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.