Friday, September 23, 2011


"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!