Sunday, August 23, 2015

unforgettable day

Rocky Mountain National Park (Photo: C. Imes)
The gray morning crept through the valley, but we were already awake, dressed, and loading the van with muffins, cameras, and water bottles. After just minutes we showed our pass to the ranger and entered Rocky Mountain National Park. Our aim was to see more wildlife by beating the sun and the crowds. But tourist season had already sent most wildlife into hiding. Other than a few deer by the roadside and a handful of elk across a distant valley, we saw nothing but marmots. No matter how long we craned our necks at the rocky ridges, they were silent and still, yielding no life.

Rocky Mountain National Park (Photo: C. Imes)
It was a bighorn I wanted to see most, but instead our drive up Fall River Road and then Trail Ridge Road offered breathtaking vistas of peaks awash in the morning sun—the golden hues catching the rocky crags and then sliding slowly like honey until the brilliance was everywhere. Vibrant greens, patches of last winter's snow, stunning blue lakes and skies, boulders in browns and reds and white, tiny flowers clinging to fragile tundra—it was nothing short of majestic.

Three hours later we finally emerged from the park and entered a day filled with other activities—a high-ropes adventure course, fishing, a meal, race cars, and bumper boats.

But no tourist activity could match the bookends of our day. After dinner we headed up again, this time with blankets, and drove back into the park as the gray shroud descended again and light drained from the sky. We could see just well enough to lay our blankets in the meadow beside the parking area and settle in for a spectacular show.

Rocky Mountain National Park
(Photo: Kristin Camfferman)
Our eyes adjusted to the gathering darkness. We talked and laughed freely, not wanting any wild visitors to join us. The stars began to make their appearance. When it was truly dark we gasped as the first streak of light sliced the sky above us. Then another. And another.

The dark canvas stretched impressively from horizon to horizon. Without city lights we saw thousands of stars—even the milky way. It was the perfect backdrop for a meteor shower that sovereignly collided with our mountain vacation. In that one night I saw more "shooting stars" than in all my 38 years put together. Some were faint and short. One fireball tore a path across the entire northwestern edge of the sky, leaving a long trail.

We had seen at least a dozen when the chill set in our bones and the ache in my back told me it was enough. A brilliant bookend to an unforgettable day.

Friday, August 7, 2015

how I've failed my kids

I still have not forgotten the talk our principal gave us on the first day of high school. It was the strangest "pep talk" I have ever heard. He told us we would all fail. He was confident that every one of us in the room would make a mess of something that year—a test, a report, a relationship, a job. Failure is guaranteed because all of us are human. It's only a matter of time.

But failure is only the beginning. When we respond well to failure, it becomes the foundation for success. That's what our high school principal had in mind. Recent studies show that we learn more from failure than anything else. Kids who are told they are intelligent struggle the most to learn new things. Why? They begin to assume that brain power is something that you wake up with in the morning. If a "smart" kid encounters something difficult, they often throw in the towel and decide they don't have what it takes.

The fact is, I have failed my children by telling them that they are smart. Here's how it has played out more times that I can count:

"Mom, I can't get this. It doesn't make any sense."
"I know you can do it. You're a smart kid. Your teacher wouldn't give you an unsolvable problem."
"No, I really can't get it. I've tried and tried. It's impossible. I'm not smart enough."
"That's nonsense. God gave you a good brain and you know it. Just keep trying."

Educational psychologists are now saying that we need to praise kids for their problem-solving skills, their ideas, and their strategies, rather than for their intelligence. These are the tools that have served them well, and will continue to do so when they face harder challenges.

I'm imagining new conversations with my kids:

"Mom, I can't get this. It doesn't make any sense."
"I wonder if there's another way to look at it. What are all the different ways we could try to solve it? What have you tried so far?"
"The problem isn't giving me enough information. I don't even know where to start."
"Let's read it together and brainstorm. I'd love to hear your ideas. Then we can try to break it down step by step. Imagine it's a mystery and we're looking for clues!"

This research is helpful for me, too. In academics it's awfully tempting to think that you don't have what it takes—that your brain is not capable of doing what needs to be done. If your best doesn't seem good enough, don't despair. Intelligence is not fixed. To have tried and failed is to mentally "level-up," unlocking the door for greater growth. If at first you don't succeed . . .

Several years ago I submitted an article for publication in an academic journal. Receiving that first rejection letter felt like a rite of passage. The second journal was kind enough to include a list of constructive criticism with their rejection letter. Most authors have a file full of letters like this. Come to think of it, no one is born writing symphonies or making 3-pointers or solving equations or designing bridges or interceding faithfully or balancing spreadsheets. Everything we know is learned. We all start at zero. And we have to make a lot of mistakes to get from here to where we want to be.

Still not convinced? Check out these videos from Khan Academy. They were my wake-up call today.

Monday, August 3, 2015

a lot of hops

It was Easton's idea. 

We had about an hour before the kids' bedtime and wanted to go outside.
"Let's make a hopscotch of the books of the Bible!"
We grabbed the sidewalk chalk and headed into the quiet street to get started.
"We could just do the Old Testament," he suggested. "How many books is that?"
"39," I reported.
"And how many in the New Testament?"
"27." [This has nothing to do with a PhD in Biblical Theology. What you memorize as a child sticks!]
"And how many is that all together?"
"Wow," he said. "That's a lot of hopping."
No kidding.

We drew and drew, using just the first letter of each book, and then hopped and hopped, trying to hop to the rhythm of the books-of-the-Bible songs we know (which is not easy—you try it!). Then we tried silly hops, jazzy hops, backward hops, dribbling hops, jump-roping hops, and any other way we could think of to traverse our longest hopscotch yet.

When we fell into bed, we were all hopped out, but all practiced up on the books of the Bible, which is a very handy thing to know.

Thanks, Easton.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

an open letter to Multnomah students

Last fall, one of my college professors, Ray Lubeck, invited me back to speak to his Bible Study Methods class. Ray was more than just a professor to me. He became my mentor, boss, and friend, even performing our wedding in Colorado! It was an honor to visit his class again. I just came across my notes from the message I gave that morning, and I thought I'd share it with you as well.


18 years ago I sat where you are sitting.
I soaked in every word that Ray taught.
I poured myself into lab assignments.
And it changed my life.
Seriously, I couldn't figure out why no one had ever taught me this stuff before.
The Scriptures were opened up in a whole new way for me and the Bible came to life.

17 years ago I stood where I'm standing now, as a [Bible Study Methods] lab instructor.
It was the single most fulfilling thing I had ever done.
I kept coming back, teaching a total of 5 semesters.

12 years ago my husband Danny and I sold most of our things, packed up the rest, and headed to the Philippines as missionaries. We were more than ready. We had 4 years of the best Bible training on the planet tucked under our belts, teaching and church ministry experience, a strong team of prayer and financial supporters, a set of gifts that were a perfect match for the needs our mission advertised, and a commitment to reach Filipino Muslims with the gospel.

Weeks stretched into months as our initial enthusiasm wore off. We floundered. Ministry opportunities were not unfolding the way we had anticipated. Life in Manila was really tough. It was hot. We wilted. It was smoggy. We could hardly breathe. Language school was brutal. We were so homesick.

One day I was walking to the market to see my Muslim friends. I thought about their lives. They were immigrants from another island, far from home and trying to get along in a new language. Squatters by day and squatters by night, they sold pirated goods along the street without a permit and lived in makeshift homes on property they did not own. At any moment the police could show up and drag them off to jail for any number of infractions. The women sat pregnant in the hot sun for hour after hour selling combs and batteries and cell phone covers. After their babies were born they left them home with an older sibling and return to the market to sell again so the family could eat.

On my way to the market that day I felt so, so empty. What did I have that these friends really needed? I had come prepared to teach Bible study methods, but they could hardly read or write. We were here to reach them with the gospel, but what tangible benefit did the gospel offer them? A stable income? Reliable housing? What I knew to offer was a far cry from what they needed. As for godly character, I was depressed and discouraged, cranky and selfish, homesick and tired. I had come armed with colored pencils and an inductive Bible study method. I felt a little silly.

It was around this time that I got an email from Dr. Karl Kutz [another of my professors from Multnomah]. He was conducting a survey of graduates from the biblical languages program to find out our greatest accomplishments post-graduation. My Greek and Hebrew Bibles had made the trek across the ocean with me, but frankly, they sat untouched on my shelves getting moldy from the humidity. My greatest accomplishment? Umm… at first I groaned. There was nothing much that belonged on a resume. After some thought I decided that my most noteworthy accomplishment was that I could walk unannounced into a Muslim neighborhood climb the cement stairs of a 3-story building onto the rooftop where two families lived -- my friends from the market. Salma and Aisah and their husbands were raising their small children on that rooftop with no railings. Two lean-to shelters stood side by side, with corrugated metal roofs and walls with scrap linoleum floors. Their only furniture was a table on which the TV and a small gas stove were kept, powered with illegal gas and electricity. We sat on the floor as the pouring rain seeped through the holes in the floor and soaked our clothes. We talked and laughed, and I prayed in Filipino for Aisah's new baby, whom she had named Ishmael, or for Salma's whom she had named Eliana, after my own daughter. I longed for these friends to meet the Savior. I loved them, and I knew they loved me.

They had no pencil between them, and they could not read their copy of the Qur'an which was carefully wrapped and tucked between the wooden post and metal walls of their home. I would never have an opportunity to teach them inductive Bible study methods. That's not what they needed anyway. We all cried when Danny and I were called to move back to the US.

Yes, I've accumulated more degrees since then, and my Greek and Hebrew are not as rusty as they were in 2003. But if Dr. Kutz sent me that email again today I'm not sure that my answer should be any different. Allow me some liberties with 1 Cor 13:1–2:

If I read fluently in the languages of the ancient near east, but do not have love,
I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have impressive intellectual powers, advanced degrees,
and an exegetical method than can unlock all mysteries and all knowledge, 
and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

Soak in all you can this semester. It is valuable training, and it will shape you in profound ways. But know this: without love, we are nothing.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

bored by Leviticus or lost in Numbers? don't miss this

I've already mentioned this resource last year, but it's getting better all the time as more videos are released, and I'm guessing that some of you blew me off the first time, so I'm going to say it again, LOUDER.

This is quite simply the BEST COLLECTION OF BIBLE VIDEOS I have ever seen. The content is solid. The graphics are impressive. The cost is affordable (It's FREE!). In just minutes you'll begin to understand how the books of the Bible fit together, and how each one contributes to the Bible's overall message.

There's a reason why over 42,000 people have already subscribed to these videos on YouTube (Genesis is nearing 200,000 views).

There's a reason why I used class time to show these videos to seminary students earlier this year.

And there's a reason why all three of my kids were captivated this afternoon watching them. After watching Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Hebrews, Eliana (age 14) announced that she was going to head to her room and watch them all again. Emma (age 10) said, "That was amazing!" And Easton (age 7) declared that he wanted to send some of his own money to help fund more videos.

They're that good.

Think the Bible is boring? or confusing? Or do you love it and want a way to share that love with others? Look no further! Watch it come to life at or get started right here:

Is the video you want to see not available yet? Keep checking back. The team is upping production speed so that all the biblical book videos will be out as soon as next year!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

on being finite

As a child, life stretched out interminably before me, holding an endless array of choices and possibilities. What do you want to be when you grow up? was the question that punctuated a long and happy childhood. No career was out of the question. My dreams held no bounds. My pint-sized mind was pregnant with possibility. Missionary-scientist-teacher? Bible translator-orphanage director? At one point I decided to become a missionary-astronaut-famous singer. I had my schedule all worked out in advance: I would spend several years overseas doing mission work, and then during furlough I would squeeze in a space mission and a concert tour before resuming my work in Africa.

How could I have anticipated the exhausting pace of what is erroneously called "furlough," or the rigorous preparation required for a trip to outer space, or the endless hours of practice and coordination to schedule a road show? My dreams were good ones, but I had yet to discover my own finitude.

We are given only so many hours, only so many days, and only so many years. Chances are that we will not be able to pursue every hobby that tickles our fancy, or learn every skill that would be handy to know, or volunteer for every worthwhile activity. Even as an adult, I have far more visionary ideas than I do energy to carry out those ideas. (I should bring a meal to so-and-so, or help with such-and-such, or start making my own this-and-that.) That leads to overpromising, overcommittment, pressure, guilt, and stress. Just because I can do something (in theory), does not mean that I should, even if it's commendable or I would be good at it.

Perhaps in days gone by one could aspire to be a 'renaissance man,' mastering knowledge in a wide range of subjects. That age has expired, and with it my dreams of being an astronaut or scientist or Bible translator or famous singer or counselor or midwife. I've given up on quilting and canning (at least for now), writing children's books, learning to paint, or taking an active role in the PTSO of my children's school or our neighborhood association. I cannot do everything. I have limits. For the time being, I study and write. When time allows, I read fiction and go camping and play games and take pictures. Once a year I even work on the family photo album. But mostly I dissertate. When that is done I will teach. And that will leave precious little time for anything else.

Almost-38-years old seems a strange time in life to start slashing my list of ambitions. I am interested in more things than ever before -- languages, geology, travel, world economics, traditional arts, gardening -- but I'm also more aware of my limitations. I am not a machine, I am a human being. That means I need balance, margins, rest. I can't do everything. Neither can you.

It's freeing to know that although God invites our active participation in his work, he does not expect us (in particular) to do it all. We invest what we can, when we can, as he provides the means. The rest is up to him. Our finitude drives us to depend on the infinite God for the strength to do what he has called us to do -- nothing more, nothing less.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

why bother writing a dissertation?

Who even cares? And what difference does it make, really?

Pacific City, Oregon (Photo: C Imes)

Sometimes when I come face to face with an awe-inspiring panorama of natural beauty, I get to feeling very, very small. And I think about the hours I spend every day fiddling with footnotes, massaging sentences until they sound exactly right, poking my theories from every angle to make sure they stand up under scrutiny . . . In those moments my work seems so pedantic. 

Does any of this actually matter?

But when I turn back from a breathtaking view and stand squarely facing the church, I remember why this work must be done. I don't mean the church historic, anchored by creed, weathering the test of time. I mean the church in its messiest and most particular forms—the local church, my local church. Individuals of various ages and backgrounds and careers who share geographic proximity and have chosen to worship together on Sunday mornings at 9:00 or 10:45, coffee in hand, trying to shake off the spiritual lethargy of their week and tune in to what really matters. This church, my church, needs steady footing in the shifting sands of cliché and trend and platitude; they need to be guided to what is real and true and rock solid, what is profoundly biblical and yet fresh and relevant. People are weary of what they've already heard and tried and found wanting. They are tired of getting nowhere.

To speak with authority into the malaise of superficiality that confronts any local church, I must do my homework. I must wrestle each word to the ground, refusing to let it go until I understand, refusing to quit until I have clearly expressed what I see.

On any given day I consult books written by patient scholars who have done exactly this. Their insights have stood the test of time, like the majestic cliffs on the Oregon coast. I am grateful for their work—glad they didn't give up when things took longer than they planned—and inspired to contribute in some small way. 

And so I press on. 

Stay tuned. The best is yet to come.