Tuesday, October 29, 2013

On Pumpkins and Memories

Her name is Mariama.  Yama we call her.  And she knew about life and smiles and play.  She taught me not to worry about getting my clothes dirty, to open my hands to one and all, and to smile with reckless abandon. 

She was just a toddler when I lived in her compound for two years.  Just beginning to talk and experience the awe of new words.  "Cry" was a word she shared when I left village for good.  She knew my name and could say it as we were both called Mariama.

As she sits with the pumpkins above, it's clear that she was always up for a picture. 

When Halloween came my first October in village it seemed fitting to introduce my family to the joy and creativity of pumpkin carving.  The Gambians did grow pumpkins after all - green ones!  They tasted good and were a treat in any rice or coos dish.  Part of serving in the Peace Corps is the cross-cultural exchange.  I learned the Wollof language.  I worshipped with my family.  I worked in the fields.  I celebrated holidays with them.  I cooked with them.  I shared pictures and books of my home and family.  We laughed a lot.  We sat and shared stories.  We sat in silence. 

And with Halloween came pumpkin carving.  With the challenges of language and my limited pumpkin carving skills, it was a feast for the eyes as we indulged in the fun of bringing our pumpkins to life.  We cut and drew pictures.  We picked out the seeds.  We scared one another with our faces.  It was Halloween. 

And when everyone carved and was content with their new creations we lit candles and placed them in the pumpkin.  The night was alive not only from the moon and the stars this night, but from our pumpkins. 

We looked proudly on what stared back at us.  For a few moments we stood in awe. 

Then Yama's mother asked me, "What do we do with them?"

"We just look at them," I say. 

"That's it?"  She looks back quizzically with a hint of concern. 

"We need to eat them.  We can't have them go to waste." 

And there in that moment, in my attempts at sharing across the cultures and bringing Halloween to The Gambia, I was face-to-face with my own culture's excessiveness.  The cultural lens in which I was raised celebrating Halloween and gorging on candy and carving pumpkins only to have them smashed days later came head to head with the people of The Gambia.  A people who never waste anything - from vegetables to animals, to pieces of scraps, to plastic bags.  A people whose children share one piece of candy between four or five friends.  A people who continually opened my eyes to see the abundance in my midst.  To be reminded to use that abundance for sustenance and not destruction. 

In the end, we did have the night lit with pumpkins we had carved.  I have great pictures from my cross-cultural sharing.  There was plenty of laughter.   

And the next night we feasted on pumpkin. 


Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Psalm for Sedona

The gifts of this past October were numerous.  Blessings abounded through travel and time and sun and beauty with my mother visiting Sedona, Arizona.  I give thanks that my mother delights in travel and that her sense of adventure and curiosity remains strong.  Traveling and opening ourselves to other cultures and peoples and experiences is in our bones.  So in honor of my mother and our fabulous trip to Sedona, I share a few pictures and God's words over our experience.  

Lord, you have searched me out:
O Lord, you have known me.  
You know my sitting down and my rising up; 
you discern my thoughts from afar.  

You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways.  
Indeed there is not a word on my lips, but you, O Lord, know it altogether.  

You encompass me, behind, and before, and lay your hand upon me.  

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain to it.  Where can I go then from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I climb up to heaven, you are there: if I make the grave of my bed, you are there also.  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there you hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast.  

If I say, "Surely, the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night," darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike.

For you yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb.  I will thank you because I am marvelously made; your works are wonderful, and I know it well.  


Friday, October 4, 2013

Hands Up!

"For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; that I know very well."

A new baby in the community brings joy and celebration.

So there we sat in the living room.  Mom, dad, big sister and little sister.  Only two weeks old this new life is full of potential and possibility.  Hope.  This grace, and this reassurance that God doesn't give up on the world.  It's days like these that I'm in awe of being a pastor.

It's days like these that I fall down humbly before God.

After holding this new life and hearing about transitioning from a three person family to four, it was time for a prayer and blessing.  Time to give thanks to God for health and life and grace.  Time to pray for growth and laughter and smiles for years to come.  Time to stand in awe of God's creation.

Three-year-old big sister was present and after some time inviting her to place her hand on her new baby sister for a blessing and getting no where, I asked her to put her hands in the air.  "Lift your hands up to give thanks to God."

She smiled.  And the hands went up.  Prayers ascending.  Hope in the air.

"For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; that I know very well."

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Cole Camp Musings

Cole Camp, Missouri.

People ask, how do you like living in a town of 1,000?
So, what do you think of your new home?
Are you settling in?
Do you like small town life?

My answer keeps coming back to sounds.  For a simple yes doesn't carry with it the beauty of what it is to live among these people and in this town and immersed in this history.

You see, it's the sounds that remind me where I am.  It's in the sounds that I experience a history deeper than I can imagine and richer beyond understanding.

It's in the sounds that I can join my voice and amen to a life worth living.

So let me tell you about Cole Camp, Missouri.  Let me tell you about what I hear.

I hear the sounds of children playing across the street at the Water Tower park (only the water tower is no longer standing and I have never seen the water tower, yet even I refer to it as the water tower park).

I hear the sounds of cicadas and bugs and critters and howls in the night.  And I realize that I am just a small part of God's creation living amidst such diversity in the country.  

I hear the sounds of church hymns that play from the neighboring church each morning at 8, again at 12, and then to bring the night to a close at 6 and 8.

I hear the church bells that toll at the death of a community member.  Each bell for a year of life lived and loved.

I hear the shrills and joy of children at the Cole Camp World's Fair as they ride late into the night and try their hand at winning a large toy.

I hear cheers for floats in the parade - filled with flowers and hours of care.

I hear the sounds of German songs as the choir sings throughout the streets.

I hear tractors and golf carts and hellos to friends and strangers alike.

I hear and I listen.

This is but a glimpse into the orchestra of life in Cole Camp, Missouri.


I also hear the silence.

And the still small voice of the One who speaks our names in the wind and calls us into community.