Tuesday, September 15, 2015

life in the middle of nowhere

Does life have you doing circles in the desert?

If so, you're not alone. And God hasn't given up on you.

Last week, the summer edition of the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Alumni Magazine, Contact, was released. It includes the devotional I gave at the Gordon-Conwell Alumni Breakfast at SBL last November, as well as a write-up of Anne Doll's phone interview with me, where we talked about how to make it in grad school as a family of five.

For those of you who are "in between," waiting to step into a season of fulfillment, this devotional is my gift to you, the fruit of my own desert wanderings. Here's a snippet:
In those "in-between" places, we are faced with many questions. We are no longer certain about who we are. We are not sure how God is leading, or even if he's leading. In our desperation to restore a sense of order to our lives, we're always in danger of adopting the wrong narrative. But God has us right where He wants us. He has lessons to teach us that can only be learned in a state of dislocation. Lessons about who we are. About who He is. And how He's calling us to be in the world. 
Read the rest here. You can find my contribution on pages 30–33.

Friday, September 11, 2015

a scholar's prayer

My Desk (Photo: C Imes)
For those whose desks, like mine, have been swallowed by dissertation research . . .
For those in the throes of writing a book or an essay . . .
For those laboring over a new language or a new discipline . . .
For students just starting out in academia . . .

I invite you to pray this prayer with me. You can find it in full at InterVarsity's blog for Women in the Academy and Professions, but it applies just as well to men.

May He be glorified by the works of our minds!
as a new day dawns,
I offer thanks for the privilege of learning —
For the time, the mental acuity, and the resources at my disposal. 
Thank you for the delight of discovery. 
These are precious gifts... 
Let me love the truth 
more than I love what I have thought or said or written. 
Grant me the courage to confront falsehood, even in myself, 
to defend an unpopular position, 
or to surrender a cherished opinion found wanting...
For the rest, click here.

Monday, September 7, 2015

four things I inherited from Oma

Today would have been my paternal grandmother's 95th birthday. Oma was a strong, stubborn, and independent woman, yet wholly convinced of her need for a Savior. Because her death in 2014 coincided precisely with our family's move to Oregon, many of her possessions found a place in our new home. From teacups to cabinets and doilies to delft, most rooms in our house hold a piece of her legacy. In honor of her birthday, here are a few of the most valuable gifts she bequeathed to me:

1. The Quest for Information

My library on Oma's shelves (Photo: C. Imes)
Oma was not a scholar, but her coffee table was always stacked with books, magazines, and newspapers in English and Dutch. Her TV was always set to an international news channel. These shelves, now filled with my own books, once held hers. Though she immigrated from Holland to Canada as an adult and never lost her thick, Dutch brogue, Oma learned English so well that she could beat any native speaker at a game of Scrabble.

2. The Rhythm of Hospitality 

Oma's well-used teacups (Photo: C. Imes)
Having people over was no big "to-do" for Oma, it was simply a part of life. I spent many a Sunday afternoon at Oma and Opa's house, having tea and cookies before the noon meal and visiting with out-of-town guests. The meals were not exotic, and I don't recall ever seeing Oma flustered in the kitchen. The solid predictability of the menu (meat, potatoes, gravy, beans, cauliflower, and apricot sauce) matched the steadiness of her demeanor. Mealtime was not a culinary exhibition, but a time to gather for conversation and to read the daily devotional and pray.

John and Barbara (Brinkman)
Camfferman, 1949
3. The Determination to Stand for what's Right

Naturally, I knew Oma only in the last half of her life, when the settled rhythms of gardening, housework, volunteering, and Sunday services defined her week. Her early years were half a world away, on a farm in the Netherlands lovingly known as "Kalf 20." She walked to school over bridges and past windmills, milked cows, biked everywhere on top of the dikes, and in the winter ice-skated on frozen canals. By the time World War 2 erupted, she was in her 20's. Her mother had already died, so she kept house for her father and siblings. The rest of her energies she devoted to the Dutch Resistance. I doubt she felt brave. She just did what had to be done — carrying messages past Nazi soldiers by hiding them, rolled up in the handlebars of her bicycle. When stopped and questioned, she lied, heart pounding inside her chest. By the grace of God, she was never caught. After the war ended, she helped with relief efforts, proudly wearing the orange arm band that identified her as a member of the Dutch Resistance. (The royal "house" in the Netherlands is known as the "House of Orange," which explains both the color and the word embroidered on the band. It's a patriotic symbol.)

4. The Impulse to Write

Letter from Oma to her family back home in Holland
shortly after her move to Canada, 1949
It wasn't until after her death that I recognized what should have been as plain as the Dutch nose on Oma's face: she was a writer. My parents unearthed box after box of letters she had received over the years from siblings and cousins and in-laws across Canada and back in Holland — letters written in response to her own. A niece of hers began assembling the correspondence between the Brinkman siblings during the years just after WW2. Oma married a dashing Dutch soldier who had been stationed in England and they quickly immigrated to Canada where they could start a new life together. Letters flew from one side of the ocean to the other with regularity. In addition to letters, year after year Oma kept a diary, with brief notes about each day (the weather, visitors, anything unusual). During the war she wrote more extensively, leaving behind a treasure of information about life in the Netherlands under the Nazi regime as well as Brinkman family history. In the last two years of Oma's life, she felt the growing urgency of getting her story down in writing. Dozens of drafts of her life story, highlighting the war years, were tucked in boxes and drawers.


Oma would have been the first to tell you that she and I are very different. She was not an academic, and other than a brief stint as a school bus driver and a house cleaner, she was never employed outside the home. I have never been through a war, and I am no longer a member of the [Dutch/Christian/United] Reformed Church that was her spiritual home throughout her 83 years of life.

All the same, if you look through the "house" that is my life, you'll see her influence in almost every room. I'm sure I inherited more than my fair share of her stubbornness, and I plan to keep filling her shelves with books and her teacups with tea, to stand for justice and truth in the face of evil in my generation, and to keep writing. For writing is the most tangible legacy we can leave to our children. Thank you, Oma, for leaving me yours.

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.