Thursday, March 25, 2021

Feeling like a big baby


Looking back now, I feel overwhelming gratitude for the people who helped my family and me settle in Lomalinda—people like David Hockett, our neighbor Ruth, Karen Mac, and Lois Metzger. And today I’m going to tell you about Linda Lackey.


Each person gently oriented me, offered valuable and practical how-to information, and modeled for me how to live in that foreign place.


My days and duties were getting less unfamiliar. Chaos was calming down (emotional, mental, spiritual, and literal) and my homemaking efforts were slowly making a big difference. Each day my young family and I were making progress.


But then. . . . But then. . . Rufina began working for us. Dear Rufina.


There was nothing wrong with Rufina. But there was something wrong with me.


You see, a Lomalinda lady named Dorothy had arranged for a pleasant older woman, Rufina, to work at our house one day a week.


I’d never imagined a person like me would have a maid, but in Lomalinda it was the thing to do for several reasons.


First, local people needed jobs and, second, because of the intense heat, we all worked at a slower pace than we did in cooler regions of the northern hemisphere—it was a health issue—and that meant we had a hard time getting household chores done.


Third, having a maid freed mothers, like me, to fill jobs that contributed to the task of Bible translation, the reason we all lived there.


And fourth, it cost little to hire a maid.


A few years earlier, Rufina’s husband, a church pastor, had been gunned down by someone waiting for him to step off a bus. She’d worked for several other Lomalinda families and had never stolen from them, which was not the case with some maids.


And so, a week before school began, at seven o’clock on a Tuesday morning, Rufina arrived at our door. She stood only two inches taller than our first-grader, Matt. (See photo, below.)


Dorothy had given me a mimeographed sheet in Spanish listing common household chores—Rufina spoke no English—and I had made a list and rehearsed it several times. When she arrived, I read her my instructions and let out a big sighI was finished! I turned to go—but she had questions. I hadn’t anticipated that.


I couldn’t make sense of anything she said so I took a deep breath and told her I didn’t understand. “Yo no comprendo.” Then I asked her to say it again. “Repite usted, por favor.”


She did, but she talked twice as fast and twice as long. She was a soft-spoken, gentle lady with a sweet smile that lit up her face, but that didn’t help me understand her. I hoped to catch a few words and look them up in my Spanish dictionary, but I didn’t understand even one.


She waited for my answer. I trembled. What was I to do? I felt a panic coming over me. I fought tears.


But then I remembered—oh, yes, then I remembered!—that on another day of the week, Rufina worked for the Lackey family. God did that for me—He helped me remember how I could find practical help.


I looked up the Lackeys’ number and dialed.


Linda Lackey answered. Struggling to steady my voice, I asked if she would talk to Rufina and help me figure out what she was saying.


Oh, of course.” Linda spoke so kindly. “Rufina is hard to understand because she’s missing so many teeth.”


I handed the phone to Rufina, and, after a long conversation with Linda, she handed it back to me, smiling.


Linda, bless her heart, had helped Rufina understand me

and helped me understand Rufina.


A huge relief washed over me as Rufina turned and got to work.


Local maids believed it was bad luck to finish the day’s work by doing anything other than ironing so, late that afternoon, Rufina ironed the laundry she had washed that morning. She did an exquisite job. She even ironed things I would never have ironed myself. And best of all, she sang while she worked. That in itself was a lovely blessing.


Dorothy had told me to pay Rufina at the end of each day, putting her pesos in an envelope, and to have her sign a notebook in which I recorded the date and amount I paid her. She wrote slowly, the letters large and childlike. It struck me that she probably couldn’t read or write anything more than her own name.


The memory of that day still stands out. I hadn’t recognized anything Rufina said after the call to Linda Lackey.


Each time I had asked her to repeat herself, she did the same thing she’d done in the morning, telling a story twice as long and twice as fast, with lots of hand gestures and arm-waving. I lost track of how many times I snuck into my bedroom to dry my tears.


After Rufina left the phone rang, and Linda Lackey asked how Rufina did the rest of the day.


By then I was a big bundle of nerves

I’d never had a stranger in my house all day

in my home, my refuge—a stranger!

And I burst out sobbing.


I apologized,

but Linda interrupted with comforting words

and a promise to pray for me.


Afterward, I felt like a big baby. I reminded myself that Rufina was a lovely lady—sweet, hard-working, and always smiling.


Rufina didn’t do anything to make you cry, I told myself. You simply need time to get accustomed to her.


Nevertheless, I was giddy with relief

because I had an entire week to pull myself together

before she returned.

(From Chapter 10, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go:

A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir)


Karen second from left; Matt far right; with Rufina

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Finding value in taking baby steps in the right direction


Yes indeed, God had wheedled me out of my comfort zone and, it seemed, He enjoyed introducing me to altogether new ways of living.


Me—the protected and comfortable suburbanite, the straitlaced and genteel young lady.


The one who had stayed far away from wildlife and slimy-slippery stuff and anything that even hinted at danger. (Click on If you see red eyes above the waterline . . .)


And yet God was succeeding in introducing me to new and good things that were far from all I was accustomed to in suburban Seattle—partly through the exciting and diverse natural environment my son Matt was discovering with his new friends (see recent posts), and partly through Lomalinda’s good people.


Yes, I was gradually becoming more accepting of Lomalinda’s lifestyle, but I still faced a handful of challenges.


One of them was how to feed my family well from what was—or what was not—available at the commissary.


It was a low-lying building painted sky blue. The first time I stepped inside, I was struck by how dark and cramped it was, the size of two rooms in a small house. It smelled of laundry detergent, bleach, insect spray, powdered juice drink, burlap, and bread.


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.


That first 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?


On other days, in the future, I found a few more items, including chunks of local meat, and little by little my refrigerator and kitchen cupboards began to look a little less bare.


I’d never been a fancy cook—we came from humble middle-class families and were accustomed to eating humble middle-class food. I wasn’t hoping to provide epicurean meals—I just longed to feed my family nutritious meals. But the items on the commissary shelves didn’t give me much hope.


But then. . . . But then. . . . !


Ron and Lois Metzger invited us to their home for dinner. Stepping into their red brick house, I could not believe what I saw on the dinner table—it looked like a Thanksgiving feast.


But I’d seen the skimpy supplies in the commissary.


Dumbfounded, I asked Lois, “Where did you find all this food?”


“At the commissary,” she said, smiling.


Bless her heart, she had learned to be creative, and I was impressed. (from Chapter 10, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go:A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir.)


I’ve always remembered that meal and the inspiration Lois offered me.


She was one of those dear ones I told you about before: In Lomalinda, I was like a baby bird learning to fly. God blessed me with a number of “mama birds,” lovely people who gently showed me how to do life there in that out-of-the-way place—and Lois was one of them.


The day would soon come when, inspired by Lois, I would take on the challenge of making attractive, tasty meals from limited supplies in the commissary.


It would require resourcefulness and work, but I would thrive on the challenge.


But in the beginning, only a few days into Lomalinda life, I was still in transition, and transition can be messy—stumbling through unknowns and waiting for elusive answers. It’s a vulnerable time, a time of letting go and rethinking and stretching.


I was slogging through one of those proverbial “one step forward and two steps back” stages of my life.


Hooray for one-step-forward days!


Even baby steps in the right direction

can make a big difference.


As Thomas Merton said,

“You do not need to know precisely

what is happening, or exactly where it is all going.

What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges

offered by the present moment,

and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”


Thursday, March 11, 2021

If you see red eyes above the water line . . .


Sometimes God makes me chuckle—like now, when I think back to what a prim and proper young lady I was when I landed in Lomalinda. And when I recall what a protected, comfortable suburban life I’d led until then. And how God sent me there, planning to awaken me to altogether new ways of thinking and living.


I think back to what God seemed to say when He finally—finally!—convinced me to move to Lomalinda.


You see, a lot of people, especially my mother, had expected me to color within life’s lines—and that had been my plan, too.


But instead, I sensed God saying, with a big grin, “Color outside the lines, and don’t even think about using pastel colors. Use exotic, pulsing, dancing colors, shimmering, out-of-this-world colors.” (Chapter 2, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir)


Getting acquainted with Lomalinda’s wildlife—and the people who enjoyed those creatures—offered me opportunities to color outside the lines. Believe me, there was nothing like it in Seattle!


I’ve already told you about bulls that roamed through Lomalinda, coming right up to my kitchen window and eating my hibiscus, and about the parrots that shared our neighborhood with us.


I’ve told you about swimming with stingrays—and with piranhas. And with anacondas.


And I’ve told you a story you won’t soon forget about my friend Mardty and a boa constrictor. And another story about a boa constrictor’s smile.


Today I want to tell you how we humans also shared our territory with caimans, related to both alligators and crocodiles.


Caimans open their jaws “aggressively,” and “seize their prey and drag it underwater to drown it” (Wikipedia).


Lomalindians hunted caimans in the lake,

its outlet, and swampy areas.

And what stories they could tell!


We heard that one of the men brought home a baby caiman late at night and put it in the bathtub—much to his wife’s dismay when she got up in the night to use the bathroom.


Another young man invited a girl to go caiman-hunting on their first date and, believe it or not, she later married him.


Sometimes Lomalindians initiated newcomers by taking them on a caiman hunt and telling them tall tales—exaggerating a bit to terrify them.


While a few adults hunted caiman, teens had more wild-eyed stories to tell, and they now admit their mothers would’ve had a conniption if they’d known what their kids had been up to.


It seemed that the teens went hunting after dark when their parents thought they were doing homework with friends. Others confess they snuck out after bedtime.


Sometimes they set out in a canoe, but other times they waded into the water, often barefooted--! Their tools of the trade were a .22 rifle, or sometimes a machete or bow and arrow, as well as a flashlight, which helped spot the caiman’s red eyes above the waterline. When the kids saw the red, they aimed and shot between the eyes.


Russ Meehan tells a story about wading through a swamp when he and his friends spotted a caiman nearly four feet long. Russ wrote,


“I was getting up my nerve to hack it with a machete when Rick yelled, ‘No, wait!’ He wanted to grab it by the neck.


“I watched as he began clearing debris away. Then he plunged his hand down on the neck and pulled up. The caiman began thrashing, and it was too much for Rick, who had to let go.


Russ continued, “It landed in the water and began running on top of the pond with Rick chasing it from behind.


“Then Benny, who had a pistol with him, began firing at the fleeing caiman!


Later I heard Benny say, ‘That boy is crazy, chasing a caiman like that,’ and I heard Rick say, ‘That guy is crazy, shooting a gun like that; he could have killed me!’”


Jim Wheeler, one of my husband’s students, still talks about a friend who brought home a baby caiman—which his mom flushed down the toilet. A few months later when the family had plumbing problems, they dug up the septic tank and found a five-foot-long caiman.


Jim also tells this story of hunting with a .22 rifle and flashlight, shining it over the water, searching for red eyes, the wider the gap between them the bigger the caiman.


Jim says, “David Mansen and I were at one of the marshy ponds at night. We spotted red eyes that looked at least four inches apart—so it was a big one.


“David fired the rifle. We heard a splash, then quiet. Now what?


While you keep reading, below, keep in mind that caimans “may observe a potential prey, swim away, submerge, and return to attack” (Wikipedia).


“David, you shot it,” I said. “You go find it.” He waded into the knee-deep water while I stayed about ten feet behind, holding the flashlight.


“Several feet before the place we’d seen the caiman, David started slicing his machete through the murky water to locate the hopefully dead beast. After several minutes, he connected with his trophy—a sixteen-inch baby caiman.


“After getting over our disappointment, neither of us said much.


This isn’t the one we saw earlier.

This is just a baby.

Big mama is still around somewhere. 

Let’s get out of here!


Thursday, March 4, 2021

A boa constrictor’s smile


We soon learned that Lomalinda’s young people were truly remarkable—they possessed a zest for life and were keen for adventure.


And living in rural South America gave them a number of opportunities kids back home in the States seldom had.


One of the high school kids, Chris Branks, told the following story about a time he and his siblings lived in the dorm for a few weeks while their parents, Bible translators, worked in an indigenous village:


“Hector's boa constrictor had thirty-two babies, and he said anyone that wanted one could have one,” Chris said. “There was a stampede as we all rushed over to pick out our boas.”


Now, let me interrupt Chris here to remind you that boa constrictors squeeze people and animals to death. And then swallow them whole. Granted, we’re talking about baby boas here, but still. . . . (If you missed it, click on A boa constrictor story you won't soon forget.)


“For the next couple of days,” Chris continued, “the dorm sounded like an industrial zone as we hammered together cages. Not all of them were very secure, and there were some long faces on the kids whose snakes escaped.


“There was also a lot of horse-trading going on. Boys traded Swiss Army knives and other treasures to accumulate more snakes.


“For weeks, every boy in the dorm wore a snake around his neck or arm or had one squirming in his pocket.”


Even at school! Can you imagine?! Read on . . .


“Eventually, the school principal banned the boas

they caused too many distractions

for both students and teachers,

who more than once found a smiling boa

in their top drawer.

(If you look closely at a boa,

you’ll see they’re always smiling,

which is how you know they're friendly.)” 

(From Chapter 13, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go:

A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir)


We were only beginning to realize that

Lomalinda’s teens lived with gusto, pizzazz, and few fears.


What an example they were for me—cowardly, wimpy me.


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...