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We just move to Fort Morgan, Colorado and I soon realize my skinny jeans and platform shoes make me stand out as a ‘foreigner’. This is someone I always seem to be, yet who I forever seek to hide, in an ongoing attempt to appear ‘normal’ or ‘one of the locals’.

My light skin, brown hair and accent prevented that in foreign countries and the dress and even speech, it seems, in some U.S. States. Even here, as attempts are made to modify my dress, it appears obvious that I am not from ‘here’. Maybe in a town of 11,000 that is inevitable.

On this day, I walk out of Mavericks, the newest and proudly talked about gas station in town. Located off the 76, it is new and shiny, selling frozen yogurt of various flavors and 99c sodas.

As I push open the door to step outside in my skinny jeans and heals, I lock eyes with a man loitering near the opening. I make friendly eye contact, my theory being that my smile may be the only some may have on that given day.

This gentleman appears to be around fifty and was in need of a hairbrush, a shave and a haircut. He proudly sports a pair of purple parachute sweat pants, the kind we wore in the 1980’s. They are bright, shiny, and baggy and tucked into a pair of cowboy boots.

Returning my smile, he asks, “Can I ask you a question? You look like you’re from Denver and you have style!”

Haven’t yet been to Denver, I assume my Southern California attire must resemble that of the Mile High City. Always ready to engage in conversation, I reply, “Sure, ask away!”

“Everyone here says my clothes don’t look good. But you have style, what do you think?” he asks with a smile, so certain of his choice of clothes.

In a matter of three seconds, fleeting thoughts zoom across my brain, like cars racing around a track: My clothes make me happy. They are who I am. Do I really want to wear what others wear just to be like everyone else? Who determines style? Does it matter? Style is a very personal thing. Is being different so bad?

I answer with a laugh and new found confidence, “You know what? If you like your clothes, you should wear them. That’s what I think! You should wear whatever makes you happy!”

The scraggly gray haired man smiles broadly and replies, “Thank you, Mam!”

We walk away. My husband shakes his head in awe of what he was just witness to and says, “I think God sent you to Fort Morgan for people like that.”

I laugh. Maybe God sent that man to me. To show me it’s ok to be who I am!

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>The Day My Daddy Cried

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When I was thirteen I happened to have a boyfriend who was twenty-three. I say ‘happened’ because I really don’t know how it came about, not even remembering liking him that much. He was just there and one of the very few white boys in Ndola in 1977. We were at a friend’s house when my dad walked in and eyed Tommy with his arm around me as we were sitting on the couch. If looks could kill, we would both have been dead. We were forbidden to see each other again.

Well that was easy as we were leaving the next week: moving to Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia, about four hours away. We moved onto a farm property outside of town and were enrolled in the International School of Lusaka. So that should have been the end of the story. But it was not. Tommy and his friend Graham came to see us. We picked a hiding place to leave notes in hopes of meeting . I don’t think we ever met, at least I don’t remember doing so. It honestly was not that important to me.

What I do remember is my dad walking into the living room one day and dropping the letters on the floor in front of me. He just looked at me and in that moment my heart sank and my blood pressure pumped wildly in my ears. I had been caught. Daddy turned around and walked into his bedroom and shut the door.

I waited. What would my punishment be? I don’t remember caring about Tommy. I never even asked what happened to him as I only cared about what the ramifications were for me. After a few hours of suspense and fear, I ventured into my Daddy’s room, totally unprepared for what awaited me. He was laying in his bed crying. He never shouted at me, never lectured, just cried.

I told him I was sorry and his only response was, “You have broken my trust and it will take a while to rebuild.”

My father is a wise man. I never wanted to disappoint him after that.

That was the first time I remember my Daddy crying. He cried again the day he left me at college when I started my freshman year. He cried when he said goodbye at the airport to return to Africa, leaving my sister and me in the United States. He cried when my granny died and when the doctor told us my daughter did not have cancer after all. He has a tender and very wise heart.

I have no problem accepting God as my father because Daddy is a godly man and exemplifies my heavenly Father in such a way as to make me only love God more. My dad extended grace and forgiveness, love and sacrifice. He made me feel beautiful and loved. When I read in 1 John 1:3, “How great is the love the Father lavished on us that we should become children of God” I rejoice and believe in it. I trust in God’s total mercy and forgiveness because I experience it in my earthly father as he lavishes love on me to this very day.

I am older now yet I still want to make my daddy proud. I want to keep his trust and never want to make him cry again.

Posted in Crying, Father, Zambia | Leave a comment

>Alone in the Church

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Since teaching a lesson on compassion for my ladies bible study this past week, the subject has been weighing heavy on my heart. The area bothering me is not compassion for the lost, the sick or the poor, but compassion for the lonely, isolated and hurting within the church walls.

Last night I attended an event with my twenty year old son who is lonely, hurting and hiding. There were many present from the college group at church, most of whom had no idea who my son was. The host was very gracious and engaged my son in conversation a couple times. However, no one else noticed that there was a stranger in their midst. Or if they did, they did not bother to leave their group of friends to introduce themselves or try to include him. This was the same lack of reaction he received when he attended the college group at church a few times. Before you get me wrong, let me clarify myself. Most of the blame lies with my son. In his insecurities and preconceived notions about ‘Christians’ he has isolated himself and does not give out good vibes. Yet it is often these people that need the church to reach out to the most.

This isn’t only true of young people. What about the person on Sunday morning who arrives alone in their car, walks in alone, sits by themselves, receives a ‘good morning’ with their bulletin and a handshake during welcome time, but no other one on one interaction. They leave as lonely as they arrived. Or what about the individual who arrives looking like they came from the wrong side of the tracks, or whose sexual orientation is in question.

The definition of compassion is ‘a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.’ So feeling sorry for someone is not the same as showing compassion. We may feel bad for someone because they don’t have any friends but if we aren’t willing to be that friend we are not compassionate.

The reality is, only a small percentage of people are popular and that is alright. Most people only need one or two friends. But they do need Christians to be friendly, supportive and compassionate.

Sadly the church often resembles the world when it comes to clicks and selfishness.

What weighs on my heart this morning is that I am guilty of the same. I notice ladies arrive alone at bible study yet often do not seek them out. These are often the women who leave as soon as study is over, often noticing the groupings of ladies discussing where they will go to lunch. Do they yearn to be invited? On Sunday mornings I seek out my life group instead of those either new or avoided by others. I am guilty of ignoring the people I don’t want to get caught up in conversation with.

The tune and lyrics of “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me…” are playing through my subconscious as I write. I can’t change how others think or act but I can change myself. My heart is softly crying for the hurting individuals who dare to enter our church walls, needing not only a word from God but a touch from his people.

Right now my cat is crawling into my lap and pushing my computer aside in her desire to be stroked and loved. It is an inconvenient time to ask for love as I am trying to verbalise my feelings. Yet I push my computer away to pet her and scratch her head. As I stroke her, I ask myself, “Will I do the same tomorrow on the church campus? Will I stop what I enjoy doing, end conversations with people I love, and take time to show compassion to whomever the Lord lays on my heart?”

“For whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me.” That means that every lonely, unconnected person at church tomorrow should be ‘Jesus’ to me. So I pray that God will lay on my heart who He wants me to touch and take away any selfishness, fear or insecurities, so that I will reach out. Let there be change in the church and let it begin with me. Give me a heart of compassion for the ‘alone’.

Posted in church, compassion, lonliness | 4 Comments

>I Feel Beautiful?

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I used to feel beautiful.

Being athletic, it was easy to stay in shape even though struggling with weight has always been a issue. I remember my first diet in forth grade. My sister and I would arrive from school every afternoon to eat a pop tart. We were home on furlough for a year and there were no pop tarts in Zambia. We could not eat enough of them. My mother must have noticed we were getting pudgy as she began making taco salads to replace the pop tarts. Little did we know in those days the true calories and fat grams in a salad! When we returned to Africa after that year of furlough I got into sports.

I played high school basketball and cheered in college. Then I discovered my body was perfect for building muscle. Next came the intense training for a body building competition. My stomach was like a washboard and I was used by gym instructors to shame the men who came in lifting half the weight I did. My muscles budged. I felt beautiful!

Later I begin running marathons. The muscles weren’t as big but the joy of running mile after mile, faster and faster, breaking previous records and winning medals made up for all that. I felt beautiful and invincible.

Five years ago I pretty much gave up all exercise. Having migraines that were definitely exertion induced, I finally accepted the fact that denying myself what I most enjoyed was unavoidable. If I wanted to live to see my children age I had to stop the pain medication that all too frequently entered my blood system and was undoubtedly damaging my kidneys and liver.

Five years later, thirty pounds heavier, no longer sporting the athletic body, I don’t feel beautiful anymore.

All these thoughts crash into my mind like waves on the sand. Youthfulness comes and goes like the tide. Images of beauty wax and wane with the moon. Our own expectations crash against the sand. Some things we can control: yet some are at the mercy of the ocean of time.

Yet God says I am beautiful today, more beautiful than before. For my heart is softer and more committed than when I had the rock hard body of a weight lifter. My heart is steadfast and has more strength to endure now than the body that ran even ultra marathons. My heart is filled with more love and mercy than the young woman who served with all her bodily energy. Years and life have humbled me and God finds that far more attractive than the self confident woman of my youth.

The bible says our beauty should be “that of our inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.. That is of great worth in God’s sight.” (I Peter 3:4) True beauty begins with God at the center of our lives and that beauty extends outwards. As we accept Christ’s forgiveness, He transforms the ugliness of our heart and begins to purify us, making the hardness turn to gentle beauty. This beauty has nothing to do with outward appearance or age.

Even though I am not perfect, I’ve come a long way and my heart is sincere in it’s desire to let him transform me from the inside out. God knows I am trying to please Him and I believe He looks beyond my imperfections and sees the beauty.

This means I should feel beautiful. I would like to look athletic and strong on the outside but I don‘t. However, I know my heart is steadfast. Does that mean I should say, “I feel beautiful”?

Posted in age, beauty, inner beauty | 5 Comments

>Sex and Motherhood, My Mom and Heaven

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I used to think my mom was a bit crazy and I didn’t quite ‘get’ her. She continually verbalized her hope that Jesus would come soon so she could go to heaven.

I would think, “I don’t want Jesus to come until after I have the chance to experience sex.” Then I didn’t want Him to come until I had a baby and experienced motherhood. There was always something to look forward to. Life was too fun to think of moving on to eternity quite yet.

I’ve changed now. The older I get the more appealing heaven sounds. Life is not as exciting as it used to be. There are hurts, disappointments, fears, worries and way too much stress.

Chris Tiegreen said, “This world is my passage, not my portion.” That is a comforting statement to keep in mind. I am glad I got to experience sex and motherhood and all that comes with life on earth but I am more and more grateful that there is more than this. One day we will spend an eternity praising God. And there will be no more pain, sorrow, death or sickness. Just an eternity of joy and Jesus.

I don’t know what will happen in heaven. I hope there are animals and butterscotch cream pies. I hope there is an ocean full of waves and trails through the mountains to run on. I do know I will not worry about my children. My friends will not be dying of cancer. I won’t have to clean my house and I won’t get my feelings hurt.

I understand my mother a lot better now.

Posted in heaven, my mother, sex | 5 Comments

>Read The Bible In A Year?

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There are so many people who aim to ‘read the bible in a year’. There was even a status update recently on my facebook wall where someone claimed to be on his seventeenth year of completing this task.

I grew up reading and studying my bible but was never that familiar with the movement to read it from cover to cover in one year. Overseas bible weren’t that easy to come by so you didn’t see the variety of translations and study bibles you find here in the States.

When we returned to the US in 2008, I was blessed to land a job at Lifeway Christian Stores. I was amazed that there was a whole section dedicated to ‘One Year’ bibles. There were chronological bibles, beginning to end, historical, old then new testament and new to old bibles.

Everything in America is a money making industry, even bibles. I discovered that the exact same bible can go out of print when really only the cover changes. I had never seen so many bibles. But I guess that is a subject for another blog.

Back to reading the bible in a year. I’ve tried but I just don’t get it. There is too much to read. I concentrate more on getting through the correct number of pages than digging deeper into the verses or words that have so much meaning on their own. I love studying God’s word but this, for me, this is more like a chore of reading a text book than the pure joy of meditating on God’s Word.

So I decided I can read twenty pages a day to get through it. Or I can read one passage, or even one verse, and meditate on it for the same length of time.

It is like trying to clean your house in one day: you vacuum, do laundry, dust, clean windows, power wash the outside, mop, clean bathrooms, pick up toys, clean out the refrigerator, and organize your drawers. How well will it get done?

But if my aim is to clean my house in a week, I can divide up the chores, be more thorough, have less stress, and do a much better job.

I’m not judging those who choose to read the bible in a year but I’ll stick to taking my time. It works better for me.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

>My Attempts To Declutter

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How is it that so many find joy in decluttering? For some time now it has been on my heart to let go of the many things I own and enjoy the freedom that accompanies owning less. I’ve read books and articles, watched TV shows and know ‘how ‘to do it. Yet the actual process leave me smiling and deciding that ‘this’ doesn’t need to go. Those smiles later lead to frustration.

When I first finished college and moved to Zimbabwe, I went with two suitcases. A small crate followed but with only a few necessities.

Four years later, married to Mark, I returned to the US with two suitcases and no crate. Life was good.

Then Mark got the job with Chiquita and it all began. The company moved us on average every two years. With each move came a promotion and a bigger company house. The professional movers arrived and packed every single item, down to the crumbs, toothpicks and dust in the kitchen drawers. Often there would still be unpacked boxes when we were transferred once again.

I loved each place we lived and collected memorabilia, each with a meaning.

So now, having returned to the US and having artifacts from all over the world, I am left with the task of getting rid of my stuff, in the hopes that one man’s cast offs (not junk) is another man’s treasure. Yet, it is proving itself an extremely difficult task.

There is the carved statue of a bananero (banana worker). I loved the years we spent on the banana plantations in Panama and Honduras. I can visualize driving on roads with hector after hector of banana trees on either side. There would be the odd worker with his machete chopping away the growth from the soil around the trees and the hands of bananas could be seen on the pulleys carrying them to the washing station to be cleaned and packed into boxes ready for exportation. The crop dusters would sweep down, spraying insecticides, and then ascend into the sky to repeat their task once again.; always reminding me of a pilot’s playground. My children were small and life was simple. Those were good days. I think I will keep my bananero.

Then there is the large driftwood carving that I bought before we left Mozambique. Colin had just been released home from the hospital having spent five days critically ill with malaria. It was Christmas Eve and we had bought no presents as our life had been turned upside down with Mark loosing his job and Colin so ill. Mark’s father had just died and his mom was with us. We had to make Christmas special for her and for our three teenagers, even though no one felt like celebrating. That statue represents our short five months in Mozambique and God how healed Colin’s physical body and Mark’s soul. No, I cannot get rid of that!

There is the carved, black ‘La Negrita” from Costa Rica. My sister had visited me and we drove up to Cartargo to see the ancient cathedral where people walked in pilgramage every year to be healed by the small black statue of Mary (hence the name La Negrita). Afterwards we drove a few kilometers up windy hills to sit in hot springs that supposedly contained healing powers. We floated in the pools and chatted with people regarding their illnesses that they were praying would miraculously disappear. Then we had to laugh as we realized we were sitting in almost stagnant pools with some who most likely had contagious diseases. We would now need a trip back to the cathedral! How can I throw away a fun memory like that?

I could get rid of my blue pottery. But my mom bought that in Malawi when I was a child. When she downsized she gave it to me. There are a few pieces cracked or glued together. But the memories! I remember spending Christmas one year in a tent on the beach of Lake Malawi. Our whole family were reading one afternoon when we saw a snake slither among the few presents under our three foot Christmas tree. Yes, my mom brought a small tree to make Christmas special since we were away from home. We could barely fit four people in the tent but we had to have that tree! The snake was a black mamba. If one is bitten by a mamba they are given about eight minutes to live if they do not get to the hospital in time to receive the anti venom injection. No, I will keep the pottery because with the pottery comes a memory of that Christmas in Malawi.

There is the chief stool from a Zambia village. Oh the memories! Driving forever on rough bush roads, crossing bridges made of logs and sticks, to arrive at the villages for worship services, After dutifully greeting the people, my sister and I would case the chickens and pigs, hold the babies and play with the other children as we waited for those walking from neighboring villages to arrive. Then we would all sit to begin our service, sometimes under a tree. The women would sit on one side, the men on another, with an invisible line dividing us. We would sit, legs outstretched in front of us on the red dust of the Savannah plains. Then my dad would be given the chief stool and he would sit in front of us all with a couple of the church leaders. There would be a small handmade table on which was a plate of crackers and a cup of juice for communion. This was always covered carefully with a crochet cloth. As we worshipped the occasional chicken or pig would wander through the crowd, unnoticed by all except our family. No! The chief stool will stay.

And what about the carved cats my children so thoughtfully chose for me over the years as birthday and Christmas gifts? They were so young and precious and took such joy in choosing just the right figurine to add to my collection.

And the boxes of running logs, race results and marathon medals! I worked so hard to qualify for Boston and flew from Costa Rica with a few of my buddies to run the most exciting marathon of my life. That medal at least has to stay!

Going through my stuff only leaves me reminiscing of days gone by. The decision to declutter is not working very well. I could go on and on with the stories in my head. If I throw away these ‘things’ I might lose my precious memories with them. It is not necessarily the item I am loosing but the stories they represent.

Maybe I will take photos of all my stuff and write the story behind each item. In the long run, my family might appreciate that even more than me leaving them something that they will eventually put in a garage sale when I die. And, in reality, my memories are mine. They will always be with me. The things are not important. No one else finds the same joy as I do in these things.

I think I have found my solution. I will take a photos, put my memory on paper, and kiss the item goodbye.

Well, not all of them. But I will try!

Posted in Africa, childhood, decluttering, memories | 7 Comments