Sunday, December 19, 2010

Blood and Chocolate

From Roxanne's archives- written Christmas 2008

"Blood and chocolate don't mix very well."

Anyone care to guess the context in which this sentence was spoken to me by my eleven year old daughter on Christmas Eve?

I certainly had no idea when I heard her voice behind me in the kitchen. As I turned toward her, my mind spun off briefly wondering if she had been reading a forbidden vampire book.

Then she opened her mouth for me and showed me that in spite of just losing a molar unexpectedly, she was still trying to enjoy her Christmas candy. (Okay, all you non- parents reading this can go throw up and come back to our world when you are done. Feel better? Good.) She wasn't upset at all, or asking me to fix anything, just stating something she was experiencing.

I did notice however, that she kept eating the chocolate. We went on with our day, but her statement stuck with me, as did her behavior.

Blood generally signals some kind of pain or injury. Chocolate on the other hand, is the elixir of life, and works great as a metaphor for all that is good. (If you don't understand this I'm sorry for you.) Most of us generally do not enjoy mixing pain with our good times, nor do we plan on it. Yet life happens. Have you ever experienced a perfect holiday? One in which nothing went wrong? No one was sick, or late, or upset with anyone else, all the food turned out great and was ready on time and everyone got what they wanted for Christmas, and no one got stuck in bad weather? Or walked out on you? Or died?

Didn't think so. Me either. This year our gingerbread house wouldn't stay up, and (much worse) I yelled at my son on the way to the Christmas Eve service last night over something that doesn't matter now.

You could say, we got a little blood in the chocolate. It didn't taste very good at the moment. But we kept eating the chocolate, and things got better pretty quickly.

See, once you have had a life threatening hemorrhage issue, like a death or divorce or a battle with cancer, it can help you to put the smaller crises in perspective. There have been holidays in this family in the not too distant past that there was so much blood you couldn't find the chocolate.

But, I'm happy to report that this year was pretty sweet, apart from the aforementioned uncooperative gingerbread house and mom freaking out episode.

Because these days as long as no one is bleeding to death, I'm not going to let a little blood stop me from enjoying my chocolate.

I suggest you do the same. Merry Christmas.

(BTW, slightly off topic, Cassandra got a microscope for Christmas, and her favorite slide was-you guessed it- the blood.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas and the Dakar Hotel Affect

Merry Christmas! Flat screen TVs on sale now! Jesus is born! Buy your season passes for Six Flags! Oh Little Town of Bethlehem…bring your family to Great Wolf Lodge for the holidays…Away in a Manger…give the gift of massage...O Holy Night…two for one laser hair removal in time for the New Year!

All I want is some Christmas music, so I have tuned in to my local Christian radio station. But in between songs and radio announcers’ smooth voices telling me that Jesus is the Reason for the Season, I am bombarded with ads that give me an entirely different message.

I don’t watch TV, I avoid the malls, and yet, I still cannot escape.
My whole American culture sets me up. I really want to live a simple life. But it is hard here where everyone has so many gadgets and comforts.

Much as I hate to admit it, my surroundings tend to set my expectations.

The power of surroundings was brought home to me on the way home from Senegal earlier this year. During my three weeks of midwifery internship in the village of Kafountine, I slept on a mattress on the floor that I shared with another midwife. I used an outhouse, and flushed it with water I drew myself from the well. I took cold bucket showers with the well water too, in the outdoor shower stall made from reeds. I washed my clothes by hand.

And you know? I was perfectly fine, didn’t feel deprived at all. When I went to the simple grocery store on the corner the biggest luxury items there to tempt me were coke (the kind you drink) and chocolate. When I walked down the street, I didn’t see one person on their iphone. Most people didn’t even have a cell phone. Or a car. No one I met had personal computers- everyone went to the internet shop and paid a dollar or two to send email. Lots of people didn’t even have electricity.

So I lived like everyone around me, contentedly for the most part.

Then on the way home, our second flight was delayed. We were stuck for an extra day in the capital city of Dakar. After hours of waiting around in the airport, sometime after midnight we were finally bussed to a hotel where our airline agreed to put us up for the night.

And not just any hotel. A five star luxury hotel, smack dab in West Africa, with six stories, automatic glass doors, crystal chandeliers and a big fancy vestibule.

And lines and lines of weary travelers, waiting for a room. (Ours was the third flight in a row from Dakar to New York to get canceled, so you can imagine.)

For some reason, our group of five exhausted midwives was one of the last to get assigned to rooms. The people at the desk asked us how many we needed. It seemed logical to us, based on our knowledge of American hotel rooms. We told them we would split up, two in one room, and three in another. The people behind the desk looked confused. We kept saying as long as there were two beds in each room we would be fine, and they finally gave us what we (thought we) asked for.

When the three of us in my sub-group opened the door after 1:30 AM ready to collapse, we groaned. Apparently a “double bed” is a different concept in Africa, even in a five star hotel. Turns out it was two narrow single bed mattress on a flat wooden king sized bed frame. There was a good deal of wood visible between the mattress and it would definitely only sleep two adults. I actually thought about just sleeping on the floor, but then I remembered where I was, and got huffy instead. I let the other two gals into the room, marched along the hall, down the elevator and back to the fancy front desk in the now deserted foyer.

I then began a dialog with several personnel that eventually led all the way up the manager, trying to work out this problem. It seemed rather simple to my American mind. This is a hotel, it is the middle of the night, I’m exhausted, give me a key to another room, and no one gets hurt. But it presented a huge dilemma to the staff. Something about me getting a whole room to myself after they had only allotted two to our group, and the paperwork that involved. Or maybe it was something else cultural that I missed. I was pretty loopy by that time.

As the debate went on, I looked around the deserted lobby and started to get really hacked off. All of the hundreds of people who had been here earlier were stowed away sleeping in nice clean beds and I alone was still standing in the hall. I looked up at all the room doors visible from the round atrium. Probably dozens of them were empty at this very moment.

My expectation had gone up considerably in the two days since I had left Kafountine where I happily slept on half a mattress on a concrete floor in a grass hut. Now that I was standing in an environment designed for the affluent, I felt entitled to their standard of living and treatment.

And demanding it. Yes, I’m sorry to admit it, but I turned into one of THOSE Americans. I didn’t make any friends or build any cultural bridges that night, but I did get a key.

It was close to 3:00 AM when I finally opened my very own door. Ironically, I discovered a king sized bed. Had that one big bed been in the original room undoubtedly all three of us would have collapsed on it instantly.

Processing this experience later showed me a lot about myself. When no one around me has anything, I don’t expect much either. But when everyone around me has lots of privileges and stuff…well, if I’m not careful it can trigger what I now call the Dakar Hotel affect.

Christmas in an American city threatens to flip that switch almost constantly. Commercials on TV and the radio. Newspaper ads. Internet ads. The end caps at all the stores, stocked with seasonal delights. Even the music in the grocery store. My environment is designed for the affluent and tells me I’m entitled to all it has to offer.

And this in the name of Jesus’ birthday. My Jesus, who deliberately choose to be born into the least affluent environment in the world He came to save. He came from a five star place where He was treated like the King he was, to something less privileged than I will ever know, and never demanded anything. While on earth, He walked among the rich and the poor but He didn’t let anything in His surroundings change who He was, or influence His behavior, or His expectations.

And He never acted like He was entitled. In fact, He laid down everything He was rightfully entitled to, and died for me.

He is my Hero.

Merry Christmas, Jesus. Make me more like you.

Monday, November 15, 2010

If You Want to Know Why I Got Divorced....

"So what does your husband do?"

It is a question I should be used to. Along with all its varieties. Since I wear a wedding ring and have three kids that are usually with me, it's a reasonable query I can't fault anyone for asking.

But I haven't gotten used to it.

Or to the inevitable reactions. They are subtle. The questions in the eyes that most are too polite to ask. The slight shift in the way people relate to me. In some cases, a certain wariness.

It wouldn't happen as much if I was out in the general American population, but my circles of contacts consists pretty much of conservative Christians, usually intact families, in either a church or a homeschooling or a missionary setting. And that's by choice, because, in spite of my single/divorced demographic, that's still where I fit in the best.

But because that's where I am, the unspoken questions tend to pile up. People find out I am a missionary to Africa. And they find out I USED to be a missionary with my husband in Nepal and India. They hear me say my daughter went to India with her dad. They find out I homeschool, and the kids do part of their school work on their days with their dad. They find out he is still in mission work.

Nothing quite matches up.

Some people do assume the best. The wise ones. The ones that know life can get weird, even for Christians. And I sense that too, when it happens, and appreciate it.

Then there are the ones who are the way I used to be. Me at 16, 19, 20, 25, that had all the answers and was fairly narrow in my views. The me that knew if I just followed all the rules of moral Christian living that things would turn out right for me. And if someone's life didn't turn out right- specifically, if someone got a divorce, well, they had obviously messed up somewhere and not followed the rules. All divorced people were at fault somehow in my mind. And not fully trustworthy as a result. They must not have "been good" or they wouldn't have gotten a divorce, and so they probably still weren't "good" and should be avoided. Or at least, silently judged in my mind.

And now, I'm on the other end of that, and I see people looking at me with the same eyes that I used to have.

Doubt not that sowing and reaping are real.

I'm fortunate enough to have an awesome and impressive collection of life-friends who know me for who I am, and not by my demographic. It's when I meet new people, who don't have any history with me that I struggle. Or when I have to get up and give a talk about what I am currently doing in Liberia. Recently I was in the middle of a such a talk in front of a group of new people before I suddenly and awkwardly realized I really didn't know how to segue from "I was a midwife for four years, then I stopped practicing when I got married, had three kids, lived in Hong Kong and did full time missions in Nepal" to "Now that my kids are older I'm getting back into midwifery, and oh, yeah, did I mention I got divorced? and never mind that, I'm going off to Liberia to help build a clinic."

I mean, there were kids in the room. Not to mention MY kids. As they usually are. Which means I can't give any explanation other than, "Unfortunately, after almost 13 years of marriage I became a single mom." On the day of this particular talk, I felt so awkward and unprepared I even skipped that, which led to more awkward stuff later when we were sitting around talking.

I try to put a good face on it. And accept others' reservations when they show them, because I understand so well where they are coming from.

But sometimes I get tired of carrying this particular cross.

Would you like to make it easier for me?

Let me tell you how.

If you are one of those newer people in my life, (or even if you have been around a while) take the time to get to know me as a person. If you want to, ask me those awkward questions. As long as I don't feel any hostility, I really don't mind. And as long as my kids aren't around, I am happy to answer any questions you have about how I got where I am today. And then when I tell you, consider having me for a friend anyway.

I'm a pretty decent person under the big red D on my life. The best thing about me is, now that I have no righteousness of my own left (it was filthy rags anyway, not sure why I was so proud of it), being a recipient of God's grace, I know how to extend that grace to others, regardless of their circumstances and struggles.

It may not be divorce in your case, but there are other situations that are equally painful, not to mention the every day issues that everyone on the planet has, if they are honest. Whatever it is, I now make a point of sowing grace into it, instead of judgment. It's way more fun, not to mention Biblical.

So if you need some grace, look me up.

I'm sowing as much of it as I can.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Clean and Dead

Yesterday I got the carpets cleaned in my apartment.

The prelude to this was having to get everything off the floor. Books, papers, toys, small furniture, stuff found lurking under the books, papers, toys and small furniture, and more stuff under the stuff lurking....yeah.

So I get all the junk somewhat moved and put away. And I see my baseboards. Ew. Time to wash those. Then I glance up at my windows. Fingerprint city. Ugh. And randomly up at the ceiling fan where there is enough dust on the blades to plant a garden. Sigh. And the walls, now uncovered are totally in need of a paint touch up.

It's kind of like my life. Every time I think I'm making progress on a project, or getting one area of my life cleaned up and in order, or somewhat disciplined and moving forward, I look around and there's another mess. And something else to clean up. Or something else that comes to light I need to work on.

It would be easy to get discouraged. As discouraging as it can be to note that my living space never quite lives up to my desire and expectations of cleanliness and organization.

But then, the reason this apartment has stuff, fingerprints, papers, toys, books and blankets is because people LIVE here. And the reason my life is sometime a mess is because, well, because I'm alive. A corpse doesn't make messes. Or even if I sat with my hands folded 24/7 I wouldn't make as many mistakes(trust me, even sitting still I could still wreak some mayhem), but I wouldn't accomplish much of anything either. Or have much of a life.

Dirty dishes in the kitchen mean I cooked a meal. Books everywhere mean my kids studied and read. Toys mean my kids played. Jackets, shoes, and bags scattered randomly mean we went somewhere. Papers on my desk, and the coffee table, and the floor, and the counter top could indicate any number of projects were being worked on that have implications for helping people all over the world. Or they could be my daughter's Manga drawings. Or a grocery list. You never know.

I know it's better to give up my impossible vision of clean perfection and accept the messes that goes with daily trying. After all, it's a sign of life and progress that there is something going on around here to clean up after.

'Cause the alternative is.....clean and dead. ;-)

Now wouldn't that be boring.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Why I let my daughter go to India

Many people were surprised when a homeschooling mom who wouldn't even think of dropping her kids off at the mall actually let her 13 year old daughter go to India for a month with her ex.

So, you want to know why I did it? This is one of the reasons.

This is my daughter with her cousin, Victor. He is thirteen years older than she is. Before this trip, they hadn't seen each other for nine years. And not a week of that nine years has gone by that Cassandra hasn't mentioned Victor with longing.

How well I remember. I, too, was once a 13 year old girl child and the oldest. I too wanted a big brother desperately at that age. Not having one either, I also fixed that longing on older male cousins. Mine weren't quite as far away as India, but sometimes it felt like it.

I would have given anything on the planet to have this moment with any of them.

Or this one.

This is Victor on his wedding day. Cassandra had expressed concern almost to the point of tears before the trip that Victor might be so preoccupied by getting married that she wouldn't have any quality time with him. I didn't want to see her get hurt, but I confess, I also wondered.

And this, my friends, is where I made a mistake. You see, I was thinking like an American, not like an Indian. Victor not only paid attention to Cassandra before, during and after the wedding, he asked her to ride with the two of them in the wedding car. I don't think I have to tell you, this wouldn't have happened with an American couple. It was a five hour drive. Cassandra said Nitu fell asleep on Victor, but just before she did, she pulled Cassandra over so she could fall asleep on her. And the three of them slept together in the back of the car on the long road from Calcutta on Victor and Nitu's wedding day.

And then, there were other beautiful Indian things.

The traditional reception:


The bride and groom getting a blessing from Victor and Cassandra's grandfather when they arrived at Victor's parents' house.

The impromptu dance party in the street on the wedding night. The bride came out from getting henna to join in the fun.

But for Cassandra, her time with Victor outweighed everything else. When I heard this, I was satisfied. It doesn't matter that I am not technically a part of that family any more. Cassandra is. She belongs. She has her cousin's love and shared a moment of time with him that will last forever.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

5 Scientific Facts about the Male Brain I'm Not Buying

Okay, I don't usually go around reading these kind of articles- no really I don't, for obvious reasons- but this one jumped out at me when I signed into Yahoo for email tonight:

5 Ways to Understand Him Better.

I wouldn't have clicked to read the whole article- again, take a wild guess why- except for the subtitle: Brain differences between the sexes help explain a man's faulty memory.

Oh really? I dunno, if I was a man I wouldn't appreciate that. I mean, if it said, Brain differences between the sexes help explain a woman's faulty memory - or any other inferiority - I'd be really...yeah, off.

So I read the whole article. Shockingly, 4 out of the 5 ways were basically explaining why there is some physical reason (i.e. handicap) why men aren't up to women's standards:

Men have a smaller hippocampus, hence their reduced memory capacity.

Men have a smaller limbac cortex, which is why they don't get hints (reduced emotional capacity).

Men have a thinner cortex which is why they aren't as good at conversation.

Men use the right part of their amygdala instead of the left like women do, hence he may not remember details of important events as well as a woman can.

The only edge men have on women, apparently, is that men's brains produce more serotoin than women's do- that's why he won't cry when his golden lab dies (the article's example, not mine).

Okay, people, I don't know about you but in spite of all the so called scientific evidence here, I'm not buying this. And I think it would be an insult to men if I did.

It reminds me of a little debate that was going on the Middle Ages. It was called the Querreles des Femmes. Some men argued that women were not capable of higher thinking because their skulls were smaller than men's, and this was used to argue against education for females. They also said that because women's hips were wider, they were naturally meant to be mothers and not to be involved in scientific affairs. (Weirdly, I just mentioned this debate on a FB wall conversation today. But that was before I had my coffee and therefore might not have actually been pertinent to the original post at all.)

You don't have to be a feminist to recognize this as misogyny, not to mention hogwash. But is the modern version with men in the reduced brain capacity any more ridiculous?

Sorry, I refuse to give all the great men in my life- pastors, home group leaders, director, brother, uncles, cousins, friends and my son- any such excuse for acting stupid, any more than I would give it to all the great women in my life- pastors, home group leaders, bosses, aunts, cousins, friends, grandmother, and my daughters.

Equality means we all expect the best of each other and each others' brains as God's amazing creations.

End of story.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Real Kids, Real People

Sunday night our church congregation sat enthralled as the Children of the World International Children's Choir performed their hearts out. These adorable kids from Nepal, Philippines and Uganda and dressed in native costumes danced, sang and drummed to raise awareness for Cause Life - a World Help program providing water wells in Third World countries.

When they raised their little voices and arms while belting out "A Global Hallelujah" there wasn't a dry eye in the place. It was moving and anointed and amazing. The lights of the stage radiated off their shining faces like the glory of the Lord. After their show was finished they came off the platform and into the audience and hugged people before running out of the sanctuary to the sound of applause.

Monday morning I arrive at the church at 8:00 am to help take care of all 15 choir kids for the day. Greeted by enthusiastic hugs from all of them, we fed them breakfast and started them out on a craft.

And that's when I noticed it. In the light of day, the angelic anointed children of the previous night were acting, well, mortal. Not everyone wanted to share. There was an occasional dispute over a glue stick or a pencil. Some of them got restless and rowdy and starting getting into things.

So we moved outside to run off energy. Some kids drew with chalk on the sidewalk. Other blew bubbles. Having only two bubble wands for 15 kids caused exactly the same kinds issues you would expect it to cause with American kids. I was working that out just before I had to go separate the two boys who had started a chalk war, using the chalk to mark each others' skin and clothing.

Nap time- yes, you guessed it. Some of them fell asleep instantly, others requested repeated drink and bathroom trips, still others slipped off their improvised beds of sanctuary chairs to crawl mischievously down the aisles.

By the end of the day, I was just as exhausted as I would have been if I had babysat 15 American kids all day.

So how did all this affect me? Did I think any less of them because I had seen this "other side" of the famous children's choir? Did I feel let down after spending time with them out of costume when they were not on performance behavior? Was I disillusioned at the difference between the children's Sunday and Monday manners?

Absolutely not.

Because I found out they were pretty much just like my kids, just the kids I've taught in children's church for years, and just like kids I've met all over the world.

My Monday with the choir reinforced something God is constantly showing me. And that is that people are just people. All people. Even when they are saved, anointed, called and in full time ministry. That includes pastors, missionaries, Christian musicians and artists, Sunday school teachers, as well as ordinary Christian folk, and your average man or woman standing in line at Wal-mart.

All people, no matter how "together" they look in public sometimes get stressed, get frustrated, struggle, have messes and laundry at home, run late, and feel insecure.

It applies double for kids. Kids are just people too. Yes, they can be called to great things at a young age. Yes, they can grasp spiritual concepts, and be taught of the Lord and used to minister to others. But that doesn't change the fact that they are still children, with immature emotions and limited experience in dealing with all the stress the world throws at them.

As parents - especially those of us with any kind of position or something else to prove- we need to be careful not to put a burden too heavy for our kids (or any kids) to bear by expecting them to be, well, better somehow. They aren't. Because we aren't. We all have the same struggles, and the same issues. Some people just hide them better than others.

Because we, as adults and parents, are just people too. We have bad days, and bad attitudes and melt-downs too. (I know you do, whether you admit it or not.)

It doesn't matter if you are growing kids God's way, or training up your child in the way they should go, or shepherding your child's heart, or sending your kids to Christian school or homeschooling. Your children are still just people. They need training, but they also need love and unconditional acceptance while you are showing them how to behave. And they desperately need to know that our love for them is not based on performance, but is unconditional.

Just like we as adults want and need.

It's called grace.

I am thankful I had one more chance yesterday to see a real life example of this truth. Many thanks to the beautiful, anointed REAL kids of the Children of the World choir for the opportunity.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Wind and I

I'm sitting here tonight in my third story apartment with my sliding glass balcony door open to the darkness, feeling the fresh night breeze. With the cooler fall weather finally staying consistent, I've been doing this for the past few evenings. When the air blows in, it gives me deep sense of well-being.

When I was a kid, my mom rarely allowed windows to be opened. In the summer they were shut because of the air conditioning and in the winter because of the central heat. As well, every day of the year as soon as the faintest hint of dusk fell, huge heavy drapes were drawn closed with a snap because someone might see in the house at night.

My dad was a chain smoker. Like most people growing up around cigarette smoke, at the time I wasn't conscious of the smell in my daily environment. Now I realize that living years shut up in the house with all that smoke, I must have smelled like an ash tray. I also have a pretty good idea where some of my later respiratory problems started.

But at the time, I only knew I loved to open my windows (when mom wasn't looking, or just for a few minutes in the daytime before she came and closed them) and feel the fresh breeze blow into my room. I loved it, but it wasn't enough. As soon as the wind started blowing the trees against the glass of my small town window, I would run out into the backyard and climb a tree- some kind of skinny tree with a bunch of low branches making it easy to climb up quickly. I would get as high as I could, just to feel the wild whipping motion and clean air on my face.

Without being conscious of it, I think I was trying to escape the pollution that was in my home. Of all kinds.

It reminds me of how the Holy Spirit blew into my choked-up ash tray of a life with His fresh wind, and blew off the debris that other people's second hand smoke had left on it.

So now, even though I live in a city apartment, I open things up as much as I can, all year round, round the clock. When I feel the living breeze coming through the door and windows, it makes me feel alive too.

Is it any wonder in the early Vineyard days that I loved the song, Sweet Wind by David Ruis:

There’s a wind a-blowin’, all across the land
A fragrant breeze of Heaven
Blowin’ once again
Don’t know where it comes from
Don’t know where it goes
But let it blow over me
Oh, sweet wind, come and blow over me

I still do. I still love His sweet Spirit wind. And real wind symbolizes that for me. So if you see me standing out in a windstorm, just leave me alone. I may need some debris blown off my soul.

But tonight, the bit wafting through the door is enough.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Taj, ugliness and beauty

Fifteen years ago, I stood next to my Indian fiance, and gazed at one of the great wonders of the world- the Taj Mahal. We took our engagement photo on the famous bench that sits in front of the rectangular reflecting pool on the south side. It was so picture perfect that people would later ask if it had been taken in a studio in front of a poster.

Today my thirteen year old half Indian daughter sat on the same bench and had her photo taken with her father, my ex-husband. She is traveling with her dad in India for a month, and I am here in America, with our other two children.

It is not the picture I imagined on that, my first trip to India. It doesn't match the romantic Taj Mahal image of us on our wedding announcement.

I'll never forget my shock when I entered that glorious edifice. I had forgotten until that moment that the Taj, was actually, a tomb. A mausoleum. Other shocks would come later.

Ugh. And who was the Taj a tomb for? Shah Jahan built it in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died after the birth of her fourteenth child. Now there's some real romance for you. Third wife. Fourteenth child. Worn out by child bearing for a husband with two other wives. The stuff fairy tales are made of. Right.

I'm happy for my daughter. And afraid for her too. I want her to experience all that is good in India, and all that is good in her father, with none of the pain that went with my experiences with both.

I am reminded of the words of the British-author-married-to-an-Indian Ruth Prawer Jhavbvala, "My husband is Indian and so are my children. I am not, and less so every year... India reacts very strongly on people. Some love it, some loathe it, most do both."

How will India react on my daughter? I pray she will see it truly. The beauty and the ugliness and the truth that is in both. Which is the way I want her to come to see life.

There is pain in life, and loss, and grief, but God can take all that and use it for good and eventually bring about something beautiful.

There is no more perfect example than my daughter herself.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Las Vegas versus Africa

Facebook can be a two edged sword. Sometimes it helps you stay in touch with friends and communicate and get encouraged and feel positive, and sometimes, well, not.

This weekend for example. A single mom girl friend acquaintance is having a weekend in Vegas with her friend, or maybe it's her sister-in-law. Whatever. Now, is Vegas a big deal to me? Did I even visit there once in the four years I lived in LA? Nope. I mean, I thought about it, but it just never happened that I could get away from my three little ones, and my marriage was already rocky which doesn't make for good couple get aways, but you also don't go to Vegas alone under those circumstances and ....well, anyway, you get the picture, it didn't happen.

But, dang it, she is posting pictures by the minute and I am stuck in the house with sick kids and it was supposed to be my free weekend, and for once I actually did have plans. Granted it was a lady's brunch at church, not Vegas, followed by dinner later with a girl friend -hey, it generally doesn't take much to satisfy me- but when even those had to be canceled I was really bummed.

'Cause there are also couples doing out of town weekendy things together and posting them, and here I am Sunday night, alone at last, but no where to go. Sniff. Yeah, you guessed it. A full blown pity party.

So I'm telling God how I NEVER get a real vacation, you know, the kind where someone treats you so you don't have to feel guilty for spending the money and you get to stay in a hotel and eat restaurant food and cool drinks every day and swim in a heated pool or lay on the beach and get a massage and walk around and have fun without a care just for a day or two somewhere exotic and .....about that time the Holy Spirit kinda clears His throat and mentions in a casual off handed way....

"Yes, you did decide to use your vacation time to go on mission trips this year, didn't you?"

I stopped in my tracks and had a light bulb moment. Yes, of course. I DID get vacations this year, two of them. Doing exactly what I want to do. Traveling to exotic places and delivering babies, and feeling like I am making a real difference somewhere in the world. I had an opportunity and a choice and did exactly what I really wanted to do with my extra time, not to mention that Someone else even paid and provided for the whole thing.

Sorry, God. You are right.

I wouldn't think of trading my trips to Senegal and Liberia in 2010. Not even, no, make that especially not for Vegas.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Between Identity

Jason: “I can’t remember anything before two weeks ago.” Marie: “Lucky you.” The Bourne Identity

For those of you who expect more regular blog posts, sorry. At this point, if you want the daily mundane and occasional comic relief, check my Facebook page. I waste far more time there than I should.

When it comes to blogging, I don’t know, I haven’t gotten the daily thing going yet. I so admire folks like Kyle and Jessica Hoover ( who keep folks regularly (I mean, like almost daily) posted about their journey to the Liberian mission field in spite of some of the twists and turns along the way. I think I take the whole thing too seriously which keeps me from writing as often. (Here. Like I said, check Facebook if you want to know what I had for dinner.)

I had no idea how prophetic my last blog post would turn out to be about MY last trip to Liberia, and every time I tried to think how to share that honestly yet appropriately on my blog, I got stymied.

In short, the sentence, “I make no promises,” (see last blog post) did end up having great significance. It referred to the fact that – in spite of an awesome trip with awesome folks- I would have to face old pain and have private battles with a personal nemesis. Several nemeses actually, and all of them related to past emotional scarring. They were the kind of battles that leave you reeling in pain and wondering why you ever decided to leave home and try again.

And when I did get home, I wasn’t real sure I was going to try again. (At least, that’s how I felt.)

I thought I would wait until I got all healed up and then write about it from a nice tidy retrospect complete with spiritual lesson learned. After all, since God led me there to face those things, I can expect the outcome to be eventually positive. Unfortunately reaching that destination seems to be taking longer than it should, and my poor blog was feeling neglected. (sniff.) Plus, I wonder how realistic it is to think I will only blog on good days. (wry grin.) So bear with me, friends and followers, on my wild world blogging journey. Since I am still in process, I decided to settle for being honest in this long overdue update, without being too specific. I don't really think most of you want that wild of a ride anyway. :-)

What do you do when you are in a difficult “in between time” of processing? I have several therapies I favor- playing on Facebook, increased exercise, long conversations with a few choice friends, soaking up God time in church whenever possible, sitting in Borders with a book where I have to actually sit still and read instead of throwing it down every five minutes. And once in a while, I watch a movie.

This time I went back- again- to one of my favorite movies: The Bourne Identity. The Bourne movies are some of the very few I actually own, and actually re-watch. (I’m not a big movie person- books are my thing.) For a while I just knew I liked them, and then gradually I started to figure out why.

The film starts with Jason’s body, barely alive, floating in the ocean in the middle of a storm. This is an image that might have described me quite a few years ago, battered and left for dead in a storm. The rest of the movie Jason is recovering and searching for his identity- again, pretty familiar. His search takes him through a variety of countries and circumstances- another thing I can relate to. I like how Jason never gets caught, always manages to escape with amazing skill and daring from the bad guys that are after him. That’s the me I wish I was- my alter ego. (Which is why I tried out a kick boxing class recently. I failed miserably. Jason makes it look too easy.)

The first movie ends with a degree of resolution, but the theme is continued through all three. And even then, there is no real happily ever after, just Jason finally getting all the truth at last, much of it not pretty, and having to learn how to live with it along with the accompanying residual pain.

Maybe that’s another reason why I like these films. No false nicey-nice unrealistic happily ever after wrap up that so many films end with. Just figuring out how to defeat your enemies and come to peace and live with yourself and the truth after it is all over.

The Moby song “Extreme Ways” under the credits at the end could be my biography:

Extreme ways are back again
Extreme places I didn't know
I broke everything new again
Everything that I'd owned
I threw it out the window; came along
Extreme ways I know will part the colors of my sea
perfect colored me

Extreme ways they help me
They help me out late at night
Extreme places I had gone
That never seen any light
Dirty basements, dirty noise
Dirty places coming through
Extreme worlds alone (did I ever tell you about Hong Kong?)
Did you ever like it planned?

I would stand in line for this
There's always room in life for this

Oh baby, oh baby
Then it fell apart, it fell apart
Oh baby, oh baby
Then it fell apart, it fell apart

Extreme sounds that told me
They held me down every night
I didn't have much to say
I didn't give up the light
I closed my eyes and closed myself
And closed my world and never opened up to anything
That could get me at all

I had to close down everything
I had to close down my mind
Too many things could cut me
Too much could make me blind
I've seen so much in so many places
So many heartaches, so many faces
So many dirty things
You couldn't even believe

I would stand in line for this
It's always good in life for this

Oh baby, oh baby
Then it fell apart, it fell apart
Oh baby, oh baby
Then it fell apart, it fell apart

Feeling like things are falling apart is not new to me. Which could be a really depressing thought except that also brings with it the memory of other things, much more hopeful. Because although things in my life have fallen painfully apart at more than one juncture, I also have the repeated experience of seeing God keep all the pieces of the mess- and me- in His hands. And while the outcomes were not always what I wanted or expected, He never abandoned me. And joy did eventually come again.

I know what I need. I need a good birth. Nothing like delivering a baby to put the world back into its proper perspective. That’s right, I just remembered. I am a missionary midwife. I have awesome opportunity to help bring real hope to places in the world that are really falling apart, not just having a bad day. Time to get on that.

Too bad that wasn’t an option for Jason Bourne.

He might have had more of a happily ever after.

Friday, July 16, 2010

No promise

“Do you mean you think everything will come right…? I don’t know about that,” said Puddleglum. “You see, Aslan didn’t tell Pole what would happen. He only told her what to do. “- The Silver Chair, by CS Lewis

We have all the Chronicles of Narnia on CD, and for some reason my kids have been listening to The Silver Chair over and over and over. It never was my favorite book in the series. But I did wonder if maybe there some higher purpose for their choice, so I didn’t tell them to switch it.

The theme of this book is obedience. And a journey. And unexpected happenings along the way. And the importance of remembering the words of Aslan to know what to do on the journey. And about not getting distracted from one’s purpose.
Yes, maybe it was ordained. My next mission trip to Liberia is July 20th- August 10th, less than a week away, and little else has been on my mind for weeks.

What I learned on the last two trips to Africa: It is never what I expect. Twice now I have had this picture in my mind of how it was going to be when I got there, but then, it wasn’t like that at all. Am I more prepared this time? Hopefully, but there is still the unknown factor. All journeys are different, even when they go to the same places.

The themes of this trip are Meeting-people-and-building-relationships-so-hopefully-I can-start-a-clinic, Helping-with-The-Liberian-Youth-Conference-for-oh-my-word-six-hundred young people, Teaching-water-purification-for-the-first-time, and last but not least, Yes-I-actually-am-the-female-chaperone-for-the-American-girls-on-the-ministry-team.

At least, that is what I think the themes are. By the end of the trip I may have some different themes to report. That’s what happened last time. On my first trip to Liberia last summer I ended up spending way more time in the kitchen helping with the feeding program than I ever dreamed I would. On my trip to Senegal this spring, I had lots more down time than I was comfortable with. On both trips I encountered some unexpected trials. But these things were good, or rather, good for me and for others. And I trust that whatever the theme of this trip is will be good too, even if it isn’t what I expect.

“Will you promise not to do anything to me if I do come?” asked Jill.

“I make no promise,” said the Lion.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Coming soon to a refrigerator near you

After returning from Senegal, I’m living in a new reality.

I’m following my dream of becoming a full time missionary midwife in Africa. I find the process very fulfilling, but like all dreams, it involves day to day realism.

One of the aspects of my new reality is (as it is known in Christian circles) “raising my own support.” It means, essentially, raising money to pay for not only trips to Africa, but for my general bills and living expenses in the meantime.

Fund-raising of any kind generally includes mailing out letters. On real paper. With actual stamps. By post. This ancient tradition began before there was email or online networking, and continues as the holy grail of support raising in spite of recent and superior electronic advances. Additionally, somewhere in the dim recesses of recorded history it became a custom for Christian missionaries to send out a photograph of themselves with their fund raising letter.

I’m not sure how the pictures were displayed in ancient days, but in modern times, these photographs, after arriving at the homes of the recipients, are more often than not stuck on the refrigerator along with grocery lists and children’s art. The trend is so prevalent that some missionaries put magnets on the backs of their pictures to make application to said appliance more convenient.

In studying this phenomenon, I’ve found that these photos tend to be uncannily similar in spite of the subjects being from a wide range of countries, churches, and ministries. They are inevitably printed on a rectangle card that fits a legal sized envelope, bearing the smiling face or faces of the senders, usually in an outdoor setting, or perhaps wearing the national costume of the country of service. If the missionaries have children, they will be prominently displayed, front and center, squeaky clean and also smiling. The following information will be printed on the card: “Please pray for __________, serving in ___________, with __________ organization. Send support to ______________.”

Much as I tend to rebel against this display of uniformity among my peers, I have to consider that this time honored custom may have developed because it is known to be effective. Perhaps when people see our faces every time they go to the fridge for a snack, it will remind them that we need to eat too. It may also remind them that we are on the front lines in places they may not want to go, and that we are ministering to those who are also hungry- spiritually and emotionally as well as physically.

In my case, if I include my amazingly beautiful children, folks will no doubt have even more sympathy for my cause.

So, I’ll probably bow to the conventional wisdom and have a “fund raising picture” of my own made soon. But trust me, I’ll find a way to make mine unique. And I refuse to put a magnet on it.

After all, you might want break the refrigerator tradition and frame it and hang it in the living room or something.

Friday, March 26, 2010

ROUS and Birth in Africa

Written one week after returning to the USA from attending births for the first time in Africa

From Princess Bride- Buttercup to Wesley while walking through the Fire Swamp: “But what about the ROUS’s?”

Wesley: “Rodents of Unusual Size? (After seeing one a few minutes before.) I don’t think they exist.” A huge rodent jumps on Wesley and attacks him.

I’m here to tell you, rodents of unusual size do exist in Senegal. I’m not usually one to jump at the sight of a mouse, or scream at the size of a rat. (I even had a rat as a pet once, but that’s another story.) However the first night we spent at the clinic when I heard the volume of sounds just over our heads in the labor room, I got cold chills.

Of course, it’s the idea of their size, and the images that evokes more than the critters themselves. When they are making enough noise to keep you awake over your IPOD music coming through ear phones it does tend to produce some pretty scary thoughts. And then when that big noise moves under your bed…well, you get the idea. I’m sure you won’t blame us when you find out that one of our group quickly moved from one particular bed into another single bed already occupied by one of her companions.

Maybe what Wesley meant was not that he didn’t think the rodents existed, but rather that he could handle their existence when he had to. Or perhaps he was trying not to scare Buttercup before she actually had to face them, to give her a few more seconds of hopeful fantasy. Certainly we wouldn’t want to accuse the swashbuckling hero of lying or denial.

Because the bottom line was, when they had too, Wesley and Buttercup did both face the ROUS and defeated them.

There were huge other things to be faced in Africa too, much more serious than rodents. Dealing with the fact that every single woman we attended in labor had been mutilated by some degree of female circumcision was pretty tough. Seeing the lack of sterile technique bothered some of us more than others. Aggressive fundal pressure and what we perceived as rough treatment of the mothers in labor was difficult for most. The fact that there were HIV positive ladies receiving care at the clinic was extremely sobering.

Sometimes we had a tendency not to want to look at difficult things straight on and deal with them, because they were so awful. Or we would start discussing them with clinical detachment and take notes (one of my personal coping techniques). Or go along with certain practices of the local midwives when we really weren’t too sure about them.

For me personally, I’m still processing all the ROUS’s I encountered. Especially when I consider that this trip was a mere introduction to long term maternity work I plan to do in Africa, I have a lot to think about.

I have seen the enormous size of some of the issues I have to face. None of them has actually jumped on me yet. But I’m still walking pretty cautiously through the Fire Swamp.

‘Cause now I have seen with my own eyes what really does exist.