Thursday, May 27, 2021

Held close in God’s loving arms


Have you ever felt your life’s circumstances were earthquake-y and unpredictable and mysterious? That the songs of your heart were slightly out of tune? And yet, at the same time you had an inkling that God was slogging through it with you, holding you close, smiling at you, cheering you on?


Often we don’t see our situation clearly until later, in hindsight.


I look back and see that during my first few weeks in Lomalinda, I was in a fog—not a dense one, but a fog nevertheless—and I recognize now, more than ever, that day by day, morning by morning, new mercies I saw. All I needed, God’s hand provided. Great was His faithfulness!


God had put His loving arms around me during those puzzling days of transition—transition out of so much and into so much. . . .


  • God said He’d be with me and bless me as I left my homeland and instead lived in Colombia as a foreigner (Genesis 26:3);
  • He went before me as I transitioned out of my home in Seattle and into my home in Lomalinda (Deuteronomy 31:8);
  • His everlasting lovingkindness led me out of my Pacific Northwest culture and into two cultures new to me: (1) the culture of a missionary community and (2) the culture of rural Colombia (Exodus 13:21);
  • As I stepped away from my friends and family back home, God circled me, front and back, with His hand of blessing upon me, and led me into new groups of people I’d never met before (Psalm 139:5);
  • He assured me He’d be with me and keep me close as I transitioned out of my home church and into a different one—we had only one in Lomalinda (Exodus 28:15);
  • He went before me and helped me fight mental and physical battles as I left behind the way I’d always done grocery shopping and meal preparation, and He led me into the Lomalinda way (Deuteronomy 1:30);
  • Although I had never been this way before (Joshua 3:4), He helped me transition out of owning a car and into walking everywhere;
  • He had sent me to live as a foreigner and promised to bless me there (Genesis 26:3), helping me trade the smells of forest and sea for the smells of jungle and grasslands and mud;
  • Because I was a foreigner in a foreign land (Exodus 2:22), God stood beside me as I moved out of cool Seattle temperatures and into sweltering equatorial heat;
  • Within each day’s spirals and whorls, and despite my many awkward lurches, with each little victory and each major triumph God was helping me drop puzzle pieces into place. He held my hand, guided me with His counsel, and transitioned me toward a glorious destiny (Psalm 73:23-24).


As we traveled this foreign wilderness, I witnessed God caring for Dave, Matt, Karen, and me as a father cares for his child. He had brought us to this place (Deuteronomy 1:31). 


Little did I know then that He was preparing a feast for me so that my cup would overflow with blessings (Psalm 23:5).


The Lord carried me out of despair and offered me hope: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).


Joan Chittister writes: “Despair . . . leads us to ignore the very possibilities that could save us. . . .


Hope, on the other hand, . . . knows that whatever happens God lives in it, and expects that, whatever its twists and turns, it will ultimately yield its good to those who live it consciously, to those who live it to the hilt. . . . Hope sends us dancing around dark corners. . . .


Every dimension of the process of struggle is a call to draw from a well of  new understandings. It is that wisdom that carries us beyond the dark night of struggle to the dawn of new wisdom and new strength.” (Joan Chittister, Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope)


Hope: It’s a good thing.


Wherever you find yourself today,

God holds you in His arms

and offers you hope.


“May the God of all hope

fill you with all joy and peace

as you trust Him. . . .”

(Romans 15:13)


Thursday, May 20, 2021

Of hope and turning points


“I have found it very important in my own life

to try to let go of my wishes

and instead to live in hope.

 I am finding that

when I choose to let go of my sometimes petty and superficial wishes

and trust that my life is precious and meaningful in the eyes of God

something really new, something beyond my expectations

begins to happen for me.

(Henri Nouwen, Finding My Way Home)



I began to notice new, good stuff going on in Lomalinda.


For example, Matt, in first grade, and Karen, in Kindergarten, studied Spanish. What a bonus that was! If they’d been enrolled in school back home in Seattle, they’d probably have had to wait until high school to study a foreign language.


And they enjoyed using their Spanish.


Local Colombians worked alongside us—in the commissary and offices, and as janitors, yard workers, and maids. One worker walked by us every morning on our way to school, and one day Karen piped up, “Buenos días” (hello).


That delighted my heart because (a) she wasn’t afraid of someone who spoke a different language than she did, and (b) she was confident enough to use the little bit of Spanish she knew.


The Colombians were friendly and patient with those who didn’t speak Spanish well. I had studied Spanish for three years in junior high but was a bit rusty. Soon, though, I began doing better—although I still resorted to hand gestures sometimes. Thank goodness for my Spanish/English dictionary. The maid, Rufina, and I had a good laugh whenever I said, Un momento” (just a minute) and opened my dictionary. (And I thank God for helping me get accustomed to having a stranger—Rufina—in my home all day once a week. Click on Feeling like a big baby.)


And there was more good stuff. Remember how awful the locally made bread smelled and tasted? On one of our first days in Lomalinda, with dreams of making good ol’ homemade sandwiches, I reached for the bread I’d bought at the commissary, but when I untwisted the wrapper, an ugly odor poofed outrancid lard and something else.


I examined the loaf. It looked like bread, but it sure didn’t smell like bread. It was far from fresh, yet I could find no spoilage.


I started to slice a piece off the end, but it crumbled apart. I sliced again with the same result.


We needed eight pieces for four sandwiches, and every stinking slice fell apart.


Well, even that scenario changed: Dave began baking bread on Saturdays. Sometimes we used it for sandwiches, but then one day he tried a Cinnamon Swirl recipe! What a treat!


More good stuff: A week or so into the school year, I wrote this in a letter to my parents:


Dear Mom and Dad,


Karen is reading! I can hardly believe it, and she’s picking it up even faster than Matt did. She has no difficulty with “The girl has a doll. The boy has a bike. Look at the child. He is a boy. She is a girl.” And last night was the first time she’d picked up that book. If we spell a word, she pictures it in her head and sounds it out. And she’s still only four years old.


Matt brings home a book each day and reads the whole thing aloud in the evening. Miss Wheeler has trouble finding books challenging enough for him. . . .


And, more good stuff: Inspired by Lois Metzger, I took on the challenge of making attractive meals from limited supplies in the commissary. I focused on variety, not just flavor.


I made stale bread eater-friendly by dipping sandwiches into an egg-milk mixture and frying them like French toast.


Friends sent recipes from home, and I scoured the pages of the cookbook Lomalinda’s women published, Mejores Malocas y Chagras (Better Homes and Gardens). I especially enjoyed Judy Branks’s recipe for Coconut Sweet and Sour Meatballs and Jerri Morgan’s granola, which I still use forty years later.


The book included recipes using fruit readily available—mangos, papayas, bananas, and pineapples—and recipes for pickles, relish, mayonnaise, salad dressings, and sauces, those things we really missed.


A friend returning to the States sold me her spices and dried herbs, and they added to my fun.


Making those foods required resourcefulness and work—we made most everything from scratch—but I thrived on the challenge.


And yet more good stuff: After living in Lomalinda for a month, our noses and mouths adjusted—odors smelled less offensive, and our taste buds stopped rebelling. Hooray! (from Chapter 11, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: AFoot-Dragger’s Memoir)


Looking back now, it’s clear to see that even though my first ten days or so in Lomalinda felt like I was on an out-of-control roller coaster. . .


. . . and even though I had kicked and blubbered and rebelled against living there. . .


. . . God had good plans for me.


He patiently waited for me to calm down.


God handed me even more good stuff, though it didn’t seem like it at the time: My sense of failure had exhausted me—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. (Click on last week’s post, Without change, there would be no butterflies.”)


But that fatigue was a gift: It robbed me of energy that fueled my rebellion against Lomalinda.


Only then, in my brokenness, could I “let go of my . . . petty and superficial wishes,” as Henri Nouwen called them, and make much-needed attitude adjustments.


That’s what Nouwen meant when he wrote of the way God doessomething really new, something beyond my expectations.”


Moving to Lomalinda was the last thing 

I’d ever have chosen to do.

But God interrupted my life.

So, I let go of my own plans and surrendered to His,

and He pointed me toward Lomalinda.


And there, He was offering me new opportunities.

He was offering me a new perspective,

a new way to do Life.

A new attitude. New goals.


New joys.


Thursday, May 13, 2021

“Without change, there would be no butterflies”


“Some of us [overseas workers] think we need to be strong all the time,” writes Monica. “We have to go hard, and not let anyone see our struggles.” 

She was describing me during my first month on the mission field.


I was pretty hard on myself, thinking I had to be perfect, convinced that every error, every hiccup, every flop made me a failure.


Monica continues, “Mere humans . . . often feel the pressure to keep it together. . . . But when I read Scripture, it doesn’t always seem like Jesus is keeping it together. . . . He lets us into his tears and fatigue.


“And for goodness sake, read the Psalms!” Monica continues. “The emotional pendulums of the Psalmist . . . are a testimony of the pain, joy, anger, and doubt we experience. . . . It’s okay to get real! God can handle it!” (from “Let your heart exhale” at Velvet Ashes).


Sometimes I reasoned the way Monica recommends, but I didn’t always succeed. I had wobbly faith. Nevertheless, that was not the end of my story.


I didn’t recognize it at the time but, by God’s grace, I was transitioning out of my “fight-or-flight” mode (wanting to flee from Lomalinda and return to Seattle) and instead, settling into a contented, meaningful life. (Don’t miss my earlier post, “In the fight-or-flight mode.”)


Though I only vaguely sensed it, God was constantly embracing me in His very capable arms and working out His good plans for me.


Katie Schnack writes of those turning points when God calls you to start over:


“Be patient, give yourself grace.

New chapters [in life] can be . . . tough.

But with time, effort and some serious leaning on God,

you may realize your scary-crazy-insane life change

was one of the best things 

that could have happened to you.

Life never follows our plans,

 but sometimes what God brings us instead 

is even better.”

Katie Schnack


And this is mind-blowing: God often works in simple, everyday ways to accomplish His big things in us and for us. We humans often don’t notice it at the moment but, in looking back, sometimes we do see—and when we finally recognize Him, we need to thank Him. And rejoice in His goodness to us!


One of the ways the Lord helped me settle into our family’s new home and routines was through a yard sale—yes, a simple yard sale. And a grater from my mother. And a few inches of red thread.


Let me tell you about it.


After we’d lived in Lomalinda almost a month, I wrote this letter to my parents:


Dear Mom and Dad,


This afternoon, Matt and Karen complained of boredom, so I sent them to the post office—we usually get mail on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but a plane flew mail in today, Saturday.


While the kids were gone, big black clouds blew over, a wind whipped up, and rain poured down. Soon over the top of the next hill, I saw the kids bringing home the mail, but it was only damp when they arrived because Matt had put it under his shirt.


We got [our first] letter from you! Now we know you’ve received our first letter! Today we got your letter of August 31, and about four days ago we got the package you’d mailed on the same day.


Thank you for sending the grater. I was tickled to get it. Grating has always been one of my least favorite chores, but I immediately grated a bowlful of carrots for a salad. Thanks, too, for sending the piece of red thread. I needed it to mend the hem of a blouse.


Donna, the gal I’m replacing, is selling household items because she’s leaving to work with Wycliffe in the States. I bought a whole bunch of stuff—strainer, cake pan, muffin tin, pitchers, silverware holder for our kitchen drawer, and her ironing board.


I’m also buying her dining room furniture. She purchased it in Bogotá and it’s much nicer than locally-made furniture. It includes a hutch and four wooden chairs with leather seats and backs.


AND I bought her classic old Singer Featherweight sewing machine (!!) which came with an instruction booklet, pinking shears, scissors, lots of bobbins, thread, needles—all kinds of stuff. I’m so excited!


Settling well was imperative--settling into our new lives, our new home, and our new routines.


On the mission field, we’re taught to develop coping mechanisms, for good reason. God is not a God of disorder and confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33) and it seems He passed that on to people: We do best when, for the most part, things are ordered and predictable and run smoothly.


I was trying so hard to get our home and routines running smoothly, and those few small items—the grater, the snippet of red thread, and the kitchen items Donna sold me—helped me function less chaotically as a homemaker and mother.


And God knew, too, that a smidgen of encouragement and a morsel of progress made a huge difference to an immature, wimpy twenty-nine-year-old woman, a work in progress, a gal who heard God ask her to change, to set aside her own plans and move to a remote plot of land at the end of the road in the middle of nowhere in South America.


Perhaps it was the Lord Himself 

who inspired Walt Disney to say, 

Without change, there would be no butterflies.” 

God saw me as I would someday be: 

as beautiful as a butterfly. 

But it took a lot of effort to get me out of that cocoon! 

He was patient. 

I needed to be patient, too.

Blue Morpho butterfly, a Lomalinda beauty


Thursday, May 6, 2021

A treat for you: A visit to Lomalinda, thanks to a video!


May 8 is Global Big Day. (Click on that link to learn all about it.) While you can participate in Global Big Day in your own location, others around the world will be doing the same.


AND, thanks to a Facebook video, you can make a brief trip to Lomalinda for Global Big Day. (If you’ve read Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir, you know Lomalinda is an out-of-the-way spot in vast open plains in central Colombia, South America, where Dave and I and our two small children lived for three years.)


Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology planned the Global Big Day international competition and last year, 2020, Colombia won the global birding contest for the fourth year in a row as birdwatchers recorded 1,440 species! (Other sources say Colombia has more than 1,958 species of birds, more than any other country.)


According to the video, more than 160 species of birds live in that little cluster of hills known as Lomalinda (“pretty hill” in Spanish).


Why did we live and work in Lomalinda? It was the home base for extensively trained linguists who worked for many years among illiterate indigenous people groups and put into writing educational, medical, agricultural, and religious materials to benefit those groups. And it took place in an especially lovely place—lovely birds, flowers, trees, scenery, animals, insects, fish . . . on and on.


You’ll enjoy another short video about birds throughout the departamento (state) of Meta, where Lomalinda is located. Click on “Meta Colombia is the new hotspot for birding.”)


In that video, in addition to seeing the area’s beautiful birds, you’ll experience:

  • the geography and plantlife of the area and,
  • the llanero music in the background—especially enjoyable!—and,
  • what it’s like to listen to someone communicating with you in Spanish.


What fun! Enjoy these videos!


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...