An African Journey: Post Four – An African Wedding

At our wedding reception in December of 1965, 
one of my husband’s oldest friends and his wife stood in line,  shook our hands, wished us well, and jokingly said,

Ray and Dick were born just a few days apart and ‘met’ at the church their parents attended when they were infants.
They went to high school together and were part of a group of guys who kept connected through college and beyond.
Finding out that they were thinking about 
traveling around the world the same time we were?
Astoundingly good news!

And that’s exactly what happened, eight months later.
Only their location was a little more in flux than ours,
we traveled on different ships,
and we weren’t at all sure where they would end up
once we all got there.
As it turned out, for the first few months,
they were housed at a mission station in the bush, about 40 miles away from us. To get there required driving on this dirt road,
the same corrugated dirt road that we traveled 
nearly two years later when I went into labor.
There were villages located all through this area,
and all of the people who lived in them walked or rode their bikes to the mission for two primary reasons:
to receive quality medical care or
to get married in the chapel.

Every few weeks, we would drive out that road
to see how our friends were doing.
Or they would come charging into Choma,
often on the motorcycle they bought their first week there.
Their presence was a huge gift to us. Huge.
This was the small rondaval they called home for those months. It was one room, with a corrugated tin roof and an outhouse.
And you may remember how we lived . . .
in a stucco and brick house, with three bedrooms and indoor plumbing. 
Plus, we had electricity about 80% of the time.
And yes, we did feel more than a little guilty about
encouraging them to come on this adventure.
They both wanted to teach school, 
so while they waited for an assignment, 
they lived at Macha Mission. 
Ray managed this workroom, and used his considerable mechanical gifts to repair all kinds of things.
Anita made herself useful wherever she could and was 
so delighted when they rigged up cooking equipment in their small home.
Prior to that, they had to eat in the main house,
with a tribe of other workers.
Once in a while, that kind of community is a grand thing – if everyone is moderately compatible and easy-going.
But three meals a day, seven days a week?
It can be tough sledding.

In about our third month there, we had a true adventure together. 
There was a wedding at Macha – and we were invited!
The wedding was scheduled for about 10:00 a.m.,
but didn’t begin until a little after noon.
Because in Zambia, it was customary for the groom 
to purchase the attire for the bride.
This groom didn’t have a clue about sizing and the dress
he selected for his small wife-to-be was about four sizes too big. 
The entire mission staff was busily trying to make adjustments 
so that this girl could come down the aisle. 
Many safety pins and an improvised cummerbund later 
(made from a cloth diaper) – and, voila!
It worked and somehow the wedding happened.
Some western traditions were incorporated – like the clothes and the attendants. But one custom was entirely Tongan:
the bride never looked up, never smiled. Ever.
This was the most important and serious day of her life
and she was not supposed to make light of it in any way.
And she did not.
Following the ceremony, we were invited to the feast held in celebration of the new family – at the groom’s village.
The women had been cooking for hours,
gifts had been gathered,
and the couple’s new hut had been officially decorated . . .
by the groom, with new clothing, fabric and other gifts for his lovely bride.
We drove over a bike path, then a cow path, then through a small stream, where we had to get out and push the Kombi-bus. The bride and groom hitched a ride with us, however, so we knew the party couldn’t begin until we got there.
The houses in the village were made of mud bricks, the roofs thatch. The smaller structures were grain storage bins because the staple food for this entire region is ensima, a porridge made from ground field corn. Every village kept a ready supply of the tough kernels in these small, raised huts, out of the reach of hungry warthogs and wandering cattle.
 In the morning, ensima is served thin, gruel-style. 
For meals later in the day, it is quite stiff and usually served with a relish – most often vegetables, but on special occasions, chicken or beef.
This was a special occasion and there was chicken cooking in the pots!
Meals were cooked communally and sometimes eaten together, 
sometimes in smaller family units.
On this day, we were ushered into the groom’s hut and food was brought to us.
We felt overwhelmed and embarrassed by so much special attention, 
but had been told ahead of time what to expect 
and to just receive this hospitality for the lovely gift it was.
The groom’s hut was not quite as large as this one and did not have windows,
but it was cozy and welcoming.
As I recall, I was not feeling at all well that day, but I was determined not to miss this once-in-a-lifetime experience!
You can just barely see that the groom has a good supply of both sugar and hand soap – high on the list of desirable products to own.
They brought us – stiff corn meal mush and some stewed chicken to go with it. And we loved the enamel ware bowls it came in!
This was the view looking out the door of the groom’s hut,
just a snapshot of village life.
After everyone had eaten their fill, the party began.
There was dancing,
and there was singing,
and there was gift-giving.
Each gift would be danced up to the couple –
a five-pound bag of sugar,
a box of tea,
a bar of soap or a box of soap flakes.
Everyone was delighted to be there and showered this
couple with love and generosity.
 About six weeks after this remarkable adventure,
Ray and Anita were moved 500 miles south of us
to one of the oldest mission stations of the denomination.
It was located in the beautiful, rocky landscape of the Matopos hills in what was then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.
Getting together got a lot more complicated.
We thanked God for the steam train and made the effort, however. 
And we got to see some gorgeous country in the process.
This is the school where Ray and Anita taught for nearly two years. They had indoor plumbing and generated electricity during daylight hours. They loved their students and made some long-time friends in this place.
Whenever we visited, they took us sight-seeing.
And there were such beautiful sights to see.
They came back to Zambia to visit us, too.
We celebrated birthdays and anniversaries together when we could, laughing and enjoying the long threads of our shared history.
Anita was one of the greatest friends of my life.
She taught me how to cook, how to laugh,
how to enjoy life.
She died one month before I began my life in Santa Barbara
and I have missed her ever since.

Ray was skilled at so many things and so generous with those skills! 
He and Dick shared many years of close friendship.
After we returned to the States, 
our families gathered every New Year’s Eve and Day,
and vacationed together several times.
Those ties were begun here,
in our bright red kitchen and their hilltop adobe home.
Ties that connected us heart to heart,
soul to soul.
Sharing such life-changing experiences binds people 
in ways that are hard to describe or define.
But I am eternally grateful for all of it – 
the experiences,
the ties,
the friendship.
I am so very glad we had this cross-cultural 
adventure when we were young, 
but I find that what I miss now that I am not-so-young is 
not the adventure itself, but that sense of long history with heart-friends. 
It has never been replicated in our lives.
And as I look at these old pictures,
as I read the letters I sent home,
it is this connection that I miss the most.
There simply is no substitute for it.
Thank you, Ray and Anita, for loving us well
and sharing our lives for so many years.
I miss you.

I will join this at Jennifer’s and at Emily’s and at Duane’s places. Also with Laura Boggess and with Michelle and Jen and the SDG:

Again and Again – Soaking in the Beauty with People We Love

A Photo Essay
Kauai, Hawaii 

We went there first in 1980. And we left our kids at home for the first time ever. They were 8, 10 and 12 and my parents came and stayed in our home, schlepping them hither and yon for two and a half weeks while we flew across the Pacific to check out the 50th state.

That time we went with another couple, island-hopping to get the lay of the land. But we knew from the very first touchdown on that northernmost and oldest of the islands that we would be back in that place, kids in tow, just as soon as we could possibly make it happen.

And two years later, we did it. All 5 of us sharing a 1-bedroom condo, air mattresses on the floor, mosquitoes buzzing, frogs chirruping by the thousands. 

And we loved it.
Every single inch of it. 
It’s hard to say enough about all that we love in that place.
 From the 150 year old wood frame or volcanic stone churches…

…to the thrilling drop-off above the Napali coastline,
as viewed from the overlook…
 …to the waterfalls and colorful striations of the Little Grand Canyon on the road up to the overlook…

…to the windswept Tunnels Beach with it’s conical-hat Bali Hai in the distance…
 …to the richness of local taro fields lining the sides of the Hanalei River…
…to the sweeping panorama of the beach at Kalihiwai Bay, whether a sunny day…
 …or a cloudy one – complete with rainbow.
  Of course, I would have to tell you about that solitary lighthouse across from the bird refuge…
 …and certainly, the lure of the jungle-rich roadway driving north…until there is no more road to drive.
 One consistent siren call is most assuredly the sounds of local bird-life. The distinct cooing of Hawaiian doves,
the worried call of the bright red or grey and red cardinals,
 and – of course – the early morning cri de couer of hundreds and hundreds of these guys, wandering wherever they please,
thank you very much.
I would have to include the singular beauty of entire groves of palm trees, swaying in the breeze.
And of course, one of my deepest loves:
the wide variety of beautiful flowers, colorful and fragrant.
 Anthurium, pink and red.
 Every shape, size and color of orchid.
It’s not called the Garden Isle for nothin’.
Wonderful wildflowers, too. 
 Red ginger, and sometimes pink.
My personal favorite – and the first thing I buy at the local Farmer’s Market – is the white, heavily scented tuberose.
And these wild bird-flowers are fun, too.
Golden shower trees abound – and of course – the state flower can be found everywhere, in every shade of pink, purple, orange, yellow, white and red. 
The glorious-for-one-day hibiscus.
 But as breathtakingly beautiful as it is,
as warm and welcoming as we find it every time we come,
as lovely and relaxing and refreshing as our time there always is – 
it is the people we share it with
 that make this place memorable.
Setting aside time, money and commitment for vacationing 
is a very high value for us as a family.
In fact, after commitment to growing in discipleship,
loving one another well,
learning our whole lives long –
I would have to say that re-creating is among our top four family values.
My husband and I began our married life by traveling halfway around the world together – to serve, to explore,
to grow together as our own family unit.
And every year since then, we have saved for, 
planned for and enjoyed time away from the regular routine.
We seek beauty,
learning about new places,
meeting new people,
and enjoying one another 
in a setting that is removed from the demands of daily living.
So we’ve been back to Kauai 
(or to Maui, our 2nd favorite) 
about 15 times in the last 30 years.
And some of our richest family memories are 
part and parcel of that small northernmost island,
the one with all the greenery and all the family lore.

Each of our parents invited their children and grandchildren to Kauai in celebration of their 50th wedding anniversaries.
We’re making plans to do the same in 3 years time, when our own comes around.
We took each of our children’s spouses with us on family trips to this place – two of them before they were officially members of the family.

And four years ago, we planned an extra-special trip, 
one that became even more so in retrospect.
Our middle daughter and her family of 5 rented a house in Princeville for a month.
Dick and I rented a house on the edge of Kalihiwai Bay for the same time period.
We were 10 minutes apart by car and each of us entertained parts of our extended families over the course of those four weeks.

My mom and my youngest brother came for one week and stayed with us. Within two years, he was dead and she was blind, frail and losing her memory.
The treasure of this time together 
is something I carry with me just about every day. 
 My husband’s mom and his incredible sister, whose marriage of 38 years had just ended, came and stayed for a different week. 
Today, four years later, 
Mom is on hospice care; 
Dick’s sister is preparing for a very different life 
once her mother is gone, most likely moving across the country to be nearer her daughter for half of each year.
Life just keeps on changing, you know?
And the gift of time away together?
It cannot be measured.
Since our initial visit 32 years ago, the islands have changed, too. Some of that change is welcome (like a wonderful Costco near the airport); some of it not so much (like increasing development and numbers of people) – but the essentials of the place remain the same.
It is beautiful.
It is marked by a much slower rhythm of living.
It is far enough away to feel removed 
from the lure of life on the mainland,
but not so far away as to feel isolated.
I cannot possibly put into words how deeply grateful 
I am to have spent time in this grace-filled space. 
I think it’s about as close to Eden 
as I’m ever going to get this side of heaven – 
and I KNOW God lives there year ’round.

Joining in the Community Writing Project for The High Calling, put together by Charity Singleton and edited by Deidra Riggs, two of the finest women on the planet.
You can read other vacation stories at Charity’s place:

Remembering with Gratitude: A Life Well-Lived

Abbot David Nicholas Geraets, OSB
March 4, 1935-March 2, 2012

Entered St. Benedict’s Abbey, Benet Lake Wisconsin
Made monastic profession – September 1, 1957
Ordained to the priesthood – September 29, 1962
Baptized by the Holy Spirit – November 1967 and began 
ministry to the charismatic renewal.
Elected First Abbot of Pecos Monastery – April 11, 1973
Abbatial Service – 1973-1992
Conventual Prior in San Luis Obispo 1992-2012
I’m fumbling around for the right earrings.

Packing an overnight bag for a short trip.
My fingers trip and tangle,
the jewelry falls on the counter,
and I feel the tears behind my eyes.
Looking up into the mirror,
I ask myself:
“What does one wear to a wake?
To a Resurrection Mass for a priest,
an abbot,
a mentor,
a friend?
What do I wear?”
And the answer comes,
“Wear your heart.”
And I pack it right up,
 lay it in the suitcase,
next to the small jewelry box,
the St. Benedict medal on its chain,
the clear colors he always noticed,
the small, ordinary pieces of an everyday life.
Because that’s all I’ve got, isn’t it?
This heart full of memories,
of words heard and received,
of sweet smiles and heartfelt prayers and gentle marks of the cross.
We drive north,
this drive we’ve taken together for almost two years now.
Ever since my health scare and hospitalization in May of 2010, my husband has chosen to make this trip with me each month. 
He takes long walks up and down the steep driveway of the monastery while I sit in the Holy Spirit House with the abbot.
We’ve both come to love this day-long venture together.
And I wonder as the wheels turn and the miles slide by,
will this be the last time?
 And I wonder,
is this really why we’re going today?
To say good-bye?
We choose to stay overnight at the coast, 
15 minutes from the mortuary and the church.
A good, good choice for us ocean people.
Just walking on the bluffs in the warm wind, 
it blows courage into our souls.
We get there early,
the mortuary where the vigil will be held.
Because that, I learn, is what a monastic wake is all about.
It’s a time for call and response singing and reading,
for sharing memories and stories,
for keeping vigil with one another
on the eve of the final good-bye.
A short, strong nun leads the sung part of our prayer time.
And she is gifted, so gifted.
Gracious, confident, calling us to join the song with the lifting of her arms. 
I relax into the music, letting the Spirit sink deep. 
The brothers read lines from St. Gregory about St. Benedict.
We sing the “Sucsipe” – the song sung by every Benedictine priest at the time of vows and renewal of vows:
“Receive me, O Lord, 
as you have promised
and I shall live.
Do not disappoint me in my hope.” 
Can I just tell you how deeply
and strongly
my soul and spirit resonate with this kind of worship?
Simple melodies,
heartfelt words,
the ability to be silent without tension.
Too many churches in my life do not know how to do silence. At all.
These warmhearted, generous Catholic friends?
They know how.

And the next day, it is the same.
This time a formal Resurrection Mass,
complete with the presiding Bishop of the diocese and a trailing line of priests from all kinds of places,
sitting together, joining their voices throughout the litany.
“A motley crew,” the bishop named them.
And they are that.
But I think perhaps these are a brave crew, too.
Standing and singing and praying together for a departed friend.

The same nun leads the singing, serving as cantor extraordinaire.
The scriptures are chosen from those David loved – 
the Shepherd’s psalm
(which we sing and I am undone, just undone),
Habakkuk 3 – the vision will come…wait for it
Revelation 21 – behold, I make all things new…
John 3 – unless you be born from above…

And his friend and partner in work, 
Father Ray Roh preaches a magnificent memorial sermon.
I am blessed, grateful, aware that this was not an easy task to take.
Communion is moving, as it always is.
All stand, in prayer and attention, until each person is served.
And we sing, we sing.

New to this world of Catholic gatherings, 
we assumed a 2:00 service would be followed by a reception of desserts, to which we happily contributed a big bowl of beautiful fresh berries and some cookie bars.
Oh, no.
A full lunch spread – gorgeous and yummy looking.
Except, of course, we had eaten lunch.
So we watched and listened and felt the love vibrating throughout the Parish Hall.
And then we washed out our bowl,
loaded the car
and headed home.
Encouraged, exhausted, fed.
Grateful, grieving, content in a strange and satisfying way.
 We are left marveling that we 
never knew such richness existed in this Catholic space,
that we were so narrow in our view of life, 
of worship,
of God.
And the simple, haunting melody of that psalm,
that’s what we each remembered,
that’s what we continue to draw on.
Here is a YouTube version of Marty Haugen’s beautiful liturgical rendition of Psalm 23.
The response comes first – to teach the congregation.
Then the verses, followed by the response each time. 
Watch, savor, listen, SING:
 All I can say,
all I can sing,
all I can pray is  
We’re heading out of town for a while in the morning. I hope to have a chance to link this with Michelle at “Graceful” and with Jen at “Finding Heaven.” But I’ll publish it now and link to it on Facebook in case I can’t find reliable internet service while we’re away.
Thanks to so many of you for your kind words, your support and encouragement and your prayers. Oh, most definitely, your prayers. 
I also tagged onto both Laura’s this week – Barkat at “Seedlings in Stone,” and Boggess at “The Wellspring,” and at Ann Voskamp’s Wednesday round-up. And today, I’ll tag in at Bonnie’s place as she’s taking six weeks off to finish her book! And at “Journey to Ephiphany,” who has so kindly taken on Emily Weirenga’s weekly log-in:”JourneyTowardsEpiphany”

God Has GOT to Have a Sense of Humor

Remember that trip we took?
The one on the winding road? Highway One?
You remember. I’m sure you do – 
the one with views like this one? 
Sun on the water, rocks and sand and surf?
 Well, take a closer look at those rocks. 
Especially that big one right in the middle of this picture.
Hey, wait a second!
That ain’t no rock.

In fact, it’s a seal.
A very particular kind of seal, 
that hauls out on a very particular beach 
called Piedras Blancas.
And you can park-and-view near this very particular beach.
And let me tell you, if you’ve ever wondered if there is 
weird wonderfulness in this world,
this is the viewpoint where every single suspicion is confirmed.

These are elephant seals.

The males can weigh up to 8,800 pounds 
and live for 20 years.
Their name comes from that strangely-shaped proboscis –
and their immense size.

 And they are amazing to watch.
 They spend 80% of their time in the water, diving deeply, eating a whole lot.
They haul out to breed,
to birth,
to rest.
And we get to watch it all.
 These mamas are very attentive – for about five months.
Then they waddle off to swim away and the pups are on their own. All of them that survive that first year find their back to their birthing beach again and again.
 And if the wrong mama gets near the pup?
Fuggedabout it.
The jig is up.
And sand will fly.
 (Actually, the sand flying is just a way to keep cool 
and moist as the sun beats down.)
 It’s an amazing sight.
a bit smelly,
and fascinating.
 Stop by sometime, especially if you ever get the chance to visit San Simeon, 
the Hearst castle on the hill. 
This beach is just below there.
 These are faces perhaps only a mother could love.
But to tell you the truth,
I think they’re kinda cute.
In a strangely alarming sort of way. 
And they pretty much convince me that God likes to smile.

Posting early, but will join with Laura’s Playdates with God 
and L.L’s On, In and Around Mondays early next week.
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The Winding Road – Highway 1

 There is a small seaside town about two hours north of where we live; a charming place, filled with home-grown berry pies, antique shops, rolling pine-covered hills and a great arcing bay called Moonstone Beach.
 There is a wooden walkway around this bay,
bounded by rope and post,
inhabited by gulls and the occasional sea lion.
 The coastline is dramatic here,
rugged and noisy,
colorful and dizzy-making.
The waves crash over rocks,
some of them as high as the ‘mountains’
found in the eastern half of this great country of ours.
One of them even has a name: Morro Rock. 
Our destination was north of there, 
a place called Cambria – pronounced
two ways, depending on which side 
of the town you choose to believe:
or C-A-as-in-came-MBRIA.
It’s spelled Cambria.
 We took four days away, right after Christmas,
with our oldest daughter, her new husband and her three sons. They rented a house-on-the-hill; we rented a room at the Fogcatcher Inn. Good choice. The walkway pictured above was just cross the parking lot.
 One of those four days, we all took a drive,
up Highway One toward Big Sur.
If you’ve never done this, I cannot encourage you strongly enough to 
Especially if the weather is clear.
It’s winding and wild, breathtakingly beautiful,
and typically California. 
Much more California than either 
Los Angeles or San Francisco. 
Those cities are magical in their own unique ways, but this?
This is the real deal, the pristine beauty 
of desert mountains hugging the sea, 
wildflowers, strange sea creatures 
(for another post – amazing), 
and views up the wazoo.
 Lisa packed us a wonderful picnic lunch and we took it up above the highway, on the road to the New Camaldoli Hermitage Retreat Center (I posted a couple of pictures from that glorious place in this post.)
 That ribbon of road is the famous One – stretching for 70 miles of steep turns and high cliffs between Morro Bay and Carmel. We went about 2/3 of the way up. (The retreat center is near the beginning of the Big Sur Wilderness Area.)
 We took a few quiet moments to explore the chapel building after we ate our lunch and the light was just right to the north, making interesting patterns on the walls.
 The wild pampas grass was mostly sticks, 
except for this one bend in the road,
where we caught a glimpse of the furry fronds 
waving at us as we followed the curve.
 The rock formations at the inlet to Julia Pfeiffer State Park are unusually captivating, filling pictorial calendars across the state. 
We’ve been blessed in our lifetime to travel a number of coastal highways – 
The Garden Route in South Africa, 
the Cinque Terre in Italy, 
the cliffs of Dover and Cornwall and Devon in England, 
the Burren in Ireland 
(and the fingered south west coast on that magical island).
And I’ve got to say that this is a match for any of those 
in natural beauty and heart-stopping drama.
 We came back down the road as the sun began to set,
following its path for miles and miles.
It was a restful time, rich in beauty and good company.
After the busyness of the holiday season,
and before the rigors of my mother’s move to assisted living,
these four days provided respite, refreshment, re-connection.
I am grateful beyond words to live where I do,
to have easy access to places like this,
 to have a husband and family who tolerate my excessive ooh-ing and ahh-ing over every rock/stick/shell/bird/cloud or wave and who actually encourage me to take more pictures.
Even in the middle of messiness, pain and loss,
life is good. God is good. And Beauty soothes every bump.
Sharing with L.L. and Laura B tonight, because they are so kind as to invite us to do so every single week:
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