Go Back to the Last Place You had It and Look There

I’ve been listening to an audio book from Anne Lamott, her newest. It plays while I drive my kids around and while I commute to work or school. I love her voice, like an old friend calling shotgun to talk about the good the bad and the ugly of everyday.

Yesterday, she was talking about finding lost things. She said something along the lines of, “When you lose something, you go back to the last place you had it and look there.”

This is obvious mom advice, right? If you can’t find your shoes, try to remember where you were last time you took them off. Where were you when you last had your keys or your phone or your wallet…

or your faith.

That is what I asked myself, driving down 305 to drop my son off at youth choir. I kept asking myself as I drove back after he was safely deposited at the church.

Back in Tupelo? Did I just not bring my faith to Olive Branch when we moved? No, that didn’t seem right. I was struggling with deconstruction in Tupelo, though maybe in more subtle ways. In Brandon then, that far back? That was ten years ago.

I know I have felt God’s presence, felt at peace, in the last ten years.

So… when? Where?

I moved on to running media for worship at The Well, correcting sermon slides and greeting visitors and sipping a Coke for the caffeine infusion needed to stay alert. All the while, the back of my brain was spinning, searching… where did I last see my faith, my peace, my certainty that God, whatever God is, was with me?

Then the band started playing and the words that filled the room were, “Holy Spirit, you are welcome here.”

I closed my eyes. I went back to where that song took root in me, to Jamie singing those words, no guitar or piano or drums needed. Just her voice rising in an empty church, an old church, a church that has looked over the valley for 600 years.

That is where I saw it last.

That is where I last felt at peace.

In Honduras.

My eyes filled with tears, because I can’t go back anytime soon, and when I do go back it won’t be for as long as last summer. This time last year, I was plotting how to pack for my summer in under 50 pounds. Whole weeks stretched before me, weeks without any of the worry that plagues me here in the States.

Last summer, I did not worry about money or my health or health insurance bills. I did not worry about grades and scholarships and computers.

Last summer, I sat in an ancient church and listened to Jamie’s voice seeping into clay walls that had held the prayers of centuries. I stood on mountain tops, literally and spiritually. I laughed with children in broken languages. I sipped coffee while the birds of paradise were in bloom.

And all was well, and all was well, and all manner of things would be well.

How do I find Honduras in my heart without getting on an airplane?

That is the question I begin my summer with this year. How do I find Honduras in this life even while going to 8 AM classes and learning algebra and working at a daycare and trying to rewrite a manuscript in verse?

How do I find Honduras in my heart?

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It was a “Jesus Take the Wheel” Kind of Summer

I didn’t drive for a month.

I never thought it would bother me to give up the wheel. It didn’t even cross my mind until we headed to church the night before my flight to Honduras. My husband drove, and I would ride a bus to the airport and then I would be in Honduras for a month. I’d not drive until I returned.

The first ten days of my trip involved a lot of time on buses. I wasn’t in charge of where we went or what we did. I was along for the ride.

The final three weeks of the trip involved a lot of time in a truck. I rode shotgun, holding onto the handle above the window as we wove in and out of Tegus traffic and flew around mountain curves.

I HAD NO DESIRE TO DRIVE, PHYSICALLY.

I am a timid driver here in America. I’d be a pancake trying to navigate traffic in Tegucigalpa. I am told there are laws about driving there, but I have yet to see any evidence of such. Painted lines are barely suggestions. Lanes don’t matter in the least. I could count red lights on one hand.

Driving in Tegucigalpa wasn’t on my list of daring activities for the summer. I preferred zip-lining upside down in the jungle and playing with monkeys.

THERE WAS SOMETHING DISCONCERTING ABOUT IT … NOT DRIVING.

Or not being able to drive, really. Not having a car sitting in the driveway. Not having a ready-made plan of escape in any given situation and not being able to decide I was hungry and run to the store …

I’m struggling to even write complete sentences for these thoughts. The feeling was simply odd.

I’M A GROWN WOMAN. I AM IN CHARGE OF MY LIFE.

Except, this summer, I wasn’t. I thought I exercised my daring self-confidence by hopping a plane to a third-world country for a month. In truth, I yielded my will altogether.

Jamie and I went where we were told to go. We were welcome to make suggestions and often did, but ultimately, we were not in control of our schedule. In the mornings, I set my alarm so I’d have time to read and sip coffee before leaving for the day, but I didn’t pick what time we left. I didn’t choose where we worked.

I thought daring was all about doing, going, jumping in with both feet and making things happen.

IT TURNS OUT, THE MOST DARING THING I DID THIS SUMMER WAS GIVE UP.

I didn’t just give up driving for thirty days. I gave up on the picture of my future I have held close for at least the last five years. I had to let it go and consider other options.

Lord help me for using a cliché, but this was a “Jesus take the wheel” kind of summer, and I am still terrified of where this Holy-Spirit-mobile is taking me.

ALSO, I AM NOT YIELDING WELL.

I gave up driving a car way more easily than I gave up driving my life. But I am trying, little by little, day by day. I am examining my actions and their motives, and I am taking steps in a new direction, even when I want to yank the wheel to the left and get the heck out of dodge.

I let someone else lead the way, when I gave up driving.

Now, can I give up planning and let the Holy Spirit lead me also in this?

 

Evangelism Sometimes Uses Words

It is my last day in Honduras. I’m sitting on the back porch of Clinica de Esperanza. Around me, people are digging and planting, moving dirt and piling rocks.

I’M THINKING ABOUT THE WORD “EVANGELISM.”

I used to think evangelism was all about talking (the cliché phrase: I’d like to tell you about my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ). It brought up images of street preachers and TV preachers and tracts. None of those things excite me. I don’t relate to those methods of sharing the Gospel.

But I do enjoy talking about my faith in authentic, transparent and organic conversations. At the same time, I don’t want to force a conversation on anyone.

Honduras has changed things for me. I no longer equate evangelism with converting people via preaching or a five-step guide to salvation. When you nail the last nail and open the door to a family’s new home, you see Jesus lighting up their faces, and there it is.

YOU’VE TAKEN SOME OF THE HOLY SPIRIT INSIDE YOURSELF AND GIFTED IT TO ANOTHER PERSON.

James 1:27 comes to mind. I love it in pretty much every translation of the Bible, but it especially hits home in the Message:

Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.

I carried the Spirit of Christ in my tool belt during the month of July (el mes de julio). I lifted the Spirit into children as I held them and loved them and read books with them. I prayed in Spanglish by the bed of a child in a hospital, hands on a mother’s shoulders, Jesus all around us.

Mahatma Ghandi said, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”

I’ve thought about that a lot while serving in Honduras. In Tegucigalpa and the surrounding communities, the name of JesuChristo is well-known. There are churches everywhere. People know about God, about the right and wrong of things. They know who Jesus is. What they don’t know is…

JESUS LOVES THEM SO MUCH HE GAVE MORE THAN HIS SON.

He gave His hands and His feet also.

Us.

He gave us.

And every time we feed, clothe, or shelter a person, we give them Jesus. We pour Him out of us and into the hungry and the naked, the homeless and the loveless.

EVANGELISM SOMETIMES USES WORDS.

Evangelism sometimes uses hammers and nails, donated shoes, cotton candy and popcorn machines, cinder blocks and concrete, games of tag, airport terminals, and long conversations in government offices.

Sometimes it uses those things.

Always, always, always…

It uses us.

 

*originally published on Middle Places

Sometimes Serving Looks Like an Airport

Sometimes serving looks like an airport.

I’VE BEEN JOKING ABOUT A BLOG TITLED: THINGS YOU WOULDN’T KNOW MISSIONARIES DO

It includes stuff like counting money, counting a lot of money, counting more money, making phone calls, replying to text messages in two languages, taking dictation, sitting in government offices, getting cars shipped from other countries, counting tassels on key chains, flipping switches on water pumps, driving a lot, making popcorn with a generator on a reservation …

The biggest thing I didn’t think about doing when Jamie and I planned a month in Honduras? I never thought about hanging out in the airport.

Today, two mission groups from the US arrived here in Honduras. When the first group deplaned, my friend Mark was with us. He greeted them and led them off to the bus, luggage in tow. When the second group arrived, Jamie and I greeted them. We were the friendly American faces, the lips speaking English, the “this is what you do next” people. I led them to the bus in a rainstorm, climbing aboard looking like a drowned rat.

SHE GRINNED THE WHOLE TIME SHE SPOKE TO US.

At one point, standing in the airport in Tegucigalpa, a lady spoke to Jamie and me. She recognized Jamie’s shirt and my bag and asked if we were with Mi Esperanza. She did not speak English, so my toddler-esque Spanish had to do. We aren’t actually with Mi Esperanza, but we are connected in a way, so we just told her yes. She asked where we are from, and I managed to explain the answers. She grinned the whole time she spoke with us. The woman accompanying her turned back to greet us, her smile shining pure joy.

I don’t know what we did that made them so happy. Maybe this lady went through one of the educational programs offered by Mi Esperanza. Maybe they gave her a micro-loan or her daughter works with them. Maybe it is something beyond my conversational Spanish ability.  Whatever it was, I’m glad Jamie and I were standing there today.

We’ve stood in the airport a lot over the last three weeks. We arrived and a week later we helped get our original group checked in and through security. We greeted new groups and saw other groups off. We’ve sipped coffee with new friends, and I’ve watched Jamie get all choked up saying goodbye to twin girls she knew for exactly five minutes. We have watched families reunite downstairs and mothers tearfully clinging to children going away upstairs. We changed money to make ministry happen, added minutes to cell phones and had conversations.

THE AIRPORT HAS BEEN A HUGE PART OF OUR TIME IN HONDURAS.

We see other missionaries there all the time. It is a connecting place, a common point, a crossroads.

Sometimes serving looks like giving kids their first taste of cotton candy. Other times serving looks like reading a Bible story entirely in Spanish while a young girl helps me with the big words. But serving also looks like typing up Spanish texts while our host drives. Serving can look like a hammer and a pocket full of nails.

And sometimes serving looks like an airport.

Who knew?

 

*originally published on Middle Places

The Rainbow and Silvia

I don’t know how to blog about Honduras.

I didn’t journal as well as I’d planned. I didn’t open my laptop unless I had to. I did a lot of verbal processing, thanks to Jamie being with me and willing to listen.

So now, here I am, back in America. I want to share so much with all of you, but where to start?

People ask, “What was your favorite thing?” That is a hard question, but I am going to give you two brief answers. These are just snapshots of moments that rise to the surface when I pause for any length of time.
The Rainbow – Three of us drove to the scouted location for a well that will be dig at Tierras del Padre (home to a tribe of Lenca people). As we wound down a backroad, I spotted a rainbow. It was so beautiful I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. As the clouds moved, more of the rainbow showed through. It was a full arc of colors across the sky and even part of a second rainbow peeking out on the left side. Tim pulled over so I could climb a little mound of dirt and get a photo without power lines (we were just a few feet from where electricity ended). The best part? The end of the rainbow seemed to settle right on the location for the new well.

Silvia – Everything about Silvia made my trip better. Her smile, her shyness, her hugs, her quiet words… But the best was on the day I met her. Silvia brought me a book and asked me to read it to the group of kids that had just gotten out of school. They gathered around while I read in my halting Spanish. Silvia helped me with unfamiliar words. After, I asked the kids about my Spanish, “bueno o mal?” And they promised me, “bueno.” My heart was soaring when Silvia asked me to keep the book. She carefully penned her name in the front cover. It just so happened that a friend had left me with a children’s book written in Spanish. I pulled it from my bag, scribbled a note to Silvia, and gave it to her as a thank you.

There is so much more I could write about, and I probably will write about it. For now, I can only offer you snippets of days, flitters of thoughts, moments I hold in my hands like rubies in the sunlight. I keep finding new facets of their beauty.

Peace to you, friends.

Honduras: July 9th

Today, after doing a couple of touristy things (visiting two Catholic churches, eating pupusas and plantains in a street café), we rode to the base of the hill where Diamanté is located. Last year, most of my trip was spent in Diamanté, but this year I have not visited.

We pulled up by a small cinderblock building. On top of the building are two white plastic tanks. This is the well. There is a pump and someone has to turn on the pump and refill the tanks multiple times during the week. Various missionaries and one Honduran pastor handle that.

As soon as we got out of the truck, a man in the field behind us began smiling and waving. He walked across the road and spoke with Tim. Jamie and I stretched our legs and looked up toward Diamanté, the village where I built a memory house in 2015. We chatted about how things have changed from last year and when we may go back to see that house. Tim unlocked the building and went inside.

Then there were two little boys, niños, beside us. Their mothers stood nearby, holding buckets, waiting to draw water from the well and carry it back up the mountain to their homes. I went back to the truck and grabbed a plastic bag one of the other mission groups left behind for us. I pulled out a tennis ball and held it up to one of the boys, saying, “Pelota?”

The boy smiled. I handed a tennis ball to him and one to his friend. Jamie started up a game of catch. More children appeared with more mothers and a few fathers. I gave out all of the tennis balls, one Frisbee, and a bag of toy dinosaurs. I snapped photos while Jamie told one boy to throw the ball, “Tira lo.”

We laughed as the kids missed the balls again and again and finally started trying to catch with their feet. In America, we play some form of catch almost from birth. In Honduras, they play soccer instead. If we’d had a ball to kick, those boys would’ve showed us up. Instead, we were asking them to use their hands, stretching them out of their comfort zones.

Then the tanks were full and there was water.

Water poured from above, overflowing the plastic containers, raining down on us. The women laughed, scrambling to grab buckets and catch the falling water.

I asked Tim how to say “Water from Heaven.”

Agua del paraíso…

Agua del cielo…

As the water poured, I snapped pictures. The women grinned at my camera and laughed with me. The children shouted, ran, threw the ball and giggled when it hit someone or bounced into the tall grass nearby.

“Listo?” Jamie asked the kids.

“¡Sí!” a little boy cried, shrieking with joy.

My heart was fuller than the tanks above the well. My mind drifted to the church family growing back home, The Well @ Lewisburg.

This is why we chose to call our new church The Well. Because when the water is flowing, when joy is falling from heaven, people come. Community forms. Language matters little, because thirst and happiness are experiences universal.

I wiped drops of water from my glasses, and I prayed for drops of joy to be flung far and wide, here in Honduras from the well at Diamanté and back home in Olive Branch from the Well at Lewisburg.

Today, may you be thirsty. And may you drink.

May you be filled. And may you overflow.

    

Honduras: July 4th

From my journal on July 4, 2016

We’re building a house at the bottom edge of the city dump. I just helped nail down the floor boards. The fourth wall is going up. Next, the roof. A chainsaw will slice through wood – madera – to open up one window and one door. From the window, this family can look toward a mountain view, green grass growing tall.

Behind their home, the only view is trash – basura. Piles of trash, mounds dotted with vultures and mangy dogs.

When we arrived, the homeowner spoke to me. My limited Spanish served me well. He is so grateful to God for this home. He has a son named Josue and a wife named Anna. Anna is pregnant, tiny baby bump under green and yellow floral. Vestido verde y amarillo flores. She smiles. Her husband tells me they had another child. That child died. I have to ask someone later, someone who knows this family, “Did I hear that correctly?”

I wish I’d misunderstood, but I didn’t.

The smell here isn’t as bad as we expected. This afternoon, as I write, escribo, the smell is either gone or I am used to it. I wish I could sprinkle the boards of this house with lavender oil, plant sweet-smelling flowers along the path, make even the air beautiful for Anna, mourning a child, raising a child, expecting new life at year’s end.

What strikes me as I sit here is not what we have done, but what we cannot do. Systemic classism, poverty inescapable, a world that includes living at the edge of the city dump.

All I can do today is slip on my gloves, pick up my hammer, and build.

Construyo.