Woven

 

Unbound: Thoughts on The Power of Written Words to Speak over Time

Have you ever come across something in a book written years ago and connected with it? I recently experienced this when I skimmed through The Journals of Jim Elliot. On page 364, Jim wrote,

“Overnight on the hook off San José, Guatemala…If I ever travel here I must make sure to see Antigua, the third largest city, thrice destroyed by the volcán ‘fire and water.’ It is Spanish colonial….” [1]

That paragraph caught my eye because I know that place. While, I think Jim Elliot never did get to Antigua, Guatemala, knowing that he was so close and wanted to go there gave me a connection to the man who wrote these words more than half a century ago.

That’s the beauty of books, isn’t it? They – especially the great ones – are unbound by the shackles of time. Long after mouths are voiceless, words written may still touch the lives of thousands or hundreds of thousands or even millions. 

On the one hand, that’s a huge blessing. We can reap such encouragement from reading the wise words of those who have gone before us, who faced what we face, who learned the lessons and are willing to help us escape needless pain, who recorded the faithfulness of God and so remind us that He was and is still working. Much of The Journals of Jim Elliot could be described by those statements.

On the other hand, the reality of this power of written words could give us pause before we pen our thoughts. Of course, it’s fine to ink ideas that are not meant to be shared, but what if your journal were unbound to the reading world like Jim’s? What would the words you – or I – wrote in our reflections say? If someone read them, to what (or whom) would they say you or I was most connected? And to what/whom are we linking our readers? 


[1] The Journals of Jim Elliotedited by Elisabeth Elliot, (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1978), 364. 

From Potter’s House: A Little of What I Carry with Me

Potter’s House, Guatemala City

I’d like to share with you a bit of this place that is part of my story. Would you stop by for a moment?

When you think of a “potter’s house” you might think of a potter sitting at his potter’s wheel, turning cool, soft clay into pots, mugs, bowls and other useful treasures.

Sometimes you might see him reworking vessels that started to go wrong. He refashions them carefully and then – ta-da! – the piece of artwork is ready for service. 

Just like in Jeremiah 18:1-4 (ESV) – 
The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD:
“Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.”

Well, at this Potter’s House, there is no wheel and there are no newly-made pots. But you can still see the work of the Great Potter turning clay into useful treasures. He has many helpers who work hard themselves, but when it comes down to it, they stand in awe of the Great Potter’s handiwork.

You’ve figured out, right? The Great Potter is the Lord God, and at Potter’s House in Guatemala City He is in the business of forming and shaping lives – even reworking lives that were getting bent out of shape. His people are His vessels of clay as well as His treasures.

If you want to read more about the story and work of Potter’s House, you can at www.pottershouse.org.gt. The site does an excellent job of explaining more about the ministry.

What I want to share with you is a little of what I carry with me from Potter’s House

1) There are no social barriers to God. The people Potter’s House serves work and live in the garbage dump. They don’t have wealth, position or possessions to make them “valuable”. Yet God cares about them as His special creation. He cares about them as much as He does middle-class and wealthy people. (Vice versa, God cares about wealthy and middle class people as much as He does poor people.) One story that’s been told at Potter’s House is about two little girls who prayed for a long time for three people. Those three people were a) an alcoholic from the garbage dump, b) one of the Guatemalan leaders of Potter’s House – for his English to improve especially; and c) for a particular President of the United States! Talk about stretching across social boundaries!

2) No one is out of God’s reach. Those people in the garbage dump may feel forgotten at times, but thanks to the work at Potter’s House, for thirty years they have had an opportunity to see that God has not forgotten them. Remember the alcoholic those two little girls prayed for? What were the “chances” of him ever giving up drinking there along the edge of Guatemala City’s garbage dump? It certainly couldn’t be said that he had a great support network. However, the Great Potter touched his life and made him a new vessel in His hands!

3) When God’s people see His work, it’s awesome. Have you ever been astounded by the skill of a craftsman as he works? That’s how I (and others) have felt as we’ve watched the Great Potter reshape lives at Potter’s House. Like I mentioned, the Great Potter has quite a few workers there who work hard and well, but – if we have our thinking straight – we know that God is directing everything. We, too, are only vessels in His hands. Of course, we know God is working all the time, but we don’t always feel like we can see it. I think this is especially true for the Americans who visit Potter’s House. In a way, Potter’s House ministers to these Americans just as much as to the Guatemalans because it is a place where they get to see the Great Potter at work. They come away with a sense of awe…and maybe with the clay of their lives reshaped a little! That’s why I say “when God’s people see His work, it’s awesome.”

There you go, my friends, that’s a little of what I carry with me from the Potter’s House in Guatemala City. There is so much more I could say and so many stories I’d like to share, but this is a start, and I’ll save the rest for another time.

Until then, I hope you know the thrill of seeing the Great Potter at work and feeling His hand on your life.

The Story behind the Book

A special memory from my family’s years in Guatemala is of Dad sitting at the dinner table and pulling bits of paper out of his shirt pocket. Those bits of paper held his notes about words or folk medicine practices he had learned from his patients that day. As he read his jottings to us, some made us curious and ask questions, some made us groan, and some made us laugh.

You see, while Guatemala’s national language is, of course, Spanish, twenty-some Mayan languages are still spoken there as well. During the nine years Dad spent in Guatemala, he served many patients who spoke Spanish as a second language and, thus, used some words differently or mixed with their Mayan tongue. Combine that fact with an average education level of second grade and you have a recipe for some pretty interesting health ideas! 

I personally found those mealtime conversations intriguing. After all, I was the girl who had considered becoming a brain surgeon and a writer. Dad’s stories from the clinic melded my interest in science and my love for words and people together.

Before we returned to the States, Dad compiled all of those slips of paper into a small glossary. A friend printed simple copies for him to share with healthcare workers or missionaries working with Guatemalans. 

In the following years, I decided not to pursue a medical career but continued to be a word person. One of my favorite classes in college was Spanish. Obviously, my Guatemala years gave me an advantage in that class, but I think another reason for me liking it was that talking actually equaled studying! 

After I graduated from college, one day I came across a copy of Dad’s glossary and cracked the cover. My editor brain kicked in. “Hey, Dad, there are some things that need to get fixed in here…” 

That’s how I found myself a job going over the details of that glossary like an art inspector trying to discern if a work is a master’s original. I jumped into it because I saw how useful the words on the pages could be. As I worked, I learned a lot about those words and what it takes to put a book together. One lesson was that authors definitely need editors. There are simply too many details that can slip past even a brilliant mind like my dad’s, especially when it’s read-through #20 and all the words blur together.

Dad and I spent hours collaborating. It actually took years of off-and-on work to bring the project near completion. A trip to Guatemala provided the perfect opportunity to have some Guatemalan friends (medical and otherwise) look over copies for us. The feedback we received gave me more editing to do.

When the time came to go to press, I wavered. What if no one wants it? Maybe it’s not good enough. What if I missed something important? 

Enter Mom. She basically said, “Kristen, this information could save someone’s life. Go for it!”

Yeah, it’s definitely cool to have a mom like her. 

So we pressed on. Finally, the happy day came when we could actually hold the pocket-sized books filled with 600+ Spanish-English definitions, not to mention the English-Spanish entries, in our hands. The picture of the Guatemalan girl and baby – drawn by my sister from a photo by my Dad – seemed perfect on the cover. It represented the people of Guatemala whom we wanted to help. 

An equally happy day came when the book went up on Amazon, and we started selling copies. The first letter I received from an organization praising the book was such an encouragement. Maybe Mom was right again!

Since then, little by little, orders have come in. It’s been exciting to see where the books go. Just the other day, we distributed 100 copies to an organization that will get them into the hands of those serving the Guatemalan people. That puts a smile on my face because that’s what this project was all about from the start: serving those who serve the Guatemalan people. My hope and prayer is that this book will also be a part of moments when not only people’s bodies are healed but also their souls are mended through the love of the Great Physician Jesus. 

That’s the story behind Understanding the Guatemalan Patient: A Glossary of Spanish Medical Terms and Folk Medicine. I would be the last person to ever say producing a book is easy, but I’m thankful I had the opportunity to be a part of it. 

Now I might even use that knowledge as a medical interpreter somday. Who knows? We’ll see what God has in store for this next chapter. I’ll keep you posted on at least some of the storyful moments. 

If you would like to learn more about Understanding the Guatemalan Patient, please visit understandingtheguatemalanpatient.com or check it out on Amazon. 

Teriyaki Hot Chocolate & the Sweetness of Shared Stories

At this time of year, much of the world is thinking about lemonade more than hot chocolate. But I recently attended a graduation celebration and traveled down a dusty, bumpy, laughter-graced memory lane to Guatemala as I chatted with old and new friends. That’s how teriyaki hot chocolate came up.

The incident of the teriyaki hot chocolate could make one wonder why my mother ever let me in the kitchen. In self-defense, I was only eleven or so – old enough to know better, yes, but still…My family was living in Guatemala, and it was around New Year’s Eve. Now you may think that it would never get cold enough on the edge of the jungle even in January for hot chocolate to be desirable. However, when you’re used to temps in the 90s, the 50s with no home heating can feel plenty frigid! A family from the States was visiting us, so their mom, my mom and I were all in the kitchen, making a gigantic pot of hot chocolate from scratch (more or less). 

To make a potentially long story short, when a girl isn’t paying much attention, bottles of vanilla and bottles of teriyaki sauce can easily be interchanged. As you may imagine, the results were less than appealing. Down the drain went the whole pot of hot chocolate.

It was an opportunity to laugh at myself. (I’ve had quite a few of those.) The visiting mom made it easier on me by sharing a kitchen tale or two of her own. (Something about warming socks in the oven…?) Then, when the other kids heard about it, I was comforted by admissions of brownie-baking blunders.

All these years later, we still remember these moments with grins. Chatting at the graduation party, I realized how good it is to talk with people who shared snippets of my Guatemala years and was reminded of the truth I gained from the terrible teriyaki hot chocolate tale: shared stories sweeten life. By being a part of my kitchen catastrophe and then sharing their own stories with me, these friends sweetened up my life. The same thing can happen each day as we take the time to share even a sentence or paragraph of our lives with others and take part in a page of theirs. It’s kind of like a dash of vanilla or a sprinkle of marshmallows in a cup of hot chocolate. 

Maybe you don’t have many people who are sharing your story right now. I’ve had seasons like that, too. Talk about hard and lonely! Here’s the thing:  even if no one else is sharing your story right now, God is. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, however you’re feeling, God is right there with you. Along with His presence, He’s invited us to share in His Story through His Word and through the lives He gives us each day. (Psalm 25:14, 2 Corinthians 3:3, Ephesians 2:10, ESV.)