When the middle is messy: shooting in Aurora and a teaparty


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This will be a day I won’t forget. Too many odd pieces juxtaposed together.

I was up early, in the front yard cutting up the massive limb that had fallen two nights before. Mom came out and sat on the front porch, “Have you seen the news?”


“There was a shooting in Aurora.” A fellow suburb. Not again.

When Columbine happened I was in the middle of Sichuan province bouncing around on some very poor roads visting a former student. It was pre-internet in the sense that we “only” had email (a huge blessing, none-the-less!) and I remember that I was reading Kathleen Norris’ The Cloister Walk. How could Columbine be my Columbine?! It wasn’t my high school, but there were three high schools built at the same time that used the same layout and mine was one of the three. I could picture the layout but my mind never quite made sense of it all. I was told how quiet the Denver area was for several days.

Corporate shock. Did that really happen? Did that happen here? Did children really plan and execute such an act? Corporate shock.

As a Coloradoan, I felt it even on the other side of the world.

And now I know it on this side of the world.

It felt odd to go on with our plans; but we did. A family outing to the botanic gardens where we enjoyed being together, probably all the more in light of what others were experiencing mere miles from us.

Two truths at once. Horror and Beauty.

We were having a tea party while others were wondering if loved ones were safe.

Part of me didn’t even want to post anything so as not to gain from others’ loss. This feels a bit voyeuristic and opportunistic.

But the truth is that every day there are horrors on both personal and corporate levels. And there are daily acts of connecting with others, enjoying creation, and creating memories. Acts that sprinkle and flavor our lives with grace.

As Jesus wept for Jerusalem, I can picture him weeping again over Denver, over those in the theater and evacuated buildings, over the hospitals, and the family members. This is not how it was supposed to be. We are still in Eden Lost.

This is my 100th post. For weeks I had been thinking of clever ways to mark this milestone (since I’m a numbers person and you don’t get good binary numbers all that often!). Not once did I picture it to have elements of a lament in it. But it does and should. This is what the messy middle is about — grace and truth lived out in the realities of life.

Lord, you promised through Isaiah that you would comfort us. We need it now, here in Denver. Please be merciful.


Madonna wasn’t the only one to express herself


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I received the following email several months ago from my oldest niece. In it she expresses herself in a way that never in a million, billion, zillion years would occur to me: poetry. As a point of reference, I am The Math Fairy (the back story will have to wait for another day) and share the following with her permission.

The subject line read: Math Fairy I Need You

Dear Math Fairy,

I am in desperate need of your help! I wrote a poem about math to help you understand my feelings towards it. Hope you enjoy it :-(.

What Math is to Me
By Emily

Math is evil,
Math is hard to understand.
Math is way worse than a first-grade band.
Math is hated,
Math is hard for me.

Wow.  I have never written a poem to express my feelings about anything without it being assigned. Clearly, she has strong feeling about Math and TMF (The Math Fairy) wrote the following response:

Dear Emily,

(This is Math speaking, by the way, I’m borrowing Aunt Amy’s computer),

I thought I’d start off with a poem about what you are to me.

What Emily is to Me
by Math

Emily is kind,
Her smile warms me.
She helps people
and her laugh is like listening to a cool summer brook
She is loved.
I want her to be my friend

Hey, what was Math doing on here? This is now Aunt Amy …. looks like Math wrote something. Let me see what she said. (I’m back now, I scrolled up) I agree with Math’s poem about you! It seems that Math knows you well and that it’s a little hard for you to know math. Is that another way of seeing it? (She’s not really evil, you know. Not like a wicked step-mother in Cinderella!)

I have a new MFIT here in Beijing (Math Fairy in training). Want to know how you become one? All you have to do is notice someday that math is a little bit more fun than you thought! If that ever happens, let me know! There is a real certificate for being a MFIT and everything (and everything means that Isabel and I will put on our fancy dresses and skype you).

I am seriously sorry that math is so FRUSTRATING for you. But know that Math WANTS you to “get” her. She’s not playing hide and seek or being mean. She likes you. Not as much as I do!!!!!! But she DOES like you.

And I LOVE you :)!

Love, AA


Through this exchange (and the subsequent emails) I discovered that Emily has a poetry notebook and often writes poems to process and express her life. That’s right. Poetry. Take that all those who fuss about “the youth of today.”

She has graciously agreed to let you peek into her world through these poems.

Wind, oh glorious wind
By Emily Smith

Wind, oh glorious wind
You swirl my hair about my face
The trees have rhythm with your grace
Stirring up hibernating leaves,
You are alive with freshness and ease
My favorite type of weather: wind!
Wind, oh glorious wind

by Emily Smith

The rumble of distant thunder
interrupts my thoughts.
A lightning finger
streaks across the sky to snag something
The pitter patter of rain
pounds at my head…
Like a constant drumbeat.
Outside is a wall of black clouds,
leering and laughing at me.
A torrent of water
falls from the sky;
The beginning of an all-night downpour.

Piano Playing
by Emily Smith

My eyes dart across the page,
My fingers dart across the keys.
I love it when I get to play:
I’m having lots of fun today.
Suddenly a salsa, waltz, tango,
Ballet too.
Peddles pumping,
Keys a’thumping,
Eyes are darting too.
Hands are clapping,
Feet are tapping;
Piano playing’s great!
I love it when I get to play for her and
him and you!

Emily, thanks for sharing. You are now a published author and I look forward to the ways your poetry will bless you and others over the years. Love, AAA

I’m really leaving and I’m really sad



It would appear that I left Lawrence, Kansas seventeen years ago.

It would appear that way because my dad drove a U-Haul full of my worldly possessions back to Denver, I quit my job teaching math to bouncy junior highers, and technically I didn’t have a mailing address in Lawrence any longer.

It would appear that way on the outside, but that’s not exactly how my heart saw it.

The plan was for my treasures to be stored for two years in my sister’s basement while I was in China and then return home to normal life.

I loved living in Lawrence. It was where I have gone to school, become an adult, learned more of who I was and met many dear people. I thought that after two years in China I would be back in my beloved Lawrence. And while I was gone, Marla would hold my place.

Marla and I had shared an apartment off of Mississippi Street near the football stadium at the base of  the KU campus. We were single, young, and employed (so we each had some discretionary money). I was in recovery from living two years as the only live-in staff at a group home for unwed pregnant teens. An important and wonderful job; but it cost me my compassion and I needed to recover or risk losing core parts of myself.

Those two years were magical and carefree. Anyone in need of recovery should have a Marla in their life. She embodies the kind of fun that doesn’t come along often. For two years we took Lawrence by storm and embraced life to the FULL.

Leaving was softened by the reality that as long as Marla was there, a piece of me would be there too.

Clearly two years have passed and, not surprisingly, life has gone on for Marla as well. She met a great guy, became a home owner, started her family and most recently became Dr. Marla.

“Amy, I’ve taken a job as the head registrar at North Kentucky University,” Marla excitedly told me.

“But then that means I’m really leaving Lawrence,” I replied, not trying very hard to hide my own personal sadness.

“But you’ve been gone a long time.” She rightly pointed out. When I recounted this conversation to my sister she also pointed out that I have many others I know in Lawrence.

Both are true statements.

But it turns out that Marla was my placeholder. What do you do when your place holder isn’t there any longer? And your place is no longer held?

I cried. I’ve been sad all over again even though years have passed and my grieving doesn’t make sense to others in light of my so-called obvious reality. As oddly as it sounds all these years later, it turns out I’m leaving Lawrence.

Another U-Haul has been packed and a piece of me moved last week to Kentucky. Marla, I truly wish you the best. Lawrence’s loss is Kentucky’s win (as a Jayhawk fan, you know how I hate that sentence! But I love you and since part of me is now there, I’ll get over it!). Even though I didn’t know how much you were holding my place until you told me you were leaving, thanks for holding it for so many years. It’s your time to go, blessings on your new adventure!  Love, Amy

Jesus could greet me with a half-pint of this



The subtitle claims that it is “a biography of the beer that changed the world.”  I love combining unusual things like biographies and beer, but what got me even more were the two elements combined in the title. God and Guinness.  In the circles I grew up in, alcohol wasn’t taboo (after all Jesus made wine and my parents drank socially), but it was viewed as something not really discussed because the subject could be divisive.

The full title is The Search for God and Guinness: a biography of the beer that changed the world by Stephen Mansfield. Though I’d heard of Guinness, I had the typical American ignorance of the Irish company.

Sitting outside the Guinness archives, a pair of teens asked Mansfield why Guinness is so famous.

I launched into a brief, informal survey of Arthur Guinness, his descendants, and the amazing thing that Guinness had become. But I kept the focus on the bear, and this, I quickly realized, was a mistake. I knew I had not captured them… I told them how the Guinnesses were people of faith and how this faith moved them to do good in society. I recounted the deeds of Arthur Guinness –the righteous use of wealth and the Sunday schools and the anitdueling association and his stand against extravagant living. I spoke also of the later generations and the high wages they paid their workers and the restoration of Ireland’s historic landmarks and the huge gifts to build housing for the poor… And I told them how nothing they have read about Microsoft or Google compares with the way an Irish beer company cared for people when their grandparents were still young.

The longevity of the benevolence impressed me. It wasn’t merely one Guinness that used his or her power and influence for good, but generation after generation starting in 1759. How many companies can say that?! You’ll have to read the book for the specifics, but I believe you will be impressed.

In the final chapter Mansfield asked What might we learn from the Guinness tale that we can emulate?

  1. Discern the ways of God for life and business
  2. Think in terms of generations yet to come
  3. Whatever else you do, do at least one thing very well
  4. Master the facts before you act
  5. Invest in those you would have invest in you

That’s a list anyone can print out and review occasionally, isn’t it? I’ll also throw in two interesting tales. When Samoset first approached the Pilgrims in March of 1621 and greeted them, I don’t know which they found most surprising, that he was (in their words) stark naked with only a loin cloth, greeted them in perfect English, or that his very first question was if they had some beer. Next Thanksgiving, any American out there, choose two of the three to celebrate the day, I’ll let you pick!

Second, The Guinness Book of World Records comes from these Guinnesses! What started out as a “pub-game book” turned into something much bigger.

The night I finished the book I ordered half a pint at dinner and lifted my glass to the positive influence a company can have. I didn’t really like the taste, but if Jesus wants to greet me with half a pint instead of a Thai iced tea or Diet Coke, I will gladly accept it.

What companies do you like because of their positive contributions?

Hula hooping as an act of bravery


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She eyes the pile of hula-hoops.

“Aunt Amy,” she whispers, “I would like to do that.”

Mary –we learned her name—was more than willing to share when I asked if my niece could hula-hoop.

The young one threw herself into it and didn’t care that she wasn’t very good at it yet or that many of us were delighting in her willingness to just go-for-it. One of her sisters sidled up to me, “Aunt Amy, I would like to do that.” It’s hard to approach someone you don’t know and ask if you can join in, so I went with her and asked if she, too, could hula-hoop. Mary had many hoops for a reason, she loves hula-hooping and sharing.

Mary turned to me as she had a hula hoop going around her legs and said, “You should try it too, these hula hoops are actually weighted for adults.”

That may be, but I haven’t seriously hula-hooped in years. Oh let’s be honest, it’s been decades and the phrase “seriously hula hooped” has never applied to me. I stood there smiling at the three of them as they spun and delighted.

I would like to do that.

As a so-called respectable adult, it’s tempting to listen to that voice that says, you will look like a fool.

I am the kind of person that if I’m going to do something, I throw myself into it. I grabbed the brightest pink and orange hula hoop and gave it a try.

In terms of brave actions, this will not go down in the annals of history. But in that moment I, like the girls, had a choice: was I going to be brave or was I going to let fear hold me back?

I get that there is a world of difference between Big Brave acts and little brave ones. I’m not sure on the exact relationship between Big Brave and little brave, but there is one. As I say yes to more little brave opportunities, it strengthens muscles I need for those Big Brave opportunities.

Big Brave situations do not normally come with lots of warning, we just find ourselves faced with a choice, an opportunity, a call to make. I picked up that hula hoop as a public declaration that I want to be brave in the little so that I can be brave in the Big.

As that hula hoop went around and around my waist, a third niece joined and then the last until all four of them were there. The six of us hula hooping before the Lord and all the on lookers, it was a group act of bravery.

David danced before the Lord with abandon, much to his wife’s chagrin. He was known for his bravery and it stemmed from his ability to keep his eyes on God whether fighting a giant, hiding in the hills, or dancing with abandon. When I keep mine there, I am able to follow in David’s footsteps and live life not out of fear, but out of focus.

What is something little brave you have done recently (or have been putting off)? How do you see the relationship between Big Brave and little brave?

Taste my enthusiasm



Today I have the great privilege of posting over at Lessons from Teacher’s and Twits. I have followed Renée Schuls-Jacobson since early this spring and there are several things I look forward to when I read a post from her – she is open and funny and she has an ability to bring a community together on her blog. She generously shares her piece of the internet with others, so head on over to her blog to read and comment.

I’d like to dedicate this post to my sisters Elizabeth and Laura and my friend Joann. You’ll understand why after you read the post!

In high school I worked at Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers. Oh the thrill at age 16 of learning to use the fryers and put the topping in the right order (white, red, green, white, red, green, yellow. I still remember after all these years). Discovering the mysteries of stocking the salad bar, running the cash register, and cleaning the whole place after we closed.

I’d come home and gush about this aspect of working at Wendy’s or that particular customer, or my co-workers, or the walk in fridge or the break room. The topics were endless. How could I NOT share with my parents and sisters? Yes, as my sisters pointed out, I smelled like  Read more here


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Today is Wednesday (not as obvious as you might think)


Master (or should that be ‘mistress’?) of the obvious here. Today is Wednesday. July 4th, American Independence Day, happens to fall on a Wednesday this year. Since it is a one day holiday, there are two work days on either side which means either people took the entire week off, or it’s just the one day off.

Part of me hates to say it, but I am thankful that this isn’t a Chinese holiday. A one day holiday that falls on a Wednesday is the Worst. Possible. Combination. Ever.

Wednesday would have still been Wednesday, but Monday would have been switched with Saturday (so people worked on Saturday as if it Monday) and Tuesday would have been switched with Sunday. Why? To get three days off in a row. So, you work seven days straight and to get three days off? And really two of the days are the weekend? Can you see my Americanness coming through? This just seems more hassle/mafan than it is worth! Sometimes a one day holiday falls on Wednesday and that is just life. This is one of those things that no matter how long I live in China, you can take the girl out of America, but there are parts of America you can’t get out of the girl!

In August I will spend the month with a group of teachers who will be moving to China for one or two years. As part of their orientation, at some point we will hold classes on Saturday and tell them it is Wednesday and that they will get Wednesday off as Saturday. It’s kind of fun to watch their heads cock to the side and quizzical look come over them. Welcome to you new home! You won’t have time zones, but you will have days switching around!

I wrote about when Tuesday is a holiday; you can read it here and my friend Joann wrote a great piece about how the Chinese see Time Zones (all of China is on one time zone and they find that whole concept confusing). You can read it here.

I know you can … but it’s still weird!



Guess what? I can drive.

I realize this is not really a shocking announcement or very interesting, in-and-of itself.

But as someone who has lived in China for many years, most of the North Americans I have met overseas have never seen me drive (or seen me in America, for that matter).

A few weeks ago a small group of us who know each other from China met up in the Seattle airport to attend a wedding. We were going to participate in one of the great American rituals to get there: a road-trip. We fit in two cars and I was the driver in the lead car.

These people who have known me for years and seen me in many contexts got to see a side of me they hadn’t – it was rather “both/and” – both normal and odd. Though we all know each other can drive, of course we can(!), we never see it. Here we were, participating in a so-very-American activity (road-tripping), when we know each other from such a different context (trains, buses, and crazy taxis).

So normal.

So odd.

Me driving people I’ve ridden in crowded taxis going down the wrong side of the road. Being followed in another car by a friend who can … drive! I’ve never seen him in the US and here we were whipping down some highway.  I know he can drive, but it’s still weird to see it.

A fellow road-trippers put the following up on Facebook:

Profile Picture“So here’s what I’ve recently learned about fellow teammates as I’ve traveled with them States-side: Amy Young is a speed demon, JW likes to comment on the make and model of every car we see, AG is overwhelmed when making coffee & tea choices, KM becomes sassier, RW is overjoyed at reading American Idol magazine articles, and KB feels ‘complete’ now that her Siping friends are in Washington to share her special day.”

Amy Young is a speed demon?! I think I’d prefer sassier!

I’m not the only one with skills in one area that aren’t tapped into/seen in some contexts. In the comment section, share something that those in your daily life might know about you, but haven’t gotten to experience.  Do tell!

{p.s. Want to be sure you don’t miss a post? It’s easy to subscribe (button on the left), there’s always room for one more in The Messy Middle}

How to treat a burn when it’s relational


While cooking lunch this spring, a colleague’s gas stove had a mini-explosion and she experienced second degree burns. Watching the process of treating physical burns had me wondering if similar lessons could be applied to less-literal, though not less-damaging burns.

Because we live in Eden Lost, we know what it’s like to be burnt by one another (and sadly how to use our words and actions to burn others).  We can experience first, second and third degree relational burns.

Want to know how creative we have gotten at burning one another? Here is a short list of burn victims:

  • Esau – burnt by his brother and mother
  • Jacob—burnt by his father-in-law
  • Blind man – by gossip (was it his sin or his parents’)
  • David – burnt by Saul … again and again
  • Uriah – burned by his commander-in-chief, David
  • Moses—burnt by those he was leading
  • Naomi –burnt by life’s experiences (famine, relocating, death of loved ones and desires)
  • Tamar—burnt by her brother
  • Jesus—burnt by a kiss from a friend (and really, us all!)
  • Elijah—burnt by exhaustion
  • Mary—burnt by words said against her son
  • Mary and Martha—burnt by the delayed response of Jesus
  • Jeremiah—burnt by people’s non-responsiveness
  • Joseph—burnt by his brothers, later his employer’s wife, and later still by someone who forgot him
  • Jonah—burnt by perceived unfairness of God

Burnt by family, the government, leaders, friends, strangers, those we are to serve, life experiences, gossip, even at times it seems by God. This is most definitely not an exhaustive list and as you read this, you could add your own name and way of being burnt to it.

Among those listed, we know that not all healed from their injuries. Healing, sadly, is not a given. However, there are –I want to avoid over simplifying the process – actions that we can borrow from treating a physical burn and apply them to emotional and relational burns.

  1. Admit you’ve been burnt. This seems too obvious to state, but if you don’t admit that something has happened, you will live with this wound, that though others may not see, they will know something has happened to you.
  2. Get help – at times this will involve professionals. If you’ve gotten a second or third degree burn you are probably going to need expertise beyond your mom, school nurse, or good friend.
  3. Your wound will need to be cleaned out and this may involve scraping off dead skin. If you don’t scrap, you run the risk of infection that could spread beyond the original area wounded.
  4. It will hurt to clean and re-bandage the wounds, but you will need to do this on a regular basis until healing occurs.
  5. Monitor for signs of infection and be faithful in taking antibiotics.
  6. Lean hard into community. Let them cook for you, carry you, and spend time with you. Do not feel that you need to reach out to them at that time.
  7. The process might take a lot more time than you would choose. I’m sorry.
  8. As you do one through seven, pray. In the Psalms David models howling out to God in the midst of life’s trials while weaving in God’s faithfulness and David’s dependence on God. You can do likewise.

Physical burns need to be treated immediately, the main change I’d make to relational burns is that the timing of treating it probably will start later and go longer.

I don’t want to minimize the real pain and loss that burning causes, whether by the sun, by cooking, or by the hands of another. But God has not abandoned us in Eden lost and you can heal and out of your experience, minister to others in their time of need. {And if you’ve burnt someone, it is never too late to confess and repent.}

Question: what’s helped you heal from a relational burn?

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