Three geese white like sugar honk their early morning song a few doors down. Roosters, who as my dad would say are short a doodle in their do, are cock-a-doing in haphazard unison. The sun is kissing the mountain tops in a display of sherbert splendor. It's a new day, in a new home and I find myself bathed in thankfulness AND soaked in sadness, like vinegar and oil mixed together on a lovely salad.
-There is MUCH to be thankful to the Lord for - too many things to count and yet sometimes I'm like a toddler with an empty Easter basket staring at a lawn full of not-so-hidden eggs with nothing in my basket. How can I NOT see ALL the pastel eggs perched atop the grass in full visibility? How can I NOT call out all of the blessings that are blatantly in my path? I'm guilty of staring into my "empty" basket when blessings are literally ALL around me, waiting for me to recognize them for what they are AND grab a hold of them. This is a sad confession that leads me to the desire to do better at not only seeing the blessings right in front of me, but also for giving thanks for them out loud to the One who gives them. Cultivating a thankful heart full of gratitude is a daily decision to really say thank you for the obvious: waking up, having a roof over your head, for your family, such as they are - such as you are, for the mountains and sunlight and honking geese that all point to a very creative and magnificent God. Who am I that He should care for me? Yet He does so very personally and spectacularly.
The mixing of seemingly contradictory emotions can be tricky to navigate. Does my sadness negate my thankfulness? No, it just nods at the recognition of a loss while at the same time seeing the egg in the grass that's waiting to be snatched and put into my basket. So the mingling of multiple emotions has been the whirlwind of my life, more so in the last 6 months than another time that I can remember. We sent a daughter to school in another country (sadness), and she gets to go to an amazing school that the Lord provided for and have a whole new set of experiences in a new place that will challenge, grow and change her (thankfulness, happiness). She is apart from us for the first time this Thanksgiving (sadness), but she has a new friend from school who invited her to her home to have Thanksgiving with her family (thankfulness!) We abruptly had to move from a community we loved (sadness), but we are in a great home with a yard and space to spread out (thankfulness, happiness.) Vinegar and oil together enhance the flavor of life.
So, in this tossed salad of emotions that I sometimes have found myself drowning in, I'm reminded that it is ok to lament a loss, and that I need to stay in a state of thankfulness while I grieve. I'm not a mess, I'm human. I can cry AND rejoice. Today, I am thankful for all of the ingredients in the tossed salad :)
How do you handle a mixture of emotions?
Our family was physically moved recently, plucked from our cozy apartment community where we'd lived for 5 years since moving back to Jarabacoa. The sound of the river lapping the boulders in its juicy path was our lullaby at night. We had a clear view of amazing sunsets, and neighbors that became family. We NEVER planned on moving from there. Yet, we aren't always in as much control as we think. We can't control circumstances, but we can control our response. (I'll be the first to admit my gut level response is not always kind or pretty. Imagine Jon shaking his head in agreement here. He's usually the one that sees and hears my yuck.)
The process of moving was painful. The tearing away. The selling. The purging. We didn't move far but a move is a move. You still have to look all of your junk in the eye and ask yourself why in the world you hold onto the things you hold onto? There was much that didn't "spark joy," and yet my fists had been clenched for some reason. With every item that was tossed I was a little more free. Why do we keep ourselves tied up so with things that don't matter?
One of the blessings of moving was the help that we received from our community. They are a bunch of troopers and took car/truck loads of stuff to our new place, fed us dinner multiple times and helped us clean so that we could leave our much-loved apartment in good condition. Thank you, Lord, for friends who show up and love so well!
I generally tend to be a hanger-on-er. To stuff. To the familiar. To an idea. To comfort. I didn't want to leave where we were, but I love where we are now. Sometimes I fight to stay when I really need to go. Sometimes I let go of the things I need to hold onto. How I desire to be on the Godly side of both of those - to fight for the things worth fighting for, to release my grip on the things that need to be let go of. The struggle is REAL. Lord, help me nest close to you, wherever that is.
When was the last time you were moved? Moved in your spirit, moved in your physical location, moved from one way of thinking to another? Moved to forgive? Moved to let go? Moved to trust more? Moved to be vulnerable? Moved when you wanted to stay? How did you respond?
Psalm 84:3-5 "Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young, a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house, they are ever praising you. Blessed are those whose strength is in you."
After months of curfews and quarantine, we planned a much needed escape to the beach, traveling for the first time with a golden retriever and a yorkie in tow. (FYI: a flat tire on a Sunday afternoon on the mountain road will increase the time it takes to reach your destination while simultaneously fulfilling your sense of adventure!) Nonetheless, our crew of kids and furry family made it on a tire that had worn a hole the size of a mango. The tube, having been turned inside out, allowed us to finish the bumpy, remaining 1.5 hours where we would sink our toes into the sand to decompress. (The flat tire is a story within a story - perhaps for another day! Always an adventure . . . . )
The following day, we set out to one of our favorite Dominican North Coast beaches, having heard that the beach was sparse since the borders had just a few days earlier opened back up mid-pandemic. Our furry family with us on their maiden beach voyage, we weren't quite sure how they would respond to this stimulating environment. Come to find out, they were true to their natures: Oso, the ferocious yorkie, barked INCESSANTLY at EVERYONE and EVERTYTHING, and Bailey, the most loving golden retriever EVER, embarked on 2.5 hours of relentless retrieving.
As it turns out, you can't take the retriever out of the golden, even if said golden is old and out of practice. Upon arrival to our oceanside loungers and umbrellas, the question was: should we leave Bailey on the leash or set her free? She's a fairly obedient, old girl and really, there were not many people close by on the beach, except for maybe that one man . . . .bobbing gracefully in the pristine, sparkling waters like an olive freshly kerplunked into a martini. (From henceforth, he shall be affectionately called "the frenchman.") He was happily neck deep in the pool-like ocean about a 50 yard dash length's distance from us. We didn't know what was about to happen.
So to answer the question: yes, we would let obedient Bailey off of her leash since hardly anyone was around. Plus, she is so gentle and never meets a stranger . . . .er, uh, or always meets a stranger because she thinks everyone needs to know her and she needs to know them :) So, her handler, Allie, unclipped her from her leash and in a second flat Bailey dashed into the water, making a bee line to the only person in the water, the bobbing, neck-deep frenchman. His gleeming smile like the north star for her, she paddled directly to him. When she reached him, she began her "rescue," her front legs wildly grasping for one of his limbs to grab a hold of and bring him to safety on the sand. We sat there, all 6 of us, stunned, jaws agape, for just a moment as we watched them entangled in neck deep water, now the frenchman's bobbing more erratic with a 60 lb. golden inadvertently pushing him under water in her attempts to "save" him. After a few seconds of shocked onlooking, her handler retrieved her from the top of the frenchman's flailing arms, brought her back to the lounge chairs in the sand, and secured her on her leash. Yes, it is a good idea to keep Bailey on a leash at the beach.
Lucky for us, the frenchman was a VERY good sport, not seemingly too upset that in the process of her "rescue" that not only did she scratch him up, but that she almost drowned him. After 30 more minutes in the water bobbing carefree, he eventually made his way out and we exchanged some pleasant yet awkard (he was in a speedo) words. I gave him a waterproof bandaid and he disappeared under his umbrella. Bailey the 7 year old golden retriever could not be stopped from what she was compelled to do, retrieve. Her nature, the very wiring of her breed, could not be squelched - not even for a second. For the next few hours, now tethered to her handler, she retrieved her family, happily and safely splashing in the cool waters.
No frenchmen were harmed in the unfolding of this story, nor any swimming children. Bailey the golden and her handler slept like babies that night, as did Oso who documented the whole thing with his high-alert barking.
Who are you in this story? The retriever? The frenchman? The stunned onlookers? The yorkie? The handler? Hahaha. Just kidding. Perhaps though, there is more to this story :)
Tales from Quarantine 2020 :) What stories do you have to share?
Every day the sunrises, without fail. No matter what kind of joy or pain the day before was clothed in, a new one awakes with a fresh slate. With streams of brillance bursting forth, even particles of dust sparkle and the contrast of light and dark makes ordinary shapes like the triangles of trees cast streams of light and shadows of dark in all directions. The light defines the dark, not the other way around.
If it weren't for the warm orb of light, the intricate weave and tedious detail of a spider's web might go unnoticed. When light shines behind dark, it highlights the most exquisite details.
As if one master piece isn't enough . . . each unique thumbprint is like God winking at us. I'm pretty sure spiders don't have thumbs and thus no thumbprints, but the CREATOR who made them does, and I am sure I sensed Him smiling at me on the sidewalk when I stopped to notice the craftmanship of these intricate designs. Construction workers on a rooftop apartment across the street saw me see these and stop to document them. I wonder if they noticed the camoflaged yet highlighted art gallery hidden in plain sight. Sometimes when we pause, it prompts others to not miss the good stuff. Oh hurry, how you rush me when I'm not surrendered to breathly in life deeply. Oh light, how you direct my gaze to heavenly places.
The same scene from a different angle. Redundant, I think not. How fascinating the glow, and how soft the barbs that anchor the web. Strength can be delicate. Wisps of webs hang on, maybe the start of something new or traces of ships abandoned. Swoon worthy.
Dear sunflare, with your sparkling hexagon of shimmery light, thank you for making me pause to see what could have easily been missed. Dear Father of Light, the giver of every good and perfect gift, thank you for today. Your creation gives you props for your AWESOMENESS. Thank you for the gift of pause, for each new day with its freshly lit dawn. Please help me to be still and not miss you.
For starters, I'm not asking you to GIVE anything today. Phew, right? It's GIVING TUESDAY after all, and I'm a missionary. So . . . . . . entonces . . . . . . .
Last week, I was out of pocket (no wifi, no outlets, a solar power type of situation) and it was GLORIOUS.
When I opened my email after 4 days unplugged, I had 527 emails! WHAT? Friends, I'm not THAT important! 526 of those emails were Black Friday and Cyber Monday emails shouting out about ALL of the DEALS, DISCOUNTS, and BARGAINS. Nothing says, "Celebrate the newborn King" like 50% off TODAY ONLY. And yes, discounts are great this time of year, but for reals . . . it was as if I was walking in front of the shops on the beach where every vendor is trying to entice me to come into their shop, "It's free to look, my friend!" and "Cheapy cheapy for you." and "It's happy hour, amiga!" A stream of friendly but assertive, "No Gracias." is the only way to get through the vendor gauntlet, but as far as my inbox is concerned, I did a LOT of unsubscribing yesterday. It. IS. JUST. TOO. MUCH. FOR. ME. Also, have you noticed how Black Friday is oozing into "Black Friday Week" like jelly from a pb & j sandwhich. It's everywhere all of a sudden, uncontainable to one frenzied day, glopping out all over the week.
And then there's GIVING TUESDAY, which makes me feel really uncomfortable. Not because I think we shouldn't GIVE to worthy causes - on the contrary! Maybe it's the order: Early Black Friday, Black Friday, Cyber Monday . . . . Giving Tuesday. It seems like a manufactured afterthought - after we've indulged in all sorts of ways (those of you who know me, know that for me, this time of year, it's PIE. I heart PIE.), after all sorts of consumption - we're fat, happy, perhaps in debt, a few pounds heavier and our pockets a bit lighter. And we NOW turn our hearts to giving? Well, I guess better late than not at all, right? Something about it just feels very forced and off to me.
"So, what's your point, Rach? You just admitted to indulging yourself!? (Well, yes, my friends. You don't become overweight from self control, healthy choices and balanced living - but that's a confessional post for another day which won't be limited to food.) I digress. Giving Tuesday, focus Rachel. Here's the point: should we not be GIVING EVERYDAY? Maybe it can't always be through a large donation to a worthy cause, maybe it can't always be on a certain day of the year, maybe it can't be out of abundance but out of a place of sacrificial scarcity, maybe it isn't monetary at all - a call, a message, a favor, a helping hand, a prayer offered, maybe it's an invitation or reaching out to someone who really REALLY bugs you but you know you should love them anyway!? (Don't connect dots if you get a message from me today! It has nothing to do with that last one, ok? Settle down.)
So, while I'm not going to ask you to give anything today, the Lord IS going to ask you AND me to GIVE something EVERY DAY. Donations are nice, necessary and needed but let's not relegate our generosity to a day like Giving Tuesday, let's #GIVEEVERYDAY.
When I first started blogging within our first years in the D.R., I did so as if I had been set free from something binding and restrictive. Words flowed out like the river when it rises from a torrential down pour, the heavens releasing a baptism from the too-full sky. My thoughts spilled out as I took in and processed everything new, beautiful, not fully understood and incredibly different: a rusty isuzu truck loaded with chickens, hanging meat in a bright blue colmado, an unclothed child joyfully pulling a car made out of a bleach bottle and salvaged wheels of varying sizes by a string, a birthday party where I left before the cake (that is a huge "No-No!", even if the party started 3 hours late!), a person bathing in the canal. By the pressing of my keyboard, I freely and with wild abandon, without much of a filter, and often with little understanding , shared my thoughts and our lives with you here. I was naive, ignorant, unaware, yet all the while enthusiastic, open, vulnerable and transparent.
For several years now, I've been withholding. I've been virtually silent. Somewhere along the way, I grew weary of sharing vulnerably. I became afraid. I also felt convicted about sharing about people and situations and grew to distrust my motives for sharing. Having been in the D.R. for more than a hot minute, I've learned so much in my own walk with the Lord; many beautiful, painful, and life-giving lessons, and yet despite all of that sweet growth, I've been locked up tight the last little bit. I put a fence up in my soul to "save" me from possible criticism, rejection and hurt - to silence my own inner voice that whispers "imposter" and screams "fraud". Those voices have had such great power over me in recent years, but it's time for them to be exposed and silenced. Satan would love nothing more than for me to grow prideful, weary, burned, callused, hardened, numb and apathetic. Locked up. But NO! That's NOT the way that this is going down.
Can I just tell you some things?
I'm not fluent in Spanish, but I'm always working on it. My progress is slow. I "should" be in a different place (she says to herself - because 14 years), but I'm not. May the spirit of the Lord be my voice when I fumble for the right words or grammatical structure. Surely the spirit of God is more powerful than my ability to use ser/estar correctly or to speak in past tense with stem changing words in Book B!
I've struggled with local friendships. Having been burned a few times, I've retreated to a "safe" place. This is wrong. I am confident that I've also, at times, burned others, unintentionally and in ignorance. It's funny that the pattern is to think that THEY did it intentionally, but I did it unintentionally! That double standard in my thinking is no longer lost on me. I see it now. May I offer the same grace to others that I would like to receive.
I've struggled with friendships in general, feeling my age in a rather youthful and transient missionary community, both the number of my years and the number of years we've been here. I long for deeper connection and go through seasons where I pursue others and where I retreat from others. I have several really great friends, though, that I know I can call on and who would come running if needed. I couldn't do life without them. May I be the kind of friend that I would like to have! (Right, Jenn?)
We go to an English speaking church. It is the best decision for our family at this time. That doesn't mean we are any less invested in the local culture or that we lack confidence in the local church. I perceive judgement for this decision frequently. May we hunger for the word of God in any language and be a community of believers that causes others to long to know Him more. If we aren't doing this as individuals and as a church body, our "missions" will be ineffective.
Sometimes I've made an idol out of understanding and being understood. In the core of my gut, I just want to understand and be understood. I have often sought this to my detriment. I'm thankful that several years ago a pastor called me out on this and told me, "Rachel, give up your need to be understood." Those words were like a sucker punch to me, but after a brief conversation, he could see what was in my blindspot - an idol! I had spent so much time, effort, energy, trying to be understood in situations where I fely totally mistunderstood, that I had made an idol out of feeling understood. I had missed serving the Lord fully because of that. I had been so easily distracted by a bright and shiny that I missed the face of the Lord. May I not miss the face of the Lord and be de-railed by own compulsions, but be driven by His Holy Spirit. May the parts of me that aren't of Him be exposed. May any idol be illuminated and crushed, so that I can serve the Lord effectively and love Him whole-heartedly rather I'm effective or not.
Also, in my host culture, which I absolutely adore, there are MANY things that I don't understand, and we're not just talking about language here. Truly, though, in this world, this side of heaven, there will always be things that can't be understood - no matter where we are! I just live with a heightened sense of that because I'm constantly reminded in the backdrop of my life that there are things that I can't understand. That's ok. May I seek to understand, but know that that is not always possible and to trust the Lord in those things.
Without vulnerability, there can't be accountability. Without humility, there can't be teachability. Without forgiveness, there can't be progress. Without grace, there can't be redemption.
I pray that if you are reading this, you would be encouraged, not because of anything I have said, but because the God of the universe loves you and has uniquely crafted you to fulfill a purpose. My story, while clean cut, is not "normal," and that is awesome because it just showcases God's creativity and power. God did not make me to fit in! May we embrace the stories He is writing in our lives, and may we be quick to share HIS faithfulness. May we break the silence when it is fear that has secured it, and not the Lord who has sanctioned it.
Like chandelier earrings dangling from the most graceful form, luscious mangos accessorize the trees this time of year in the Dominican. The whole town is decorated with their juicy sweetness. Every morning the street in front of our apartment building is dappled by fallen fruit whose heaviness pulled them to the earth. Like candy flung to the ground from a busted-wide-open piñata, people rush out to gather up the juicy prizes. Kids sit on corners peeling mangoes with their teeth and slurping up the vibrant display of mango meat.
The funny thing is that every day, random people come by on their motos with pvc pipe tied together for extra length to stop and knock those that are ready but have not fallen yet into their hungry hands. I wonder if they have a mango tree loop that they drive to knock down the low hanging fruit, or in this case, the high hanging fruit that can easily loose its grip with the bump of a pole. Everyone is on the hunt for low-hanging fruit (and sometimes that means mangos down in road!)
Do you know what happens to low hanging fruit that isn't gathered up? It rots. Sweetness never smelled so stinky! Mangos on the ground remind me of gifts and talents that go unused . . . qué triste! How sad to let the gifts God has given us sit like a mango on the ground. Of course, if it's a juicy mango in the D.R., no one is going to let it go to waste because they recognize a piece of fruit for what it is - a gift :)