Redemption from Ashes


Something beautiful happened today.

We stood on the freshly dried concrete floor of our friend Elizabeth’s newly-built home and we worshiped God and prayed for his blessing.

Two weeks ago, Elizabeth’s  home burnt to the grounds home burnt to the ground.  She had to guard the pile of rubble so that no one would steal her last possessions.

Two weeks ago, we barely new Elizabeth.  Kim had chatted with her about kids and dogs and recargas.

Eliza and Bella

Elizabeth and Bella sharing Scripture verses and laughing.


Today, we sang songs of gratitude together and prayed blessings for this home; then we shared mini-doughnuts and Coke.  And it struck me–and I hope this doesn’t offend you–that we were sharing communion together.

Now, we know Elizabeth.  She is joining our Mujeres de Shalom (“women of peace”) group led by our ministry partner Bella Ndoro.  She even, somehow, has the tiny beginnings of an inventory of 2 cordoba (6 cent) bags of chips.  Corin is more than happy to be her best customer.

The kids chased a ball around outside while we talked and laughed.  kids in front yardAnd I pictured what I had seen two weeks ago when I walked back to see the site of the fire.


I have described in detail the broken infrastructure of Nicaraguan government and social services.  But I watched bags of cement delivered, construction workers show up (whom Elizabeth was responsible to feed; we and some other neighbors got to help with that), and in less than two weeks, Elizabeth has a home again.  I don’t know what you think of socialism, but we’re certainly grateful she is not homeless.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I love the word “redemption.” When I speak of redemption, I mean God’s refusal to let bad things just rot, his absolute determination and willingness to bring good out of bad. [/pullquote]

I love the word “redemption.” When I speak of redemption, I mean God’s refusal to let bad things just rot, his absolute determination and willingness to bring good out of bad.  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  This does not mean that all things are good; some things are horrible and some are evil.  But in all things, God continues to bring good for people’s lives.

Eliza and Mike

I was standing there, looking at these solid, blank walls and this bare floor, a house that none of us–you reading this and I–would consider luxurious.   It’s one room.  But I doubt I’ve ever seen someone more grateful for a home.

And where we were strangers before, now we have started friendships.  Where she was abandoned by her husband, then left with nothing, in that same place we got to surround her and pray and sing and laugh and eat.  Our close neighbor friends, Mileydi and Juan Carlos, and our Servant Partners teammates have become Elizabeth’s new friends.  

When we first began to sing, there were only a few of us in the Eliza with everyonecircle, but as our voices drifted outside, some neighborhood children and two other moms came in, drawn into the celebration. In this barrio, tensions over the sharing of scarce resources and distrust among neighbors can run high. We lean on God to make part of our witness here modeling a better way of living together, of singing and sharing and holding hands as we pray.  Of learning from Jesus how to be true neighbors.


[Kim and I wrote this one together.]


Something Like Faith, Chapter 1

PHOTO: Laura Kranz


“What are you doing after rehearsal?” 

I ask, then jam my tongue between my teeth. She doesn’t study her Docs or check her smirking bando friends. She doesn’t smile or frown. She watches my eyes. I’m staring into two of those blue runway lights. She’s stopped on the first step of the music room so she has to tilt her head down. Not how I planned it. One sarcastic comment would cover my butt, free her to laugh off my question, and guarantee I’d never ask again. I bite my tongue harder.

“Guinevere, come on!”

“Go ahead, I’ll be a minute,” she tells Mandy and Therese without looking up. I’m ignoring the audience. Trying to. Their giggles make the waiting torture instead of terror. Everyone else has gone. I feel them hesitate.

Why won’t they leave?

Finally, she says, “We’re done at six o’clock, so I’m just going home to have dinner with my family,” like she’s answering a rhetorical question. I picture a mahogany table with green cloth napkins, crystal and china, my cousins’ house on holidays back when we still visited them. My face burns as if from flames jumping out of my collar. I could still quit this conversation and walk away, singed but intact.

“What are you up to after that?”  Or I could splash on a little gasoline.

Then she smiles. Amused, but also…? The gigglers can’t see it. I loosen the grip on my tongue.

“I’m doing my homework, of course,” she says, shaking her head, making her white-blonde ponytail brush against her left cheek. But still she watches me. What else can I ask, “after homework?”  Why not just “want to go parking?”

“Oh, sure, well maybe I could call y—”

“Would you like to come over for dinner?”

I want to freeze my life here, her invitation in the air I just inhaled, before I have to consider meeting her parents or dealing with mine, before I have to form any more words with my now-bleeding tongue. I would also enjoy calling her friends over to hear me accept, but gloating might not make the impression I’m after.

“That sounds good. Sure.”  Ask her a stupid question now or risk humiliating myself? “Is it…I mean, is your family more, um…”

“Is my family more what?”

“Are they more formal?”

She smiles again, then laughs like tiny wind chimes. I can stand to have her laugh at me now. She can laugh at me all night.

“Than what? No, not really. A coat and tie will do,” she waits to see if I bite. “I’ll be home by six fifteen. We eat at six thirty. Don’t be late.”  She laughs again—why?—then goes up the stairs. Her friends have disappeared. Just as she reaches the doorway, she looks back.

“Thanks for asking, Paxton,” she says. “Don’t forget to move.”

She closes the door.

I sprint down the hall, across the gym, and through the emergency exit. No alarm sounds, of course.

“YES!” I scream at the sky.

“YES!” I shout at the cherry Thunderbird parked just outside the door. Jeff has reclined all the way back in the driver’s seat and cranked Def Leppard. He still jumps. “YES! YES! YES!”

“You’re bullshitting me,” he says as I slide in.

“Yeah, you’re right,” I pant. “She totally shredded me, but I’m wearing my happy face to spare you. She invited me for dinner!”

“No, she did not. You’re—” He jerks his monogrammed stick into first and the tires shoot gravel. “She just broke up with Chuck last week. You’re going to her house? When? Why?” he demands.

“Tonight, Buddy. Tonight. Because I asked her out,”  I say. We cut in front of a white pickup. It comes within six inches, but Jeff’s ignoring traffic, waiting for a better answer. “I have no idea why she invited me. But she did. And Chuck was three months ago.”

I pull on my seatbelt.

“What the hell are you doing?” Jeff demands.


“You just buckled in.”

“So? If I could ground your car to protect us from lightning, I would.”  Jeff peers under his shade at the blue sky. “In fact, I better drive. No, I’ll walk. Could you pull over?”

“Jack-O, I’ll let you out now,” he says, rolling down my window and grabbing my shoulder while topping forty in the school zone.

“Hey, don’t get pulled over, I can’t be calling her from the courthouse.”  My voice may have registered the slightest note of sincerity. Or panic.

Jeff clenches his teeth at me, his version of a smile.

“You sonofabitch. She really asked you over, didn’t she?”

“Yeah, Man, she did. Thanks for waiting.”

“You kidding? That banshee scream alone was worth every second.”

The bass line of “Photograph,” Jeff’s favorite song, thuds against the windows. He turns it up the last notch, which he has labeled “11.”


Continue reading

Because We REALLY Don’t Know


“There’s always another story.  There’s more than meets the eye.”

–W.H. Auden

Three stories on the same theme, one from my hilarious, candid and slightly profane friend, Shari.

After our son Isaac died, Kim and I took some time away.  Our eldest daughter was two.  Some bike-trailerfolks on the church board where I was pastor had generously let us use their vacation home to have some space.  Kim and I decided to go on a bike ride with Lydia in a bike trailer.

I was in bad shape at this point.  Nothing made sense to me and I was just trying to keep my head above water.  To give you an idea, when driving alone, I would tell people who cut me off, “You really don’t want to do that to me.  I truly do not care if I ram you or not.”  Yeah, I mean out loud.  They couldn’t hear me, but I meant it.*  Exercise helped me not to despair, and we had a daughter to take care of.  We rode about an hour and came back to our car to load up the bikes.

A man approached us and started asking questions.  I have a history of attracting strangers who want to talk with me, so I wasn’t surprised, but neither was I in the mood.  I went for short without being completely rude.

“Is that your little girl?”


“How old is she?”

“Working on two.”

“What’s her name?”

Sigh.  Ready for this to be done.

Then the man said, “I was watching you before when you were getting ready to go.  You two are really good parents.  I saw how you treated her.  She’s a lucky girl.  Are you Christians?” Continue reading

Fighting for Hope: Recovering from Addiction


the-labours-of-alexander-1950 Rene Magritte

First, thanks for reading and for all the encouragement in response to my last few posts.  I often experience some inner backlash when I try to be that honest; hearing that it’s helping people makes the difference between keeping it up and gnawing on my spleen.

Part One addressed cynicism, Part Two depression, and Part Three overcoming our fears and naive faith to find hope in life’s depths.  Now we’re addressing addiction.

I’ve asked my friend, Dan Koenigs, to write this post.  Dan was two years ahead of me in high school.  We were casual friends then, each pretty messed up in our own ways.  Now we’re true friends, because we have the same hope in common.

Dan is changing the world.  This is how it happens, one day and one decision at a time.  Dan’s been sober for 24 years and works as a counselor for people with substance abuse issues.

If you think you are beyond hope, or doubt you can change the world, or have given up on ever recovering from your addiction, read Dan’s story.  Dan is a very good reason for hope.



 Proverbs 20:1 “Wine is a mocker; beer a carouser…Those it leads astray won’t become wise.”

I have yet to meet an alcoholic who chose to be one.  This blog is not meant to be a discussion on the validity of the Disease Concept or a discussion on willpower.  Here is what I know: alcohol affected me at an early age in ways that I still have a hard time understanding.  Maybe it was my dysfunctional childhood, maybe it was the acceptance of underage drinking by my family, maybe it was a result of being sexually abused by a Catholic Priest at the age of 12, or perhaps it was indeed a genetic thing.

Here is what is important: I had my first real drink at the age of 12 or 13 and I learned early that I could drink and I forgot, forgot everything.  I would drink to forget the pain of being alone, the pain of being sexually abused, the pain of feeling like I was not accepted by others or the pain of not knowing who I was.

Relief drinking is what I was doing and like all addictions, the relief does not last long and then I would drink more.  I became good at hiding it or at least I think I hid it because no one seemed to notice that I was drinking on a regular basis.  At the age of 16 I was drinking more days than not. Continue reading