Tuesday, March 29, 2011

We’re a Reluctant Lot…

Most mornings go about the same:  I wake up before my alarm (a sure sign to me that “old age” has already hit me!"), roll over and look at the clock, and let out a deep sigh.  I walk every morning—Monday through Friday—and that walk usually gets going around 6am.  BUT!  I often don’t want to get out of bed.  I think, “Oh, just 10 more minutes….” or “I just want to lie here a while longer….”  However, I get up…get into my shorts and sweat-shirt…don my New Balance tennies…and head out the door.

It’s slow at first, but then, as I swing my arms, as my feet climb the hills, as I take note of the birds and their singing, things begin to change.  As I greet the others I encounter each morning—some walkers, some runners, some simply owners of dogs who have get out—as I see them and we greet each other, my mind shifts.  By the time I’m coming down from the top of the hill, as sweat is pouring off of me (more for the humidity than for the difficulty of my walk, mind you!), I have a completely different attitude.  As I round the last corner and approach the outer gate of our apartment, I am glad I pulled myself out of that comfy bed, glad I left in the dark of the morning to walk.  In fact, I can’t think of a single day that I’ve come home from my walk thinking, “Man, it really wasn’t worth it—I should have stayed in bed.”

Unfortunately (and very honestly), my time with God often goes the same way.  Oh, it’s not that I’m in bed all comfy and want to avoid time with the Lord.  No, it’s that there are a million things to do—write an article for the preaching blog for my students at the seminary, grade papers for those at the teachers’ college, run Megan or Andrew here or there.  But, in the end, as with the walking—thank goodness—the better part of reason comes through.

I go off to that quiet spot...on the porch by the bougainvillea or in the corner by the window looking out on the Sierra Madre mountains. I pick up that Book, and just the feel of those pages begins to calm my soul.  As my eyes fall on those words—words heard and read a hundred, a thousand times—my hurry and rush and false sense of self-importance begins to fall away.  Somehow, as I read, as I meditate, and allow the Scriptures and God’s Spirit to guide my mind and thoughts, I am somehow changed and my attitude altered.  I pull myself up short…unaware that so much time has passed.  I was going to give myself (or the Lord) five minutes—and already I’ve sat here with my Lord more than twenty!

As with my walk in the morning, my walk with the Lord never leaves me thinking, “Well, that was a waste of time.”  Somehow, God always manages to speak to me…to encourage me, to teach me, to correct me, to bring something to my mind that needs my attention.

I guess we’re just a reluctant lot, we humans--we seems to shun and avoid the very things that bring us life and health and peace.  However, it also seems that we do get there, even if not with the greatest frequency, and our lives are changed and bettered.  Time to go now, and sit with my Lord….

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Pt.1: I’m an Adult TCK…and my kids are TCKs.

And, what in the world is a TCK (also known as “Global Nomads)???  A TCK is a “third culture kid”…and here’s a good place to begin:

"A person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents' culture.  The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership of any.  Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK's life experience the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of a similar background." (Pollock & Van Reken, 1999)

This comes from a good introductory article about TCKs…an article that goes on to talk about the many positives of being a TCK, and the negatives.  Another good site is here.  These article give you the nuts and bolts, but I want to talk about my own experience…and how it has shaped and continues to shape my life.

A little biography to begin with:

Born and lived in Dothan, Alabama, from 1965-1969.  Moved to Guyana, South America (1969-1973).  Wake Forest, North Carolina (1973-1975).  Grenada, West Indies (1975-1982).  Atlanta, Georgia (1982-1988).  Louisville, Kentucky (1989-1991).  Cleveland, Georgia (1991-1995).  Hoschton, Georgia (1995-97).  McAllen, Texas (1997-1998).  Holly, Michigan (1998-1999).  Gainesville, Georiga (1999-2001). Blairsville, Georiga (2002-2005).  Barquisimeto, Venezuela (2005-2008).  Monterrey, Mexico (2008-present).

That’s 29 different homes in five countries in 45 years.  In the details, we find that I attended seven different schools in 12 years, and ended up graduating from high school TWICE—once when I was 16-years-old and living in Grenada, and again when I was 18-years-old and living in Atlanta.

And, the story of my children may be very similar—they’ve already (all three) lived in 12 different homes in three states and three countries; and Jesse attended seven schools before graduating.  They, too, are now TCKs—those adaptable, creative, self-confident, un-grounded, un-decided, go-with-the-flow sort of folks.

My cultures—in order of influence—are: Caribbean, southern American and Latino.

We first went to live in Guyana, South America…a small, little-known country that boasts significant Hindu, Muslim and Christian populations—a country that itself is a tri-cultural mix.  While geographically a part of South America, it is more culturally aligned with the southern Caribbean.  Why not throw a little American kid into that and see what comes of it?? ha,ha…

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We left the US to live in Guyana when I was just four-years-old.  I have very few memories of my life, my childhood, before Guyana—all of my earliest, clearest memories come from Guyana.  I remember the rains that would come and flood everything…and my brothers building boats out of scrap wood and canvas…then floating around Oleander Gardens for hours on end.  I remember walking barefoot in the flood waters and slicing open my big toe (the scar is still there).  I remember catching snakes and insects of all kinds after the flood waters receded.  I remember making kites around Easter, beautiful, colorful six-sided kites with a “singer” that buzzed and trilled in the wind.  I remember “Phagwah Day”…throwing the pink-purple dye…and having it thrown at me.  Riding dray-carts—the rickety, wooden carts with old car wheels, pulled by a donkey or mule.  Riding the old, wooden launches with thumping diesel motors up Mahaica Creek with my Dad to the missions he had helped plant up the river.  Swimming in the Esequibo river, finding old (300-year old!) bottles.  Traveling into the Rupinuni and seeing Kaieteur Falls…741 feet high…and staying at the Dadanawa ranch…visiting the Wapishana and Wai-Wai Indians in their villages!  Oh, I have a million beautiful, enduring memories from those four impressionable years of life there.

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And, I remember seeing a dead person for the first time…on a Sunday morning…lying on the highway where he had been hit by a car.  A lot of people on bicycles shared the highways at the time--I remember seeing lots of bodies on the highways through the years there.  I remember the smell of burning flesh…the cremation grounds by the sea were very close to where we lived, and when the wind changed, we would smell the mixture of wood and spice and flesh.  I saw violence—as we drove to church during election season and cars were burning, and people were shouting and running around with their machetes.  I remember the drunks dad would pick up along the highway and take to their homes…and the smell of their vomit as they threw-up out the window of our old VW van.  I remember the lady that seemed in distress standing at the edge of the canal near our house…how Mom went to get her in the van…and then how that lady miscarried in our shower.

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Guyana was a land raw and vibrant and cruel and lovely.  It was a land where a child lived in a dream world, free to roam and run with friends through the fields.  It’s where I learned my first songs (reggae) where I developed my first loves of food (roti, chicken pilau, curry—Yummm!), where I learned to swim (the Tower Hotel).

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And, it was the place that my spiritual eyes began to flicker open.  My parents were missionaries…and besides the evangelistic and church-planting events, I was surrounded by people in incredible need…and I saw my parents responding with action and word and presence.  And I wondered about what motivated them…and I knew that I had no interest to help others…but I wondered why I had no interest.  God spoke to me through the people around me…and showed me that there is a better way than the self-centered path, and God began to show me that only by His gentle presence can I escape the self-centeredness and focus on others.  I remember taking my first steps of faith in Guyana.

 

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

"Story of the Pencil" (by Paulo Coehlo)

The child watched his grandmother who was writing a letter.  After a moment, the child asked, "Are you writing a story about us?  And, by chance, are writing about me?"

The grandmother stopped writing, smiled and said to her grandson, "I am writing about you, it's true.  But, you know, more important than what I'm writing is the pencil I'm using.  I hope that you will be like this pencil when you grow up.

The child looked at the pencil, intrigued, and saw nothing special about it.  "But, it's just like every other pencil I've seen in my life!"

"It all depends on how you see things," replied the grandmother. "This pencil has five qualities that, if you strive to have in your life, will make you a peaceful person in this world."

"The first quality: You can do great things, but must never forget that there exists a Hand that guides your steps.  This Hand we call God and this Hand will always guide you in the direction of His will.

"The second quality: From time to time you need to stop writing and apply the pencil-sharpener.  In this process the pencil suffers a bit, but in the end it's sharper.  So, you need to know that you have to endure some pains in life because it will make you a better person."

"The third quality: This pencil allows us to use an eraser to remove the errors.  You need to understand that correcting something we've done isn't necessarily a bad thing: rather, it's important if we're going to stay in the path of righteousness and justice."

"The fourth quality: The thing that's most important about the pencil is not the wood nor its external form but the graphite within.  So, always care for what is going on inside yourself.

"Finally, the fifth quality of the pencil: It always leaves a mark.  In the same way, you must remember that everything you do in life will leave a mark and you need to be conscious of all your actions."

(...my translation...from Paulo Coehlo's book, Ser Como el Río Que Fluye, Grijalbo, 2006.)

Sunday, March 13th…

Some 32 years ago today, we were living on the island of Grenada in the West Indies.  My parents were missionaries with the then-Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.  We had moved to Grenada in 1975 after having served four years in the country of Guyana (South America).  My parents were the first Baptist missionaries to come to this island, and my Dad, Manget Herrin (d.1983), was an amazing church-planter.  Mom, Elaine Herrin Onley, is a writer…and she developed much of the Christian education curriculum for the whole English-speaking Caribbean.  I…well, I was a kid and I loved living in that amazing, tranquil world.

My day would go something like this—up with the sun around 6:15am, breakfast, don my school uniform, hop on my Honda CT-110 motorcycle and ride to school at BCA (Berean Christian Academy) in downtown St. Georges.  Around 1:30pm, school would let out and I’d make my way home where our mid-day meal would be waiting—flying fish, calalou soup, Greek-style macaroni-and-cheese, bok-choy….mmmmmm.  I get hungry just thinking of it!  After lunch, I’d hit the books and get what little homework I had done…and then head down to the beach—Lance aux E’pines beach.  It was about 418 steps from our back veranda until my feet touched the warm sand of the beach.  At my side would be my trusty dog.  We would walk the beach…walk out on the rocks at the end of the beach…swim all over the bay together.  I loved the solitude and the independence of that life.  Before the sun set, I’d make my way home…prepare for the night…and be in bed by 9:00pm.  That climate, that speed of life, just did not permit late-night living.  And, the next day would come.

However, on Tuesday, March 13th, we awoke to a different world.  As Mom and I ate breakfast (Dad was on photo-assignment in Guyana as he was the regional photographer for the SBC), a fellow missionary, Ken Wellmon, came to the door.  “Do you have your radio on yet?” he asked (we only had one tv channel that came in, and that not very well.)  We turned on the radio and learned that there had been a revolution in the middle of the night!!  The socialist forces, under the leadership of Maurice Bishop and Bernard Coard, had taken the island in the early morning hours in what seemed to be an almost blood-less coup.  One of the their first moves had been the taking of the radio station…which they then used to direct their forces, call for surrender of police stations, announce their successes.  We were able to sit and listen to the revolution in progress.

I didn’t go to school that day.  Mom and I sat and listened to the radio.  Around mid-morning, the “People’s Revolutionary Government” sent two armed men to our house to “protect” us—one out front with an AK-47 and one out back with a double-barreled shotgun.  I’m sure we felt quite safe!

Dad was able to return some five days later when the new government re-opened the airport.  School resumed.  Life went on, albeit differently in the days to come…but that’s another story!  Let it suffice for today that I remember that morning so long ago…and some day I’ll write about how that event and the years after shaped my life in so many ways….

That ‘Still, Small Voice’….

Why is it a constant struggle to listen to that voice in my mind and heart?  I’m well into “middle age,” and my experience has taught me that I need to listen to that voice of reason, better, that voice of peace (at times seemingly ‘unreasonable!’) within.

Of late, I have been wrestling with a speaking engagement.  When I was asked, I was taken aback, wondering, “Why are they asking ME to speak?”  There was that quiet “inquietud” (unsettledness) in my spirit even then.  But, I have a powerful mind, and I soon began to rationalize and examine the possibilities of why I was asked to speak.  Is there something that I have, I know, that I really need to share with these people?  Is there something here that will help both them and me to grow spiritually?

Two weeks later, and I’m still as disquieted by the situation…if not more so.  Why do I resist that small voice within that says, “Jon, this is not the time and this is not the place.”  Ahhhhh.  Well, time has come to accept that voice…and to retire myself from the situation.  Thankfully, there are still weeks before that speaking slot has to be filled…and so today I retire.

Why don’t I hear…no, why don’t I “listen!”…to that small voice, that voice of God’s Spirit gently guiding me?  I have a feeling that it all goes back to that amazing egotism that pervades our being—that part of us that wants to be ‘in charge,’ and by golly, I’ll make my own decisions!  Oh, the pain and carnage we could avoid if we would but follow the voice of peace within.

God help me to hear, to listen and then to act upon what I’ve heard.  Amen.