Number Nineteen

Everything’s in except the piano. Another move in the books. From a rented pool house in a friend’s backyard to a 2-bedroom apartment twenty minutes closer to town and five minutes from church. It’s my eighth move in the ten years I’ve lived in Arkansas, and it’s the third move in four years here for Aaron. The other day I counted up the number of places I’ve called “home” since being born. This is number nineteen. That seems like a lot for thirty-three years. Thankfully only a few of them involved an uprooting from one whole area or state to another. Two were international. I never could relate to friends who had all their memories in one house. Part of me envied that, but I loved my family’s adventures too. My mom excels at packing. Unfortunately I only partially inherited/absorbed this skill.

My husband has moved a fair bit for his age as well. His father was Army for 30 years. For my part, God made me a homebody who loves travel. I love seeing the world, and I even like a lot about the hectic excitement and apprehension of moving to a new area, but when I’m home I want to be home. Don’t need to find something to do downtown thank you, I’ll enjoy a book by the fire or on a blanket under a tree in the yard in Spring. Maybe a play or musical once in a while if a good one comes through town. So, for years now I’ve said that I figure God has one of two reasons for having nudged me all around the country and the world; 1) He has allowed the moving and travel (nine countries) so that if I never get to move or go anywhere again, I’ll have absolutely no excuse for complaint (not that there would be anyway), because just look at the places and people I’ve gotten to experience!

Or 2), He’s preparing me for more.

Well, now I’ve married into the military. So it’s looking like the latter. Aaron is Air Force. He wants so badly to see the world, to go fight the monsters. And I want him to be able to. He’s ready. I’ll miss him, but I want him to get that chance. They haven’t sent us anywhere yet but we can bet quite a few more moves lie ahead, especially considering his long term goals. But as you all know, here’s the thing about “home”: it’s where the people you love most are, regardless of the point on the globe. In that sense, a lot of us have several homes. We are blessed with people. I feel like I’ll always have homes in Minnesota, California, South Africa, and Arkansas. Despite all the times my family has picked up and left, God has given me wonderful people; family, church families, and friends that have defined home for me.

And now, my husband. I look around this cozy apartment and I’m so grateful for God’s provision. For yet another place to call home. Until it changes once again.
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When The Mother’s Day Roses Turn Black

On May 25th, we learned for certain that I had miscarried our honeymoon-baby at 9 weeks. It was 10:30 in the morning. “Happy two months of marriage, babe.” We cried, but we smiled too. It really had been a wonderful two months.

Aaron and I were house-sitting at the time, and our own home is a rented pool-house in a friend’s backyard. Where would we bury our little one? So at first, my baby was in a small container in the fridge. That really messes with your head.

Friends and family brought meals, praying for and with us. But a few days later we had to face moving back home with that tiny Tupperware until a burial location could be found. We drove two vehicles, so I had to figure out where to put the baby while I drove. In my lap? Carefully on the front seat? It was all so wrong. Then when we got home…walk in, put him in our fridge. Oh how we wept.

We had been married only 7 weeks. (They count weeks from the first day of the woman’s last cycle, hence the apparent discrepancy.) But we had the comfort and love of God shown constantly through those who love us. And most precious, through one another.

Just the week before, Aaron had given me six beautiful red roses for my first Mother’s Day, and I had taken them along to house-sit. They sat on the coffee table all through those ten days, and after the miscarriage I couldn’t bear to throw them away. One day I noticed that, while usually the petals would begin to wilt and fall off by then, these had not done so. Six perfectly formed roses still looked up at me out of that vase; not a petal had fallen, but they had turned black. And yet, I couldn’t help but be grateful for how beautiful they still looked. Our baby was gone, but I’m still a mom. My dear young husband is still a dad.
The night we came home from the ER, Aaron was naturally struggling with the awful feeling of being unable to help. Sitting there on the floor I told him that the best way a father can help his children is to love their mother well, and because he was loving me so well he was already the best father he could possibly be.

We did bury our little one about two weeks later. We have grieved in our own way, tears coming at random sometimes or brought on by seeing pregnant friends. It’s been very important to me to make sure none of them think I don’t want to see them or share in their joy. I do!

Our hearts are still full of joy, truly. It was a difficult passage, but we are so thankful for each other and for God’s work in our lives through it. I definitely have a new level of compassion for all of you who have been through this, some of you many times. I am so very sorry for your losses.

Thank you all for praying for us during that time, and since. We truly lacked nothing.

God is good, all the time!

A Sword Between the Sexes


“There is, hidden or flaunted, a sword between the sexes, till an entire marriage reconciles them.” – C. S. Lewis

“The event of falling in love is of such a nature that we are right to reject as intolerable the idea that it should be transitory. In one high bound it has overleaped the massive of our selfhood; it has made appetite itself altruistic, tossed personal happiness aside as a triviality and planted the interests of another in the centre of our being. Spontaneously and without effort we have fulfilled the law (towards one person) by loving our neighbour as ourselves. It is an image, a foretaste, of what we must become to all if Love Himself rules in us without a rival. It is even (well used) a preparation for that.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves


Holy Land Photo & Info Resource

While showing this website to a co-worker today, I thought I’d post it up here for anybody who doesn’t know about it —  is the most amazing repository of photos and information about the land, locations, structures, and even animals mentioned in Scripture. Everything from Genesis to Revelation, the Negev to Patmos.

I’ll start you off with a link to the page about En Gedi! It’s the hidden oasis on the western shore of the Dead Sea, where David hid himself from the murderous King Saul. Scroll down to see beautiful waterfalls, pools, and caves . . . you can just picture the shepherd and future king resting from arduous desert journeys and close escapes!

And this is Mount Gilboa — on these slopes King Saul fell on his sword as he saw his army defeated. Read 1 Samuel 31 as you look at the picture . . .

Mount Gilboa from the west

Lakes and Loons and Loony Larks

I miss lakes. Lakes were a big part of my childhood, when I think about it. I learned how to swim in a lake (Silver Lake, right?…Gina, Emily, Abby, Stephanie, remember the crazy-painful hot metal slide we played on? Is it still there?), had T-ball practice next to lakes, learned how to make loon-calls on lakes (North Star Lake), how to fish in lakes, how to ice-skate on frozen lakes, went to church baptisms at lakes, steered boats on lakes (White Bear Lake), fell fully clothed into lakes (several lakes)…

…and then I moved to southern California. No lakes for seventeen years. In terms of me and lakes, these were the years of the Babylonian Captivity. (What about the ocean, you say? Me and the ocean is a whole different story.)

Then I moved to Arkansas. Hey, there’s quite a few lakes here! But seven years later, I’ve been to more lakes in other countries (in desert regions!) than I have in Arkansas. 

Time to have a lake day. With fishing. And loons.  

Loons really add a special something. A lake without loons is almost no lake at all. I miss getting out on a boat just before the sun rises, weaving through the mist still crawling over the water, and talking to the loons…

Running (and breathing) in Circles

I love to run. It’s relaxing. A time to be outside and think and pray, and I love the feeling of spent energy, enlivened muscle and increased blood-flow that comes afterward. But there’s a weird little almost-vicious cycle I experience while running, that is super uncomfortable and threatens to stop me from training for another marathon. =(

Usually my asthma — very minor by the way, I’ve never had an attack — is strictly exercise-induced. I run for a while, I feel myself pass the out-of-breath stage and settle into the breathe-steady-and-just-keep-going stage and everything’s great! Here we go! This feels good! Ugh, but then it’s like switch is flipped and suddenly breathing seems to have no affect. Must stop and walk a bit! Let the lungs open up again. 
When I stop running, another minor condition kicks in; a POTS-like malfunction of the autonomic nervous system that means low blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, randomly “forgetting” to breathe. etc. These involuntary systems don’t self-regulate the way they should. So, while actually running/exercising, it’s the exercise itself that keeps my blood pressure and heart rate pushing along steadily at a good rate to maintain the exercise. But as soon as I stop, when it’s supposed to all put itself back to normal rates, instead it goes kind of haywire and BP drops and HR just rushes along as though I’m still running and it just takes an extra few minutes for things to get back into place. 

Once all THAT is over with, I can quit the walk-break pick up the pace. Every run I go on is broken down into those sections.

Run, get asthmatic, slow to a walk, BP & HR go kind of nuts, wait ’til I’m not woozy, run again, repeat. 

Some days, like this afternoon, it happens when I’m not exercising at all and in the opposite order. I’ll “forget” to breathe, suddenly feel like I’m going to suffocate and realize, “Hey, it’s been a little bit since I took a breath. I should do that.”  Deep breath, then feel asthmatic (like no air actually got in). But deep breaths make me woozy so it goes around and around like so:

Hey numbskull, breathe!
Oh! Yes, yes of course.
Whoa, woozy.
But it doesn’t feel like I gut much air. Deep breath again.
Whoa, woozy.

Etcetera. All the while my heart kind of pounds, though not any faster than usual. 

Asthma treatments contain albuterol, which shoots the heart rate up. Since mine doesn’t regulate like it should, my cardiologist says no albuterol for me, because hey, why wear out my heart early by making it run hot all the time?

Not much they can do for the other condition either, because it’s not bad enough to require (or qualify for?) the usual treatment for POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome). They said if I was actually fainting when I got lightheaded, I’d officially have POTS. Well, I’m certainly grateful that I don’t faint, though I’ve come close a few times if I stand up too fast.

I love to be active, to work out and to climb things and run races. And to sprint! Going as fast as I can is a major rush and absolutely love it! However since this stuff began, the reaction is a lot worse after a good hard sprint. Upon stopping I feel terrible, nearly black out, am asthmatic for an extended period of time, and my heart rate doesn’t go below 130 for hours.

So, I need prayer for patience. I need to proactively figure out an exercise routine, and hopefully running schedule, that will work for me instead of against me. And I need to make an appointment with my doctor to see about alternative asthma treatments that don’t affect heart rate (that I’d be comfortable taking).

Oh, and why did this suddenly start happening a few years ago? I’ve had the sports-induced asthma from childhood, that’s nothing new. But I asked my cardiologist why on earth an autonomic nervous system suddenly goes haywire! He said, “Well, it can happen after a patient has suffered a severe, prolonged fever. Have you had one of those?” 

Swine Flu, fall of 2009, a few months before I started getting major woozy spells while simply sitting at my desk. 

Yay. =/

The Weeping Piano

I have always loved piano music. Played well, many instruments can echo a wide range of emotion, but there’s just something about the sound of a piano. Particularly when it comes to sad music. For centuries composers have poured their heartaches into a piano, and in turn, pianists pour them all back out in the beautiful sounds that cascade from their fingers, often infused with their own regrets or hardships.

Victor Hugo said “Music expresses that which cannot be said, and on which it is impossible to be silent.” Others have said that music is emotion made into sound. With instrumental music, it is wonderful that although we can know a specific intent for the emotional expression of a piece, its power is not limited to that intent. Even though Puccini wrote the “Crisantemi” overnight in 1890 as a response to the death of the Duke of Savoy, I can sit here in 2014 and hear the sound of my own troubles.

Sometimes I might hear the melancholy of a whole nation in a piece written by one of their citizens, even if they weren’t trying to speak it. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, I just mean that when listening to certain pieces by Rachmaninoff I can hear grief for lost countrymen in war, or the incredible strain of long, hungry, deep Russian winters. Things I know about countries, people, and cultures come to mind and color my perception of their music. The longings of Israel sung by their wistful clarinets, or of slaves in their spiritual songs.
I don’t mean to discount pieces with lyrics. Take “Mansions of the Lord” for example, an utterly heartrending tribute to fallen military heroes. Or “Soon Ah Will Be Done”. Our deepest longings to meet Jesus, and see those we love who’ve gone to Heaven before us, turned into the sound of human voices.

Of course music, like everything else, was created for God’s glory and will ultimately be used for His worship in eternity. However, it is also a gift of God that, in the meantime, while we wait on this groaning Earth in our wretched fallenness, we can use music to tell our anguish as well as our worship.
For believers in Jesus Christ, our mourning is temporary, to be quelled with the glorious certainty of our hope.
For the lost there is nothing to explain their pain, nothing to tame the despair and the great, screaming sound of it pours out everywhere in music.

These are just ponderings brought on by a photograph I saw today. Someone had taken an old piano and turned it into a outdoor planter and fountain. Water pouring from the keys, it looks as though it is weeping.
For me, a perfect visual of an instrument’s power to reflect human sorrow.


Six Things I’d Never Heard of Before Living in the South

Some of these are not strictly Southern, but here is a smattering of traditions, terms, and foods I’ve been tickled to learn about since coming to Arkansas six and a half years ago.

1) A “Pounding”

When new folks are moving to a home in your area from out of state/country, such as a new pastor or a new position at the office, the community helps out by signing up to buy a grocery staple (in many cases a pound, thus the name) and bring it to a party or to move-in day. All at once the newcomers are blessed with a full pantry in their new home. What a GREAT idea.

2) The “Groom’s Cake”

Oddly enough the first wedding I attended in Arkansas was that of a friend from college (in California). She was from the church we moved to in Little Rock, and had a beautiful wedding on New Year’s Day, 2008. But I was in for a surprise at the reception: two cakes?? I mean, another cake is always a good thing, but having an official bride’s cake and groom’s cake was a totally foreign concept. I love it though! It’s an entertaining way for the groom’s personality to have a platform at what is so often a bride-centered event. In the six years since then I’ve seen Darth Vader cakes, cakes made in the exact shape and detail of a soundboard, and my personal favorites: simply huge chocolate cakes loaded with chocolate icing. Yum!

3) “Dirty Santa”

In California and lots of other places, it’s  called “White Elephant”: the gift-giving game where you bring something to a Christmas party and everyone opens one and steals them from each other and has a general riot. Most of the time it’s up to the host whether you are supposed to bring something nice enough to keep, or total rubbish. Sometimes the distinction is not made, and the gifts comprise a little of both. (This would explain why I received  an old Linksys router at my boss’s house this year.) I suppose it’s the rubbish-version of the game for which calling it Dirty Santa makes sense. Some people I have asked say that it’s Dirty Santa when you’re supposed to bring clutter, and it’s White Elephant when the gifts are to be “nice”. Alrighty then.

4) “Chocolate Gravy” 

Similar to sausage gravy (or what the South calls “Biscuits and Gravy”), this extremely odd dish is just…chocolate gravy. On biscuits. Runny chocolate-ish “gravy” on plain dry biscuits. Great if you grew up with it I suppose, but this one I’m afraid I will never understand. (I did taste it.)

5) “Bridal Portraits” . . . weeks before the wedding.

This one really threw me for a loop. I felt pretty dumb. At that same New Year’s Day wedding there was a large, gorgeous framed photograph of the bride on a stand by the doorway to the reception. She looked exactly as she did in the service she’d just walked out of, but I couldn’t think how that photo could have possibly made it into that frame in the short space of time since her morning toilette. It was a morning wedding, after all. Did somebody take the photo and immediately have it rushed out to be developed, then get it in the frame and back to the church just in time? I was impressed. Mentioning this to the next person in line, I was informed of the tradition that is “Bridal Portraits.” Of course it wasn’t all done in a jiffy that morning. The photo had been taken weeks ago when the bride got all gussied up just like she would for the actual ceremony and went out for an official photo-shoot. Leaves more time for couples shots on the wedding day, and less stress for all. Huh.

6) “Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit!”

I couldn’t do a post like this without including at least one colloquialism. This is *so* my favorite, but I have yet to encounter the, uh, appropriate moment to use it…

2 Million and Me: Alone in the Hall of Names

There is a phrase in Hebrew that means “a memorial and a name” — it is used in Isaiah 56:5 which says, “And to them I will give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name that shall not be cut off.”  In transliterated Hebrew, this phrase is “Yad Vashem”. 

“Yad Vashem” is what Israel chose to call their Holocaust Museum, established in 1953.
A visit to any Holocaust Museum will change you, but understandably, none of them compare to Israel’s own.

On a very hot July day ten years ago our bus wound its way up the western slope of Mount Herzl on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem. I think it was July 5th. The previous day, our group of 35 American young people had splashed through Hezekiah’s Tunnel underneath the Old City, stood on the Mount of Olives, gazed across the Kidron Valley to Mount Moriah, and strolled near the Garden of Gethsemane. During dinner that night, at the hotel in Abu Gosh, we’d sung The Star Spangled Banner in celebration of our Independence Day, many Israelis and other guests joining in to sing and cheer with us for a rousing finish.

In the middle of the whirlwind 12-day tour of Israel, it was a short three days in the Jerusalem area filled to the brim with those and many other incredible highlights. Next on the itinerary was Yad Vashem.

From the moment we stepped out of the bus, the design of the place began to take affect. Set on a high green hillside, the low black buildings were surrounded by a stunning view and the whole place was intently silent. A long white stone pathway led up to the first structure. Lined with beautifully tended trees of varying ages, and at the base of each tree, plaques bearing names of all nationalities. This walkway is called The Righteous Among the Nations. Each tree is planted in grateful honor of any family that housed and protected Jews during WWII.

I have no skill to describe to you how the experience unfolds as you go inside and slowly walk the halls. Even though it was undergoing major renovations/additions at the time (a whole new complex opened the following year), none of that distracted from the power of what was presented there. Careful thought was put into each display, each room reflecting an exquisite attention to detail. It is totally consumed with honoring the lost, bringing you inside the world that crushed them.

One particular memory is an entire hallway wall that is a floor-to-ceiling, life-size photo of stacks upon stacks of bare metal cots; the pinched, haggard faces of men look out at you with utterly dead eyes. You can hardly stand to meet their gaze. You feel guilty for the clothes on your back and the food in your stomach. For the muscle on your bones. For being alive.

I searched each face, looking for one trace of defiance or hope.


When it was nearly time to go back to the bus I found myself in a wide hall with some offices at the far end, and momentarily feared that I’d wandered into an area not meant for guests. But just inside and to the left was a small dark room and I approached close enough to read the little plaque by the door. Hall of Names. I went in, with some trepidation.

Everything in this room was black. Carpet, walls, ceiling, benches, lampstands, and black velvet ropes marking off an area filled with black shelves, laden with large black notebooks. Near the ropes, a small black podium with one of the notebooks lying open. A picture of a small girl. Her name, some biographical information, and a supposed date of death.

I suddenly realized what this was.

One of Yad Vashem’s documentation goals is to create a Page of Testimony for every single one of the 6 million Jews who perished. At that point, a little over 2 million of them had been identified and documented, and I was standing alone with all of their names.

Post renovation, the Hall of Names is quite different but doubtless equally powerful.


Arkansas to South Africa: I can hardly believe it!

They call it A World in One Country...
They call it A World in One Country…

This coming summer, I am doubly blessed!  First, I have the joy of joining sixteen others from my church to serve on a short-term mission trip to Pretoria, South Africa where we will care for orphans, work on construction projects and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ to many! To double that excitement, this will be my first return to South Africa in twenty-one years, since the time my family resided there for eight months in 1993. It has been such a long wait to see my “other country”, and so many friends, once again!

When: May 18-27, 2014
Who: 17 very enthusiastic folks from The Bible Church of Little Rock
Cost$2,500 per team member

a) To work with the Muphamuzi Baby Home to care for orphans and foster children, providing relief to the usual caregivers and lavishing as much love as we can on these precious little ones.

b) To participate in construction projects to help national pastors and their churches in areas like Standerton, Modemolle, and Sunnyside.

c) To lead Bible studies in refugee areas like Salvokop.

d) To work with Living Hope Church in Sunnyside, doing children’s ministries (AWANA), evangelism, Bible study, worship ministry, etc.

e) To engage in street and door-to-door evangelism with the local churches.

f) To serve the missionary teams, both those supported by our church and those from 1Hope Ministries Intl., in any way we can.

We would so appreciate your Prayers:

1) That God would prepare the hearts of those to whom we will give the Gospel, and that many would be saved!

2) That I and my team would have servants’ hearts prepared to do whatever is needed with a ready and cheerful spirit, showing the love of Christ to all we encounter.

3) That this trip would pave the way for further ministry in RSA for The Bible Church of Little Rock, Living Hope Church, and 1Hope Ministries.

I am most excited to see what God does in and through us as we endeavor to be the hands and feet of Christ in a place that has seen so much turbulence and pain. Please commit to pray for us; your prayers are of the utmost importance and I have confidence that our LORD will accomplish much through them.

If you would like to help me prepare financially, please make a check payable to The Bible Church of Little Rock, with the MEMO line reading RSA: Elizabeth Howell, and mail to me at 8100 Cantrell Road, #808, Little Rock, AR., 72227. Or, visit this link to give online:

Thank you in advance for your involvement, and may God greatly bless you!

In the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ,

Elizabeth Howell