Month: October 2011

First Boat to Tarshish

It took our church van three and a half hours to traverse twenty-five miles.

I guess you could call it a road. On more than one occasion, gripping the back of the seat in front of me to keep from catapulting across the van, I wondered how the missionary driving could tell where the desert wilderness stopped and where the road began. Part of that road/desert/rocky wilderness trail went straight through the semi-dry riverbed of the Rio Grande. No bridge necessary.

The next day, I was sitting in the shade of a shack with a group of young Mexican children, reading them the story of the Resurrection–in halting Spanish. Time had stopped, and I couldn’t say if five minutes or an hour had passed since breakfast. My Spanish was terrible. But there I was, with a group of eight Spanish-speaking kids, hanging on my every word to hear the story of Christ’s death and the empty tomb.

I was paranoid. Self-conscious. Not dressed like the kids or the missionaries–not speaking the language well–not comfortable. I felt like I had thrown myself into a foreign land, at the mercy of people who could tear me to pieces if they wanted to.

“If I had known where God was going to take me, I would have been on the first boat to Tarshish,” a missionary told my theology class today. I wonder if I had known, if I would have taken a boat to Tarshish rather than embarrass myself in a stuttering attempt to read a Spanish story. Later, would I have taken a boat to Tarshish rather than teaching that first English class as a volunteer? Rather than–many young writer’s worst fear–putting my words out there for public scrutiny?

I’m glad I don’t know ahead of time what God is going ask of me. I may have missed the most amazing blessings from God if I had known to run. Thankfully, He’s given me enough sense of adventure to want to wade through the mud of the Rio Grande again. To want to figure out the complexities of the English language. To want to go to a foreign land to tell others the good news.

Whatever He’s not telling me now… I’m game. Still learning to trust Him, whether I’m in a comfortable dorm room sipping hot tea or getting my boots dusty in the Mexican desert.

4.36 hours of sleep

This morning I put coffee in my oatmeal.

I didn’t realize what I had done. I even took a moment to feel just a little proud of myself for remembering to hit the correct button on the cafeteria coffee dispenser.

I know from experience that if you hit “decanter,” what was once a normal coffee mug becomes a fountain of flowing hot water and yet-to-be-dissolved chunks of instant coffee as the “right” amount is automatically dispensed. Onto your shoes.

That coffee dispenser and I have endured a shaky three-year relationship. Once, after an unfortunate overflow incident, I boycotted the machine for two weeks.

This morning, I had gone through the line to retrieve an oatmeal packet and poured it into my cereal bowl when I approached the beverage wall and purposefully hit the “manual” button.

I was halfway back to my table when I realized what I’d done. The brown, splotchy sludge in my cereal bowl then began to mock me. So much for breakfast. Orange juice would suffice.

“Happy Friday!” the person working on the tray return line yelled when I returned my tray and bowl of sludge.

Happy Friday, indeed.

Knowing Sorrow

It had been five years since she’d seen Daddy.

For the first year, she’d watched the mailbox every day, always hopeful for an envelope addressed to her in his distinctive all-caps lettering. Sometimes she’d get a birthday or Valentine’s Day card. Sometimes a teddy bear. Those were happy days, the days when she got a card or package from him.

“I love you, Sunshine,” the cards would say. Happy birthday. Merry Christmas. Where was he every other day of the year?

Sometimes, when she felt like crying, she’d pull out all her cards and letters and look through them all at once. Late at night, by the glow of a little Victorian desk lamp, she’d sit in the middle of her bed, lean against the wall behind her, and open the Ziploc baggy of words Daddy had written.

I miss you so much.

I can’t wait to see you again.

I love you and think of you every day.

Why didn’t Daddy answer her letters? Why didn’t he answer the phone when she called? It had been six months, two years, three years, four. Where was Daddy?

Letters from Grandma: “Dear love, at least no one has cancer. Cancer would be worse. At least this way we’re all alive, all healthy.” Something inside her screamed that she’d rather die than watch her family betraying itself from the inside out.

Fourteen years old, Christmas Eve. Late. It had been almost two years since she’d heard from Daddy.

Christmas lights sparkled through the window, shining from the neighbors’ homes. Fourteen years old, she knew sorrow. No birthday card from Daddy this year, no Christmas note. She hadn’t sent one to him. It hurt more to reach out and get nothing back than not to reach out at all.

She sat in the middle of her bed, again surrounded by words and promises of years past. She put a Bible on her lap, but she couldn’t read the words. In the dim light of her lamp, she could see the words written in those familiar all-caps letters and she knew what it meant to hurt.

Past sobs, past words, she bowed her head and watched as tearstains wrinkled the pages of the Psalms she’d been trying to read. Sparkling lights, silent tears, years of a sorrow older than she should have known. It would be a long night.

Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord.

–Psalm 27:13-14