Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ice Bound Adventure

I love the idea of adventure.

Traveling to remote places. Meeting people with entirely different backgrounds, languages and customs.

I want to learn, and hear people’s stories. I want to discover new things about myself in the process. I want to go places – about everywhere, actually – and see how different places around the globe are alike and different, and help people. But definitely places non-polar.

So last week when I picked up Ice Bound off my small-town library’s shelf, I surprised myself when I put it at the top of the pile of three books I selected for check-out. The story of a doctor looking for something new, a challenge where she could contribute intrigued me – and still intrigues me. Ice Bound, published in 2001, relays Ohio native Dr. Jerri Nielsen’s experience practicing medicine under a dome on the South Pole.

The pages share much more than that, though. In it, the doctor paints a picture of the mental and sociological aspects of living in a closed community of 41. Poetry jam sessions, theme parties, terse e-mails, and the brutality, beauty and isolation of the South Pole and Antarctica.

Stories of snowmobile rides and an outing exploring the previous South Pole station with her friends showed me how what I read wasn’t a story. These weren’t characters. They are people.

Nielsen tells of her love for her little hospital and the hands-on community medicine she practiced, and I found I loved it, too. She made medicines. She trained others for backup, and for emergencies requiring more than one set of hands.

She revealed how she looked forward to, and experienced, the dark night that stretched for months. Nielsen somehow coaxed me into sharing her mixed feelings when the sun rose again, bringing days with no night at all. Another surprise, considering I am confident I would suffer from seasonal affect disorder if I lived in Seattle, let alone on the South Pole.

But she also expressed her fear and questions and explained her limited medical options when a lump she found in her breast turned out to be cancerous. The discovery came after the dome station was closed to outside flights for the winter. Her courage, her friends’ and co-workers’ ability to help her, and the way the Polies teamed up and took advantage of 1999 technology to help her impressed me, and touched my heart.

What a remarkable group of people. To get through such an experience, I’d have to be like King Hezekiah. Shoot, to get through day-to-day, I need to cling to my Maker.

Hezekiah put his whole trust in the God of Israel. There was no king quite like him, either before or after. He held fast to God—never loosened his grip—and obeyed to the letter everything God had commanded Moses. And God, for his part, held fast to him through all his adventures. 2 Kings 18:5, The Message

Even as summer invites us from around the corner, this true story set on the South Pole, promises to be a great beach read. The 90 degree F temperatures outside might not seem so oppressive, when you read about a setting of -90 degree F. Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sixth Grade Camp

I dare you to throw 92 sixth graders on two buses, and take them to camp for two days.

Think twice before you say, ‘No sweat.’ This includes (but is not limited to) cabins without bathrooms inside, some bugs and girls who are scared of them, fishing (including baiting the hook), climbing up a telephone pole to whirl across a zipline, the logic puzzles of high and low ropes, making plaster of Paris masks, a muddy hike and just a little personality thrown in for good measure.

Our sixth grade teachers plan and pull off this outing each year, and this year brought my middle daughter’s turn. It’s such a coveted trip, I guess the teachers put the chaperoning volunteer names in a hat, and draw to see which parents get to go to camp with the kids.

Yes, I got to don waterproofed tennis shoes, jeans and jackets to head to camp with my girl. And I was impressed.

Archery, wagon rides, and bonfires, oh my. How much adventure and laughter can you pack into two days?

This event entails an enormous amount of work, and I applaud our teachers for giving the kids such a special memory, a camp experience, which is not all that common these days.

The way they go about this camp experience reminds me of two wonderful Bible verses.

Do your work willingly, as though you were serving the Lord himself, and not just your earthly master. Colossians 3:23 CEV

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 NIV

I don’t know the spiritual status of all the teachers. But I know God put something in this team of teachers, a go-for-it mentality and heart that He is using to do good things in these kids. So, hats off to North Polk’s sixth grade teaching team, including the band teacher who brought her toddler out to see the kids.

The camp adventure makes me think, too. It sparks introspection. What challenges am I accepting? Do I really push myself? What am I part of that’s bigger than me, that I could never accomplish on my own? Am I touching lives?

What an honor to experience two days of camp with such a great team of chaperones, camp staff, teachers – and kids.

I would live it again in a heartbeat. Next time, even though I’m petrified of heights, maybe I’d get a chance at the zipline. Yep. Right after I scale the telephone pole.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Red Letter Life (Give with Power)

So many injustices. So little time.

And so little money. Nope. That actually is untrue. But in the church and the world today, we act like it is true. We spend gobs of money eating out, buying new cars, clothing ourselves in name-brand this and that, while on the continent of Africa, entire generations are wiped out of villages by AIDS.

In Africa, older women called go-go’s, or grandmother figures, care for dozens of orphaned children suffering from AIDS, in many cases. Children who were orphaned by AIDS. What are we thinking? What am I thinking just standing by?

My shiny red KIA keeps me safe driving my kids around, but it is doing jack –that’s nothing – for people far, far worse off than I am. Where’s that rooting-for-the-underdog mentality of mine?

I partly blame ignorance. Until I read the Tom Davis book, Red Letters, Living a Faith that Bleeds, the word go-go went with boots. I learned a great deal reading this book, and I urge and beg you to read it. Have you experienced a book you could not set aside? The story ending you wanted to know as much as you crave the taste of chips n’ salsa or a brownie? This book is like that – except it lies in your hands and mine to write the ending.

Davis points out that at no other time in history have we had such power to fix something so big – AIDS in Africa. Yet, the alarm clock goes off. Maybe we sing a praise song. Maybe a pop song. But to help others, are we really sacrificing as American Christians? Am I? Look at the rest of the world before answering.

So what is this “faith that bleeds”? Yes, it’s a faith that requires sacrifice. But more than that, it’s a faith that brings life.

Living the Red Letters life is living a transformed life – a life where the needs of the poor and the diseased rank high on your “what’s important” list.

Tom Davis, Red Letters

Is your heart in it? If not, try helping out through one of the organizations below anyway. Your heart will catch up. Mine, too. God will see to that.

Maybe AIDS in Africa (or Asia, the continent battered second most by HIV infections) ranks lower on your list of issues that pull at you. For you, perhaps human trafficking moves you to action. Or child soldiers. You have the power to help.

Check out this passage:

Routes to helping AIDS in Africa and other Global Issues:

Children’s HopeChest

Compassion International

Hope for Orphans, a ministry of Family Life

World Vision

Buy the Red Letters book:


Those unfamiliar with the Bible may wonder why the Tom Davis book is called Red Letters. In many versions of the Bible, the words of Jesus are in red letters. He calls on His followers to reach out to the poor, oppressed, sick and more.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Anticipation, surprise bring growth

Anticipation. While we were enduring snowstorms and below-zero temps in greater quantity through the winter, I was anticipating spring. Grass greening. Phlox showing its lavender color as it would spill out of the pot by our front door.

Our crab apple tree blooming. The fragrance of lilacs filling the air. What I anticipated has arrived. Spring. Yes.

In fact, our crab apple tree’s deep pink blooms have already fallen. But what a sweet gift while it bloomed.

I love it when reality lives up to expectations. Maybe these blessings in nature are so satisfying to me, because my mental image of what will happen is accurate. My expectation is realistic, because I’ve experienced this before. And in many cases, it’s good to be realistic.

But, what if it had been a bad year for lilacs, and they didn’t smell as fragrant?

Another example, includes the times we’ve been to our metropolitan area’s Civic Center productions, excellent ones. However, they’re always just a little too long for my taste – Riverdance, Cats, Kenny G., STOMP, to name a few. Great productions and performers. I would see them all again. But they’re about 10 to 15 minutes too long for me.

Does that mean I didn’t enjoy them? No. I loved them.

I can accept what I see as the imperfect length. (Though I’m sure I’m alone in that length critique.) The shows more than lived up to my anticipation.
What about life? I think God knows we need some routines we can count on.

"As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest, cold and heat,
summer and winter,

day and night
will never cease."
Genesis 8:22 NIV

But that doesn’t mean it always looks the same. This winter didn’t, and what a storied winter we had. Now that I’m through it, I’m thankful for it. I lived through a record-breaking winter, God protected me despite my foolishness of driving 30 miles home in a blizzard, and we enjoyed many snowy days baking, stoking the fireplace, sledding and perhaps secretly (not anymore) enjoying the buzz of all the weather talk.

We don’t know exactly what will happen through our summer. But we can anticipate certain things. Heat. Rain. Lawn mowing. The orange of tiger lilies blooming, the many colors of peonies. Crops popping out of the Midwestern fields. Some days the news may spotlight areas in the U.S. where people are worrying about drought, and praying for rain.

For me, whether my anticipation involves weather or career, His use of me in the church, family plans or daily chores, errands or down time, I need to allow my anticipation to be bent toward God’s plans. He’s in control.

"Listen to this, Job;
stop and consider God's wonders.

15 Do you know how God controls the clouds

and makes his lightning flash?

16 Do you know how the clouds hang poised,
those wonders of him who is perfect in knowledge?
Job 37:14-16 NIV

Job’s strength and faithfulness amaze and inspire me. I would not want to experience Job’s losses and trials firsthand. I have my own, and He still uses even trials long finished to shape me, and my choices. I actually get it right, trust, listen and obey sometimes.

It’s good that God doesn’t let us in on all the mysteries, the surprises we like and those we would pass up. I’ll be the first to confess that I often prefer my plans for my day, my family and my career to His. Or that I am simply too dense to see He is really the One redirecting me.

But I do love following my God. What an honor to be His, and that he would give me experiences to look forward to with a realistic view, and ones that perplex or amaze me.

Anticipation is a gift. The surprise of reality holds blessings and lessons, too.

Phlox photo at top courtesy USDA, and in public domain.