What On Earth Am I Doing Here?

first grade me
First grade me

When I was six years old, I recall a discussion between my mother and father. I was seated in the back seat of the Buick, and my parents were concerned about the new school term. In a few months, I would begin the first grade in pubic school. For the first time in history, blacks and whites would share the same classroom in our small Louisiana town. My parents had some misgivings about what may happen in 1969.

To my parents’ surprise, I spoke up.

“I believe integration is the right thing,” I said confidently from the back seat.

I had been uttering high falutin’ words since I started talking. No one was surprised by that. It was my words afterwards that left quite the impression.

I don’t recall the rest of the conversation, but my mom said I delivered quite the civil rights discourse from the back seat. My parents at the time were Southern Democrats, who believed that the separation of races was the American way. According to mother, my little speech convinced my father that I would be alright, and even perhaps, our little village would be just fine if the few black and Native American families sent their little ones to school with the rest of us.

And so it was.

I did not grow up to be a civil rights lawyer.

I did however grow in my conviction to be a voice for the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the outcast, the neglected ones in society. My beliefs led to career choices such as working with at-risk students, learning disabled children, emotionally disturbed children, the homeless, and the poor in Mexico and Honduras.

I believe that everyone has a calling, a sense of what their purpose in life should be. It may be multiple things – mother, wife, teacher, choir member, and any number of career paths. For the Christian, I don’t think it always mean one specific thing, either.

Rather, I follow general principles that serve as my framework for life’s choices.

1. The servant is not higher than the master. Jesus uttered these words to his disciples in Matthew 10:24.  Jesus came to serve, and so must I. This statement also implies that I serve the master first.

2. The one lost sheep is just as important, if not more so, than the other 99 who are in safety. Matthew 18:12 is a profound example of Jesus’ perspective of looking out for the ones in danger and not playing it safe in this life. Looking for the One Sheep is an  adventure that can yield the most marvelous friendships with people you may never encounter unless you are looking for the One Sheep.

3. Humility yields better position than self-promotion. Everyone agrees with this idea in theory, but it’s harder to put into practice. I am afraid I have violated that a bit in my years in Honduras in my desire to see our ragamuffin ministry receive funding and prayer support. In the end, though, it’s best to take the lowest seat at the table.

4. Be happy along the way. If I want to finish life well, finding enjoyment in my work and life is very important. Religion doesn’t mean putting aside everything that’s fun and enjoyable. A few nights ago, for instance, I shared a pizza and beer with a few friends. We laughed until we cried. I wasn’t inebriated. I just had a good time.

This post is linked to Velvet Ashes, a site devoted to helping women who feel called to serve in other countries. Follow the link to Velvet Ashes to read more.velvet-ashes

The Coffee Break

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Mural, Cafemania, Tegucigalpa, Honduras

When I was a little girl in Cajun Louisiana, my mother and aunt often chatted over French roast coffee in the afternoon. I remember my aunt’s polished red nails, as well as the occasional cigarette. It was the 1960s. Many women stayed home to raise children. Smoking was not taboo.

Forty-five years later, the smell of hot coffee or nicotine smoke often brings me back to those days. Today, Starbucks and McCafe deliver caffeine through drive-through windows. We connect through texts and social media more than face-to-face encounters.

In Honduras, at least in the capital, the coffee break is still honored. At three o’clock, capitalanos* in Tegucigalpa stop working. Men step into sidewalk cafes and relax with associates over a cup.  Women visit a relative or a neighbor, often serving crisp, unsweetened bread called rosquillos alongside thick, sweet cups of coffee.

Even though Honduras is heavily influenced by the mores of the United States, I hope this custom doesn’t change. The impromptu caffeine klatch builds a sense of community. In a country where institutions are failing, and gangs are quickly filling the void, the locals need soothing rituals more than ever before.

This week, the folks at Velvet Ashes are discussing community. Velvet Ashes is a gathering place online mainly for expat women. Come back later this week to join in the discussion here or at their site, with your comments or blog posts of your own. And bring some rosquillos, please.

Do you have memories of coffee breaks? Or do you honor the tradition in your locale? Is the after-drink cocktail somewhat the same? Let’s start a conversation.

*capital residents

Speaking of Southern Comfort

SC logoSouthern Comfort is a liqueur invented by a bartender in New Orleans in the 1870s. The branding is ingenious. Life in and around The Big Easy is supposed to be, well, easy, isn’t it? And intoxicating as well, with cocktails wrought in the French Quarter.

Well, life isn’t always comforting nor intoxicating. For one thing, Southern Comfort is sold in varying strengths. If you are not observant, you may purchase less than 100 proof. And life in the South can be less than 100 proof comfort, too.

I moved north to Louisiana about six months ago, after nearly a decade in Honduras. I love home comforts, again. Soft beds, bathtubs, hot water, regular electricity, English spoken everywhere are very nice comforts.

Louisiana living isn’t paradise. I am reminded, in often rude ways, that my dog is too loud. Well, in Honduras, everyone and everything is loud. Amplified music and amplified dog barking were the norm, not the exception.

I forgot about the zealousness of rules here. There are laws regulating everything, some of which are very costly. I can’t drive without insurance in Louisiana. I have to buy homeowner’s insurance in order to qualify for a bank loan. Even getting a library card involves multiple forms wanting reams of personal information.

Then, there’s the high cost of comfort. I can’t buy a bag of fruit from a truck vendor on the corner. It’s against the law. Instead I have to pay high supermarket prices or even higher prices at legally sanctioned farmer’s market, who pass on the city fees to me, the consumer.

My very identity feels under siege as I adjust to life in the US again. Thank God I have had a period of time to adjust before I need to work again. All of this comfort is sometimes quite uncomfortable as I make the transition to my birth country.

Jesus promised in his last words to his disciples that in his place he would send The Comforter after he left this life. He was referring to the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. I am glad that I can ask daily for the Spirit to dwell in this place, namely within me, so that wherever I live, I can have the comforting presence of God guiding me along the unexpected paths of life.

That’s true comfort, knowing Him, whether I live in a developing country or in the midst of southern comfort once again.

This entry is linked to Velvet Ashes, where expatriates and mission-minded folks are pondering what comfort means this week.

Cold Comfort

The contributors at Velvet Ashes are talking about the topic, comfort, this week. They invite our comments as well as our blog posts later this evening as they open the discussion for readers to contribute. Since the site’s primary audience is expatriate women, I suppose they are considering the tangible comforts of the United States that they lack in their country of residence. Of course, we must consider the intangible as well. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is sometimes called The Comforter.

It’s cold out today, even in Louisiana. We are having a cold spell, as is most of the southern and eastern United States. It’s not dangerous here, as we haven’t any ice or snow to complicate matters. The weather is simply uncomfortable for most of us who rarely have winter temperatures below the freezing mark.

A friend remarked this morning that she wasn’t comfortable getting out until the temperatures were higher than her age. Since I am in my early 50s, I suppose I can leave the house in the early afternoon, according to that standard.  She’s a bit older, so she may have to stay home another day or two, until things return to normal in Louisiana.

I suppose what I want to end with is that comfort is a relative thing, isn’t it? Some things are more comfortable in the US, where we are accustomed to things being as they should be in our country of birth. On the other hand, it’s quite comfortable to live in semitropics sometimes, such as in higher elevations of Central America, where I generally lived always between the low 80s to the upper 60s.

At any rate, let’s think about comfort today. Join me tonight or tomorrow morning for more thoughts on comfort.

Stirring the Pot: A Weekend Medley

In just aSacred-Drunken-Wookiee-Original2 few hours, I will be in a different land: the land of Mardi Gras. I am driving from the ‘burbs straight into the decadence of New Orleans. We are going to view what could be argued as the most ridiculous crew this year: The Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus. Long live the Wookie!

Today, I ran across a map published by Tufts Magazine that explains somewhat why I don’t fit in sometimes with the button-up missionary types I meet at conferences.  Someone with too much time on his hands arranged a map of much of North America according to regional differences, showing each locale as a separate nation based on ethnic origins and cultural patterns.

American nationsThis map explains a lot. I am not a redneck, nor an Appalachian. I am a native of New France. I didn’t grow up on boiled peanuts and corn pone, nor moonshine. When I grew up, we had good food, and we could drink openly.

I found a new website that some of you may like, especially if you are a woman living abroad. It’s called Velvet Ashes. The current post is about thriving, and readers are asked to submit comments or stories about what it takes to thrive, especially in relation to living abroad.

See ya’ next time I serve up something at the Gumbo Pot.

What I mean when I say clean

My friend, Sandra, visited my house a few weeks ago. She had never been to my place. The first thing she said was, “It smells clean.” She could scarcely have paid a sweeter compliment.

My dad was from a clan of cleaner-than-thou folks. His mama could wear out a wash rag on a kitchen cabinet. His brother kept a can of spray Lysol in the glove compartment of his car. My dad’s mechanic shop had a floor that one could perform open heart surgery.

My sister and I inherited the clean gene. Since I have been in college, we have engaged in a ritual of vacuuming when we see each other, before we eat, before we chat at length, we clean. A good clean sweep clears the air between long spells.

You can scarcely imagine how I was affected by my first extended stay in Honduras. I was volunteering with World Vision for eight weeks during a break from teaching. My guest room was in the patio of a middle-class home. The place seemed alright, except that the city was repairing sewer lines in the street.

For 8 weeks, raw sewage assaulted my senses every morning and every night. To make things worse, my worksite was in Villa Franca, a neighborhood that lacked basic services such as garbage pick-up. Mounds of refuse with the accompanying starving dogs greeted me at the entrance of the colonia. The toilet at the kindergarten and clinic was a hole in the ground that, for modesty’s sake, was enclosed within a wooden shack.

Not surprisingly, I had one of my best years as far as weight loss. I may be fat now, but by God, but there have been lean years, too. Those smells and sights there helped motivate me to shed a few pounds.

After I moved to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, I realized that Hondurans are not on a mission to be unsanitary. It’s just hard work to stay clean when one is poor and government services are not up to US standards.That’s why after I was there a few years, I began to ask my guests from the US to attempt to try to not appear horror-stricken at meal times.

My US friends looked like they were indulging in a sacred rite, more holy than Communion, when Purell was pulled out of a backpack. Conversation ceased, hands were held out, and the alcohol flowed freely.

I still like clean. In fact, I love the smell of clean. I just know now that Honduran housewives work very hard to keep themselves and their homes clean. We should all try hand washing our clothes for a week. Or dishes for that matter outside because most lack plumbing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen it’s time to bathe. We will use a bucket, a bar of soap and a towel behind a small curtain in the yard. That’s how most of my Honduran friends keep themselves clean.

“Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow,”  is part of a prayer in Psalm 51. Jesus referred to unclean spirits as afflicting people. He came to bring something utterly holy and clean in exchange for the stain of sin and the uncleanliness of evil. The wonder of God’s word is how universal it appeals. Most of us want to be clean. Spiritually, to be clean, is something I think we have to receive from God.

But what about physical cleanliness? God isn’t here in human form to wash dirty clothes or bathe children. That’s where you and I have to do our part. We have to care about the poor who don’t have access to clean water.

Last year, I participated in a fundraiser for Blood:Water, a non-profit funding water projects in Africa. I will write a post about how I helped bring clean water to those without access soon. Why not see how you can be involved? Follow the link to Blood:Water for information.