Friday, December 5, 2014

It's Christmas time

Yesterday I went to the Harrisburg PA farm show complex with a couple of dear friends.
We walked into the massive building and the organic odors of animals greeted us with a firm handshake.  We were there for the Christmas craft show.  We walked up and down crowded aisles filled with arts and crafts, both ordinary and remarkable.  There were twinkling lights and scarves and toys and treats and it went on and on and on.  I wanted so many things.  There was a lady there painting with needle and thread on silk.  The threaded art was truly amazing.  There were these guys selling spa stones that could file your nails and remove the very hair on your legs!!  Crazy!
There was a man from Alabama selling the most remarkable knives that cut through squash like it was butter.  I know Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of our savior but I found myself longing for the material things all around.  I found myself wrapped up in a delicious melody sung by the craft booth sirens wanting to sink me into a sea of financial oblivion... We don't even have any of our Christmas decorations with us in this country!  I resisted for the most part.  I bought a scarf and a few elephants made out of forks because who among us can resist elephants made of forks?!  Not I!

So it's Christmas time.  It's our first Christmas in the states in seven years.  The first Christmas song I heard on the radio while driving in a light snow flurry I had to turn off as my vision became blurred by the tears welling up.  The melancholy of lights and songs and cold weather and memories of yesteryear is a fierce force.  So much surrounding Christmas sucks me in.  I have missed all the pageantry of Christmas in the US.  I hardly can contain my excitement.  

Last week the kids came home from college and we were together on Thanksgiving day for the first time in years.  When the kids were away at school (in Cameroon) Thanksgiving was too short a break to have them come home.  The night we drove to pick up Joe from BWI the traffic was a nightmare.  It took over 2 hours to get there when it usually takes about an hour.  We were nearly there when the traffic slowed to a crawl.
I went to a dark place within.  I actually found myself furious at the countless other cars traveling with us.  I wanted to jump out of the car and run screaming through the lanes of traffic.  Even as I silently simmered I wondered at my fury.  What is wrong with me??  I am in a warm car with my husband and two of our kids.  We are healthy and heading to reunite with our oldest.  I am WAY overreacting!!!  But I couldn't stop it, at one point I said, "Now I know why people cut themselves."  No joke, I actually said that!  My daughter was like "Wow, mom."  Steve said nothing.  When we finally reunited with Joe and headed back home Megan told Joe what I had said.  He was equally amazed.  I said, "Joe, I was in a dark place, I don't want to talk about it."  And we laughed and moved on with our night... silly simmering in a silent rage mom is so funny...

The thing is, I kinda freak out when we are all together and my freaking out has nearly ruined the precious time we have together.  I build it up in my mind.  I want to glory in every moment of family togetherness.  I want to drink each opportunity to the bitter dregs.  What can end up happening is I squeeze each moment into a lifeless lump. I stress out and get mad at myself and have to take a time out. Then I end up apologizing and it is so frustrating.  So this Christmas I don't want to do that.  I want to be relaxed and at peace.  

We get to go to youth group every week at our home church and help out this year alongside a few leaders that once were youth in our youth group.  This week our youth pastor, Chris, brought a great message to us.  He talked about all the symbolism in the birth and death of Jesus.  We all know the story of baby Jesus being born in a stable and placed in a manger but Chris brought to life the culture and setting of the story in a remarkable way.  He pointed out that due to the census at the time so many were traveling and the inns were most likely family homes.  The homes were built in a way that an interior courtyard bordered rooms all around the exterior.  There were bedrooms and living spaces and a special room set aside for animals but not all animals were given space there, only the very best, the ones raised for sacrifices.  In that time each family had animals raised for the express purpose of sacrifice.  So the One born to die for all our sins started out his life in that room with animals being raised for sacrifice.  He was wrapped in swaddling cloths and place in a manger.  Most likely a manger made of stone.  A manger is a place for the feeding of said animals.  Jesus thirty something years after his birth says he is the Bread of Life.  Whoa!  Then after the crucifixion Jesus is wrapped in cloths and spices and placed in an empty tomb, one carved from stone.  

Jesus started his earthly life wrapped in cloths and was placed in a carved out stone manger and after being crucified was wrapped in cloths and placed in a carved out stone tomb.  Another stunning symbol of the story is back then when a carpenter finished a project he folded the cloth in a certain way and placed it on top of the object to show he was finish with the work.  So when the tomb was opened and found to be empty the burial cloth Jesus was wrapped in was folded in the same manor and placed on the stone to show that the work was finished.  Wow, mind blown.  How wonderfully amazing, rich, tragic and beautiful are these symbols in the best story every told.  This is what we celebrate each year at Christmas time.  It is the birth of our Savior.  He came to live and die, to pay the debt of our sins and rise from the dead, so we can spend eternity with Him.  This beautiful, scandalous night foreshadowed on Christ's birthday. With striking purpose our savior lived to be the sacrifice for us all.  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Caught off guard

Last evening our Life group (small group) gathered in another church's parking lot to go through the Compassion International experience tent.  Normally our life group members take turns every Monday evening hosting a time of worship and discussion of the Word hinged on the previous sunday's sermon during which the kids head to another room for their own time in the Word with some kind of activity.  However we decided to check out the Compassion Experience since a couple of families in our group sponsor Compassion kids.  It is a tented immersive event where you walk through a trailer made up into a series of rooms that represent someone's life somewhere in the world.  You put on headphones and carry an ipod preprogrammed with a story of a child's life that was profoundly changed by Compassion sponsorship.  It is brilliantly put together and packs up easily in an eighteen wheeler trailer that moves the experience from place to place.

After all in our group arrived we entered the tent and broke into smaller groups of 4 to 5 as the rooms in the experience are small.  After being given head sets and ipods we entered the first room collectively and hit play to begin our experience.  I was immediately caught off guard by the familiar surroundings bringing me instantly back to Africa.  I entered a tent in York, PA during a crisp fall day and suddenly I was in a cramped dark room like many I have been in before.  Tiny pin pricks of light entered in through cracks in the walls and tin roof ceiling, rough furnishings and hard packed floors with belongings scattered around greeted us as a child's voice filled our ears with her story of poverty and woe.  I found my eyes filling with tears and my throat swell with unshed emotion.  I was really caught off guard by my very emotional response to what I was expecting to be a touristy experience to drum up support for Compassion International.  I have no problem with Compassion and have heard the pitches before so to find myself so torn up inside was a bit of a shock.  True it was really well done, more so than I anticipated but my reaction seemed disproportionate to the simulation.  I slipped off to my parked van to pull myself together after finishing one of the two story lines available.  

Steve was in a different group but came to find me after he realized I wasn't with my group.  He joined me and listened as I tried to verbalize my emotions.  I was simply unprepared to face such startling poverty and pain.  I am still fresh in the US.  Still trying to transition from one country to another.  My spirit is still catching up with my body.  Still trying to process the last 7 years of our life.  A life that took us from middle class America to an impoverished developing world in Central Africa.  We went with hearts filled with hope to help and were quickly met with the reality of the enormity of the job.  We found ourselves staggering under the weight of all the change and need.  Slowly we adjusted and started to carve out a place to grow and learn and begin to help.  It was truly life changing in every way possible.  

So there I sat in a church parking lot watching wispy clouds turn pink like giant wands of cotton candy stretching, dissolving and darkening across the sky.  Still adjusting internally.  We met back up with our life group and debriefed the experience.  I was able to listen to others process the experience.  I heard their hearts and shared some of my thoughts and experiences.  What a beautiful mess this world is... It makes me come back to the realization that I must surrender once again into the unforced rhythms of grace.  It is not something to be checked off a list in some linear fashion.  There is a profound mystery in God's timing and grace.  I will continue to shake off the unrealistic expectations that things will resolve quickly.  And mixed up in the grief and pain is joy and friendship and love and purpose.  The same day I came across a video filmed in Yaounde, Cameroon where dancing and fun swirl around in the midst of what many would consider punishing poverty.  Sometimes physical poverty is lumped in with poverty of the soul.  Let's not confuse the two!                

Friday, March 7, 2014

Snake sightings and a sad story

For the first time I saw a very venomous snake while I was out and about a week or so ago.  It was a green mamba, vibrant green sunning itself and stretched across the dirt path like a bad omen.  I gasped aloud and froze.  Thankfully it sensed my presence and made a startlingly rapid retreat into the nearby brush.  It seems with our surrounding neighbors burning off brush during the dry season it is causing snakes to take refuge at RFIS and our property.  Makes sense but a bit unnerving.  A long snake skin had been found not far from my sighting.  A cobra was seen near the chicken coop where my daughter, among others, cares for the chickens being raised for the agriculture science class.  Then just days later one of our beloved guard dogs Puma disappeared.

Denise had been looking all over our property and next door at the school, to no avail.  Hours later the girls studying in our living room heard a pitiful wailing of a dog nearby.  Steve and I checked it out and Steve found Puma under our house in a crawl space she is known to chill out in.  She was semi conscious and hardly responsive.  When Denise came into the crawl space Puma rallied and was somewhat responsive.  We gave her water made her as comfortable as possible to pass the night there.  The next day Puma improved dramatically.  By the day after she was almost back to her old self.  Unfortunately Puma took a turn for the worse and died a day later.  It seems to make the most sense that  Puma was bitten by a venomous snake of some kind.  She had been healthy and active just days before.  Tozer, our dog, has been in mourning ever since.  Just after Puma died Denise and I were sitting on the front porch while Steve and Gord buried Puma out back.  We were crying and sharing Puma stories while Tozer sat nearby drinking from his water bucket and resting his head on the rim of the bucket looking mournful.  About a half hour later Tozer took Puma's collar that Denise had been holding and tossed it up in the air.  He caught it and carried it down the porch and carefully laid it down and then laid down right beside it with his head on the pavement between his two front paws.  He looked at us with such sadness that we all teared up all over again.  It was like some scene out of Old Yeller or Where the Red Fern Grows!  I never knew a dog could be so grief-sticken.

Tozer has not been himself.  He starts to chase after lizards in the backyard then stops and looks around for Puma then just goes to lay down on the front porch all alone.  Soon there will be a new friend to play with as two dogs are better than one for guarding and playing together all over our large compound.  For now Tozer is slowly adjusting to life without Puma.

Today after a really fun foods class where the students made amazing chicken dishes (from the chickens recently slaughtered from the Ag class at RFIS), I was walking home with another teacher, Michelle, and I saw another green snake slither across our path at the same place I had seen the other larger more vibrant green mamba!  Michelle didn't see it as I was looking right at the place on the pathway I had seen the other.  Also a snake had dropped down from a banana tree by two of our students near the door dividing the school property and ours.  And apparently there is a snake living on our side of the wall near the pathway the kids take to and from school, the guardian has spotted it several times but hasn't been able to kill it.

We have told the kids to take heavy steps while walking back and forth between school and home.  Snakes can't hear but can feel the vibrations from heavy walking feet.  They generally flee not really wanting a fight unless they feel threatened in someway.  I am stomping my way around these days.  No joke.  I do not like snakes.  The rains have started early this year and hopefully the neighbors will stop burning brush and the snakes will settle down.  I know they are all around but I prefer to be blissfully unaware of their presence.  Out of sight, out of mind!        

Friday, February 21, 2014

my heart will choose to say...

The other day Steve, Megan and I were hanging out in the kitchen.  Megan told me I needed to stop mentioning my up coming midlife crisis.  She then told Steve he needed to get over his laundry obsession with our 12 teens and their unclaimed, unmarked laundry that he has recently begun hiding.  Steve and I laughed at seeing ourselves through Megan's eyes.  Steve said if someone had told him a year ago that he would be hiding laundry from our house O teens he would laugh them out of the room.  Often reality proves to be stranger than fiction.

The thing is I can't seem to get my mind around the fact that very soon our baby girl will be graduating from high school.  I've hardly recovered from Joe graduating and starting college.  You see we haven't lived full-time with our kids since they were in 8th grade for Sam, 9th grade for Meg and 10th grade for Joe.  We moved away from the states when they were 9, 11 and 13.  We placed them in French public schools for a year and then moved to Gabon.  We home schooled them all the first year with another missionary family and when that family moved away we home schooled them alone in Libreville.  Joe came to me one day saying, "Mom, I don't want to do high school at the kitchen table."  Our kids are very social and fun and adventurous and smart and kind.  Not to brag or anything...  Anyway we agonized over the decision to send our kids to Rain Forest International school for over a year before enrolling first Joe and Megan in the fall of 2010 and then Sam the following year.  In one calendar year I went from home schooling all three to all being one country away from them for the better part of the year.

I remember clearly the first time we came to RFIS to check out the school with Joe.  We drove the 12 hour or so drive from Gabon to Cameroon just months after moving to Gabon in the fall of 08.  We were impressed with the school and visited the hostels where students live who's parents don't live locally.  I remember watching Joe and Steve play basketball, one on one, at the end of the day.  The sun was sinking low in the pink and purple sky.  I was listening to my ipod and the song "Blessed Be Your Name" came on.  I started crying when the lyrics spoke deeply into my fragile heart and soul with the words, "You give and take away, you give and take away, my heart will choose to say, Lord, Blessed be your name..."  I tear up now just thinking of it.  I wrestled with how it could be in God's plan to separate me and Steve from our babies.  I grew up and believed as many do that you raise your kids, in your home, until they graduate from high school, at around the age of 18.  That was the paradigm I was familiar with, the framework I accepted and expected.  Instead we were facing a whole new framework without personal experience to guide us.

This year we have been blessed with the opportunity to live here in Cameroon with Megan and Sam and 10 precious others.  We have a beautiful UBAC family.  I have come to love each and every one in this house with a fierce love.  We get to be here for every breakfast and every afternoon and every game and dance and struggle through homework.  We have gotten to know teachers and students and neighbors and an amazing community.  We get to be a part of our kid's every day life!  It is a much longed for gift.  I don't take for granted the everyday routines often.  I revel in it.  Megan tells me I ask too many questions and they are too detailed.  I have recently realized that I am trying to pack as much into this year as possible.  I want to freeze time.  I want to linger.  I want more.  And the thing is... life just keeps on going.  All I can do is try to live each day on purpose.  And I need to let go.  I need to be content with the time I have.  I cannot be in a continual state of grief.

Joe wrote us an email just the other day, "Been praying about you guys! I love you guys so much and I thank God every time I think of you for having such an amazing family. Today I was reminded of you as it is pretty cold, there’s some snow on the ground (and some of it’s melted - Praise God!), and the sun was just at the right angle to draw the right angle of a shadow of a building on the concrete ground that brought me back to the days of France and you guys driving Megan and I to school. It was one of those rare occasions when I think of France with a fond memory. It also got me thinking about how much our family has gone through together. I just want to say that I would not want to change a thing about how I’ve grown up and how we’ve moved all over the place. I love you guys and I miss you."

It was a timely message as just that day we had met with two young families getting ready to move away from the states and go to language school in Albertville, France.  The same language school we attended back when we began our international journey.  They asked hard questions about how it was for us and how our kids had done transitioning and living life in France.  We shared some laughter and tears as Steve and I did our best to answer their questions.  It brought it all back in living color.  Sitting in the UBAC living room with them that day was a brilliant reminder of all God has brought us through.  It has not been easy or fun all the time, but it has been worth it.

I still will choose to say... Lord Blessed be Your name... even though I've missed many breakfasts and afternoons and dances and struggles and cheering at games, I get to be here this year!

Blessed Be Your Name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name

Blessed Be Your name
When I'm found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I'll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be Your name
When the sun's shining down on me
When the world's 'all as it should be'
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I'll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

February 12th, backwards and forwards

22 years ago on this date Steve and I met at the Hot Biscuit diner in Kilgore, TX.  My roommate Susan and our hall-mate Cindy and I had gone to the Denny's type restaurant to study and have iced tea with multiple free refills (if we had had money we might have even shared an order of fries!!!)  We were studying and occasionally chatting when we noticed directly across the nearly empty restaurant some guys about our age studying in a corner booth.  The next thing we knew the waitress was walking from their table to ours with a sheet of paper.  She gave us the blank notebook paper saying the guys over there wanted our names.  We gave our names and she crossed the restaurant and said the same thing to the unsuspecting guys.  So over the next hour we wrote all over that sheet of paper, front and back, with the waitress wearing a track in the industrial low-pile carpet between our tables as she delivered our messages.  Steve said his name was Ferris and he had a girlfriend, his friends Paul and Fletcher gave us their real names with no mention of any girlfriends.  We said all manor of silly things as writing to the guys was way more fun than actually studying.  At one point I wrote out a lyric to a song by a very obscure Christian band at the time called "the choir":

"Happy fool reasons have I
Happy fool notions have you
I say the sky is as blue as the ocean
You say you know it's true

So tie your shoelaces
To my shoelaces
I'll tie a rope to a tree
We'll see how the wind whips
Happy fool faces
Come blow away with me"

Steve wrote back and said he knew the band and was planning on going to their next concert in the Dallas area.  I wrote and said I was going to the same concert as it was going to be in my hometown of Arlington, TX (not Dallas thank you very much!)  And so began our great love affair with a single sheet of paper and a bored yet helpful waitress on this date 22 years ago at the Hot Biscuit!  We did end up going to that concert together less than a month later.  Those song lyrics I wrote out quite glibly actually proved to be somewhat prophetic! (I still have that scribbled upon notebook paper, I had kept it to show Tyan, our other hall-mate, the evidence of our "paper flirting" with guys from LeTourneau!)

On this date in just 4 months our baby girl will be clothed in a cap and gown and will graduate from high school!  I can't believe it... I feel a mid-life crisis coming on.  I mean how can I be so old already?!  My youngest is now taller than me and my oldest is the same age I was when I met Steve 22 years ago!  My mind is spinning.  I will end with Ferris Bueller's famous quote in light of life and the name Steve wrote as his own all those years ago!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

It's been a week...

Just in the last few hours we have had 2 significant conversations with 3 different students about various issues relating to character development.  Steve likes to call those special conversations held in our office with said student seated in a large rocking chair "come to Jesus" moments.  When we casually ask a student to come to our office for a talk they visibly stiffen and become very serious asking, "Am I in trouble?"  These talks almost always end in hugs and better understanding all around.

This week the kids are attending spiritual retreats.  The high schoolers are off campus about an hour away having their retreat and the middle schoolers are having daily programs on the school campus.  Since 9 of our high schoolers are away our middle schoolers asked if they could have friends stay the night.  So here we are with 3 of our own middle schoolers and 5 extra for company for the next two nights.  We got off to a great start with a lovely enchilada dinner but not long after dinner there was a loud thunk from the basement where the kids were playing.  Steve went to investigate and found one of the girls had slipped on wet tile and went down hard.  She appeared fine, laughingly saying she wasn't hurt badly.  I went to double check about 15 minutes later.  She was being led around by a couple of concerned girls while she was still in her wet clothes.

It seemed she wasn't so fine after all.  She had fallen then gone upstairs to the girls rooms and hung out a bit before coming into the kitchen for some ice.  While she was sitting in the kitchen with several kids she suddenly asked why she was in the kitchen and why she was at UBAC.  She at first struggled to remember coming this afternoon but soon remembered.  What she couldn't remember was falling and the 10-15 minutes after the fall leading up to being in the kitchen.  She kept assuring me she was fine however she said so through a pale face without much conviction.  I called her dad and he quickly called a doctor.  While he was talking to a doctor we asked our faithful neighbor who happens to be a most excellent nurse to come over if she wasn't too busy.  She came right away, her flash light bobbing in the night as she walked the dirt path through the small forest our homes nestle near.  She had her blood pressure cuff and stethoscope, as well as the nifty ear flashlight thingy.   She checked her out and deemed the student to be doing very well considering.  Then the dad called back and talked with Steve for a while then talked with the nurse then me.  Another of the student's dad will be stopping by soon as  he is a local very trusted pediatrician.  Most likely all will be fine and we will have a night of waking the student up every few hours just to be sure.  The other student's doctor dad did come and do a very thorough exam.  We are blessed to have so much support so quickly.  Within a couple of hours we had a phone consult with a surgeon, a personal visit with a nurse followed by a house call by a respected pediatrician.

The first day of retreat was Tuesday.  We woke at our normal time in a house without power and were preparing breakfast for the kiddos when the ringing of Steve's phone startled us in the quiet of the morning.  Tragically one of the RFIS student's dad had died of an apparent heart attack.  This student is one of Joe's best friends and a dear friend of Megan and Sam's.  What a shock.  We told our kids the sad news as they gathered in the living room before they left for school.  It was a mix of shock and tears as the students processed this terrible news and we prayed for the student and his family.  Everything was delayed as this is a small community and various things had to be taken care of.  Our subdued students went off to school with Steve in the van full of suitcases and pillows and backpacks.  Steve came back and worked with another neighbor to go about restoring power.  The school and one of our neighbors had power but the rest of our neighbors did not.  After some investigation the power problem was narrowed down to our hostel neighbor's circuit breaker in the guard shack.  Steve was to standby in the guard shack as our neighbor went to the school and flipped the main power switch at some kind of junction.  So Steve had just stepped out of the guard shack when a huge pop and flash filled the shack.  Steve was glad to have not been in the shack when that happened.  Me too!  Phew!

The staff gathered all the students in the chapel.  They prayed and sang together for about an hour as details were worked out.  The buses were called and arrived with just a 2 hours delay from the original time.  Megan had gone with a couple of girls, a teacher and a mom to visit their shocked and grieving friend before leaving for retreat.  We skype called Joe last night to tell him what was going on.  He was on break at his campus janitor job there at Moody.  He was shocked and deeply saddened.  It was so hard to be so far away from him.  He just wanted to be here to help his friend through this terrible time.  We didn't talk long as he had to get back to work.  It is really sucky to not be with Joe when we have to communicate such tough stuff.  

So the high schoolers are at retreat and the middle schoolers are here.   We will be up every few hours to make sure our guest is responsive and well.  She will miss retreat tomorrow as her dad and mom need to get scans and keep a close watch on her.  It's been a week...              

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The end of your comfort zone... life

Aww, so inspiring isn't it?!  People leaping off rocky cliffs into rippling green waters.  There are a few already in, wading and watching.  Get it... wading and watching... waiting and watching...  never mind.  So technically they aren't wading since they are fully immersed but the alliteration is lovely.  The image has some kind of soft sepia muted color filter lending a dreamy quality.  It looks so daring and exciting and inviting.  It calls out to the wild abandon within.  I like it.  However as my blog title indicates, I've taken the leap and been treading water in that murky sea of discomfort for some time now.  My life is less comfortable.  Living as a foreigner is challenging.  Leaping, so to speak, from land to sea is an all-in thing.  There is no turning back mid-jump.  Foreign cultures are a fascinating mystery that unfurls forever.  Foreign language snarls and snags and tries to entangle and pull at you like a vicious undertow.  Unfamiliar foods are both delicious and disgusting on the same plate.  Extreme climate changes overwhelm and discourage.  Simple tasks often become epic battles.  People move in and out of your life at alarming rates making deep and sustained relationships rare.  It is not for the faint of heart.

Yet... the bit about life beginning at the end of your comfort zone, or as I would put it, the agony of change becoming the crucible to new life, is true.  The leaping and treading stretches and develops muscles you never knew you had.  Mysteries that don't easily unravel make life bigger, grander.  Learning a new language expands not only your vocabulary but becomes the conduit to new relationships.  Your palate deepens as tastes are developed and grown.  Epic battles become simple tasks.  True friendship becomes one of the most valuable gifts.  Acknowledged dependency on God becomes the tangible lifeline unfurling all the way into eternity.

I was recently reminded of how our God always untangles and frees us.  Our enemy is a riddler set out to confuse and tie knots in our souls, he wants to imprison and shrink our lives into empty-nothingness .  While God is constantly calling us into the deep.  He leads us away from our small concerns and comforts to life lived without bounds.  He takes us places within our hearts and without that stagger our limited understanding.  As we press into the deep we grow straight and strong rather than twisted, stunted and indifferent.  Satan divides.  "I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone an give them a heart of flesh." -- Ezekiel 11:19  That delicate surgical procedure of removing cold, still stone hearts  and replacing them with ones of flesh is painful and lengthy and terribly uncomfortable.  

My friends dive into the deep!  "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God." -- Isaiah 41:10  No challenge however uncomfortable or painful will overcome us.   "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?... For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." -- Romans 8:35, 38-39         


Friday, January 24, 2014

You think you know a guy...

You think you know a guy...  I mean I've been married to the guy for over 20 years.  Then suddenly, while we were getting ready for our walk/run this morning, he walks in the room holding up what look like a pair of spandex bicycle shorts.  They are completely unfamiliar to me.  I assumed it was unclaimed laundry from the basement ( it happens a lot around these parts living with 12 teenagers).  Steve's face is alight with delight as he excitedly exclaims, "Look Honey, it's my old baseball sliding shorts!"  He goes on to show me the pocket in the front to hold the athletic cup.  It's like he's reunited with an old friend.  "Wow" is my only response at this point.  Then I ask, "when did you get those?"  He takes a moment to think back and responds, "When I was 15!"  Wait, what?!  "You've had these 'sliding shorts' since you were 15??"  He responds with, "You never know when you might need sliding shorts!  Look did you see the pocket for the cup... "  I am utterly stunned at this moment.  I start to realize if he is standing in our bathroom in Cameroon holding up these dingy grey 'sliding shorts' then he has been purposeful in packing them.  I asked if these sliding shorts were in France with us.  He responded with a yes.  I asked if they lived in our closet in Gabon and he responded yes again.  I am flabbergasted.  My husband of 20 years has managed to hold on to these things for our entire marriage and I knew nothing about them.  I never happened upon them in our laundry or in packing multiple times.  Yet these sliding shorts have traversed continents with us!!  Then I remember he has lost his wedding ring 2 times.  He can hold onto glorified underwear for 28 years but is on his 3rd wedding ring?!  I bring this factoid up to him and he responds somewhat exasperated, "Well you don't have to take off sliding shorts while working on airplanes do you?!"  Indeed you do not.  While on our walk I bring up his sliding shorts he is happily wearing and ask if this is the first time in over 20 years he has worn them.  He tells me he wore them the other day for the first time since his teens.  "It cuts down on the chaffing! and they are Mizuno!"  I guess you learn something new everyday.  Well today I learned 2 new things, Mizuno are the NIKE of baseball apparel.  Bonus!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Stepping outside the walls

We live behind tall walls.  It is necessary.  We have guards 24/7 and even with these precautions we experienced a break in earlier this year.  We weren't the target of the armed masked bandits but our guards were taken and detained as the bandits feared our guards might hear and intervene during their robbery of the school next door.  So, unfortunately, walls and guards are part of smart security in these parts.  The tendency for me is to stay behind these tall walls except for shopping trips, going to church and other errands.  Our kids walk to school through a gate connecting the two properties.  Steve and I walk/run at the school within the walls.  We can even occasionally catch our kids in PE class when they are on the soccer field.  Funny story... Steve was running yesterday at the school and happened upon Sam.  Steve decided to jokingly pants Sam (Steve only slightly tugged at Sam's shorts and did not truly pants him).  When the class looked up they saw Sam pulling up his shorts (the couple of inches Steve had tugged them down) and a man running off behind a storage container nearby.  Later Steve found out the kids had assumed the man was a teacher at the school who went rogue and randomly decided to target Sam in a humiliating pants prank.  The kids were confused to say the least!  Don't worry Sam is fine, his long shirt more than covered any part that might have caused any embarrassment!  It's just the class of kids that were unnerved.

So living behind a wall tends to cut down on neighborly interactions.  We have a neighbor directly outside of our gate, across the small dirt road from us.  We wave and smile as we come and go.  You know, we are friendly, neighborly people after all.  The family has moved in since we have been here this year. The house is a sturdy cinderblock structure with windows cut out of said cinderblocks.  It is well made and the family living there have three kids, a boy - 5, a girl - 3, and a baby girl around 3 months old.  I had bought a gift for the baby shortly after she was born intending to walk over and visit and congratulate the family with a gift.  I placed the gifts in a gift bag and set aside the large 8 pack of bottled water near the front door to remind me to take those things over to our neighbors.  I am sad to say I didn't deliver the gifts until after the New Year.  They sat alone and forlorn by the door for over 2 months.  On January 12th Megan and I made chocolate chip cookies and walked the very short distance to give gifts and visit with our neighbors.  It was Megan's idea.  She was the driving force behind our trip across the dirt road.

We were greeted warmly and invited inside.  The lovely young wife and her older husband ushered us into their living room and we began to talk and play with their adorable giggling children.  I got to hold the beautiful baby and pass her on to Megan.  Another neighbor and her kids from just up our dirt road were visiting at the time of our arrival.  We were introduced and were told the baby of the neighbor just had her ears pierced.  Apparently here it is customary to pierce baby girl's ears when they reach 4 months of age.  The baby was sporting lovely gold studs.  She was very fussy as well!  I was told they had the piercing done at a local hospital.  That neighbor had brought her 3 year old daughter as well.  During our conversation the 2 three year old girls were repeatedly running from another room up to me to touch me and dissolve into fits of giggles before running off again.  As they warmed up to me I would attempt to tickle them before they ran off.  They shrieked with laughter each and every time!  It was so fun to watch their joy bubble up and everyone in the room couldn't help but to laugh or smile with them.

We didn't linger too long.  When we left Megan offered to help the young mother the next day.  We were thanked again for the cookies and gifts and Megan was given the welcome to come back again the next day.  The three year old wouldn't let go of my hand as I walked away.  I had to untangle myself as gracefully as possible as we made our way back across to our gate.  The next day Megan went back over to our neighbor's house and helped wash the dishes and got to know the young mother better.  Megan later had a sore back from bending over and washing so many dishes (it took over 2 hours).  Megan was deeply affected by her time next door.  She marveled at this young woman's life and how different it is from hers.  She wanted to help.  Last year Megan and a few others had begun going out of our gates to get to know the women and children living just up the dirt road.  They often helped the women with their washing.  They learned how to wash clothes with buckets and brushes and a lot of hard work.  The ladies would tease the them joking "white girls" don't do this kind of work!  Megan loved being with them and learning their lifestyle as much as she could in small visits.  But somehow being one-on-one with this young mother affected Megan on a deeper level.

She discussed with me how she could help this 20 year old mom.  She asked me what I would think if she decided not to play soccer this year so she could devote more time to helping our neighbor.  Specifically Megan wanted to help the young mother learn to read and write in french.  While they were washing dishes side by side the mom had mentioned her longing to learn to read and write in French so she could help teach her children.  In the young mother's old neighborhood there was a man willing to teach her but her husband didn't approve.  Megan asked if she might be allowed to be taught by a girl.  The mom responded that she thought that might be possible.  I was deeply touched by Megan's willingness to give up her favorite sport in her last year of high school to help a neighbor.  I advised Megan to pray about it and I would as well.

This week Megan is trying out for her senior soccer team.  She is regretting not keeping in better running shape.  However, she has not given up on helping our neighbor.  I have been inspired by Megan and have asked our neighbors Denise and Jessica (on our side of the wall) if they would be willing to help Megan and me help our neighbor.  Denise has this great idea to expand and see how many other women in our neighborhood might like to learn some basic reading and writing in French or English.  Denise is going to see if we can use the school's Home Econ room to incorporate some western cooking and other life skills to teach alongside.  Please pray these ideas would reach fruition.

It is so easy to stay inside the walls of my life.  I am busy with all sorts of good things.  I call myself a Christ follower.  I intentionally model my life after Him.  He stepped outside the walls of His house and and crossed a great divide.  He walked among us.  He lived and breathed and laughed and healed and wept and died for us.  He rose again and sent His Spirit upon us so we could do likewise and even greater things.  "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." ~John 14:12  Not to get preachy or anything... I need these reminders.  This message is for me.  I have all kinds of walls in my life.  The one I've focused on today just happens to be physical.        

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A few of my favorite things...Cameroon life

I have jokingly referred to this year of being dorm parents in Cameroon as THE trip Steve has taken me on to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.  And this year is definitely a trip!  As well as truly being a gift.  I want to share just a few of my favorite things about being in Cameroon.  We have come to love the kids at UBAC.  Just last night I was helping some students with their homework when I shocked Sharis.  She had been holding her laptop when I walked by and brushed past her and felt a gentle electrical buzz coming off that brief contact.  So, of course, I convinced her to hold her laptop again to see if a shock could be induced.  By this time Steve had come up and was making contact with me to see if he could feel any current.  In that moment I glanced up and noticed Megan and Amy (studying nearby) watching us quizically, a human chain of weirdos connected to an unbelieving Sharis tentatively holding her laptop.  She was zapped on her ear, at our point of contact.  She shrieked and dove to the side to get away from me.  Steve had let go laughing at the realization of the ridiculousness of the moment.  I love the spontaneous silly moments that crop up at any given moment.  *No persons or their laptops were harmed during this random silliness episode.

One of the other gifts of being here in Cameroon this year is getting to be around all kinds of other international workers/missionaries.  Currently I am in a small group women's Bible study.  We meet once a week to study the book of Daniel.  It is a Beth Moore series complete with a dvd and workbooks.  Having never done a Beth Moore series I wasn't sure what to expect.  The 3rd session of our study we encountered the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace.  It is a story I was first exposed to in Sunday school class with felt-board characters being thrown into a felt-board fiery furnace and not burning with all their two-demensional splendor.  Of course the best part of the story was when felt-board Jesus showed up in the felt furnace with the three felt heroic hebrew boys.  This Beth Moore session had no felt in sight, just the Word itself.  What an amazing story to delve into!  My adult self loved the part when the boys came out not even smelling of smoke!

A question was posed, "In your opinion, what is most amazing about the event in Daniel 3:24-30?"  I responded saying that Shad, Mech, and Abed were not alone in the fire... that the only things that burned away were the bounds they had been tied up in and they didn't even smell of smoke when they were called out!  It lead to a great time of sharing about times of feeling like we were thrown into a furnace.  However I admitted I often smell of fire, that smell being bitterness or fear or any number of other things that seem to linger and cloud about hard times.  What blossomed in my head was this brilliant notion that I could go thru the fire without smelling of smoke, that I could let go of my bitterness and fear and other cloying, malodorous clouds of smoke by the power of God.  It was inspiring and this study continues to inspire as we are well into the prophecies part of Daniel.  It is complicated and deep but broken up into bite sized pieces.  Getting the chance to participate in studying Daniel and getting to know others on a deeper level is another great gift of this year.

Menu planning and shopping for our large UBAC family is challenging at times. We shop once a week with our next door neighbors, Denise and Gord, who run a hostel/dorm house as well.  Becoming great friends with Denise and Gord, as we live life side-by-side is another of my favorite things.  This is the third year Denise and Gord have been hostel parents and we benefit from their experience greatly.  When we shop it takes hours of fighting traffic and shopping in stores that might have power fluxes and indifferent employees of said stores as well as street vendors crying out for business, perhaps military convoys moving through traffic with enormous guns mounted with soldiers stationed alongside and let's not forget the taxis and motos playing a constant video game of near-misses within chaotic lane-less traffic and pedestrians walking without even the slightest bit of caution alongside.  Steve and Gord take turns driving so as to spread out the stress evenly.  What a gift to not have to drive EVERY week!  Also we are able to joke away huge chunks of frustration and stress as we go.

This week we picked up frozen chicken in cardboard boxes.  It was the first stop of many and within moments the van was filled with the smell of rot.  Streams of thawing blood were slowly running down the floor of the van towards Denise and I in the front bench of the van.  The heat of the day combined with my pounding headache with the added treat of smelling death all competed to try and induce vomiting.  Steve and Gord were the heros of the day when at our next stop they bought cleaners and large plastic bags to quadruple wrap the soggy boxes of thawing chicken.  They cleaned up the blood as best as they could without water and the end result was remarkable.  The odor was nearly gone as was the urge to purge our stomach contents!  I have really learned to celebrate the small things!  

One of the best parts is when we have enough time to stop for a street food lunch at a roadside "restaurant" built into the side of the next building with open-air seating.  We sit in faded pink plastic chairs on uneven concrete floors pulled up to a simple wooden table covered in a filthy tacky plastic tablecloth (we sometimes wipe it down with a wet wipe).  Electric wires hang precariously from ceilings and walls and music blares from distorted speakers.  Smoke from the grill blows across the restaurant depending on the wind direction.   Here there is a seasoning put on chicken and beef called Soya.  My kids would talk about having soya with friends when they would come home on breaks.  We finally get to share in the deliciousness that is Soya!  We place a drink order with one person and our food order directly at the grill.  We are pleasantly surprised when our drinks are cold and thrilled when the food quickly arrives on two metal platters.  The beef filets are chopped up and piled high with onions and plantains with maggi sauce (Maggi is like an African soy sauce, liquid salt) drizzled all over on one platter is my favorite!  The dry spices are piled on the side, red being super hot and sand colored being mild.  Also on the side is a green paste made up of spices that makes a great plantain dip. The second platter of chicken is prepared in the same manor, piled high with onions and plantains drizzled with maggi and dry seasoning on the side.   Our utensils are the toothpicks stabbed randomly into bits of plantain and meat.   It's cheap and quick and oh so good.  And we've never gotten desperately ill (minor stomach issues are deemed worth it)!

These are just a few of my favorite things about living in Cameroon this year.  I will continue in another blog with other favorites!  This blog is dedicated to my wonderful, loving, heroic husband whom I love!!!!  Thanks for inspiring me to live life on purpose!