Friday, November 25, 2011

Deceit and discouragement

I have concluded that the most discouraging of all sins is deceit. Yes, all sin separates from God. Greed permeates and drives people to uncharacteristic behavior. Addictions break bodies and minds. Sexual sin leaves wounds that last for years. But deceit drives others to discouragement.

This isn’t a fun blog to write. It’s been a long 5 months in coming. The day a fellow Christian passed to me vicious gossip was the beginning; I still don’t know if those statements are true, but I know that the actions of that Christian were not as if it were believed so. Then a fellow teacher and another fellow Christian, both twisting a story of which I was in the middle. More gossip. Watching people claim to believe and live in a way that is completely inconsistent with their reality. Being told someone doesn't know something, only to find out they do. Spending hours helping a student, only to watch that same student cheat...

If Christians act this way, why should I be surprised to see it in non-Christians? If adults find deceit acceptable, why do I wonder that I see it in children? That’s why it is discouraging. Deceit is so subtle. It’s not a big choice that the world can see and choose to accept or condemn. It sneaks into otherwise healthy relationships. It ruins otherwise solid foundations. And it seems innocent or small at the beginning.

I’m discouraged. I know others who are discouraged. If people can’t even be honest, how will we ever see them grow in the Lord? Why would I bother to help when I’m only going to be hurt?


On Sunday I heard a sermon (that’s fortunate, since I attended three different churches). The preacher told of a man commanded by God to go out each morning and push on a rock. After years, the Lord came and visited again. The man lamented to the Lord that he’d not been able to move the rock, wondering why God had given him such an impossible task. The Lord reminded him, “I didn’t tell you to move the rock. I just told you to push.”

This, then, is the antithesis to my discouragement. Galatians 6:7, 9. God knows hearts. And God reaps the harvest. I don’t have to move the rock. Oh, Jesus, give me the spirit to push!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Where you think you stand

Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall... I Cor. 10:12

First, all the little foster children came and infested the whole house with even littler crawling bugs. Every mattress was lysoled and left in the sunshine.

I was unaffected.

Then Aliana came to stay with me. She wouldn't sleep alone, so she slept with me - but every night, we picked nits. I am SURE we never picked them all before she rested her beautiful face, surrounded by long fine hair, on my shoulder.

I never found nits in my hair.

In Bogotà, piojos were normal. No one batted an eye if you asked them to search your hair and more than once, I passed my evening hours picking through Jorge's -

but I never, ever, ever had lice.

I thought I was immune. I thought I stood.

This week, I found one. My friend found 2 more. I've picked nits for hours out of my own hair this weekend, used a jar of mayonnaise, 2 gallons of vinegar, a can of lysol, and 1/2 gallon of bleach in my quest to rid myself of these parasites.

I fell. And así:

You think you can't fall to that temptation. You've stood against it for so many years. It creeps in, the source unknown. And so you battle. It would've been easier to catch before it went this far.

Take heed. Will you fall?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Surrounded by school

You know you’re a teacher when...

you understand that the student who says “The White House” is actually referring to Washington State.

you clean out your pockets to find 87 cents... in plastic coins. And a few paperclips to boot.

you can interpret “They did something illegal. They put signs in the road,” to realize that a student has driven around the road construction detour.

you think you're going to get charged extra by the garbage company because you have so many bags of paper.

you go home every day to think of a new and better way.

There is an email oft passed around that answers the question, “What do teachers make?” with quite an effective description of the difference a teacher makes. My favorite phrase is “I make kids sit still for 45 minutes when their parents can’t do it for 5 without a playstation or DVD player.” It’s so true! Have you ever watched your students in church and wondered why their parents allow them to act that way?

But I don’t have it all together. At least every other day I come home and wonder why I can’t reach this student or that one, why I’m allowing this or that to happen, why we cannot learn more.

And then I realize that no matter how much time I pour into these children, no matter how much progress they make, no matter how well they behave or perform, no matter how pleasant our days are as they pass... No matter - in 9 months, they’re gone. It’s over. I may never see them again.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Unexpected finds

(Qualifier: The reason behind the following is not that I live in a tent. Actually, I leave my bedroom window and front doors wide open for air circulation. They open onto the screened front porch, but that door has a crack under it...)

I looked into the corner of the bathroom the other day. What was that odd little pile?

OH! A frog! Well, I was glad it was a little one, rather than a gooey fat one like we found in the garden or the drinker. I didn't mind picking him up and throwing him back outside.

I realized there was a spider web in the "happy room," around the corner from the kitchen. Then I realized there was a spider. I left it. I hate flies in the kitchen.

This morning I walked back into my bedroom, flipping the light on. In my half-awake state, I puzzled over the large lint pile moving slowly across the white rug. Finally, it dawned on me that it was actually a worm covered in lint. I was glad I hadn't stepped on this creature who would have fit with Jack's beanstalk. He was about 3 inches long, with a 1/2 inch diameter; appearances said tomato worm. I wrapped him in a paper towel before smashing him. Who wants to leave that kind of goop on an off-white carpet? And who wants my already struggling tomato plants eaten?

Last week I cleaned out the file cabinet in my classroom. It was filled with treasures - a wedding invitation from two years ago, a printer cord buried amongst the Christmas art cutouts, about 100 copies of a paper snowflake, and language papers from 1981. I have two almost empty drawers now, and two neatly organized sets of hanging folders.
I cleaned out my thoughts the other night. I realized that I was becoming distracted by people and neglecting the Lord's approval. Throw those folks' opinion where they should be, on the outside.

I had a conversation in which I realized that I could NOT understand why people wanted to party in the midst of classes. I think I'll leave my lack of imagination as is. It works.

Hidden. Deep in my heart, covered with justifiable feelings of denial and disbelief, creeping into my relationships, I found something else. Bitterness, unforgiveness - creeping into my thought patterns. I'm wrapping them up in prayer, but I need to smash them...

My mind is filled with treasures. Some of them truly are good things, dreams and memories. Some are mine, but some I've gleaned from the ideals of others. I wonder, have I allowed the treasures to clutter what the Lord is doing? He's cleaning, I know, and making room.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Borrowing children

I'm always amazed by people who knew me when I was little and still recognize me. Apparently I haven't changed much. Anyway, the other day in Dairy Queen, I was chatting with one of these. She wondered if my 12 year old friend was my child.

"I'm not old enough to be his mom!!!!" I thought - but I didn't say it. All of a sudden I realized that I am old enough to be his mom. That's a little scary.

I've developed a friendship with a family at church who have a 6 and a 7 year old; they've had a lot going on, so the kids have stayed with me a lot lately. My mom commented that as a a caregiver I would not, "usurp parental authority," despite having the kids for so much time.

During the Dairy Queen discussion, I told my acquaintance, "I just borrow other people's children." She said, "It's nice to take them home, isn't it, then the parents have the problems?" I had to think.... sometimes it is. I am a little spoiled to looking forward to a quiet house and only myself to keep on schedule. These young friends, unlike Eagles' Wings kids, go home to loving parents. I don't have to worry about them, or usurp the parents in order to give the children structure, so taking them home doesn't cause me grief.

But I said, "Sometimes it isn't. I like kids." It's true: that's probably why I'm a teacher. Why Eagles' Wings drew me. Why I beg to babysit, and sometimes just outright ask to borrow children for a while. I'm not sure that the quiet house outweighs the joy of life with young ones. And when I have them, the responsibility strikes me repeatedly: what will this child take away from me? Will their parents appreciate that which I return? Or - do I just enjoy the moment and avoid the problems?

A choice to make...

What about our other blessings? The ones the Lord loans us. When we return them, what does He receive? What do our friends take away? How do we care for our gifts and talents and time? Enjoy the moment and avoid the problems? Or remember that a debt should be repaid in full, with interest. To him that has, it shall be given....

The best of a teacher's world

Between facebook and the blog, I've shared the essence of my travels, the "exciting" part of my life. I shared the coffee and the beloved friends, some pretty pictures, good food, and just generally different sorts of sites. That covered my summer - EXCEPT.

Except. Teaching is a part of me. A tremendous part of my identity is that of "teacher." And for 6 1/2 blessed days of my "vacation," I taught. I had the best of a teacher's world, really: I walked into lesson plans made, all supplies ready, a well-trained classroom. Well, well-trained for Luz y Vida kids in first grade, anyway. We can disregard the random departures of a little girl who went to sit in the non-functional fireplace and the little boy who simply ran random circles. And we should be able to disregard the child who literally could NOT cease talking. Quite insignificant disruptions when you consider my last Luz y Vida class, or the fact that the first graders in Bible school were just as random, if not quite so ignorant of limitations.

Anyway, the best of a teacher's world: that it was. Spanish is a lovely language. The letters make the sounds, the sounds make the words. There are no dipthongs and exceptions and multiple ways to spell the same sound. These little first graders might have only been 10 or 12 weeks into the school year, but already they could read words. What fun to help them use a new letter in that process! What fun to have 6 students and, IF you stay on your toes, actually engage them in activities.

Luz y Vida is a ministry school. There are strengths and weaknesses in that statement. Pay is nonexistent for the "profes," and supplies are not abundant. But, like Spanish, it is simpler. The goal is that children learn.

Now, I am preparing for my school year here in the States. We have an online curriculum mapper. We have state standards. And core standards. And English language development standards. We have strategies for success, goals for AYP, and technology integration. I think our system is a bit like English: there are too many exceptions to find the rules, too many ways to success to quickly proceed in our process.

Complaining doesn't help. Cooperation does. I will pray for Luz y Vida, for volunteers, for strength and energy and wisdom, for children to hear the Word of God. And I will pray for Santa Rosa Elementary, for teachers to keep on, for strength and energy and wisdom, for Jesus' light to shine in a dark world.

That's the language of a teacher.

P.S. The best part of Luz y Vida: Two precious little boys, brothers, who were in my 4 year old class at El Otro Camino in 2008 were in the first grade. They've no structure, no money, no welfare, and no ideal parents, but through the work of the ministry, they can read. Thank you, Lord!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Part of the family

I spent two of my three weekends in Colombia in “Kiwi House,” one of the homes established for children who come to the ministry and need 24/7 care. The caregivers in Kiwi are my good friends, I stayed there some when I lived in Bogotá, and my precious little J lives there now. I asked them to stop telling me thank you for pitching in with household chores, as I wanted to be part of the family. But what part?

Kiwi isn’t a traditional family, but it is God’s gift of Psalm 68 for the children living there. I couldn’t be the “mom” or the “grandma,” and I certainly couldn’t pretend to be a man! We settled on a visiting auntie and continued with the joke, “Well, I won’t thank you since we’re family.” I felt like family... what is it that makes you feel like family?


It is not good for man to be alone. Or woman, when you consider that God made her as a companion to start with.

It’s a classic wedding verse, and rightly so, given the context. It’s also a verse worthy of discussion in light of I Cor. 7, Isaiah 54, and the fulfillment found only in Christ Jesus. A dear friend, a widow, wrote of this verse one day, reminding me that it is not only marriage at stake. As believers, we are called to love one another. It is not good to be alone. And for this, God made family. Marriage. Children. The family of God!


I’ve no shortage of family, as anyone who’s seen a photo will notice. Maybe that’s why it’s been such a long process to leave them. I think my nephews are precocious and visit them (and their parents) often. I talk to my parents about everything. My younger siblings have kept me from turning into an old person early. I know why I feel like family with them: they’ve seen the worst in me and I know what they expect. Even if I mess up, they can’t get rid of me.


I live alone. Now God and I have had a lot of discussions about this (after all, my mom even makes the point that living alone makes you selfish, since you don’t have to work around anyone else), but this is what He has decided, now. Many times, I like that fact. For instance, I can leave clothes in the washer and shoes in the living room floor and NO ONE minds.

But sometimes I don’t like it. I wondered once, if I had a wreck during summer vacation, how long would it take for someone to notice my absence?


Apparently, I’m pretty adoptable... adaptable. Both. There are a lot of places I’m pretty comfortable and a lot of people who say “Just call!” I have a multitude of “moms” who like to make sure I’m fed and tell me to get some rest. I don’t even feel guilty calling the Johnsons every time I need a place to stay in Albuquerque, knowing I may walk in on a family gathering or it may just be us, sitting and chatting. They very much relate as the family of God.

(My friend Caro and her family, who took me into their home while I was in Bogotá)


But it is not good to be alone. When you aren’t with your family, you’re called away from your parents’ home, you aren’t married, how to heed this bit of wisdom?

It is here that we hear the call of the family of God. Perhaps they will come to you. Perhaps you must go to them. But “family” is more than just being comfortable and knowing limits of visitation. Family is give and take, serve and receive, encourage and admonish. Family is interruptions and availability.

I did live alone, sometimes, in Albuquerque, because I so chose. I didn’t “just call” and I crowded my schedule so that I wasn’t available or “interrupting”. I realized this week, though, that just as I am comfortable with my family because of such interaction, so I have the family of God because of interaction. In Kiwi house, thank yous were vocalized because they served me and received my gifts; I wished to encourage but came away as the recipient. Spending days on end with those of Kiwi made me available to experience life, to be interrupted by their personhood. I was not alone.

And I don’t really live alone anymore. There are a multitude of “just call” folks in Santa Rosa, of course, but more than that, God’s given me a built in “family” here, in my very driveway. Hardly a day passes that I don’t walk down, or they come up, to interrupt. They rarely ask for my help, but I try not to miss an opportunity to give it (the fact that such assistance may involve cows or horses is certainly an attraction). They give much to me, if I open up to receive; eating cookies in the rain goes a long way toward building relationships.They say thank you; I say thank you... but some things are just done, and left unsaid.

That’s because God has provided. I miss my family. I miss my family of Kiwi House. It is not good to be alone - but, if we live by His word... “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another... Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love...Distributing to the necessity of the saints; given to hospitality... Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep...” (Romans 12:5-18)

Do I choose to obey? Because if I do, I will not be - alone.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Random Site Pictures

As mentioned, it is MUCH easier to post photos on facebook. This link is for random pictures. The other one is for food.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Pictures Available

It is MUCH easier to upload pictures on facebook than on this blog, so this is a public album. Whether you have facebook or not, you can enjoy one of my favorite parts of my trip by clicking on this link.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Other Farm-Fresh Observations

Remember I mentioned that on the finka, the farm I visited, they grew other produce as well? In the interest of agriculture, I will share with some of you a few fascinating facts from el otro mundo (the other world!)

Scattered amongst the coffee plants are 80 avocado trees, all avocado tropico, a pale green variety of avocados at least twice as large as Haas and with twice the flavor. These, too, undergo two main harvests, yielding an average of 15 each day during these primary cosechas but a few more throughout the year.

Platano - plantain - are also scattered throughout the finca; these yield at varying times, but around every 3 months. . Platano requires an unimaginable amount of labor, justifying, I suppose, the high prices. As the ceudotallo (not sure if that’s spelled correctly!), or stick for each tree grows, it begins to produce bunches of platano (resembling bunches of bananas) that are at first small and straight. These deditos make the racimo. After about 2 weeks, the worker must climb the tree and cut off the matriz (leaf) del racimo as well as the outlying deditos.

This improves the presentación, or appearance and yield of the rest of the bunch. The racimo is then covered with a special plastic bag with holes in it (these bags are blue!) and the bag tied with a string; all bags tied the same day are tied with the same color string.

Approximately 12 weeks later, the leaves of the platano tree will begin to yellow, indicating that the time of harvest has arrived. Green platano are harvested one week earlier than platano maduro. After harvest, that particular stem is cut off and the tree left until another begins to produce. Interestingly, the ceudotallo is very agrio, filled with a watery liquid that actually composes about 50% of the stem: la manecha, or la leche de mato.

The last treat of the finka was mandarin oranges, picked fresh, ripe, naturally orange, soft, sweet, from the trees in the yard. I asked if Gustavo knew why mandarins were rarely exported fresh. He said in Colombia, they pick them when they are 75% ripe to sell in the supermarkets; he thought that upon arrival in Miami, they were probably about 85% ripe and only about 25% of them could be sold before spoiling. Hence, I pity those of you who only know the canned version.

And that my friends, is my insight into the arrival of the wonderful world of produce markets in Colombia.

Friday, July 15, 2011

los procesos del cafe

Oops. I do not know how to turn it. Enjoy anyway - this is the large scale toaster, used by the folks in the comité who are trying to market good coffee within Colombia.


My resumen on coffee... It has waited a while, so let’s see if I learned anything from the two tour guides pictured above and the catedora not pictured here.

The adventure began with a 45 minute drive, winding through the foothills, little pueblitos, and around in circles to a small farm, owned by a cousin of my hosts in Pereira. Our guide: the owner himself, a retiree who passes his time without taking money from his pocket with his small farm. If I understood correctly, the farm, about one hectarea, cost about $40,000. On it, he grows coffee, with aguacate (avocado) and platano trees interspersed. There are also fruit trees around the property; we feasted on sweet, tree ripened mandarins. The avocados, platano, and fruit are sold directly to the supermarket, while the coffee is delivered to the area’s coffee cooperative.

On the far are about 6,000 coffee palos (plants), each of which will yield for about 2 years before the farmer has to plow them under for fresh growth. The primary cosecha (harvest) is in October, with another large harvest in May. About 70% of the coffee crop (150 82 lb. bags) is harvested during these two; however, ripe coffee beans are harvested all year (netting about 30% of the crop, or 1 bag each month) to prevent them falling to the ground and possibly carrying infermidades (diseases) through the soil to other plants.

This particular (coffee farmer), named Gustavo, has grown a type of plant known as calidad supremo for about 12 years. This year, he planted a new type, castillo naranjal, and the tiny plants were already producing. The coffee beans, known as granitos were generally reddish when ripe, but certain plants have beans that are yellow when ripe. If by some chance the beans do fall and grow the plant is known as a chapola and is usually transplanted. This is done by bagging up soil and making a hole into which the root can enter straight. If the root bends, producing cola del cerdo (a pig’s tail), the plant may not live.

Harvest is by hand; during the cosechas, two extra people are hired, but throughout the rest of the year, Gustavo’s faithful trabajador (worker), Freddy, can keep up with the production. When enough granitos are gathered they are taken to a preparation center of sorts. They are first floated in a bucket to remove the papacillo, all the extra plant material that falls into the bucket. They are then run through the despulpado, the machine that peals them.

Once pealed, the granitos are left 12 hours for the fermentado, readying them to be dried.

They are then washed, stirred with a stick, and the water released from the musilago (the concrete washing tub)so the beans are escurrido, free from water. They are then run through a through a saranda (sieve), which helps sort off the imperfect granitos, remaining peals, etc. These are saved as well, however, and are known as (pergamino).

The now clean and pealed coffee beans, known as almendras (they do like like almonds),

and the pergamino are carried to the marquesina de secado, a greenhouse-like area where they are spread on the floor and dried. This process can take as much as 3 or 4 days, so during the primary cosechas, a gas mechanism is used for the drying process.

almendras are bagged in 82 lb. bags that bring about $160 each. The pergamino is sold in a 25 pound sack that brings about $14; the processors sort through it and remove whatever granules possible to make a low-quality coffee, known as coffee creol. Ironically, Colombia exports almost all of the high-quality coffee; if you buy coffee from a Colombian supermarket, you are probably getting pergamino, the trash.

On a related note, even the coffee plants that are cut down for fresh production are burned and sold as carbón, or charcoal.

As aforementioned, the coffee is sold to the cooperativa, a private business which markets it domestically and internationally. To determine what the cooperativa pays him, the cafecultor, takes a sampling of his coffee to the comité, a special part of the cooperativa found in each municipio (community) and dedicated especially to coffee. Each cafecultor takes one pound of his coffee in to triyar it, or take the peels of the almonds off. The coffee is toasted (12 minutes for every 2 grams), then left (at least 12 hours) in a special bag with holes to release gases produced by toasting.

The coffee is then received by the catadores, those who taste the coffee to determine its quality. They begin with an análisis físico to identify obvious defects.

They then prepare each coffee sample according to a specific formula; they grind the coffee appropriately for a variety of preparation modes: a drip coffeepot, a French press, a small Colombian coffeepot. After grinding, the coffee is weighed (in grams), as they are careful to use 5-7% granulitos for each preparation. 7% is considered cargada, or very strong coffee. The catador is required to attend a special 6 months course on identifying various attributes of coffee. These may be positive or negative, and are generally dependent on the soil, the manner of cultivation, and the environment in which the coffee is grown. Chocolate coffee, for instance, has nothing to do with cocoa - only with the way a particular plant is grown.

And that, my friends, is why fine coffee is expensive.

(P.S. That was Lesson #1. Lesson #2: If I were not a teacher, I would be a catador).

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Aventura en el Aeropuerto

My mom says I could write a book on this. She might be right, considering that I’ve NEVER had a trip that was completely uneventful. This one wasn’t as exciting as some, however.

Albuquerque to Houston: nothing. Houston to Miami: nothing. Miami: I’m about to figure out the airport, so only 15 minutes were spent looking for the Avianca ticketing counters. But WHERE was it that I found a quiet corner to sleep the 5 hours I spent here before? And WHERE could I find something to eat at this time of night? I wandered, confused, until an old Hispanic janitor noted my face and dared me to ask him in English and see if he could help, “Dime. Dime, què busca?” I answered in Spanish and was immediately transformed to his princesa. He directed me to Dunkin Donuts (I ate a sandwich, Mom!) and insisted that I should find a luggage cart. I just found a bench in the Latin American concourse, where lights were darkened; I laid my suitcase on its side, put a towel over me, and slept on and off until 3:30, check-in time for the flight to Bogotà.

Arrival with no drama, 2 weeks in Bogotá and I’m headed to the airport again, this time in taxi. The driver asks me, “El Aeropuerto o Puento Aereo?” UH-oh. I didn’t know there was more than one option. I shrug and tell him I suppose it’s the airport itself. I arrive, horrified at the long lines, but delighted to find they are only for the States. I’m headed to Pereira and within 3 minutes have my boarding pass for this domestic flight. But what’s this? I have to go to Puento Aereo? How do I know? Oh, all domestic flights leave from there. How do I get there? If I go that way, I’ll see a bus. Mmmm. I go through security and ask directions, but I don’t see doors on that end. The janitress (is that a word?) sends me the other way and I find a lovely young stewardess who directs me to wait for the Avianca bus. We drive across the airline terminal, where we disboard and enter Puento Aereo. I search for my gate, only to learn that you are allowed to enter the rooms which open to the gates only when it is time for your flight - and you have to go through security again. Not that it matters, I’m allowed to take my water bottle through. Note: You know you are in Latin America when the snack shop attendant can’t find enough change, so she asks her friend to dig through her purse.

Well, to continue the story, I arrived in Pereira without incident, and departed in the same manner. Likewise, I flew through the Bogota ticketing process with enough time left to enjoy one last ice cream with a friend at Crepes and Waffles. The only slight hold-up: I got sent to pay taxes and stopped in customs momentarily because agents confused my work visa from 2 years ago with my current tourist visa (be at peace, I didn’t have to pay the taxes after all!). I discovered one change in Bogota departures that I sincerely dislike. After entering the departure wing through the typical easy security process, one must enter a departure room; for U.S. flights, at least, every bag is opened and every person given a patdown. I even had to turn the computer on. All this would not be so bad, if one didn’t need to leave the departure room to go the restroom - and undergo the same process upon re-entrance! I decided to trust an elderly Colombian couple with my backpack to avoid the baggage inspection (I’d already run a greater risk in Miami, trusting ALL of my luggage to an elderly Colombian lady!)

And, even as I write, I find myself in Miami again. Arrival: 11 p.m. It’s nice to be a resident; the customs lines are much shorter. I find my carpeted corner, although it was kind of full of sleeping people. I curl up behind a post, suitcase by my head, hugging backpack and purse. Sleep is slow in coming this time around, though I haven’t had a lot in the last two days. I did get a nice nap between 2:30 and 3:30 a.m. I gave up at 4:45, went to the bathroom, washed the sunburn peel out of my hair, washed my face, brushed my teeth. There are people sleeping on their suitcases in the handicapped stalls; perhaps it is safer? At 5:40 I decide that with a flight leaving in 3 hours, Continental should be ready for me. Arriving at the gate, I had a nice nap, not having to worry about the suitcase, until everyone else came at the recommended 2 hour mark.

And all this to say, have you ever thought of thanking God for what did NOT happen? Like the fact that the trusted Colombians didn’t leave with my bags, or the fact that I didn’t lose my passport (I did lose my Bible somewhere between Pereira and Bogotá; I only pray that whoever finds it reads English). I thank Him that no one even tried to disturb me or my suitcase in Miami, and that no one tried to take advantage of the lonely foreigner in Puento Aereo. In EVERYthing give thanks.

It's no life for a...

In the past month, I’ve lived snippets of four different lives, four different “identities,” if you will. For this IS the pattern of my life: a little of this, a little of that, changing, changing - and so, who am I?

First, I was the ranch girl. My landlady called at 10 pm - could I put a roast in to feed the branding crew? Gungho, I took the roast from the freezer before realizing I’d only cooked a roast over a period of days in a crockpot. Exactly what DID Mom do in the oven overnight? I arrived at the branding the next morning (with the tantalizing aroma of roast in my car, due to juice spilling as I drove down the pasture road) to find that I couldn’t resist pitching in to flank calves despite my job with the ear tagger. Then they offered me a horse and a rope. Far from “good,” I at least earned the honor of appearing to have done this before.

That night, I became the good big sister. You know, the one who was game for anything (or at least appeared to be, for fear of ridicule by brothers big and small). Joe had to check irrigation ditches. On the 4-wheeler. In the mud. Beginning at about 10 o’clock at night. I don’t think I’ve ever ridden a 4-wheeler before, at least not at any great speed for any great distance. There were moments I loved - the wind in my face, water splashing my legs, the thrill of hitting a hole. I was more tired than Joe when we arrived home around 1:00, but - vale la pena.

For the next 8 days, I was a student. It was a Spanish immersion class, but it was a class. I remembered how it felt to be a student, to sit, to try to concentrate when other people were disruptive, to study, and to appreciate a good teacher. Why did I appreciate my liberal professor, so far from me in views and attitudes, so much? Perhaps because the other, the politically moderate but charismatic Guatemalan immigrant, overwhelmed me. On the last day he commented, “You are very organized. And I think I frustrate you.” It was true! I left, then to try to satisfy another part of my identity.

The me who wants to be Latina. The me who wants to leave my focus on structure to relax and be warm, amigable, valuing persons more than schedules. I arrived in Bogota 3 days after I took the test for state bilingual certification. I don’t know if I passed the test. I only know that when I come here, I desperately want to speak well, I want these people to be my friends, I want the happiness seen in the faces of those I’ve come to love. I stayed, visiting friends, being fed and questioned by people I hadn’t seen in years, taking pictures like a good tourist, and - then I came to Pereira, where I noted the contrast between the American and Colombian world. Oh, what we do to ourselves with our THINGS, our ideas of time and individuality, our self-righteousness.

During these days, I never fully left one identity to enter another, and I passed moments in other roles - a daughter, a teacher. I longed for still more, but I could not find the extrovert who desired to start conversations with seemingly uninterested strangers, reaching an opportunity to witness for Christ (in the past, said opportunity has come).

And now it is the time to return. Who will return? Will I be “una poquita màs Latina?” Will I be a better teacher? An energetic sister? A hard-working ranch girl? Which matters the most? I’ve begged the Lord to guide my steps, tried to offer Him my future, but I still do not know what will predominate.

No, it is not in these roles, jobs, desires that my identity lies. My identity lies in Christ Jesus. He promises to guide the steps of those who seek Him. He calls ministry a privilege and devotes a chapter to the manner of everyday living that honors Him. I am a daughter of the King, the King of Revelation 5, when people of every tribe, tongue, and nation will honor Him. Whether I am the best at what I do or the worst, whether I enjoy it or am miserable, whether I behave as I admire or whether I am stuck in the habits of a lifetime, I am a new creation in Christ Jesus, created, redeemed for good works which HE has before prepared. And He makes all things beautiful in His time.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

El Centro

Today we went to El Centro. It is just what it says. The center of town, just down the hill from La Plaza de Simon Bolivar, the historical plaza present in every town colonized by Spaniards and now dedicated to the great liberator of northern South America.

I like going to El Centro. It’s so... Bogotan! There are more people packed into those 3 or 4 city blocks than in the entire state of NM, I think. I’m still a little scared to go by myself, but I really wanted an ollita, a small pitcher shaped pot used here mostly to make hot chocolate. And my companions were after other bargains because that’s what El Centro is - streets lined with stores and vendors of daily things - not artsy and not meant to be anything “typical” of the culture - just cheap daily things. But I bought a thing to juice oranges or lemons, too, for 75 cents. It’s not really a daily need in the U.S. I found my ollita, which I never found at home, for $4. I saw a great cast iron griddle (the kind you cook tortillas on), but resisted the temptation to pay $10 because I didn’t want to carry it home. Keep in mind - 9 out of 10 of the kitchen stores are lined up together, across the street from 9 out of 10 of the clothing stores, and around the corner from 9 out of 10 of the shoe stores. Makes price comparison a lot easier! Anyway, El Centro may be bargain center, but for me, it personifies Latin America, where costs are costs, not results of a huge chain of people passing merchandise. The same vendor that calls you to buy (a la orden! a la orden! resounds throughout the street) may sell at half the price.

Which brings me back to the people. I stood for a while at the entrance to one store, watching people. Keep in mind the entrances are garage doors that have been raised. The aisles inside are one person wide, the sidewalks outside lined with carriers of merchandise, including blankets with lottery tickets spread across. I watched a few people bicycle, some homeless men digging through the trash for food or something they might possibly recycle, two or three taxis fighting their way through the hoards of people in the street, where a man would open the door for his wife, pile in her 6 or 8 black plastic bags, and give the driver directions. Carts drove - well, were pulled or bicycled - up and down the street, filled with fresh cut mango and pineapple in plastic glasses, or bottles of “Big Cola.” One gentleman entered with bags of pork rinds hanging from a stick, calling out for someone to buy. Women who clearly were tired of being mothers and appeared tired of life in general dragged their dirty toddlers down the street beside couples in suits and heels. The police are more spread out in El Centro, two or three with arms in holsters on every street, but usually hanging out together.

It’s sad in some ways. I didn’t dare bring out my camera, though I desperately wanted pictures. Being robbed here is not that unexpected. On the other hand, I wonder if in America we’ve veiled ourselves from real life. We’ve robbed people of the chance to make a living by their own ingenuity and labor and masked the problem of poverty with band-aids of food stamps and health care. And how often do all of rub shoulders in search of... anything?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ten Ways to REALLY Annoy Your Child's Teacher

(I was going to say the top ten, but I'm learning more every year).

10. Ask if your child is the only one who gets in trouble in the classroom.

9. When told that your child has disrupted a quiet classroom, ask why the teacher thinks this is abnormal.

8. Explain to teacher that your child’s bad behavior/academic struggles are due to his insecurities about being in the classroom.

7. Lose tests and report cards which students are told to return to school with a signature.

6. Call teacher's cell phone at 10:00 p.m. because your child just started her homework and can’t find her spelling list. (Teachers believe children should be sleeping at 10 p.m. on school nights).

5. Do not sign the agenda sent home every night (do not look for said spelling list in agenda, though it is written there weekly) then complain about poor communication.

4. Respond with “OK, Uh-huh,” to all of the teacher’s weekly phone calls, including agreements to sign said agenda; do not sign, but complain about poor communication.

3.Request homework for child’s absences, or request that teacher gather and list work not completed in class, then send child to school with said homework, not begun.

2. Request extension for said homework, then send child to school with said homework, not begun, or without said homework at all, ever.

1. Continue process for incomplete work, then question why child’s grades are low; be sure to attribute this to the teacher’s poor communication.

Monday, June 6, 2011

On family history, domesticity and life that is REAL SIMPLE

“Who’s this?”

Laughing, I looked over as I picked up my three year old nephew who was bending down the corners of his hat and explaining that “me with Gra’pa.”

It was a friend of my parents speaking, a gentleman I’d only met once before. I’m sure he had more questions than that one. We were standing outside a set of wire and panel corrals that formed a corner in the pasture. Inside, 150 head of bawling mother cows were milling about, looking for their babies, or a place of escape. I’d just dismounted so my dad could use his “good horse” for separating calves from cows. Unsure about mounting his colt, I left Dad with my two brothers and the neighbor and instead climbed the fence with my 6 year old nephew to greet the variety of spectators and participants who’d come to stand along the fence of the dusty corral and wonder when they could enter.

I introduced Ryan to the gentleman, trying to explain the various family relationships. Ryan’s “Gra’pa” was actually his great-grandfather, Ryan’s mother was the lady bringing the trailers and she was married to one of my brothers; yes, the other little boy belonged to them, too. The gentleman asked how we all managed to be there to help with this branding. I thought a moment.

“Well. This is what we do for Easter. So it’s the one holiday where we all come home and get together. We think it’s fun. And it’s usually on my dad’s birthday so that’s nice, too.”

“You are so blessed,” he responded. “What a family history.”

I hadn’t thought about it that way. It is a history, a legacy of time, commitment, and shared experiences that families are looking for these days. Most people have to plan some sort of get-away, a vacation, in order to unite family members who are all going their own way. I read about it. I read in Real Simple how to make memories that last. I don’t think my parents every consciously tried, but here we were.

I thought about it several times that day - when my little brother’s horse bucked him off so my big brother got on to teach him how to do it. When both were mounted on bucking horses and my dad was standing trying to figure out how to convince them to try it another day, another way. When Ryan came to sit with me while I flanked a calf and 6 yr. old Logan stood with his Mumzie (my mom) helping him place the branding iron in position under the brand Grandpa had just placed. When my sister-in-law and I successfully “thunked” a big calf... When all of us lamented the unusual absence of my sisters, who happened to be away this time.

A family history, yes, and a history based on - work. Time. Together. Working.

That’s simple. In branding, we all come together, we’ve always come together, to work. I read the magazine, Real Simple, every time I go to the chiropractor. Sometimes I moan to my dad about how complicated my life is, but when I read that magazine I think, “If that is a life that is “real simple,” mine must be not even worthy of definition.” They devote articles to ways to politely avoid phone calls and help children see favorite TV shows without interrupting family time. We use the off button on the TV - and I often leave my phone in another room if I’m busy with a face-to-face relationship. They offer meal planning so that as a busy young professional you are “not eating Chinese takeout 6 nights a week.” I find leftovers a great stand-by, take-out (not Chinese!) only a treat of traveling long distances. They suggest 2 minute ways to beautify your life. I really love looking out the window, or straightening a cluttered shelf. They offer relaxation techniques: herbal teas, bubble baths, wines. I’m pretty happy to sit in the rocking chair.

Simple is a comparative word, really. I wish life were simple. I wish I knew exactly what I would be doing a year from today, even a month. I wish I hadn’t had flight changes; I wish I could read people’s emotions when I know conversations aren’t flowing smoothly. Sometimes I even wish children were like machines that, if the same force is applied, they would always react in the same way. That would be simple.

But it’s not. Is there a simplicity that can be reached? What are we longing for that we read a magazine encouraging us to plant flowers or write a note? I wonder if it's the same joy I find in domesticity. At 8:00 pm tonight I walked in the house after planting vegetables in my flower bed (that’s simple!), my jeans covered with as much mud as was under my fingernails. I puzzled for a moment - concluding that I would shower BEFORE I cut the honeydew. I have a ladies’ Bible study group coming tomorrow night, so I washed the sinkful of dishes and decided that finishing the curtains for my classroom could wait until Wednesday. Domesticity is so... simple. My plants may not grow, but it will not be because I hurt their feelings. My curtains may not turn out, but at least they will not cost me a fortune to fix. And it’s easy to keep honeydew fresh in our modern refrigerated age. Unlike our modern age of a million paths to success and a technology for each, the actions of domesticity have an almost immediate, visible, and very predictable result.

Domesticity is like my family history. It’s the lost art of real living. It’s dealing with reality instead of theory. It’s the satisfaction in a job well done. Family history is made in face to face relationships, in seeing tangible results - just as the joy of domesticity is in that immediate, predictable outcome. Simplicity is the longing of the human soul to accomplish, to find joy without complication. That's what we have in family history, what I find in domesticity; I guess it's really just work. And relationships take work. Avoiding technology takes work. To relax fully, we first have to work. God gave Adam and Eve the task of caring for the garden long before they sinned; work was not part of the curse. Rather, real work, with a right attitude, is that which makes life

Real simple.