Desolation and Mango Trees

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Desolation is defined as extreme sadness caused by loss or loneliness; the condition of a place or thing that has been damaged in such a way that it is no longer suitable for people to live in; the state or condition of being desolate. It is the word that comes to me over and over while driving through the camps.  The place is desolated, as are the people.  The loss, the loneliness, the homesickness hangs thick in the air.  There is great damage here in hearts and minds.  Every family has a story.  Every person within the family has one too. There are too many stories for all of them to be heard. It is collective sorrow.  Many of them have never known peace.  The tribal conflicts in their country have been going on for decades. The way I feel reminds me of after 9-11, when we were all shell-shocked and hurting in unison. Slow to trust. Feeling threatened. On high alert. In mourning. Trying to find our footing. Trying to rebuild lives with gaping holes in our hearts. Think of a day like that, only it lasts for forty years. What would it do to life?  Change it drastically.  I see that hollow shell-shocked look here.  It is heavy.  The physical loads they carry along the road are a representation of what their hearts are feeling. They are burdened under the weight of life. Hope is not visible in many faces or places. Even when talking about surface level things there is sorrow behind the eyes. Yet, they move forward.

At first glance, the primary school blends into the landscape as just more makeshift buildings in a countryside full of them. They are not much to look at, but they are sturdy pavilion-like structures that serve their purpose of protection of the students from the sun and the rain.  It is what is inside those pavilions which stirs my heart.  It is the teachers’ dedication to the students.  They see the kids as the future of their country.  They face insurmountable barriers and a lack of resources, but they continue on.  They are fueled by a spark of hope. I want to bring some oxygen to that spark while I am here.

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On the property of the school, the children planted some mango trees in the fall.  In the midst of a desolated land full of dust and heat, the tree team has faithfully watered those trees. They come even when the school is not in session to tend to the mangos. Each tree is small, and enclosed in a little cage type structure to protect them. If you look down into the enclosures you see green hope peeking back at you.  They are small representations, but they are taking root. The students who are tending them have a reason to get up and moving…they have ownership.  It is a beginning.

Peace for their country is being born here, in this one school, in this one settlement, in this one camp.  It seems a drop in the ocean. Why even try?  How will this really effect the whole situation? They are just kids, after all.  Ahhh, but do not undervalue what God can do with kids who have hope.  Kids who are resilient, who know what war feels like and do not want to return to it. They are moldable clay in God’s hands.  Designed for purpose.  Thoughtful and pensive.  Old souls in young bodies. Those who are learning how to dream about the future.

The teachers have been entrusted with this generation under some harsh circumstances.  They are passing the baton to this scared and wounded generation. They are teaching them to think of the future, since they have never thought past today. They are planting dreams, like the mango trees, and watching them begin to grow.  It is still too early to tell how many will survive, but with the right care there is hope, which is something that has been missing until they escaped the warzone. Mother Theresa said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean.  But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”  Each drop poured by the teachers into each child at Hope Primary School reaches each family and builds communities, which heals countries, which can change the world.  Do not underestimate the power of the mango trees.

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Success

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What is your measure of success?  Is it, what kind of car you drive?  Or if you have a nice house?  Is it, if you have a degree or two?  Is it, how much money you make or that you are raising great kids?  Is it, that you give back and serve others?  Or that you are a “good” Christian? Think about how you measure yourself and others for a minute.

The South Sudanese have a different definition of success which has stopped me in my tracks. They measure it this way.  None of my children have died today.  I got enough water to survive today. My house now has a roof. I found some food today to feed my family.  It is all so immediate here, in the camps. Not to mention the fact they had to journey through a war to get here. Lots of people on the roads going to and fro just trying to survive. If they survive the day they have been successful.

They have reminded me of how fragile life is and how much I take for granted. The things they work so hard for are things I hardly think about. I have water in abundance, and food and just about everything else they are fighting for. It is mind boggling to think inside the box of their limitations.

 

 

For example, I met with 3 of the teachers I will be training next week.  I saw the school, without the students, since they are on break until Feb.  They have no curriculum.  They have no walls.  They are just now getting bench-desks for the students, so they don’t have to bring their own chairs. There are 7 classes, grades 1-6, with a total of 600 students. Each classroom has between 76 and 96 students, with no resources. There are only 16 teachers total, and only 4 of them are officially trained. None of them are paid. The headmaster would like me to teach classroom management strategies, lesson planning, record keeping, and assessment for teachers who have nearly 100 students in their classrooms.

The main thing I want to bring them is encouragement!  It is so inspiring to see these men, who have all fled their country, come and teach the children.  The headmaster had oversight of many schools in South Sudan.  I told him how he inspired me, because I knew it is something deep within him. I am not sure if had I been through what he has I would take on such an undertaking.  I would rather sit and lick my wounds, but he said, “It is all about the children, and who will run our country in the future if we leave them now.”  Now, that is the long term thinking of an educator. Yet, I can see the enormity of the task is taking a toll on him. It is slow going.  One step at a time, but one step here can take months.  Getting a lunch program going is the current priority, otherwise the children leave midday and return hours later. If there was lunch on the premises they would get at least one meal a day for certain.  That meal would nourish their bodies, but also put their minds at ease from having to wonder when they will eat again.  The thought of starvation tends to interrupt concentration for things like reading and math. They are building the school to be a safe place for children.  A place of routine and normalcy in a chaotic environment.   Check out the kitchen below. Here’s the link to help.

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Down another road at Dreamland Children’s Home, the kids rushed the car with smiles beaming and arms outstretched.  Those smiles lit up the surrounding area.  They were some of the first genuine, joy filled smiles I saw.  Hugs were in abundance.  Those who have lost the most and are the most vulnerable have the most joy.  They brought some hope to my heart, which was overflowing with the bareness of what I was witnessing in the camp. There are 135 children at Dreamland, which is an orphanage that was established in South Sudan first.  They had to flee quickly with these children, as their village was overrun with rebels. What kind of fear does that bring? How long does it linger?

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When craft time came they could draw anything, and most of the drawings were happy ones, of houses, and cups with water in them, flowers, and cars. There is resilience here, in the most unlikely of places, but it is not all sunshine and rainbows. There was one little boy, maybe 6 or so, who drew a helicopter, a flower, and an ax with a stick figure under it.  He said the figure was him, and it made me wonder what horrors he has seen. He did not tell me anymore of his story, but he was proud of his drawing. I found comfort in that the flower was bigger than the stick figure and the helicopter, because it means his hope is growing.   I am thankful for the hearts of those who lead this orphanage as well as those who support it so these kids can know some love which will begin heal their little hearts.

Success is measured in every culture, by the people in it.  Somehow, these strong people have measured it with every drop of blood, sweat, and tears they have shed. Success for them equals survival.

Prepare for Landing

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The engines roar down the runway.  A small plane, with 20 seats in all, lifts me into the sky. The sun is barely up, but it shines off the waters of Lake Victoria, which from the air, looks like the ocean. Once we are airborne, we are above the clouds. The sky is brilliant blue up here.  The view from my window looks like peace. A sea of smooth white clouds as far as I can see. In the distance, the sky and the clouds meet with a blue line between them. Higher up, there are wispy clouds above.  The whole scene makes me think of flying over the ocean.

It is hard to believe that below this peaceful view there is war happening, people starving, children orphaned or abandoned, and fleeing for their lives. It is hard to believe people directly below me are trapped by war, in a country that is not their own.  We land on a dirt airstrip and once my things are dropped off and we pick up the team of three who are already here, we are off to visit the refugee camp to see for ourselves.

The road is an hour and a half of potholes which shake the van so that it rattles loudly.  Along the way, we pass women carrying babies on their backs and loads upon their heads…branches, tubs of water, produce in bags, and buckets full of wet clothing they have just walked miles to wash.  The babies are strapped to their mothers’ backs, in what looks like an uncomfortable position, but they sleep soundly there.  There are young boys herding brahma cows along the road.  Other young ones carry water buckets for miles to fill them at the nearest borehole.   The men ride motor bikes, or bicycles, or are on foot.  All along the road…going however many miles it takes to survive for this day.

The land in the dry season is desolate.  Dust is everywhere.  Many of the trees are bare and what little grass there is, is brown.  There is a breeze, but the sun is brutal in its heat.  The camp is not what I imagined it to be like.  The people are more spread out and many have built huts made of mud to replace the tarps the UN gave them.  Thatch roofs dot the landscape all around.  They seem randomly placed, as if the people stopped and said this looks good, I’ll put my house here. On each plot, there are multiple “buildings” all made of a kind of mud or homemade bricks.  Strung between them, clotheslines are filled with clothes of multiple sizes and colors, the same ones the women walked miles to wash. It is the only color amidst the muted surroundings.

It is currently brick making season. There are piles of dirt with men and boys in them. They are chopping it into finer pieces before mixing it with water to make mud.  Then they pour the mud into a rectangular mold before moving on to the next one.  Rows and rows of bricks lie in the sun to dry.  Once dry, they are stacked into huge piles, which I am told are then burned to make them hard.  It is only some of the backbreaking work I see.  In fact, everywhere I look I see heavy loads, carried simply for survival.  They walk for water. They make bricks. They cook over fires, in the heat of the day. They work dying gardens. They attempt to grow their food so they will have some beyond the once a month delivery from the UN.

Their eyes are mostly blank from the day to day routine.  Walking along doing what they must, in the blazing sun and dust. I do not witness too many smiles along the road, but neither do I sense fear.  They seem to have left the horror of war behind them and only deal with surviving today, in order to survive tomorrow, and the day after, and after.  I recognize the look of simply putting one foot in front of the other. Moving, because if you don’t you will die. These are strong people.  Hard and tired.  They are brittle like the bricks, and their lives have seeped away out of their eyes, leaving them to fend for themselves in whatever way they can. Their dignity has been stolen by war.  The land in the camps seems void of joy and hope.  The spark which you see in people when they laugh and smile is not present here.

Within the camp, which is like its own city, there are settlements.  The settlements are kind of like neighborhoods, only more random and spread out.  In Rhino Camp, there are many settlements.  Over 250,000 people are in this camp alone, and it is not even the biggest one. There are many more, all along the Ugandan boarder with South Sudan. It is a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions.  The NGOs (non-government organizations) are all here doing some work, but there are so many people it is difficult. Feeding them all, for who knows how long, is not a viable solution, but seems to be the only one we have at the moment. I am overwhelmed at the size and scope of the crisis. It is a mass of humanity all looking with curiosity as we pass by.  All of this before we even get out of the van. God’s heart is broken for these people…so is mine.

The Welcoming Committee

boat.jpgI sit with my eyes closed and my head back, facing the warmth of the sun.  The breeze is cool and gentle as it blows my hair just the right amount.  My swollen feet are propped up in a chair. After two days of hectic travel, I soak in the serenity of the place.

My ears are feasting on the unfamiliar sounds, trying to identify them in some way.  The birdsongs are the first of the welcoming committee. I hear something between a warbler and a crow which calls out oddly.  There is no response.  What my ears think must be a cousin to the whip-or-will, starts his song, but then changes it to that of a sparrow. I call him the transformer bird.  There is chatter in a tree which sounds like hundreds of chipmunks.  My ears thereby name them the chipmunk birds.  Occasionally, my ears catch the familiar sounds of cows and goats which float over the fence from next door, however, once they tune in and recognize the sounds, they move on to more of the unidentifiable ones.

Next the lapping of the water catches their attention.  The wind brings small waves to the shore of Lake Victoria.  They accompany the breeze with the sounds of leaves blowing.  No high pitched maples here, in fact, the tree sounds are as unknown as the bird ones to my ears. Except for the palms; they are recognizable by the hiss when the fronds rub together as they sound at any beach.

After my ears are well into the main course of the feast, they invite my eyes to the celebration.  The forest green lawn on which I am sitting is freshly cut all the way to the shore. I overlook an inlet of deep green water that spans from my far right to my far left, and as far as I can see on the horizon.  The shores across from me are dotted with houses but mostly trees which, from this distance, look like the hardwood forests of home.

On the water, there are local fishermen in drab brown boats only big enough for two at a time. Until a bright yellow one coming across the water catches the attention of my eyes.  They follow its journey flowing with the wind, before skipping up to the sky.  It is blue and filled with wispy clouds.  White birds which appear to be storks fly overhead.  My eyes and ears join together at this point, both to hear the birds call to one another and to see them soar.

Then they are drawn back to earth by a bird, almost as tall as I am, sauntering along the shore. His wing span is enormous, but he seems friendly. His size no doubt, influences his laid-back demeanor.  Being that size, he likely has very few predators.  He makes a hissing kind of noise at no one in particular. As he wanders around, the other birds give him clearance as if he is king of all the birds. He walks on stilts that remind me of flamingo legs, only they are as big around as tree branches.

Once the king has moved on, I invite my feet to the party by wading into the refreshingly cold water.  They celebrate briefly, but because of the muddy rocky shore there is no dancing today. My nose, feeling left out, begins to take in smells slowly and quietly.  The lake, the breeze, the cow next door, all waft in, helping my nose feel included.

As the sun dims, the mosquitos arrive for dinner.  I decide not to stay for their meal.  I move inside, but not before one more moment to soak in my welcoming committee…from Africa.

 

Flying Solo

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It might surprise you to know that traveling for this trip made me nervous.  I have traveled on my own domestically, but never internationally. There is something unsettling about traveling to a place where they do not speak my language or use my money. The language part isn’t so much of an issue, until you leave the airport.  The money thing…well, it’s math.  Conversion rates, different forms of currency all worth different amounts, none of which I am familiar with are a great cause for my anxiety.  Math has always scared me.  When going to a foreign country, I am usually on a needs-to-know basis with veteran travelers.  I blindly follow them, like a sheep or a puppy.  All transfers and layovers, all currency exchange, all transportation needs, I just follow along fully trusting they know what they are doing. Because of this fact, I do not know what I am doing, and now that I am solo, I am having to learn.

Hannah booked all of the details over Christmas while she was home.  She had the utmost confidence in me, so much so, I starting having confidence in me, too. Even as I approached the international terminal with knots in my stomach, I kept telling myself ‘I can do this.’  Have you ever noticed how irrational fear is, well, irrational? I arrived many hours early because I would rather sit around the airport for hours than get caught in a mad rush to make my flight.  I had managed to check in online the night before with a bit of help from some friends, so I simply needed to check my bag once I arrived. Piece of cake. I watched the bag slide through the little door into the black abyss with satisfaction.  I was done in five minutes.  It has been a while since I checked a bag, and to be walking with only my purse felt freeing.  However, as I walked away, I noticed the bag ticket was for my final destination, not my layover.  In a calm manner, I went back to the desk and asked the woman if I would have my bag in Qatar for my overnight layover. The very nice lady said, no, I would not. Fortunately, I had packed my medicine in my purse just in case my bag got lost…I had no idea I would shoot myself in the foot before I ever took to the sky.  Still that little glitch wasn’t the end of the world.  I chalked it up to a rookie mistake.

I managed to get to the right gate, in the right line, and into the right seat.  I know, I know, I hadn’t even left Atlanta yet and everything was in English, but still, I felt accomplished. In my seat was a packet with a sleep mask, socks, earplugs, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and lip balm.  Hurray! I tucked it away for my layover. Once we were in the air, the meal came and it wasn’t too bad, until the flight attendant spilled someone’s tomato juice down the side of my head.  I was covered with juice, in my hair, down my neck, and all over my shirt.  The poor girl, was horrified and tried desperately to wipe me clean with cocktail napkins, creating some early flight entertainment for all of my middle eastern friends. Eventually, she got some wet wipes and allowed me to try to clean myself off. Sticky, but tomato free, I continued on.

There was an adorable elderly couple next to me.  They spoke no English, but we did our best to communicate.  I helped the woman get her seat leaned back, much to the dismay of the man behind her.  Several hours into the 12-hour flight while I was sleeping, she began to groan.  I woke to her pulling on my arm.  After a game of charades, I discerned she was asking for a gas pill, which I did not have.  The poor woman was miserable for most of the flight, crying out in pain and switching positions every couple of minutes.  At some point her husband got up and let her lie down in both their seats so she could sleep.  I tried to go back to sleep to no avail.  On the bright side, I got to watch 4 movies.

When we arrived, I took off my compression socks to feet swelled up like grapefruit. All my calisthenics while waiting in line for the bathroom, had failed to keep cankles from appearing.  I did however, keep the audience entertained with my walking in place, ankle twirls, and toe lifts.  So that is something.

My true test came when trying to get from the airport to my air b and b.  This short little transfer involved money, transportation, and a language barrier.  I managed to get through immigration and to the taxi stand.  Cash only.  I had planned to pay with a credit card, so I wouldn’t have to exchange money for such a short stay.  I didn’t want to turn on my cellular data to get an Uber, so I went to the ATM.  I had no idea how much to get, so I asked the cab lady and she told me what to do. I got a cabbie who was super nice, but didn’t know where he was going, so I had a nice tour of Doha before finally arriving at my hotel.  The room looked nothing like the pictures on the air b and b website, but there was a bed and a toilet and a shower, so I was happy. I went to take a shower to remove the last of the tomato juice from my matted hair, but there were no towels.  I went to plug in my phone, but my adapter was not with me. Rather than try to find a place to eat, I ate the snacks I had in my purse…thank God, I put them in there!  I decided just to go to bed, in my clothes, tomato hair and all.

I went to bed at 6:00 pm local time, exhausted from my lack of sleep.  I was in deep REM when the mosque next door had the call to prayer, loudly over the speakers. I had heard one while on my driving tour, but somehow being woken from sleep made it seem louder.  Honestly, I thought it was kind of beautiful, but to hear it so often I think I would not like it for long. I did wonder, if I had a reminder to pray several times a day if it would help me remember.  I wished I had used those earplugs, for now I was once again wide awake at 8:00 pm.  Listening to cats fight in the streets…I think it was cats, anyway.  I drifted out until my room phone rang brining me back awake again.  It was the front desk calling to tell me they had a driver available to take me back to the airport at 4:00 am.  I had a few more hours of sleep before waking and being unable to go back to sleep.  That’s why I am writing this blog, trying to empty my mind so I can get drowsy again.  All of this adventure…on my first day.  Seriously, I thought this might be the most lighthearted of my blog posts on this trip.  A few more hours before I take my wrinkled, matted self, back to the airport.  Who knows what my next two flights will bring!  Stay tuned…

Pray for Me

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If you had told me a couple of years ago I would be going to Uganda to help establish a school in a refugee camp, I would have never believed you.  I walked away from a 20-year career as a public educator with no idea what I was going to do.  I only knew I couldn’t continue in the public-school system.  The grace had lifted. My time there was up.

Starting an educational consulting and tutoring company seemed to be a commonsense move.  Once an educator, always an educator…in some form or fashion. To supplement a start-up, I took a job with Adventures in Missions walking the parents of World Racers through their own journeys.  I had been volunteering for them since Hannah’s return, and it was something I loved doing. Why not get paid to do it?  Mornings in the office, afternoons building up the tutoring business.  Win-win.  I had this feeling someday these two jobs would intersect.

In October, I had a nudge in my heart to go and find out if the plan for long term missions bases had an educational component to it.  When I asked, I discovered Adventures was a partner in something called the South Sudanese Refugee Project.  Currently, the largest refugee crisis since WWII is happening with over 2 million people displaced due to the war in South Sudan.  Have you heard about it?  Me neither.

What I found out is as shocking as it is heartbreaking.  86% of those in the camps are women and children.  Many of the children are orphans or unaccompanied minors who do not know if their parents are alive or dead. They flee in the night through the bush to try to get to Uganda before they are caught by the rebels. Some families send their children because they have a better chance to make it out alone than with the whole family. Some families, attempting to escape, have taken in children they come across along their way.  In the refugee camps, these families have as many as 10 or 15 children living in the tarp covered shelters with them.  They flee with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.  Many die along the way from dehydration, or malnutrition. Others have witnessed the rebels come through their villages killing everyone.  Kids have seen their parents slaughtered.  The trauma rate in the camp is nearly 100%.  Everyone has a story of the atrocities of war due to the fighting of numerous rival tribes in the region.  This is happening in 2018.

Ministries on the ground reached out to AIM and formed a team of volunteers to work with the refugees.  It is a big project with many moving pieces.  One of those pieces is Hope Primary School, which was started under a tree by a teacher who fled South Sudan.  He gathered children together and began teaching.  The South Sudan Project collected money to build a pavilion for the school so they could be under shelter.  Now, there are approximately 600 hundred children (numbers change quickly in refugee camps) and only 16 teachers.  The UN gave the school 30 desks.  One book per classroom.  No chairs.  The children bring their own.  It soon became evident to those working on the project that the school has the potential to become the center of the project. A bridge to create community and some routine in a rather chaotic place. The school is an important first step to educate the next generation of leaders of a war-torn region of the world.

The idea is to develop an educational model that would empower the children rather than just give them handouts.  It would provide practical involvement that would not only build the school, but give students opportunities to transfer their academic knowledge to real life problems in the camp and how to think critically about hard issues.  Growing food.  Building shelters. Having teams of students and community members working together on projects around the school. The overall project is huge, but starting with the school will help get the whole community involved in building, empowering them to take ownership and create what they want for themselves and their community for however long they are there.

For the school part of this project there was the need for an educator.  A practitioner who sees the strategic vision, but can put in practical steps which break things down in pieces that are manageable in such a difficult place.  I had no idea about this project, when I asked about an educational component.  When I read the documents about the school my heart about beat out of my chest.  All the initiatives, mandates, and reforms I have been a part of in my career are included in the outline of how this school is designed.  I cannot tell you how this will all look, or what the exact steps will be.  I only know the first one is for me to go to Uganda and meet these incredible teachers who have seen the future of their troubled country in the children.  They have put aside their own problems and are teaching without pay, so the children can have a better future.  As you can imagine, this pulls on my teacher-heart.

I leave on Monday for a 10-day trip to Uganda to see Hope Primary School first hand.  Please pray that what I bring will be useful and that I can do some training with the teachers as well as hear their stories.  I know my heart will be broken with what I hear and see. There is a media team coming a day or so after me to film a documentary of the crisis.  I will share their work with you as they post it.  It is our desire to blow on the coals of hope to ignite a flame.  Only God can do a work in such conditions, please pray his presence surrounds this camp and this project.

Logorrhea (guest blog)

As told told to me by Bill Gunnin

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Logorrhea – excessive talking or wordiness. This is a very common frontal lobe deficit that many traumatic brain injury survivors suffer from.

I try to be aware of talking too much. I know I do it, but it is difficult to control sometimes. I know there is value in being quiet and pondering things. I am trying to learn how to do it better.  My ideas are like pearls, to be spoken of sparingly. I realize I share a lot about things which have value to me. The problem is I share them in places where they have no value to others. When they walk away, get frustrated, or glaze over, I tend to take it personally.  I share things I have learned, but I speak them at the wrong times.  To stop my rambling, I have to think before I speak. This is similar to learning to take my thoughts captive.

I like to brain storm.  I pull things together which have no logical connection.  It is how I naturally think, by making connections. But as I talk about things, other people, who don’t follow my crazy train of thought, begin to reject or misunderstand me.  After this happens, they don’t want to talk with me as much anymore.  It feels like I am being dismissed, but it’s because of the way I put my thoughts out there. People feel trapped to listen to me forever, they don’t know they can ask, “Can we talk about something else?” If they do that I will bump to a new topic.  However, I might still have the same problem of going on and on about it.

I have, what feels like, millions of thoughts at any given moment.  Since I have trouble filtering out which ones are relevant to a conversation, I try to communicate them all. Sometimes I don’t even know how to communicate them, therefore, I just blurt out and interrupt.  It helps me to process my thoughts out loud, because I am a verbal processor.  I’ll begin to talk about a topic or thought before I even know where I am going with it.  Then I will jump to something else mid-stream.  A certain thought may make sense to me, but as I am talking, I realize it may not make sense to others. People can get frustrated with this. Because I often process my thoughts out loud, it may be off putting to them. Even when you and I are talking, like right now, I don’t always know where my part of the conversation will go. Because I get there in my own personal way, it may confuse people.  Every brain works uniquely, and I often think out loud in an effort to organize my millions of thoughts.  Sometimes I will go over it and over it and think myself in circles, which all comes out of my mouth. So, I keep talking, hoping I may stumble upon the right words so that people may finally understand me.

As I analyze things in the past, where I have labored in vain many times. I have regrets.  I have a vision for my future, but I never get there. I tend to overthink every step and that causes anxiety which then paralyzes me.  I talk so much about things, I don’t always listen well when my mind is churning.  It is a discipline to listen to others. Maybe when my ideas are rushing in, I need to lay them down and suppress the different trains of thought.  I want to learn how to do that better.  My thoughts are like a dirt road or trail. I get excited about them and I want to see where they’re going. I talk faster and faster, trying to get around the next curve. I get jazzed when I am thinking as I talk, but then I go nowhere, because the road is random and leads to nowhere. In the process, I confuse those around me with my constant chatter.

I love questions, because I believe the power of the right question can change everything. I have lots of questions all the time.  I overwhelm other people with them.  People have said feel like they are being interrogated when they are around me.  I stop and interrupt them to ask a question when they haven’t even finished answering the first one. I need to get better at letting them finish.  I tend to jump into where I think they are heading because my mind is racing ahead. I stop them in the middle and ask even more questions. Is it ADHD, head injury, or how I am wired?  I’m not sure.  But the labels don’t help.  Identifying how my brain works does help.

How can I best organize my mental resource to move forward?  Being a talker isn’t a bad thing all the time, because it connects me to people.  They think I am friendly and funny when I am talking. They feel like I genuinely care, which I do. I am a people person and I love to converse with them. But sometimes I over analyze things people say and I ask for more clarity.  Sometimes people think I don’t listen because I interrupt so much.  I have to learn to control my mouth, but I can’t always stop.  Things I am passionate about are wonderful for me to discuss.  For instance, when I am talking to you, I am trying to make you see whatever it is, like I see it.  But when you don’t care as much about it, it makes me mad, because I am trying to make you love it like I do. I just cannot understand why you won’t be as interested as I am.

I do admit, I over analyze all the time.  Part of my mind is very analytical and much of that is not good.  I am always trying to figure out how to make something better.  I want to make the best choice and, to me, nothing else is good enough.  I get that way about processes, like traffic.  I analyze drivers and I judge them.  I hate it, because I presume negative or faulty motivations.  I judge everything by what is the “best” way to drive.  I am critical of critical people!  Yet, I am the same way. I have logs in my eyes; we all do.  Right now, I see in a new way, much of what I have done in the name of analyzing is actually prideful judging and criticism, because I think I know the best way.  My attitude it is I’m right and they are wrong.  Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter.  In traffic, you might save 3 minutes or so by choosing differently, which doesn’t affect me getting to my destination.  I worry about something that doesn’t really matter and is not worth spending the mental energy on.

Talking too much isn’t something I am always aware of.  For example, not too long ago, I told you I had a great interview.  And as my wife, you knew to ask me how long I was in there.  I couldn’t remember, and had no idea until I went back and calculated from the time I arrived at the office to the stop to get gas on the way home. I was there interviewing for three hours.  Because of my past experiences, you knew that meant I talked too much.  I didn’t see it that way.  I thought I had a great connection with the person asking the questions. It wasn’t until I didn’t get the job that I could see clearly, I rambled on and on…which you, as my wife, already knew.

Sometimes when you or one of the kids nudges me under the table or gives me some signal I am talking too much, I just speed it up and try to get it all in faster.  That only makes it worse.  I am not only talking too much, but then I am also talking too fast! I know why you are kicking me, but I cannot stop myself from continuing on sometimes.  Then I get frustrated with you, even though I know you are trying to help me be aware of something I am missing.  I like that we have signals, but sometimes I hate having them. I don’t want to have to look to my wife to tell me how I am doing, but I don’t know how else to do it.  Most of the time, I just want to be a normal person who doesn’t worry about every word.

In the end, I am becoming aware of the reasons I talk too much. I want to be more precise in the language I speak. I am beginning to see that if what I am saying is starting to become unclear, I have to stop. If I have not really thought through what I want to say, everyone will be frustrated, including me. I am learning to recognize when I need to process things internally and organize my thoughts to communicate with clarity in as few words as possible. The problem is that sometimes I don’t see the need to do that until I am well into a conversation. Sometimes I make jokes to cover my inability to stop my thinking. I can blurt them out and be jovial.  It is a coping mechanism.  The good thing about having a brain that is damaged is that I am always learning about it.  The bad thing is that I can’t change my brain to make it work like everyone else’s.

 

11

full moon over mountain

It is somehow appropriate that tonight is a full moon, here at the beginning of a new year, and on this day specifically; January 2nd.  Eleven years…cancer free.  At this time all those years ago, I was finishing up my final 8-hour treatment and heading home for a celebration dinner Louise had prepared. It was the last time my blood count would plummet, the last time my bones would ache, the last time I would be without the oxygen-carrying blood cells I needed to breathe.  There were still scans and blood work and constant appointments for months to come, but the chemo was complete.  I got the cancer free stamp, which every cancer patient covets.  Added time.  Extra years.  Time to re-prioritize and to learn to live fully.  Some folks don’t understand our family’s tradition of “celebrating disease and disaster.”  I don’t see it that way.  I celebrate resurrection.  Life coming from death.  The disease could have easily ended my life, but it didn’t.  It extended it, by teaching me how to practice self-care and how to embrace every moment.  Healing happened.  I am ever grateful for the gift I didn’t deserve, but joyously received. How could I not mark that day with an altar of thankfulness?

On this 11-year anniversary, I gaze at the moon. I have long had a love affair with the silver orb in the sky.  The way it reflects light fascinates me.  A rock…in the sky…glowing so brightly the night shadows disappear.  The magnificence never ceases to amaze me.  It is stunning. It causes me to want to brave the cold and step outside to see. I love to watch it rise, luminous and enormous along the horizon. Tonight, it is brilliant white.  Heaven’s spotlight.  Highlighting the silver frost resting on mountains and pastures. It continues its path with the trees reaching to take hold of it, but unable to stop its climb into the sky.  It shines in the frigid stillness bringing with it a peaceful calm.  All of it…a reflection of the sun.

I want my extended life to be like the moon.  I want it to reflect the light of God…my rock self, with all my craters and scars.  I want to glow, and to shine peaceful calm that changes the environment and chases the shadows away. It is something to aspire to, for however many years I end up with to live fully.

Good Riddance 2017

clock at midnight

Good riddance 2017.  Is that a bold enough statement for you?  There are some years when hard stuff comes along, and then there are the years where the hard stuff piles one on top of another until you are buried.  2017 was one of those for us.  We began the New Year in the hospital with Bill’s dad, and it went downhill from there.  Job loss, health and safety issues, moving Ray, business changes, relationship changes, and, and, and.  It was the year that just kept on pummeling us over and over again. We are bloodied, but we are still standing, which I think is quite an accomplishment!

I have not shared much of our struggle on my blog this year because, honestly, it is too complicated and some of it is a bit hard to believe. If I was writing this as a story for a book I would say, “All that cannot happen to one character. It is not believable for that much upheaval to occur all at once. Do a rewrite.”  However, in real life, we don’t get rewrites.  We go forward with as much strength as we can muster.  One foot in front of the other.  One breath at a time.  I share what I can, and I hold back the rest to avoid further pain. I pull back, get quiet, and hold on. I dig my roots deep and try to have faith.

I rejoice in the good, because even in the bad years, there are good things which are visible and deserve to be celebrated. In fact, the highlights are even brighter when the rug is out from under us.  The fact that two of my kids got degrees this year, under these circumstances is amazing.  Better yet, they got jobs! 🙂  One of the kids was home just in time to help us get Bill’s dad moved. Can you say, perfect timing? We couldn’t have survived the task without him here. Another is about to finish her Master’s degree.  Woohoo!!  And in the midst of life’s upheaval, I started working for Adventures in Missions, which has been a huge blessing to me, and Bill has recently started his piano tuning business back up. On January 2nd, I will be 11 years cancer free. Added time is never a bad thing, even in the hard years!  As you can see, the year is not without its happy moments.  One thing I know from doing life for 54 years is there is always a silver lining. Even if the storms are more violent than usual, and more persistently hovering over us, there is always some positive somewhere, if I look for it.  AND there are always others who have it much worse than we do, so self-pity doesn’t actually work. 😉

I know for sure, God is not surprised by anything that happens.  He is in the midst of difficult times with his encouragement and care.  He uses everything for good and I can honestly say, as hard as things are at the moment, they are all working for our good.  Ultimately, I will look back and be amazed at all he did through this time.  I will see his hand making changes and directing our lives into the new places he has for us.  But that doesn’t mean I have to enjoy the painful parts. 🙂   I can sit in the dark places and feel alone, but I can also know that I am not ever truly alone. I can have a tantrum, but I can also cry myself out and see that I am held in the midst. I can say good riddance to one year, and hope the next will be better. So, pardon the mess as my character is developed, yet again. I am thankful for those who do not abandon me, but sit in my mess without trying to fix it all.  Holding space for others is such a gift.

I look forward with hope, and while I know current circumstances will not magically disappear on this New Year’s Eve at the stroke of midnight, I am grateful for the feeling of a fresh start this night brings.  New beginnings always feel fresh, even if they are only illusions.  Tomorrow is just another day, but with it comes hope and to that I cling. Happy New Year everyone and may 2018 be a year of blessing for us all!

Silent Night, Holy Night

candle light.jpg

In the wee hours of the morning, I sit in the light of the Christmas tree.  There are no presents underneath.  My manger scene is undisturbed.  The stockings are empty.  I could have slept for hours more, yet somehow my body is programed that on this morning I should be up.  The dog’s snoring is the only noise on this silent night.  Holy night.

After time here celebrating early, my children are scattered again. Last week the noise was more what I am accustomed to on Christmas morning.  Wrapping paper tearing and laughter…all four of them under the same roof for a few days.  My best present ever.  But now, it is quiet again, and I sit, wondering how many others are sitting in undisturbed places.  Silent places.  Holy places.

The manger is symmetrical with its shepherds and kings.  Always placed just so, though they were never there at the same time.  It just looks better to have them all there together even if it is not accurate.  They surround the baby with Mary and Joseph looking on in wonder. Usually with the activity of Christmas morning, we have a few sheep knocked over or a king displaced.  After all, scene sits right in the middle of things on the coffee table, positioned there intentionally for years so my young ones could touch and feel the story.  There it remains, undisturbed in the silence, in the holiness of the morning.

For many, underneath the joyous holiday noise, there is silence.  The kind of quiet that is formed in a vacuum. There is a hole at the table…if there is even a table set at all. The grief of loss stings in the holiday season.  It can be overwhelming in its stillness. On the surface, everything is symmetrical and in order.  Below the surface the undisturbed manger is a reminder of the deafening quiet of grief…of life turned upside down for one reason or another. Pain is the only gift under the tree.  Hearts broken by the messiness of life, sit with tears falling as they pray to the baby on this silent night. Holy night.

Pain like this is sacred because when silence is shared, it becomes a place of worship. Tears are liquid prayers.  There are no words needed in the quiet places of the heart.  The undisturbed places remain so because to disrupt them is to remember and to feel the pain of loss and grief. Yet, when they break forth in tears, the silence transforms into peace…a deep abiding sense of communion with the baby who was born to suffer our pain. Silent night.  Holy night.

Outside my window, it is Christmas morning.  The sky is pink and the sun is quietly slipping over the mountains to start the day. After a long silence, this holy night is now the morning of our salvation.  The dawn of hope…and with it the realization that the silence of undisturbed, lonely, grievous and painful places are themselves holy. Silent nights lead to hope-filled mornings, and for that I am ever grateful to the baby who came to break the silence with his holy tears.  Merry Christmas.