Thursday, September 7, 2017

Her name is Chrystelle.

And this was a very happy day for her. Last month she received her "white coat," a ceremonial tradition for incoming students in the School of Pharmacy at Texas Tech University. Mike Bellah, her former English professor, and his wife, Charlotte, were there with her for that celebration. Little James decided it was nap time.
Chrystelle's story isn't complete without telling you about her husband, Williance.
The two met in their native Camaroon, Africa, at age 16. As time went by their love for each other grew and they shared the dream of coming to the United States to study. Williance wanted to study dentistry. Chrystelle wanted to be a pharmacist. Immigration regulations and red tape separated them for a number of years. She came to the U.S. and he went to Paris for college. These were not easy years, but they were bearable with the help of Mike and Charlotte and a group at Amarillo College called "Finishers" comprised of students who wanted to encourage each other through the difficult hurdles of completing their education. 

Chrystelle was a student in one of Mike's English classes. As he became more acquainted with her situation as a young immigrant with no support system, he learned she was in a very difficult living situation that was causing her distress. Mike was able to connect her with Social Services and she moved into a shelter. Transportation to and from school was a challenge, but Mike and the Finishers set up rides for her so she could continue her education. Williance and Chrystelle married in Paris in 2013, and after two weeks she came back to the U.S. alone as they continued to work on the details of his immigration. Finally in 2015 he was able to join her, with Mike signing as his immigration sponsor.

Last summer little James was born, but the joy of this time was short-lived when less than two weeks later Williance's body was found in their apartment swimming pool after he suffered a heat stroke. Devastated, Chrystelle had to remove him from life support a couple days later.

Once again, the Finishers group rallied around her, raising money through crowd-funding to fly her and Williance's body back to Camaroon for his burial near his family. The Finishers sat with her and cared for her as she grieved. 

Fast forward through a very difficult year mixed with some practical assistance, Chrystelle has passed the rigorous entrance exam into pharmacy school! While she is looking forward to this next step in her education, funding child care for little James is a worry. She is researching grants to help with that. In a year, her mother hopes to move here from Camaroon to help her care for James.

This woman at 29 years old is one resilient lady. She could have chosen to stay in Camaroon, but she wanted to return to Texas and continue toward her goal. And some ordinary people in her world made a point to invest in helping Chrystelle during the times when she needed it most. They shared in her joys, sorrows, hopes and dreams and found tangible ways to encourage her to be a Finisher.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Whatever happened to that woman?

  • Radiates confidence without intimidation or dominance.
  • Puts people at ease with her smile.
  • Strong in purpose and direction, whether she is an extrovert or an introvert.
  • Knows she is fully whole in who she is so she doesn't have to step on or belittle others.
  • Knows the power of life-giving words that build people up and uses them regularly.
  • When she disagrees, she does it with class, not crudeness.
  • A mysterious combination of fearless and fragile.
  • Knows how to receive a compliment with graciousness. 
  • Respects and values her body and it's pro-creative potential and protects its dignity.
  • Cares for her body, soul and spirit aware of their great worth.
  • Fierce and resolute in conviction and carries it out without sacrificing her femininity.
  • Develops her intellect and creativity and always seeks to expand her sphere of influence.
  • Knows how to be humble and take responsibility for her actions with the assurance it doesn't diminish her competence or potential in doing so.
  • Steps into new arenas before her knowing she doesn't have to "change" who she is to be effective there.
  • Because she knows how much she is loved by God, who has both female and male qualities, she seeks to reflect God in all she is.
Whatever happened to that woman?

Photo: Mathias Reed

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Hope Reigns

"Many things are possible for the person who has hope. Even more is possible for the person who has faith. And still more is possible for the person who knows how to love. But everything is possible for the person who practices all three virtues." - Brother Lawrence

If you are like the majority of families in the world, your year has been filled with the whole range of life, sadness, loss, struggle, illness, victories, and the list goes on.

This year, especially, we've seen many people, even leaders, struggle with a lack of hope. If you are leaving Alleppo right now your hope level may be not much more in size than a grain of sand. If you said goodbye to a loved one this year your supply of hope may be at an all time low.

While our circumstances and environment may be influenced by others and world events beyond our control, our spirit can thrive in desperate situations because of our Creator God and His provision and promises for us. Our plans may have to change. Our methods may have to change. Our attitudes may have to change. But God is unchanging and so is His abundant love for us. He is there with us in a hospital room, a crumbling marriage, or a far away land.

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, whose birth we are celebrating, we are no longer in a hopeless state. Those who enter into a life with Christ do not exist under a cloud of total despair. Knowing this we can be hopeful even if it feels like our prospects and reserves are dwindling. The miracles still happen. And we can run alongside others and continue to speak hope over them when their lives may be faltering.

"The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity–hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory–because at the Father’s will Jesus became poor, and was born in a stable so that thirty years later He might hang on a cross." J.I. Packer

Live and move in hope. 
Keep running alongside others in need of hope.
Rejoice for your King has come. 
Hope is ours!

Photo credits: Used with permission "Hope" Artwork by Annie LaPoint
Boy decorating tree: Sheryl Bullock

Friday, September 30, 2016

What I learned on my visit to New England

We just spent two weeks visiting New Hampshire, Maine and Prince Edward Island (a Maritime Province in Canada.) It's a different "world" than I'm used to. We spent most of our time in small coastal areas or farm communities. We savored 3 nights on a small farm in an Air B and B place near the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

The laid-back feel influenced much of what we saw. Towns like Portland or Augusta, Maine, no doubt, would be somewhat different than what we experienced. But it was good to be "unplugged" for the most part and enjoying the slow life. I noted a number of things while traveling through the various towns and seeing some incredible natural beauty and regional distinctions.

1. Eastern locals are very friendly and least that was our experience. People who visit this area tend to be quite friendly as well. We often chatted with people at the next table when eating at a restaurant. ("Where are you from?" "What did you see and do today?") When people are on vacation they tend to be pretty cheerful. Politics was left at home...we didn't hear any political discussion. We got the feeling that if you were in an emergency situation with these people, you could count on them and they, on you. It made me realize there are many kind and helpful people in the world despite what you experience via the internet.

 2. White churches with steeples are everywhere. They are even in the tiny towns of 200 people. Most of the ones we saw are still used as churches while some of them are now "town halls" or community-use buildings. And a few were boarded up or abandoned. There can be 3 or 4 white churches in some towns. I really wanted to attend a service, but we weren't able to make it work with our schedule.

3. Seafood is very popular in New England and there are many people who work in the fishing industry. On our schooner trip we saw areas with hundreds of lobster "floats" used to mark where a trap has been lowered. The floats are painted very distinctly so that a fisherman can find his trap among the hundreds. I got the feeling that messing with someone else's trap is a big NO-NO. And you can go to jail for 5 years if you try to fish for a living without a proper license. They check the traps every couple days to see what they've caught. After this trip I decided I'm buying more fish to eat. We loved it.

4. The coffee scene is less obvious in New England. We went days without seeing a Starbucks or other coffee chain. And we saw few independent ones. Some towns probably just have one and some, none. However, Keurigs are in many hotel and inn rooms. This would not work in Redding where I live. They would disappear along with the pillows and towels.

5. New England has a rich sense of tradition and patriotism. I immediately noticed many homes had American flags flying above their doorsteps on an average day. Small towns have veteran memorials in parks to honor their youth who served in wartime. We saw many old cemeteries with tombstones and engraving completely worn off.

 6. New England weather is hard on structures. There are beautiful buildings and very worn, rundown buildings. Chip and Joanna Gaines of the HGTV Show, "Fixer-Upper" would have plenty to choose from for renovating in New England. November through March means colder weather and January-March means quite a bit of snow on the ground. If you don't have extra money and have a wood-sided home or church, chances are a new paint job is low on your priority list and chipped paint is the norm for you.

7. If you live in New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island, Canada, French is the secondary language and British teacups are very popular. We came across a yard sale that had an abundance of bone china teacups. A couple moves for us in the past decade and a trend toward downsizing has decreased teacups in our household so we didn't buy any.

8. There are wires everywhere! They really mess with your photo composition. 

9. Creativity abounds in New England. This was evidenced by the the many "artist gallery" and "pottery shop" signs both in towns and along the roads. There was a sense of the whimsical and funky as well as traditional art. In Bar Harbor, Maine, they have North Bubble and South Bubble Mountain. Hence the sign for this business....
This piano was outside a Littleton, NH, collection of stores for anyone to enjoy. Who cares if it needs to be tuned. It's just fun.

10. New Englanders seem to value the past. We noticed many things were probably as they were a long time ago. There didn't seem to be a prevalence for "updating" or modernizing something. Little eating nooks were well-worn, but quite popular. There was a simplicity with the ordinary. I found that refreshing. Obviously, there isn't a great obsession to tear down the old house and build a new and larger one because we saw complete towns of very old homes with no variance in old and new construction. We did not see tracts of homes which means that the rural areas are not growing much, if at all, in population. At the little farm where we stayed in New Hampshire we loved how a portion of an old barn was preserved in the wall of a newer one. History means something in New England and even if it's old and rickety they obviously are not anxious to get rid of it.
11. We learned about terms such as "down east." The meaning of this is better explained here than anything I can attempt to articulate.

12. Maine ranks second in the U.S. (Michigan is first) in number of lighthouses. They are a big deal in Maine. A few are still operating. However, light keepers who live on the property don't exist anymore. Some of the lighthouses are on islands. They are a big tourist draw.
West Quoddy Lighthouse

13. Despite weather experts trying to predict when leaf colors will turn, it seems that even the locals don't know much about that. They said it's fairly unpredictable. We were definitely experiencing an Indian summer during much of our stay. By the time we left we noticed the beginning of more yellows and reds. Apparently, Vermont residents in higher elevations who had already had cool temps were not seeing much color yet either.

14. And lastly....when you cross the border into New Brunswick, pay attention to the STOP sign before the booth where the border officials are. The sign says, "Please stop until lane is clear." The vehicle ahead of us at the booth pulled away so we just pulled up to the booth. The person in the window put her hand up motioning for us to stop again. When we got up to the window an irritated supervisor said "when it says STOP, it means STOP." We learned that once at the STOP sign, you have to wait till the person motions for you to move up to the booth. Noting this error on our part, the second time we had to cross into Canada (when visiting Roosevelt's home on Campobello Island) we heeded the warning only to learn that it was no big deal there. Cars just pulled up to the window if it was clear. And no one got mad. 

Well, that's about it. I'm craving seafood!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Life That Has Your Name On It

"Vocational loneliness runs counter to what we intuitively seek for our lives—the comfort and safety of family, the buffer of friendships, the distractions of work. Will these all be taken away? Not necessarily. But you’ll discover that family, friendships, and the distractions of work are not enough to sustain you in your personal vocational journey into God. Instead, there will come a time when you will find yourself taking your relationship with Jesus more seriously, and come face to face with the life that has your name on it and no one else’s." 
--Mary Sharon Moore MTS

Vocational loneliness conforms us to the image of Christ....and that transformation takes time 
and is ongoing.

As I've written about this topic I've come to realize so many people experience a vocational loneliness of some type: caregivers, pastors, priests, nuns, rabbis, chaplains, medical personnel, missionaries, teachers, corporate management, social workers, counselors, "creatives" and leaders in various fields. It is anyone who chooses to step out of the norm into a life of service. The list is endless. Your comments and stories have been an encouragement to me.

My calling is part of my DNA, so deeply entwined in me that it cannot be unraveled from the whole of me. I'm conscious of that fact when I look back at decisions I made when I dated before my marriage to Rich. I knew deep down where I was headed and eventually knew who would be pursuing the same path I was on. That made for some difficult choices at times for someone who was in the late teens, early twenties. But even at that young age, my calling could not be denied. I am so grateful to be sharing life with a man who has the same values and pursuit in life.

Being alone in vocational calling gives us an opportunity to re-examine our motivation and direction in life. Without periodic re-examination we can quickly lose our way and miss the purposeful life we were destined to live. 

As I look ahead to 2016 I'm thinking about these things:

  • Don't begrudge where we are in life and ministry even if it is outside our comfort zone. Remember our calling and take heart knowing God is faithful.
  • Always seek community. We need it. It may not be our ideal, but it will fill a void we feel and possibly lead to new things. It will also encourage others.
  • Embrace the solitude we experience as a learning experience and ask God to reveal more of Himself to us...always a plus and life-changing.
  • Pursue joy in our circumstances. Thank God constantly for who He is and all that He is in our lives no matter what we are experiencing. Take time to enjoy the good things happening around us. Spend time doing what you love.
  • Anticipate adventure and discovery along the way knowing God is always at work in us. We don't know what the future holds. This is not a time to fear the unknown, but to expect new and good things from God.

"The difficult places in life give us the great opportunity to really know and trust God.  But, this requires time. It requires diligent waiting and seeking. Psalm 27:13-14 says, “I am still confident of this:  I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”  It’s in this place of waiting and seeking that we really come to know God. And, it’s from this place of deepest knowing that flows the deepest trust." --Pastor Ron Salsbury.   Photography: Sheryl Bullock, copyright 2015

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

When loneliness leads you into vocation - Sheila's story

This state of desolation—manifested through a deep sense of loneliness—is all pervasive in all societies and situations today now more than ever!  However, we are a people of hope. “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth!” 
Fr. Ed Broom

Despite careful planning, the expectations Sheila and her husband had for their move to another city over 2,000 miles away, didn't pan out. Once the move was completed everything seemed to unravel. Not only did their expectations in their new town not come to fruition, but Sheila's cancer returned. And after a negative experience with a new oncologist, she added "incompetent medical community" to her long list of complaints.

Looking back she realizes her perspective was skewed and warped in so many ways. She was convinced there was nothing about her new surroundings that had any positive merit. This attitude trapped her in a downward spiral which she now refers to as a "spiritual desolation."

She was trying to adapt to a new town and grieve the loss of the familiar and friends left behind at the same time. She felt very alone and a local support system was no where to be found. Fear crept in and took up residence. She didn't want to live like this.

At some point Sheila realized she was sowing seeds of bitterness in her life. That realization was a wake up call for her. She said "I recognized I was coming against my own faith." Sheila began to ask the question, "What is the purpose of loneliness?" While there are no easy answers for that one, just admitting the loneliness was the first step for her. By asking that question, she began looking for new seeds she could sow to replace the bitterness that had taken root.

Sheila began to look around her at people who were in great need. A compassion for them slowly began to grow in her.

During this time Sheila created an art journal and over an 18 month period of time she filled it with pictures along with words and phrases she wanted to be symbolic of her new thinking. Each page in the journal represented progress toward a changed mind. "It gave me a visual reminder that I was moving forward," she said. She was now looking around her for opportunities where she could minister to others. Gradually, the bitterness went away as she took steps to live out her rediscovered faith in demonstrative and tangible ways.

One of the other things that was very instrumental in her healing was reading a book called, "Pursue the Intentional Life," by Jean Fleming. Sheila said that while reading the book, "I saw there was another way to live. I saw the neediness in my soul and released it to the Lord. But that process took awhile! Until I let go of having my own needs met first, I couldn't offer the soil for the seeds of the author's wise words to be sown. As I gradually began to plant the seeds in obedience and faith, the Lord watered and the healing began."

Sheila relinquished her unfulfilled expectations and came to accept that God is in charge of all of it. Some of the difficult things in her life and community have not changed, but her attitude and purpose have.

While Sheila's story is not one of intentionally choosing vocational calling as part of the move, she now chooses to live in her calling. God is using her in ways she never imagined. Although it has not been easy and she still deals with loneliness at times, she has grown into someone who chooses to actively live in hope and joy.

She says, "I'm not looking for a friend any longer. Just give me a place to serve."

James 1:2-6 "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (New International Version)

(This is the 3rd post in a series on vocational loneliness. You can begin reading through the series here.)

Photos:  plant - Aliaksei Matsiushkou
             pencils - Bershadsky Yuri

Friday, October 30, 2015

Loneliness Beckons Us Into Discovery - Ella's Story

"Sometimes God shows you something and then He grows you into it." -Nathan Edwardson
Ella is in her mid-fifties and lives in a major metropolitan city. After her child went away to college she and her husband felt called to move from suburbia into the city to an older, established neighborhood. Being accomplished in photography and music, Ella knew that artists lived in this neighborhood and she had expectations of a greater companionship with those who share her passion for the arts.

One of the first things that happened was the realization that living in the city meant an increase in crime. They had to put up a fence (common in her neighborhood) which immediately made the process of interacting with neighbors more challenging.

It is also a “transitional” neighborhood. Long time residents are feeling displaced and overtaken by those who are tearing down old homes and building newer and more costly ones for their new families or for those who are close to retirement, like Ella. Most people require two incomes to live in this neighborhood. Thus, many women are working during the day. And then, on the other side, the shacks and old run down homes just a few blocks away teem with families struggling to survive. The white people do not greet the black people: FEAR. The black people do not look into the eyes of the white people: DISTRUST. 

Ella goes on to say:

"I know my husband and I are supposed to be here. But, I have had to change my 'suburban' mindset. My mornings are no longer spent meeting moms for coffee to discuss the SAT test or a homework assignment. Instead, I feel that now I am meeting life that is real. I have had to adjust my “judgment meter.” I am learning to listen more. I am meeting people who have a radically different worldview than I. I have become compassionate to those who do not believe like I do, realizing, as Jesus said, that he did not come to condemn the world but to save it."

Ella hasn't been to church much in the past year. She is longing to find one that will be able to connect with the people that surround her and is also true to the Bible. She spends time reading her Bible each day and prays that God will birth something new in this neighborhood. She feels God wants her to pray for women to one day get together for a study called, Who Is Jesus...And He’s Not The Guy You Often Meet At Church.
Ella says, "So, even though I am lonely, I know I have a purpose. My first purpose is to draw my heart close to God and to hear Him. The second is to be obedient and love. I am realizing it is much more important to me to be purposeful than to have friends."

"Our weakness, our story of struggle, even the truth about the cost of our choice to follow God — these are the greatest gifts we have to give to others in their journey." - Rick Richardson

This post is part of a continuing series dealing with calling and vocational loneliness. You can read the previous post in this series by clicking here.

Cityscape - Image: 16661911 kwest
Butterfly - Image: 191699 William Sarver