Sunday, July 31, 2011
"Tomorrow at this time I will be halfway through the last class. I'll try you again later."
Mario's SKYPE text glowed on the page of the laptop. Alicia was working her way through pains brought on by the severe discomfort of being 9 months pregnant and days away from delivery. Our conversation (mine and Mario's) was unexpectedly cut short as I broke away to take care of Harmony (my nearly two-year-old granddaughter) while Alicia tried to breathe through it.
The urgency of helping my daughter overtook the importance of talking to my husband...for awhile.
This led me to text him :"This time tomorrow?"
His answer is above. It transported me back to him in my heart. The class he's talking about is the one we put together ourselves for singles, datings and marrieds called "Relationship Fitness". The last class he will do without me, leading the group with our beloved friends, Shepherd and Eve.
Since landing in San Francisco on Wednesday, I feel transported back to a world I had been pining for since the "shake up news" of earlier this year. The familia in the USA was so much in my heart that at times it was hard to focus on anything else in front of me. To be faithful to the work that I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God has called us to, is important. Too important to be swayed by the urgent. That was our decision... and we stuck by it. While Mario jetted "home" in May, I held firm to make the journey in July to witness the birth of Alannah, Alicia's second child.
Being here is particularly fulfilling, and my day and a half with my parents was drunk in like a slow, red German wine,as much to be savored as enjoyed. The connection was instant, and tears gave way to smiles,conversation and deep sharing. It is their fifty-first year of marriage. Fifty one years... and life has delivered, this year, one of their toughest. I am in open admiration of them, and they know it.
On Thursday, Alicia turned twenty-three and I drove to Chico to celebrate with her. The sight of her in person took my breath away: so beautiful, so young, so pregnant! I couldn't believe how little and how much she had changed in a year. SKYPE is awesome, but face to face, hugging and touching... no contest.
It is here that I tell you the most amazing part: Harmony. Almost two years old now, she glows with excitement and connection and recognizes me from the computer. She asks after "Papa" (Mario) and proceeds to give me a long litany of indescribable gibberish whose pitch is the cutest thing in the whole wide world. I am undone all over again... she is a gem.
There is no such thing as reconnecting with a two year old. They live day to day and her world doesn't have me in it in a tangible way. Her confidence in our relationship has been given to her by her parents, who are happy to pass it on. It is for this reason that Harmony welcomes me into her world. She is comfortable with me around, opens her heart and her eyes to me, and invites me into her room to sleep the nights here on a twin sized mattress where Alannah's crib will eventually be.
Alicia's life as a mother has just begun. Mine is mid-way. My mothers is beyond mine. We all love our daughters and are (still) doing the best we can. I can look at my mother and love her instantly and eternally for being Jennie, the mother who is as strong as she is gentle. Beautiful and no-nonsense, she is not given to emotional decisions. She tried hard to impart this to me, but to no avail. What she did place inside of me is the desire to be an excellent wife. I heard her ONCE bad-mouth my father to me, and that was to say he was stubborn. All other times were only to praise him: strength, intelligence, etc., etc.. We all used to roll our eyes until we were old enough to understand: she was his head cheerleader.
Today Alicia and Brian were enjoying a nice Mexican lunch of beans and tacos (maybe this will bring the baby). We talked about God, love and the unpredictability of life. As we talked, I inevitably mentioned what a blessing it was to have a life-partner like Mario. As I said this, Alicia said, "Dad is my hero."
I said, "Mine, too."
Yesterday, after being here for one day, I called Mario on SKYPE to see the connection from this side to our little office in Johannesburg. His image appeared , and he was there in his "gangster hoodie" with his cute face. He said hello, and I began to cry, seeing him on the computer screen, suddenly and overwhelmingly missing him. The whole trip would be so much easier if we were together. Being separated is like being cut in half.
He watched, at first a little surprised at my emotion,then understanding, then touched. He looked at me and tried to encourage me with words, my second-place love language, simply because it was impossible to speak my first place one over the miles. Saying goodbye, he got into coach-mode, telling me how to run the game and put my best foot forward. So Mario. Almost made me snap out of missing him. :)
The course we are running at Junction, "Relationship Fitness" is based on physical fitness paralleling our fitness in relationships that we have, specifically our most intimate relationships. It has four parts: Strength, Balance, Flexibility and Endurance. Mario will be leading the last class, Endurance, without me there. It is particularly fitting, illustrating that marriage, with all we want it to be, is sometimes not what we want it to be. It is fully functional when it endures the earthquakes, floods, and droughts that come with life. It can only be tested by these events and time... and ours us halfway to where my parents is.
Yesterday, after seeing me break down, Mario asked Alicia a question: "Isn't it cool that Mom still gets teary when she sees me?"
"No," Alicia smiled. "It makes me think she'd rather be there than here."
Her remark made us all smile. We've all said it; we've all felt it. Where am I home? Where am I happy? Where do I really want to be?
Here I am, now. Waiting for her second daughter and drinking in time with her first. It is the tests of time that weather us and give us faith for more. These tests expose what is beautiful and what is ugly. The tests are not subject to plastic surgery, vitamins or duct tape.
These tests expose our desires, our values.
God help us....
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
|Black Rhino - Profile July 19, 2011|
It was time to get away all together to bond. The team that leads Junction, our church in Johannesburg, needed to get out of the city, be friends and confide in one another, with no other distractions. Of course the wives go, since the ultimate fun is the couple hood we all share...accompanied by the youngest parts of their clan.
The place to get away was Black Rhino, a small private game reserve. South Africa is famous for game reserves, this one is one of the best. The resort we would be staying at was surrounded by fencing that give off a high frequency pitch and electrical current that deter the “Big 5” from entering. They still graze nearby.
The Big 5 - the lion, elephant, Cape Buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros-were originally given that name because they were the 5 animals most difficult to hunt and kill on foot by game hunters of old. Of course game hunting was accompanied with the trophies of heads, skins and tusks that would show the size of the animal. The counterfeit of this was illegal poaching: an inhumane and unfair trapping of herds or groups of animals for money, where only the trophies are collected, orphaning any remaining dependant young. In the 1970’s the South African government permanently declared areas “protected” for maintenance of wildlife, and for tourism purposes. Now, South Africa is home to several parks, open to the public, and tourists commonly take sightseeing safaris. The private game reserves are usually near these areas, but supported by private means, rather than the government. Usually smaller in square Kilometers, it is a little easier to have a sighting of “something big” when you go on a game drive.
Right now it is July, the dead of winter here. Getting away is needed, but almost dreaded. The winter holidays here aren’t like the States, with Central Heating (notice how I capitalize Central Heating?? It is worth capitalizing...and I bow down to it) since the lodge is heated only by space heaters and the Pilansburg (the game area we were going to) has nighttime lows of 0 degrees (Celsius). The night before we left, Mario and I lead a Relationship Conference for singles and couples and we ended up finishing at about 9pm. When we got home, we crashed into bed and woke at 5 to make the two hour drive to Pilansburg, and our friends.
On the way, we chatted about the class last night before. We prayed a lot for Alicia, who has been in discomfort and close to delivery. We begin to talk in relaxed, clear sentences we get to finish.
In eight days I will be on a plane bound for California and our baby, who will have her second baby. I will see my parents for the first time in almost a year, my siblings and their kids... and then fly to see Vince (and hopefully see Joe, who I will carry a birthday present for). Before then, I got this chance to have a holiday with my hunky husband who is recovering from a bad bout of bronchitis.
As we arrived, the lodge was waking up, and we saw our sleepy eyed friends who greeted us and showed us to our room (our house) with vaulted grass ceilings and a bed with oodles of pillows and comforters, a bathroom with a tub suitable for bathing two people and a back porch that overlooks the stunning “bush veld” – the surrounding woodland filled with hornbills, Shepherd’s Trees and the Big 5. It’s too much for us, and we giggled as we unpacked.
The reason we need to get away is to really talk – really talk. Black Rhino is notorious for allowing us to really share our hearts with each other. We all have very public lives and we meet twice a week to discuss business and building and ministry...the joys and trials of managing a growing church in a growing city. We usually know what’s going on with each other, but the deepest things we save for our significant others.
This year has been a red-letter year for Mario and me. It has been filled with change and unpredictable hardships back home. Our lives are also filled with the miracles of seeing God move here, and having unbelievable growth personally. Still, being separated from family is felt most when something goes wrong... and so much has gone on back home. When we first moved here, I imagined myself straddling two continents with an ocean (the Atlantic) under my body. Which one am I on? Where is my home? The feeling slowly went away...until the last day of the World Cup in 2010. This is when tragedy struck our family, and shook me to the core. Since then (about a year ago) I have been praying for vision and faith and God’s sustenance that will keep me joyful and sure about our calling to be here right now. Mario struggles much less. Much, much less.
So, being in Black Rhino, I am reminded that (as part of this team) I am transparent and hopeful and surrounded by those who love me and look out for me.
Going back to the main lodge, we are greeted by Craig and Suzanne, our fearless leaders, their daughters, Kezia and Elizabeth, Manny and Terri and their son, Calvin (almost 4 years), and Jim and Karen. After I make quesadillas, we all decide that a game drive would be a good idea before lunch.
The drives are done in vehicles that are like jeeps, but have rows of seats that are elevated above the driver. The only protection (beside the wisdom of the guide) is the cover of canvas and the steel sides. There are no windows. It is freezing this time of year, and so our party wraps in blankets and Jim (who has to work) and Mario (recovering from Bronchitis) stay behind. We ended up seeing an incredible outpouring of blessings: giraffe, warthog, elephants watering themselves. It was stunning, and we returned with lots of pictures and conversation.
At lunch, we began to talk, and had meats braai’ed on a grill and salads outside by the pool. The sun had begun to warm us up. It was then that Terri, my friend said, “So, Alicia’s been having labor pains all night?” I almost shrieked. She uploaded Alicia’s facebook page on her phone (mine just shows the time) and showed me. I asked if I could post back, and I did.
From then, my thoughts were divided. Alicia had told us that she didn’t think Alannah, the daughter in her womb, would wait until I got there. She had comforted us with the truth of her heart: she would rather have my help after the baby was born than have me there for the birth. Part of me wondered if she was saying this, knowing that I couldn’t change my ticket this late in the game. I agreed, though, knowing that my heart would be to see her and the babies and help around the house while Brian was at work, maybe even offer to babysit if the two of them wanted alone time...? I knew that her family there (Brian’s family) would be a good support system for her until I got there. I had been absent for a year, who was I kidding?
Jim and Karen left after our poolside chat, and I talked to a lady on the phone from our church who was in crisis. A little before dinner, Terri found out her Doctor’s appointment was moved to earlier in the day following, so she and Mannie were even contemplating going home tonight. My heart sank, knowing that our soul sharing time would be cut off if they did. They decided to stay till the next morning, but were determined to go straight to bed after dinner.
Before they did, I asked if we could have heart-sharing time, and we did. It was really MY heart-sharing time, but my friends were there to hear me out. All that was inside of me: the grief, the family pain back home, the questions, the separation anxiety, my need for God to clarify everything...all came out. In the end, Craig and Suzanne shared too, mainly comforting us and assuring us that we were valuable to them. Manny and Terri were silent, but full of unspoken love and support.
We all went to bed, and I determined to read (since it was so early) to fall asleep. Mario and I chatted, and as we fell asleep Mario said quietly “You know, you think you want to go back sometimes, but it would be very hard to leave this place.” I agreed, knowing that we had been planted, and moving back to the States would mean being uprooted, torn from the incredible soil that was our destiny. I thought of Portia and the boys, of Joy and my prayer group. I thought of the busy-ness of our days and the great need for God that caused the presence of God to appear under the South African sky, like no other place we had ever been. Sleep came before I could open the book, and when I woke up, I was under a mound of covers and the sun was streaming in the window.
Mannie and Terri had already gone, and we had breakfast and vitamins and watched the Flintstones. We laughed aand were lazy, until Craig came into the room and said, “Game drive from 9 to 10, then we’ll leave.” to Suzanne. Mario and I looked at each other.
“Can we come?” we asked.
“Oh yeah!” Craig said, quickly. “ I meant all of us!” Mario raised his eyebrows. Yesterday he hadn’t ridden, so he was more up for it this morning. Game drives, although nice and cool, were not really our thing, so even if we hadn’t gone, he wouldn’t have been grief stricken.
It was then that we saw him: Lesedi. At the end of the road, he was poised, as if listening for the oncoming car (Rhino’s eyesight is so bad that they rely on smell and hearing).
“Is that a white Rhino, or a black one?” Suzanne asked from the back.
“White,” I answered. “I saw his square jaw.”
The white Rhino ( a ground grass-eating vegetarian) is called “White” because the Afrikaans word "wijd", which means "wide" was used to describe his wide lip, or square jaw. Both Rhinos are indistinguishable by color – they are both kind of grey – but whites are definitely more popular in the wild, numbering about 20,000 in the wild. Blacks, by comparison number just under 5,000 in the wild – poached for their horn almost to extinction up until the 1990’s.
The driver, Ian, inched forward, and I could see by his face that he was in shock. It was only then I knew I was wrong.
“That’s a black rhino,” I heard Craig say from the back. We all sat in silence, even the girls.
Ian, a ranger and conservationist, lifted his binoculars and smiled.
“It is black,” he said. “That’s Lesedi, the black Rhino that was shot last year.” He told us that poachers had scaled the fences and tried to kill the rhino, unsuccessfully. They later found Lesedi wounded and bleeding and were able to find the bullet and remove it. It had cost him his ear, which had been mangled from the shooting. Talking about poachers made Ian get a vengeful look in his eye.
|Lesedi with his lost ear|
We inched forward, and saw the rhino feed (grabbing branches from bushes) and then amble into the awaiting bush for cover. Not before snapping several photos with my Kodak, while the ranger shot with his long-lensed Nikon, like a pro.
As the bush covered him, we all breathed again.
“That’s it,” Craig said. “That’s what it’s like here. It’s only for a moment that we see, and then it’s over.”
Some of the blessings we are given are only for a moment and can be sustained for a lifetime.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Monday, July 4, 2011
The thought of it makes me cry... As a former teacher (actually, is there any such thing?) I love the story of the Fourth of July. It's a good one that reminds me why American are the way they are.
England had established "the colonies" - 13 separately governed provinces on the eastern seaborad of North America, primarily made up of citizens of England. Their desire to enlarge the British Empire was multi-fold: Increase revenue, grow tobacco (and other crops not suitable for England's wet climate and limited space) and establish "The New World" as Great Britain. At that time, the monarchy owned most of the world.
Years later, becoming increasingly unsatisfied with the Mother England and the madness of King George, rumblings of a revolution were commonplace in Boston, the unofficial capital of the colonies. The Boston Tea Party (a revolt against a tea tax) showed how different the colonists had become from their "mother". Dressed as Indians in war paint, a group angered Americans boarded a ship that had just arrived from England with its supply of precious tea to be sold in local shops. The men threw the case of tea overboard, making it undrinkable (even for Americans) and a loud and expensive message was sent to England: we will not pay taxes and we will not be governed by you.
What this led to was British occupation - King George's answer to rebellious children. The British officers made an example of protesters by summarily "quartering" them, and forbidding anyone suspected of insurrection against the British of a trial by jury. While no one can deny the obvious tensions and full-on skirmishes between Americans and redcoats (called "devils" by the residents), the beginning of the American Revolution is said to have begun with a single shot - the "shot heard 'round the world" on a simple green in Lexington, Massachusetts - April 19, 1775.
The Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, by the "Continental Congress" (a group of elite landowners and learned men who formerly had strong ties to England) the "war" had been going on for a year all over the colonies. Thee men, at the risk of losing everything they had and certain death performed high treason by signing a document that they sent to King George "declaring independence" from England. It was unheard of - a thinking man's gauntlet.
In its words, the declaration spoke the famous beginning, declaring war for noble reasons:
I love the story."We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
The story tells of us being born out of a struggle. Our national motto "E Pluribus Unum" literally means "Out of Many - One". So the holiday is full of American flags and fireworks that simulate the missles and bombs of war - all to show that we are all separate, but equal. All individuals, but all American.
After a long, hard war (and helped by the French), America won the war by a surrender of General Cornwallis in 1781. A long time has passed since these events, but every Independence day we are reminded of the beginning of our nation.
It will be a holiday of family to most people in America, one celebrated by summer fruits, fireworks, beer and bar-b-ques. Families and neighbors provide Americans with Fourth of July traditions that are sacred to us.
My grandfather (a hardworking Mexican man who had seven children, married to the best woman I have ever met in my life, and built a house made of bricks) used to wear a full length apron and a chef's hat on the Fourth of July. He'd roast chicken over the fire in a sauce that I haven't tasted since he died... which was served with a pasta dish my grandma called fideo (tears) and her famous strawberry shortcake.
The men of my family (my dad and uncles and grandpa) would sit outside in the landscaped part of my grandparent's yard and drink beer (I never saw anyone drunk) coffee and water, watching my grandpa bar-b-que. They would occasional throw in a game of horseshoes, where, I noticed...only the men would play.
At the end of the day we would get folding lawn chairs and watch fireworks, which were set off nearby, at the airport. The fireworks show was always something that I loved, but hated the mosquitoes that came with it. In those days, no one bothered with repellent.
The Fourth became a family holiday in our own home, with fireworks being set off at the park very close to our house-- on July 3rd (we were the warm-up to the real show to be set off at Cal-Expo the following day). From our back windows we had had the best view, and watched from our "Mary Poppins" house while our kids were in their pajamas. It wasn't until they were older that I dared to venture out to the park on the corner with my precious, impressionable children, fearing drunken heathens smoking pot and being angry with one another for the stereos that were blasting from the cars.
What we found instead was our neighbors, mostly sober...who were in a summertime good mood and ready to enjoy a small amount of time together. Strings of ice cream trucks lined the park, where every year Mario broke down and bought the kids their favorites before the show.
I can't begin to tell you the preciousness of these memories. Our neighborhood, in South Sacramento, was multi-cultural and middle-class. The feel of the gatherings were crowded, warm, American sharing...and my kids (tanned, beautiful and in shorts) thrilled to be outside so late as a family. Our walk back to our house was so wonderful, noting that our prime real-estate was only a block away!!
The fourth was usually spent with Anthony and Shirley, Mario's brother and his wife, and their family in Moraga in the beautiful East Bay. Shirley (a gourmet cook) would grill beautiful, succulent, gorgeous blue cheese burgers dripping with fat...and vegetarian burgers for me (every party has a pooper that's why we invited you, party-pooper). Our conversations and board games led to a walk to the golf course where the wealthy East Bay residents sprung for a fireworks show of note - and the same mosquitoes showed up. By that time repellent was my friend and I coated myself with "Off!" -- and I was still was munched by those evil insects.
The memories are a part of why I love this holiday. Americans pride themselves as being so diverse- a land of many cultures and even more individuals. The one thing we have in common is that we are Americans, and are free from an oppressive government. Liberated from the greatest world power with the most incredible militia by a newly formed army of farmers and landowners trying to hold everything together in the midst of change.
It marks us still, we Americans.
We believe that we can do anything we set our minds to.