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!