Monday, March 29, 2010

Looking Back

My very earliest memory is a “freeze frame”—no action, just a mental picture of the dining room of the home where my parents and I boarded during our months in Paris. The picture in my mind is of a fairly dark room with one very bright, white window. We were there at the time of the war scare in September of 1938, but I was too little for it to mean anything to me.

We left France for Africa in April of 1939, and my second memory is also a freeze frame, this time of the dining room on the German ship we traveled on. Hmmm. Should I make something of the fact that my two earliest memories are of dining rooms…? Whatever, my picture of that second one is very different from the first. It is a white, white room with a high, high ceiling and filled with little round tables with white tablecloths.

The third memory follows on the heels of the second, but it has action in it. I was still two months short of my third birthday the day that ship docked on the west coast of Africa, at the port of Krebe in the country of Cameroon. The centerpiece of this memory has always been the sight, on shore, of our blue pickup truck that had preceded us.

The action part of this memory was the way we got off the huge ocean liner that day. Ever try going down the side of a ocean liner on a stairway and into a small boat? In my original memory, it was a ladder and a canoe, but I now know it was a staircase and a fair-size rowboat. All of it was especially precarious for my mother since she was six months pregnant.

We loaded our possessions on the little truck and set out for the interior of the continent where my parents’ missionary work awaited them. I don’t remember the trip, but I’m sure it was long—at least a week, perhaps a few days more than that. None of the roads were paved, of course. I wish my parents were still alive so I could ask them about where we slept at night and what we did for food along the way.

All I know is that my next memory is of my third birthday two months later. For whatever reason, my parents woke me up from my nap for my party—if one can call it a “party” since not another soul was around for it except my parents. The tiny black and white pictures show me with a deep scowl on my face, and I actually do remember being unhappy because they woke me up from a hard sleep.

What is your earliest memory? I’d love to hear about it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Continents, Countries, and States

Thanks to those of you who dropped in and made some guesses about my states and countries. Though the two places I lived in Africa are now two countries, they were only one—French Equatorial Africa—when I was there, so I count them as one for this exercise. Of course I’ve live in the U.S. and North America, as well as the country of Colombia (no “u” in the Spanish spelling) in South America. As far as the shorter ones, when I was two I lived in Paris, France (i.e., Europe for the fourth continent) for seven months while my parents studied French. In the ‘70s, I lived four months in Mexico for Jungle Camp and five in Costa Rica for Spanish study.

As for the six states, I spent two of my parents’ furloughs (when I was one and when I was nine) in their home town of Mishawaka, Indiana. As a teenager, I lived for three years at a Christian boarding school in central Florida. I lived in Illinois for college and eight years in the ‘60s, broken up by three years in Michigan while my husband attended Bible school. I spent the ‘80s and ‘90s in Texas and now seven years in Tennessee.

My earliest memories—one in Paris, one on a German ship, and one at a unusual port on the coast of Africa—will make up my next blog. I might even have some pictures of that third one.

Where have you lived? Countries? States? Have you crossed an ocean or two? I’d love to hear about it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Time for a Fresh Face and Focus

This month marks two years since I started this blog. I wrote it mostly for my family and friends about the revisions I was making on the Christian novel I wrote many years ago. That major revision is finished. As with anything a writer writes, revising and polishing are never done until a piece goes to press, but for this blog, it is time to move on to something else. I started doing that with my last two blogs, and last week I gave the page a face lift.

So where do I go from here? Let’s start with a question.

“Where are you from?”

A friendly question, common in our society, but I have to smile when it comes my way. Where am I from? Right now I live in Nashville, Tennessee. It's the sixth state I’ve lived in, but I’ve also lived in five countries besides the USA—no, six others, and on three other continents (four total). I lived in three of those countries for months, not years, so maybe I shouldn't count them, but they weren't just visits. So who knows what I might write about here in the days ahead? Fasten your seat belt and stay tuned.

How about it, family members? Can you name those six states and six countries? I’ll have a prize for the first one to get them all right and reported in a comment here on my fresh blog. I’m not saying what the prize will be because it will depend on who wins it. And the first non-family member to get any six of them right will get something, too.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Team Scatters

My friends are gone.

At this moment, many of them are thirty thousand or more feet up in the sky, winging their way home. Several will follow the sunset west. A couple will not reach their destination until tomorrow is newborn. One man and wife are still at the airport awaiting their flight time. That’s where I’ll be early tomorrow morning, catching my own chance to spend two hours in a hollow, metal tube in order to reach home again.

Five days ago, eighteen of us came together for a phenomenon we call “annual meetings”—twelve from eight different states plus six locals. We renewed friendships and caught up with each other’s lives. We met new colleagues and began getting acquainted with them. We sat around a big U of small tables, all but two with laptops. (Those two, bless them, endured some good-natured teasing.)

We knew we were well into the 21st century because each morning our leader reminded us to turn off our cell phones and close down our computers so we could give him our attention for an initial time of inspiration and prayer. During that time, our focus was drawn to the story of Aaron and Hur holding up Moses’ hands during a battle (Exodus 17). We learned what constitutes a team and the essentials what make a team work well together.

We learned, we discussed, we explained, and occasionally we disagreed. We wrestled with some challenging issues, and we shared some frustrations. We learned practical things like how to reduce electronic pictures and add video and music to PowerPoint presentations (of course some already knew how). Through it all, we renewed our vision and our determination.

We laughed a lot this week, but we also shared shared needs and prayer requests. One member got some terminal news about her father. Another is a young girl with a strange and serious disease that has kept her from work for almost five months. We were glad for the hours she was able to spend with us.

We ate together a lot this week—everything from sandwiches and pizza to chicken cordon bleu and beef bolognaise. One late-afternoon time slot was scheduled to play together, and I ended up in a game of Apples to Apples with ten other ladies. That was a hoot! At the end of the week, we wrote notes called “Hots” and “Nots”—what we liked about the week and what we didn’t.

And now it is over. In the space of an afternoon, we have scattered to the four directions of the compass. Tomorrow we will unpack suitcases, catch up on laundry, and relish how good it is to be home. Even the “locals” who didn’t leave home will do some of that. Our time together is over, and we are the better for it.

It’s just going to be hard to believe, as I fall asleep tonight, that we will already be so far scattered.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Battles Not Won

Battles. Life battles. Have you faced any recently? Did you come through them with flying colors, or did you find a way to skirt around them? Our human tendency is to avoid difficulties if we can possibly find a way. Occasionally, that bent is part of the survival instinct built into us by our Creator, but often we use it to wriggle our way out of something the Creator wants us to deal with.

These questions remind me of one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in my life as a missionary. For full membership in our organization, we had to attend a four-month training session in southern Mexico, fondly—or notoriously—known as “jungle camp.” In the first stage, our family of five lived in a five-room mud house with a mud floor and a grass roof. Kids continued studies with books they’d brought while mom and dad attended classes, learned to give shots, went on a day-long hike and an overnight canoe trip. We had swimming lessons in a river where I almost learned to hate swimming because the water was so cold.

In the second stage, we lived in a stick and plastic “house,” cooked on a cast-iron plate built into a hand-fashioned mud stove, washed clothes by hand in the lake, and carried up from the lake in pails all the water our family needed. My husband sailed through it, our children enjoyed most of it, and in the years to follow I lived to wish I had put my heart into enjoying something more than just the peaceful lying in the hammock, staring at the treetops rustling in the jungle canopy sixty feet above. (I didn’t say that was the only thing I did; it’s just the only thing I remember enjoying.)

One of the infamous features of the second phase was known as “survival hike.” Men and women did it separately and in at least some isolation. Needless to say, most women dreaded it, I not the least of them. I told myself I had better reason than most to worry about it because I had spent my childhood in central Africa where the jungle harbored leopards that regularly ate our cats and at one time even lions that ate our family dog. How could I ever endure being left out there alone—even if hundreds of missionary women (including my own sister) had survived it before me?

The men went first, but while they were out, something happened. Soldiers were found searching for guerrillas reported in the area. The camp leaders went into high gear to round up the men and get them back to camp. They didn’t want either the soldiers or the guerrillas to find the men alone in the woods—-and they certainly didn’t want either the soldiers or the guerrillas to find the camp of women and children without any men.

Needless to say, we women did not go on survival hike that session.

I was not prepared for my personal response to that development. At first there was predictable relief, but it came tainted with perplexity. God doesn’t allow His children to wriggle out of trials! All the promises say He will be with us in them. What had happened here?

In the weeks that followed, I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing. A bigger surprise awaited as another emotion crept in. It felt like disappointment, but how could that be? Was it possible God thought He couldn’t trust me with the experience? That wasn’t a good feeling. I have no way of knowing, but as I continued to look into my heart, the conclusion sifted out to one clear point.

Here was a victory I didn’t get to win because I never got to fight the battle.

I know God had purposes for those events far greater than my little story and my little fears. I know He would have seen me through it. Only He knows why He chose not to push me on it. I believe I learned from it even so.

But like I said earlier, today I almost wish I could do it over so I could handle it better than I did. Almost.