Why I love to travel but don’t actually have a bucket list

13 Feb

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of seeing a friend’s photos of a trip she recently took to Israel. The sights I saw generally weren’t new to me, though I have never traveled there myself. Similar pictures of ruins, churches, monuments, and natural features were shown in many of my college History classes and have been featured in plenty of books & research materials* I’ve enjoyed over the years. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed seeing her photos of places that are typically just confined to Bible stories or History studies. More than that, I was inspired by her personal stories of how this trip really impacted her faith. I’m so glad she had a chance to experience that!

In talking about the trip, and from watching a few episodes of the in the oddly-hate-able-yet-lovable Science Channel Show “An Idiot Abroad” I’ve been thinking about the idea of a “bucket list” of places to see.

I love travel. I keep a list of places I’ve visited on my TripAdvisor Travel Map (see below). I have a pinterest board dedicated to places we’ve visited. I own a copy of 1,000 Places to See Before You DieBut, somehow, I’ve never bothered making a list of places I personally just have to see before I die, and I don’t know that I ever will.

And, oddly enough, I think that has something to do with my theology.

There’s a line towards the end of The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis which might sum it up:

It is hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia as it would be to tell you how the fruits of that country taste. Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this.You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking-glass. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking- glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different–deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know. The difference between the old Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more. I can’t describe it any better than that: if you ever get there you will know what I mean.

It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right forehoof on the ground and neighed, and then cried:

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!”

Over the past few years I’ve decided that I don’t have to experience every good thing on earth in this lifetime. What awaits faithful followers of Christ in Heaven… in the fulfillment of God’s kingdom… will be a little like seeing the real sea rather than just the reflection of the sea in the mirror, as Lewis put it in that child-like way. The hope of the new heaven & new earth offer immense joy & freedom for me that I can live & enjoy what I’m able to see & experience first-hand here & now, without the stress of having to cram all the good stuff in this finite amount of time… and without the bad thinking that this life is somehow all I’ve got to enjoy God’s goodness.

The places I’ve seen on earth that somehow felt most heaven-like are at the opposite end of the spectrum: a beautifully green & lush tropical beach at the end of a harrowing drive vs. a dusty, noisy & smelly piece of former farmland. Both of these, as heaven-like as they seem to me (in radically different ways) are things that define the whole idea of “further up & further in” for me. I long for a place that’s somehow more beautiful, more love-filled, more perfect… more real than even these.

That’s why I don’t have a bucket list. I know that anything I miss seeing here & now on earth will be utterly overshadowed by the joy that awaits us!

Here’s my TripAdvisor travel map:


*And, here’s a link to my favorite easily-accessible book with photos from the Holy Land: The Original Jesus: The Life and Vision of a Revolutionary by Tom Wright


Going “Home” — for Grandma

20 Oct

6 years and about 2 weeks ago, I walked into a crowded room for our wedding rehearsal dinner and was greeted by my then-92-year-old Grandma. She said “Becky, I’m ready to go home.” At first, I was taken aback, confused, and almost offended: she’d only been in town a few hours, the wedding hadn’t even happened yet, so how was she ready to go home!?! Then, in a split second, I realized what she was saying, and I was thankful. There’s a difference between being ready to go home, and being ready to go, well… “home.”

Over the next 6 years, I think Grandma said that phrase each time I talked to her. She clearly lived with heaven on her mind. Yet, she kept going. Helen Elizabeth Youtzy White finally actually went “home” on Sunday morning, after nearly 99 years of living each day to the fullest.

I’m sad for us, but overjoyed for her.

When Grandpa (her husband) passed away, I was comforted most as I thought about the profound hope of the resurrection. For Grandma, I think about that, too — but am mostly just so glad she’s been welcomed to her true home.

Theologically, it’s confusing to attempt to tie together two very disparate timelines — the outside-of-time that is eternity and the finite-time that is this earthly dwelling. But, I take clues from Scriptures like 2 Corinthains 5:8 (“be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord” – NLT) and Luke 22:43 (“today you will be with me in paradise” – NIV), to say that while Grandma awaits the resurrection of the body, she already is at home with the Lord. Call it what you want, but I am joyful when I think about Grandma being with God – already, right now, today (if you can use those terms to describe something outside of time).

I think most of my family members have remarked with bittersweet joy over imagining Grandma & Grandpa being with each other again. If they can look down on the world, I’m sure they both enjoyed watching the Cardinals win their first game in the World Series last night! :) They, who lived so many years side by side, will no doubt be as thrilled as anyone to see each other again. Yet, as profound as that is, I think they’re both even more thrilled to be at home with Jesus.

I tear up as I write this, with a whole mix of emotions. Mostly, I think I’m actually joyful. Grandma smiled so much. Even when her sight and hearing deteriorated and her world shrunk to be not much larger than a single room, she still seemed joyful. Even when her faithful companion of decades & decades went “home” before she did, she continued on. Yet, even for someone who was joyful a lot when we we were with her – she’s more joyful now than we can imagine.

The lyrics to a song* by Mike Mains & the Branches (from their album which oddly enough is called “Home”) have gone thru my head a lot this year, with the passing of several wonderful people… some I’ve known & loved, others I’ve never known but still loved…

Dear Emma in heaven,
God shines his light on you.
And now you sleep with the angels
And the saints around the throne

And I can’t bring you back,
But I will live to go to you
I can’t bring you back,
But I will live to go
I can’t bring you back,
But I will live to go to you

Are we living to go home, too?

Put your faith solidly in Christ, and live each day to the fullest.

(Find the Emma Ruth MP3 at Amazon)


*This song was apparently written for a friend of the band who lost an infant child (Emma Ruth). Oddly enough, that band is playing in Grand Rapids, MI (which Grandma made her home in the past years) this weekend. I’ll be heading to Michigan in November for Grandma’s memorial.


Thoughts on being a small group leader

11 Oct

I lead a Small Group that’s a little bit out of the ordinary. We call ourselves the “Geeky/Deepen Women’s Group” and we’re not a typical Small Group. We organized largely because I knew a few women who were strong in their faith who longed for meaningful community, but who were somewhere between tired & fed up with the way Small Group typically go. We were tired of being slaves to curriculum. We were tired of discussions that hardly got past “what do you think about that?” We were tired of groups that tried to be one-size-fits-all and wound up being one-size-certainly-doesn’t-fit-us. A lot of us were burnt out, or nearly burnt out on church life as we’d experienced it. We were people who had been around the block with God, having trusted Christ for decades in some cases. We were people who loved and respected folks who were still trying to figure out who Jesus is, but we were absolutely looking for a place where we could come with our own questions, instead of always feeling like the experts to answer questions for others. We were tired of Sunday school answers, and (honestly) tired of feeling like we had to always stay in the shallow end for the sake of those who were just checking out faith. We were looking for something that was richer, truer, less formal, more inviting — oh, and also more accepting of our geeky/nerdy/dorky tendencies.

For years, I joked with my old boss that if I could just advertise for a small group made up of people who could quote substantial lines from the Simpsons, I’d find a good group. The ladies who have joined our group aren’t all fans of the Simpsons, but the premise basically worked… we had some shared interests and we’ve developed a nice little group (and I do mean little… with a perfectly-fitting-member moving, we were down to just 4 people).

But… 4 people, even when they’re the most awesome 4 people ever, doesn’t quite make a group. It just takes one person being sick or otherwise occupied, and meetings shrivel into nothingness. So, with Gateway being part of the “Walls” series in September, we opened up for new people.

Opening a group like this for new people is always a step of faith, and it gets confusing along the way. I think I was contacted by around 25 women who wanted to join our group. 25! Oh my, I’m glad I knew that not all 25 would ever possibly show up! In the end, we’ve had around 6 of those 25 visit. A few seem like they just might be kindred spirits. A few others, well… our group is usually kind of self-selecting. You either love it or you hate it. :)

When I started this group, I really felt called to do it. This wasn’t one of those “arm twist” moments; I did not feel guilted into it. Instead, I had seen a situation and people who were struggling thru it alone, and knew that I was in a place to do something about it. A year and a half later, the scope sometimes gets murky… should we go away from our “deepen” roots? Should we let up on the geeky tendencies? Thus far, I’m confident that we’re supposed to stick with what we’re called to be. Even if that means we remain a very small Small Group, I think it’s the right call for us.

Why am I blogging about this? Well, it felt right. :) Maybe somebody out there will be inspired to respond to your own calling, even if it is as simple as creating a place of community for people you see as being left out. Maybe somebody will be inspired to create a geeky/beginner’s group to come along side ours, even. Who knows. Perhaps I just thought it was good to put these thoughts on virtual paper.


The barcode on her neck

27 Sep

Yesterday, I made the mistake of going to the grocery store at 5pm.

I once overheard a manager at our grocery store saying that they serve more customers between 5 and 6pm than they do most of the rest of the day. After dashing through the crowded store to get the few things I needed (which included a gift-card, so I couldn’t go to my stand-by: the self-check-out lane), I queued up at the check-out stands, thankful to be only 4th in line. The guy ahead of me was friendly, and made room for me to set down my basket, then struck up a brief conversation, pointing out that the cashier had an interesting tattoo on her neck.

I glanced over the conveyor-belt full of food items and saw it peeking out from beneath her hair: her tattoo was of a barcode.

The guy ahead of me then started to joke that she was taking her job as a cashier rather seriously.

I, internally, went in an entirely different direction. I wondered what price would ring up if she could scan her own barcode over the little beep-beep machine at her cashier’s station. Knowing that tattoos are so personal, I figured it might be telling to know how much she thought she was worth. I hoped she realized that the price would ring up as priceless.

I’m not about to get a tattoo. But, there was something about the idea of a reminder that we were all bought at a price.


In Matthew 10:31, Jesus says that you are worth more than many sparrows. The point isn’t to think how many “many” is. Is “many” 50? Are you worth more than 50 sparrows? Or, is “many” 5000? Are you worth more than 5000 sparrows? And, how much does a sparrow go for these days, anyhow?

No, the point is that your worth is immense & immeasurable. You were bought with a price. But that price, really, was priceless.

By the way… the guy ahead of me, being far bolder than I am, asked the young woman about her tattoo. I think she said it was her phone number & birthdate, but something in how she said it made me wonder if there were another meaning.


Other ways to say “I Love You” (for Grandpa)

26 Aug

When I was in Minnesota in April, as my mom & I headed out to the airport, we said bye to my Grandpa who was sitting in his chair, watching TV, and eating hard candies . Something inspired me and I put my hand on his at-that-point very bony shoulder and said “I love you, Grandpa.” I’m not the kind of person who shouts “I love you” all the time, but at that moment, it felt right. I don’t consciously remember ever saying that to my Grandpa previously, nor he ever saying it to me.

That memory came back to me last night as I got “the call.” You know, “that” call. My grandpa Jerry (mom’s dad) passed away late last night, 3 days short of his 89th birthday.

As I’ve thought about Grandpa, with his dark black hair, hearing aid (caused by a shell exploding very near him in WWII), appetite for reading about politics (a subject I usually managed to avoid!), and love for off-brand soda (why did that particular memory come back to me?), I thought about that phrase “I love you.” I don’t know that I ever remember hearing him say it. I’m certain he had to have said it, but I don’t remember it.

I was thinking about that this morning as I walked around our house, and it struck me… Grandpa said “I love you” in countless ways and left very tangible reminders of how he loved all of us. You see, my Grandpa was a woodworker extraordinaire. Seriously, he was really good at it. But, I don’t think he spent hours with his table saw, scroll saw, rotary sander & everything else just because he liked wood – he also did it because he loved other people.

When I walk in the door, I leave my keys in a basket Grandpa made.

When I sort the mail, that goes in another of Grandpa’s creations, something that looks to be a half-size magazine rack. (see photo above, from April of this year)

When I sew, my thread goes in a holder that Grandpa made for my mom, sometime likely in the ’70s. It shows wear more than anything else he made, but I still use it almost every day.

My quilts, both big & small, are sorted into two cabinets – one full-size that he refinished and one half-size replica that he made during the phase when he realized he’d made/refinished enough regular furniture to fill a few dozen houses so he moved on to half-size replica pieces.

My books sit on a shelf he designed.

Another of his baskets sits on my night-stand, there to hold any odds & ends that come out of my pocket at the end of the day.

When I put away necklaces, they go onto a tiny shelf he made with itty bitty pegs sticking out of it.

I have a custom-designed miniature piano in my dining room, and yep, that was Grandpa’s creation, too.

At times he was a hard man to understand… and though I can’t look back and recall him saying as much with his lips, I know my Grandpa loved us – and we loved him.


Strengths-Based Housework?

15 Aug

I started hearing about Strengths-Based work a few years ago, after hearing Marcus Buckingham speak at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. This approach isn’t just from Mr. Buckingham, of course – lots of authors/speakers/researchers/strategists have taken up the work. There are many summaries online which can explain it better, but basically, strengths-based concepts all seem to focus around figuring out what your strengths are, then crafting your work (or the way you do your current/necessary work) to suit those strengths. And, it may be interesting to note that (in most research at least), “strength” is not the same as “ability” but more like “what you feel strong doing.” There’s a self-test, called Strengths Finder, which you can take to further explore different themes of your strengths. You can also go through several self-discovery tasks to write up strengths statements which help you personalize the generic theme results you get from the assessment, to help you note “I feel strong when…”

I did all of those steps a few years ago. My Strengths Finder assessment came back with these:

  • Strategic: a distinctive way of thinking that lets me sort through clutter and find the best route
  • Learner: whatever the subject, I am drawn to the process of learning
  • Input: I am inquisitive; I collect things & information, and store them away since they may someday become useful
  • Intellection: I like to think; I like exercising the “muscles” of my brain in multiple directions
  • Achiever: I feel a constant need for achievement; I must accomplish something tangible every day

Now that I don’t have a full-time job, the way I live out these strengths seems to change. But, they’re still there – and they’re still strengths. I just have to figure out how they apply to housework!

For example, I used to use my “Strategic” strength a lot, in just about every meeting and in most of my individual projects at work, sorting through mental & organizational clutter. These days, I still use it, but it often involves physical clutter instead!

Or with learning: The implications for this in my job were obvious. At home, it is  more focused on learning how to grow squash  & when to harvest their blossoms, or researching the best way to cook a particular dish.

One of the biggest for me is Achiever. I think I’ve always been an achiever. I feel wasted if a day goes by when I haven’t achieved something. That can be hard when I’m at home alone. There’s always *something* to achieve, but a lot of it is pretty mundane stuff: refilling soap dispensers, folding socks, and putting away dishes. That’s good stuff, but sometimes not the most motivational. And, even when I do it, I don’t want to bore Matt every night by explaining that I accomplished buying toilet paper or dusting light fixtures today.

One thing that I’ve found that does help with my Achiever strength at home is to make lists. I have a massive Google Docs spreadsheet listing every single task I need to do around the house. That worked really well for a while, until the remaining work was mostly outdoors where the temperature is over 100 degrees.

I do it with quilts, too. I have lists of quilts-in-progress, lists of quilts I’ve sent to my mom for quilting, and lists of fabric sets I want to make into a quilt (but just haven’t decided on the pattern). When I go to sew, I can look at a coded system written on my white board, to figure out how much work is left on each project.

With these lists, though, I’ve had a hard time falling into a routine for the normal stuff around the house: cleaning out the fridge, washing sheets, vacuuming, etc. So, I’m trying something new: I wrote out (with fun colors & fonts & everything!) a weekly routine. I thought it might be good to look over a week and see what needs to be accomplished, and set out to do it more strategically!
So, I’m learning about myself, strategizing the best path forward, gathering input on the best way to do things, hoping to achieve my entire list… all while intellecting (is that a word?) about it all. :)

o n e a n o t h e r

01 Aug

photos by Matt & Becky Laswell


1 John 4

31 Jul


Putting it in perspective

28 Jul

My friend Sally pointed me to and I tried it out with the text of Romans 1 (NIV) - with the most common English words removed. Hmmm… I wonder what Paul’s big idea is about? :)


QR Code

25 Jul

qrcodeJust playing around with a QR code.

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