The Truest Disciple: Reflections on John 12:1-8

I’m nearing the end of a wonderful online writing class (offered through www.tweetspeakpoetry.com) and for one of our lessons, we were asked to write something in the style of one of our favorite authors. I chose Barbara Brown Taylor, whose sermons are perfection. This small meditation is a very feeble attempt to echo her insightful handing of familiar Bible passages.

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“Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.  Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”  (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)

 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

 

It was a party, you know. A dinner party. Because that’s where all the really good things in life happen, right? Sharing a meal with people we love, laughing over a shared glass of wine, telling stories, building memories.

And they were all there, the whole motley crew. The Twelve that followed Jesus up the road and down again. And the three – the siblings, Martha, Mary, Lazarus – who loved Jesus and hosted him time and again.

And this was a special party, truly special. Lazarus had been . . . well, there’s no other way but to put the bald truth out there — Lazarus had been dead.

And then he wasn’t, because Jesus said, ‘Come out.’

But like many parties often do, this one wound down to just three people, three people in the spotlight.

Jesus, because . . . well, he was Jesus, after all.

And Judas, because he asks hard questions and flings accusations.

And Mary.

Mary?

Right here, in the deeply misogynistic world of 1st century Palestine, the one in the fullest glare of the spotlight, the one truly faithful disciple turns out to be . . . a woman.

All the guys are there — the crusty fisherman, the bickering brothers, the tax collector, the one who sat under the fig tree. And they’ve all been there for the last three years, covered in dust, sprinkled with Galilean water, living the daily ins and outs of the Jesus life.

Yet somehow, they missed it. They missed the point of it all, the thrust of their mission, the terrifying end of the story they didn’t even know they were telling.

But Mary?

Mary gets it. She is so full of the glorious, heartbreaking truth that it literally pours forth from her body. She comes to the end of the dining couch, where Jesus is reclining by the table. She bends down, breaks open a wildly expensive vial of fragrant oil, and pours it over his feet, loosing her hair to rub it right into the cracks and crevices, scandalizing everyone in the room except the one she came to anoint.

Because, you see, she had been paying attention. Like that other Mary, she was ‘pondering these things in her heart,’ listening with care. As Judas snarled, Jesus calmed the storm: “Leave her alone . . . this perfume has been stashed away just for today, to prepare me for . . . my burial.”

Even here, on the eve of his own brutal death, Jesus insists on changing up the rules for acceptable behavior.  He shuts down what we might call the ‘churchy’ attitude, the self-righteous platitudes, and he elevates the simple but loving actions of a contemplative woman.

What we do and why and how we do it — that’s what counts. It’s not so much what we say or even what we believe — it’s what we do. Because the take-home truth is this: the surest sign of a true disciple is the delicious aroma that permeates every corner of the house.

Every corner.

 

In the midst of a hard and tiring week, I’m thankful tonight for 
the stories of scripture,
the gentle care of health aides where our moms live,
the sunshine sparkling on the water,
a 91 degree swimming pool for therapy on unhappy tendons,
CPK salads for dinner.

Joining this with Michelle and Jen, Ann & Jennifer this week:



An African Journey: Post Five – The Very Best Part

There we were, minding our own business,
getting to know this new country,
these new friends,
this new work . . .
and then the world shifted.
Well, maybe not the entire world,
just our tiny corner of it.
And it took a while to sink in, too.
On the 4th of June, 1967, 
I wrote to my mom and dad and said this:
“I have been feeling lousy the last 2-3 weeks.
Attacks of nausea at odd times, extreme sleepiness
and a late period. I am going to see the doctor next week
to find out what the trouble is. Will let you know the results.” 

What can I say?
I was young and . . . naive? 
Let’s just say it . . . 
I was plain old stupid about the process of reproduction.
Yes, thank you very much, I did know how it happened.
I just didn’t have a clue what happened when it happened.
So . . . stupid?
Yeah, that about covers it.
My mother just laughed hysterically when she read that letter,  
and her diagnosis arrived about the same time the doctor’s did:
you are two months pregnant.
About four months along, sipping a Coke on the Garden Route in South Africa.
My husband’s parents and younger sister came to visit us and took us on a wonderful three week trip to game parks and other beautiful places south of our home. I will write another journal entry about our travels to other parts of Africa while we lived in Zambia.
About 6 months along in these two faded black & white photos.
So. We were pregnant.
DEEP breath.
And so, the thinking and the wondering and the planning
and the gathering began.
My doctor was an American,
a member of the denomination with which we served,
and his work and his hospital were 40 miles away,
over a very, VERY bumpy dirt road, out in the bush.
I saw him three times during my pregnancy.
My everything- you-wanted-to-know-about pregnancy reading was limited, 
to say the least.
A friend who was a nurse had an old ob-gyn textbook,
filled with pictures and descriptions of 
all that can go wrong in pregnancy and delivery.
Lovely.
Fortunately, there were women living in our 
neighborhood who had borne babies before.
In fact, over the next four months,
four other women announced that they, too, were pregnant.
It was an epidemic!
Those of us who were newbies learned from the old hands,
and somehow, we muddled through.
Our baby was due on January 9, 1968,
and I worked as a teacher through the end of the term in
mid-December, grateful for papers to grade,
students to love and exams to prepare.
We found treasures to be repaired and painted,
I created curtains out of fabric bought in our town,
friends sent me maternity clothes and baby clothes
from home, carefully folded into 9×12 envelopes.
Over the next few months,
the reality began to sink in:
we were going to be parents.
Yikes.
January 9th came and went.
January 19th came and went.
My 23rd birthday on January 23rd came and went.
I lay on the bed, weeping, convinced that I would have this oversized basketball in my body for the rest of my life.
At about 6:30 in the morning on Sunday, January 28th,
I woke up with a strong back ache.
I went into our bathroom/laundry room and
sat on the edge of the tub, folding clean towels.
I remember being overwhelmed with
the realization that my life was going to change
forever
by the end of that day.

I was, however, still stupid.
I stood in the middle of the lawn at about 9:30 a.m.,
watching my stomach ripple under my dress,
begging my cross-the-street neighbor 
(who was pregnant with #4) 
to tell me if this could possibly be labor.
She just looked at me and said,
“Diana, get yourself into the car and drive to Macha.”
So that is exactly what we did.
If you ever find yourself wondering how you might speed things along in early labor, I have a suggestion for you.
Find yourself a very bumpy dirt road and drive on it for about an hour.
I guarantee that things will pick up nicely.
We arrived at the hospital about 10:30 in the morning, went to a very nice room with a bath and my husband proceeded to talk to me about our travel plans for the summer, 
when our term of service would be ending.
I think I may have thrown the notebook in his face, 
but I can’t be certain. 
It’s all a bit of a blur.
At about 11:45, they wheeled me into the delivery room. 
Only, it wasn’t really a delivery delivery room,
it was a surgical suite.
The doctor was a thoracic surgeon and he did a whole lot of chest surgery out there in the bush.
They didn’t have a delivery table as such, 
just a surgical table,
and that sucker was hard.
His favorite nurse, who happened to be his wife,
gave me a small mask to put over my face with each
pain, a gas called Trilene.
I had no other medication.
At 12:12, just after noon on a glorious sunny summer day,
Lisa Ruth Trautwein entered the world,
a thick head of dark hair and a great set of lungs
announcing her presence.
And I distinctly remember sitting up on the table and
shouting, “This is fabulous! I want ten of these!”
As I said, stupid.
Sigh.
Winnie Worman, the doctor’s wife and an excellent nurse, holding our 1 day old daughter.
I stayed at the Mission until Thursday, eating in their home. Dick spent the first night with us both and then returned to school on Monday morning to greet his students.
The doctor himself (Robert Worman) with our beautiful girl.
With Winnie and Lisa, outside my room. The government asked them to add 5 private rooms and I got to be in one of them. The entire birthing experience cost us about eight dollars.
We had a rocky first night.
Because my husband was with me, the nursing staff left the three of us alone that night. I very quickly learned how much I did not know about mothering, 
and, once again, how much I did not know about being a woman who carries babies and gives birth.
My baby cried non-stop. Nothing would soothe her.
 And I was more than a little bit weak and wobbly from very normal blood loss that scared and surprised me.
Because, as I’ve said . . . I was terribly uninformed . . . 
Yup . . . stupid.
By 6:00 the next morning, 
I greeted the nurse on duty like a super-hero of some sort. She took one look at our girl and said, 
“Oh, this one loves to suck. I can see it. Try this pacifier.”
Glory be! It worked. From there on, it got easier.
In the picture above, Lisa is about 22 hours old.
I’d been up, showered, shampooed, curlered and combed out, (there were no portable hair dryers in the entire country of Zambia!) and in this picture, I am figuring out how to bathe an 8 1/2 pound human person.
Fortunately, she loved it. . . and so did I.
We brought her home and introduced her to our room and to the space that would eventually be her room.
Dick and I were both ecstatic, overwhelmed with gratitude,
sometimes anxious, but basically simply delighted
to be living with this entrancing creature.
She was, of course, the most precocious child in the history of humankind, smiling at 10 days, laughing big at two months, growing blond hair with dark tips.
Our African students adored her. I think she was the only newborn baby they had ever seen who had longish, straight hair, 
and they loved to touch her, to hold her, to stroke her head.
A Zambian friend loaned me her baby carrier and I used it as a pattern to make this one for Lisa and me.
There were no Ergo carriers in the 60’s.
In fact, American and European parents 
knew nothing about carrying babies on their bodies.
I learned about it from my African friends 
and I used this sling all the time.
From the time of Lisa’s birth until the time we left five and a half months later, I was called Bina Lisa by my African colleagues, most of whose first names I never really knew, as they were always called Bina —- (insert the name of their first-born child). I have been unable to find even one picture of Lisa with our African principal and his wife or with the students who earned pocket money by helping me with my ironing twice a week. (Remember ironing??) They are among a small set of pictures that we haven’t been able to locate as we’ve been scanning old memories into our computer.  But I have strong and happy memories of their warm acceptance of our baby and of the gigantic leap of respect our becoming parents engendered in the attitude of our students toward us.
This was Lisa’s favorite position, hanging upside down, sucking vigorously on that pacifier.
All five new babies near the end of our time in Zambia. 
Lisa was the only girl.
Our next door neighbors, Rosemary and Harry King, holding Lisa at a staff gathering. Harry took the black and white photos you see in this and other of these African Journey posts.

The Kings were from Virginia. Millie and Dave Dyck, our neighbors on the other side – and the parents of Michael, born 2 weeks after Lisa and pictured above and below, were from Canada. He went on to become the head of the Mission Board of the Mennonite Brethren Church in that country.
Michael must have been teasing Lisa to make her pout like that. 
Mom and babe on Easter Sunday, 1968. Is she not the cutest thing ever?? 
(Until her sister and brother were born, of course. To say nothing of all the grandkids…)
We did take a trip on the way home.
But by the time we actually left in June, that trip
had been shortened considerably.
We spent one week in Kenya, visiting some friends who were teaching there, then about 10 days in Switzerland (pictured above) and Germany, visiting my cousin and some friends from UCLA.
We were so smitten with our girl that we wanted to get her back to the arms of our loving families just as quickly as we could. And she was a great traveler, too . . . until our very last flight. From Copenhagen to Seattle, she cried almost the entire way, then settled down as we made the last leg into LAX. 
That little one was just plain done with airplanes.

We were greeted at the airport by grandparents, a great grandmother and a small horde of aunts, uncles and a smattering of cousins. 
It was a deliriously happy time and
I think we brought home the very best souvenir imaginable, don’t you? 

 Becoming a mother changed me in ways that are profound, 
in ways that I cannot articulate.
Carrying, birthing, nursing and tending three small persons is soul work, 
down deep living-life work, sometimes terrifying, always gratifying heart-work.
Meeting Lisa was my introduction to that work
and that meeting took place a long way 
from the only home I had known to that point.
There is a very real sense, however, that birthing her in that wonderful place cemented in my spirit, 
my heart, 
even in my body, 
this truth:
home is not a geographical place 
so much as it is an emotional space,
a spiritual point of connection and commitment.
All of her life, Lisa has been able to say,
“I was born in Africa.”
And we have been able to say,
“Africa was our home.”
And those two things go together.

I will happily join this long story with Jennifer and Duane:
 
And one week later, this will be my first entry in the Parent’Hood synchro blog, joining through Joy Bennett’s blog:



The Saving Grace of Work

This post was originally written almost exactly one year ago in response to an invitation from Charity Singleton for a High Calling Blog Hop. I’m reposting it today for Ed Cyzewski’s week of blogposts on “A Hazardous Faith,” the title of a recently released book he co-authored. This particular post is actually more about a long-term season of struggle in the life of our family – both my immediate family and our church family. And it speaks to the role of my pastoral work as an anchor and strong center during that tumultuous time. Because, let’s face it – LIFE is hazardous – that is just a fact. And following Jesus in the midst of it somehow manages to both add to and subtract from the riskiness of it all. We are never promised sunshine and roses when we choose to place our feet in the shadow of the Rabbi, no matter what the televangelists might tell you. We are not rescued from life and its losses. Rather, we are invited into a relationship that makes those losses easier to navigate, a relationship that never ends and never fails.

 

2009 was most definitely not my favorite year.

Come to think of it, 2008 and 2007 were pretty rotten, too.

And 2006 and 2005 were not a whole heckuva lot better.

At times, it felt as though we were riding a dangerously out of control roller coaster, careening from side to side, tilting on one very narrow edge as we rounded some treacherous turns and corners.

My dad died at the beginning of this long stretch of tough stuff, a rugged dying, leaving my mom both exhausted from care-giving and desperately lonely for her partner.

My husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer about two months later, enduring painful and debilitating surgery and still in recovery mode during a long-planned anniversary trip to France soon after.

Our son-in-law was applying for long-term disability, literally fading away before our eyes. His wife, our eldest daughter, was beginning an education process that would give her a master’s degree and special ed certification in 12 months. Their three boys were struggling to find their bearings in this new universe.

Our middle daughter’s 3rd boy was born in distress, tiny and in the NICU for 5 days. Our daughter-in-law needed a slightly dicey C-section for her first-born, just weeks after her cousin’s difficult entry into the world.

My youngest brother landed in the ER with a severe leg infection, requiring a long list of care-giving efforts from me, my other brother and our mom. This illness began a long, downward spiral of long-missed diagnoses, homelessness, sober living residences, heart surgery and eventually, sudden death in 2009.

Our son-in-law entered the last year of his life with multiple hospitalizations, serious complications of a wide variety, and a miraculous six-month respite, giving us all some memories that were lovely and lasting. That year, 2008, ended with a devastating pneumonia that took his life in a matter of hours.

And the next year, our beautiful town was hit by wildfires – two times – requiring evacuation from home and church, plunging our worshiping community into emergency mode for months on end.

As I said, it was an unbelievably difficult few years.

And every week, except for vacations and emergencies, I went to work. Many people wondered why. Why do you want to step into other people’s difficult situations? Why do you want to visit the sick? Why do you want to write Bible study lessons? Why do you still want to preach in the rotation? Why do you want to lead in worship? Why? Haven’t you got enough on your plate already?

I don’t know that I can fully answer that question.
But I will try to write a coherent list of possible reasons in this space:

work grounded me;
work reminded me I was not alone;
work taught me about community;
work provided an external focus;
work brought at least the illusion of order
to my terribly disordered world;
work kept me from drowning;
work brought relief from the weight of worry that
was an almost constant companion;
work allowed me to stay in touch with the
creative parts of me as well as the care-giving parts;
work gave me a different place to look,
a different place to reflect,
a different space in which to be me –
the me that was called and gifted and capable.
As opposed to the me that was helpless,
impotent and
overwhelmed.

Work was something I could do,
something I could manage,
something I could control – within limits.
My life was spinning frantically out of control,
at least out of my control,
heading down deep and dark crevasses that terrified me.
Work was more easily containable,
expectations were clear,
contributions were valued.
Work was grace for me during that long,
long stretch of Job-like living.

Work was a gift,
a gift of God to a weary and worried woman.
It allowed me room to breathe,
it provided me with commitments I could keep,
it brought me into contact with people who
could actually use what I had to offer.
And it brought me into contact with people
who could bear me up,
who could tend my gaping wounds,
who could be as Jesus to me,
even as I tried to be as Jesus to those
I loved most in this world.

I did not do any of it perfectly.
Lord knows, that isn’t even possible
and it surely wasn’t true.

My body let me know how big the load had become last year, when it was my turn to enter the hospital and begin round after round of medical appointments.

The end of 2010 brought the end of my work life. I have missed it at times. But I am discovering that even in the lack of structure and schedule of these first months of retirement, God is underneath. And around and in between. Just as God has always been.

I don’t completely understand why this truth is true, I just know this: the gift and grace of work helped me to see and to know God’s presence when the roller coaster was tilting crazily. And somehow, we’re still here, clinging to the sides of the coaster car, doing our very best to enjoy the ride.

Please check out the other posts being offered today in this busy week of commentary on a powerful topic. Here is a link to today’s page at Ed’s blog.
And while you’re there, why not order a copy of Ed’s new book?
He is a great guy, a talented writer and editor and he has a brand new baby boy.
Go on, make his day. 

(Sorry, Ed, I couldn’t make the banner work.)



Sunday Musings

Just wondering . . .
on a summer Sunday night,
with cool night air drifting in from the door
and sweet worship music on 
the computer.
Just wondering . . .

what comes next?

We’re home this week,
when we thought we’d be gone.
Traveling to the northwest,
to see beautiful country,
and beautiful friends.
But we’re not. 

So here’s a calendar,
suddenly open.
And here’s a body,
more tired than I knew . . .
wondering.

My mom-in-law
began to slip,
 down
and down.
And her daughter had long-laid plans
to be gone.
It didn’t feel right to be gone at the same time,
so here we are.

And really, it’s fine.
We’re relieved not to be packing and unpacking.
We look at each other and wonder –
how come we’re feeling so tired?

When did we get so old?

And that has me wondering. . .
what happens in this culture
as we get old?
We see lots of pictures of
green space,
golf games,
exotic travel,
smiling, silver-haired models
seem to say,
“It’s time to relax,
to enjoy the fruit of your labors,
to remove yourself from the world of work.”

But here’s what I’m learning.

It’s truly difficult to do that.
I love to travel – I do.
But not all the time.

And I love to relax – I do.
But not all the time. 

So, we put our hands to what we find.
My husband, gifted with finance and investing,
sits on boards and committees,
and he manages the money he so carefully
invested for us,
for our moms,
for other family.

He tends this huge yard,

with good professional help. 

He invests himself completely in our grandkids
when they’re around. 

And I?
I sit in my small study which needs sorting.
And I meet with those who are seeking
more of God.

And they teach me far more than
I ever teach them.

 And I tend to family, too.

Ailing mothers, growing grandchildren.

I make spinach salad for 50 at our
first-Sunday-back-to-college student lunch
after church today.

And in, around and through all of that,
 I try to write.
But I’m late to this game,
really late.
And I am also way past the age of most
of my compatriots out here in cyberspace. 

Most of the time, I’m okay with that.
But tonight, I’m feeling out of place,
out of sync,
out of my element.

I’m sure this wondering phase will sort itself out.
And I’m talking to God about it,
in my usual, on-going conversation
with this One who seems both near and far,
surprisingly small,
yet immense.
And right this minute,
I am listening to the song I wrote about 
And the beauty of it pierces,
it pierces through all the wondering,
all the melancholy,
all the feelings of uncertainty 
and ego-centered angst.
Because THIS is the truth – 
and a woman who lived many centuries ago*
wrote these words,
in another tongue,
another place.

But her words, her insights
speak to my soul this night, in this place:

I cannot dance, O Love, unless you lead me on.
I cannot leap in gladness, unless you lift me up.
From love to love we circle, beyond all knowledge grow.
For when you lead, we follow, to new worlds you can show.

Your love the music round us, we glide as birds on air,
entwining soul and body, your wings hold us with care.
Your Spirit is the harpist and all your children sing;
her hands the currents ’round us, your love the golden strings. 

Play me a medley,
play me a song.
Lead me, I am yours.
I cannot dance alone.

O blessed Love, your circling unites us, God and soul.
From the beginning, your arms embrace and make us whole. 
Hold us in steps of mercy, from which you never part,
that we may know more fully the dances of your heart. 

I cannot dance, O Love, unless you lead me on.

*Our Director of Worship Arts, Bob Gross, wrote a lovely melody to go with these powerful words written by Mechtild of Mageburg in the 13th century. This translation was done in 1991 by Jean Wiebe Janzen, but the words in bold are Bob’s addition and serve as a beautiful refrain throughout the piece. Since I first wrote about this beautiful, haunting song, Bob has included it on #5 in a series of self-produced CDs taken from our Sunday worship services. And if you would like to listen to it, follow this link right here and scroll down to number six on the list. Hit the play button and enjoy. (If you use the contact addresses on the home page, you can order CDs for yourself. We are a congregation of about 325 people and apart from Bob, everyone you hear is a volunteer – vocalists, string players, acoustic and electric guitars and bass, piano, wind instruments, percussion – all from within our own community, many of them college students. We are so blessed. SO blessed. Please remember, these are not studio sessions, but live worship recordings.)

I’ll join this with Michelle, Jen, Duane, Ann’s Monday gratitude group – because I am grateful, even for the melancholy times – and maybe with Laura and Laura, though it’s not particularly playful nor is it about a physical place so much as an emotional one.


On In Around button







An African Journal – Post Three: A Living Landscape

Where we are teaches us a lot about who we are.
I am a Californian, born and bred.
Oceans, mountains, deserts – 
these are in my blood,
part of my psyche.
Cycles of wet and dry,
hot and cold,
sail-filling winds and
soul-slowing stillness –
these are part of me now,
not to be separated out,
placed on a shelf somewhere
like a seldom-read geography tome.
The real geography of this place is part of my soul.
Perhaps that’s why the geography of a different place,
a faraway place,
never felt alien to me.
I ran to it, embraced it, let it fill me up –
as much as a 21-year-old is capable of such rapture.
It was dusty and dry much of the year.
And as a Californian, this look I knew.
But anything short of jungle could grow there,
and grow it did, all over the savannah.
 And all around the edges of our small neighborhood,
with its dirt roads and driveways,
its brick houses, wide-open sky views, flat-topped trees
and all that red clay, just beneath the dust.
Grasses of all kinds flourish in this climate,
turning brown in the dry season,
but bright green when watered by seasonal rains.
The cloud formations were breathtaking,
the ground fog during ‘winter’ was not.
Much like California, we enjoyed three seasons
in Zambia rather than four:
Hot and dry,
warm and wet,
cold and foggy.
 When we first drove onto the campus, we were flabbergasted
to see tall poinsettias – and they bloomed every year,
bringing spots of bright color to the green and brown.
The shady side of our new home encouraged calla lilies and 
coleus in every color combination.
The front yard featured a row of bright coral-colored
flowers I had never seen before –
gerbera daisies,
always twisting toward the sunlight.
 Our campus was completely flat,
making it an ideal space for soccer matches –
a sport new to us in 1966.
My husband learned it well enough to coach it;
neither of us learned to love it.
 We lived about two miles off of the Cape-to-Cairo road,
a main thoroughfare going north and south on the continent
of Africa. Our town of about 2000 was a delightful place,
where something interesting was always bound to happen.
 There was a hospital, a small elementary school,
two general stores,
a butchery,
a bakery
and a small book store,
run by the church we served with.
 Acacia trees graced the southern entry to Choma,
sheltering the post office at that end of town.
And the train stopped in Choma, too.
A steam train – just like the picture on the sign below.
And we rode that train about twice each year,
sleeping overnight,
waking with cinders in our hair and on our clothes.
It was in our local train station, the first week we arrived,
that I had one of the most profound experiences 
of my young life. 
My husband and I got separated for a moment just as a train pulled up. Surrounding us was a veritable sea of Africans,
waiting to meet friends and family 
or to board the train for a new destination.
Every single face around me looked 
different from mine.
Every one.
And like a shot to the gut,
I had just the tiniest inkling of what it feels like
to be the minority – for the first time in my life.
This is an insight that simply cannot be bought,
or even taught,
and I am grateful for it.
The bus stop was right outside the bookstore, 
across the street from the bakery.
Bags and babies hung from every window,
from every baggage strut,
and the energy of a newly born country
poured out into the street.
This is the local police,
and this is the fire department.
There was one house fire in the two years we lived there,
and this team successfully extinguished it.
One of the two banks in town, about to have its
name changed as the nation of Zambia was four years old
at this point. Any reference to its former name 
(Northern Rhodesia) was being eliminated.
Note the drug store next door – called the Chemist.
As a former colony, many Britishisms remained.
A young mom, baby on back, getting ready to cross the street.
I don’t think she had to wait long.
Every once in a while, a touring car would
whiz by, making a stop for supplies or refreshments.
This was a highlight for the local community.
We met Australians, South Africans, Germans 
as they were heading either north or south on the transcontinental highway.
At the other end of the transportion spectrum,
we sometimes saw this coming down the main street.
Cattle were visible signs of wealth in Bantu society.
The Tonga tribe was the main group living in the
southern province, and despite the fact that it was 
officially against the law of the land, 
brides were bought and sold . . .
with cattle – lobola must be paid.
These gentlemen are the tribal elders
and it was their primary job to palaver,
to meet and talk.
Every day. All day. About anything and everything.
I never did get used to that as a know-it-all
20-something.
Looking back as a knows-very-little-indeed 60-something,
I believe this constant communication 
contributed to the well-being of both the 
tribe and the family.
Things got thoroughly talked through
before hostility developed.
This nice looking man was proud to be the owner
of a rifle and he asked me to take this picture.
I was happy to oblige.

We lived at an elevation of just over 4000 feet and it was suggested that at least once a year, 
we travel to sea level to take a break, 
get a little richer oxygen and basically rest up. 
We did that exactly once.
My husband’s parents and younger sister 
visited us the second summer we
were there, and the five of us took a wonderful trip 
which I will write about sometime soon.
But one place we could get to in an afternoon
was about 120 miles south of us.
 From this angle, a peaceful river.
 From this one, a glimpse of why the local people called
this place, “the water that thunders.”
Victoria Falls, one of the wonders of the modern age.
Astounding, spectacular, magnificent – words fail.
Completely fail.
My husband took a truck load of students there on 
a field trip one year.
Not one of them had ever seen it.
Not one.
One hundred and twenty miles.

It is the landscape of a place that gets in under the skin.
The contour of the land,
the shape of the sky,
the colors of the plants and flowers,
the presence – or absence – of water.
And this is a landscape that fed my soul,
that invited me to grow,
that gave me hope,
that taught me about time and seasons 
and hard work and good rest.
This is the landscape in which I became
an adult,
a wife,
a mother,
a more careful critic of the church,
a searcher after God’s deep truth,
and a whole lot less of a know-it-all.
I am grateful.

Joining with Jennifer and Duane, if he’s open this week, 
Emily, if she’s open and Ann’s Wednesday group.
Better late than never, right??

An African Journey – Post Two: A Letter to My Younger Self…

 Standing next to an ant hill somewhere in central Africa, approximately 1966.

Dearest girl,


That’s what you are, you know. You don’t realize that, but I do. Looking back across these years, I see you. I see how very young you are. Twenty-one, newly married, recent college graduate, thrilled to be living your life, to be planning a cross-continental move, to be moving on, moving out, moving away. 

You’re a little bit full of yourself and your university education, especially those three courses in African studies you took that last semester, in preparation for moving across the sea. Three college level courses does not an expert make – believe me, it just does not. But then, you learned that within the first six weeks of moving there, didn’t you? Yes, you learned it the hard way. I guess that’s how all good learning comes, sweetheart. It has to hurt a little to be real.

I look at these old pictures and I know you’re a bit nervous about all that’s happened to you in the last few months. I see a smidgen of uncertainty, a frisson of anxiety. But mostly what I see when I look at your face is this wonderful truth: you are just plain gob-smacked with the freedom you’ve found in being married. 

You and he are on your own – and that feels grand, doesn’t it? You can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone. Of course, there are limits to that, aren’t there? Limits of morality and common decency, which you both hold in high regard. But more than that, there are limits of believing and belonging, limits that you share, that you value, that you try to live. 

Following in the footsteps of the Rabbi from Nazareth has always been part of who you are, for as long as you can remember. Suffering growing pains as a 4-year-old, you told  your Mama one night, “That ol’ Jesus is down in my leg tonight and he’s hurtin’ me!” And you believed that with your whole, small heart. Jesus was there, living your life with  you. 

And walking down that center aisle of the old brownstone church in downtown Los Angeles, late on a Sunday evening the year you turned 11 – saying ‘yes’ to Jesus in front of your community of faith – that was important, significant. And you felt it deep down inside you as you drove home in the backseat of your parents’ car, staring at the street lights. You were filled with wonder that night – and so many nights since. 

Your heart was true that 21st year, this much I know. But I also know that your heart and your mind had a lot of traveling to do in order to communicate well. And then there was the matter of getting what you knew and what you felt to travel down your limbs to your hands and feet. Living what you knew, what you believed, what you began to allow yourself to feel with the truer pieces of yourself – that took years and years, and still isn’t done. No, not done yet.

Our once-a-week dinner with the students at Choma Secondary School.

But here’s what I want to tell you, oh, brave younger self. Here’s how I want to encourage you. You will break out of the mold as you get older and wiser. And you will make a lot of mistakes in that process. But you will also learn and stretch and grow and change and enlarge your heart and your mind and your spirit . . . and it will be wonderful. Difficult, painful, anxiety-filled, marked by loss, watered by tears and tears and tears . . . but wonderful.

You will push three living beings out into the world and love them fiercely. Those three will form you in ways you cannot even begin to imagine now, but count on it – their mark on you will be indelible. 

And while you’re at home, raising them and learning more about that Rabbi you love, you will begin the hard work of questioning much of what you were taught about who you are as a daughter of God, a sister to Jesus. And you will find answers from good people, from faithful people, people who’ve walked the road ahead of you. Some of them will be contemporaries; many will be much older saints, long gone to be with Jesus. 

If you could see me across these years, you might be surprised, maybe even shocked. Life has this way of getting both more complicated and more simple as time passes. Layer upon layer of love and responsibility get added as your family and friendships grow. But at the same time, much that is extraneous and unnecessary gets stripped away, leaving the bare bones beauty of truth, faith, hope, peace, love. 

You cannot see what’s ahead – neither the joy nor the heartbreak. And you can’t really see what’s behind you at this point, either. That takes time and work and self-care and you’re nowhere near that at age 21. You’re too busy living your life to look at it carefully. Give it a little time, however. You’ll start looking. And what you’ll find will surprise you, bring you to tears, fill you with thanksgiving and make you wonder about a lot of things. 

It will take time and scrutiny to understand the impact of an alcoholic grandfather on your mother and her parenting of you. It will take time and patience to look at the steely-eyed pressure your grandmother put on your father and how his reaction to that made a difference in you and your own family circle growing up. These things take time, they take maturity. But you’ll get there. You’ll always be getting there, honey. Count on it. 

Because that’s what this life is about. Truly, it is. We’re here to become human, to become the person we were designed and created to be – in a word, to look more and more like Jesus. And back then, you only had glimpses of all that, which was exactly how it should have been. Now, at this end of these years, I can say with gratitude that goes deep as the Marianas Trench – it’s all grace. Because it is, dear one. It is.

Love you – more and more,

Your older, wiser, creakier Self

Waiting for the bride at my nephew’s wedding, April 2012

Delighted to be re-joining Bonnie over at Faith Barista, whose prompt this week was a letter to our younger self. I’ll also check in with Emily at Canvas Child.

An African Journal – Post One: Beneath the Surface

With this post, I am beginning what I hope will be a series of reflections and rememberings about a formative part of my life and journey as a Jesus follower – the two years we spent living in Zambia in the 1960’s. As I’ve noted elsewhere on this blog, one of my primary purposes in writing here is to have a record for my grandchildren, most especially my two young granddaughters, a record that tells a little about who I am and how I got here. I so wish I had something like this from my own grandparents! I am deeply grateful to my grandson Joel Fischinger for scanning our 500 slides from that time so that I can access them for these pages.

The VW Kombi bus labored a bit as it climbed the hill just before the border crossing. Before us spread the great savannah of central Africa, dotted with trees and brush that were strange to our eyes, yet oddly reminiscent of our southern California home.
This label made us giggle. Yes, it was a BIG tree – a baobab tree.
 I look at these pictures and think, “We were such babies!” I was 21, he was 24.

“Look! What’s that?” I cried from the passenger seat.
“Honey, don’t tell me to look over there,” my new husband begged, with the beginnings of a quaver in his voice. “I can barely manage to keep this thing in the lane!”  After all, he was driving on the right side of the car and the wrong side of the road.
“Just slow down a little bit and look over there to the left,” I continued. “Do you see what I see?”
“Give me a sec,” he agreed, slowing the bus just a little. “Wow! What the heck is that?”
“Look, look, look! It’s a whole tribe of baboons! Slow down, oh, please! Slow down!”
 
We were too startled to pull out our tiny, square-format Kodak 126 camera when those baboons traipsed across the road in front of us. But here are two unrelated pictures of two different kinds of monkeys we saw at later dates.

And he did, mouth agape, startled to see an entire troupe of 50-60 monkeys serenely crossing the road right in front of us. Mamas carrying babies, larger males, young adults – the whole extended family was there – scampering, to be sure – but unafraid of us or our vehicle.
“Holey moley, honey! We are not in Kansas anymore!”
“You’re not kidding. I can’t believe it! Did that really just happen?”
We had traveled far to be in that van on a sunny Monday morning: California to Brooklyn by car, Brooklyn to Capetown by freighter, Capetown north through Rhodesia in a van to be shared with other missionaries, yet to be met.  We were on our way to Zambia, a land completely unknown to us, a land that would be our home for the next two years.
Married just 8 months before, we were young, idealistic and ready for adventure. It was the mid 1960’s and the escalating war in Vietnam brought deep soul-searching for many men of draft-able age. My husband had a unique up-bringing which led to an unusual choice, a choice which took him far away from the jungles of Southeast Asia.
“The draft” had been part of American life since the early years of WWII and the nation was heaving with discontent as the war in Southeast Asia continued to escalate. A saving grace in the draft process was the option to register as a 1-W – a person “opposed to bearing arms by reason of personal religious conviction.”
And that’s exactly what my husband had done. Raised as a pacifist, with family members on both sides vehemently opposed to killing for any reason, he had registered as a conscientious objector (CO) when he turned 18. He knew that meant two years of service offered in lieu of joining the military.
My husband wanted to do those two years somewhere far from home, somewhere that would require an element of sacrifice on his part, somewhere that the cause of peace could be served in a practical, hands-on way. Every 1-W during those years was drafted. Most of them chose to work within the continental US for their two years, but he wanted something different.
 
The school that would be our home and workplace from 1966-68.

And that’s what brought us to the center of Africa. Working with the Mennonite Central Committee, we would teach at a boarding school in the small town of Choma. The school itself was run by two denominations – my husband’s and one other, even more conservative in both dress code and theology. Given his own life experience, my husband had more than an inkling of what our life might be like.
I, on the other hand, had never heard of a CO before I fell in love with my husband. Intrigued by the idea – and thrilled at the possibility of a cross-culture adventure – I was eager to unpack, settle in and get to work. Both of us were committed followers of Jesus, we just came to that place down very different roads.
The small town of Choma, about 2 miles from our campus by bicycle or Kombi-bus. I’ll write more about Choma in later posts.

And now we were driving 1400 miles north on the Cape to Cairo road, blithely unaware of what was ahead of us.  Two fifty-gallon oil drums crammed to the top with wedding gifts – waiting to be opened and sorted; a campus and a town waiting to be navigated; new neighbors waiting to be met.
And most of those looked a whole lot different than I did.
Our home for those two years – cinder-block to distract the termites, 3 bedrooms and electricity most of the time. FAR nicer than the tiny 1-bedroom apartment we lived in while I finished at UCLA.

“Did you see how many of these women are wearing prayer bonnets?” I asked plaintively as we took a walk around our new, small neighborhood.
“And look at the length of those skirts! Wow, do I feel out of place! Who in their right minds wears long sleeves in weather like this?”
“Well, it is a little more ‘cloistered’ than I thought it might be. On the west coast, we don’t see as many with this sort of Amish look. But relax, sweetheart. I don’t want you to look like these women – I want you to be you.”
 We moved into a house that had been inhabited by missionaries on furlough. They planted this HUGE garden, which to my very young and inexperienced eyes looked overwhelming. We managed to keep much of it alive and put up 40 jars of tomato juice our first month on site.

Momentarily mollified, I fingered the pearls at my neck. They had been a gift from Dick on the day of our wedding and I loved them. Somehow, touching them from time to time brought back happy memories of that day and of the courtship that led to it.
I had always considered myself to be on the conservative side – modest in dress, wearing only a little make-up, hard-working and committed to my faith.
But here?
Here, I was a wild-eyed liberal, a hussy who colored and cut my hair, who wore sleeveless shirts and skirts at the knee. And jewelry. I wore jewelry.
What in the world had I gotten myself into?
 A staff Thanksgiving celebration, near the end of our time there.

“What’s this?” I asked my husband several weeks later, fingering a letter from the local denominational bishop.
“Um…well…,” he stuttered, dreading the reaction he knew was coming. “It’s a list. A list of things you are not to do.”
“A what? A list of laws? Are you kidding me?” And I burst into tears. For the first time in our nearly two months away, I was desperately homesick.
Dick folded me into his arms, sighing into my hair – my short, artificially colored hair – and held me while I sobbed.
Between hiccoughs and tears, I sputtered, “Are they really serious? I can’t wear my wedding pearls, even just to the staff gatherings? I can’t wear ANY make-up? I have to cover up my arms and lengthen my skirts?”
Slowly, I calmed down and began to let the shock dissipate a bit. Dick kept apologizing and patting my back, trying to assure me that I was fine, just FINE exactly as I was.
And slowly, I began to believe him.
“You know what? This is not going to work for me. At all. The jewelry thing – I get not wanting to look ‘rich’ in front of the students. I get that. But at Bible study, off campus, with just staff? I will wear my pearls once in a while, whether he likes it or not.”
“That’s my girl!” Dick smiled.
“And I’ll try to talk to the bishop about what I believe, about how I know and experience Jesus and see if we can maybe meet in the middle. What do you think?”
“I think maybe our friend the bishop has met his match in you. And I’ll go with you to that meeting.”
It was not the most comfortable 45 minutes of my life, but that meeting helped cement in my spirit the importance of being open to a wide variety of faith expressions within the Christian community. We both gave a little space to the other – I would not wear jewelry or sleeveless dresses in the classroom. He would not complain if I wore my pearls to Bible study or dressed more casually at home or in town.
Over the next two years, we lived in community well. A new bishop arrived, one with a few less concerns about dress code. And a few women actually cut their hair short and began wearing lighter-weight clothing, with shorter sleeves and hemlines. 

I grew up a little and began to see beneath the prayer coverings and the pinafore-style dresses and sensible shoes. To see the tender hearts and deep commitment of these neighbors who were fast becoming friends.
They introduced me to Pennsylvania Dutch cooking; I introduced them to homemade flour tortillas and ground beef tacos. We laughed, we loved our students, we commiserated over the obstacles in their way and celebrated their accomplishments. We realized that not one of us had it all figured out – and that God loved us all anyhow.

And I was never homesick again.

We arrived the end of August, had that meeting with the bishop in mid-October and celebrated our first wedding anniversary in December. One of our new friends baked us this cake and we had a lovely evening celebrating together.



Because this is an exercise in ‘playing’ with my past story, I’ll be connecting these posts with Laura Boggess’s invitation to a Playdate with God and with Laura Barkat’s In, On and Around Mondays. Also joining with the sisterhood at Jen’s place and a new one to me, Hazel Moon’s “Tell Me a Story”:

On In Around button

A Guest Post: Window Coverings, Riding the Bus and Growing Up

My friend, David Rupert, has a great series going
this summer – all about first jobs.
He invited me to participate many weeks ago,
and today is the day.
Just a few simple reflections on going to work at age 15,
in retail – selling window coverings, of all things.
My own house today has very few of those – 
because I like to look outside –
but if I had too, I could order drapes with the best of ’em!
Here’s a small sample – for the whole story, please
check out David’s place – it’s a nice place to be:
I’ve had a lot of different jobs in my life – babysitter, lawn-waterer, house-tender, school teacher, stay-at-home-mom, administrative assistant, florist, teaching assistant, staff pastor, curriculum writer and spiritual director. But the year I turned 15, I got my first ‘real’ job. A friend suggested I apply for a position as a retail clerk at a local, family-owned business that sold curtains, draperies and the hardware for hanging them. And I got paid a whopping $1.25/hour. After three years of baby-sitting for thirty-five cents per hour, that sounded like a great idea! I had to apply for a special dispensation from the city government because I was under age, and then, for the next 18 months, I worked every Saturday and all vacation days at Bruce’s Draperies on Orange Street in Glendale, CA. I learned a lot about measuring windows, calculating how much fabric would be needed for custom drapes, and which rods could best bear the weight of which fabric density.

It was boring.

I mean, it was really boring.

But my employers were kind, the customers were gracious – and I got $1.25 per hour!

Here’s the link to David’s house:

At the Marina: a Photo Essay

It was a beautiful morning – 
clear skies right from the get-go,
warm sunshine,
gentle breeze. 
A perfect day to treat ourselves to lunch out 
at the local marina.
 
Although boat culture is not our thing,
we love to look at them.
So we took ourselves to a ringside seat,
with a close-up view of hungry starlings 
and brightly blooming hibiscus, 
 and a more distant view of masts and docks.
Dick had his favorite seafood Louis salad,
I had a chicken quesadilla,
and we just sat and breathed for a while,
taking in the spectacular view 
and wondering aloud every so often 
if very many of these boats
before us actually make it out to the open sea.
After lunch, we took a slow amble down the waterfront,
noting how much clearer the water is now,
after a major harbor clean-up a few months back. 

 

We spied one turquoise-bottomed fishing boat 
as it slowly wound its way into the dock.
We stood and watched a bit, as it idled
in the unloading area while we walked 
south along the wooden decking.
There were others out and about, too, 
enjoying the warmth of the sun,
the sound and smell of the water. 
 One of the things I love about our town 
is the juxtaposition of ocean and mountains.
There is always something beautiful and inspirational 
to look at, no matter which direction you face.
 At least two fisherfolk were still out at sea 
(see their empty slips in the picture below?);
we hoped we might be lucky enough to see
at least one of them come in and unload their cargo.
 Sure enough,
a small, 2-person ship –
complete with crow’s nest –
came chugging into view as we walked along the pier.
 These boats are far more interesting to us than the 
luxury cabin cruisers and humongous catamarans  
that dot our marina.
(See that big one in the right-center-rear 
of the picture above?)
Maybe that’s because these small, well-worn boats 
represent the life and livelihood of a dying breed
in these parts – the journeyman fisherman.
Their territory has been impinged upon by 
multiple facts-of-life –
government regulation, most of it necessary;
predatory otters – all of them adorable, but destructive;
over-fishing and diminishing quantities of some of the
Santa Barbara channel stock-in-trade –
abalone and lobsters in particular.
 The white-haired gentleman atop the boat is the captain;
his long-suffering wife is waiting on the dock,
barely visible through the rigging.
There was one other crewman,
middle-aged and about as worn looking as this boat.
 We’d seen scarecrow-owls atop buildings before,
but this was the first time we’d seen one 
on a sea-faring vessel.
 We waited patiently, walking from one of the
weigh-in piers to the other,
noting two grey, covered trashcans on the deck.
What could be inside this time?
 Slowly, the winch raised those grey cans off of the ship
and onto the dock where a scale waited.
These two gentlemen below,
with Chinese last names,
opened some grey trashcans of their own,
taken from the bed of their small pick-up truck.
And then they poured amazing quantities of…
octopi… into them.
 The longer-haired gentlemen switched position
at the exact same moment I clicked the slow-shutter on 
my point-and-shoot camera, so I did not get a
picture of those slimy critters as they swirled into the can.
The buyers snapped on the lids, to protect their precious 
purchase from the vagaries of freeway traffic,
then got into the cab of their truck,
and drove those things back to somebody’s
favorite Chinese restaurant somewhere. 

Just before we headed home,
 we snuck a peek into the local Fish Market
to remind us of what we usually see
when we come here!
 A beautiful selection of fish,
much of it very high-priced –
all of it delicious and fresh, fresh, FRESH.

We may not be part of the boat culture,
but we are most definitely part of the FISH culture.
And we are appreciative of the those who are dedicated and brave enough to gather the fish that we eat from the sea. 
All in all, a lovely summer afternoon.
Joining Michelle and her Graceful Summer invitation each Friday of these summer months: 
 





TSP Book Club: Scared of the Dark

She wanted to play hide and seek.
In the dark.
This child of the light,
who loves to stride and run her way through life,
she wanted to go into the closet,
turn out the light
and, ‘shhh…be quiet,’ 
and hide from her beloved Poppy.
So I picked her up, held her close and shut the closet door.
She turned out the light and urged me to go further in.
Very carefully –
because it was dark in there! –
I backed us up into the furthest corner,
and waited.
“I can’t see you, Nana,” she whispered.
“I know. I can’t see you, either.” 

She wrapped her arms around me a little bit more
tightly, touching her cheek close to mine.

“Your glasses seem scary in the dark, Nana.” 
“I’m sorry, honey. Can you feel them?
They’re just my regular old glasses.
Nothing to be scared of.” 

“They look scary,” and her voice quavered just a little.
  
But here is what she did:
as she got more frightened,
she clung to me ever more tightly.
More kisses,
more strokes,
more nestling. 

We had failed to let Poppy in on the game, 
so he never did come find us.
We turned on the light,
opened the door,
and went back to our usual Wednesday happiness –
tea party, books, lunch, nap.

Later that day, as I thought about that 
sweet moment in the darkness, 
I think I finally began to understand something 
of what Julia Cameron has been trying to teach us
over at the TweetSpeak Poetry Book Club.
For the last six weeks, we’ve been exploring,
“The Artist’s Way: 
A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.”
And I’ve been fighting it hard,
regularly resisting the Morning Pages,
generally keeping myself on the edge of things,
watching curiously while others test these waters.
It feels like the dark to me, you see.
Reaching into the muck that is too often my mind
(especially in the morning),
feels strange; it feels scary.
Yet I find myself resonating with much of what Julia says,
nodding at the need for self-care,
agreeing with her call
to creating space for creativity in my life.
I particularly like this sentence 
from our concluding week’s assignment:
“Creativity is a spiritual practice.” (pg. 182) 
I believe this with my whole heart.
I have encouraged creativity,
 in my kids,
in my home,
in my church,
in my ministry life.

Why, then, am I frightened by this ‘artist’s way?’ 
Maybe because even familiar things can take on 
strange forms and shadows 
when we’re operating in the dark. 
Maybe because I’m not sure what I’ll find if 
I hang out in that dark for very long. 
Maybe because I’ll discover a big
audacious dream in the middle of the muck,
and I’m not sure I can handle that. 
Maybe because I’ve forgotten to cling to what I do know,
to cling to Whom I know,
and to trust that who I am – 
even in the dark – 
is held,
safe,
loved. 
A little more nestling may be required.
Joining with Lyla and the gang over at TweetSpeak, with Emily for her last-for-the-summer Imperfect Prose, with Jennifer at God-Bumps and  Ann’s Wednesday group:

ts book club no border