Urbana transplants

That’s what we are – transplanted for these days to serve ~22,000 folk gathered between Christmas and New Year’s.

And Urbana itself has been transplanted, from its namesake city in Illinois to the larger urban center in the Show Me state.

So far, we’re doing well enough to call ourselves blessed. What with the craziness of check-in and subsequent recovery as a family, the following written late on Christmas Day (after a dinner overlooking the soaring arch) was stuck in the cache awaiting postage.

For content straight from the convention floor, don’t miss the delayed webcast.

Three energetic student sisters (right) volunteered for Lynn, hotels check-in coordinator – including removing the stabilizing plastic wrap from around all those boxes of bags. A.J. and Tee pitched in with a little help and creativity. What to do with yards and yards of leftover wrap? Dresses, neckties, headgear, kickballs, belly warmers…

This has been an unique and memorable Christmas! As our friends arrived to participate in Urbana and care for our kids, we both noted how little the day has felt like Christmas. Good thing the faith doesn’t rest solely on sentiments. It matters little what day of the year or even what exact year the Incarnation got into full swing. The fact remains (and I venture such a claim in view of the risks, known and unknown): ours is a visited planet.

As the registration check-in and other convention areas were taking shape, other advance staff kept arriving. Dy and teammate Sarah checked in the first wave during a Christmas Eve gathering – including Jim, Urbana 06 director.

These views can’t possibly contain the whole – but neither could the swaddling cloths, manger, stable cavern or heavens of old. Someone should write about the reentry of these elements into the story as strips of linen for wrapping, a wooden supporting structure, freshly carven tomb and obscured path of ascent.

A second unequivocal visitation has been promised once all the ethne (people groups, a.k.a. nations) of the earth receive news of the first (see, e.g., Mark 13:10). The date and hour remain unknown, along with plenty else we’d like to know.

Until then, A.J. keeps busy with Lego constructions and dreams of more. Here (right) a new and expanding battle group traverses the expanses of an America’s Center hall awaiting the vast friendly hordes of convention attendees.


first benefit of a first pet, and a shared journal

Striking a mutually satisfactory deal with one of my teammates, A.J. recently traded a polished agate (he’d been given) for a beta fish and its life support paraphernalia. Herbie (never mind his previous owner’s name for him) is A.J.’s first pet – if you don’t count short-termers like worms and insects.

As I was reading Tom Sawyer aloud with him and Tee a few days later, A.J. agreed that deal was like the trade of a tick and a tooth between Huck and Tom, described in chapter six: they “separated, each feeling wealthier than before.”

After a few days of feeding, watching and caring for Herbie, A.J. asked me, “What does my fish give me?”

The benefit was obvious to me, if not yet to him: “Responsibility.”

A week later, he agrees. It’s about the right balance.

A.J.’s also plenty proud of his backyard (ours and part of a couple of neighbors’) pumpkin patch, having profited from its first sale today. It’s one thing to sell things for Cub Scouts, another to unload his spare stuff for cold cash. He’s the entrepreneur and saver of the three kids. Hymn with him at bedtime: “Riches I heed not, nor people’s vain praise…”.

Arey’s extended analysis for Honors English of avoidance of responsibility as a theme in Lord of the Flies reminds me of that and other early experiences in modern literature. I think she’s way ahead of my abilities in tenth grade, but declined to do a peer review of her rough draft.

Amid the mass media storm clouds of rumor and lightning strikes of violence, the hymn Tee and I often sing at bedtime rings all the more true: “‘Peace, perfect peace’ – in this dark world of sin? The blood of Jesus whispers, ‘Peace’ within.” How like the living God to make that professionally barbaric act of tortuous bloodletting the cure of humanity’s self-destruction.

Humiliating and unjust, that Lamb’s suffering was only as inescapable as his loyalty to the One who set him in motion as the eternal Word. He walked into Passion Week knowing what lay beyond its wrenching end. Through him at least one universe entered existence, and its birthpangs of regeneration commenced historically at the rising of the Firstborn. Alternatives are endless and empty of such holy love, wisdom and power; I will venture on no other hope.

Opening my thoughts like this echoes an experience from 20 years ago. Dy and I visited Turkey for the summer with a group of students, staff and recent graduates, learning the culture, language and sharing ourselves with new friends. One of the latter weeks we all spread out among host families in communities around Istanbul, enjoying a variety of adventures in immersion and hospitality.

As my host and new friend Ercan (EHR-jon; not his real name) and I got to know each other over tea and games with friends through slow summer days, we each revealed as much as we dared about ourselves with growing trust. Living in close quarters, he soon discovered my habit of digesting each day’s experiences and insights in a written journal. I was especially keen to note things I knew would interest Dy, as we were out of touch for that week and dating as seriously as appropriate in that setting. My reflections on my Bible reading, conversations with Ercan and others to whom he introduced me, and prayers punctuated my entries in a notebook set aside for the purpose. (Do I need to mention it was paper? My offline journal is not so insecure these days.)

Friends share. Ercan one day asked to read my journal. The wave of incredulity at this unintentional assault on my sense of privacy passed quickly as I understood his honest curiosity. Without too much hesitation, I said, “Sure.” His English was excellent, so comprehension was not a problem. You can imagine how a daily cycle of writing, reading, questions and discussion continued to deepen our exchange of ideas, values and experiences. My risk in transparency was rewarded with mutual understanding and trust.

Don’t get me started, or I’ll tell more of our adventures that week. Between a wedding and a traffic accident, it was memorable for us all. If I get back to Istanbul some year, as I’ve (literally) dreamed, I look forward to finding out where Ercan and others we met then are venturing these days.

Dy announces the successful entry of about 30 staffing job role requests in the system supporting the world-class convention for which she’s helping manage registration. 270 more to go… – j

camping out – inside – while Jesús works

Dy and I are camping out in the living room while the ceiling in the master bedroom is replaced due to significant water damage. Like 30,000 others in the area, our roof was damaged by hail in April. Repairs were hampered by rain, and then we left for a vacation in late August. It’s a very strange feeling to drive away from your home on the way to the airport and Florida – with the roof half done and half tarped.

After we returned, my wife’s mold-sensitive nose got us looking at the ceiling. The roofer has been super about it. And we’re thankful for insurance!

A.J. recently purchased a “two-person” tent with his own money. Maybe two his size, or one of me. He and Tee have played with it and our old, damaged dome tent (long background story there involving a windstorm at a beautiful, large, artificial lake in NE) in the backyard. I consented to sleep out there with them a few weeks back, but they both got cold and came inside before I laid down a second time. So I got in on the fun, without the pain of the early wake-up on too little cushion.

Sometime we’ll chronicle more of A.J.’s exploits in fishing. For now, he’s content to have “the best teacher in the world.” Should we tell her? He, Tee and Arey seem to be learning well and enjoying most of the process, if missing the more open structures of summer.

We’re all learning plenty these days, with Dy tackling registration for a world-class convention and me guiding vendors and stakeholder representatives through my first-ever professional-grade RFP (for online registration).

Added the next morning: There I went and left out one of the main points. Jesus is taking care of us.

The name of the drywaller (who’s starting as I write, I trust) is Jesús – a sturdy fellow who does good work. The kids were excited to hear who was doing this job, a little like carpentry. There’s a vibrant Hispanic/Latino community in town – one of the largest of many ethne gathered for educational and economic opportunities. – j