Friday, April 29, 2011

Pt. 3 - I'm a TCK...and my Kids are Too!

So, I was born in south Alabama...moved to Guyana for four years, then to Grenada for eight years...and 1982 rolled around and we moved to the US. The plan was for me to do a year or two of high school to prepare me for American university, and then for Mom and Dad to go back to the mission field where they would open a new work on the island of St. Lucia. Life does always go as we plan.

We had arrived in Atlanta, Ga, where the Briarlake Baptist Church had allowed us to live in their mission house. The location was great--across the street from the church, a few blocks from Lakeside High School. Dad was to take a position at the Georgia Baptist Convention center in their annuity department...and Mom was going to just go on being Mom. Shortly after we arrived, I even landed my first job...at the church...working on the grounds crew. Since the church was big--taking an entire block--there were grounds enough to care for!

One of the things that the then-Foriegn Mission Board required/provided was a medical checkup after those tours of mission service. I just had a cursory look, and all was well. Mom and Dad had more extensive and intensive tests...and something came back not quite right on one of Dad's tests. So, more tests.

I suppose I'll never forget the day. I came in from work at the church for lunch...and the results were in. Cancer of the liver. Surgeries planned. Not a great prognosis. That was August...and I watched my father waste away over the next eight months...sick from chemo-therapy...weak from surgeries...until May, when he finally died, a shadow of his former self. He fought...hard! He spent time with me...good time...but not enough. Not his fault--mine. I wanted to escape, not see him like that. I suddenly had to go out with my friends a lot more...or study in my room.

Funny...I remember clearly two of our last conversations: one evening we were sitting in the den, the TV room, watching something inane (most of it was and still is), and a commercial came on. We muted it. Dad was in a recliner with a swivel base, and turned to me out of the blue and said, "Jon, I love you so much...." My dad didn't talk like that...and I didn't know what to do with it. I mumbled something like, "I know, Dad" How many times I've wished I could re-live that one, stupid moment...so I could say, "I love you, too, Dad" and could go over and hug him and he would know it was true and real and deeply felt.... But, past is past. Thankfully, after he died he visited me in some dreams and I was able to tell him then.

The other chat I recall was sitting out on the front stoop of the mission house--somewhere we almost never went. But, it was a warm, sunny Spring day, so Dad wanted to sit in the sun. I was glad to do so with him. For some reason, we started talking about motorcycles. Yes, motorcycles. I guess they've long been a part of our family--we took one to G'da in 1975...and got another in1980 for me. My brother Timothy has had several, and my brother Jeph had one that he and I shared a good bit. But, anyway, Dad and I talked about my getting a motorcycle someday. I was looking at a Honda CM200--a little street cruiser...and Dad was saying, "Yes, that might be a good idea....something to think about for next school year...." I was thrilled that I was having an honest-to-God "man-to-man" chat with my Dad and that he was encouraging me to do something that others might have thought 'dangerous' or something.

Dad died in May 1983...and my life would never be the same. Having one's father die when he is 17-years-old is hard enough...but add to it that I was still newly arrived in the US, without direction, close to graduating from high school to attend college (an appointment to the Air Force Academy, no less!)--oh, what an even more convoluted mess life had suddenly become for this kid!

One of the Scriptures we hold to claims that "we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose" (Rom.8.28 NRSV). In hind-sight, I can see this...but at the time, I hated God, I hated the world, I hated the US--and I wanted nothing more than to return to Grenada and lose myself there.

I must say that Dad--in my now-distant recollection--was nothing but hopeful and faithful through it all. I was more like Job's wife, thinking he should just curse God and die. But, no...he remained faithful, studied the Scriptures, prayed. I've found notes, scraps of paper in his Bible, from this period of his life...and he was hopeful, faithful, hoping for healing, trusting in God. I should have taken a clue from him...but, no, I had to go another direction.

I began to search in every OTHER place--philosophy, Hinduism, Buddhism, anything! After all, I had prayed to God for his healing, and nothing. In fact, I remember one night lying in bed praying, asking God to let me have all of Dad's pain and nausea for a day or two so he could just have a freakin' break!! And...nothing. But, my searches and question among the world religions and philosophies brought me the same--nothing.

Mom got a job at the Georgia Baptist Convention Center in their Public Relations department--a job MADE for her. I entered my senior year of high school and had decided to attend college close to home (Shorter College) so Mom wouldn't be left alone. I didn't get the motorcycle...got a Dodge Colt instead. My friends at the church, especially Tommy Houseworth, were my salvation in this time of being undone.

One evening, I sat in the den, in that same chair where I was when Dad told me he loved me. I looked over on the end table, and there lay a Bible. I picked it up. After staring at it for a bit, I said to God, "Okay, you got one more chance. I'm going to read this...the New Testament part...and if you reveal yourself to me, I'm yours...." I left the rest unsaid. Some days later, somewhere around Ephesians, I realized that God is real, that this world is a broken place--and that the brokenness is not God's doing!--that God does love us and wants the best for us...but best of all, God does not leave us walk through these shattered lives of ours alone. John Wesley said it well at the end of his life, just before he crossed the veil--"Best of all...God with us." Amen to that...and best of all, God is with us.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Pt.2.5–I’m a TCK…and My Kids Are, Too!

As I thought about life in G’da (Grenada) today after writing this morning, many more memories came to mind that I want to put on ‘paper’:

Walking the beach below the Cooke-Yarborough house, along Mosquito Bay; the swing from the tree behind the house that went out so high over the hill-side; the shack-shack tree in front of our house where I would sit in the breeze for hours; throwing darts and playing ping-pong for hours in the garage…with Andrew Minors, Peter Reeves, Gregor Phillips, Jackie Evans and more; making black-coral jewelry; ‘hunting’ with our modified air-rifles—shooting the few hapless doves…and then actually cleaning, cooking and eating them; catching fish for weeks on end…and finally three of us (Andrew M, Jeph and me) frying 67 fish and eating them all (well, some scraps we threw to our cat, Charlie); making kites; hearing “Oh What a Night” day after day on the Minor’s ‘new’ reel-to-reel player…at full-volume; finding the old single-car barge that washed up after a storm…outfitting it with a makeshift mast and a sail (one of Mom’s sheets); diving (snorkeling) around the rocks…and out at the reef; hanging out with Probie, Rachel and Gracie on their veranda; running over to Calivigny Island with the Minors for a picnic; moving from the Cooke-Yarborough House to the Barclay’s Bank house on the Lance-aux-Epines side….

Grenada 228

Running in the mangrove swamps with my dog Ginger; hanging out with Richard Franco; riding my Honda CT-110 to school every day; practicing my self-taught karate in the front yard of our house; spying on Frances Taylor as she walked home from school; sitting out on the rocks at the end of Lance-aux-Epines beach…completely lost in space and time; befriending the bartender at the Calabash Hotel…and getting all the “left-overs” from the blender…learning what a “rum-punch” is the hard way; happy when the German tourists arrived…since they usually went topless!; going down to the boat yard to see the yachts; swimming around the bay and being invited on the yachts for a rest or a snack; the cows in the pasture…and how they moo-ed for days after Mr. Evans had the mamas and babies separated; the lizards that were in every room, watching with one eye my every move….

vol3_0148

Foods like…flying fish, fresh tuna, fried plantain, oil-down, callaloo soup, Greek-style macaroni, cristophine with cheese sauce, bok-choy, cou-cou, fresh paw-paw, fresh mangos, stew-chicken, sorrel, lime-squash, fresh lime-aid from the tree in our yard, sugar-apples, damsels, marmi-apple, fresh coconut…and many more that I’ll remember later!

Grenada 616

School at Berean Christian Academy; Mr. Bob and Ms. Brown…patient but firm; Mr. Thompson teaching us that it’s “better to give your wife a good blow than to take your anger to the car where you could die!”; Margaret coming and telling me she was ready to “blossom”; Bobby and I leaving school to run an errand for the principal…and coming back in time for the dismissal of classes; playing football down on Tanteen Playing Field; buy “snow ice” for snacks; Pastor Milton teaching us in great detail about the Israelites in Kadesh-Barnea (but I never understood why?); the other MK’s…and how we tired to “out-Grenadian” one another; Poo-Poo, Bampsy, Scribe, and all the great friends at BCA.

vol1_0224

Singing at church…songs filled with joy and at full volume; Dad preaching…always a sermon that made sense and pulled us in; Terry, Louise and I sitting in the back during evening service…all squished together and loving it (Terry, she liked me more! ha, ha); youth outings to the beach below the Islander Hotel; lying in the hot sand…and feeling the stress just flow out; Impact 76, 77 and 78; helping with mission teams; ‘translating’ from Grenadian English to American English; swimming at Grande Anse Beach; sailing with Davo in Terry’s ‘mirror dinghy’; having youth in Davo’s apartment…and hearing Amy Grant for the very first time; doing puppet/muppet programs at the schools…and seeing the children absolutely fascinated; going to the Richmond Hill Prison with Dad for Bible study with the prisoners—seeing men who were physically locked away but whose spirit soared freely by faith; meeting Leon Edwards—the man who stared it all.

vol2_0839

Amazingly, God has used all my foolishness, my experiences, my friendships and my growing moments to mold me into who I am today.  There are few if any moments that I’d ask for a “do-over”—life was good…and my memories there carry me until this day. 

Grenada 140

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for taking me there…for following God’s call in your lives, and in so doing, enriching my life beyond measure!!  (Oh, sure, I’m a cultural mess now, but I’d like to think that’s a good thing!)

More to come….

Pt.2–I’m a TCK…and My Kids Are, Too!

So, we finished up four years in Guyana, South America—my “first” second culture.  Now, just so you understand the TCK, we’re call “third culture” kids because our first culture (birth or home culture) mixes with our second culture to produce some weird concoction that is now a “third” culture.  Follow that?  Just wait—it gets even more complicated for me!

Guyana—the only English-speaking country in South America, a country with large Muslim, Hindu and Christian populations, a large land area with a small population (less than a million!), a country both modern and stone-age.  It was a great place to spend my childhood—I was largely oblivious to whatever dangers, but old enough to enjoy a rather care-free life.

Then, at the end of 1973, since the Guyanese gov’t refused to renew visas for missionaries, my parents had to turn elsewhere…and it wasn’t too far away.  After a year-and-a-half furlough in North Carolina for Dad to do masters degree no.2, we moved to Grenada in the West Indies, the southern Caribbean.  I was nine-years-old when we arrived there…and it was to be the most formative place in my life.

vol3_0147

Grenada is a small island—12 miles wide and 21 miles long.  The west coast is calm and lined with beaches; the east coast faces the Atlantic and tends to be more rocky and rough.  The interior of the island rises to some 2800 ft. at its highest point.  Thanks to the volcanic origin and mild climate, the land is green with life.

vol1_0031

Life in Grenada was paradise.  Oh, I had to go to school, but it wasn’t too difficult.  My usual day went like this:  up at 6:30am…into my uniform…on my little Honda off to school…back home by 2pm…lunch is ready (flying fish, callaloo soup, cristophine with cheese sauce, mmmmmm)…a little rest, maybe some homework…the 416 steps from our veranda to Lance aux Epines Beach below our house with my dog at my side…wander the beach…go out on the rocks…back to the house…a light dinner…some reading…sitting on the front veranda with my parents chatting…and in bed by 9:30pm.  Next day, do it again.

vol1_0277

Grenada…where we lived through the Revolution of 1979.  Grenada where I first “fell in love” (with a German girl I met on the beach!).  Grenada, where I had my first real friends—Bobby and Terry.  Grenada, where music first entered my life—all the reggae tunes that still float through my mind.

vol3_0148

My best memories—1) visiting Bobby up in Mt.Moritz for the weekend: running through the bush together, sleeping by the river, catching fish and crayfish…throwing them in a pot with breadfruit and blugga…and eating right out of the pot—all five of us, arm-wrestling his mother’s boyfriend—an officer in the People’s Revolutionary Army, seeing his hidden weapons, eating damseljam we had made.  2) Diving on the reefs with my brother: the dingy we bought and fixed up, buying the Yamaha motor that would carry us out to the reefs, spending hours in the water in Lance aux Epines Bay—angelfish, urchins, barracuda, nurse sharks, rays, amazing corals; catching fish for our seawater aquarium, arriving home absolutely exhausting and sleeping so deeply.  3) Going up to the mission churches with my parents: packing into the Toyota Crown (tag 1283), passing through St. Georges and squeezing two or three more in with us, up the west coast highway and then turning off onto a ‘road’ that ran up the mountain, through small villages, past the rum shops, to a little house a the end of a path; going in, finding a seat, and then having others arrive…packing it in—the mix of smells of the mountains, of people who had worked the mountain all day, of the fishermen…singing, often too slowly, usually not exactly on key…the quiet during the sermon, the expectation, the joy; exploding out of the building after, everyone greeting and laughing and us kids running around…or looking cool for the cute girls who were too shy to say “hi.”

vol1_0378

To this day, Grenada is who I am at the core of my being—when I get angry, I fall into the patois in my mind;  when I am happy, the songs of the islands come to my mind; when I am depressed, I play the music of the islands; when I dream of a perfect world, I dream of my Grenada (“my” Grenada because she has changed much in 30 years); when I think of the best vacation, I think of Grenada; the best foods? Grenadian.  If I ever had money to burn, and could live ANYWHERE in the world, I would go back to Grenada.

vol3_0168

I lived in Grenada from 1975 – 1982, from ages nine to seventeen…some incredibly formative years.  As we prepared to leave in the summer of 1975, I cried myself to sleep almost every night.  New things awaited me in the US, time would prove that being in the US was the best thing, but for that young fellow at that time, God never seemed so unjust and unkind.  But, then again, that 17-year-old boy could not see the future…!

vol2_0694

(More to come….)

Eat Well and Exercise—Body and Mind

While I am entering that category of folks that occupy middle- to old-age, what I discuss here is for all ages. 

Eating well:  This refers to two aspects of eating.  First, as is obvious to most people with a little education, WHAT we eat is important.  For a healthy life, we need a balance of fruit, vegetables, grains…and a good source of protein.  Some time back, I published a list of the best fruits and veggies one can eat.  The best grains are whole grains, high in fibre—whole-grain rice, whole wheat, oats, quinoa, etc.  But, it’s as important HOW we eat.  If we rush through a meal, it affects our digestion—a fancy word for how we ‘process, absorb and make useful’ our food.  Most people think that digestion begins when the food hits the stomach, but this is not so.  Digestion begins when we put the food in our mouths.  The saliva in the mouth begins to infuse the food with enzymes that begin the digestion process—what we do with the food in our mouth affects the process in the stomach.  Mind you—a swig of tea or water may soften the food for us, but this does not take the place of a good, thorough chewing.  (Personally, I choose not to drink anything with my meals—it slows me down and ensures a good start to that process!)  If we chew slowly, chew thoroughly, we increase the positive  processing of the food in our stomachs…and affect what the body can do with the food the rest of the way down the line.  So, yes, eat good foods, but eat them well!

Exercise:  I’m beating a dead horse here…but, if we don’t exercise, we’ll be that dead horse—huge and dead!  It doesn’t take a lot of time…and it pays amazing dividends.  Just 30 minutes of sweat-producing exercise a day, 4-6 days a week, and we feel better, look better and live better.  The easiest thing is to learn about exercises, talk about exercises and think about exercising.  The tough part is getting off our butts and doing it!  But, nothing takes the places of doing it.  I recommend exercising outside of your house or apartment—we all need a break from that space, and it’s all too easy to be interrupted by a phone call or a visit.  So, find a community gym or walking track, find a route to walk or run in your neighborhood, and do it!  Remember, this needs to be aerobic exercise—walking, running or swimming.  I shy away from running just because 1) it hurts and 2) I’ve seen too many folks with running injuries.  While I love swimming, walking is my preferred exercise because I can do it in any weather, almost anywhere and at anytime.  In fact, one of my favorite sayings is, “Humans are made to walk.”

Feed and Exercise the Mind:  Read a good novel, read a history, watch a nature or travel show, work cross-words and Sudoku puzzles.  Again, even if it’s just 30-minutes-to-an-hour a day, these sorts of things keep the juices flowing and/or the imagination active.  Studies indicate these things can ward off some aging issues.  And, besides, it’s fun!

So, I write all of this to remind myself…and you…that we have to take care of this body of ours—our bodies and our minds are actually positively affected by these things…and, therefore, our spirits as well.  Live well, live slowly, live healthily…and we may just live longer and live better!.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Saturday Morning…

Just another Saturday morning…nothing of note, nothing special.  The sun shines brightly over Monterrey…but then, it shines brightly almost every day.  And, according to the weather forecast, we’re in for a warm one—mid-90’s.

This morning, I make pancakes for my son and me—some sort of multi-grain concoction that I’ve put together.  And, I made some syrup as well…home-made, with maple flavoring.  The butter is getting soft.  In just a bit, I’ll go start putting it all together so Andrew and I can enjoy a hearty breakfast.

As I look out over the mountains south of our city—the sparse, rugged mountains, I long to escape the people, the sounds, the press of the city.  Sharing this small bit of earth with some 5,000,000 others gets a sort of tedious at times…and I hear the vast emptiness of desert, forest, wasteland calling to me, asking me to step away for a while.

I believe it’s not by chance that Jesus, Moses, Abraham, John the Baptizer…even Paul…had some of their most intense spiritual experiences in the wilderness.  It’s not by chance that the early Christians moved into the desert (“the Desert Fathers).  And, it’s not by chance that when we find ourselves in great wastelands that we feel so small, God so large…and we find a clarity of thought that often escapes us in the busyness, clamor and stresses of the city.

Perhaps this year I can find an escape, a place to get away to…far from the sprawl and screech of city life, a place where I can go for a day or two or three to escape from it all and find that seemingly illusive clarity that my heart and soul so craves.

Meanwhile, it’s Saturday morning…and the pancakes beg to be made.  So, I press on in the grueling realities of life here and now.  Well, perhaps not “grueling”…but certainly the realities of this present life.  Chao.

Friday, April 1, 2011

“A Lack of One-Eyedness”

One of my favorite authors is the Catholic priest, Henry J. M. Nouwen…and one of my favorite books by him is The Genesee Diary.  While there are many really good lines and impacting passages in this book, one paragraph in particular managed to force me to see myself—it was a mirror for me to see my own life:
“Now I see that I was all mixed up, that I had fragmented my life into many sections that did not really form a unity.  The question is not, ‘Do I have time to prepare?’ but, ‘Do I live in a state of preparedness?’  When God is my only concern, when God is the center of my interests, when all my prayers, my reading, my studying, my speaking, and writing serve only to know God better and to make him known better, then there is no basis for anxiety or stage fright.  Then I can live in such a state of preparedness and trust that speaking from the heart is also speaking to the heart.  My fears and my resulting fatigue over the last three years might well be diagnosed as a lack of single-mindedness, as a lack of one-eyedness, as a lack of simplicity.  Indeed, how divided my heart has been and still is!  I want to love God, but also to make a career.  I want to be a good Christian, but also have my successes as a teacher, preacher, or speaker.  I want to be a saint, but also enjoy the sensations of the sinner.  I want to be close to Christ but also popular and liked by many people.  No wonder that living becomes a tiring enterprise.  The characteristic of a saint is, to borrow Kierkegaard’s words, ‘To will on thing.’  Well, I will more than one thing, am double-hearted, double-minded, and have a very divided loyalty.”  (Nouwen, Henry J.M. The Genesee Diary. New York: Doubleday, 1989. p.76.)
How many of us has Nouwen captured in these words?!?  Oh, to have that “single-mindedness,” that “one-eyedness,” that “simplicity"!! 
During my morning walk today (which has become the best therapy, quiet-time, source of ideas in addition to keeping me physically healthy!), I realized that much of my own sense of unease of late has been a lack of clarity.  Rather, I have this tendency to lose the clarity that comes from time to time.  Why do I lose that clarity??
Well, certainly for all the reasons that Nouwen mentions—my own egotistical and selfish desires for career, success, popularity…and in my case, a variation on this last theme—popularity.  I have in me that wonderful, ingrained, Southern desire…to please others.  I want to do what makes others happy!  And, I’ll add quickly that bringing others joy and happiness to others is not a bad thing…but it becomes bad 1) if we allow it rob us of our own happiness and 2) if we allow it to derail us from following Christ.  I plead guilty—I often lose sight of my call, my goal, my mission in life in my attempts to please others, in my attempts to make everyone happy, in my desire for every situation to be a “win-win” situation.
So, my prayer and focus this day is to name again my own passion and call—I am a Christian pastor/teacher—and my hope is to firmly place a mental post-it note in the front of my brain that I see day in and day out, reminding me of who I am, what I am to be about, what I am to strive for.  Perhaps, I will someday, by God’s grace, develop that “one-eyedness” that will allow me to serve God faithfully, to minister to others from my strengths…and to avoid a life that is “double-hearted…double-minded” and of “divided loyalty.”  Amen.