Celebration of a Life Well Lived (Close to Home – Part IV)

I received word Wednesday that my Grandfather had joined my grandmother in heaven.  I cried on and off through the course of the evening…sad because I miss him already.  Happy, because I knew he was ready to meet the Savior He had served for so long.

I saw him last just a few days before.  He lay in bed in the dim light of my aunt’s living-room-turned-hospice-care.  He was weak, his speech was slurring, and he confessed that he could not remember my name.  Even so, I could tell he loved me and was grateful I came though neither of us seemed to have many words.

I gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek and spent a few minutes plucking out hymns on the piano by his bed.

At 101, I think we would all agree, he lived a full life.  If you’ve read my other blogs, you have some idea of the incredible man my grandfather was, serving in World War II, then as a missionary in Japan, then as jack-of-all-trades in his rather long “retirement.”  He was fun, hard-working, and all-together inspiring.

We loved his annual visits growing up because they were always punctuated with lots of ice cream. But since they didn’t live nearby, I actually got to know him more as an adult than I did as a kid–making long drives to Jacksonville on the weekends.

We biked, talked, swam, danced, and played lots of dominoes as they plowed their way through their 80s and 90s.

Over the years, his hand gradually grew heavier on my shoulder as he walked.  Then eventually, walking had to be traded for a golf cart, a then a tricycle, then a motor chair, and finally, a bed.  Aging was difficult for a man who had always been so strong and independent.  Sometimes, he let it be known that he was done with this life and ready for the next.

My mother and four aunts have been amazing and over the last year have traded off spending weeks at a time caring for him instead of dropping him off at a nursing home to spend his final days smelling like moth balls and staring at a television set.  [They have set a high bar for my generation. :)]

After receiving the news of his passing, all of them gathered at my aunts’ house and I joined them for a few hours.  We missed seeing him in the next room, but though it was quiet, it was not an altogether somber atmosphere.  Most of what needed to be said had already been said. It had been a long goodbye.

In many ways (and acknowledging that the death of no two saints will be the same), I felt this is what it should look like–no regrets, no greed, no fighting, no despair. Just a life remembered.

Today was back at work; business as usual. This evening, I busied myself with cleaning my kitchen and scrubbing the bathrooms.  It was just another day.

But as I was cleaning, I came across a plastic box that Grandma had sent home with me after one of my frequent visits to Jacksonville. I thought it contained mostly legal papers she wanted me to go through so I had never really opened it.

That was the beginning of hours on my bedroom floor pouring through letters, articles, and even a few comic strips, photos, and newspaper clippings.

The clock was turned back seventy years.

My Grandfather has always been a good correspondent and a creative writer.  I have saved many letters he wrote me over the years.

But now, I found fascinating his letters written to his mother from war in 1946 and to my grandmother (his girlfriend) in 1947. Some handwritten in his masculine cursive on stationary supplied by the Red Cross; some typewritten on thin sheets of tissue-like paper.  Some still had envelopes stamped “U.S. Army Postal Service.”

He loved his mother. He loved my grandmother. But most of all, he loved Jesus.

Nearly every thing he wrote was woven with Scripture, his work, the gospel, and the lives of others around him. Even his love letters are beautiful expressions of a resilient faith.

In one letter he wrote of rescuing three Japanese injured in a motor crash. In another, of traveling 30 miles–by train and foot–to see comfort a desperate mother trying to care for her dying son. He wrote about purity. He wrote about burnout and the struggles faced by an Army chaplain and other chaplains who had effectively given up.

He kept a few clippings of articles he wrote–published here and there–and even kept a few of the prayer letters from the mission field (and even after their retirement). He wrote after he moved to Florida that he expected that he would fade away.

I remember seeing him the summer of 2001 and him commenting how he probably didn’t have many years left to live. He felt like the greatest failure of his life was that he had not led enough people to Christ.

I think he was wrong in both accounts–he had rich years left; and he has no reason to regret his life. He reached other teens as a high schooler; he didn’t give up as a chaplain; he pressed on as a missionary; and he didn’t fade away in retirement. He followed hard until the end.

And I’m so glad he wrote about it.

I hope to take his letters with me as we celebrate his life together on Sunday. But I also want to publish some of the highlights of his writings here…mostly for family but also for anyone interested in reading snippets of a live well lived.

Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift.

Living for Jesus (Close to Home – Part III)

The bright sounds of trumpet floated through the air calling children toward the station wagon parked in the middle of the village. Young children, and sometimes their parents, would gather around to hear Bible stories taught using exciting flannelgraph figures.

The ministry was thriving. Each of the three churches they started matured into and took on a life of their own. One in particular, Hamadera Bible Church, still exists to this day.

The Oestreichs added another daughter to their family, Jeannette—whom George named after his mother. Then another, Kathryn, whom George named after his aunt.

During their first furlough, when the family learned they would be adding a fourth child to the family, George promised his sister, Jeannette that she could name it if it turned out to be a girl. Unfortunately, he was traveling on deputation when Frances gave birth. She attempted to call her sister-in-law when their fourth daughter was born, but could only reach her mother-in-law. Mrs. Oestreich said she knew that Jeannette had planned to name the baby girl Marcia, so Marcia it was.

Unfortunately, she was mistaken; Jeannette wasn’t planning to name the baby Marcia. But it was too late.

The fifth child was a boy, George Washington Oestreich, named after his dad. And the sixth was named Lois, but her siblings called her “Penny.”

Not many women have six children and don’t get to name any of them. But, perhaps it goes without saying…Frances was a special kind of wife and mom.

The kids grew up going to a combination of Japanese public school, home school, American boarding school, commuting to American schools in Japan, and attending school in the US during occasional furloughs. This meant that they had pretty much lived their lives being considered “Gaijin” (which means “foreigner” or “outside person.”). Life was always changing.

One afternoon, Frances watched out the window as two boys followed young Jeannette down the street taunting her by yelling “Donguri me,” “Don gurime” all the way home; but once she reached the safety of her gate, she whirled around and yelled “Kitsune me!” (which meant “fox eyes” or “slanty eyes”) and then darted inside.

But perhaps it was for the best that they would never fully “fit in.” Home was not a town in Pennsylvania or in Japan…which meant that home was never a long, long boat ride away.   Home was where a close family became closer still.

During the summers, the Oestreichs would try to spend a few weeks with the chattering monkeys at Lake Biwa, a beautiful place near Kyoto. One summer, a friend gave them a boat that had only one small problem—a hole in the bottom. George did his best to fix it and it worked—unless, of course, you count the time that it sprung a leak in the middle of the lake carrying a load of extremely proper church ladies.

00242_s_15amfm4v2z0242_r.jpgFrances and her friends were none too pleased with the impromptu baptisms, but Frances shouldn’t have been too surprised. From the day at the altar, life with George had never ceased to be an adventure. Whether he was raising pigeons or dreaming up ways to make ice cream in a land with little refined sugar or dairy, George was always up to something.

Years flew by and one by one the kids left for college in the US. Their oldest child, Christine, and her husband came back to Japan as missionaries. Also, George, Jr, or “Gwo,” as he was called, returned to Japan for the summer of 1979 and spent time working alongside his parents. He was strongly considering returning to Japan as a missionary himself upon graduation from college. His best friend, Shuji, had been saved at a branch church “Midori Machi” Bible Church and was also considering full time ministry.

At the close of the summer, Gwo returned to Bob Jones and George and Frances began school themselves—teaching English and living for Jesus. They looked forward to being together again their kids the following summer during a well-deserved furlough.

Just weeks before their terms came to a close, the couple received devastating news. Gwo had been in a terrible car accident and died at the scene.

It was a blow to the whole family, but especially to his parents, who were not able to make it back in time for the service and burial.

Like most parents, they never expected to retrace the final steps of one of their children; especially their only son. He had been effectively forced off the road by a speeding driver. George even found the hood ornament from his son’s car in the tree that took his life.

They recognized the sovereignty of God through the pain, but it still seemed that his “homegoing” was premature. It was so easy to focus on the way that he had been robbed of life. He was never able to graduate from college, get married, make the ministry his own, or have a son to pass on the family name. It didn’t seem quite fair.

But George was no longer a “Gaijin.” He wasn’t just close to home; he was home.

Perhaps it was then George and Frances decided that their work in Japan was concluded. It was time to make their home in the US, closer to their daughters.

00310_s_15amfm4v2z0310Over their thirty three years of ministry, the Oestreichs had seen Japan transition from a war-torn nation into an industrious and modern society. It went from broken and bleeding to self-sufficient and proud. Despite the Emperors’ having admitted to the county that he was not, in fact, “god,” Shintoism remained firmly rooted in the society. And while many of the young people begin to reject the traditions and chains of this dead religion, they often turned to Buddhism or to nothing at all. While the need was still great, the door that had been wide open to the gospel was gently closing.

Still, they weren’t quite ready for “retirement” if that meant sitting around a house all day. For that matter, they had never owned a house. They rented a trailer and took jobs managing the trailer park— George in maintence and Frances in bookkeeping. The thrifty ways continued and so did ministry.

And their years in Japan continued to bear fruit. Although they were few, the Christians were faithful. George’s friend Shuji attended seminary at Grace Community and returned back to Japan to serve as senior pastor.

And, of course, they continued to use every opportunity to win souls to Christ. George listened to kids quote Bible verses in Awana clubs, he led Bible studies for inmates in a nearby prison, and he and Frances both wrote cards and letters to an ever-increasing number of grandchildren…who were spread all over the world.

One week a year he would go visit grandchildren in California, and during the summers they would make the trip back to Lake Shehawken. George would ride his bike, swim, and take peaceful rides in the canoe his father had bought him when he was twelve. Lake Shehawken was a peaceful, unchanging haven in a crazy, fast paced world. In the evening, soft strains of trumpet would drift across the lake. “Trust and Obey,” “Living for Jesus,” and other hymns and choruses were never far from George Oestreich…whether coming by trumpet, booming baritone, or a happy whistle.

When George was 80, the Oestreichs moved again; this time to Penny Retirement Community near Jacksonville, FL. This was officially “retirement” although the only thing that stopped was the paycheck. It was okay; they had always been prudent with their money. They were used to having a little income…and living on a little less.

They stayed active; George rode his bike, swam, gardened, played tennis and trumpet, did landscape work, and taught Sunday School and Bible Studies. As the 80s rolled into 90s, he complained that the folks in his Bible study were getting old and didn’t focus very well. But he stuck with it, noting some of the residents in the memory ward could often sing hymns from memory even when they seemed to have no other recall.

Grandma faithfully cooked and cleaned and managed the finances in addition to her own volunteering activities—sewing, arranging flowers, serving meals, and more. She kept up with the names and birthdays of the five daughters, sons-in-law, nineteen grands, grands-in-law, and non-stop great-grands (28 I think…at last count).

If their family had one complaint, it was that George and Frances were too far away. They took turns trying to convince the Oestreichs to move closer to family. But they seemed content to live their simple, slowing life in Florida where they prayed together every morning and played Dominoes every night.

They held out until the end of 2016. He was 99. She was nearly 98.

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And here is where I step into the story. Because I was there to help them with their final move.

It was not difficult because Grandma had reduced their lives to two rooms and, even then, did not seem attached to the few things they had left. They did not want to do long goodbyes. They did not want to do goodbyes at all.

I felt bad for them…although we wanted them closer and believed this move was for the best, I hated the thought of them leaving their friends. Of them having to start over at life. Of having to adjust to a million little changes from where the toothbrush would be kept to what meals would be like. Change can be difficult no matter what the age; I couldn’t really put myself in their shoes and understand what it would be like for two dear saints in their late 90s.

But when I asked Grandma if she was sad to leave, she said, “Wherever you go, you’ll have friends…if you’re friendly.” After years of being a “Gaijin,” she was no stranger to making friends. Again.

But I knew underneath her resolve, there was a realization that it would be hard to make friends this time. She was nearly blind, on oxygen, and she had outlived all of the folks who could identify closely with her life experiences.

As we pulled out of Penny Farms, I turned around to see my grandparents in the seats behind me embracing this new adventure the same way they had done all of the others…holding hands.

I smiled. She would not be lonely. Grandma’s most important friends were coming with her.

(Stay tuned for the fourth and final part – “Celebration of a Life Well Lived” coming soon.)holding hands

Fear Not, Little Flock

It was a beautiful evening and I was out for a walk—partly so I could enjoy the nice weather, but mostly so I could make my Fitbit proud of me.

It’s the little things in life…Namely, the apps, that make me feel like a smashing success or a dismal failure. While we are talking about apps, I thought you all were probably dying to know how my Scripture memory resolution was faring. (We are the better part of halfway through the year—believe it or not!)

And if you read my New Year’s post, you know I tried to make Scripture memory a priority and started two aid and accountability systems—Fighter Verses via the App, and Beth Moore’s SSMT Group.

Fighter Verses has been a good thing. It assigns a verse each week and has audio and even musical queues to help you learn the verses. It also has little review quizzes to help you to keep from flushing out previously memorized verses. So when I’m sitting on an airplane, I can easily be mistaken for the Millennial mindlessly playing Candy Crush, when, in fact, I’m madly reviewing my year-to-date Scripture.

If you’re interested in my mid-year review of Fighter Verses: Some of the Scripture songs are better than others and a few are downright annoying—especially when they do a looong musical intro, then rush through the hard parts, and then repeat, repeat, repeat the easy parts. But after having tried a few, I know how hard it is to put a verse to music word for word, so I’ve got to give them some respect.

I will mention though, that while at the beginning of the year my biggest struggle was trying to re-memorize previously memorized verses in a different version, Fighter Verses has made me step up my game. In fact, I stopped trying to keep up completely when they started cheating—putting 2, 3, or even 4 verses together for one week. That’s just too much for my little brain. Especially when they put all of Psalm 103 in one song. It was 22 verses in one four minute song. The passage was broken over seven weeks, but in order to learn it, I must have listened to it 150,000 over those seven weeks. I felt like a toddler with a new book.

[And I still messed up the passage when I tried to quote it to my three-year-old niece. She quoted about 20 verses to me in a row, so I tried to match her and I got tangled up somewhere and kept repeating and repeating like an old record player. I’d fire Fighter Verses except that I only paid them $2.99.]

Anyway, I decided to settle for sticking with one passage for two weeks (skipping one) when they pull a trick like that. The handy app lets you mark which passages you memorized so only they show up in your review bank. Works pretty well.  (I love defending an app from my own accusations.)

Thanks to Fighter Verses, I’m up to 40 verses this year, and I frequently listen to Scripture songs in the car, while straightening my hair, cooking dinner, or going on walks. It’s worth $2.99.

Anyway, so back to the lovely evening when I was out for a walk.

I was actually not working on my verses that evening. Nor was I having a pleasant time despite the agreeable weather and quiet atmosphere.

I was thinking about everything that I want and don’t have. I was meditating on my unmet desires and my fears. One thought led to the next and the next until—without even calling it to mind—my lips began to sing, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom…”

It was my memory passage for the week. And it just popped out. Singing it through took my mind to another passage, “If God spared not his own Son, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”  Romans 8:32

My attitude completely changed standing on a foot bridge in the sunshine and watching the limbs above me sway in the breeze. Your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.

My earthly father would want me to have good things…how much more does my father in heaven? And while my earthly father would work hard to give me the best he could, my heavenly father owns and rules the kingdom. His resources are limitless. And He gave His Son. What will He withhold if He didn’t stop at that?

The passage goes on to impart eternal perspective… “Sell your possessions and give to the needy. [Because there are so many with so much less!] Provide yourselves with money bags that do not grow old. With the treasure in the heavens that does not fade, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Luke 12:32-34

Fear not; put your heart in a place where it is eternally safe.

I don’t know how my evening would have gone had I not been in this Scripture Memory challenge, but I will volunteer that this was not the only time that a passage I’ve worked on has given me an insight or an attitude adjustment. Psalm 103 is full of nuggets of truth that remind us that God is a loving, forgiving heavenly father who fills our lives with good things. Many, many times it has been a lifeline for me. Maybe not 150,000 times. But still.

Before I close, I’ll also offer a quick review of the Beth Moore “SSMT” as well. Basically, this plan is biannual and it challenges you to choose 24 verses and tackle one each first and fifteenth of the month. You write the verses on a 3×5 card spiral and also share them as a comment to a blog each time along with hundreds (maybe thousands) of other women. She gives you two excused absences on the comments over the course of the year and invites you to a big party if you finish and can quote all 24.

I’m not planning on the party, but I did think it would be a good way to make sure I actually got the verses into my head well enough to make them stick. So I committed to SSMT too.

My honest experience: I’ve lost the spiral once already and started over…only to find the original one again. Did my best to get back on track. I’ve gotten behind posting verses a time or two (and used one of my excused absences) but I blame that partially on the fact that they have a somewhat confusing system on where and how you are supposed to post the verses. Even now, nine times in, I have to hunt around to try to find the right blog post or Facebook post to comment on. I’m not the best or the brightest, but I’m also not a complete dunce, so I feel like there is a little room for improvement there. Just sayin.

Anyway, so bottom line is, because of FitBit, I’m trying to walk more; and because of my Scripture memory resolution, I’m trying to work on Scripture when I walk…or anytime. And while they will probably announce in a few years that FitBits cause cancer (along with Goji berries and Chia seeds) I am confident that the time invested in Scripture memory has no harmful side effects and is good for so many things including dispelling the daunting fears of this little member of this little flock.

 

Episodes of Sunshine

 

In my last blog, I promised a 2017 list coming soon.  Turns out, today is as soon as I could.

So here’s the list.  Things I’m thankful for.  Not exhaustive and not in any particular order..

1. Costco is carrying Lindt dark chocolate.  Thank you.  Why did that take so long?

2. My large…VERY large…collection of original artwork.  After years of being an Awana leader, Sunday School teacher, first grade aide, babysitter, and aunt (now of 18!), let’s not forget missions trips…I now have a home museum in a box.

I would put my collection up against that of anyone’s.  At least in quantity.  I haven’t kept it all.  I just couldn’t wihout renting a self storage unit.  But just the same, I have a bunch of treasured creations from little people everyone.  And I love it!

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3. While I’m talking about my art work, and, because I found so many while sifting through artwork, I’m thankful for all the notes friends have written me over the years.  If you ever wrote me a meaningful note, I probably still have it.    You may not even remember it, but I probably read it last week and cried.  Because, sometimes, that’s what I do when I’m happy.

4. My garage.  And the ability to get in my car in the rain with all the junk I’m forever toting around getting soaked in the Sunday morning downpour.

5. Sundays… NFL… Patriots.

6. Hope.

I’m convinced hope is the most painful of all virtues.  Because it doesn’t let me give up when I want to give up.  Won’t let me quit when I want to quit.  Makes me hang on when I want to let go.

Hope is so stubbornly stubborn.  Like a kudzu vine it keeps coming back.  Like a pitbull… once it clenches its teeth, it’s just done.  Decision made.

Despite all of the frustrating miscarriages of hope here on earth; I’m thankful for the highest calling of hope: to anchor us to heaven.  Hope will attach our soul to the life to come in unforgettable, unquenchable, unyielding confidence that makes all of life’s disappointments not matter.  I’m thankful for hope.

7.  Flowers.  Especially roses.  But also tulips.  And daisies.  I can’t seem to grow any of the above, but I think they are beautiful just the same..

8   Kara Tippetts and the legacy she is still passing on a few years after her transition to heaven.  She knew a think or two about faith and hope.  I started to blog about her a while back, but I lost my work in a computer glitch and I concluded it just wasn’t meant to be.  I probably couldn’t do it justice.

But I’ve read all of her books and I just thought: wow.

9.  Stuart…all my family actually.  But Stuart is the newest member.  I got to hold him on Christmas when he was just a few hours old.  He is a keeper.

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While we’re at it, here’s Riley…giving me a private ukulele concert.

 

I’d better stop here before I get started…remember…I have 18 and they are all the best!

10. Weather and the variety of seasons…and the fact that even some of the grayest of days have moments of grace and episodes of sunshine.

Thank you, Lord.

Last Day of School

I remember my high school graduation. The song my senior class sang. The note I tried to hit and didn’t quite make. The hat I threw that almost knocked me unconscious on the way back down. The speech I gave…last because I’m a “W.” Which also meant I was at the front of my recessional. Unfortunately, no one followed me off the stage and I ended up marching down a very long aisle by myself. I tried to smile enough to make it look like I did the right thing and it was the rest of the class marching down the wrong aisle on the other side of the auditorium.

I knew that night that school wasn’t really over for me. I was already studying so I could earn another paper certificate that said I knew something. Four more years to go. But I was ready for the next challenge because if I had learned nothing else over the prior twelve years, it was what hard work looked like.

Because I was born lazy. Really lazy.

I didn’t like chores. I didn’t like school. I didn’t like to work. Or anything that looked, smelled, or sounded like work.

I didn’t like to exercise. I didn’t like to do math. I didn’t like to clean my room or even make my bed.

So God gave me two very critical character building influences in my life that really boil down into one: Homeschool. And my mother.

And that’s what this story is really about.

My mother was a stay at home mom as long as we were home. But she worked. Yes, goodness knows, she worked.All 1982

My mom raised kids, taught us school, ran an Awana club, ran a homeschool group, cooked, cleaned, paid bills, and taught us and a lot of other girls so many other things…sewing, painting, decorating, driving, and so much more.

I must have made her a little bit crazy because I was not a fan of work. I didn’t like to sweat. I didn’t see any point in doing the same type of math problems day after day, page after page. I didn’t really think I needed to know what happened on this planet 5,000 years ago or even 500 years ago. I didn’t see any point in running around an empty track. And I hated, hated, hated practicing piano.

If I got a lecture about racing through assignments, cutting corners, and being sloppy, I got 1,000. How I hated that lecture.

And I was only one of five kids.

So…here’s the thing: Day after day, my mom trained me and my siblings. She taught us to study, to do chores, to practice music, to memorize Scripture. She taught us to work. Yes, goodness knows, she taught us to work.

After years of persistence by my mother, I made it to graduation. But she had two more kids to go. Five more years of homeschool.

Two more kids who didn’t like doing the same math problems day after day, page after page. Who didn’t really think they needed to know what happened on this planet 5,000 years ago and who hated, hated, hated practicing piano.

When my brother—the youngest—graduated, Mom had been a mother for 26 years and had been homeschooling about 23. She deserved a break.

So here’s the other thing: After all that, my mom went to work.

She started teaching kindergarten, but she didn’t stay with the half day of letters and sounds long. She was turned into a high school science teacher. Physical Science. Biology. Physics. Microbiology. Life Science. Chemistry. Biochemistry. It varied from year to year, curriculum to curriculum. Just when she got something down, it would change.

Over the next twelve years, my mom worked as hard as the US President. She studied. She taught. She wrote tests. She designed PowerPoints. She helped kids prepare science projects and hosted science fairs. She drove back and forth to school on her days off to turn eggs in incubators. She took pictures of birds and flowers that she could use for future presentations. She built robots. She cleaned up roadkill so she could use animal skeletons for future classes. Yep, true story.

Now things were different. She wasn’t the principal. She wasn’t the parent. But some things were the same: she was generally dealing with lazy students who didn’t give a rip about the pictures of flowers and birds.

So, it was a good thing that she is a hard worker. It was years of long days, short nights, and super short summers. Years of commitment. Years of pouring her energy into lazy kids who didn’t want to learn science…and a few who did.

She got paid. But let’s just say, she didn’t do it for the paycheck. That would have been insanity. Okay, it was insanity.

But that’s my mom. Did I mention she is a hard worker? Insanely hard.

And after years of teaching and training, she has made an impact. If on no one else, on me. I no longer think it’s futile to do pages of math problems or study history of the world or practice music. I no longer race through projects and cut corners. Some of that comes from time and maturity, but most of that maturity came from godly influences. Like my mom.

This week marks my mom’s last “last day” of school. She is retiring from her job as a full time teacher. I couldn’t be more excited for her. Or more proud. She has invested so much more than science in so many lives. They may not all appreciate it now, but they have all learned something.

And I know this: if they passed one of her classes, they worked hard. It was far more than robots, hatching eggs, and handling animal skeletons. It was hard work.

Pages of problem solving.

No racing through projects; no cutting corners.

And today, I’m as proud of my mom on her last day as she possibly could have been of me on mine.

Thanks, Mom. Job well done. Now, enjoy a long, long summer!

Day 2: It’s Really Complicated

Tuesday morning came a little too soon after 24 long hours of travel. But I was pleased to find at breakfast that Israeli food was not as bad as I feared. They even had chocolate bread. I’m pretty sure that was Jesus’ favorite breakfast food too.

Our guide showed up around 9:00 and we headed to our first stop in Cesarea–the port town on the Mediterranean–first built by Herod, but conquered and rebuilt many times in the centuries following.

We quickly caught on that one of the hardest things about touring Israel is trying to keep your chronology straight. Biblical history covers thousands of years, but then we’ve also had thousands of years since…can make for some mental gymnastics trying to keep your centuries in order.  There is just no logical way to do the tour chronologically, so I’ll just try to take it as it comes. But I just have to say, it’s complicated.

I can also understand better why there is so much conflict over land. It has belonged to everyone at some point. In Cesarea, for example, The same turf was occupied by Canannites, then Israelites, then Romans, then Israelites, then Muslims, then crusaders (Catholics)…then…I lost track. Each built a city on top of the last which is why they have to dig so far to get to the Biblical sites.

Our guide is not a Christian, but he specializes in Christian history and tours so he knows a lot about the Bible. A lot. And clearly, he is accustomed to knowing more about it than the average Christian tourist. Kinda shameful.

While we were in Cesarea, he read to us the story of Peter and Cornelius — where God instructed Peter to take the gospel to the Gentiles.  It took on new meaning looking across the port town, theatres, shops, and all the culture that came with the gods of that era.

After Cesarea, we headed to Meggido.  This is a city on a hill that was originally built by Canannites. It was later taken by Joshua and the Israelites. During the days of the kings, it was developed–probably by Solomon.  There are only ruins no higher than your knees, but it includes the remnants of stables, temples, and the fascinating city gates–the hub of the city.  Over the years, it’s estimated the town has been rebuilt more than thirty times.

The most remarkable part of the city was the water supply. The town at the top of the mountain was fed by the spring at the bottom. For security reasons, the citizens couldn’t let the water supply be outside the city walls, so their means of diverting and accessing the water supply was absolutely astounding.  Somehow, they hand dug 187 steps down into the lime stone and got the spring to run into the town. It was quite a feat and made me appreciate what the chore of getting the water would have been like for the average girl. The local Planet Fitness.

This place is not just known for its past–it overlooks the plains of Armeggedon–where we believe the final battles in world history will take place. I don’t plan to be there, but if you think you might be, stay in shape. 187 steps is a long way to carry up your water.

As we passed Mt Carmel, Gilad had us read the story of Elijah–and another one I’ll probably meIMG_0021ntion later. Pretty cool to put places with stories. And pretty strange to learn so much about the Bible from a man who doesn’t really believe it. It comes alive a lot more here and you realize how rich the Bible is as a history book even to those who don’t see it as anything else.

Our final stop of the day was in Akko–another city with a long and sordid past but mostly revolving around the Middle Ages and crusaders. The fortress built by the Hospitalar Knights is incredible as are the tunnels under the city. Put perhaps the best part was walking through a town dating so far back, yet still growing and active (though Arab, not Jewish). It was full of cats, markets, and plenty of dirt and junk; but also screaming of history and surrounded by breath taking views of the Mediterranean.  Words don’t quite do it justice. It was quite a place.

Tired feet took us back to the van. The seven hour time difference was getting the best of me and everyone else (except Stephen). It was fitting that the Jewish days end at dusk because I could tell mine was fading with the sun too.

All in all, it was a great day, and I’m looking forward to learning more about this complicated place with so many stories to tell.

 

Day Six: The Big Day

Today is Friday.

The Big Day. The culmination of years of prayer, planning, giving, and hard work. Our team has worked incredibly hard to get the facility as nice as possible. Today is the climax our our trip–the dedication of Hope.

We were a bit slow getting together for our morning announcements and devotions. But despite our slightly ragged beginning and the cumulative exhaustion of the week, everyone opted to leave for Hope right away despite being given the opportunity to spend a few extra hours at the hotel and come later.

The team had already accomplished a lot. 54 sets of bunk beds. Counters and  for the kitchen. Shelving for the pantry. Bookcases for the library. Power throughout three buildings. Plumbing for 7 sinks, 12 showers, 12 toilets…two stoves…and much more. And every building has been swept out at least 13 times. Just for good measure.image

There is always more to do…and the men were determined to get as much as possible done this last day before the kids finished school and joined us for our dedication celebration and dinner.

So that was the plan.

No clinics. No kids. All hands on deck as we got as far as we could making tables, benches, and cubby holes for flip flops and belongings. Then final set up and clean up and fun time with the kids–giving them their sponsor gifts and watching their excited faces as they saw their new home for the first time.

Yummy Gummy and Light & Shine rolled out of the resort something around 8:30. I was hoping this day would be a lot more profitable than the day before. There were a number of items on our shopping list to finish putting up fixtures and furnishings.

Somewhere in the course of the morning, I heard some rumblings about the day being a Bhuddhist holiday. But it was no big deal. We aren’t Buddhist.

Light & Shine was softly paying one of its three songs in its selection when we started noticing that we sure weren’t moving very fast. We were inching our way down the same roads we had been traveling all week. But rain the night before had flooded many of the streets and we found ourselves amazed at the cars forging the flooded streets. Some people were even bathing in the street. A few were washing their cars–using the street as a bucket.

A few times, we were concerned that we would get stuck, but we shouldn’t have been. These bus drivers are something else!

Finally, we reached what seemed to be the other side of the flood. That was encouraging. But if we thought we were going to be able to pick up the pace, we were wrong. Time ticked by with us just sitting in the road being passed by people on foot. It was a mess.

The busses were close enough and the pace was slow enough that we were able to go back and forth between the busses. It was then that we learned that the traffic mess had something to do with the BHuddhist holiday. School was out. People were out. It was a mess.

Pastor Paul, the linchpin of our local contacts also kept calling excitedly. There was some kind of intense storm due to hit Rangoon later that day. It was going to be even more of a mess.

We started doing the math in our heads. It was already 11:00. We had been on the road three and a half hours already and there was no end in sight. The road was combination parking lot and swimming pool. After dropping us off, the busses would have to return to pick up the kids. And then after the dedication celebration, they would have to reverse the process for us before taking us to the airport–a drive that by itself could prove to be an all day affair in this traffic. What a mess.

Our flights out Friday night and the wee hours of Saturday morning suddenly seemed to be approaching rapidly. Our work time was disappearing rapidly. In fact, the only thing not moving rapidly was us.

We hated not being able to see the kids again and not being there when the kids saw Hope for the first time, but between the ridiculous traffic and the impending storm, it was becoming increasingly clear that our plan was just not going to work.

So…We had to cancel the celebration and figure out how to turn busses around in the crowed street. It was about noon.

I was disappointed. But I didn’t feel bad for myself as much as for the kids, who had been looking forward to this; for the construction team who had worked so hard all week without getting to see much of the kids; and for the rest of the team who had traveled to the other side of the world to be ready for this big day.

But there didn’t seem to be any easy way out of this and the best plan seemed to be to stop the traffic and turn Yummy Gummy and Light & Shine toward the barn. As it was, we didn’t expect to get back until around 3:00.

The Agape home was near the resort, so we took the time to stop there, give the kids our gifts, and play with them for a few minutes. They sang for us in English–“Shout to the Lord!” and we were reminded by innocent voices of the incredible power of our God. We didn’t know the day would go like this, but He knew. “I sing for joy at the work of your hand. Forever I’ll love you, forever I’ll stand…nothing compares with the promise I have with You.”

It was a tough afternoon. It was tough leaving with projects undone that we really wanted to finishIt was tough not having the closure of watching everyone get to spend time, take pictures, and give gifts to their sponsor kids. It was tough not having the climax of watching the kids see their new home. It was tough feeling like our best efforts in planning ended in a mess.

But the maturity of this team came through this afternoon in incredible ways. It wasn’t what we wanted, but people accepted the circumstances and the decision and made the best of a day that turned out exactly how God–in His wisdom–knew it would. To me, it was a mess. To God, it was a rainy Friday, but not the least bit outside of His control.

We finished by praying with the kids, then loaded back on the bus to leave Agape. I tried to let go of the regrets and rejoice in the work of His hand. The girls were crying. We said our goodbyes. We took some photos. We hugged. We waived. We hugged. We waived. We took photos. We said goodbye.

And I thanked God that even though we couldn’t take the kids to Hope, we were still able to share with them the Hope we have as an anchor of our souls. These kids know about storms. They know about floods. They know about unpleasant circumstances. So more than anything, after each time we come, I want them to know a little bit more about Hope.

P.S. – the worst news is, I lost track of the score, but I’m pretty sure we lost. I saw two huge rodents scurrying around my room in broad daylight today.  Guess I didn’t make much of an impression.

Day Five: Women at Work…sort of

It went something like this. All week, Geno–our videographer–has been trying to get a quick interview of me and some of our other team members. All week, it just hasn’t worked. I had told him that first thing in the morning would be best. I’m not good on camera, so at the very least, I’d like to do it when I’m clean, fresh, and looking a little more like a Remember board member and a little less like a refugee.

So this morning, before we did anything else, we tried to set up for an interview.  But, alas, our chosen location of the open air breakfast rendezvous proved too noisy because of the busy street right in front. Oh well, there would be time later and if I looked like a drowned rat, it would be so much more authentic.

When we arrived at Hope, I was given the important task of “a quick run into town” to get some fresh pineapples for everyone–including some local talent who were helping finish the trash task we had started yesterday.

I recruited Gino to go with me to keep it safe. Then I found the bus driver. Then I hunted for a translator to tell the bus driver where to go. The translator suggested we take the truck rather than the bus since the truck driver knew the local area better.  Probably a great idea since it can be difficult to maneuver the tight corners and narrow streets lined with bamboo huts selling various trinkets.  Our bus driver has proved it can be done, but no need to push it. Literally.

So I hunted down Curtis who said the truck was needed to haul trash so I better stick with the bus. But…I needed to be sure to take a translator with me.  The only person I found who could speak English couldn’t go but he could call someone else who could go. We would just have to wait for him to come from Faith.

While we were waiting, Geno thought we should give the interview another try.  With the generator running, it was too loud near the buildings, so we took a plastic chair and headed toward the front of the property. But just as we got there, and got set up, someone started running a weed eater. So…we dragged the chair, myself, Gino’s camera equipment, and my blue bag of everything important to me–through the orchard to find a quiet place for an interview.

It had rained pretty heavily the night before so the fire ants weren’t out in force, but I still rather gingerly picked my way through the muddy grass in my flip flops while dodging leaves and Jack fruit.   We reached a quiet spot and arranged the chair, the camera, and the microphone. Geno opened his mouth to ask the first question and a drop of rain hit.

In seconds, it was a steady pelt. We ran for the shelter of the trees, but it was basically like trying to use a dozen spatulas as an umbrella. Just not a great plan. I hunted around in my trusty blue bag for plastic to cover the camera with. And we tried to wait it out  –more just so we could feel like we accomplished something.  But after a while, not only was I getting passed the drowned rat stage, but Geno’s equipment was going to get ruined. Foiled again. 

Pastor Khar, the leader at Faith needed to speak with Curtis and I, so the newly arrived shopping translator, the bus driver, and my escort disbursed so I could have the fun of finding them again in a little while. So much for the quick run into town.

It was nearly noon by the time we finished and I re-recruited the bus driver, the translator, Geno, and Mary Lou for our quick run into town. Unfortunately, the bus was stuck.  In an ordeal that nearly took out the generator, one wall, and the rest of Rick Jackson’s non-gray hair (and involved four men pushing) , we got the bus turned around and we were on our way.  I had some other shopping to do, but this was just the quick run…we would do the real shopping later.

We have two busses–the Yummy Gummy and Light & Shine. We were in Light & Shine, but apparently, Yummy Gummy was feeling left out, because the next thing we knew, it was me, the escort, the translator, Mary Lou, the bus driver, the back up bus driver, and the back up bus and its two man crew threading our way through the narrow streets to get pineapple.      Seizing the moment, I did bend the rules a bit to buy the trash cans, brooms, and a few chairs. The translator did come in quite handy and just to make sure everyone had something to do, they loaded the chairs in the Yummy Gummy.

We did manage to get back to Hope with enough daylight left to make another stab at the interview. Because of sound issues, we had to head back to the orchard. The sound issues followed us when our Burmese help  turned on a radio to entertain the trash pickers. As an aside–We’ve been treated to our share of Burmese music during our daily rides in Light & Shine.  We all have at least one of the three songs on the rotation memorized.

So here we were–me in the chair; Geno with the camera; and the soft background music wafting through the damp air.

Why do you do this? He asked me.

Fair question. I knew I must be quite a sight. Wet, dirty, and a bit frazzled–feeling like my day wasn’t amounting to much.

Why do I do this?

I didn’t say it well. Maybe I can’t put it into words that do it anything like justice. But I do it for Zaw U. I do it for Kyi Yom. I do it for Naw Li.  I do it for Friday.  I do it for Hope. I do it for Jesus.

And I do it for me. Because it’s good for me to pick up trash. To go pineapple shopping. To sweep floors. To move beds. And to pick up beads.  Some days it doesn’t look like much. But maybe that’s the perfect thing to help me understand these people so I can love them a little bit more.
     P.S – the rats and mice have figured out this rat thing. The score is now 8 – 8.

Day Four: Men at Work

Picture this: 30 plus construction workers on one site. Picture those workers living at that site for weeks. Now picture that in Burma…a place where cleanliness is next to godliness…right at the bottom of the list of priorities for human existence. 

Then let me back up and tell you about Hope. 

Remember’s work with persecuted Christians in Burma actually started about 10 years ago with Freedom house orphanage.  But after the children were relocated (and some killed) about five years ago, we began supporting Agape Children’s Home–a place for children of Karen and Kachin believers who needed a home. Some of these kids lost their lives directly due to Christian persecution. 

After Agape came Faith.  We supported about 50 more children at a second location.  

After meeting the kids, it was love at first sight. After visiting the facilities, not so much. No room for beds, no ventilation, no place to play soccer. Flooding at Faith. Over development around Agape. It was time to move. 

And that is why we needed Hope. God has blessed, and over the past few years, He provided the funds to purchase seven acres and build a new concrete structure that will not flood in anything short of Noah’s flood. 

This week is a major milestone in the  dream of Hope coming to life!  And God has put together a truly remarkable team of skilled craftsman. I’ve seen less hard working hills of ants. Today, in fact. 

The generator was already humming when I arrived at Hope this morning. Men were measuring. Cutting. Carrying. Pulling wire. Building stoves. Framing cabinets. Installing plumbing.  Assembling beds, beds, and beds. All of you with husbands and sons over here should be very proud. I mean that. 

   

  

  

 Since I don’t have any skills, I busied myself by grabbing empty cement bags and filling them with trash.  There was an endless supply of empty cement bags, the downer was having to dig them out of the mud and then flick off the worms. While getting eaten by fire ants.  But I really didn’t want our kids to start out life at their new home living inside a perimeter of construction garbage.  

It probably didn’t look much like a dream come true at that moment. Years of fundraising, planning, praying, working (and even days of going barefoot!) and here I am…finally at Hope stuffing empty bottles, cigarette packs, plastic candy wrappers, and various articles of muddy clothing into cement bags while slapping at fire ants and dodging rain drops. 

But that’s the stuff dreams are made of. Lots of praying. Lots of giving. Lots of hard work.  Lots of picking up garbage. 

Of course, without the blessing of God–all of this amounts to nothing.

So…thanks to everyone who has had a part in making this dream come true.  Those who travel and work; and those who stay and pray. 

In just two days, we plan to bring the kids to see their new home. And we have already been telling them about the people in the United States who love them and the Lord enough to sacrifice to make Hope a reality.  

But in the meantime, there is a whole lot of work to be done.  And a whole lot of prayers to be prayed. And a whole lot of trash to be bagged.  Unfortunately, I got fired from that job and I’ll have to find something else to do tomorrow. Bummer. 

   
P.S – this is Wade. Electrician and rat Cather extraordinaire. The score: Wade 6, Rats 3. 

Day Three: Me at Play

The kids. A lot can be summed up in those two words. That’s why Remember supports the Faith and Agape homes. That’s why we come. That’s why we bring doctors. That’s why we are building bunk beds. That’s why we send money every month. That’s why we have Hope…But I’ll tell you about that in a later blog. 

The children’s ministry contingent of our team was at Agape for day three. The kids welcomed us with fanfare and sang even sang for us–One of the most beautiful choirs I’ve ever heard. Our phones and cameras fog up in the humidity making it difficult to get a good shot…or maybe it is just my eyes fogging up. 

  It was a little tough getting started. Our translators had not arrived which makes for a lot of fun. I’ll remain very greatful for Naw Li and a few other kids willing to exercise their mad English skills. 
We have a large team this time and everyone jumped in and made fast friends of the children.  For me, there was a good mixture of old and new faces–some we’ve seen grow into handsome young men and women. 

Because of the clinic set up, we moved our activities into the boys dorm– a thatched building with a patched floor that covers the mud and standing water below; and a thin roof that seems to amplify the sound of the beating rain.  It is hot in there–even with the windows open to let in the breeze and squares of light.  I cannot wait to see these children go to Hope–but I’ll tell you about that in a later blog. 

We played. We painted. We tried to communicate. We watched in despair as puzzle pieces fell through the cracks in the floor. We decorated bags. We painted boxes. Then I looked at the clock. It had been about an hour. Time to get creative!

We made bracelets. My, but we made bracelets!  There was not a soul among the 40+ kids that didn’t seem to enjoy twisting colored bands into bracelets.  To all of you who donated bands and looms–God bless you!

I believe we accomplished our goal of sharing the love of Christ and encouraging these kids to seek Him. Or perhaps that is never a goal you accomplish. Just a field you keep farming. 

Time seems to fly and crawl when we are there and we reached the end of our visit all too soon. If you hate long goodbyes, never come with us to Butma. You will say goodbye, get pictures, give hugs, waive. Then do it all again. Then get on the bus. Then do it all again.

    If we were allowed to take them with us, there would not be any kids at Agape children’s home. Or Hope for that matter…but more on that in a later blog. 

  
P.S–if you followed the last story, just want you to know the score is now Wade-5, Rats-2.