Gratitude, Day 14—Places To Go; Things To See


I’ve purposefully been avoiding the things we so commonly include on a list of “what are you thankful for?” No profound reason. I just assume everyone already knows I’m thankful for friends and family, clothes and food, a roof over my head.

I almost broke that resolution to write about my parents, specifically about my dad because today would have been his birthday. I’ve put off writing that post for a long time, but I’m getting close to the point where I will be ready to put some thoughts down. But not yet.

Instead I want to write about how thankful I am that God gave me the opportunity to travel. I never expected to do so. I didn’t even want to do so. After all, I’d moved so often when I was a kid, I didn’t see the desirability of moving to a different country or of living out of a suitcase.

Little did I know what God had in store for me.

My first move outside the US was to Tanzania, East Africa. I know. Not a typical travel spot. Living in the small town of Korogwe, between the capital of Dar es Salaam and the tourist town of Arusha at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, changed me. I saw people in new ways—rich or poor, African, English, Indian, or American, they are people. We all laugh and get hungry, have a sense of curiosity, work hard, bleed, fall in love, love our children, and on and on.

I also saw that the US is not a place to take for granted, that there are wondrous sights in the world, that traveling can open eyes.

Well, it sure did mine. I wouldn’t have articulated this then when I was just seventeen, but I had a greater understanding of what God meant when He said He loved the world.

I could do a post on Tanzania alone and what I learned, but that was just the first.

Not so long after, I had a friend invite me to spend the summer in Mexico attending summer school at UNAM—a university in Mexico City. I went. From that short trip, I learned that I had an affinity for the Hispanic culture. Except I thought it was for the Mexican culture. I knew some Spanish, loved the people, the architecture, the history, the life style. So I determined to go back.

I applied to a mission organization to be a teacher at a missionary kids’ school. Instead of going to Mexico, however, I decided on a school in the country just south: Guatemala. After all, what could be different?

Well, everything!

OK, people still spoke Spanish, but the country is poor, the terrain is rocky, the land ringed with volcanoes. But there were still wondrous sights, and adventures to experience. There was history right in our backyard. There was paganism lived out on the steps of a church and on a high place outside of town.

Again my eyes were opened—surprisingly, more about myself than anything. I lived through a devastating earthquake and survived a bike accident that gave me a concussion that wiped a day or so out of my memory. I flew in a prop plane for the first (and hopefully, last) time. I spent Christmas eve worshiping in a little out of the way church, accessible only by foot.

I haven’t mentioned the trip my sister and I took when we returned from Africa, that took us to Athens and Rome and Switzerland and Amsterdam and London.

There’s also the two weeks I spent in Tokyo one Christmas vacation—a humbling experience when you can’t even read a street sign or a menu and you can’t ask a story clerk where the tuna is or how much the bananas cost.

Each of those experiences changed me and changed my worldview in ways that are impossible to explain or enumerate. But one thing I never imagined when I first began to travel: I have a wealth of information about other people and other places that I can use in my fantasies. The fantasy world of Efrathah where my protagonist goes, has a little of Tanzania, a little of my home state of Colorado, a little of Guatemala, a little of this place or that. What a treasure trove my travels have become.

So today, I want to say how grateful I am that God gave me so many varied places to visit and so many experiences to shape me. That He also has given me the opportunity to put what I learned into my stories is beyond great. I mean, when I got on the plane heading for Africa, I had no intention of writing fiction. I had no idea how writing journal entries or character sketches of the people I met would put me on a path toward fiction. Only God could plan and prepare me for such a thing so far in advance.

He’s great, and it is really Him I am thankful for in all these varied topics I’ve included in the Gratitude posts.

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Published in: on November 20, 2018 at 5:31 pm  Comments (4)  
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Gratitude, Day 6—Thanking God


Sunset on Fields near City

God is great
God is good
And we thank Him
For our food.

Amen!

I grew up “saying grace,” before meals. To this day I don’t know how that euphemism came about, and in our house, I’m not sure we used the term. I understood our prayer before each meal to be us offering thanks for the food.

By and large, however, it was a formality, though we didn’t use a formalized prayer. Despite the fact that there were lean years in my family, I was too little to realize how tight money was and how iffy our next meal could be. By the time I was in school, our “financially tight years” were behind us.

Consequently, not having known want, I didn’t have the overwhelming sense of gratitude that comes from receiving something you needed but had no means to acquire.

In other words, I mostly took my meals for granted. Not to the point of wasting food, certainly. My parents, especially my mother, saw to that. How could I, being so fortunate, throw away food that the poor children in China would be so happy to have. Didn’t I realize that they were starving and I was abundantly blessed?

Well, actually, I didn’t realize the abundance I enjoyed. Until I was seventeen. That year my family moved to Tanzania, East Africa, to a small town named Korogwe where there was a teacher-training college and a good road to Tanga. My dad, being a professor of education, took a position at the college, and I learned, among many other things, what abundance I had.

In Tanzania I saw most people walk barefoot or ride bicycles. Only the rich had cars. We had a car.

In Tanzania I saw men walk around with tee shirts so holey they barely had enough material to stay on their backs. I asked why people would bother to wear shirts like that which certainly had little function. Because, I was told, it was better to have a shirt, no matter how many holes or how big the holes, than to have no shirt at all. I didn’t own a single item of clothing with holes and I had many changes of clothes.

In Tanzania I saw children throw rocks and use sticks to knock unripe mangoes from a tree. They would rather have the unripened fruit than no fruit at all. I had the choice of whatever fruits and vegetables were in the market, all of which we could afford to buy.

In Tanzania ugali, made from cassava root, was the staple for most people’s diet. They pounded it into a flour and made a kind of thick mush they rolled into balls and dipped into broth. I enjoyed three meals a day, including a main meal of meat and vegetables, often with fresh, home-made rolls.

In Tanzania I saw sick children with runny noses a parent never wiped or distended bellies, some carrying bundles of sticks on their heads as they walked in the red dust of the African roadway. I had received a multitude of shots to keep away such diseases as typhoid and yellow fever, and I received a booster to protect me from the various forms of dysentery that plagued the African people.

In Tanzania I saw Masai children covered with flies, especially around their noses, eyes, and mouths, and they made no effort to brush off the insects, so used to their presence they had become. I slept under a mosquito netting and enjoyed a home with screens on the windows and on the doors. And still we had cans of bug spray and fly swatters.

There was more. That good road to Tanga, the second largest town in Tanzania at the time, which passed through Korogwe, made it possible to go to stores from time to time where we could buy some of the foods we would have considered staples in the US.

In Korogwe we enjoyed an abundant supply of water, no small feature in itself, but the water also made growing fruits and vegetables possible year round whereas in southern Tanzania, the dry season was very dry. People might find the only vegetable in their markets for months was cabbage.

I could go on. But the point isn’t to make a case for how poor Tanzania was or how much better Korogwe was than other parts of the country. The fact is, I could repeat a similar list for Guatemala where I spent three years or for Mexico where I spent a summer or for Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, even England and Japan where I’ve spent some short amount of time.

I could repeat the list for places here in the US, too.

But up until I was seventeen and spent that year in Tanzania, I didn’t realize I enjoyed abundance. I wore hand-me-down clothes and never owned a bike, though I wanted one desperately. My family drove used cars and bought furniture at Goodwill. We weren’t rich, but we had an abundance.

I think true thankfulness might not be possible until you realize what abundance you have. How many of us are thankful for our health . . . until we get sick? Or for our friends until they move away. Or for our jobs until we lose them.

Simple FieldNot having and then having, or having and then not having provides the contrast that wakes us up to abundance. Seeing others not have when we have can do the same thing. Or it can create a defensive, hording mentality—I never want to be without, like those people—in the same way that seeing others have when we do not, can create envy and greed.

All this to say, in our abundance, however great or small that may be, we have the opportunity to thank God for what He has given. Think about what Habakkuk said:

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. (3:17-18, emphasis added)

Even in want, there’s cause to exult in God. He remains the source of salvation, and that is God’s lavish provision for sinners who did not deserve His grace and mercy.

Thanks, and praise, and rejoicing are always the right response to God.

It certainly makes sense. If He is great, and He is, and if He is good, and He is, then why wouldn’t I give Him thanks?

This post originally appeared here in July, 2014.

My Most Unforgettable Christmas – A Reprise


California Sagebrush

California Sagebrush


Speaking of the trappings of Christmas as I did yesterday, I thought it might be fitting to do a look back to what I wrote in other years about the things that surround Christmas.

– – – – –

When I was seventeen, I lived with my family in Tanzania for a year. I’d never traveled much and really had no desire to live outside the US. But I didn’t feel particularly ready to launch out on my own, so I spent that last year “at home” in a country that gave no pretense to being a Christian nation.

It was an unusual feeling as the holiday season rolled around. No one was decorating for Christmas or playing carols. Not even Santa made an appearance.

We did our best to uphold our traditions. We conjured up a plant we called a Christmas tree–more like a large bit of sagebrush. We had no lights or ornaments or tinsel, so we imitated pioneers of old and made things to hang for decorations.

We started with strings of popcorn. This is not as homey and romantic as it first seemed. For one thing, the popcorn liked to break apart as much as it liked to have a string passed through it. For another, it was tedious work. But at last that poor, sad, drooping sorry excuse for a Christmas tree had something on it we could pretend to be decorations.

The best part truly was shopping. We had to travel the two hundred miles south from our town to the capital city of Dar es Salaam. We spent a day, maybe two prowling the stores to find gifts for each other–things that would be useful and memorable and beautiful. We wrapped our gifts in some paper I’m sure my mom found which came the closest to Christmas wrapping, then we piled them under the Sorriest Christmas Tree ever. I mean, ours made Charlie Brown’s tree look ritzy.

I don’t remember the details of that day. What I do remember is the love and laughter and joy we shared. The gifts weren’t about getting what we wanted. That was already out the window–we weren’t getting the latest or greatest or newest or most stylish. Rather, the gifts were an expression of the love and thoughtfulness each of us put into them. Like the tree, they were more on the sorry side–not ultimate treasures, not even diamonds in the rough. But getting stuff wasn’t the point. Exchanging expressions of love and being together was what we cared about.

I’m pretty sure we read the Christmas story—it was a bit of family tradition, and we probably opened up one present Christmas Eve. We may have awakened to the strains of Handel’s Messiah, too. There may have even been a church service that day. These things would be part of the norm, so I don’t remember them particularly.

But that tree was one of a kind, and I’ll never forget it. Nor will I forget living in a country that considered Christmas little more than another day of the year. For the first time, I got a glimpse of how a Christian heritage leaves an imprint on a culture.

Just like footprints, though, which wind or waves or time can erase, the impact of Christianity can fade unless one generation passes along to the next what Christianity is all about. Not hanging lights or singing carols at a certain time each year, mind you. In fact, the real impact of Christianity has much more to do with what happens before and after December 25 than it does on that particular day.

But it doesn’t hurt to create a memorable Christmas Day. Traditions are great, but what sets apart one Christmas from another is the unusual or different. Like a sad looking imitation of a Christmas tree. 😀

Published in: on December 13, 2017 at 4:54 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Thanking God


Sunset on Fields near City

God is great
God is good
And we thank Him
For our food.

Amen!

I grew up “saying grace,” before meals. To this day I don’t know how that euphemism came about, and in our house, I’m not sure we used the term. I understood our prayer before each meal to be us offering thanks for the food.

By and large, however, it was a formality, though we didn’t use a formalized prayer. Despite the fact that there were lean years in my family, I was too little to realize how tight money was and how iffy our next meal could be. By the time I was in school, our “financially tight years” were behind us.

Consequently, not having known want, I didn’t have the overwhelming sense of gratitude that comes from receiving something you needed but had no means to acquire.

In other words, I mostly took my meals for granted. Not to the point of wasting food, certainly. My parents, especially my mother, saw to that. How could I, being so fortunate, throw away food that the poor children in China would be so happy to have. Didn’t I realize that they were starving and I was abundantly blessed?

Well, actually, I didn’t realize the abundance I enjoyed. Until I was seventeen. That year my family moved to Tanzania, East Africa, to a small town named Korogwe where there was a teacher-training college and a good road to Tanga. My dad, being a professor of education, took a position at the college, and I learned, among many other things, what abundance I had.

In Tanzania I saw most people walk barefoot or ride bicycles. Only the rich had cars. We had a car.

In Tanzania I saw men walk around with tee shirts so holey they barely had enough material to stay on their backs. I asked why people would bother to wear shirts like that which certainly had little function. Because, I was told, it was better to have a shirt, no matter how many holes or how big the holes, than to have no shirt at all. I didn’t own a single item of clothing with holes and I had many changes of clothes.

In Tanzania I saw children throw rocks and use sticks to knock unripe mangoes from a tree. They would rather have the unripened fruit than no fruit at all. I had the choice of whatever fruits and vegetables were in the market, all of which we could afford to buy.

In Tanzania ugali, made from cassava root, was the staple for most people’s diet. They pounded it into a flour and made a kind of thick mush they rolled into balls and dipped into broth. I enjoyed three meals a day, including a main meal of meat and vegetables, often with fresh, home-made rolls.

In Tanzania I saw sick children with runny noses a parent never wiped or distended bellies, some carrying bundles of sticks on their heads as they walked in the red dust of the African roadway. I had received a multitude of shots to keep away such diseases as typhoid and yellow fever, and I received a booster to protect me from the various forms of dysentery that plagued the African people.

In Tanzania I saw Masai children covered with flies, especially around their noses, eyes, and mouths, and they made no effort to brush off the insects, so used to their presence they had become. I slept under a mosquito netting and enjoyed a home with screens on the windows and on the doors. And still we had cans of bug spray and fly swatters.

There was more. That good road to Tanga, the second largest town in Tanzania at the time, which passed through Korogwe, made it possible to go to stores from time to time where we could buy some of the foods we would have considered staples in the US.

In Korogwe we enjoyed an abundant supply of water, no small feature in itself, but the water also made growing fruits and vegetables possible year round whereas in southern Tanzania, the dry season was very dry. People might find the only vegetable in their markets for months was cabbage.

I could go on. But the point isn’t to make a case for how poor Tanzania was or how much better Korogwe was than other parts of the country. The fact is, I could repeat a similar list for Guatemala where I spent three years or for Mexico where I spent a summer or for Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, even England and Japan where I’ve spent some short amount of time.

I could repeat the list for places here in the US, too.

But up until I was seventeen and spent that year in Tanzania, I didn’t realize I enjoyed abundance. I wore hand-me-down clothes and never owned a bike, though I wanted one desperately. My family drove used cars and bought furniture at Goodwill. We weren’t rich, but we had an abundance.

I think true thankfulness might not be possible until you realize what abundance you have. How many of us are thankful for our health . . . until we get sick? Or for our friends until they move away. Or for our jobs until we lose them.

Simple FieldNot having and then having, or having and then not having provides the contrast that wakes us up to abundance. Seeing others not have when we have can do the same thing. Or it can create a defensive, hording mentality—I never want to be without, like those people—in the same way that seeing others have when we do not, can create envy and greed.

All this to say, in our abundance, however great or small that may be, we have the opportunity to thank God for what He has given. Think about what Habakkuk said:

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. (3:17-18, emphasis added)

Even in want, there’s cause to exult in God. He remains the source of salvation, and that is God’s lavish provision for sinners who did not deserve His grace and mercy.

Thanks, and praise, and rejoicing are always the right response to God.

It certainly makes sense. If He is great, and He is, and if He is good, and He is, then why wouldn’t I give Him thanks?

Published in: on July 9, 2014 at 6:16 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , ,

My Most Unforgettable Christmas


California Sagebrush

California Sagebrush


When I was seventeen, I lived with my family in Tanzania for a year. I’d never traveled much and really had no desire to live outside the US. But I didn’t feel particularly ready to launch out on my own, so I spent that last year “at home” in a country that gave no pretense to being a Christian nation.

It was an unusual feeling as the holiday season rolled around. No one was decorating for Christmas or playing carols. Not even Santa made an appearance.

We did our best to uphold our traditions. We conjured up a plant we called a Christmas tree–more like a large bit of sagebrush. We had no lights or ornaments or tinsel, so we imitated pioneers of old and made things to hang for decorations.

We started with strings of popcorn. This is not as homey and romantic as it first seemed. For one thing, the popcorn liked to break apart as much as it liked to have a string passed through it. For another, it was tedious work. But at last that poor, sad, drooping sorry excuse for a Christmas tree had something on it we could pretend to be decorations.

The best part truly was shopping. We had to travel the two hundred miles south from our town to the capital city of Dar es Salaam. We spent a day, maybe two prowling the stores to find gifts for each other–things that would be useful and memorable and beautiful. We wrapped our gifts in some paper I’m sure my mom found which came the closest to Christmas wrapping, then we piled them under the Sorriest Christmas Tree ever. I mean, ours made Charlie Brown’s tree look ritzy.

I don’t remember the details of that day. What I do remember is the love and laughter and joy we shared. The gifts weren’t about getting what we wanted. That was already out the window–we weren’t getting the latest or greatest or newest or most stylish. Rather, the gifts were an expression of the love and thoughtfulness each of us put into them. Like the tree, they were more on the sorry side–not ultimate treasures, not even diamonds in the rough. But getting stuff wasn’t the point. Exchanging expressions of love and being together was what we cared about.

I’m pretty sure we read the Christmas story–it was a bit of family tradition, and we probably opened up one present Christmas Eve. We may have awakened to the strains of Handel’s Messiah, too. There may have even been a church service that day. These things would be part of the norm, so I don’t remember them particularly.

But that tree was one of a kind, and I’ll never forget it. Nor will I forget living in a country that considered Christmas little more than another day of the year. For the first time, I got a glimpse of how a Christian heritage leaves an imprint on a culture.

Just like footprints, though, which wind or waves or time can erase, the impact of Christianity can fade unless one generation passes along to the next what Christianity is all about. Not hanging lights or singing carols at a certain time each year, mind you. In fact, the real impact of Christianity has much more to do with what happens before and after December 25 than it does on that particular day.

But it doesn’t hurt to create a memorable Christmas Day. Traditions are great, but what sets apart one Christmas from another is the unusual or different. Like a sad looking imitation of a Christmas tree. 😀

Published in: on December 3, 2012 at 5:44 pm  Comments (2)  
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