Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Outside my car window

My first long drive across town since recently returning from my month long visit to the states happened last Saturday afternoon.  We were on our way to the Hope House home for at risk children.  Normally it takes about 45 minutes to get there.  Last Saturday we were in stop and go (mostly stop) traffic for over three hours.  We never made it to HH as we ran out of time and had to divert and head back another direction.

It seemed as if we were driving through a war zone as there was rubble on either side of the road.  Broken homes and shops littered the busy street side.  People were walking through the chaos going about life as if it were all normal.  We watched in amazement as a bull dozer smashed through flimsy shacks with crowds of people close by being held back by armed policeman carrying menacing weapons as they walked alongside the dozer.

The road is being widened hence the destruction.  There are buildings lining the road with crudely spray painted X's.  The mark is rudely splayed out against house and shop.  During a particularly slow crawl we watched a family just ahead of the dozer filing out of their shack.  In the midst of the family a woman rocked back and forth and wept without sound (as we were too far to hear).  Her body language screaming out the grief of leaving.  Stacked furniture could be seen among the rubble.  Couches and chairs, tables and pillows were among broken cinderblocks and roofing materials.  Children played in pockets of cratered roadside pools streaming from broken water lines along the way.

Looking outside my car window just days before while in Pennsylvania, I marveled at the glorious explosion of autumn colors covering the rolling amber and green forested hills.  The frequent roadside billboards pointed out the way to Starbucks and McDonalds.   Subdivisions of lovely homes and shops were just an exit away.

The change outside my car window has been a bit disorienting.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fall in full bloom!

We flew into Dulles Monday around 12:45 pm.  It was glorious to land after many hours of travel.  I can never sleep in planes.  It's just too uncomfortable.  I did watch a total of 7 movies during the 16 hours of flight time.  I wish I were kidding...

Steve's brother Allen picked us up and we drove to rendez-vous with Steve's Dad in Washington, PA.  It was such a beautiful day and fall colors were brilliantly displayed on the four or so hour drive to the Comfort Suites hotel.  I was awe-inspired by the green with explosions of red and yellow interspersed throughout the gentle rolling hills of PA.  The sky was blue with wisps of clouds streaking the sky like a window being wiped clean with a soft paper towel.  For many miles I watched a patch of rainbow glow through the clouds in a rainless sky.  I was punch-drunk tired but wide-eyed with wonder at the glories of autumn flashing by as we sped down smooth ribbons of road.  I love the slight chill in the air that feels clean and crisp.  I was wearing socks and close-toed shoes for heaven's sake!!

When we arrived at our destination for the night after embracing Steve's dad we made our way to our room.  There was a king-sized bed with a plethora of pillows and soft sheets that I sunk into immediately. It was delicious and I was loath to leave it moments later to shower and go to dinner.  And where did we go to dinner our first night back in the states after being away for over a year you might ask?!  Denny's!  No joke, Dad Straw was pretty pumped about the 20% off we'd get by showing our hotel keys.  So we drove past the Texas Roadhouse and pulled into the Denny's parking lot.  They have this new cheesy menu.  I don't mean "cheesy" in the sense of "silly", no, I mean cheesy as in cheese.  They serve sandwiches with mac-n-cheese covering fried chicken nuggets!  Crazy...

The next day we drove to Ohio to MMS Aviation to see our beloved Cessna.  It's looking pretty good folks!  We met the mechanics and staff there and took them out to lunch to celebrate and thank them for the near completion of this long project of fix our plane and get it air-worthy.  It was at a mexican restaurant and Steve and I were in enchilada heaven.  My mom and step-dad Chuck drove up to meet us just in time to join us for lunch.  After lunch we all parted ways.  Steve went back to MMS to work on the plane with the guys and Allen and Dad Straw headed off to State College and I went to Hamilton, Ohio with my mom and Chuck.

I'm having the best time hanging with my mom and Chuck and my step-bro Dave.  It's great to be back in the good ole USA.  Of course I miss my peeps in Gabon, you know who you are!!  We will be heading to State College this weekend to celebrate Steve's dad's 80th B-day!  So looking forward to seeing the family that will be gathered for this blessed occasion.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Peas and Carrots










"Turn both your pockets and hearts inside out and give generously to the poor; then your lives will be clean not just your dishes and hands." - Luke 11

That verse lept off the pages of Luke as I read the bible after praying for God to speak to me directly about whether or not I should go to the Hope House orphanage to stay the night and help take care of the nearly 50 kids living there. You see, I have reasons not to go... I am traveling to the states today (a day and a half later) and it will be a long journey and I really need my rest. I get headachy and miserable when I don't get enough sleep. And I have visitors at the guest house now that need my attention and I need to pack and do some last minute shopping for family members that I will see soon in the states... And... well you get it! Honestly, it's hard to go to the Hope House. I am often overwhelmed by the needs and in awe of the love and care that dwells there.

Kristy O'Neal is here for four months as an E4 associate to specifically observe and care for the H.H. (Hope House). She is nearing the end of her time here and wanted to do something special for Pastor Israel and his wife Natalie. She and Leanne and Hannah decided to give Pastor Israel and Natalie and night out at a hotel complete with a lovely dinner. They rarely if ever get to be alone and never in a nice air conditioned room overlooking the ocean. They spend their days taking care of orphaned or at risk kids. And that isn't even Pastor Israel's main job! He also pastors a church that is active and growing ministering to Gabonese and Nigerians in french and english.

So a night out for this amazing couple was set for Friday night. Kristy, Hannah, and Leanne were already slated to go and they were hoping I would join them. Hence the prayer and the hemming and hawing on my part. Confession: I am selfish and love comfort. I love sleeping on my own bed with fans and AC blowing. And yes, I am a missionary in Africa. I have made many changes since moving to Africa and continue to face the ugliness of my selfishness. I am not naturally a hard-working person. I have to rely on God to give me the strength. So there I was praying (as if there were really a question there) that God would speak to me so I couldn't let myself off the hook. I knew if I heard Him he would set me right. He's good like that! So I continued to read His word that day with the sinking realization that I needed to steel myself up to go (I admit red-faced).

"Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You'll be - and experience - a blessing. They won't be able to return the favor but the favor will be returned - oh how it will be returned! at the resurrection of God's people." Luke 14

And so I went. It was a looong night. It was sweaty and terribly uncomfortable in a hot room with air heavy and motionless as mosquitos buzzed and feasted on my exposed flesh. The night outside was noisy with drumming and chanting going on continuously for hours somewhere in the neighborhood. Earlier we made spaghetti with meat sauce and veggies for dinner, huge vats of it! The kids ate and ate and some ate more. They were sweet and thankful and laughed and played and sang and danced and fought and at one point I had five kids braiding my hair at once. I held the young ones and swung them around. I helped the littlest girls get ready for bed. They had a routine. After much giggling and playing we prayed together and I read a Winnie the Pooh book to them in french. There was unfamiliar vocabulary that I stumbled over but they didn't seem to mind as they curled into me while I read.

I slept maybe two hours total. We awoke early to unlock the doors for one of the older kids to head off to school at 5:30 am. I went back to sleep for a bit before coming down to help make breakfast. We scrambled 60 eggs and bought 28 baguettes to make egg sandwiches. They love ketchup and we went through two large squeeze bottles before the meal was through. I also brought seven bags of Fritos to share and they loved dipping them into, of course, ketchup!

Funny story... Leanne found a hidden pile of peas and carrots under a chair where the kids had eaten dinner. It seems that the classic parental lament of "there are orphans in African who would love to eat your (insert any veggie here) peas and carrots!" did not prove to be true in this case... That particular orphan did not like peas and carrots either!!

Just before Pastor Israel and Maman Natalie were due to be back little Christopher fell and slammed the back of his head on a concrete curb. He was crying and we couldn't feel any discernible lump and there wasn't any blood and Christopher is known to dramatize any event to an academy award winning performance so we weren't too concerned initially. But when he wanted to sleep and began throwing up we knew he needed medical attention. We called our dear friend Maman Jeanine who is a nurse and asked her advice. She advised that we take him to the military hospital and get him a scan. We had tried to reach Pastor Israel and Natalie but couldn't reach them. Maman Jeanine sent PapiJoe to the rescue. By the time PapiJoe arrived Pastor Israel and Natalie were back. They had a marvelous time out but were facing another emergency all too soon... PapiJoe and Krisity along with Christopher and a few older kids went to the military hospital. Unbelievably they were turned away at 2pm due to the hospital being "full". They drove to another hospital and it's scan wasn't in working order. They went to two other clinics before finding help. I just got an update from Kristy. Christopher's scan didn't show anything critical and he went back to HH but as of this morning he is still in pain and not himself. Please pray for him! Hopefully he will be back to his academy award-winning antics again soon!

When I got back to my house I had the best shower of my life and took a long nap in my air conditioned room. I'm truly blessed to have had the opportunity to work alongside Kristy and Leanne and Hannah. They inspire me to be a better me. I am so thankful to my Father who refuses to leave me stuck in my selfish ways and leads me to love on HH kids. I have been blessed greatly by stepping outside my comfort zone.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Learning the unforced rhythms of grace...

Dear friends,

I have said goodbye to my children twice this week. Oh the aching pain of separation and the transition from a full house to an empty one once again. The kids were to fly back to Cameroon on Sunday afternoon after their fall break. It is so exciting to pick them up at the airport and embrace them knowing that there are days ahead to be filled with being in the same space together, five places set at the dinner table! We can catch up with latest, in person. I can hear my oldest's ever deepening voice. I can behold my daughter's laughter with her beautiful eyes shinning. My last born still curls into me as we embrace. I hold the familiar shapes and sounds of our family together close.

But, alas, they must return to school, and depart us once more. So we made the trip to the airport, said our tearful goodbyes, prayed together and went our separate ways. Only to be called hours later. The plane had a maintenance issue and the flight was canceled. We joyfully picked the kids up again and their stay was extended by a couple of days. It was great to have them home! However, Tuesday came and we took them to the airport again. Two goodbyes in one week. Emotionally exhausting.

I've been challenging myself to find the eucharisteo "thanksgiving" in the everyday. To pray prayers of thanksgiving by actually writing out lists of things I am thankful for. I've been reading the Bible in a very focused way and have found it to be transformative. It is not easy though. It's hard to be thankful for sending our kids away on a plane; to live a life separate from us in the everyday. It's easy to question and complain. I miss my kids on a profound level and being catapulted into an "empty nest" before being ready is jarring. But I am learning the unforced rhythms of grace. In Matthew 11:28-30 it says ( The Message version) "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."

Sounds great, but how? I am still feeling my way through. I am asking God to burn off the cataracts of my soul. Eucharisteo is coming into focus, clearing my cloudy vision as the sludge of selfish ambition is melting away in the heat of God's word. "I am beset by soul amnesia. I empty of truth and need the refilling. I need come again every day -- bend, clutch, and remember -- for who can gather the manna but once, hoarding, and store away sustenance in the mind for all of the living?" - Ann Voskamp

I am gathering the manna words of God everyday. I am asking God to sustain me. My children or my job or my friends or my husband or the material things I have cannot and should not sustain me. "How I want to see the weight of glory break my thick scales, the weight of glory smash the chains of desperate materialism, split the numbing shell of deadening entertainment, bust up the ice of catatonic hearts." The lament of Ann Voskamp echoes my own prayer, although she says it lyrically. I cry out with a burning ache to live a life that is vibrantly alive. His Kingdom come, His will be done.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Eucharisteo


"Who would ever know the greater graces of comfort and perseverance, mercy and forgiveness, patience and courage, if no shadows fell over a life?" - Ann Voskamp As I read those words, I think of suffering and sorrow. These are bittersweet gifts given to lead one by the hand to a loving Father. The One who was and is and is to come. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end. Who can discern this life we life? Who can write asks Voskamp, "the sharp Holy Writ on the page that makes a careful incision into a life, blade words that kindly cut the tissue back to where the soul and spirit join, tenderly laying bare the intents of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12) I have recently read through Hebrews and have found God in the printed words. Amazing but true. THE God of the universe. That He would join me and speak to me is a profound mystery! I struggle through this world. I question and ache, and wonder about what it is all about and does it really matter at all in the end? When will the end come? I so want my life to count. I want to make a difference. I want to stay soft in this often caustic hard world.

In my journal there are a few quotes I've quoted of late. "If you want to change the world, pick up your pen." - Martin Luther "... there are eyes in pencils and pens." - John Piper So what of these words, will my penned words bring sight to a blurry place, a confusing collision of colors; dark and sombre? Or will those words speak of light and joy and peace, illuminating thanksgiving to a God that loves and draws near to those that draw near to him?

In Ann Voskamp's book, "One Thousand Gifts: A dare to live fully right where you are" she issues a challenge. The challenge has a name as ancient as days. Eucharisteo, it means thanksgiving. She presents that Eucharisteo is the secret to a joy filled life. So for the last week I have taken up that challenge to look for opportunities of being thankful in my everyday. I am thrilled to report that I have found unspeakable joy as I pen my words of thanksgiving to God. I find small things that lift me up above the mess and mundanity of life and extend a message of beauty and peace. So, yes, penned words are life changing and bring into sharp focus that which is beautiful and amazing. I encourage you to read Hebrews and Voskamp's book and pen your own words of Eucharisteo. What are you thankful for today?

I will close with this little poem I penned on Tuesday while sitting with Steve near the sea.

"rolling waters sounding out a white and foamy song, curling and folding onto warm golden sand. a chorus of Sun splashing out of parted clouds bouncing joyfully, sparkling bright, a snare drum of white. Green leaves quivering in the ocean breeze with spots of a red fluttering leaf melody. Ropey-reptilian-like palm trunks march towards the rippling sea, a drum cadence of palm fronds interlacing and straight like giant birdless feathers flirting with flight."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pickled Cow's heads and other stuff

Have you ever been nearly run down by a wheel barrel filled with pickled cow's heads? It happened to me last week as I was shoe shopping at Mont Buet with Leanne, Hannah and Kristy. We had weaved our way through a sea of humanity, sometimes walking single-file, haltingly, with walls of sound colliding and competing for our attention. The streets winding and crowded with vendors and shoppers all around. Vendors selling coconuts or cloth or diapers by the bundle. Some have tables with their wares perched precariously and some have wheel barrels, some have actual shops lining the streets, and then there are some with a cloth spread on the pavement with merchandize piled high and haphazard. One can buy almost anything at this African market. The fruits and vegetables covered with flies, shining with vibrant color, artfully piled into small mounds. People are bumping into one another and stopping suddenly as something catches their eyes. We often hear vendors shouting out after us, "Les Blanches!" "The Whites!" Men making kissing noises to catch our attention can be a bit distracting. The sheer number of people can be intimidating. We pushed on undaunted, looking for shoes for Leanne, fabric for Kristy and new knock-off Converse for Hannah. I was just along for the ride but found a set of lovely green and brown swirled plates that would be a perfect base for chunky candles on my dinning table. I was going to buy just one but ended up with a set of six.

Sometimes the smells are not pleasant and it takes a steely resolve to dive in to the throng of people and find your way around the crazily winding streets. Then when one is ready to buy, the bartering begins. It is a game of what price will we pay today? Sometimes fun, sometimes not so fun... It is an experience and an adventure. Never carry a purse, thieves are out in full force and we kinda stand out in the crowd.

Later that night on a table surrounded by friends and good food, those lovely swirly plates of green and brown sat interspersed with blue swirly plates I already had. It was the perfect table, set, and ready to share. Just last night I put three chunky candles on the plate. I lit them and got warm fuzzies just watching the lit candle flames dance on unseen air currents, lighting an ordinary space with romance and and a spot of drama, casting soft shadows on the walls and ceiling. This morning I picked up a piece of a melted puddle of candle wax and held it to my nose and breathed in the scent, feeling it's waxy surface with a slightly oily coat. On the underside shinning in the morning light was a swirling pattern showing the wax's molten growth as it pooled and cooled on the plate I bought at Mont Buet. So lovely the swirls, hidden art in a puddle of wax. God is so artful to put beauty inside such a delicate and ordinary thing. How easily I could have missed this whispered message of beauty.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Traveling Chucks












There is a book I read many years ago entitled, "The Crime of Living CAUTIOUSLY" by Luci Shaw, which gabbed my attention and filled me with a longing to live courageously not cautiously. Since reading that little book much has changed in my life. I still battle between cautious living verses courageous living but little by little I swing towards the courageous life. I live in Gabon, some have called it "Earth's Last Eden". For those of us who live here life isn't so "Eden-like", in fact one has to travel far and wide with much expense to find this "Last Eden". So four of us friends set out to find this Eden we have heard so much about and discover it for ourselves, in living color not glossy magazine images or billboards posted around the capital.

We bought knock-off Converse "Chuck Taylor" shoes in the three colors of Gabon's flag... Leanne - blue, Lisa - yellow, me - green, and Hannah - white (white isn't actually in the flag but it is the ultimate back-drop). We planned to not plan our journey knowing that here in Gabon it is quite difficult to make advance plans. None of us had ever done this before but we know the language (sort of) and have the old church network to fall back on should we run into challenges. Our loose plan was to follow the coastline south-ward. Our goal was simple, to see the Gabon of glossy images and find elephants and hippos and monkeys... oh my! We knew taking the tourist route would be way over our budget so we thought we'd just piece together our very own path and use non-tourist methods.

We decided to have a meeting together just before our trip to discuss things such as expectations and the like. I have gone on vacation with close friends before and found that vacation can be stressful if the participants have differing ideas of what should happen during said vacation. This meeting was to avoid such frustrations and help us to communicate well. So we each shared our hopes and dreams for the next nine days. We packed lightly with travel pillows and snacks to make meals on the go should the need arise. We also carried an enormous pepper spray can within easy reach... just in case... We had a first aide kit and super glue. We were pretty much ready for anything!

Steve dropped us off at Port Mole where we had the day before purchased our VIP first class tickets aboard our first sea vessel to take us from Libreville to Port Gentil. We were filled with nervous excitement and had our bags checked and waited in a concrete slab holding area in plastic chairs labeled VIP. We sat, and sat and sat. By the time we were ready to climb aboard the boat it was two hours late. C'est la vie! Our boat was a white double decker with nice seats and tables and even a flat screen tv up front. We should have known things were taking an unexpected turn as the boat attendants were handing out complimentary sick-sacks by the dozens. The vomiting began just as we pulled out of port. There was as small area outside the upper deck to sit and have the wind in our hair and see the stars and lights of the land twinkle into the distance as we sped onto Port Gentil. Three out of the four traveling chucks sadly became the traveling up-chucks. And a few of us were spewed with the vomit of another traveling companion upwind from us on the deck. It was the most vomitous voyage of my life to date. I will spare you the details of the ship's employees morphed into "vomit nazis" insisting on the correct way to vomit while one is in the process of vomiting.

We finally reached Port Gentil a little worse for the wear. Fortunately a friend from Port Gentil was there waiting for us and wisked us away to a beautiful home. We stayed for a few days in Port Gentil taking in the sights and enjoying a white sandy beach next to the clearest blue sea I have ever seen. Our host, Rod, was supremely helpful and gave us much needed contacts to the next phase of our travels. We quickly realized we would not be able to go all the way to the southern end of the country as our limited funds would run out. So we called and found we could stay a night in Omboue and then onto the Louango Lodge for a few nights and have a boat safari to see the sights we set out to see.

We had an amazing adventure and reached our goal of seeing the eden of the glossy images and saw elephants and hippos and monkeys oh my! We laid out on a gently swaying dock under a blanket of stars and talked and sang together. We had a picnic in a remote lodge while watching an elephant graze grass across a river with the clear blue sky stretched to the heavens. We battled the dreaded tsetse fly and kayaked to a crocodile isle where we saw croc prints in the sand of an enormous croc who could swallow us whole without looking the worse for the wear! We bought cheap googles and watched fish dart about and swam with a stingray in the clearest sea. We were treated like royalty at peasant prices. We felt our Father in heaven was displaying His creation in living color, sound, and scent and far exceeding our expectations.

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars..." Jack Kerouac
We took 7 boats in 9 days and I got to spend time with fabulous women who are creative and smart and funny and are mad to live and talk and be saved and... well... you get the idea! It was not a time to live cautiously but courageously. Luci Shaw would be so proud... Many thanks to the Traveling Chucks: Leanne Barnard, Hannah Trosen, and Lisa Nicky! Hip, Hip, Hooray!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Footloose, a time to dance

I knew it was going to be a good party when PapiJoe showed up at the house in the early afternoon, hours before the dinner began, to set up a huge amp. No joke, it was the size of a small refrigerator! My eardrums nearly exploded by a wall of sound as PapiJoe miscalculated the volume level during his brief sound check. He laughed gleefully and left soon after saying he'd see us later.

Once a month or so our Gabonese OSPAC (the social work branch of the local CMA) friends join us Americans for a dinner. We take turns hosting and all contribute food-wise so it's a delicious mix of African and American cuisine. Sometimes, not always, there is dancing involved.

Now I am far from being a dancer. As a teen I watched the movie Footloose staring a young Kevin Bacon and fell deeply in love with Grain-Mill Proms held on the outskirts of small town USA. I mean who can't relate to the down-trodden teen characters of the movie as they rise up and challenge the powers that be? The challenge being, of course, the God-given right to dance. Hallelujah. Amen.

Unfortunately no one has ever questioned my right to dance and really has had no interest in whether I dance or not. I have never had to present an impassioned speech to town leaders declaring that there is, in fact, a time to dance (it's in the Bible)... And they can't stop me! Don't even try! So perhaps that is why dancing is not something I do often and certainly not in front of people. I feel self-conscious with my stiff-measured movements. I love music and dancing. I just wish I had grace and style and rhythm.

So often at weddings and other occasions where people gather to dance, (read Grain-Mill Proms on the outskirts of town) I shy away and look on longingly from the sidelines. I wish I could join in and dance, but I never do... That is until a couple of Friday nights ago. I began awkwardly enough but soon the rhythm got me and I was spinning and swirling and swaying and jumping along with the others.

It was a dream come true. And a time to dance, there is! I think it was the atmosphere of love and acceptance that allowed me to finally kick off my Sunday shoes! I mean, these are the people that love me in the midst of my sweaty-stammering attempts to serve and speak. They love me without reservation and I am learning so much from them as they embrace my stumbling attempts to show love with my limited vocabulary and limited cultural knowledge. They see my heart and hopefully I am learning this heart-language that looks beyond the surface, beyond the stammers and stumbles and sees true value that is wrapped up within.

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace." Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

*This blog is brought to you by Kevin Bacon, PapiJoe, and the Bible*

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Stories and those who should have their own theme song

I just read a book the other day that pointed out the profound truth that we are the stories we tell. Last night I spent hours lingering over the dinner table talking with Pauline and Christina. They flew in yesterday, Pauline from England and Christina from the US. I know both and was so looking forward to their arrival. Pauline has lived in Africa for the last 16 years or so with trips back to mother England from time to time. She has been away for quite some time as last August she had to quickly go home due to her mother's sudden death. While Pauline went through the grief and whirl-wind of packing and going, I was in Cameroon with the kids getting them settled into their new life. Pauline has been in the northern part of England since then taking care of her 99 year old grandmother. She claims she is the linguist that "no one can understand" due to the heavily accented English words she slings with speed and a cadence all her own. She is a beloved part of our team and has been missed greatly. Although when she is here in Gabon she lives way off the grid in tiny Leconi working on Bible translation with nationals so I was forever requesting her to come visit the capital (and me!). She has stunning stories that she tells with a non-chalant demeanor claiming that the stories sound more exciting than they actually were but I, personally, believe the woman should have her own theme song!

Christina is a young woman who just weeks ago graduated from college and is a third of the way through her goal of becoming a doctor. She has a heart for the Bongolo hospital that is pulsating with passion. She is so fun to talk with and it is great to see her here again after her initial visit two years ago. After dinner we grilled Pauline mercilessly as the sole representative of all of England on the topic of the Royal Wedding of William and Kate and all things related to the royal reign. I have to say Pauline held her own under our on-slaught of rapid-fire questions. She is quite impressive to me on many levels. One way she has displayed her unflinching courage was during the times she allowed me to cut her hair. That woman has guts. She has also been spirited away while in a malaria induced delirium by Congolese pastors up the Congo river during a war in a dug-out canoe. See what I mean about the theme song?!

As we lingered long after dinner talking I thought of Pauline and her current life situation. She is here for a short time to perhaps wrap up her life here in Gabon for good. Her life has been interrupted by her mother's death and by the need to take care of her grandmother. I have never heard Pauline grumble or complain once even though her life has been turned upside down. She has a blog called "Occasional Jottings" that she writes from time to time. She generally travels with her cornet and runs many miles even after being bunched up in a taxi bus for hours, even days. She has written me of running in the misty moors of England. I mean really running about in open expanses of rolling infertile land, in the peaty, grassy sledges. Once again proving the woman needs her own theme song!

So life isn't going how she planned and she is facing the unknown taking care of her 99 year old grandmother living in the north of England attending a church with the congregants average age being 75. She plays her cornet and runs the misty moors and speaks fluent French with a British accent and German with a French accent and tribal languages with who knows what accent. She has faith, courage and strength mixed with humor and a fabulous vocabulary. And I am so glad to be called her friend. The stories she tells make up who she is and my hope is that I have stories that speak of a vibrant life lived with faith, courage and humor and with a great vocabulary to boot!

Monday, May 9, 2011

The great peanut butter exchange!

Last week here at the thriving Gros Bouquet guest house we had a world traveling comic book artist/teacher/writer extraordinaire stay with us for a few nights. Her name is Marie Javins and she is traversing Africa overland for the second time in her life. She wrote a book entitled "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik, One Woman's Solo Misadventure Across Africa" about her first trip across Africa in 2001. Ten years later she is doing it again only backwards this time (she is going in the opposite direction not walking backwards). You can follow her on http://www.mariesworldtour.com/.

I was able to hang out with her and hear about her journeys first hand. I then ordered her book on my kindle and was able to talk with her as I read the book. On the morning we woke up and heard of Bin Laden's death we talked about how ten years ago she was in Africa when 9/11 happened. The irony of the time and place and being so far from home when such terrible things occur. On her last evening she was making plans to cross the Congos and I commiserated with her over the difficult part she had ahead. She mentioned not having many food options as she rode along pitted sweltering roadways on public transport. I offered her some peanut butter and she lit up with just the thought of it. She then backtracked and said she would hate to have me part with my precious supply of Jiff. I insisted and said it would be an exchange since she had already gifted me a book she had just finished entitled, "Blood River, A journey to Africa's Broken Heart" by Tim Butcher. These are the best kind of swaps!

Books are hard to come by around these parts, especially ones in English! I have my kindle but oh how I love the feel of a real book. The stiff spine holding together pages of soft feathered edges filled with words and space. I like the bent pages and the roughed up edges. It's a book that's been lived in. When I part the pages I think of Marie traveling solo with just a backpack and courage to carry her through. I think of the various places she placed the book down to gaze out at new environs. I also happen to love the book. It is brilliantly written and I highly recommend it. There is just something about a man who followed with passion and purpose on what many called a suicide mission. "A vivid account of an audacious quest." reported the Irish Times.

Tim Butcher is a Daily Telegraph correspondent sent to Africa in 2000. The book is of his travels in 2004 retracing H.M. Stanley's famous expedition during the Victorian era to map the mighty Congo river of central Africa between 1874 and 1877. I love the descriptive way he writes of bone jarring moto riding "bumping over exposed tree roots and rivulets scoured into the roadway by rain." The word pictures and alliteration! My heart flutters with the well placed words and phrases!

**This blog brought to you by Jiff, the #1 choice for choosy moms!**

Friday, May 6, 2011

A life less comfortable?

"The aim of the person of faith is not to be as comfortable as possible but to live as deeply and thoroughly as possible - to deal with the reality of life, discover truth, create beauty, act out love." -Eugene H. Peterson

I read Peterson's book "Run with The Horses" during a particularly painful and uncomfortable time last year. It spoke to me to the very marrow of my bones. Things are certainly better now but still uncomfortable. I keep coming across articles on false guilt and blogs about living out a life that fits and feels "right". So how am I to respond... The words "ought to" can be very imprisoning but at the same time they can keep you from falling off of the edge. I don't write many blogs because I am uncomfortable and don't want to whine and complain and bemoan my way through so I am often silent. Which, if you know me well, is quite contrary to my personality. I am a verbal processor and writing helps to clear the cobwebs out of my heart, mind and soul.

That being said, I have many complaints. I feel like an Israelite being led out of slavery/Egypt wandering in the desert grumbling. "If only we had died by the Lord's hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death." they grumbled to Moses in Exodus 16:3 In response the God of the universe provided food for them, "At twilight you will eat meat (quail), and in the morning you will be filled with bread (manna). Then you will know that I am the Lord your God." Exodus 16:11 One has only to look to the next chapter in Exodus to see the Israelites grumbling again, this time because of thirst, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?" they grumbled to Moses in Exodus 17:3. Then God has Moses strike a rock and pure sweet water poured forth. And so it goes much like that with grumbling wandering Israelites and Moses trying to lead for decades until a whole generation is dead.

So moral of the story... Grumbling, bad. I get it! "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above." Words to an ancient hymn echo in the distance as I type out these words. So I want to live as deeply and thoroughly as possible. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates." Deuteronomy 6:4-9

So that is a command and a command Peterson defines as, "a word that calls us to live beyond what we presently understand or feel or want." I am presently uncomfortable. I am not happy about it. But I want to press into the unknown and seek after a pearl of great price and I want to hope and believe and know God in spirit and in truth. So please pray with me that we will be a people as hearts as if a fire burned within that is shut up in our bones and that we cannot hold it in.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Imaginary Jesus

I just finished reading a book called Imaginary Jesus. It's a bit trippie but a good read. It's outlandish and funny with bits of startling depth scattered through out. I recommend it. The main character in the book is confronted with the realization that he has quite happily replaced the real Jesus with an imaginary one. The apostle Peter appears to him in a communist vegan cafe in downtown Portland, Oregon and proceeds to get into a fist fight with the imaginary Jesus. Yes, that is how the book begins. It goes on from there as the main character has to decide if he wants to find the real Jesus or stick with the comforting Jesus he has imagined up. As it turns out there are many imaginary Jesus' lurking in his life and they chase after him or he chases after them throughout the rest of the book. Apostle Pete and a talking donkey named Daisey are his help in addition to one trip back in time to see when the Apostle Peter first meets Jesus.

Of course I can't help but wonder if there are any imaginary Jesus' lurking within the walls of my mind. If I have fashioned my own personal Jesus to fit into a nice shape that I can make sense of and find comfort in. The problem with the main character's Jesus is that he was like the real Jesus but not real so it was really hard to unwrap and disrobe the imaginary one and find the real one. The real Jesus is mysterious and not under anyone's control. He is.

See, I've been really tired of late and disheartened. I've been seeking to follow after Jesus and it's very hard. I've got troubles that have troubles and I can't seem to leave them with Jesus. He seems slow in answering my distress call. I feel adrift in a sea of surging, swollen waters that threaten to overtake me. My sighs signal out an SOS. I know the real Jesus never leaves me but I wish He would speak up. My ears seem blocked up. This is the same problem the hero of the book had. He had something he needed to say and hear from Jesus. The real Jesus, not something of his own making and it took a whole book to find the real Jesus and when he, the hero, found Jesus it was worth the pages of wrestling, of seeking and seemingly not finding. That SOS sent out by the hero resonated within the longings of my own heart. I will keep seeking and I will keep wrestling. It is worth it all to be near the real Jesus.

Here is another song that I have been listening to called "Please Be My Strength" by Gungor:

I've tried to stand my ground
I've tried to understand
But I can't seem to find
My faith again

Like water on the sand
Or grasping at the wind
I keep on falling short

So please be my strength
Please be my strength
'Cause I don't have any more
I don't have any more

I'm looking for a place
Where I can plant my faith
One thing I know for sure

I cannot create it
And I cannot sustain it
It's Your love
That's keeping me

Please be my strength
Please be my strength
I don't have any more
I don't have any more

And at my final breath
I hope that I can say
I fought the good fight
Of faith

I pray your glory shines
This doubting heart of mine
And all would know that You

You are my strength
You are my strength
You and You alone
You keep bringing me back home

Oh, You are my strength
You are my strength
You and You alone
Keep bringing me back home

It's You and You alone
Bringing me back home

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Worms, a rat and a Valentines dance

It started with a slight twinge within. I felt increasingly uncomfortable. Soon it seemed my stomach was pressing against my spine and under the front of my ribs. I felt round and rung out like a dirty dish towel. Misshapen. That is when I began to suspect worms. Yes, worms, living inside of me. The other night I couldn't sleep as I imagined the tickling in the back of my throat to be a worm wriggling about. It's hard to relax with such thoughts roaming and rattling around in the dark of night. By Wednesday I was sluggish and slow moving, the worms within eating my strength. Steve and Sam went to the pharmacy and picked up a worm treatment for us all. Since then I am feeling better. It seems that getting worms here is not an if but a when. So now I am among the many that have had living worms within.

The other night we went to do a surprise pick up some friends coming back from a quick trip to South Africa. It was Sam's one and only friend and his mom. They are Americans and work with the US Embassy. We got there just in time to see the plane land and then walked down to the police area to spy them out of the crowd of new comers from two flights. We called and discovered that they were way in the back of line waiting to go through immigration. We decided to walk out of the airport and pick up some pizzas out of a parked truck that has a wood burning pizza oven built in the back. We ordered and walked a bit before turning back. We paid for the pizzas and locked them back in the car before checking on our friends progress. They hadn't moved very far so we walked out of the airport in search of drinks. On our way to the small shop we walked alongside a busy road with street vendors selling everything from grilled meat and fish to horse track betting.

Along the way I noticed something small moving along the trash and debris. It was a not so small ugly rat. My stomach twinged reminding me of the worms I carried within. As we walked by the rat stopped and watched us watching it. We shared a moment, the rat and our family, as cars sped by and vendors called out. We finally reached a small shop and bought some coke and sprite. On the way back we bought some seedless grapes (expensive,from South Africa) and some bananas. By the time we made it back to the airport our friends were just ten minutes from freedom. We drove them home, shared pizza and drinks and talked about the adventures of mother and son in South Africa. It was a lovely surprise complete with a white chocolate covered angel food cake hand carried from South Africa to boot!

Tomorrow night Joe and Megs are attending their school Valentine's dance. Megan has a new red dress and plans to get ready with her friends. She has been looking forward to such things her whole life. Joe feels ambivalent about it, he figures he will have fun there but "it's not like I'm bouncing around in anticipation" or something like that said Joe recently on a skype chat. So here I am missing them like crazy and wondering what the heck we are doing here. I mean other than trying to follow a call from the God of the universe... no pressure or anything... Joe and Meg have assured me that they love it at RFIS and we have made the right decision but I am still struggling. I guess that is to be expected but I had hoped that by now I would feel more comfortable and settled. I feel neither at this moment. Sorry to be such a downer but that is where I am as the worms die within. Hopefully my sorrows and discomfort will die within as well. It seems the pharmacy doesn't have a pill for such things...

I will close with a song, an oldie but a goodie. It's entitled, "I Still Believe" sung by Russ Taft

I been in a cave
For forty days
Only a spark
To light my way

I wanna give out
I wanna give in
This is our crime
This is our sin

But I still believe
I still believe
Through the pain
And through the grief

Through the lies
Through the storms
Through the cries
And through the wars

Oh, I still believe

Flat on my back
Out at sea
Hopin' these waves
Don't cover me

I'm turned and tossed
Upon the waves
When the darkness comes
I feel the grave

But I still believe
I still believe
Through the cold
And through the heat

Through the rain
And through the tears
Through the crowds
And through the cheers

Oh, I still believe

I'll march this road
I'll climb this hill
Upon my knees
If I have to

I'll take my place
Upon this stage
I'll wait till the end of time
For you like everybody else

I'm out on my own
Walkin' the streets
Look at the faces
That I meet

I feel like I
Like I wanna go home
What do I feel?
What do I know?

But I still believe
Yes, I still believe
Through the shame
And through the grief

Through the heartache
Through the tears
Through the waiting
Through the years

For people like us
In places like this
We need all the hope
That we can get

Oh, I still believe