Thursday, October 26, 2017

Becoming Human

I never, ever imagined myself sitting on a mat outside my front door with my foot in a man’s lap and him pulling each of my toes until they cracked. In fact, I’ve never had so many people pull my toes in all my life together. The thing is, I stepped on my foot wrong while it was asleep, and incurred the sort of injury which caused a three-week limp. Limping isn’t my preferred method of transportation in any country, but here, it is somewhat less enjoyable.

A man rode by on a motorcycle at one point, and began to survey me on my condition, in French. “Madame, are you injured?” For a fleeting second, I toyed with a sarcastic, “No, I just don’t get stared at enough in this country based only on my skin color, so I decided an awkward limp would help me meet my attention quota.”  Believe it or not, limping on uneven ground in 95’ heat with 20 lbs of groceries and 369 people asking if and how you were hurt(in another language) is exhausting.
The great news is I did receive some medical advice which I had never formerly had reason to consider. Did you know, for example, that if your foot has ‘fallen’, you should have someone pull your toes morning and night for three days, rub Chinese lotion on it, and massage it with hot water until it hurts? At the end of these magical three days, voila, your foot will be better. If you want that swelling to go down, simply get a sharp razor blade and slice parallel to the injury several times. Along with this advice, I had several offers to administer the aforementioned cures. I declined, admitting when asked, to being afraid of the proffered treatments.
A rather grace-filled part of this experience is the way I’ve become human in the eyes of friends and neighbors. So many helped me find motor bikes, did the chores which involved walking, or advised me to stay and rest on the mat while they let themselves out. This has been a season of weakness, and of learning just how sweet and caring is this community of which I am becoming a part.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Beauty of Weakness…If there is one thing living in this country has taught me, it’s how
weak I am. One of my roommates amusingly observed, “Living here is
like, ‘I wonder where I’ll get hives today?’” As humor often has an
element of truth, I will leave it to you, the reader, to draw
conclusions as to the effects this place has on one’s integumentary
system. As for the rest of my corporal systems, I think every one of
them has rebelled at least once in my four months here. In fact, until
a few weeks ago, my two housemates and I hadn’t gone 5 days together
where we all felt well. Having always considered myself a strong,
independent woman with a lot of ambition, the ongoing reminders of my
physical weakness have brought me to my knees in new ways. There are
days where a two hour language lesson, 105’ heat, and cooking three
meals seems all I can accomplish. For a girl who’s always managed to
pack more into her life than was probably wise, I find myself failing
to meet my personal ideals on an almost daily basis. Of course, there
are also days like yesterday.
It began at 5:45am when my alarm chirpily reminded me that Fridays are
ladies’ prayer at 6:15. An hour later, I found myself greeting about
50 women at a neighbor’s wedding. Two hours, a hearty Chadian meal, a
myriad of dishes, and countless greetings later, I rushed back to my
house for two hours of language tutoring. As a rest time, I caught up
on email for around a half-hour. I then made lunch and baked a cake,
preparing for three hours of meetings with teammates. I capped all
that off with dinner and game night. Not shabby in terms of using
every minute in a day productively.

So what’s the balance between rest and work? What does that look like

here, where my body needs more rest than it ever has, and still
struggles to keep healthy? How do I maintain ambition, push myself,
and overcome obstacles without paying for it in exhaustion, illness,
or vulnerability to spiritual attack? In truth, I don’t know. “Go as a
learner” they said, and I was eager to devour new language, culture,
and practice, but I never imagined how much I would need to learn
about myself and my relationship with God. And here I find myself
admitting… even spiritually and emotionally, I am weak. You guys, this
is hard. I have surely always been in possession of these particular
weaknesses, yet I’ve never been in an environment which tested them to
this degree. Here, I learn so personally about a God who uses the weak
things of this world to confound the things which are mighty (I
Corinthians 1:27). I echo the Psalmist who says “Have mercy upon me,
Oh Lord, for I am weak.” And I learn about the humility required to
admit my susceptibility to a degree of weakness I would formerly have
Now I understand a little tiny bit about another type of weakness. And
the humility required of God who took on human flesh and weakness that
He might be ‘in all ways tempted as we are’ and persevere that He
might redeem mankind. Oh beautiful weakness! Suddenly I see it, not as
a thing to be despised, but as glimpse into my mortality, incredibly
juxtapositioned with my immortality. I understand in a new way a bit
of what it took for Jesus to leave His capabilities, and the things
which were familiar to go and do a new work on earth. I see my
awareness of this weakness as a chance to draw near to God, and allow
Him to fulfill His promise of drawing near to me. So yes, I am weak.
In this flesh and in this context I have no hope of overcoming this
total weakness. However, due to a God who promises His strength in my
weakness, I have every hope of watching the glory of God’s strength
play out in my weakness. And I anticipate experiencing the beauty and
power of the ugly cross covering every weakness in Strength.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Surprise Parties

In the US, when we hear “Surprise Party”, we generally think of an unexpected birthday party which begins by people jumping out from behind your furniture and shouting in unison the emotion that they’re expecting you to feel.
Ours began with a goat. 
We were new in the town, one week, to be exact, and we’d just moved into a new and unfinished house. Between the 105’ days and the exhaustion of trying to learn a language and culture and assimilate a new team, we were pretty beat that moving day. It was that afternoon that our friends called us and announced it. In an extremely generous turn of events, their local friends had purchased us a goat, and “SURPRISE!” we were hosting a party!
One of the singular benefits of living in a place where party food is purchased live, is that when the need arises to postpone a party, it’s not all too catastrophic. They would house and feed the goat, they said, and we could put the party off two days in order to get on our feet. This included purchasing several large party platters, learning that the party would be hosted at a friend’s house, and figuring out how to explain that while we graciously accepted the goat, it was not to be killed in sacrifice.
The day of the party arrived, as did a cute, hobbled goat, seven local friends, and the eleven on our team. We were ushered into the backyard to witness the death of the goat, in its full, gruesome glory. The custom here is to kill animals by letting them bleed out, which leads to a fairly dramatic slaughter. Once dead, the goat required every hand present for its skinning, quartering, and cleaning. Having some experience with the cleaning and braiding of intestines, I jumped right in.
Lunch couldn’t be served until we had washed the stomachs (goats have four) and liver and cooked them as an appetizer. Adding to the surprise of my surprise party, I learned that we would consume every single part of the goat save the gall bladder, the hooves, and the skin. Pancreases, in case you’re wondering, have very much the texture you might imaging based on the diagram from your 9th grade text book. We helped make green sauce, consisting of meat, onions, and pounded okra, cucumber salad, custard, esh (millet dough), red sauce, consisting of tomatoes, all the extra innards, meat, sweet potato, and onion, and grilled goat chops. All the food was piled onto platters, separately for men, woman, and children, and served up as the afternoon faded.
I learned a few more surprising things at this surprise party. I learned that there are a few rules of etiquette to sitting on the ground around a common platter and eating off it with your right hand. I learned that you eat all the sauce out of a dish before you agree to go for the meat. And I learned just how much laughter, joy, and friendship there can be, even when there isn’t a shared language.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Pigeon Shuffle

The Pigeon Shuffle
I woke up in mild terror, realizing I had just heard a really loud thud, and experiencing a second day just after the shock of consciousness. First morning light has just begun, meaning it was about 4:50 am. My first night in a new house, in a new town, in a new country, on a new continent, I was a little sensitive to the sounds I was hearing. The thudding was loud enough that you probably could have convinced me our neighbors were catapulting small dogs over the wall onto our tin roof. It turns out that our local pigeon population isn't very good with the landing gear. Having limited prior acquaintance with pigeons, I cannot say whether ours are frightfully lacking, or whether this is a fault of the pigeon population worldwide. After a series of crash landings, they began practicing the Pigeon Shuffle, which includes scratching, cooing, and lots of fluffing of the feathers.
In other news, our house/yard sightings have been fairly tame and include lizards ranging in size from 3-16 inches long, three Guinea fowl who sound like a rusty pump handle, a cat, spiders of various sizes, some mice of substantial size, toads, about 150 small birds who nest nightly in our mango tree, and a child who braved the glass-topped wall on a dare. Oh yeah, and 76,982,910 flies, less the 14 I've killed in my fly trap. That doesn't include the menagerie that awaits just outside my gate.

To accent the Pigeon Shuffle, we seem to have a neighbor cow with both morning and evening intestinal discomfort, and a chorus of roosters unwilling to be outdone by the hoarse cow noises. Occasional it's goat bleets and motorcycle horns accent in just the right places. Throughout days, intermittent knocking on the gate keeps us listening for friends, neighbors, and curious children. Evening noises include a solid hour of chirping by our little birdie friends just preceding a frenzied flutter to claim the best branches for a nighttime roost. Beyond that, a local donkey serenades us most nights with intermittent braying, and the nightly broadcasted soccer matches are just audible as darkness falls. Our neighbor baby chimes I  from time to time as the usual evening cooking sounds clang, mix, and clatter their way into our little yard. Over it all come the sounds of many little voices, gathered to recite from their Book in one of the courtyards just adjacent to our own. Along with our laughter, that about sums up our personal cacophony singing us through the rhythm of our days.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

I Said Yes!!!!!!!!

Today was partly cloudy, with a pinch of yearning and a light sprinkle of tears. The forecast for tomorrow is mostly sunny, I'd say. Rumor has it (and Facebook confirms) that a good friend was married today. I see pictures of so many friends in one place, celebrating, happy, familiar. A little part of my heart really longed to be with friends and family and to share the plethora of emotions that accompany such a happy occasion.

This probably isn't your typical idea of "I said Yes!" Someone did, for sure, but where do I come into that picture? I went for a walk to try to figure that out. God and I had a long, long talk about so many things and people, and I told Him "Yes".

Yes, I will follow you to the ends of the earth.
Yes, I will find my joy and satisfaction in Your love.
Yes, I will do my best to please and serve and obey you.
Yes, I will forsake all others.
Yes, I will give my life to you.

At this point, the clouds dispelled a bit, and rays of joy began to fill my heart. It has been my experience that saying 'yes' to God is a bit like sending a beam of light through a prism. Certainly, the direction of that light beam has to change, but suddenly there is a surprising and colorful array of beauty to experience. That 'yes' which originally seemed to be a sacrifice is suddenly broader, richer, and more lovely than it ever could've been before the course change.

In this season, my colors have been gradually intensifying into a satisfying rainbow. I have the joy of a new church family, and so, so many of them have welcomed me into their homes. I have the joy of living with a lovely host family in whom I can daily see the work of Jesus and as an added benefit, the food is amazing! I've been given the joy of learning a new language and culture, and that gift is made sweeter because I'm able to share the experiences with a teammate. I've been incredibly amazed to watch God bring about 100% of my monthly financial needs through His people in a very tangible expression of their love. I have children in my life on a daily basis. My French teachers are delightful, and we share a common love of God and people. As a final band of color, I have the all-surpassing joy of serving a good, good God.

So all in all, my forecast is looking pretty bright. I even learned a ton of French words for weather last week, so I'm well on my way to confusing people in French. It's days like this that I take time to read my emotional and spiritual barometer, and re-calibrate myself  with a reminder of how wonderful it is to say "YES!"

Friday, January 8, 2016

Hello, it's Africa Calling....

It's been a while. Lots has been going on. I'm really, super close to leaving for 9-12 months of French immersion in Canada. The end goal is this place, pictured below. AFRICA. My heart is eager to get back the this hot, sandy land and start loving on people again.

It will be a simple life. I'll need to generate any electricity I hope to use, and all my water will need to be filtered. I'll likely cook over a propane burner or a fire, and I may not have refrigeration. Grocery shopping will occur at an open market. Fresh fruits and veggies will be quite limited, but meat choices include goat and lamb, which are both favorites.

I'll probably spend time with plenty of the other expats and their kids. My joy will be found in the Lord, and in demonstrating love and the gospel. I'll make so many new friends and learn so many new words. The simple things of life that I learned so long ago will have to be relearned. Cooking, showering, cleaning, shopping, travel, chores.... it all looks so much different in Africa.

But first, St. Jerome, Canada with this girl. We'll learn French and intern at a new church there. We'll continue to prepare for Africa, and to learn helpful skills which we can teach, in turn. Life's about to change, folks. A few last details, and, Lord willing, Canada by February 1st. Change is in the air, and this girl's ready.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

An Unlikely Fit....

When I drove past the sign, it caught my attention.
The Biker Church.
What was this place? What might God be doing there? I was on a Tuesday afternoon drive, so I disregarded the thought and continued enjoying my fall drive. Saturday night, as I prayed about where I should visit for church in the morning, that sign kept coming back to me. I was really curious, but also very intimidated. This wasn't a group I anticipated 'blending' with.

Sunday morning came and I found myself wondering what a person might wear to a Biker Church. I realized that I almost certainly had nothing that would seem appropriate, based on my admittedly limited knowledge of what I was getting myself into. I just dressed in something simple and neither too casual, nor too dressy. On the way, I blasted music and let the wind whip through my car.

When I spotted the church's sign, I noticed two or three motorcycles in the parking lot. I also noticed that it was a garage-type building, and that the sign didn't point down a nearby road as I had initially assumed. A very brief glimpse in the door as I drove by, showed that there were just a few chairs set up, and it looked to be small. Honestly, I reconsidered. Because I was 8 minutes early, I decided to keep driving.

For the next 10 minutes I drove down a road, debating between just walking into one of the many churches I passed where I'd be a 'normal' visitor and I wouldn't stand out. I tried to tell myself all the reasons that I could just go to the Baptist, Presbyterian, Evangelical Free, or Methodist church that I passed just in that short drive. But I kept thinking of what I might miss if I didn't take this opportunity. So, I took a deep breath, gave myself a pep-talk, and turned around to head back to my chosen place of worship.

I've learned a few things about visiting new churches alone in this last, nomadic year. One is that the sooner you get through the greeting committee, and into the church proper, the sooner you can find a seat, blend in, and take the opportunity to observe your surroundings. Even in a friendly church, people will usually give you a moment or two, and you can gather your wits and prepare for the onslaught of 'new' that will make your acquaintance. Acting on this theory, I pulled into the parking lot, gave a quick smile and greeting to the two men at the door, and ducked inside.

Inside was no relief. It was a functional motorcycle garage with an altar, 10 chairs, and a sound booth monitored by a 13-year-old girl. Nobody else was inside. One of the greeter guys from the doorway ducked inside and introduced himself. Smokey was an ex-biker who was all smiles and friendliness. He got me some coffee and made me feel welcome. I soon met the other 8 church-goers. Worship was simple; prayer and testimonies, worship along with Youtube, and a clear, straight-forward sermon. I'd picked the perfect day to visit, my new friends told me, because we were having lunch today. As service ended, I began to feel slightly more comfortable.

I joined that little church for lunch. I joined them the next Sunday as well. The little group of 10 or 20 that gathers in a Motorcycle garage has a little place in my heart now. They welcomed me well, and they joined me in my excitement about my future in Africa. It took a bit of guts to join them, but God used an unlikely fit into an unlikely group of people to encourage my heart these past two weeks. Who knew how God would bless me through a tiny gathering of saints in a small town in North Carolina.