Sunday, August 27, 2006

There and back again

I returned from Guatemala yesterday afternoon. It was an exhausting and exhilarating adventure. I made new friends and tried to comfort those in need. I messed up and got frustrated. I held babies and wiped tears and laughed. I tried to ignore mess and stink. I saw beautiful children and was amazed they have been tossed aside. I saw people grow right before my eyes.

Once again, I'm grateful for the expansion of my faith, and I'm sore -- physically and emotionally -- in the aftermath. I'm not sure I yet have the energy to wrap my mind around the experience and offer it up for others to digest. So, instead, I'll share something I've already written.

First, though, a brief explanation: There were 14 of us in our group. We traveled with the assistance of Buckner Orphan Care International. Most of the group members are employees of Red Dot Steel Buildings. Some of us, like me, are connected to Red Dot through our husbands. Amazingly, the company's leadership regularly sends its employees on mission trips where it funds improvements at orphanages in several countries. They also look for places to do good works right here at home. Can you imagine what the world would be like if more businesses cared so much about people?

Nearing the end of our trip, I sat in the dim light of our hotel room, the veranda doors letting in a cool breeze behind me. And I wrote.


Hello, husband. I write this late Thursday night. Today has been quite a day. I’m sitting here trying to think of how to describe it, and the only words that come to mind are mountaintop and valley. I saw both today; I suspect most of us did.

Melissa spoke to the group early in the week about us being the body of Christ – how we are individually his hands, feet or eyes; his mouth, legs or arms. We all have different functions within the body, none being more important. I really saw that today. I thought about the men, spending most of their time here on hands and knees, bent over tile – cutting it, laying it, grouting it, cleaning it. What wonderful work.

Near the end of our time today, Melinda and Valerie and Renee and Leanna spent a long time struggling to get photos of the girls printed out to put in picture frames. The going was slow and frustrating; the room they were in was crowded and warm. It must not have felt rewarding or even worthwhile at times; and yet they were doing their best to have just one more thing to leave behind.

The last time I came to Antigua, what I prayed was that God would break my heart for the children I encountered. As you know, he did that. This time, my prayer was (and still is) that Christ’s love for these children could be seen through me. Specifically, that at some point, when they looked at me, they would see his face.

When we returned from Manchin today, I wanted to write you an email, but not having access, I wrote this in my journal:

Thursday, 8-24-06

I just returned from our last afternoon at Manchin. Sitting in the airport Saturday, before leaving, I read through some scripture. One of them was Ezekiel 26:25: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean.”

When I read that, the Holy Spirit convicted me that we should have a baptismal ceremony for these girls. We had been told several of them had made professions of faith. Some I know about personally from the trip in January. An attempt had been made previously to have baptisms at Manchin, and we were refused. But God laid it on my heart: Try again.

So this morning we decided, one way or the other, it was going to happen. We arranged for a large bucket of water to be placed on a concrete slab in the courtyard. Along with that was a smaller container.

In our Bible time, Melissa and I explained sin and God’s desire for our salvation, and about how baptism – though it is not necessary for salvation – is a symbol of God washing away our sins. And how he desires us to experience baptism. Robyn and Phaedra shared the same thing in their classes.

In crafts, Leanna & Melinda and Renee & Valerie had the girls make salvation bracelets, explaining how the colors represent our spiritual walk from sin to an eternity with God.

We explained in our Bible classes that after we were done, we would be gathering in the courtyard for all those who had made professions of faith in the past and felt led to be baptized (there were no new professions that I know of). Roughly 20 girls gathered in a circle around the water bucket. We explained that this act should be purely personal and not for anyone else's benefit.

Then, one by one, they walked to the center. Robyn stood on one side with her hands on the girl; sometimes Phaedra and later Melissa stood on the other side. Francisco, our wonderful 17-year-old interpreter, stood just behind her and translated. As girl after girl came forward, I was so blessed to be able to lay my hand on her shoulder or over her heart and speak God’s message: “I baptize you, my sister, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. God says, ‘I will pour clean water on you, and you will be clean.'"

As Francisco finished translating God’s blessing on each girl, she lowered her head, and I poured water over it. Sometimes, when one of them particularly special to Robyn or to me walked up, we would speak more words of love.
Robyn hugged them and kissed them as they returned to the circle and the next girl came to the center.

It was miraculous. An incredible blessing. Some of those girls had such beautiful emotion on their faces. They understood what was happening. With some I could feel their hearts pounding under my hand.

It had been a tough day up to this point. We had to battle for their attention. Several slept. Two had seizures – one in the middle of Melissa explaining how important it is to grow in the knowledge of the Lord. We were beset.

But God, oh, how he shined. How he blessed us.

Praise God. Praise him.


You know, Roy, there’s something else. One of those girls, as I was speaking God’s blessing over her, she looked right into my eyes. And I swear, at that moment, I know she wasn’t seeing me. She was seeing Jesus. As much as you love me (thank goodness), you know I’m not worthy of that kind of blessing. No one is. But in our weakness, he is made great. If he can do that in me, he can do that in anyone.

See you soon, dearheart. Kiss the babies.


And that was that. To those of you who lifted us up in your prayers: Thank you. It was good. God is good.


Saturday, August 19, 2006

A broad in Guatemala

It usually takes me a week or so to feel prepared to write a post. Those of you who on a daily or nearly daily basis offer up funny, pithy, witty or thoughtful musings amaze me. I'm not creative enough, or prolific enough or -- I should just face it -- disciplined enough to do that ... unless you want to hear what my kids say every day.

Or I could start posting parenting advice. Here's what I told a friend yesterday. She was upset with herself because she had had such a difficult time with her children the night before, she ended up telling them to "go to bed now!" Then told the youngest, very firmly, to brush. his. teeth. Now.

He ended up in tears, telling her he was "afraid" of her, afraid she was going to scream at him. My friend was guilt-ridden.

So I counseled her that she needed to begin yelling at her children on a regular basis. That way, it would no longer be a traumatic experience for them when yelling commenced. Problem solved.


So perhaps you begin to grasp how I need to carefully screen my ideas before posting. This post, however, shall be an exception. It's a Hail Mary pass.

I'm leaving for Guatemala in a few hours. I'll be spending most of the week in Antigua at a teenaged girls orphanage -- Manchin. There will also be visits to a small children's orphanage and a boy's orphanage.

I spent a week at Manchin in January. It was a spiritual-high experience. But this time I feel totally unprepared. Because I am. I've asked God to forgive me for my lack of discipline in preparing. I'm asking him to use me anyway, and he's proven time and again he's capable of doing amazing things with my sorry butt. (Slimming would not be one of them, unfortunately.)

I would covet the prayers of any of you so inclined. I am praying those of us on the trip will be smack-dab in the center of God's will for these children and anyone else we encounter. You know: whoever the One is. They are the disenfranchised. The forgotten. The cast off. They are hungry for love. I want to give them my love. But I can't stay with them, and my love is not sufficient anyway. God's love is sufficient. That's what I want them to grasp. Please pray for that.

I'll post when I get back -- probably next Sunday. So many of you have become so precious to me. Thank you for that blessing.


Monday, August 14, 2006

From fourth grade to Beaver's Bend

My earliest memory of Janet is on a basketball court. We were both in elementary school, but attended different campuses. (South, West, Bel Air's the best!) We ended up playing Little Dribblers together. She was tall like me. But, unlike me, she was good at the game. She already knew about bouncing the ball. Janet's dad was our coach. I don't remember much about that time, except her dad was nice, and Janet dominated the court.

I probably wouldn't remember that short season at all were it not for the fact that a year or two later, in fourth grade, Janet would re-enter my life in a significant way. During the in-between time, her family had moved away, her nice dad had died, and she had moved back to Athens. Our teacher told us Janet would be joining our class. We should be nice to her.

It was never any trouble being nice to Janet. I remember saying hello to her when she returned. She tells me I reminded her then of Tigger. I think she's referring to Tigger's hyperactive bounciness. It wasn't until our freshman year in high school that Janet became "JT" to me, a kindred spirit. A sister.

The same fourth-grade year that Janet joined our merry gang (we were a so-called gifted class and wasted no time dubbing ourselves the "The Nerd Herd"), I also got to know Joye. Joye was one of those girls. You know the type: Pretty. Kind. Sparkling smile. Blond. Did I mention kind? Yeah, that's the part that really gets you. You can't even dislike her for all the other stuff, like being pretty and blond and sparkly.

Oh, and she was also really smart. I mean really. She was reading Dostoevsky and Tolstoy in junior high. And didn't even tell anyone. Who, who reads Dostoevsky without telling people? Seriously, if I ever get to the end of "Crime and Punishment," I'm sending out embossed announcements.

So around about high school, I figured out Joye was a keeper. A life friend. A sister.

At different times, Joye and Janet and I roomed together in college. We got married, had kids. Traveled. Got jobs. Had more kids. Quit jobs. And the whole time I've tried to hang on to both of them. It hasn't always been easy. We've lived in different states, and I'm not a good phone caller or frequent flyer. Somehow, though, we managed to keep the connection. There's nothing -- nothing -- in the world like girlfriends. I figured that one out even as a naive teen. I know myself well enough to be aware I don't collect good friends easily. It takes years. Decades even. And the older I get, the slower I am. So when it happens, I don't let go.

An amazing thing happened, too. The men we picked to marry? Well, they like each other. A lot. And our kids like each other too. So a few summers ago, Joye and Matt and Roy and I got to talking and decided we'd get together for a long weekend in a cabin near Beaver's Bend, Oklahoma. It was fun. I mean staying-up-late, stupid-laughing fun. So we did it again. More fun! And this year, since Janet and Wade decided it was time to return to this part of the country, they were able to join us.

So two weekends ago, there we were: in a huge cabin, overlooking beautiful land: Roy & Toni & Madeline & Connor; Matt & Joye & Emily & Claire & Garrett (and Emily's friend Gabby); and Wade & Janet & Austin & Jackson & Anna Grace.

Sounds like a bit of a madhouse, doesn't it? It was. A really loud, busy, incredibly delightful madhouse. And when we finally got all the kids to bed at night, we stayed up talking and playing games and drinking wine and eating well and laughing and laughing and laughing. I'm positive that type of thing pleases God. It's no accident so many of the Jesus narratives take place while he's at a festival or a dinner guest at someone's house. We're wired for fellowship. It feeds our souls.

Our last full day, we rented a pontoon boat and motored out into the crystalline water under a perfectly blue sky. Eventually, we killed the motor and floated to an undulating almost-stop. The desire to jump in was so great I didn't bother fighting it. I swam back and pulled in Austin. Then almost everyone else, acting in a singular motion, flung themselves up and out. Screaming, splashing, laughing.

That time was pure joy. The children were thrilled and we adult-types no less so. It was beautiful, and we held onto it until finally, a few hours later, rain pushed us to shore.

I think about how different things could be, if one of us -- Joye or Janet or I -- had let go of the other. I think about what we could have missed. But we didn't. We held on. And we make life beautiful for each other.


JT's in the center; Joye's on the right. She's not blond anymore, but she's still sparkly.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

It burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame

I was 19 when I met Roy. He was 24. I walked into a crowded, loud Chewy's restaurant in Austin, Texas, and spotted him standing near the door with a mutual friend. I noticed him right away. Noticed him the way a woman notices a man she will think about for a while. Noticed him in a way that drew my eyes toward him even when he wasn't speaking.

I was smitten.

He had longish hair and dark-green eyes with smile lines (already?) at their corners. He wore a worn-out leather bomber jacket and a couple of small hoop earrings. We were introduced, of course, but I don't remember that part. I remember how he stood there, handsome and somehow serious and pleased at the same time.

There were several people in our party, many strangers brought together by mutual friends. We got to know one another in short time across our long table. I learned Roy's mind was sharp and his laugh quick. I learned he spent four years in the Presidential Honor Guard. I learned he was studying archeology.

During the give and flow of talk, the conversation moved away from us, and I used the diversion, under hooded eyes, to peer across the table and study his face. What I saw was him looking at me. I'll never forget the almost literal shock of that moment.

That was when I learned the best, the most wonderful thing of all: He was smitten too.

After that evening a courtship of letters began. We attended different universities, so he wooed me, from a distance, with his words. He couldn't have known then how much I loved language, how I adored seeing the depth of a mind pour itself onto a page. So when his letters arrived, full of self-disclosure and humor and romantic pursuit, I felt joy.

We were engaged a year later. Nine months after that, we married and finished college, together finally, at the same university.

A friend once told me he thought it was a little sad, really, the idea of someone being with only one other person -- only having loved that person, only having been intimate with that person, only partnering with that person.

And if someone's that person isn't the right person, well it can be sad.

At the beginning of our courtship, I couldn't have imagined how good life with this man would be. At the beginning of our marriage, I couldn't have imagined how the roots of a love fertilized by friendship and devotion and passion could seize me in such a way that I can't imagine, even for a second, turning my back on it. I've learned, when marriage is right, it does, it truly does get better.

When I met him, at 24, I didn't foresee celebrating his 40th birthday -- today -- with him.

I could fill pages with the things my husband does that make me love him more -- playing with the children, seeking me out for a kiss and a hug in the middle of a busy day, cleaning the kitchen while I bathe the children, endless back rubs, his love of books and learning, his compassionate heart, his artistic skill.

But what it all comes down to is his realization that love, that love (raya, ahava, dode) is not a feeling one simply enjoys as long as it lasts. Love is a decision, a constant series of decisions one must make. He decides to forgive me when I'm churlish. He decides to encourage me. He decides to help me, even when he's tired. He decides to spend time with me and talk with me and seek me out. He decides, every day, to love me.

How then could I not love him back?