The beginning

The wind deftly gathered her hair, swept it over her face. She closed her eyes, and listened to the boom of the waves as they came and went, over and over, endlessly. She could feel the clouds gathering above her, and she wondered whether she should move or not. As the light, cool rain fell on her hands and knees, she didn’t care enough to leave, so she hugged her legs to her chest and rested her head on them.

It was a bluff overlooking the ocean. The edge curved out over rocks and churning water some three hundred feet below, and one might have judged it an unsafe place to gather thoughts. Although she never gathered them there. She let them settle. Her musings, like so many small forest animals, were wont to wander without schedule or structure. The pounding of the water and the salt in the air let them rest. And as the noises faded, the quieter things would slowly begin to surface. Her heart would relax enough to reveal its answers, like a loosened grip that holds a starry gem.

Growing up, she and boy, a neighbor, would come with her to this place. Every summer when she would visit for her Grandma’s Birthday, they would slip away from the lemonade and the excitable dogs driven to madness by the seagulls that taunted them, all her raucous cousins, and would run to their secret place. Up a steep, rocky path they’d climb, grasping tree limbs and roots with both hands. When they had initially discovered it, it was partially hidden by a crop of thorny bushes and seemed long forgotten. But they spied faint traces of packed dirt that might have once been a trail, and so they had pushed through the protective foliage.

Their hearts raced at the vantage point, that first time. They had smiled at each other, both in silent agreement that this was something they would never share.

And she never did.

15 years later, her cares were a bit heavier than finding unbroken sand dollars and scraped knees. A new pain throbbed through her veins, overwhelming her heart as it strained to keep her alive. Her spirit was failing her, and it was time to say goodbye.

Her fingers pulled through the grasses at her sides, breaking the thin blades away from the earth and offering them to the wind, feeling as if she was offering the world all her years at the same time. It took them both, replacing the green, vernal life with air. Her hair and her sweatshirt were becoming soaked with the rain that steadily peppered her from the dark sky. She hadn’t been to this spot for a long time, but already she felt it working out the knot in her chest. The sea acted as a magnet; it’s own strife and movement drawing the anxiety out of her mind and into itself, leaving her empty. Lightening cracked, rain ran down her hair and cheeks, across her closed lids.

Without warning she remembered gray eyes and black hair, the tug of his hand on her wrist. She could hear his infectious laugh at her fearlessness, which was little more than innocence at that time. Sitting on small, white flowers that matted the nooks and crannies of the hard boulders.

She didn’t know what had called so far back to the beginning, to this place, as she  found herself at the end. she could remember the thrill of excitement when they first saw each other, and escaped to the beach before saying a word. Talking had never been a priority anyway; words had rarely been necessary. Their silence was their bond. The memories came so clear and sharp it seemed like yesterday, and she marveled at finding them so wholly untouched by the imperfections that plagued humanity.

She sighed. It grew still, then, as if she had moved into the space between moments, the part of the world that evaded time. Her flesh felt a weight being lifted, and light filled her mind, blinding her visions of the past and warming her through to the bone.

She stood. Reaching into her pocket, she brought forth a piece of something that shone a deep gold, a ring, a piece of her heart. With great carefulness she knelt and swept dirt away to make a shallow hole, and placed the weight inside, burying it. And she let him go.

The quiet

I’m leaving the country on Tuesday.

I went shopping yesterday, to pick up a few things. Toothbrush containers, earplugs, envelopes, a sewing kit. I almost bought a designer pair of tweezers. I’ve never lived in Africa, so right now it’s hard to imagine what I might need, and what would be superfluous. I’m just kind of slowly chipping away at the lists people have given me.

I decided I wanted some solid perfume, because, hey, maybe there will be times I’ll want to smell nice while living out in the bush. I stopped by a local shop called Northern Star. It’s one of those places you go to buy tie dyed tunics, ankle bells, incense, beads, and various religious Indian nick knacks. It’s kind of hippy central in there. They had a shelf with several dozen oil perfumes, and I think I sampled at least 6. A headache developed as the fumes from my wrist bombarded my nose. I bought the scent I already have, deciding to stick with the familiar, and left. But my arms, oh gosh.

My head pounded in the car as the scent from the oils wrapped around my face like a cloud. At the next store, I made a beeline for the restrooms and promptly soaped up and scrubbed as if my hands were  infected with anthrax, but to no avail. I smelled like grandma, roses, and a Hindu temple all combined.

Earlier in the trip, I’d stopped by a salon and had my long hair trimmed. And by trimmed I mean they took away 6 inches. It’s still past my shoulders, but it was like I was Samson, and my strength was being stripped with each inch. It feels awesome, light, faster to wash (which was the whole idea), but I could hear Amy March’s voice in my head bewailing the loss of my ‘one beauty.’ And I didn’t even make 20 dollars. In fact, that’s what I payed.

So I’m driving down country roads on my way home, my hair significantly shorter, and I’m trying to sort out what that means. The window is rolled down even though it’s cold, because I can’t stand the smell of the perfume. My head hurts. I’m going to Africa in 5 days. My life is going through small and large changes in preparation.

It’s hard to imagine the arid landscapes I’ll be calling home. I’m convinced that there will be fewer ways for me to numb and distract my mind, and I’ll be drawn closer to that fountain which never runs dry. I know a year from now I’ll have seen it all made good, whatever the outcome.

I think about my dreams. I imagine my effort as a mere vapor, a drop that that falls from the sky and is soon absorbed by the desert ground that breaks its fall. But I also know that if every drop refused to fall because of it’s insignificance, everything would perish.

There’s a certain quiet that has permeated my life. I no longer feel scared or worried. I feel like I’m floating across a deep lake, and everything has settled into an indiscernible color, all the noise constrained to a hum in the back of my conscious.

I wonder if the silence is due to some fault of mine, or if it’s a time for me to wait, and listen. I wonder if this period of my life is the calm between the spaces where I’m stretched and tempered.

And then perhaps I don’t see growth because I’ve stepped off of the sand, a path where I could easily see the imprint of my steps, and have begun walking on stone. Eventually I’ll be able to look back and witness the height that I imperceptibly climbed. In any case, I am only a mere reflection of something greater. Like the moon, I redirect a source of life during my brief cycle in the heavens.

The cold finally got to me; I rolled up the window, and silently made my way home.

never forget

images

 

They have become almost like white noise to many. My own eyes assimilate their presence without true difference, so I am all too often guilty, myself.

Then that moment when you find one lying around, seemingly innocuous and common place: Hotel rooms, dollar stores, garage sales, coffee shops, the free bin outside the door of a local business;

When suddenly you can see the kingdoms rise and fall, the sun stopped in its natural course by the voice that formed it in the very beginning. You can taste the bread from Heaven, and the weariness of wandering through landscapes void of promise. The surge of the heart as cities are lost, but holiness is remembered, and a people wait for the redemption of their souls through centuries.

A king is born, the wise are made foolish, and the law comes to fruition. Love ravishes a world suffocating in darkness.

Words of sweet prophecy are fed to a man, and eyes turn heavenward to watch for the thief in the night. A bridegroom comes and receives the ready bride, making her perfect. Vast fields of golden wheat mature and wither in the ground, waiting on a harvester. Many sons are called into glory.

The light is passed from generation to generation, hand to hand, crossing borders and cultures. The more severe the opposition the brighter and truer it grows.

So sometimes I pick it up, and I feel the weight of it. Sometimes I hold it for a while in my hands, a thing I have done nearly every day for the past ten years, and I remember what it is, and what it’s been through. Reading it out loud to myself, I can form the words of Solomon and Paul with my own tongue, and the Spirit inside of me stirs to the message it itself inspired so long ago.

And I take courage. I take heart.

 

parting glass

Oh all the money that e’er I spent
I spent it in good company
And all the harm that e’er I’ve done
Alas, it was to none but me
And all I’ve done for want of wit
To memory now I can’t recall
So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all
Oh all the comrades that e’er I’ve had
Are sorry for my going away
And all the sweethearts that e’er I’ve had
Would wish me one more day to stay
But since it falls unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I’ll gently rise and I’ll softly call
Good night and joy be with you all 

 

Haiti

I remember  New York.

Finally free of the airport, we had walked out the doors and set our feet on American soil.

It was raining, and my teammates were crowded under the awning as we waited for our shuttle. Haiti’s February was far warmer and dryer, and we shivered in the embrace of our West Coast. Yet I couldn’t resist. With only a tank top, I stepped out…

I had developed a tan after a mere few hours working in the Port-au-Prince sun, and I payed dearly for it. When I arrived back at the house, people stared at me in surprise.  My skin, which was pasty Oregon white before I left, was dark and sun kissed, glowing. Even I was taken off guard by the face that looked back at me in the bathroom mirror. I had worn sunscreen to no avail, and no matter how exotic I looked, it didn’t change the fact that every inch of skin that had been exposed felt as if it had been scalded in hot water.

That night, I sat in the dinning room, silent, watching some of the girls getting their hair cornrowed by the Haitian workers who helped out with the preschool, waiting for my burns to calm down. Later that evening,  I remember curling up on a leather couch with my Bible, feeling a good sort of tired.

And the other things I remember will always be numerous…

The mosquitoes that ate me alive.

Crawling into cupboards to wash out rat feces.

Giant spiders that ran faster than my eyes could track.

The fear of Cholera in every shower,  making sure none of the water reached inside my mouth.

The deep gutters that held a soup that looked far more mysterious and dangerous than the stuff in those blue portable bathrooms we rent for concerts and parks.

Carrying buckets of rocks on my shoulder down a hill with the guys; my arms crying out in exhaustion, but my pride and determination pushing me forward.

Sunscreen. So much sunscreen.

The aroma of the bakery as we waited outside for our bread.

The outfits we had brought with us from the States, and the sight of all the little shirts, skirts, pants and shoes lined up on a big dinning room table, name tags on each one.

Dressing the preschoolers in their clean, new outfits, and watching them smile and smooth down the soft, new fabrics…Praying that their parents wouldn’t sell the clothes for food.

Sunsets, a glorious backdrop to a landscape ravished by heat and and heartache.

The value of clean water.

A sea of beautiful, dark complexions.

Colorful Tap taps and run down trucks weighed down almost to the breaking point with passengers.

The smell of diesel running through the exhausts of engines that require regular gasoline, and of burning trash on every street.

The men and women walking through the dirt-packed roads in immaculate pressed white suites.

Being able to hear Haitian Christians singing praises in church from over half a mile away.

And that moment you realize they’re singing of happy things because they are truly already familiar with brokenness and suffering. They have no desire to cry in order to feel spiritual.

The sweetest mangoes spritzed with lime.

Washington apples in the local grocery store.

A people indifferent to their own poverty.

Cool tile floors.

Oil based paint, and my subsequent appreciation for latex based ones.

Workers at the missionary’s house sitting beside you as you’re dipping your feet in the pool, showing you their cherished English vocabulary book.

Looking into the face of long term missions, the many hardships and trials, yet also appreciating the eternal vision. This, too, shall pass.

Raw sugarcane.

Leaving the city, a place where traffic is at a constant gridlock, a mile taking an hour,  and relishing the wind in your face as the truck drives a remarkable and unbelievable 50 mph.

Ragaman. An energy drink that looks like an Asian beverage, tastes almost like an apple Jolly Rancher, and was initially unimpressive. By the end we all considered it the most delicious drink we’d ever had.

A bottle of Haitian vanilla extract. Pampered Chef: 18$ Local Haitian market: 2$

The off-tune version of the Titanic theme emanating sadly from the water trucks, heralding their arrival dawn to dusk.

Arriving to white walls, and leaving them yellow.

A small, quiet child crawling into your lap.

Toppled buildings, men separating caved roofs and toppled cement walls over a year after the earthquake.

The New Jerusalem, a desert city of tents and stones reaching as far as my eyes could see.

Handing out our water and snacks, feeling like we gave a man a fish for a day…

 

I stood there at the JFK airport, in the rain, feeling it sooth the hurting and raw outward part of me that had felt the country deeply. I wanted it’s comfort more than anything else. I remember leaving a country that was not my home behind; two boys running after our truck as we departed our last work site,  stopping eventually because we were going to fast to follow any longer, waving as we drove farther and father away. I easily boarded a plane, and left behind a place people have given their life to escape. And I understood that I had just experienced a metaphor more powerful and simple than any other I had been confronted with before, one that reflected my future:

As I had left Haiti, I had also looked back over this whole world, and I knew one day, near or far, I would leave all of it behind, and I wondered what I would do with the time I had left.

I wondered how many I would take with me.

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A story about Brother #5

I have 5 brothers. Actually 6, because my sister got married.

Boys are so much different than girls. I would never say in bad ways, but  sometimes I wonder about them. Their lack of fussiness, one of the many reasons I love them, at times has provoked a face-palm or two. Like just a few days ago…

I was in the kitchen, probably cleaning; it gives me more satisfaction to make the kitchen clean than to eat breakfast (I can’t enjoy food if the place where you prepare it is dirty. I just can’t), so I often find myself with a cup of tea in one hand, putting away dishes and sweeping with the other.

I looked over, and Jaiden, the youngest at 9, was pulling homemade jam from the baking cupboard.

“Stop.” I commanded.

He paused and looked over at me, half empty jam in his hand.

“What?” (Jaiden is the best at saying this with the most deadpan expression)
“Is that jam?”
“Yeah.”
“IT WAS IN THE CUPBOARD?”
“Yeah?”
“You can’t eat that!!”
“W-why not?” he asked in great consternation and frustration.
“Because it doesn’t go in the cupboard!!” (I thought that was obvious. Whatever.)
“I-I didn’t put it in there! That’s just where I found it! Someone else put it in there!”

I snatched the jar from him. It wasn’t cold,  just mildly clammy. Thawed juice sloshed around the stuff in the middle that had a canned cranberry sauce-like consistency,  and I didn’t trust it at all.

“I don’t care, Jaiden. Jam is made of fruit! It goes bad when you leave it out! It has to go in the fridge! I’m throwing this out. Go find some other jam.”
“But-but (he talks so fast he gets ahead of himself- it’s not a stutter.) There’s no more jam in the fridge!”

Jaiden says lot if things like this: I don’t have a single pair of clean pants (that’s why I’m wearing my brother’s).  That lost library book isn’t anywhere to be found in the entire house. I’m so hungry I feel sick. There’s not a single portion of jam in the fridge. And he usually knows all this without even looking, too.

Without saying much, I opened the fridge door. After 4 seconds of looking, I grabbed the jar of jam that was on bottom shelf, right in front, and handed it to him.

“Oh, thanks.”
I continued cleaning, thinking, You’re gonna need a wife someday, pal.

Boys.

Half-hearted Creatures

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

 

>C. S. Lewis