Double Ugly in Alaska

Our time in Alaska was filled with new experiences.  We went crabbing (and ate the results.)  We saw starfish, anemones, hermit crabs where they were stranded in little pools during a lower-than-average tide.  My daughter caught Halibut, Rock Fish, Trout, and something called, “Double Ugly” (a fish that lives up to its name–you can google it!)  We spotted black bear.  We also spotted the huge shadows and spouts out in the Bay which mark the presence of Humpback whales!  Once when I was in our cabin, I kept hearing the sudden whoosh of water.  It can’t be, I thought! I shouldn’t be able to hear whales from here, nearly 1/4 mile from the beach.  When I hurried to the water’s edge, I discovered whales closer than I’d seen before spouting joyously!

In all these natural wonders–so close to Eden–we still lived in the hope of paradise.  The beauty seemed almost unreal at times.  Every hike (every short walk too) held incredible beauty but an ever-present threat.  We all knew the bear safety rules.  Travel noisily–sing or talk so bears know you’re coming, don’t carry food (even deodorant or toothpaste was forbidden on the overnight camp outs) if you meet a bear, don’t run or scream but back away slowly, and someone in the hiking party must carry bear repellent.

In fact, my first morning at the camp, I (greenest of the greenhorns) spotted several bear tracks outside the dining hall.  These were later confirmed by the camp administrators who carefully monitor tracks and scant in and around the camp.   Though the black bears that frequent those woods are nowhere near as aggressive as the brown bears (Grizzlies)  they will still defend and guard their young and their territory against perceived threats.

The tension between the beauty in life and the not-so-beautiful (sometimes painful or downright ugly) is also apparent in the midst of God’s great work at Echo Ranch Bible Camp.  Campers were hearing–sometimes for the first time– that God loves and forgives them; right there, the power of God met the weakness of man.  God was touching peoples hearts and at the same time, numerous staff members caught colds, succumbed to stress.  Both Laura and I caught “the Juneau Crud” a deep cough with sinus infection.  I also struggled with foot pain the entire time, since much of our living and working required standing and walking.

Bryan and I were also faced with the stress of learning an unfamiliar job while doing it.   I worked in the kitchen at the camp, and for the first two weeks, my conversation was peppered with “Where do you keep the spices?”  “What recipe for croutons do you use?”  “How do I make more Ranch dressing?” “I forgot where the large bowls are kept!” It was both a humbling and humiliating experience in turns, and I was secretly nagged by doubts about whether I was actually doing anything useful or whether they didn’t really need someone younger, more energetic, someone who could stay longer than four weeks, preferably a domestic goddess who could gleefully assemble, use, disassemble, and clean the monstrous industrial-sized Kitchen Aid that I wrestled with nearly every day.

I can’t say that I was never discouraged, intimidated, or tempted to quit,  but in my discouragement I saw the contrast, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us. “(2 Cor 4:7 NKJV)   The contrast between the weakness of humankind and the strength of God is a recurring theme throughout the Bible.  God’s people (including those at Echo Ranch Bible Camp and wherever you live) may be inefficient but they are effective testimonies to the grace of God. And when God puts us in positions of weakness, His strength is obvious.


More Road Trip Games with a Few Detours!

During the last post I mentioned the  variation of the alphabet game my family likes to play on road trips.  That post listed hymn titles (or first lines) through to the letter, “M” and stopped there–for good reason. “N” through “Z” are a lot more difficult to find! So, we had to cheat a little! (Cheating in this sense is not the unchristian-like version, but more like the “fudging” a person does when the solitaire hand just isn’t working right.) So, pardon my fudging, here we go . . .

N–”Nome Bom” No, this is not a misprint; it’s Portuguese for the song, “Precious Name,” except in English the song doesn’t start with “N.” It’s a song that the little church in Cuiaba, Brazil used to sing EVERY SUNDAY WITHOUT FAIL. Some people had hymnals but everyone knew it by heart. Some who were illiterate knew every hymn by heart, but even this slow-of-learning English speaker could learn the words in Portuguese with that much repetition!

O–”Oh, Love That Will Not Let Me Go. I rest my weary soul in thee.” This lovely hymn isn’t heard much anymore, probably because the language is archaic and the music goes from impossibly low to impossibly high in a short amount of time. That equals squeaking from the soprano section! And the older I get, the more I squeak!

P–”Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” OK, this one is neither a first line, nor a title (The title is, “Come Thou Fount.”) In fact, you won’t find the lines in most modern hymnals–and that’s my point. We have a modern propensity to change lyrics–and it’s not even the “Ebeneezer” line! (I would have understood that change since no one today knows what an Ebeneezer is.) My point is that if Robert Robinson, in 1758, prayed for the grace to remain faithful to God, who am I to edit it? (END OF RANT.)

Q–”Quiet, Lord, my froward heart. Make me teachable and mild.” OK, this is a hymn I’ve never heard, taken from a moldering old hymnal I bought at a used bookstore. I looked up the word, “froward.” It means, to look or face away from something. You learn something everyday!

R–”Redeemed how I love to proclaim it!” Amen!

S–”Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us. Much we need thy tender care.” Silah!

T–”Therefore the Redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion.” This was a camp song I learned back in the 70’s when young song writers used lots of scripture verses. But then, just the other day, my daughter was singing a scripture verse song, “Philippians 4:6 and 7. Don’t Be Anxious about Anything.” What’s more, she learned the song at camp!

U–”Under His Wing I Am Safely Abiding” –an oldie but goodie!

V–”Victory in Jesus!” (Bet you thought I’d have trouble with “V.”)

W--”Worm!” OK, the song is, “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed” and the word, “Worm “ has been replaced with “one,” as in, “for such a one (instead of worm) as I.” Terrible! Some hymnals prefer, “for Sinners such as I.” Better, but it doesn’t have quite the punch that “worm” does. Have I ever mentioned how annoyed I get when people change the words? (END OF SECOND RANT.)

X–We skip this one. I’ve never heard of a hymn title beginning in “X,” even a hymn with the words changed.

Y--”Years I Spent in Vanity and Pride” Love this one!

Z–There are no hymns in English that begin with “Z.” So I finish with the last hymn in the old Mennonite hymnal I grew up with, “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht”! (Silent Night, Holy Night.) The German Christmas Carol completed the service on almost the last night of the year, and the old people of Parkside Mennonite Brethren Church were exhuberant. This was a song from their youth! We, young people, stumbled through the words hoping Franz Gruber would forgive us our English accent.

Happy Singing!

Road Trips with Hymns and Spiritual Songs

My family play likes to play words games when we travel. Sometimes we pick a group such as fish or fruit and then take turns specifying subgroups according to the letters of the alphabet. For example, the topic, Fish, may be followed by “Abalone, Bass, Carp, etc.” For Fruit we could specify, “Apple, Banana, Cherry, etc.”

During our last trip to Oklahoma, my daughter and I tried to come up with hymns or Christian song titles or first lines for every letter of the alphabet. This resulted in us singing one rousing chorus after another, as I drove the open road and my husband slept off the twelve-hour night shift he had just gotten through. (He sleeps soundly after he gets off work!)

Here are some of the ones we came up with. You can fill in your own ideas and come up with a few we’d not thought of.

A–”Amazing Grace” (Who isn’t moved by words such as, “saved a wretch like me”? The writer of the hymn, John Newton, a former slaver, knew about wretches, and we do too!)

B–”Blessed Assurance” (Who doesn’t love this Fanny Crosby favorite?)

C–”Count Your Blessings Name Them One by One” (Something I always need to do more of.)

D—(We drew a blank on this one. Any suggestions?)

E—(Another blank. Need help!)

F–”Fairest Lord Jesus” (Beautiful song! So worshipful!)

G–”Great Is Thy Faithfulness, O God my Father. There is no shadow of turning with thee!” (That says it all!)

H--”Hark the Herald Angels Sing” (This one caused us to begin belting out Christmas Carols. Great fun while barreling down the road in March, with no snow in sight!)

I--”I Can Only Imagine” (Can’t wait to see the movie about the writer of this song!)

J--”Just as I Am” (This is a tribute to the late, Billy Graham, and the thousands of people who went forward to receive Christ during his many crusades.)

K–”King Jesus is all, my all in all.” (Think 70’s youth group!)

L--”Lord Prepare Me To Be a Sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true”

M–”My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less than Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness” (What a theology lesson!)

Well, there’s half of the alphabet. We have such a rich spiritual heritage in our hymns and songs! This memory game often resulted in gaps when we couldn’t think of anything, followed by remembering several songs of the same letter, then suddenly thinking of a song for previous letters. It’s all part of the chaotic fun! Happy Singing!

Reading “Castle of the Enchantress” in the Back Porch Hammock

I’ve just finished Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi.  The book is an insider’s view of the Iranian revolution, events which happened during my first few years back in the States, when–joy, joy, I could finally vote!

By far the most striking parts of her book are the places which describe Azar and her students and their thirst for reading material.  During the revolution and its aftermath, English books became increasingly rare and a once thriving intellectual environment at the University of Tehran and the city’s bookstores and cafes were censured or shut down completely. Nafisi and her students came to class clutching miss-matched or even photocopied pages of The Great Gatsby or Pride and Prejudice.   The long nights punctuated by Iraqi bombs found Azar sitting outside her children’s room reading her precious books–from Agatha Christie to Henry James.

Though I’ve worried through many nights, aided by my own collection of friendly books, I’ve never had to worry about bombs dropping.  I have, however, experienced the scarcity of books, the delight at seeing a new English title.  I’ve even suffered from the condition of “book deficiency disease,”  when a book I would ordinarily never choose becomes a delight due to the lack of competition.  This is equivalent to taking your brother to prom or to watching a poorly-made movie when nothing else is on. . . only more so–because books are always “more so.”

I remember devouring every imaginative-looking book  from the small school library in Cuiaba, Brasil , where I spent four years of my youth.  There were titles like, Love Finds a Way, and The Mystery of Mar Saba, and a series of adventure stories featuring Jennings who went to British boarding school, who was like Harry Potter without the magic but twice the mischievousness.     Then I began borrowing books from Uncle Menno and Aunt Barb who had an extensive  collection.  There were old- fashioned titles like “Patsy and Her Dog from the North” as well as newer selections, “Man in Black”–the autobiography of Johnny Cash.   About the time Uncle Menno’s library was winding down in terms of exciting titles, someone (I don’t remember who) retired, left for the states and we inherited their crate of books which had been stored in a shed, smelled musty and had succumbed to the omnipresent termites.  Whoever the woman of the family had been she favored modern gothic novels featuring heroins with thin hands and fluffy gowns running from dreadfully over-powering castles.  These weren’t exactly books I would have chosen from a large library or bookstore, but I devoured them nevertheless.  I remember reading of white-clad mysterious women and their aristocratic, though somewhat nefarious love interests all while I sat in the back porch hammock, shooing an occasional chicken who had wandered thence.  The imaginary fragrance of castle lawns merged with the smells of the musty book, the dusty day, and the towels souring on the wash line overhead.

I still cannot visit an old used bookstore or library, open a decaying tome, without remembering the contrasting sensory experience of reading Gothic Romances in the Brazilian interior.


Cute Monkeys Still Throw Mangoes!

Whenever I return to Brazil, there’s always an “Oh Yeah” moment.  It’s the moment the frog jumps out of the toilet paper roll or the rather large spider is surprised  by a flood of light on my late night bathroom break.  Those moments I’m reminded of something that I instinctively know, but that all MK’s, nostalgic for home, tend to forget:   Paradise is not perfect in spite of  how I remember it.  I’ve lived as a missionary too, when these “Oh Yeah” moments become “Oh No!” moments and the quaint  culture seems terribly inept as I try to check out at the grocery store and the zombie checkout gals are at their slowest.  But as a visitor, I can avoid those shockingly uncharitable thoughts and stick to simply remembering that while the warm climate is great, it tends to induce the prolific growth of skin infections, odd rashes, and bumps, for example.  And while the monkeys are oh so cute, they (like the raccoons in our hemisphere) can be naughty.  Just ask the Hubby.  He got nailed by a well-aimed mango!

Painful Goodbyes and Roadside Attractions

I’ve been a little blue lately. Usually, I do one of two things when I get blue (especially the TCK, “I’ve-got-to-travel-somewhere” kind of blue.) Either I go to an ethnic market and restaurant or I go thrifting. This time I did both, but I’m still down. This experience reminds me of that one migraine years ago that refused to be placated by my usual remedy of two Advil, a candy bar and a shot of expresso. I wouldn’t recommend this treatment for a migraine, but it did usually work for me. And since I no longer get migraines, I’m having a tough time coming up with an excuse for the sugary caffeine-y combo I so love. But I digress. The truth is, my sister and her family just left the States. Now, in the past, she’s left for far longer than the six months we won’t see each other. (My family and I plan to visit them in Brasil over the Christmas vacation, Lord willing.) Heavens! state-side families are apart for longer than six months–what’s my problem? My problem, I think, is that I’ve not dealt with leaving and being left in a healthy way, and I’ve been doing it wrong for 35 years!

A little review of the TCK handbook, Third Culture Kids by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken is in order, I think.  While I read the book through the first time, I tend to review it in snatches.  It contains so much wisdom, that I’ve read portions of it to my husband, who grew up highly mobile, though not necessarily cross-cultural. He experienced  a highly mobile childhood (his parents worked for the US government survey and moved every three months) yet many children today experience the disruptions of family relocation.   Chapter 4 of the book is for them.  “Why High Mobility Matters” is a must for adults who grew up with frequent moves.  Next, I’ll review Chapter 10 “Developmental Issues” and Chapter 11 “Unresolved Grief.”  After that, it’s Chapter 13 “Dealing with Transition” especially the part about building your RAFT, an acrostic which suggests helpful ways to approach a departure.

RAFT stands for Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewells, and Think destination.  Reconciliation is the easiest to see a need for.  Afterall, there’s something about an impending  journey and separation that  can make people (me for instance) either grumpy or numb, and unfortunately, I, like many TCKs I’ve heard of, have chosen the last days and weeks before a family separation to have an argument, a disagreement that must be dealt with quickly before one or both parties leaves for God know, how long.  So, mend the fences!

Affirmation and Farewells, for me however, can sometimes get put off indefinitely.   I, like my Protestant forefathers, have routinely undervalued formalities and ceremonies.  People like me think that saying “I’m going to miss you,” “I’ve enjoyed our time together immensely,” and such stuff is unnecessary and effusive wordage.  (Of course, I’ll miss them–she’s my sister, he’s my brother–Duh!)   But like the long postponed dental appointment, a lifetime of leaving words unsaid (even if everyone knows them to be true) will take its toll.  Pollock and Van Reken suggest, “Reassure parents, siblings, and close friends of your love and respect and that you don’t leave them lightly.” (201)  Think of all the promises you read in Scripture.  Had you known them before you last read them?  Do you ever need to be reminded of them again?  Of course, you do.

As one who is more often left than leaving (more sinned against than sinning?) I’ve been puzzling about the last letter of the RAFT acrostic.  “Think destination” is hard to do when I’m not facing a new destination!  So for the left among us I’d like to suggest alternatives to the anticipation of new surroundings.  Think about something special. Plan something special.   Very often, after we’ve left a family member at the airport, I plan a detour past something interesting, some roadside attraction or  museum, something we’ve been meaning to see or someone we’ve been meaning to visit.   For my family, this has meant brief stops at Totem Pole Park and the Blue Whale, both kitchy Route 66 roadside attractions.   Sometimes we’ve taken new roads or discovered new vistas on our journey home after saying goodby.  Yes, it’s a distraction, but it’s also a definite way of reminding ourselves that life can be interesting, beautiful or quirky any place on the planet. So, for you who are leaving or been left, build your RAFT, and a visit to Totem Pole Park and the Blue Whale is nice too!

Prescription: Lengthy Songs and Psalms

Remembered advice from a veteran missionary:  “When you’re back home in your passport country leading a church service and the dysentery kicks in, just announce a hymn with six verses and slip out the side door.”  It seems like sound advice.  And long hymns seem to have enjoyed the height of popularity once. (Were the 18th and 19th Centuries also times of frequent gastro-intestinal disturbances?)  In my copy of the hymnal, Inspiring Hymns, there are a few songs with six verses, many songs with four or five.  One five-verse song, “Arise, My Soul, Arise,” by Charles Wesley has a handwritten notation above it, “Help.”  One fun thing about buying used books is that handwritten notations make for creative speculation, and I can only laugh at the possible meanings of this scribbler, especially when the word “help” is subliminally linked with “dysentery” and “lengthy song services.”

Not only hymn writers favored length.  The Psalmists did too. Psalm 119 is divided into twenty-two sections one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  Each section contains eight verses for a total of 176.  By way of contrast, there’s one—Psalm 117—that is only two verses long.  (I know–the Bible was not originally divided into verses—that came later.)  The fact is that Psalm 117 is short, not the psalm to use on the day of an amoebic attack—unless you resort to that convention of modern praise and worship—sing and repeat!

Edward M. Curtis states, in his article, “Ancient Psalms and Modern Worship,” that apart from the fact that psalms were most likely set to music and used in worship, more specific information is not known.  Music certainly makes words both interesting and memorable.  I used to play tape recordings of John Michael Talbot singing various psalms. I used an old cassette player whose weak speakers I enhanced with an inverted gallon jar for sound box. In those days I was plagued by nightmares, something that thankfully I seem to have outgrown, and so on dreadful three a.m. awakenings, I employed the same treatment King Saul used for emotional and spiritual torment—music.  Music appeals to the whole person because it’s symmetrical, mathematical, and emotional.  Joined with the poetry of the Psalms, music can provide the spiritual tying up of loose ends of our lives.  And so for nightmares, insomnia, and the night time worries that plague mothers everywhere, I recommend a cup of red tea and a psalm, preferably a lengthy one with at least six verses!