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

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.