Musings at the NM State Fair

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A few weeks ago I had the privilege of being a chaperone as students from the local school had a field-trip to the NM State Fair. I was responsible for 2 students (plus my daughter) and their 5th grade teacher joined us for the day as well.

“My” girls meet Smokey the Bear

We wandered the fairgrounds and enjoyed the usual things: shows, animals, art displays and 4H projects. The kids picked up lots of freebies and handouts from the Department of Natural Resources, and the various branches of the Armed Services, and Science groups, and Libraries, and more. (You can see photos from the day HERE.)

I enjoyed spending time with the girls. It was interesting to see what they found intriguing and what things bored them. It was fun to share my love of “agua de sandia” (watermelon water—a favorite drink from time in Mexico) with them. I was pleased to see that the tacky wares in the vendor booths were no temptation (at least to “my” girls—not talking about many of the other kids who returned to the buses as the end of the day with amazing money-wasters!)

Behind the up-front, oh-so-typical story of kids going to the fair is another story. It’s a story that I’ve been pondering. Let me share a few pieces with you…

I tutor one of these girls—let’s call her Dee. Many days she is sullen and withdrawn. It can be hard to engage her in what we are working on. At one point, she and I had an in-your-face argument. You don’t need to know the details…it is enough to say that I wrote an apology and an affirmation of the value and worth I see in Dee. I assumed our relationship, which was tenuous to start with, was irrevocably broken. The principal herself wondered if it would be more effective for someone else to work with Dee. I chose to stick with it for a little longer to see what might happen.

Imagine my surprise, then, during a tutoring session the day before the fair trip, when Dee asked me if she could be in my group. WOW! But I knew she was bringing money for a ride band…and I don’t believe spending the day on the midway is an appropriate use of a school funded trip to the fair. I gently explained that my group would NOT taking time for any rides, and suggested she would probably be happier in another group.

The next morning, I discovered that Dee was assigned to my group after all. I suggested that she might want to trade and be in someone else’s group…but she chose to stick with me. That made me both happy and worried that a no-rides-policy might yet again break relationship between us.

Our vote for “Best of Show” quilt

Once we got to the fair, Dee, Kay, and my daughter, were happy to follow my suggestions about which shows to see and which exhibits to visit. They asked to walk through the petting zoo—commenting that their grandmas had sheeps and goats, too. Dee asked once or twice about rides, but didn’t argue when I pointed out she was the only one in our group with money to pay for rides.

Eventually, Dee quietly asked if everyone could put their money together to share the cost of rides. That seemed totally unreasonable to me, since Dee had $25, my daughter had only $5, and Kay had no money to spend at the fair. However, Dee persisted. She quietly insisted that if the money was pooled together, she would be happy to share.

Sharing the rides…

I finally gave in, and the girls enjoyed a few rides together in the last 30 minutes before time to leave the fair to head home. Instead of a day full of unlimited rides, Dee had only 3 rides. But she was happy. After all, she had done the rides together with her friends. They had shared their money, and their fun.

I can’t get this picture out of my mind. In my Anglo world, it is only sharing if everyone is (somewhat) equal in what they contribute. Otherwise, it is either a gift or charity for one to pay for others. In my Anglo world, an expectation of “sharing” can become a burden, or can cause the giver to feel taken advantage of.

…sharing the fun!

But that wasn’t Dee’s world. She was happy: happy to spend far more than the others to pay for everyone to ride. As long as each person put everything they had “into the pot,” Dee felt that they had all shared the cost of the rides. It was a gentle, face-saving way for everyone to enjoy the special occasion.

It makes me wonder: we work hard to break the “dependency culture” out here. We see how the expectation of hand-outs from Anglos too often undermines the Navajo taking care of each other. But perhaps there is another way…a way to pool resources…a way for everyone to walk in mutual respect, taking joy in sharing with each other.

Anna’s Crying (Guest Post #5)

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This is the fifth in a series of Guest Posts shared by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read the introduction to these posts HERE.

I always wonder how life in rural New Mexico affects the growth of Anna, this ten-year-old girl. To me, at her age, life should be all about being carefree and joyful. From an adult’s angle, I think Anna is as innocent and happy as other ten-year-olds. However, I noticed her cries occasionally.

(Anna crying when she can’t keep a stray puppy…)

Kids may not always be as self-disciplined as much as parents expect, and Anna is no exception. Sometimes when Jill scolded her for not following her schedule or fulfilling her duty, I could hear Anna weeping. Her weeping came and went quickly. At her age, crying might be the only way for self-protection. It might also be a means for negotiating with her parents.

One time, I heard someone knocking my door. It was Anna. She wanted me to go with her – cycling, exploring, or things like that. I said I was busy with something, and I could be free in half an hour. I returned to my laptop, almost forgetting my ‘promise’. About half an hour later, my door was knocked hard again. Anna said in a semi-trembling voice that it had already been half an hour. I told her that I hadn’t completed my task and so couldn’t join her, so maybe next time. A little later, when I had resumed what was left over, I heard that Anna cried very loud at a distance. But she probably would not know that I heard about that. I felt somewhat guilty for not keeping my promise and I didn’t remember children tend to take things seriously. She needed someone to communicate with in this rural area where it is not very often to see people around. I let her down.

Once there was a fair in a nearby town, which was supposed to be fun for kids. When we arrived there, only empty booths and a few people were seen. We had no choice but to go back. I knew Anna had looked forward to it since she looked so excited before going. When Randy explained on the way back that we could do nothing, Anna burst into tears and said, “I was just wanting to see…” I know in this rural area, there are not many amenities and events that people can enjoy conveniently. I could tell that it was indeed disappointing.

I like Anna’s straightforward way of emotional expression. Her cries remind me that childhood is innocent but can be lonely. I keep asking this question for myself, “what are the gains and losses of growing up?” Tonight, I will make a cup of coffee for myself and contemplate this question.


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I know I have talked before about the need for FLEXIBILITY out here in Navajoland. Time after time we make plans. Then we verify those plans with others. And we check again to make sure the planned event is still going to happen. And then the time comes…and…


A few weeks ago I subbed a number of days for the 7th and 8thgrade class at the local school. Their teacher had worked hard with them on performing some of Poe’s stories as short plays. They had written parts, decorated a set, come up with special effects. They had practiced, then practiced some more.

the set for Poe's plays by the 7th & 8th graders at Lybrook School

The first date had to be cancelled—it had been planned for a day that was a teachers-only school day. The second date was cancelled by me—feeling that the students were no where near ready to perform. The third date looked like it would really happen. The dress rehearsals went okay—not stellar but workable. Then, less than 30 minutes from show-time, one of the lead actors was checked out of school early. The principal tried to talk Grandma out of doing this. She tried to convince Grandma that she could stay and celebrate her grandson’s acting talent. But no, the play was cancelled yet again. (Supposedly it will happen this coming Thursday afternoon—I’ll keep you posted!)

Another well-laid plan was recently cancelled as well. I have enjoyed two days this school year of doing art with the first-grade class. We read a book about a famous artist, study some of his paintings, then try a project of our own, in the style of that artist. The teacher and I were excited to plan another art day while we had a work-team visiting us recently. Two weeks in advance we set a time and day. A week in advance, I verified that the teacher had added the project to his lesson plans. On Monday and again on Tuesday I verified that the project was scheduled. And on the day itself?? …sigh… school was let out early for a pre-planned teacher work time that afternoon.

sometime soon the first-graders and I will make our own versions of Van Gogh's wild sunflowers...

I can hear you say—How Frustrating! Yes, that’s true. I felt terrible that the visiting college students wouldn’t have fun working with the cute little first graders. And then, I confess, I realized this would drive home the point we had made all week with that work-team:

Life out here in Navajoland requires FLEXIBILITY. It seems like NOTHING ever goes as planned!

Police “Theater” … and the use of technology to avoid DWIs

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Within a few weeks of the tragic accidents on January 1, 2012, the various police departments who have jurisdiction along Hwy 550 announced that they were starting a special program. Almost three months later, there are still police cars to be seen parked along the highway, passing out tickets to speeders, and “keeping us safe.”

I feel sorry for the folks from out of state who are passing thru this area and don’t know that they need to follow the posted speed limits. Quite honestly, most of us who live here just sigh when we see a police cruiser, slow down, and grumble about “police theater.” Giving tickets to those who are speeding does absolutely nothing to increase safety along this corridor. What is really needed is police presence after dark, when the drunk drivers start cruising up and down the highway. The fatal accidents are not caused by excessive speed: at 70 miles per hour (the posted speed limit) any accident could be fatal, and accidents caused by drunk drivers greatly increase that risk.

On the other hand, we recently learned that police checkpoints to assess for DWI violations are largely useless. Apparently a few weeks ago when such a checkpoint was set up, a friend of ours was waiting at a dirt road turnoff for his wife to meet him there after catching a ride with a friend from work. That friend explained that there was a long line of cars parked along the side of the dirt road. Drivers were all on their cell phones, texting back and forth with others further up and down the highway, warning each other of the police check point. Once the police packed up and left the area, all those drivers—unlicensed or drunk—got back on the highway and finished their drive home.

We hate the hassles of “police theater” which makes a big show of making the highway safe. But we also feel sorry for those same policemen who can’t seem to find a way to change the culture out here…and modern technology seems to favor the law-breaking drivers, at least for now!


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My mind has been spinning with unanswerable questions for the past few days. I can CHOOSE to have faith, to believe that God really does have a plan, and that He is not surprised or startled by what happens here. But even when I choose to believe those things, it doesn’t stop the questions…

Many of you already know the story of the fatal accidents that occurred near here on January 1st. (You can read a blog post reacting to the tragedy HERE. You can read an official report HERE.) You have heard about the trauma which rippled outward throughout the community because of these tragedies. You have been reminded that trauma, and tragedy, and death are constant companions of many of our Navajo friends in this area. We found out this morning that our friend who has been in a coma since the accident died yesterday which has reopened all the questions in my mind.deadly accident

Last weekend, on our way home from a board meeting in Kansas, the roads were snow-covered and slick. A mile from home, we slid left of center and ended up in the ditch, facing the opposite direction from where we had been travelling. Randy walked home, got another vehicle, picked up Anna and our things, and took us home to bed. In the morning, we easily pulled our truck out of the ditch. Other than being a little shook up, all ended well: no damage to truck or ourselves, no on-coming traffic to crash into, semis enough miles behind us that they didn’t crash into us, no collisions with metal posts, trees or fences.harmless accident

The stories are similar—losing control of the vehicle, crossing left of center, ending up in a ditch. The outcomes so radically different—2 mangled cars, 4 people dead, 3 grieving children, and community trauma vs. no injuries or damage to vehicle.

WHY? What was the difference? We know that God loves those Navajo families as much as He loves us. We know that our safety was more than mere “luck.” We know that somehow God can and will bring good, even out of tragedy. But, WHY? Why were we protected when the other families were devastated?

I can be faithful by remembering and honoring what God has done for us; by openly expressing my grief for what the other families are going through; by choosing over and over to have faith in God being loving. I can also sing the following song with Amy Grant:  (listen/see music video HERE)

            Somewhere down the road there are answers to the questions…

It has comforted me through dark times in the past, is a comfort to me now, and will comfort me through future challenges, I’m sure. Some days I long for everything being put right when we finally get to heaven…

Music…er, LANGUAGE…Wars

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For the past decade or so, churches across the United States have been struggling with what has been termed “Music Wars.” The older generation and those who have grown up in traditional churches have a strong need to keep traditional music in their church services. Young people and new converts of many ages often choose not to attend churches whose music is not contemporary.

Here in Navajoland most churches appear to be settled into a 1950s style of “church” complete with hymn singing. However the “Music Wars” battle is raging in a few churches. The Navajo pastors who are concerned about reaching out to young people are adding worship bands including drums and electric guitars. One church we know of uses a native style drumming circle and native flutes. In most cases, local long-time Christians argue vehemently that these sorts of music are “devil music.”

There are a number of possible responses to these “Music Wars.” Josh Hunt, a leader in training churches for leadership and growth, has an excellent two part series about “Music Wars” and responses that are helpful versus typical responses that only seem to make the division worse. You can read it here: PART 1  and PART 2

navajo hymns

singing Navajo hymns

In this part of the world, we have an even larger conflict looming in the Navajo-led churches. The older members know little English. They have a strong need for services to be conducted in Navajo. “Music Wars” has an added component in these settings because the only worship songs in Navajo are hymns.

On the other hand, many of the local young people no longer speak Navajo. They have limited understanding of it because of time spent with their grandparents, but they don’t need to speak the language at school or at home. When both the music style and the primary language of the church services are “foreign” to them, young people frequently choose to not get involved in church.

Grandma and Granddaughter

Grandma and Granddaughter

The poor church attendance of Navajo youth mirrors what is happening in the larger US church world. Talking with young local friends about why they aren’t involved in church, we hear similar answers to those of their Anglo counterparts: it doesn’t have anything to do with me, I don’t like the music, I don’t understand what the pastor is talking about, I hated being dragged to church by my grandparents when I was little… Many researchers have shown that we are losing an entire generation. Some studies show that less than 4% of American teens are involved in church. If that statistic is true, we are in trouble!

The Navajo pastor of the church we attend is wrestling with this dilemma. He currently offers a bi-lingual service each Sunday which also includes both hymns and contemporary music. Unfortunately, many of the older members are becoming vocal about their dissatisfaction. They are pushing the pastor towards MORE Navajo language in the church, even as he feels pulled toward reaching out more strongly to community youth.

We have begun sharing with him some of the studies, commentary and experiences coming out of the “Music Wars” in today’s American church. It seems to us that there are strong correlations between “Music Wars” and the “Language Wars” this little church is experiencing.

contemporary songs

contemporary worship songs (in English)

It seems to us that the church must do whatever it takes to draw children and young people into vital relationship with God. (I will talk more about this in a later blog post…) To do that, changes may need to be made in the style of services offered by local churches…or new youth-focused services may need to be formed.

What’s going on in your home church? Are you experiencing “Music Wars”? Do you have any “words of wisdom” to share with our Navajo pastor as he sorts through the “Language Wars” around here?

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

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Today I want to take time to ponder Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

If you haven’t read through the entire speech recently, Read It Here or Watch It Here

Living here in Navajoland, we realize how much these people need the same freedoms and respect that the African-Americans did in Martin Luther King’s time. They face many of the same struggles. Read my description of how this famous speech applies to our Navajo friends HERE

Take a few minutes to read an excellent updating of this speech as it applies to America today…written by one of my favorite author/bloggers: Read It Here

May you dream big dreams today. And may you take a few moments to ponder how you can reach out and help others finally experience their dreams of basic freedoms…

Touching Lives…

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For an extrovert like me (recharging via people contact) we have the best job in the world. In the 20 months since we arrived here in Navajoland, we have worked hard to build relationships with families and individuals in the Lybrook area. Part of relationship is walking through difficult times with others, such as the aftermath of tragic fatal accidents on January 1st. I wrote a little about that experience in the last post. This time I want to share some of the enjoyable relationship moments of this past week…

oldest brother

Jeremy wants to get more Bible training

On Sunday, I spent a few hours with a family from church, working with their three young adult sons. We talked, and pondered, and sorted through pros and cons of which Christian college they might attend and how to make that decision. We looked at websites and sorted through the process of applying. By the end of our time together, they have a clear list of further information they need to gather and next steps they need to take.

When we were in town on Wednesday evening, I made time to stop by the hospital to pray for Casper (critically injured in the above-mentioned accident). While there, I got to talk with his brother, both to encourage him and to challenge him to help his kids talk about these traumatic events. It felt like praying for Casper was a responsibility; talking with his brother was a privilege.

Miss Nellie

Our fiercely independent elderly friend...

I also stopped by a nursing home in town to visit an elderly friend who is recovering from a fall and resulting broken bones. She was SO excited to see Anna and I. We were just with her for a very short time as she was headed to dinner, but it was good to see her sparkling eyes and be reminded of her fierce determination to move back again to independent living in her beloved hogan. As we were leaving, we were able to spend time with her son, another friend of ours, and listen while he talked about chaos in the family and how de-stabilizing his mom’s injury and diagnosis of cancer has been. Another privilege—letting our friend “vent” about struggles and encouraging him to keep looking to God for wisdom, strength, and comfort.

messy artist

messy hands...great art!

This week also found me busy at the local school—subbing, tutoring, and volunteering. It is quite good for one’s ego to walk into the cafeteria and have cute little 1st graders squeal your name and run to give big hugs! We enjoyed time together at the end of the week when I had the privilege of doing an art history lesson and project with them. You should SEE the wonderful drawings they made of mesas at different times of day, in the style of Claude Monet’s paintings of haystacks.

With some students that I have been tutoring since fall, there were opportunities to challenge them. With other students, time together this past week furthered relationship building. I am NOT in the school to “proselytize”…but within relationships I am able to be very open about my own beliefs and about how God affects my daily life. For some students who are already Christians, I can be an encouragement. For others who live with instability and dysfunction, I hope I can eventually connect them to One who can bring stability and love into their troubled lives.

Finally, as I spend more time at the school, I have more opportunity to build relationships with teachers, administrators, and staff. We may not have “solved the world’s problems” yet, but we have had some interesting, encouraging and challenging discussions about the realities of life out here in Navajoland. What a privilege it is to be part of such lunch-table and hallway discussions!

It is hard, so very hard, to walk through dark times such as the recent tragedies here. But then the sun comes back out, metaphorically speaking, and we enjoy wonderful times of sharing happy times with our friends.

Right now? Life is good in Navajoland!

Peace on Earth

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worship the king

Worshipping the Prince of PEACE...

This is the season to celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace. The time of year to remember the news announced by the angels: “Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward all people.” The time of year for God’s gifts of peace, and hope and love. And oh how those messages are needed here in this little corner of Navajoland…

The following stories are from just the past six weeks:

One friend’s cousin was killed in a horrific accident riding (drunk) with a drunk friend who lost his license a zillion driving-while-intoxicated convictions ago. In the other car, one adult was killed and two children are still in serious condition at the hospital. This was the fourth death of close family members this year for our friend. Where is the PEACE for her this season? Where is the JOY?

Our (Navajo) pastor’s family is also walking through the aftermath of tragedy. Their son and daughter-in-law went out for a drive while drunk, got in a verbal fight, and the daughter-in-law was killed when she jumped out of the moving car. Pastor and his wife are now taking care of their 3 year old granddaughter—just when their “nest” was almost empty with their youngest son a senior in high school. They are struggling to keep contact with their older son. They are questioning why this happened, and how this happened. They need HOPE this holiday season…

A fist fight broke out among a few of the girls at the local school a few weeks ago. They were getting even with one girl who had attacked the honor of their family. Black eyes, bloody noses, police involvement, and suspensions followed. But the attackers calmly looked up at the policeman and stated that he won’t be there all the time and some day, some how, they will finish what they started. Peace? Yes, it is dearly needed to settle long-standing family feuds around here.

We could look at these events and get discouraged. (And sometimes we DO…) But, at this time of year we are reminded that God has already sent his Prince of Peace to earth. He has already announced goodwill to all people. He has already given the gifts of peace and hope and love. Easter has already come, and Jesus has already announced “It is finished.”

So our job is to walk in these gifts and through our walking and our listening and our sharing from our own lives, to help our Navajo friends see and receive these gifts God has already given.

As you celebrate Christmas this year, join us in asking God to truly bring His PEACE to the lives of all hurting peoples, even those here in Navajoland…

Community Christmas Outreach

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special christmas service

Celebrating Christ at Christmas...

This past Sunday Pine Hill Church partnered with little Day Mesa Church for a Community Christmas Outreach. The revival tent was set up in the snow (and mud), food was cooked by both churches to be served to all those who came, and gifts were quietly donated by a partner church in Louisiana.

The pastor of Day Mesa Church has been discouraged. The congregation is tiny. The church recently had most of its windows broken out. Pastor Darlene was questioning why she continues to lead this group and she questions where God is. She was feeling alone…

And then, Pine Hill Church joined with her little church to reach out to the local community to show God’s love. Plus, she got a phone call from a family in Dulce New Mexico (an hour and a half away). They have a tradition of providing gift baskets for needy families at Christmas. This year they couldn’t get Day Mesa Church out of their mind. So…they joined us for the service and brought candy and baskets of supplies to be given out.

During the service, Pastor Darlene gave testimony to God’s faithfulness, and expressed gratitude for others standing with her. She no longer feels so alone…

To us, as Anglos, the most exciting thing about this service was that it was Navajo Christians reaching out to their neighbors. The church in Louisiana was graceful enough to allow the gifts to be given in the name of Pine Hill church. In this place where Anglos are expected to be the givers and Navajo are seen as the receivers, this service showed a different model. Navajo CAN be the givers…and can do so joyfully!

(To see a full photo album from the event, click here.)

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