Thursday, June 27, 2019

Blooming where you’re planted

If I’d known Lomalinda had such lush flowers, perhaps I wouldn’t have dreaded moving there quite so much.

Our lives are so much richer for flowers, don’t you think? “Where flowers bloom,” said Lady Bird Johnson, “so does hope.” What a lovely thought.

As a native of the Pacific Northwest, I knew nothing about tropical flowers except for what I’d run across in a florist shop or greenhouse. Was I in for a surprise!

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 11 of Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: AFoot-Dragger’s Memoir:

Tropical vegetation surrounded us, hurrying to grow taller and thicker. Hibiscus plants sprouted everywhere, covered with new crimson blossoms each morning. Cup of Gold, with its large yellow flowers, grew around our center; white and golden Frangipani (Plumeria) gave off a heady, tropical fragrance; and Bird of Paradise grew wild in low swampy areas. 
Begonias in red and pink thrived in shade; Veinte de Julio, or July 20, named for Colombia’s independence day, showed off large frilly blossoms of orange and yellow; Mimosa lined pathways, decorated with tiny lavender-colored poofs; Lantana bloomed in red, orange, and gold, and Lomalinda was home to many more flowers and vines I couldn’t name. 
Some people collected orchids, gathering them from low jungle areas. Glenny Gardner’s brother, Tommy, had an orchid shed with purple cattleyas, small yellow ones, white ones, and strings of tiny pinks–a dazzling display. 

And gardenias grew along the entire length of our house. Gardenias! A hedge of gardenias! During my teen years, a young man might give a gardenia corsage to his prom date, but in Lomalinda gardenias by the hundreds, gardenias by the thousands, bloomed outside our windows, their inebriating perfume filling the air.

And how could I have left bougainvillea off that list? Their hot pink blossoms, or red, or orange, simply glowed under brilliant sunshine.

Living among such flowers was a new experience for me.

And it was not just the flowers—it was the trees, too.

Palm trees were new to me. I’d seen photos, of course, but to live among themthat was utterly exotic.

Here’s another excerpt from Chapter 11: 
A variety of trees edged our yard: lemon, papaya, avocado, mango, a bamboo grove, a tree with round pink blossoms resembling a burst of fireworks, and a tree people called Jungle Ice Cream. Kids pried open its pods—a couple of feet long—and ate cotton-candy-like fluff surrounding the seeds.

I still have to pinch myself: Lemon trees grew in my yard! And papayas, avocados, and mangos. Unreal!

I was in for pleasant new experiences with Lomalinda’s vegetation, but beforehand, while I was still in the States, I couldn’t have guessed that. I was begging, “Please, God, don’t make me go to Lomalinda!”

When I got there, my life fell apart and I plotted to run away.

I wish I’d known then about award-winning author Barbara Johnson’s wise words:

Yes, I’d have to go through a lot of “dirt”—doubts, difficult transitions, tears, homesickness, despair—before I could bloom where I was planted.

Barbara continues: “The Almighty Father will use life’s reverses to move you forward.”

I can attest to that. What seemed like reverses turned out to be tools God used to move me forward and upward.

When recalling those early experiences in Lomalinda, it hurts a bit. But I share them with you in case you’re going through troubling times—your own “dirt.”

Perhaps God is moving you toward something beautiful, something precious. Watch for it—watch for the days when you’ll be blooming where you are planted.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

If only I’d known I would love living there

What would you expect your living conditions to be if you were to move to the end of the road in the middle of nowhere in South America?

That’s where my husband, Dave, wanted me to move, along with our two preschoolers. But to me, Dave was acting like that “wild and crazy sheep in love with thorns and brambles” that Thomas Merton wrote about. 

In my other memoir, Grandma’s Letters from Africa, I described Dave as “a free spirit who seldom limits himself to coloring within other people’s lines.”

But I was the opposite kind of person. Adventure and risk—those “thorns and brambles”—were not my cup of tea.

And coloring outside the lines? Never!

The thought of moving to a remote outpost in South America—of all places!—shot scary stuff into my brain and heart, stuff that assaulted my wellbeing, night and day.

If only I could have looked into the future—because then I’d have seen how much I would love working at our mission center, Lomalinda (pretty hill), alongside remarkable people.

But, of course, I couldn’t see into the future. I had no idea what rich adventures and relationships my family and I would enjoy there.

Instead, my mind went bonkers. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 1:

 “What kind of house would we live in?” I asked Dave. I pictured a hut with a dirt floor.
 “I don’t know,” he admitted. 
“What if we had to build our own house? And with what? Bamboo and palm leaves? Besides,” I heard my voice getting shrieky, “we don’t even know how to build a house.” 
My mind went wild. “Would we have to grow our own vegetables and meat? What about eggs? And milk? The kids need milk, you know. Would we have to get a cow? I bet we wouldn’t even have electricity. And what about water? Would we have to haul our water?” 
I didn’t give Dave a chance to answer. I was on a roll. “Living in South America could be deadly! After all, look what happened to Jim Elliot. The natives killed him and his friends.” 
My voice rose an octave. “Karen’s only three years old! And Matt just turned five!” Our kids were so vulnerable, and the unknown for the four of us shook me to the core. Sometimes God does lead people to perilous places, and I didn’t want to find our young family among them.
I envisioned the worst. All I could do was pray—urgently: Please, God, don’t make me go!

Think about it: 
What would you expect your living conditions to be 
if you were to move to the end of the road 
in the middle of nowhere in South America?

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A Foot-Dragger's Memoir by Linda K. Thomas), 
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Thursday, June 13, 2019

A pay cut, no medical insurance, no retirement plan

During my lifetime, the American Dream has been so pervasive in our values, assumptions, and expectations that we have allowed it to be a comfortable, acceptable, welcome part of Christianity.

The American dream: Upward mobility. Abundance. Living the good life.

Back in my twenties, those were my goals. I admit it. In my circles, including my church circles, that was the thing to do—that was the way we lived.

Like I said in “I was chasing the American Dream,” when I was a teenager and a young wife and mother, I never questioned those goals. I never questioned my motives for pursuing them.

What a shock it would have been for me if, back then, I had read David Wilkinson’s words in The Prayer of Jabez: “Do we really understand how far the American Dream is from God’s dream for us? We’re steeped in a culture that worships freedom, independence, personal rights, and the pursuit of pleasure.” 

Christianity and the American dream clash when our motives for getting more money and possessions are to show off our success, to impress others with our lifestyles, to use our status as a way to compete or exert power, or to pursue self-indulgence and self-gratification.

My husband, Dave, sensed I planned to pursue that kind of American dream, and I thank God for giving me a thinking, questioning man. Dave didn’t want that lifestyle for our young family.

This topic is not easily covered in one short blog post, but I’ll highlight Bible verses that spoke to my husband’s heart back in our pre-Lomalinda days (and later, spoke to my heart, and still do):

Jesus said: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is life not more than food, and the body more than clothes? . . . Do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:25-33, NIV).

The New Living Translation words verse 33 this way: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”

Eventually I realized I needed to look at the American dream in a new way, the better way. Dear Chuck Swindoll—my life and faith would be so different without him!—says, “If I am to seek first in my life God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, then whatever else I do ought to relate to that goal . . . . Every decision I make ought to be filtered through the Matthew 6:33 filter: where I put my money, where and how I spend my time, what I buy, what I sell, what I give away.” (Dear Graduate: Letters of Wisdom from Charles R. Swindoll )

Here’s another of Jesus’ teachings: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. . . . No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:10-21, 24 NIV).

Or, the New Living Translation words verse 24 this way: “No one can serve two masters. . . . You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.”

The New Century Version words verse 24 this way: “You cannot serve both God and worldly riches.”

Each person and family must decide how to apply those teachings of Jesus.

My husband and God eventually persuaded me to let go of chasing after that American dream.

Instead, our family took a big pay cut and moved to Lomalinda—no medical insurance, no retirement plan. We had to believe God would give us everything we needed—and He did! (And there’s a huge difference between what a person needs and wants.)

I recommend the following for more on this topic:

Friday, June 7, 2019

I was chasing the American Dream

I’d always planned to chase the American Dream—I’d marry a guy who’d earn more money next year than this year. And more money each year after that. And we’d get a bigger, nicer house every so often. And increasingly nice furniture and carpets. New cars, too.

And I expected we’d continue our pursuit of happiness—which the Declaration of Independence says is our right. I assumed gaining more and better possessions would lead to that happiness.

Abundance. Upward mobility. Living the good life. When I was a kid and a young wife and mother, that’s what I assumed would be mine.

And I wasn’t alone. In The American Dream: A Cultural History, Lawrence R. Samuel observes that “. . . the American Dream . . . is thoroughly woven into the fabric of everyday life. It plays a vital, active role in who we are, what we do, and why we do it.”

I still remember the house my family moved into when I was about three years old. My dad had finished his duties in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II and, thanks to the GI Bill, my parents bought one of the many new houses popping up.

Our house was tiny, but it was new and in an all-new neighborhood in suburban Spokane, Washington. It had one bathroom (tub, no shower) and two bedrooms (smaller than many of today’s closets), one of which my two little brothers and I shared. The living room measured about thirteen feet long and nine feet wide. A small kitchen also served as our only place to eat. But life was good.

A few years later, my dad’s employer transferred him across the state to a tall office building in downtown Seattle. He and Mom were all a-twitter because he’d be wearing suits to work every day. Our family was moving up in the world.

We moved to Seattle’s far northern suburbs (now a city named Shoreline) and bought a house larger than our previous one. This one had three bedrooms—I no longer had to share one with my little brothers. Two bedrooms were tiny, but the master bedroom was a decent size, unlike the one in Spokane. We had one bathroom (tub, no shower), a small kitchen, and our eating space was off the kitchen in one corner of the living room. Yes, indeed, we had moved up in the world.

A year or so after our move, our thickly-forested neighborhood was deforested, and hundreds of new homes popped up—houses a bit bigger and nicer than ours. But my parents spruced ours up here and there as they could afford—they added a shower head to our bathtub (showers seemed to be a status symbol for families who had taken only baths for centuries) and, years later, built a dining room off the back of the house. Yep—we were moving up in the world.

Because of the American Dream, I assumed my husband, Dave, and I would start small and move to increasingly nicer houses. Indeed, we did start small—living in a pathetic little place as newlyweds, later moving to a new-ish apartment at Richmond Beach, Washington, and then into a two-bedroom house on a large wooded lot. 

In 1974, Dave and I bought a house in Edmonds, Washington, an attractive and comfortable town bordering our hometown of Shoreline. Our kids, Matt and Karen, each had their own bedrooms. Dave and I had a half-bath off our bedroom (which neither my parents nor Dave’s had) and in the hallway, we had a full bathroom with an impressive shower. Moving up, indeed.

And we had a fireplace—that was another notable amenity that my parents’ house didn’t have. And it gets better: We had a sliding glass door off of our dining nook. We had definitely moved up in the world.

But I did have dreams of replacing the turquoise rug one day—soon, I hoped. It was in good condition but didn’t match anything we owned.

And I hoped to spruce up the dark-stained kitchen cupboards.

And it would be nice if we could change the master half-bath into a full bath.

And I had dreams of making the kitchen and dining nook just a bit larger by adding on to the back of the house.

I figured this house would suit us well for years to come. I was really happy—until . . . .

Until that fateful February day in 1975 when:

My husband, Dave, burst through the front door of our home and, with a boyish grin and outstretched arms, announced, “We’re moving to Lomalinda! I’m going to teach there!”
 A few seconds passed before I could wheeze in enough air to speak. “Where is Lomalinda?”
 “Colombia, South America!”
 I collapsed to the floor.
 I’d always expected we’d live a normal, predictable, all-American life but, without warning, my husband declared he had other ideas. (from Chapter 1, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir) 

Any day now you should be able to buy Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir as an ebook, and it’s now available in paperback through your favorite independent bookseller, or the following:

Barnes and Noble (10% off with their promo code; 15% off for new customers)
Indigo (Canada) 

Noticing the good stuff, finding the joy

I began to notice more good stuff going on in Lomalinda .     God was offeri ng me new opportunities. He was offering me a new perspectiv...