down self and the exile self, the joy held in check with grief, the hope of Glory that waits for us and meanwhile weights us with significance.   It's a bit like this ewe on the fence, trying to stay balanced as it goes for something higher and tastier than what she has known...

The comfort is that the Father goes with us, before us, behind us.   We remember not to doubt in the dark what we’ve clearly grasped in the Light.   We remember to give thanks in all things.   Including you, now, our reader.    Thank you for following our journey.   In clear times and the misty ones.   Amen.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

C2C: Fini!

      Yesterday we finished the 192 mile coast to coast walk across England from St Bees on the Irish Sea to Robin Hood Bay on the North Sea.   Bethyl, the driver, and I, the walker, learned new resilience, an ever-changing recipe of apart-togetherness, prayerful patience in the gaps.

We learned, as one does on any journey worth taking, to:

Do lost and found,

tune your inner eye to seeing sounds of alone but not lonely,

walk humbly with Guide and map in hand.

      The mingling of senses, attuning of soul to Saviour, attaching Word to walk—
all etched the experience of Sabbatical into our faith-life.  And God saw that it was very good.

Heather’s own weather
Blowy rain, fog, blazing blue—
Opens soul to moor.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Escape Goat

I love gazing out my back windows over the sheep fields.   Today, the usually peaceful pastures had some action that got my attention!  An ewe and her black lamb were penned just outside our windows.  She had different markings than the sheep of our pastures.  And, she seemed agitated in hanging out in this pen.  She started to bang against the gate and dig below the gate, trying to escape.  Her little one just watched and followed her steps. 

She had no luck with digging, so up she went, landing on the top of the sharp edged, pointed rocks atop the six foot high wall.  Nicely balancing, she looked into the other side of her pen, looked right and saw the open, green pastures.  Whoosh! She was straight down to the green and wandering off while her abandoned lamb cried and cried and cried. 

David, the shepherd, returned and discovered her wiles.  Off he grunted, crook in hand, border collie at his side, in pursuit of the escaped ewe.
Calling out to him, I said, “she had quite a jump to get up there and out.” 

 “Yeah, she belongs to another shepherd and thinks she can come here and act like they do out there where he keeps them; they are nothing but trouble here.” 

It took a younger, more agile shepherd to capture this ewe and her lamb-- in spite of their struggles to get away.  “I don’t have time for this today,” he said.  “You are such a nuisance.  Get over here.”  Hardly in a cooperative disposition, he firmly held her neck, back legs and tail, dragging her into submission.

Right before my eyes was live-training in sheep misbehavior and correction 101.  There are sheep who make trouble and defy all the walls one puts around them to provide safety and protection.  They maneuver and struggle to “do it their own way.”  Sounds like “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid upon Him the guilt and iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).  

Sheep from another fold don’t always adapt well.  Many decide to live on their own terms.  I watched with humble empathy as our shepherds persisted in corralling this ewe and her trainee. 
Personally, I’d like the ‘lambs of the world’ to cooperate, trust their Shepherd, believe He loves them intentionally and lavishly.

But, that’s not how ‘real life’ is. Some sheep are content, some are not.  Sheep and lambs do get frightened and run away, become will-full, or sick, or are abandoned through death, accidents, or poor care.  They need tough shepherds to endure in caring for them.  Shepherding is hard work.  It’s what they do because it’s their job, their calling.
Sometimes, good shepherds give sheep a break.  They snap their leg and then carry it around for the time of healing.   During this time the scraped up scapegoat, whether ewe or me, has time to attune and attach to the Shepherd.

“Lord, break my pride, my will, and if necessary, my leg to draw me to You.  Amen.”

Bethyl Joy and Vance

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Rememberings Authored by Abba

Sunday, July 17th, 2011 marked the 4th anniversary since Jonathan, fondly known as Johnny, died. The “momentous” day was marked by a curious blend of “7s” as we increasingly became aware:  He died in the 7th month, the 17th day, the year 2007, 7 years following the death of our Mom and most in-our-face was plucking 7 large koi belly up from the pond that very morning.  Never before, nor since, did any fish die in the pond. 

I felt like Moses, noticing a bush that burned but wasn’t consumed, as I collected one 7 after another over the days and months.  I considered the work of Yahweh.  And on the seventh day God ended His work from which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work.  I dwelt in the mutual recognition moments of Moses’ noticing the unconsumed yet burning bush: the Lord seeing Moses turned aside to see, then God called to him out of the midst of the bush and said, Moses, Moses!  And he said, Here am I.” 

This particular anniversary in 2011 I was so aware Jonathan’s home-going—yet unable to click with some thought of “how can I memorably mark how important Jonathan is to me and this well-marked day when he died.”  Sadly, the day ended sans the honoring I wanted to give it.

Ever hear of Jonathan Veira?  Neither did I.  He’s a professional opera singer of 26 years, loves Jesus, who brings “laughter and joy to the party.”  Knowing nothing of this person, except he made people laugh, we bought tickets for the afternoon concert in the Keswick Conference last Thursday.  This capable 50 year old musician took us on a delightful musical journey down a memory lane of old songs, advertisements, creating joy and fun as we listened and sang together. 

In the last half of his final song, he purposefully walked off the stage, took the shoulder and hand of a downs syndrome young man and directed him back up onto the platform to join him at the microphone.  They resumed the song…together… You raise me up so I can stand on mountains. You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas.  I am strong when I am on your shoulders.  You raise me up to more than I can be --  two voices, one of broken articulation and the other clear and well trained, joyfully joined in praise to Him!  In those moments I saw “Jonathan-Johnny” singing God’s holy song together—one not greater nor lesser than the other.  This “dis”-abled young man’s face raised heavenward with joy and tears, his arm stretched out and upward, singing with his “whole” body “You raise me up…”  We were no longer an audience; we were worshipping before the King of Kings, the great I AM EVERYTHING THAT I MUST BE!  And “the temple” was filled with His Glory!
Only later did I become “conscious” that this singer’s name was “Jonathan.”  For a few moments “Jonathan was whole,” for a few minutes I was the downs syndrome young man being gathered into the arms of my big brother, for a few minutes, I was given an ornament that transformed ashes to beauty, and given a flask of oil of joy for mourning, and a garment of praise for my heavy, burdened spirit.  For a few minutes, the body of Christ (Jonathan Viero) was helping me care for my Jonathan (Edward Midura) and letting me look on with tears of praise and pride that we, God’s holy people, do “get it right,” giving God glory and honor and making Him extremely proud of His kids!  I didn’t need to search for a way to honor Jonathan’s life and the specialness-to-my-heart of our brother-sis relationship.  The kingdom of heaven came to me-- there!  God presented a gift that could have only been scripted by His Finger.  And, once again, “God saw that it was good (fitting, pleasant) and He approved of it.  And, during this Sabbath year, we rest in His Goodness, Delight, and Faithfulness--never-forgetting-one-detail-of-His Will to be accomplished.  How right and good to turn toward the “Presence of God,” to notice Him in the ordinary, and find Him noticing our noticing and then we hear His Voice!

As I am finishing this writing, I’m observing a mum and dad each arm in arm assisting their own teen-age blind, autistic young man back to their car.  Abba, You hand-pick your servants! Fill their hearts and arms to fulfill your work and delight! 
Bethyl Joy

Thursday, July 14, 2011


         Caterpillars have their cocoons. Snakes have their moltings. Sheep have their sheerings. It’s been sheering time here in the Lake District. Great masses of wool being rubbed off on fence posts, zoomed off with electric clippers, rolled off in the grass. All that wonderful, warming winter wool worked well for that day and time. Now the baking days require cool waters, deep shade, and thin skin.

For the first time in 30 years I sheared my beard. I guess this shearing thing is contagious. Not since the Air Force have I voluntarily de-bearded myself. Feels naked, it does. I want to slap a pair of underwear on my chin. I wander about with my hand creeping north to shield my face from others’ view. Anybody have a spare burka?
Failing that, it’s best perhaps to molt into a new acceptance of a new season in my life.   Time to shear off old vanities, snip off fears of a “weak chin,” peel away pride in a multi-color, designer beard—like this fanciful sheep.  

Change does bear getting used to.     In six weeks or so we’ll be in China.   I’m readying myself for this change.  This ol’ caterpillar’s getting ready to fly.  
What season is it in which you find yourself?   What personal exodus is causing you to shed an old skin, an old self?   From what Egypt are you being sheared?  
 God’s shears aren’t sadistic.   He wants his children free of dead, wooly weights that don’t fit our current season.   He wants us to get over ourselves; catch up with His purposes; and get on with the good works He’s appointed for each of us to do.   Welcome to shearing season!