Friday, June 30, 2006

Home Alone

Although I consider myself something of a loner, I am never alone. In fact, yesterday afternoon was the first time I've been alone in this house, and we've lived here for seven months. Here's what I noticed about being alone.

1. Sesame Street did its job: The PBS show has raised questions among educators over what effect bites of colorful, animated information has on the attention span of children. I've spent so many years keeping my ears open to the cries and observations of little ones that I seem to have lost my ability to concentrate on any one task for more than twenty minutes at a time. I spent the afternoon bouncing from one little job to another and never finished anything.

2. Our house has a voice: I haven't had a real chance to listen to the house. It pops and crackles and creaks just like a good home should. I just usually can't hear it over all the other activity.

3. My suspicions were correct: "Not Me" does a lot of damage around here. "Not Me" leaves dirty dishes in the sink, drops cheerios under the table, and leaves popsicle sticks in the grass. "Not Me" apparently left with the kids since that little rascal didn't do any of those things yesterday.

4. I might not be a loner any more: Of all the things I noticed yesterday, one of the most striking was how sleepy I was in the silence. Being surrounded by noise and activity keeps me on my toes. Could it be that I do my best concentrating when surrounded by chaos? Surely not.

I miss my kids. A break is fun, but 24 hours is about enough.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Deliver Us From Evil

On CNN this morning, I watched a video clip about a new documentary called Deliver Us From Evil. What makes this film different is that the main subject, former Catholic Priest O'Grady, and admitted pedophile, speaks out for himself.

He blames, in turn, his parents, the church, and the parents of the kids he abused for giving him opportunities to continue in his sin.

His tendency to point his finger at others for his own heinous sins is not at all new. Wasn't that what Adam and Eve did when they committed the very first sin?

"She made me do it."

"But the snake said..."

Sin is ugly. But wouldn't it be better if we all admitted when we did something wrong, if we sought forgiveness instead of absolution, if we poured our energy into repentance instead of making excuses?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Disobedient Characters

I'm trying to get through the climax of a novel I'm writing and I'm getting fed up with my characters. They won't follow my lead.

Mike is supposed to be incensed about a betrayal, but he's more interested in eating donuts.

Mo should be running for her life, but she'd rather sit down and have another flashback.

Spencer is supposed to be slipping into a coma, but just refuses to get sick.

I meant for Zach to be a suspicious character with a shady past, but he's just too darn likeable.

And Allie, bless her heart, was supposed to be a main character, but she doesn't like the attention and she managed to hide in the background for most of the book. I've got to coax her out some how.

If only they would listen to me and stop taking on their own personalities, I might be able to finish this book.

Okay, guys, let's get back to work.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

What do we know?

I'm reading a book right now, *A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. Each chapter goes something like this:

For hundreds of years, scientists believed this. Until about 1972, when they realized that the this they'd always believed was completely bogus and something else is really the truth. Or, at least, it might be. They're not quite sure.

The book (and history) follow this pattern when discussing outer space, sub-atomic particles, earth's atmosphere, earth's core, dinosaurs, and more. And I haven't even reached the chapters on life yet.

Isn't it amazing that after thousands (or billions) of years, we humans really don't fully understand anything?

Isn't it comforting to serve a God who does?

Friday, June 23, 2006

An Invitation to Visit Gary

When I think of the most giving, the most selfless and humble people I know, Gary Hooten is definitely near the top of the list. He's one of the first people we met when we moved back to the States... and he's a mechanic. After meeting him, I decided we need to make friends with a mechanic wherever we live. If I had to count the number of times we went over for dinner and Gary and Edwin ended up under the hood of our car fixing something while Shelli and I were inside gabbing or stamping or scrapbooking, I think I'd start to feel a little guilty.

Partly in thanks for all the free and deeply discounted work Gary's done on our car, and partly just because he's the kind of guy who never asks for anything for himself, I offered to design and post a web page for him. As of last night, the "Work in Progress" sign is officially down and Gary's site is up and running.

Do me a favor. Check it out. And drop him a line of congratulations and encouragement if you'd like.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Threads of Life

Even as I question the senselessness of Cyndi's death, I find occasion to rejoice in a moment of God's grace.

Louise Koonce, missionary in Togo and one of my dear teammates when I was there, is alive and well. Anyone who has driven in Africa knows that every time you get behind the wheel of a car, you take your life in your hands.

Louise was driving through Ahepe after a day in Lome, following one of the huge, old trucks that distributes cement from the cement plant in Tabligbo to points all over West Africa. These trucks tend to be poorly maintained and out of alignment. Often, when driving directly behind one, you can see the back tires and, skewed to the right or left, the front tires.

The truck Louise followed yesterday must have snapped an axle. Two rear wheels broke off at once and bounced directly toward her. She managed to avoid one, but the other hit her vehicle square on. She's all right, just banged up her wrist a little, but horribly shaken and the car will need repairs.

Louise asked us to rejoice with her, as I am asking you. Despite the pedestrians, bikers, and motorcycles along the road, no one was injured. She barely missed hitting a tree and the SUV, which easily could have rolled, stayed upright.

I want to ask "Why?" Why did God spare Louise and not Cyndi? (I'm so thankful he did). But the words that keep sounding in my head are those of Job 38.

"Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you will answer me." (Italics mine)

Even as I wrestle to understand, I am reminded that I am too puny, too narrow minded, to ever grasp what God is working out in his world. So, for today, I will stand with my nose against the tapestry of life. I can't see the whole thing-- I'm not even going to try. But I can see this little thread of my life named Louise, and I can rejoice that she and I are woven together.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Mary Poppin's Purse

I went to the movies last night with ten other ladies. We saw The Lake House, which got a thumbs up from everyone, and we enjoyed giggling together and elbowing each other.

But I must say, the most entertainment I got was watching Sara and her movie experience.

I should have known she was an expert when I suggested the movie and she blurted out, "We have to go on Tuesday for free popcorn!" To be honest, she did warn me that she goes to the movies more for the theater food than for the show.

But I was still surprised when we sat down with our popcorn and she pulled out a stack of bowls and distributed popcorn to the gang. Next out of the bag was a stack of kitchen towels so we could wipe our fingers without ruining our clothes. Then came the salt shaker.

By the time she pulled an extra pair of socks out, I was laughing at her-- I mean, near her. I was waiting for her to reach in and pull out a remote control and a leather recliner, but I never got to see what else was in the bag because the previews started. She did pass M & Ms and Red Vines down later in the show but I didn't see if they came out of the bag.

Rituals are important, comforting, sometimes fun. And now I know they have the potential to be very entertaining.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

He doesn't need a telescope

We shivered in the midnight wind and stared into the sky. Thousands of stars lent their light to the night, enough that even without a moon, we could still see each other's faces.

The ranger pointed with his green laser into a dark patch of space.

"Right around there," he said, waving his light in a small circle, "is a cluster of over a million stars."

I squinted to see the million stars, but all I could see was the laser defraying into nothingness.

A million stars hidden in a dark corner of space, and beyond them, a billion more.

"He determines the number of stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power, his understanding has no limit." Psalm 147:4-5

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Blessed be Your Name

I've had a song stuck in my head all week-- Blessed Be Your Name.

This is a song of praise to God, whatever the circumstances. It tells of taking the blessings God gives us and returning them to him as praise. It speaks of singing out blessing on him when we are in the midst of darkness and trouble.

When I started thinking about this song on Tuesday, everything was looking pretty good. It was easy to sing.

Then I got news of Cyndi's death.

Blessed be your name.

And a sister's restaurant burned down. She donated the food to raise money for building houses in Mexico.

Blessed be your name.

Another acquaintance got news of her father's death in the same week she found out she has a brain tumor.

Blessed be your name.

After 3 years of waiting, Roy and Patty picked up their baby girl in China this week.

Blessed be your name.

Marie and Yusef were added to God's family this week.

Blessed be your name.

Joys and heartaches. Sorrow and rest. You give and take away. But no matter what you do, blessed be your name.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Past Revisited

Happy Father's Day, Papa John!
You're a fun camper. We'd camp with you any time!
Patty and the Gang

Update on Cyndi Chowning

Please continue to lift the Chowning family up in your prayers. They are making arrangements to bring Cyndi's body back to the States next week for her funeral in Denison, TX.

Richard has asked that donations be sent to

Homewood Church of Christ
265 West Oxmoor Rd.
Birmingham, AL 35209

in lieu of flowers. The money collected will be used to help complete a clinic and primary school in Benin. This project meant a lot to Cyndi.

If you would like to drop a line to Richard or his children, please contact me personally and I will pass on their addresses.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Call to Prayer

Cyndi Chowning, missionary in Benin, West Africa, was hit by a moto today. The impact threw her against her car. She died soon afterwards.

Cyndi and her husband Richard have given their lives to Africa. They spent several years working in Kenya, then moved to Abilene where Richard taught missions. While we were in Togo, they moved to Benin to work among the Aja people.

I'd like to ask that you join me in praying for Richard as he decides whether to bring Cyndi's body back to the US for a funeral. It's too soon for him to make any long-term decisions, but I think we need to pray for wisdom when the time comes, whether he will stay on or return to the States.

Pray for the Vaughns, Randy and Kelly and their children, who work in the same town as the Chownings. Pray for past teammates, the Baileys, Crowsons, and Hicks as they sift through memories of Cyndi, especially for Heather Hicks, the Chownings' daughter.

Pray for the Chownings' children, Aaron, Heather and Naomi, and for their grandchildren.

Pray for Aja Christians who have known and loved Cyndi. I'm sure that her death will make an impact there. Pray that it is a good one.

Cyndi is the third missionary wife I have known who was killed in a similar fashion. I find that wounds I thought were long-since healed are still a little tender. In that regard, I ask that you pray for those affected by Cathy's death in Kenya and by Nancy's death in Togo. Both of these ladies have spent many happy years now in the bosom of Abraham, but they are both still missed by those of us they left behind.

Lord God, I pray that you accept Cyndi into your arms. Hold her and heal all the wounds of earthly life with the living water of eternal life.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

No Spoilers, Please!

We may be the only people on the planet who don't have cable or satellite TV and who live in a country where network TV isn't covering the World Cup.

So, while we wait for a tape of today's Togo match, PLEASE don't tell me how it comes out!

Monday, June 12, 2006

a white, gooey, sticky ball of success

There are certain foods that are more about the memories they evoke than the actual taste of the food. Like those candy necklaces that remind me of scary movies as a kid (like Swiss Family Robinson and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang)and red koolaid that brings back memories of camp.

So it is with fufu, the favorite dish of Togo. It's not so much about the taste, since it's mostly tasteless. And it's definitely not about the texture, which most closely resembles the paste that came in gallon pots back in first grade. You either love it or you hate it.

And we love it.

When both my kids named fufu as their favorite food in their comments to my blog, I started thinking about making it. We can't get the right kind of yams here, so that wasn't worth pursuing. We've tried making it with potato flakes, but it just tastes too potato-y.

Dad went on a quest to several Asian markets and found a root called yuca, not to be confused with yucca. A taste test and a little research revealed that yuca is the same as manioc and cassava. I went to our neighborhood Asian market, but they didn't have any fresh produce. I showed the shop owner a picture of taro leaves on a can and tried to make him understand that I was looking for the tubers that went with that plant. He didn't even speak enough English to tell me he didn't speak English. I came home with a bag of frozen purple yams that were... purple.

I finally found the manioc, I had the time to spend on an African dinner, and tonight we had fufu with a chicken sauce like Dela makes. I even sliced up a fresh pineapple. Jessica was a little disappointed that I didn't make Dodzi's eggplant sauce, but she still swallowed down 2 balls of fufu.

It was a fun meal.

Now that I know how to make it, who wants to come eat fufu with us?

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Bony Fingers

I know it's not what God had in mind when he said that Adam and Eve would have to work hard to scratch food out of the ground. And I know that my timing's not great considering my last entry was on doing everything without grumbling or complaining.

But, heavens to Betsy, grocery shopping is hard work.

It took me four hours today to buy enough groceries for the next two weeks. It took another two hours to put everything away. (Almost everything. I'm still not sure where to put the six pounds of raisins I bought in the bulk food section-- I don't have the right sized tupperware, but I also don't want to reach into a sticky bag to get out raisins for my cereal.)

I had my little rant about how hard I work. I stopped somewhere short of the family classic, "I work my finger to the bone and what do I get? Bony fingers!"

And now it's time to start dinner. Pizza night. Is it easier to make my own or to get in the car and go get some?

What a spoiled brat I am-- too tired to make pizza? How about being thankful that we have food, not only for tonight, but for tomorrow and next week and the week after that. That is incredible luxury.

In all the years we spent in Africa, I never once heard anyone say, "I'm too tired to make dinner tonight. I think I'll order out." I never heard anyone say, "Grocery shopping is hard work." They would have been blown away by how much we spend at the store. Today I spent 2/3 of the yearly wage in Togo just to get a cart full of food.

Hard work? Not comparatively speaking. But I'm still pooped.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

blameless and pure

"Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the the universe as you hold out the word of life--" Philippians 2:12-16

Do everything without complaining or arguing? Ouch. Surely that doesn't mean what it says.


What about telling my kids to pick their towels up for the 114,739th time this week? What about waiting in rush hour traffic? What about paying over $3 a gallon for gas? What about getting in the express lane behind someone who can't count? What about being too hot? Or too cold?

If I want to become blameless and pure (which I do) I've got to stop arguing and complaining. I want to be like one of my daughters who said tonight, "I don't know why God invented joy, but I'm sure glad he did."

I want to be the kind of person who finds joy in every day living, who experiences wonder in the mundane, who gives up whining, grumbling, complaining and arguing in favor of love, peace, and kindness.

Monday, June 05, 2006

What's in a number?

I don't keep very good track of the date. It's some time in the first week of June, I think.

I was surprised to hear on the news tonight that students at local schools are receiving threats related to tomorrow's date-- 6/6/6. A group of kids has issued its hit list and the kids who are named on the list are staying home from school.

Hollywood is cashing in on the date, releasing a remake of The Omen, a story about the son of the devil.

Do people think this is the first 6/6/6 in history? It's the twentieth since Revelation was written. Well, technically, it's only the 5th since the Gregorian calendar was tweaked at the council of Trent in 1563.

I was curious whether bad things tend to happen on 6/6/6. Turns out... not really. But then, people have been predicting bad stuff for a long time. Remember Y2K? Remember the cold war? When I was little, I asked to stay home from school the day I heard the world was supposed to end. Mom made me go. She said she'd heard the same rumor when she was a kid.

I'm not saying that bad things don't happen. Neither am I saying that the world will not some day come to an end. I just think we're incredibly bad at making predictions.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Behind 3 gates

14 years ago, our mission team laid out a very detailed plan of when and how church planting in Togo would work. We were wide-eyed, idealistic, and way off. God took our multi-chaptered plan, whipped out his red marker, and started making changes right away.

And we're so thankful he did.

2 languages and many team changes later, the Tabligbo team wishes a fond farewell to Hollandwo kata this weekend. It's been five years since we left, but I think I feel, along with a handful of others, the full range of emotions they're going through right now.

I think if I were driving down their road right now, I would have to turn my head and greet Papa Koffi and Ajo at their home across the street. I wouldn't have the heart to look at the 3 red gates, so many beautiful memories behind each one.

Behind the first gate, the school and office. How many hours of prayer took place in that little office? How many brochures, pamphlets, and books rolled off the printing press? How many sweaty hours of step aerobics on rickety benches? How did my six little kindergarten students get to be old enough for middle school so fast?

Behind the second gate, Jeff and Brenda's house. The mad hatter party, the "Dress like a team mentor" party, the time with Allen Avery and with Tom Moore. Zogbon for breakfast, gali for lunch and chicken enchiladas for dinner. It's like yesterday the 11 of us stayed there together and Scott had to sleep in the yard to keep his new puppy from crying. Our first worship with Tabligbites took place there, all of us sitting on planks in the front yard. So many dear memories of Komlan, who will never be the same again... not in this life.

The third gate hides another house of memories. It started out as cinderblock walls, but Frank had a plan. He and Jenna gave the house a kitchen and a bathroom and turned it into a home. I always picture Nicole there, her high voice squeaking out a joy in her heart that could not be squashed by a failing body. I'm glad she has a new body now, though I miss her sweet spirit terribly. So many talks with Sandi in that living room about whether David was THE guy or not. He was!

3 red gates, so much love. Jeff and Brenda could have done anything they wanted with their 20s and 30s. They gave them to God. They gave them to the Togolese people, to people like Ablavino, Koffi and Ajo, Edemno, la vieux, Afi, Komlan, Papa Antoine and so many more.

May God bless Jeff and Brenda and their precious children in their return to America. And may God bless the churches they have planted. May they grow and thrive and bear much fruit from now unto eternity.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


In France, there is a council to preserve the purity of the language. It is against regulations for TV and radio networks to use English words where a French equivalent exisits. Language, though, is meant to be alive. Its beauty comes in its ability to adapt as times and cultures change.

Hebrew was a dead language, unchanged and unspoken for hundreds of years. With the rebirth of a Jewish homeland, the Hebrew language was revived and now, what was constant for so long, is adapting, changing, morphing.

Watching the 2006 Scripps National Spelling Bee tonight, I was struck by how many of the list words had roots in other languages. Actually, every word came from somewhere else-- Greek, Latin, French, German, Hawaiian, Persian, Turkish, Italian, Spanish-- English is rich with world influence. The very words we speak are, in a way, a special kind of melting pot.

The winning word in the spelling bee? Ursprache.

Meaning? A parent language, especially one reconstructed from the evidence of later languages.

Etymology? German for "Speech of Ur"

Ur is where the Tower of Babel once stood. Ursprache, then, was the language all men shared before God stopped their ziggurat project by confusing their languages. Ursprache is referred to as "the lost language of Paradise."

Perhaps we'll all speak ursprache again some day.