Thursday, July 9, 2020

I could only gasp, “Please, God, get me out of here”

Bent over the open suitcase, I was fighting the battle of my young life.

If someone had peeked in my window, they wouldn’t have recognized my internal struggles. I’d have looked like a young woman unpacking luggage in the middle of the kitchen floor—sorting through a confusion of dishes and socks and pots and pans and dresses and books and plastic drinking glasses and shoes and a pressure cooker.

I knew where to put the clothing and books, but I struggled to arrange the kitchen items just right.

I simply had to get our family settled.
Keenly aware of my need to persist
in the face of obstacles, I told myself,
Focus. Focus.”

And then—then!—a man arrived at our door saying I had to empty the kitchen so he could spray for insects. I was furious but, I hope, I kept that to myself, removing the contents from every cupboard and drawer and piling them in the living room.

After the man left, I restocked the cupboards and resumed unpacking, shuffling around the house in slow-motion, confused about where to put things, and not caring anyway.

I longed for familiar faces, familiar voices, and especially familiar smells. But instead, only that strange odor wafted through our windows—that thick, pungent, sweet, moist stink. Was it decay?

That sticky, moldering smell radiated out of the earth and crawled in the air and forced its way into our house and our noses and clung to our clothes and bedding and furniture. For days it had made my stomach sick and left me light-headed. I hadn’t experienced anything similar since being pregnant.

The dense, damp reeking of the place threatened to overpower me. I slumped into a chair, my head in my hands, exhausted from trying to make that house our home. Push through it, I told myself. You have to push through it.

And the heat, the heat! Would I ever get used to wearing sweat-drenched clothes day and night?

Fading, I wandered down the hall. You’re such a failure.

And then anger hit like a chubasco storm. I was angry we had to take cold showers, angry at mosquitoes that dive-bombed us all night, angry we had to carry groceries home under a scorching equatorial sun, leaving us sick. Angry at odors. Angry at my ineptitude.

My anger was a sign of my crushed spirit, and “who can bear a crushed spirit?” (Proverbs 18:14, NET Bible)

I suppose in some dark, wrinkled back corner of my mind I knew God knew about my struggles, about my deep fatigue after traveling for a month with little kids, and about my immaturity—I had just turned 29.

Now I know that He knew, but that reality hadn’t made its way from my brain to my heart and my everyday life. If I had calmed down, I might have remembered that the Lord hovers close to those crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).

But I was stuck—stuck in culture shock,
stuck in foreignness, stress, and discouragement,
and distracted from quieting myself in His presence.

I could only gasp, Please, God, get me out of here.

A couple of times in my lifetime I’ve had the air knocked out of me, figuratively speaking, when I had no strength or interest in fighting to make life work. In Lomalinda, though, it wasn’t a blow that knocked the air out of me—it was a slow pummeling.

I returned to the kitchen and stooped toward the suitcase strewn with towels, address book, tools, shortwave radio, cookware, toothpaste, spices, and reading glasses—but the ground lurched. I felt disoriented, topsy-turvy.

I stepped back from the suitcase.

“How long, O Lord? How long? 
What if life doesn’t return to normal 
in months, or years, or even ever . . . ? 
What if things get worse? 
What if everything will not be okay?” 

After that, I couldn’t move. Undone.

God,” I prayed,
You got this all wrong
when You sent us to this place.

What could You have been thinking?
(From Chapter 8, 

My meltdown—
my unexpected,
regrettable shut-down—
had only just begun.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Sometimes writing about the hard stuff is too much

I'm struggling to write today's post.

I can’t find words to write about painful memories—about my failure, about discouragement, desperate emotions, and the meltdown I had a few days after arriving in Lomalinda.

And so I will wait for the words to come. I’ll wait for wisdom and perspective to make their way into my heart and mind.

I’ll wait for clarity on lessons I learned.

I’ll wait for a message to share with you.

C’mon back next week because 
I want to encourage you 
for the days when you experience your own failure, 
discouragement, emotions, and meltdowns.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Letting go of the old even before figuring out the new

Transition. I was in it.

Transitioning into life on the mission field can be a slow process—
  • stumbling through unknowns,
  • waiting for elusive answers, and
  • figuring out new identities.

It’s an offbeat experience because people lose their bearings, they live in an in-between state—awkward, incomplete.

Transition is stretching, re-thinking, expanding.

It’s a vulnerable time,
a time of letting go of the old
even before figuring out the new.

My Seattle roots had been torn up,
yet I had not put down roots in Lomalinda.

I was neither here nor there. 

Transition is a time of necessary breakingbreaking from the familiar and the comfortable and the knowable.

A necessary breaking. Necessary because:

God uses broken things.
It takes broken soil to produce a crop,
broken clouds to give rain,
broken grain to give bread,
broken bread to give strength.”

Transition is a time of patching broken pieces together to form a new person, a new home, a newly remodeled and defined family. A new ministry.

And whether we realize it at the time or not, the Bible has given us many instructions to get us through the transitioning and breaking and remaking.

“. . . Be strong and brave. . . .
The Lord your God will be with you everywhere you go.”
(Joshua 1:9, NCV)

Be patient in trouble and pray continually.”
Transitioning into life on the mission field is a time to pray, hope, wait, and hang on for dear life.

“At just the right time, we will reap a harvest of blessing
if we don’t give up.
(Galatians 6:9)

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The day had finally come: Something thrilling was going to happen, but then—!

For several days we’d had to hike Lomalinda’s steep hills in mid-day equatorial sun and eat lunch in the dining hall, and we always felt sick by the time we got there.

After lunch every day, we stopped at the comm to buy a few more groceries and kitchen supplies, hand-carrying them home and once again feeling sick by the time we hiked home. (Click on sun poisoning: nausea, vomiting, chills, fever, headache. . . .)

Making our kitchen functional was taking longer than I expected—much longer. But that day I was encouraged: I had almost unpacked our suitcases, and the kitchen cupboards and fridge were looking better.

Daily, I made good progress but also faced challenges. Life was constantly one of those two-steps-forward-and-one-step-back experiences. Persevere, I kept telling myself. Persevere. Focus.

Each hour presented me with ups and downs. Take, for example, food.

One of the bonuses of Lomalinda was that carrots and tomatoes tasted like real carrots and tomatoes, genuine flavors I recalled from my childhood when people grew their own produce.

But why didn’t the other food taste like it was supposed to taste? We had only powdered milk, and it had a strong flavor. (The brand name was KLIM, milk spelled backward.) Raw beef, so different from ours in the States, had a sweet, stomach-turning stench and, cooked, it tasted gamy.

And why did food stink? Flour, rice, and sugar had an odor. Brown sugar smelled strange, too. It came in rock-hard lumps, and we had to grate it before we could use it.

But I shouldn’t have complained—it was food. And I hadn’t had to grow it or milk it or butcher it.

And then came the day
when something thrilling was going to happen:
For the first time, we would eat lunch at home
because we had the right groceries
in our cupboard and fridge.
We had dishes and silverware in the cupboards.
No more hiking to the dining hall—
such bliss!

Bent over the open suitcase on the floor, I sorted through the last of the pots and pans and plastic drinking glasses and a pressure cooker, arranging them just so in the cupboards. I was almost giddy.

But then—
a man arrived at our door
saying I had to empty the kitchen cupboards
so he could spray for insects.

I was furious but, I hope, I kept that to myself.
(From Chapter 8,

Now, looking back on that setback, tears sting my eyes. I was so young, and I was trying so hard to make that place a home for Dave and the kids and myself.

My discouragement was not unreasonable. The seventy-something me commends the tender twenty-something me for battling so hard.

I wish the older me could have spoken to the younger me. The older me recognizes that transitioning out of our comfortable places and into unfamiliar spaces includes griefgrief for what we have left behind.

It also involves a different type of grief—a pain, a misery, a pesky dark cloud—that envelops us as we fight and wrestle and, sometimes, even wage war to create a new home.

. . . Sometimes we need to just sit with the grief before being forced to move on. . . . Sometimes we need to just stop where we are and honor that moment.

Sit with your grief, let it flow, don’t try too hard to analyze, don’t push yourself . . . to some ‘right’ response. Just sit with it. Because as the grief comes, so will the comfort.” (Marilyn Gardner)

“Dear God . . . You are my one fixed stability 
in the midst of changing circumstances. 
Your faithfulness, Lord, is my peace. 
It is a source of comfort and courage. 
You know exactly what is ahead of me. 
Go before me to show the way. 
Here is my mind; inspire it with Your wisdom. 
Here is my will; infuse it with desire to follow Your guidance. 
Here is my heart; infill it with Your love. 
I realize, Father, that there is enough time today 
to do what You desire. . . . 
Thank You for your power and presence." 
(Quiet Moments with God, Lloyd John Ogilvie)

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Of matches, papayas, mosquitoes, bats—and cold showers

That afternoon—just twenty-four hours after landing in Lomalinda—I heard a cheery voice at the back door, “Knock-knock.” That was my introduction to a Lomalinda tradition—everyone called “Knock-knock” instead of knocking.

A lady stepped inside our big screened-in porch, introducing herself as our neighbor across the road, Ruth, and in that moment I saw a real-time demonstration of Matthew 25:35 in action: I was a stranger and Ruth was welcoming me.

She handed me pruning shears. “You can borrow these,” she smiled, pointing to vines climbing up our porch screens and leggy hibiscus plants outside the kitchen window. How thoughtful! I never would have thought to pack pruning shears in our suitcases, but we sure did need them.

I led her to the kitchen where she handed me a tin of homemade granola and a pitcher of fresh-squeezed lemonade. Ruth’s thoughtfulness blessed my heart.

“And this,” she said, “is papaya sauce—like applesauce but made with green papaya.” I didn’t know anything about papayas but was pleasantly surprised—we all liked applesauce so I expected our family would enjoy this new treat.

She also brought a ripe papaya and taught me how to peel it, scoop out its seeds, and cut up the flesh. Now, looking back, I continue to be touched by Ruth’s generosity and kind help.

She also showed me how to light my gas range and oven. The matches were half the size, in every dimension, of our wooden ones in the U.S. The stick part was short and made of something flimsy, maybe string, dipped in paraffin.

Ruth had to strike several matches before one flared up, but she never got flustered. I marveled at her quiet perseverance.

But even more than that, though I didn’t realize it at the time, watching her patiently striking those matches was like a parable teaching me how to live in Lomalinda. I wish I’d been more cognizant of that parable during our first couple of weeks in Lomalinda.

Nevertheless, in coming days and in various ways,
God impressed upon me—
in the silent way He sometimes does—
the importance of persisting in the face of obstacles.

I did keep fighting,
but those challenges loomed big.
Mighty big.

That evening, I looked back at the day. We’d had an uphill climb in more ways than one. Sweaty, gritty with dust—or sticky with mud, depending on the time of day—by evening I knew I should shower. But our house, like most in Lomalinda, had no water heater.

I’d have to take a cold shower.
Something inside me rebelled.

Dave had taken a shower earlier and suggested I lather up while standing toward the back of the stall, beyond the stream of water, and quickly rinse off afterward. I gave it a try, but the cold still took my breath away.

Spent, I dropped into our warm, damp bed and listened to mosquitoes dive-bombing my ears and bats rattling in the attic. Yes, bats. And they reeked something awful.

Were we crazy to move to Lomalinda?

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Giving myself a pep talk: You’ve got to do this

After the big chubasco blew beyond us and the weather settled, Dave walked to school, about a mile away. I headed back to unscramble the confusion in our suitcases, finding new homes for clothes, toys, sewing supplies, mixing bowls, and books.

A humid, hot wind blew through the windows, forcing me to move slowlya lifestyle I’d have to get accustomed to. Sweat ran down my face and neck. I splashed off with water, but that didn’t do much good—within seconds of toweling off, sweat broke out again.

Cockroaches skittered around the kitchen and left their stinky droppings in dark corners. They grew them big in Lomalinda—up to two inches long not counting antennae—and I was furious that one had run across my face during the night.

Until we unpacked cookware and dinnerware and stocked our cupboards, we ate lunch in the dining hall and so, fifteen minutes before noon Dave called and said he’d meet us there. I groaned at the thought of stepping out under that midday suneven in the shade, the thermometer read a hundred degrees. But the kids and I set out hiking those hills—no umbrellas, no hats, no sunglasses—arriving broiled and nauseated. We had hardly enough energy to lift our forks.

Eager to buy groceries, after lunch we explored the commissary, better known as “the comm.” A low-lying building painted sky blue, inside it was dark and cramped, the size of a small house. It smelled of laundry detergent, bleach, insect spray, powdered juice drink, burlap, and bread.
Shopping at the comm on another day

The manager, Esther Steen, smiled and said, “You’ll need this.” She handed me a round basket more than two feet wide with a handle over the top. I didn’t know why I needed it but thanked her.

Hand-crafted wooden shelves housed canned food—things like tuna and vegetables—but limited supplies shocked me. I found one loaf of bread, a small tin of rolled oats, and coffee, rice, flour, and powdered milk in small plastic bags.

A chest freezer held a few odd pieces of meat, but no ice cream. We would soon learn that the commissary stocked ice cream only on rare occasions.

I didn’t know it then, but on future days the commissary would sell broccoli, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, pineapples, bananas, oranges, lemons, and so much more, but that day I found no produce or fresh meat, and I despaired. How could I feed my kids well enough? How did people make decent meals?

I stacked food, laundry detergent, and toilet tissue on a dandelion-yellow wooden counter. Esther used an aged adding machine to total our bill, and then I learned the commissary had no grocery bags—everyone brought their own containers.

We loaded our new basket with groceries for Dave to carry, and what wouldn’t fit we piled into Matt’s arms, and Karen’s, and mine, and we marched out beneath a blistering sun—down a long hill, around a hill, up a hill, down a hill, and across the softball field. Dave’s arms must have ached under the weight of that awkward, overloaded basket.

By the time we reached home, the four of us felt sick. Nausea bubbled in my throat. Our heads ached, our eyes stung from the sun’s glare, our bodies dripped, and our mouths had gone dry.

I didn’t know it then but the four of us exhibited symptoms of what’s sometimes called “sun poisoning” (though no poison is actually involved). Symptoms can include “nausea, vomiting, chills, fever, headache, and a general feeling of being sick.”

I gave the kids a drink, settled them to rest in their bedrooms, and then collapsed across my bed. I hadn’t expected living in Lomalinda would require so much dogged effort. I wished I could wake up and find it a bad dream. But this was no dream.

Before long, Dave hiked back to school, delighted to get ready for his new job and the new school year. I let the kids nap but dragged myself up and resumed unpacking, giving myself a pep talk: You’ve got to do this. (From Chapter 7, Please,God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir)

Thursday, May 28, 2020

It never occurred to me that we’d have to live without pavement

The next morning, our first morning in Lomalinda, we awoke to a swishing, whooshing noise outside. Dave got out of bed to investigate.

I sat up, my heart singing because of the sun beaming through the windows—a luxury for Seattle natives.

I peeked through the curtains. Bent low to the ground, a local Colombian swung a machete, shearing grasses in our yard.

Dave knew only enough Spanish to say buenos días (hello), but he stepped outside and struck up a conversation. Manuel had a ready smile, bright white teeth, bronzed skin, and hair as black as the Colombian midnight sky.

A flock of birds flew overhead—raucous, squawking green parrots. We soon learned those calls would greet us every morning and again at the end of each day.

My precious little kids tiptoed out of their bedrooms rubbing their eyes, looking around the house, looking at me, looking at each other, looking as if they felt like I so often did—Where am I? . . . Oh, now I remember. . . Lomalinda.

Outside, Manuel continued to stoop over and swing his machete. His back must have ached something awful.

Minutes later the vast eastern sky loomed gray and soon turned pewter. It was as if we were living Isaiah 41:22, “God sits enthroned above the circle of the earth. . . . He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out. . . .”

Soon, sharp wind gusts forced shrubs and palms and bamboo to bow westward. The heavens grew black, and a blast of wind whipped the curtains off our living room windows.

Dave invited Manuel into our screened-in porch and, while they watched the turbulence approach, Manuel taught him that rain is lluvia, and the big storm a chubasco.

Then it hit. Rain pounded our roof, hard and fast, and we had to shout if we wanted to hear each other.

Rivers gushed off our roof and, even though our house had wide eaves, rain blew inside through the glass window slats. We could only gape in disbelief—we’d never seen downpours like that in Seattle.

In half an hour the storm had blown beyond us, leaving thick layers of mud in our yard, our drive, our road—everywhere, everywhere—and for the rest of the day, our shoes brought it into the house, orange and sticky.

It had never occurred to me that in Lomalinda
we’d have to live without pavement.
(from Chapter 7,

Friday, May 22, 2020

You won’t get it right every time

I often feel ashamed when I think back on how much I struggled upon arriving in Lomalinda.

But now, in my old age, I am inclined to extend a dose of grace to myself. Instead of focusing on all I did wrong, perhaps I should give myself credit for doing some things right.

Despite my emotional, mental, and physical groaning on our first day—such a very long day!—I had smiled at a lot of people. I had made conversations with people. I had thanked a lot of people.

I had noticed and appreciated Lomalinda’s clean air. And safety—no need to obsess over thugs stealing our luggage.

I had watched over my two little kids as they got acquainted with the house, yard, and new friends.

I had worked—hard—to unpack and begin creating a nurturing home for my kids and husband.

I hadn’t given up.

And I had talked to God—often in gasping snippets, but at least I was aware He was near, had a listening ear, and cared.

That first night in Lomalinda, Dave and I tucked in Matt and Karen and then settled into our own bed—a handmade plywood platform with a thin foam pad for a mattress. The sheets felt damp and had a musty, fusty odor, but at least they weren’t cold like the sheets in Bogotá had been the night before—these were warm.

Exhausted, I took a minute to thank God for safe journeys and reminders of His presence during that long day of many new beginnings, relationships, and challenges. He had gone before us, cared for us as a parent cares for a child, and brought us to that place.

I thanked Him for the Rushes and the people who welcomed us at the hangar. I thanked Him for Lomalinda’s safety and clean air and David Hockett and the nice house and substitute aunts and uncles and Grandma Miller for my kids. And for the McIntoshes and Connets and Holteens. And for the beauty of the night sky. And I apologized for hollering at Glenny. (from Chapter 6, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go)

On that night, little did I know what the next couple of days held.
It wouldn’t be pretty.

But today, all these years later,
I think the time has come
to finally extend a little grace to myself.

You won’t get it right, all the time,” writes Kelly Balaire.
“Some of us need to hear this loud and clear today: you won’t get it right all the time. You’ll yell when you meant to be sweet.

You’ll sweat when you should have stayed cool.

You’ll be anxious when you determined to have peace.

You’ll doubt when you determined to believe.

You’ll say to yourself, ‘Why can’t I do better? Be better? Act better?’

You may put your head down, in defeat.

Yet, I imagine, God lifts it up again,
whispering in your ear,
‘Child, I still love you. Even though . . . Always . . . .’
Let that relief sink in. . . .”

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Longing for a familiar sight or sound or smell

Our first day in Lomalinda had held some high highs and low lows for me. (Click on those links.)

It had started before dawn in the crowded, noisy, air-polluted capital city, Bogotá, high in the Andes Mountains. We’d spent all morning in a taxi, careening around steep curves, gasping at drop-offs, and begging God to preserve our lives—grasping barf bags and trying not to throw up.

Then, from the eastern foot of the Andes, we had flown in a custom-made little plane to our new home, Lomalinda, a mission center in the middle of nowhere.

The day had been challenging and exhausting, physically and emotionally and mentally. And all day, I had subconsciously longed for an anchor, a familiar vista or sound or smell—the sight of towering evergreen trees or the call of a foghorn or the fragrance of salty sea air.

If I were still back home in the Pacific Northwest, apples would be crisping, and I’d have been making applesauce by the gallon, chunky and cinnamony and buttery.

Sweet wild blackberries by the hundreds of thousands would hang heavy on vines, and my fingers would wear purple berry stains for weeks, my hands and arms scratched from thorny vines.

Peaches would be ripening, and I’d have been making pies and cobblers.

But I lived a continent away and everything told me I stood on foreign soil. I had no familiar sights or sounds or smells to comfort me, no anchor to steady me.

That evening, I stepped outside into Lomalinda’s still blackness. Neither smog nor city lights nor skyscrapers competed with night skies, and the brilliance of the stars took my breath away. I’d never seen them shine so clearly.

Then I turned and spotted the moon. The moon! I’d found that familiar something I yearned for.

And then—!

And then I realized, with a start,
that our loved ones back home
could look at that moon at the same time we did,
not only at that moment but every night—
a tie that bound us.
My heart lurched, and then soared.

(from Chapter 6,

I could only gasp, “Please, God, get me out of here”

Bent over the open suitcase, I was fighting the battle of my young life. If someone had peeked in my window, they wouldn’t have recogn...