Always On The Line by Jan Beiler

November 12th, 2011

“Lord, please let her answer,” I begged. Blood oozed from the scrape on Micah’s temple and a knot was rising on his forehead. I sat on the edge of the bottom bunk bed with a cold wash cloth in my hand and tried to calm him as he thrashed from side to side.

Hot Mexican sun poured through the only window in our boys crowded bedroom. A fly buzzed about, bumbling against the window pane and then darting in to investigate the smell of blood. Phil Hackman, long time friend and board member, sat on the other bunk bed poking numbers into a phone.

Thankfully we had a better phone system by this time.. My Phil stood at the end of the bed holding a church phone directory. “The number you have dialed is no longer in service at this time. If you need assistance….” My heart sank as I heard the faint voice at the other end of the line.

What should we do? Would it be worse to take Micah out over the rough roads to the doctor or run the risk of something serious going on inside him while he tossed about on his bed in our little village of La Esperanza?

The morning had started out calmly enough. Angie Mobley, a friend of ours who was visiting from NC, and I sat at the table sipping coffee and chatting. In the laundry room, Francie stood at the washing machine, fishing towels out of the wash tub and arranging them in the spinner. Valley, Angie’s sister leaned against the freezer, waiting to hang them out. The girls planned to go horse riding as soon as they finished the laundry.

“Hey Mom!” nine-year-old Micah called through the kitchen window. He galloped into view, pulling on the reins of a tall yellow steed. They stopped in a cloud of dust, a huge grin lighting his face. “It’s Kaloka’s horse. He said Francie can use it to go riding but I’m going to ride it now.” “You be careful,” I cautioned.. “He’s tame, Mom. You don’t need to worry,” Micah assured me. “Come on, let’s go!” He dug his heels into the horse’s flanks. The horse pranced past the window. A moment later Valley appeared white-faced in the kitchen doorway, “Micah’s lying in the middle of the road. I think he got thrown off the horse,” she said. I lurched for the door, fear squeezing my heart..

In front of the public school, next to our house, Micah lay sprawled in the middle of the road, the horse a diminishing speck. My feet flew across the bare, rocky soil, as I whispered a disjointed one liner, “Lord, help us. Lord, help us.” I’ve never been good in emergencies and when there’s an injury, if a Bandaid or a Tylenol doesn’t work, I don’t know what to do. I knew it wasn’t a good idea to move someone who had been in an accident for fear of damaging something inside. With Micah lying in the middle of the road, we didn’t have a choice.

There followed a frantic few minutes in which Micah, who didn’t seem to know where he was or what had happened, fought us off as we tried to help him. I could easily imagine terrible damage to his spinal cord or his brain. Especially his brain when he kept jabbering about a white bird and struggling to point at some invisible object. Would our energetic, enthusiastic Micah ever be himself again?

Someone radioed for Phil, who was working at the neighbors about a mile away. With him came Phil Hackman and Joe Miller, board members here on a business trip. By the time the men arrived, Micah lay on Deryk’s bed. The outside entrance door stood open, begging for a breeze and a little more light. I held a drink to Micah’s lips but he pushed it away. He was still flailing about in spite of my best efforts to keep him calm. I felt so helpless.

The adults in the room continued to discuss our options. We didn’t know if he needed medical attention or not, but between us and the doctor’s office lay two hours of driving time, half of it through rivers and up over rocky hillsides. Even on the plateau where the road was relatively straight there were washboard ridges that rattled a person’s teeth. If only we could get a hold of Michelle, I thought for the hundredth time.

Michelle, a member of Phil Hackman’s church, was a nurse.. Michelle had also spent time in La Esperanza. If any one could make an informed guess, it would be Michelle. Phil Hackman laid the phone on the bed beside him after another fruitless try. “I know we’ve all been praying,” my Phil said, “But Joe, will you lead us in prayer together for direction?

We all bowed our heads and Joe asked God to show us what was the best thing to do. As he calmly put words to the frantic scramble of petitions in my head, I could feel the tension begin to drain from me. I knew God was there with us in that stuffy little bedroom. Maybe we couldn’t contact Michelle, but with God the line is always open.

I didn’t know how this episode was going to turn out. Would Micah survive? Would he be crippled, or brain damaged? I knew that God could raise him up immediately, like he had done with Jairus’ daughter, if He chose to do so. I laid my hand on Micah s chest. His heart beat had slowed considerably although he still moved his head from side to side. “It’ll be okay,” I whispered.

Phil Hackman looked up. “You know, I wonder if I’ve been dialing Michelle’s old number? She just recently moved into her new house. I’m going to call Heidi and find out.” A hurried phone conversation with his daughter ensued, and in a few minutes Phil was scribbling a number on a scrap of paper.

Even if you had Michelle’s correct number, she was a hard person to contact. If she wasn’t at work, she was out mowing her lawn, or off checking on some ailing neighbor. We finally tracked her down at Miss Susie’s house. “It’s a risk,” Michelle said after she weighed our story against the terrain. “At this point, I’d say you’re better off to stay home, but keep a close eye on his pupils. Make sure they are reactive and if one reacts differently from the other, you ‘d better take him to the doctor. Or if he has a severe headache, it could indicate his brain is bleeding.”

I quailed at the thought of reading the signs. Where’s the line between a headache and a severe one? Suppose I didn’t pick up on his eyes not dilating together? I sat by Micah s bed after the others had lingeringly departed. He had fallen asleep and now that he wasn’t writhing and twisting, he looked so small and innocent with his dark head against the white pillow. My heart hurt for the little fellow who was so often in trouble. What would an active child like Micah do if he had to be confined to a wheel chair for the rest of his life?

You know, I reminded myself, God didn’t dramatically raise Micah up when we prayed. But He did help Phil think of trying Michelle’s new number. And He did allow Michelle to advise us. I just know He’ll continue to help us. All that night and all the next day Micah lay in bed, lethargic and uncharacteristically patient. He didn’t want to eat and his siblings and I tried to think of things to tempt his appetite to no avail. We had to keep urging him to drink so he wouldn’t dehydrate. Five-year-old Donovan hardly knew what to do without Micah to shadow. He dug in his treasure container for a match box truck. Maybe that would spark an interest in playing. Micah smiled wanly, took it and parked it on the bed beside him.

On the afternoon of the second day, Micah wanted a Popsicle. Our neighbor, Beti, sold popsicles for fifty centavos each. How gladly I dug the coins out of my purse. That evening as I was pressuring beans for supper, I heard a squawk in the bedroom and Donovan charged into the kitchen. “Mom, Micah won’t let me have my match box truck. He says I gave it to him to keep.” Oh, praise the Lord! I rejoiced. We have our Micah back!

HAVES and HAVE NOTS by Starla Goodwin

October 29th, 2011

Have one iron.

Iron my veils.

Iron the seams on a dress I’m sewing.

Don’t always iron much else… Sometimes iron shirts.

One iron.

Little Fransisco comes to borrow it- Borrows it Tuesday.

Gone Wednesday, Gone Thursday, Gone Friday.

Gone until I send a son for it,

Or til I catch Fransisco in the street And send him home to his grandma To get it for me.

One iron.

Here today, gone tomorrow. Ha… good thing our clothes Are permament press..

Good thing to be good neighbors.

One iron.

They have a little old shack And ironed creases in their pants.

We have a big old house, And a few wrinkles..

One iron.

Once I lived where EVERYBODY had their own iron

Here – some do, some don’t.

I do.

Wish I had one to give to my neighbor- But maybe sharing is better.

“Freely ye have received, freely give.”    

Stripped of Pretense by Jan Beiler

July 18th, 2011



The black Angus cow turned her placid face toward us, thoughtfully munching sage brush. A spindly legged calf pushed against her udder.

A low growl rumbled in the throats of our two dogs.

Tigre! Grizzly! Stay here!”

The sun peeping over the bluff cast a rozy glow over the Mexican hillsides. Phil and I, breathing deeply of the crisp, pure air, had been hiking over the rocky terrain in a companionable mood. This was one of my favorite times of the day. With all eight of us crowded together in our small house, there wasn’t much privacy. The walls of the house were made of thick adobe but the crooked doorways made eavesdropping easy – even if you weren’t trying to listen. I got tired of whispered conversations.

Now that we took these early morning walks, we had plenty of time to talk. Plus we couldn’t go far in any direction without going down one side of the mesa and up another and maybe we’d even lose a pound or two.

I loved the country side. Scrubby little spruce, twisted by the ever present wind dotted the landscape. Fence posts made from gnarled limbs and small trees and strung with rusty barbed wire staggered along beside the road. Wood smoke tinged the air and in the distance roosters crowed.

Ranging black Angus cattle grazed on sage brush or gathered in the riverbeds for water. Long-eared jack rabbits, frightened out of their hiding places, zigzagged off to safer parts.

Tigre and Grizzly, our two mutts, loved these morning walks as well as we did. At the first squeak of the screen door opening, their ears would prick and they would be on their feet. By the time it banged shut, they’d be on the door step, grinning and wagging their tails.

The two dogs loped along beside us, past the neighboring corral and down into the arroyo. As we started up the other side, the dogs spotted the cow. She stopped chewing and raised her head warily.

Both dogs took several prancing steps toward the cow.

No, Grizzly. No Tigre. Stay here,” we said. The dogs trembled and whined in visible effort to control that inborn thrill of the chase.

Good dogs,” we encouraged, stroking their heads.

Suddenly the temptation was too overpowering for Grizzly. He gathered his strength into a tremendous bound and took off after the cow. The Angus snorted and thundered away, tail high, small calf sprinting behind.

Woof, Woof!” Tigre barked, running a few steps ahead and then looking back at us. Do you see what that bad Grizzly is doing? he seemed to say.

He waited for us to catch up, and fell into step, bumping into my leg, touching my hand with his cold muzzle.

Woof, Woof,” he confided. I would never do such a thing. I’m a good dog.

Phil and I looked at each other and laughed. You crazy thing!” I said. “Do you remember yesterday how you chased Nuko’s dog? You wouldn’t let him alone until he was inside the yard gate. Grizzly was the good dog that time.”

They’re like we are sometimes, aren’t they?” Phil said. “Can’t stand to see someone else get away with what we’d like to be doing.”

Yeah,” I agreed. “And in God’s sight, stripped of pretense, I’m sure we look just this silly.”

Part of The Package by Jan Beiler

May 21st, 2011

Splat!  A drop of cold water hit me on top of my head, right in the part of my hair.  Splat.  Another one hit me on my arm.  Splat. Splat.  Two in quick succession landed on my shoulder and my back.     “Disgusting!” I mumbled to myself around the froth of toothpaste in my mouth.  “I need an umbrella in the bathroom just to keep dry while I brush my teeth.”

Before we moved into this house in La Esperanza, Mexico, the former renters took the wood fired water heater along with them.  I hadn’t ever seen the likes before, but a little door beneath the tank provided access to a fire pit.  Put in a few sticks of wood, light a fire, and presumably the water in the tank eventually would heat enough for a tepid shower.     Actually there wasn’t much original equipment in the bathroom.  Phil had built a door first thing. He had leaned it against the wall until he could purchase hinges to install it.  One of the children accidentally knocked it over and it fell on top of the commode, breaking that fixture.  I was secretly relieved because I had dreaded cleaning the ancient receptacle, stained as it was.            The sink hung precariously from the adobe wall of the shower.  Four-year-old Merideth, hoisting herself up to wash her hands, had permanently dislodged it.  A sink in the shower has its own set of drawbacks, but there weren’t a lot of options when we  replaced it, because the shower took up three-fourths of the bathroom.

The shower consisted of a two-inch drop in the concrete floor, a drain, a shower curtain, and a tiny window.  An oil lamp and a bottle of Pert Plus sat on the wide adobe window sill.  But it was an indoor bathroom and I was glad about that.     The new gas water heater Phil installed worked wonderfully.  On these chilly autumn evenings, a hot shower in the unheated bathroom was amazingly comforting.              One always had to be wary of the village water system shutting down or of depleting the hot  water  before the last member of the family had a chance to shower.  But still, it was a thing to relish.                          Mornings in the bathroom were not as nice. Condensation from our good hot showers the night before, froze against the metal roof/ceiling.  In the morning, as the sun warmed the metal, cold droplets rained upon hapless victims in a most annoying fashion.     As soon as he could, Phil fitted Styrofoam sheets up against the metal. That largely took care of the problem except one place where two of the sheets didn’t fit quite tightly enough.  Moisture tended to pool up and leak through the crack.

Well, you know what? I said to myself one day as I wiped a puddle off the floor.  I always wanted a cabin in the mountains and now I have one.  This is part of the package.        I thought about packages.

A big package had come from our relatives with gifts for all of us at Christmas.  Meri delightedly unwrapped a ceramic tea set. One of the cups promptly fell on the concrete floor and broke.  Donovan eagerly opened a set of John Deere match box toys and set up farming.  Chad didn’t know what to think of his gift of a book on astronomy until Auntie displayed the pull out charts and graphs.     With a package that comes in the mail, one can either accept or reject the contents.  Life isn’t quite that easy.  Some things we don’t have a choice but to accept, for instance Parkinson’s or cancer.  Other things we accept because it is important to us to have God’s blessing on our lives.  Like caring for a crotchety relative who used to yell at others when he was in his prime.

Our package in La Esperanza, contained a house that was too small and a leaky bathroom.  But it was also comprised of black faced cattle and cute, spindly-legged calves, horses of varied descriptions; the Llavero, the zorse (a mule with zebra-like markings), and a donkey that begged for bubble gum.  It included the musical yipping of coyotes, the speedy road runner, and the darting jack rabbit.

Our package held the bluest of blue skies just overhead. The craggy bluff straight out from our kitchen window, and wide open trails to hike on crisp, clear mornings, were part of it too.  But most of all, it contained a ranch full of dear friends whom we had grown to love, and for whom we prayed daily.  There was Nena, whose eye glasses had only one temple, Casi Miro, who sometimes gave his age as fifty and other times eighty, and shriveled Angel, who talked to himself as                                                                                                                                                                      he patrolled the range.  On the other mesa lived Estella who had such beautiful flowers growing in her patio, and Jesus and Lola, who loved to serve.  And others – too numerous to mention.

Beyond Myself Jan Beiler

April 19th, 2011

Do you feel nervous?” my friend Phyllis asked.

“Not especially,” I answered. “It’s probably nothing serious, but a person can’t help but think of the possibilities.”

“I know,” my other moral supporter, Naomi, said. “Life goes along but you know one day it could change, just like that.”

Bright Mexican sunlight slanted through the window in the doctor’s waiting room and lay in an oblong block on the white tile floor. I flipped through a magazine and thought about why I was here.

I hadn’t noticed anything unusual about myself until one morning while combing my hair. I had leaned in toward the bathroom mirror to examine a dark spot on the left side of my face. Whatever! I thought, it’s not a spot, it’s a shadow! Sure enough, there was just enough of an indentation for my cheekbone to cast a shadow on my visage.

We had a fellowship meal at the school that same week.

Esther, who sat across from me in the circle of chairs, said, “Did you get hurt?”

I looked at her blankly.

“I just thought it looked like you have a bruise on your cheek,” she explained.

I didn’t like the shadow but I was too busy to spend much time looking in the mirror or thinking about dents in cheeks. I had cinnamon rolls to bake for my village route, long lines of laundry to hang out and children to supervise.

The next time my Mom saw me, she noticed it right away. She kept casting worried glances in my direction and finally she said, “I wish you would get your face checked out. That dent could be cancer or something.”

“No, Mom,” I said. “I’m sure it’s nothing serious. I don’t have any signs of ill-health.”

“Well, I don’t like the looks of it,” she replied.

Mom can be a trifle dramatic and I suspect she had something to do with my generous brother Wes’s concern. “Look, Jan, I’ll pay your expenses if you’ll go to the doctor,” he said.

The indention was getting larger and deeper, and Mom was planning to come for another visit. And that is why we now sat on hard chairs in a sunshine yellow room, awaiting the results of the CAT scan.

In spite of myself, my heart thumped vigorously and my palms felt sweaty when I actually sat on the examining table. What if I have to take radiation? What if part of my cheek needs to be removed?

The dapper little doctor entered the room, picked up a sheaf of papers and smiled at me. I tried to read his smile. Was it sympathetic?

He studied my face critically for a moment and then rattled off a string of Spanish to Phyllis who had come along in to the examining room to interpret.

Phyllis studied my face and said, “Yes, I see it, too.”

I felt like the only one at the funeral who didn’t know who had died.

He says your left side is higher than the right – your chin, your cheekbone, your eyebrows. Even your nose.”

Am I evolving or what? That was the vague question I couldn’t think to formulate.

The doctor consulted his paper again. I watched his expression. He looked up at me and smiled. “It is not a problem,” he said in halting English.

“Your cheek is like a pillow,” Phyllis interpreted. “Sometimes the stuffing gets thin and mashed down in a pillow and that is what has happened to you. The normal fatty cushion has become compacted which makes a hollow in your cheek but there is no sign of any foreign matter except this small cyst.” The doctor showed me a tiny circle on the paper.

We will test it to see if it is malignant but I am quite sure it isn’t,” he said.

Relief washed over me and I realized I had been more concerned than I had acknowledged even to myself.

One would think, when the results of the test came back negative, I would have been so grateful for good health it would override any other emotion. In reality, the more time passed, the more self conscious I became of my dent. An imaginary sensation of heaviness tingled on the left side. I dreaded meeting strangers, especially attractive ones, and always found myself fingering my dent self consciously. After church when I visited with my friends, it seemed their eyes fastened on my dent. Unconsciously, I began to drop deprecatory allusions to my dent. Unconsciously that is, until my brother-in-law pointed it out.

You draw too much attention to it,” he said.

I realized he was right and began to swallow the comments that lurked at the edge of my voice box. I didn’t let them escape but that didn’t make them dissolve. I had to figure out a way to deal with it.

Thankfully Phil continued to assure me of his love, although even before the advent of the dent I hadn’t had any beauty to spare.

Company arrived in the community. At church on Sunday I kept sneaking fascinated glances at the visiting lady who radiated sunshine. I was drawn to her. Her smile was so infectious that it took me a moment to notice how badly pocked with acne her face was. Hmmm!

She’s so interested in others she doesn’t even think about herself, I decided. Maybe there’s something in this for me.

I took a deep breath and turned to shake hands with the lady’s beautiful daughter. “Hello!” I smiled my best smile. “Welcome to Mexico.”

Marriage Problems by Jan Beiler

March 21st, 2011

“Watch out!” I sat rigid in the mama’s seat of our GMC van as we rounded yet another sharp bend in the road. I felt edgy and disagreeable and I wished Phil would slow down.

He looked at me with mock pain and said, “Why, honey, don’t you trust me?” Normally I would have laughed and shot back something like, “All except your driving.” But today I was in no frame of mind to banter.

“What time does your bus leave?” I asked, voice flat, eyes straight ahead.

Phil glanced at his watch. “It leaves at ten twenty. We’re already half way to Chihuahua so we should make it in plenty of time.”

If we don’t crash over the bank, I thought morosely.

Phil hummed a snatch of song as we sped downhill, turned a sharp curve and crossed a narrow bridge. I grasped the door handle and bit my lip.

I knew the problem wasn’t his driving. That was nothing new. I’d had an accident as a teenager when the road ahead of me made an unexpected turn and I’ve been an unreasonable passenger ever since. Most times I try to regulate myself but I didn’t want to this morning.

It irked me that he was taking the cell phone on this trip. People do take cell phones when they travel. I knew that and I also knew I was childish to mind. But I did mind. That cell phone was our only means of communication and now Phil was getting ready to bus out to El Paso and take a plane to Canada. He’d be far from his home responsibilities, sitting through inspiring messages at minister’s meetings, and visiting with people from all over the nation.

In the meantime, I would be at home with all the children. At home in our humdrum little village, without even so much as a cell phone connection with the big world. He won’t need it to call me because he can’t, I told myself. It’s just an accessory. I could picture him sitting in the airport terminal calling the 800-555-Tell and listening to the weather. THE WEATHER mind you! The thought annoyed me. You can look outside and see the weather.

I hated feeling guilty about missing the cell phone, and I vaguely perceived the cell phone wasn’t the real issue either. For one thing, I had to climb the hill to get a signal, and I probably wasn’t going to have much time for that while he was gone. Still, I couldn’t quite identify what the real issue was.

I could tell Phil was eager for the trip. He acted like he didn’t notice my ill-humor but that’s one thing about Phil. He’s always the same. And he always believes the best about me, even when I don’t deserve it. Which I didn’t.

At the bus station, Phil stopped at the curb and unloaded his luggage. “ I’ll just tell you ‘good-bye’ here and you won’t have to park and come inside. It’s almost time for me to board anyway.”

My heart should have melted at his thoughtfulness but it didn’t. I gave him a stiff little hug and bid him adieu. I knew something could happen to him but I didn’t think it would.

With my poor mindset it’s amazing things went as well as they did the week Phil was gone.

The children built a tree house down over the bank behind our house using scraps from Phil’s building project to make a platform. They nailed slabs of wood to the trunk for steps and found tattered cowboy boots in the trash heap to nail to branches for decoration. One evening we packed a picnic supper of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and bought Cokes and chips from Rita’s store to eat in the tree house. To be perfectly honest, even buying the Cokes wasn’t so much for the children’s sake as for me, because I thought I deserved them.

And that set me to thinking. I deserved the Coke because I stayed home with the children. I deserved the cell phone because I wasn’t getting a vacation. And yet, I hadn’t even wanted to go to minister’s meeting. So what was wrong with me? What did I want?

I mulled that over for awhile and then I knew. I wanted him to say, “I know it’s not going to be easy for you while I’m gone but thank you for being willing to do it.” Maybe he could even say, “You’re a brave womanIn plain English, what I wanted was recognition.

Then I wondered how much recognition I had given to him. Dear, good, patient Phil. Hardworking, unassuming Phil, who always treats me with respect. Those last days before his trip had been hectic for him. He was trying to get the house he was remodeling in good enough shape that the lady of the house wouldn’t have to climb over the china closet to get to the kitchen sink while he was gone.

And in Mexico everything has to be done the round-about way. If you try to hurry it only makes it worse. In spite of that pressure, he’d made sure there was a new tank of LP gas for our kitchen range and had fixed the latch on the back door to make our house more secure. Had I in any way applauded him?

One can always hope for tomorrow.

When we arrived at the bus station for Phil’s return trip, he was nowhere to be seen. I walked around the terminal trying to figure out if there was another section where he could be. Finally, after alternately pacing back and forth and perching on hard station chairs I spied him far down the corridor, walking toward me… talking on his cell phone.

The relief from my anxiety choked on the cell phone and for just an instant I felt my body stiffen. Until I remembered. I have a choice.

“I’m so glad you’re home,” I said, taking his hand. “We’ve missed you!”

His eyes lit up. “I’m glad to be home.”

A New Year, And New Steps Jan Beiler

January 24th, 2011

“Shhh! We have to be quiet! I hissed.  “Richard and Esther are trying to sleep!”

It was New Year’s Eve.  All seven of the La Esperanza youth were squeezed around the table playing games with our family while 2006 ebbed to a close.

The only problem was that Richard and Esther Hostetler, our honored guests from Texas, preferred to start their new year well rested.  We had given them the girl’s room which had a thin, very un-soundproof, plywood partition and a book case blocking an erstwhile doorway.

We had learned to know the Hostetler’s twenty years earlier, when we were muddling through our first adoption in Honduras, and they were terminating missionaries.  I well remember the day Esther and I were working together in the kitchen and she said, “Sometimes I wonder if being here was worth all the investment of these sixteen years.  Then I think of The Last Day and I know that when we see the Hondurans we have influenced, pass through those pearly gates, I will know it was.”

The Hostetler’s had gone through some bumpy times in Honduras.  When they arrived there as a young family, it had been an Amish community.  Long before we came on the scene, the settlement had accepted cars and electricity and more recently it had weathered a church split.  Richard’s family put themselves into the work, loving the natives without reserve, teaching, nurturing, and caring. No doubt they struggled at times with the frustration of not being able to accomplish all of their vision.  Perhaps there were misunderstandings with co-workers, or maybe they battled loneliness.

I knew about frustration because we were still groping for the elusive language.  As to loneliness, I had discovered a depth I hadn’t known existed before.  There were times in the past year when our best efforts hadn’t been good enough, and how can you do better than your best?

We wondered sometimes if our paltry contribution to the work was accomplishing anything at all for eternity?   We loved the natives, but we certainly didn’t have any heroic conversions to our credit. No non-heroic conversions either, for that matter.

How long would we remain here in Mexico? What did the Lord have for us?  I didn’t know the answers to any of my questions, but I could look back and see that God had been there all the time.  The loneliness had compelled me to reach out to Him.  The misunderstandings caused me to search my motives. The shadows helped me rejoice in the sunshine.

There were times in 2006 when we seemed to be in a round room with a dozen closed doors. But always, just when we had to make a decision, we could perceive a faint ray of light shining through a crack in one of those doors.  When we gave it a tentative nudge, it had swung open a bit more until we could sense the direction we were to go.

God hadn’t promise we’d know the end from the beginning.  He only promised to lead us one step at a time.

“Wake up, Mom, it’s your turn!”

“Yeah, and it’s almost midnight,” Phil said, glancing at his watch.  “If we’re going to pray in the New Year, we’d better get started.”

A feeling of security enveloped me.  We may not have chosen the same way to welcome the New Year that Richard and Esther had, but we both knew by past experience, that we could go into 2007 with joy. Knowing that whatever came, God would be there with us.

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.  Isaiah 43:2

It Is Well By Jan Beiler

November 29th, 2010

“Nuko called me a pig!” my nine-year-old son whom I will call Jerry, burst into the house, letting the door crash shut behind him. “I forgot to turn off the valve and the water ran out on the ground. Nuko yelled at me. He said I was a stupid pig to let it run over.” Sparks of fire flecked his eyes.

Our neighbors had a water tank on a metal frame above their house. While the pump was running, they could open a valve and fill their tank. On this day they had asked Jerry to close the valve when the tank was full, because they needed to leave for town.

“But, Mom,” our next older son reported. “Jerry said Nuko didn’t have any right to poke his nose into our business.”

“Oh, Jerry!” I gasped.“Did you say that?!”

“Yes and he deserved it, too. He can’t go around calling me a pig.”

“I’m not saying he was right, but that didn’t give you license to do wrong. You were disrespectful and unkind. What do you think this does to our witness? You’ll have to apologize.”

“I can’t do it, Mom,” Jerry wailed. “They’ll laugh at me. I know they will.”

“I’m sorry, son, but you should have thought about that before you smarted off to Nuko,” I said. “Here’s a cookie recipe. You help me mix up a batch of these now, and we should have them done in time to take some over and apologize to him before supper.”

Glumly Jerry broke the eggs into the mixing bowl while I unwrapped two sticks of margarine.

I lifted the sugar canister off the top shelf and handed it to him. “Measure out two cups,” I said.

I could picture Nuko, our neighbor, with his baked brown skin, missing front tooth, and snapping black eyes. Nuko, with his purple striped shirt, and jeans that were a little too tight to button.

Nuko was in charge of the village water system. It was his job to start the engine that pumped the water from the river to a tank high on the hill. From there it flowed by gravity to all the houses in the village. Almost every morning the tank was empty.

We kept one ear tuned for the sound of the pump as we stacked the breakfast dishes in the sink and sorted the laundry. Sometime after eight o’clock the chugging of the engine meant Nuko had eased himself down over the bank behind his house and started the pump. In about two hours we would have enough water to wash dishes and fill the tub of our wringer washing machine.

Yes, Nuko was in charge of the village water and maybe in charge of the village itself.

One scorching day we told the children they could fill the *pila with water and splash in it for an hour or two. It wasn’t long until Nuko rattled up in his Ford F150 with its black fender, blue hood and green body. “You’re wasting water!” he scowled. I tried not to think about his well watered patio.

Nuko scolded our boys for playing in the field across the road from our house. The field actually belonged to Antonio, the neighbor who lived behind us. Antonio didn’t seem to mind if the boys chased along the cattle trails that wound through the field and up over the mesa.

Sometimes Nuko’s wife, Idalia, walked beside him while he rode his skinny mare to check on the cows. Idalia pried the wire loop off the top of the gate post and dragged the heavy contraption aside for Nuko to ride through. When he was safely inside, Idalia hauled the gate into place and strained to wrestle the wire back down over the post.

Although it didn’t excuse our children, the way he treated his wife made it hard for them to respect Nuko.

Underneath his crusty exterior, however, lay a heart as soft as a marshmallow. I’d seen glimpses of the softness when his eyes rested upon his small son Fufi.

I’d seen it the day the mad cow got loose and charged toward our house. Nuko’s frantic yells brought me running outside in time to see Donovan riding his trike down the road in the path of the oncoming cow.

The black Angus cow bellowed and threw her head from side to side. Nuko and Antonio, mounted on horses and swinging lariats pounded along behind her, trying to get close enough to put a rope around her neck.

Later, after Donovan was rescued, and the cow safely corralled, Nuko stopped by our house. “Are you okay?” he asked Donovan. He squatted down beside the child who was driving his truck on a dirt trail just outside the back door. Something almost tender had exuded from him that day.

No, I wasn’t worried about Nuko laughing at Jerry.

“Is that all, Mom?” Jerry asked. Flour dusted his dark shirt and drifted into little mounds around the mixing bowl.

“That’s good. Let’s drop them onto this cookie sheet and when this batch is baked we’ll walk over to Nuko’s.”

Twenty minutes later the two of us were standing in Nena’s kitchen. Her eyes lit up at the plate of cookies we set on the table and she turned to the stove to heat water for coffee. “Have a seat,” she said, waving her hand toward a chair. I sat and Jerry, with a sick sort of look on his face, leaned against the cupboard where Nena’s collection of dishes was displayed. We talked about the intense heat and wondered if the rains would soon start.

Nuko ambled out to the kitchen and propped himself against the counter. After a brief exchange I told him Jerry has something he needs to say.

Tears filled Jerry’s large brown eyes. “But, Mom, I don’t know how to say the words in Spanish,” he whispered. Of our whole family, this child had picked up Spanish the quickest. He could carry on a conversation with anyone and the natives said he didn’t even have much of an accent. Somehow the words for an apology got stuck in his craw.

I drew him down onto my lap. “You can do it,” I encouraged. “Say, ‘Lo siento…’”.

“Lo siento…” eyes on the floor he struggled the whole way through the halting confession.

Nuko’s eyes were suspiciously moist as he laid a hand on Jerry’s head. “Esta bien,” he said. Their eyes met for an instant and a brief smile passed between them. Nuko patted Jerry’s head as he sauntered through the kitchen and out the door. Jerry hopped up and followed him outside.

I sighed with relief. It is well.

*pila – a large concrete receptacle often used for washing

What Makes the Difference? by Jan Beiler

October 20th, 2010

High on the mesa, beneath the clear blue of the Mexican sky, are crumbling remains. Years ago the owner of a silver mine lived in this very spot. With him lived his twelve wives, and no one knows how many children.

I stood in the center of the adobe courtyard and wondered how it must have felt to be one of those wives.  The courtyard wall had been the outer circumference of the living structure.  Rooms, not accessible to each other, opened into the yard.

In the center stood the remains of something, was it the cooking ring?  Did the wives take turns patting out tortillas on this flat rock and heating them over the fire, each for her  own brood of children?        Did the favorite wife have priority?  Did a less favorite wife cast dark looks as she shushed her hungry, crying toddler? Did each woman gather her children into her cubicle as the evening shadows fell and echoes of yipping coyotes on the trail of a jack rabbit, rolled in from the hills?  Did she hope her husband came to her that night or did she fear that he would?

What about the patriarch?  Did he ride his mule home from checking on his mines, and look across the hills at his vast land holdings, feeling like royalty returning to his humble subjects?  Or did he ride home with slumped shoulders wondering how he ever got himself into this mess?  The whole set up was so far from God’s plan for a home…  how could it have been a happy situation?

I thought about humble Jesús, faithful native member of the church, descendant of the silver mining genitor.  Jesús, who limps into church at nearly every service.  His black, thick framed glasses, held together by a length of lime green yarn. Jesus, with his tee shirt with the slogan ‘Ernesto Sigalo for presidente’, highly visible through his thin dress shirt.

Jesus, who halts painfully through the reading of his verse in Sunday school and who waits quietly while one of the young fellows helps him find the number in the song book, but joins in singing with full, rich fervor.  Jesus, who, right on cue, shuffles to the back of the auditorium, grasps the wooden offering box, and carries it to the front row. He faithfully attends it the whole way to the back, nodding agreeably as the coins plunk inside.  After the service, it is Jesus who shakes hands with everyone, and makes each one feel like the most important person present.

I thought about how it would feel to be the wife of Jesus.  He doesn’t have a silver mine as his grandfather did, just some cattle, and a smattering of turkeys.  He doesn’t have vast land holdings to gloat over, just a narrow strip of rocky soil. He isn’t rich and he isn’t polished, how can he be so happy?

What makes him provide a Christmas turkey for the missionary’s guests from the states?  What caused Jesus and his wife, Lola, to count out enough money from their meager savings to buy a block of cheese as a love gift for the missionaries?

Why is it that their home is a place for anyone to come with their troubles? Where, no matter who you are, you’re treated to a cup of coffee, a warm smile and a listening ear?

I can still see Jesus and Lola sitting together in their sunny kitchen, after the last drop of coffee, rich with sugar and creamer had disappeared and the last *sopaipilla had vanished, and they were satisfied they couldn’t get us another thing.

“Could you sing for us?” we asked.  “The song about the ovejas pedidas?”

Lola chuckled self consciously, and looked at her hands in her lap.  Jesus cleared his throat, threw his head back and together they launched into the song of the lost sheep.  What makes them have such a burden for the lost?

Could it be the joy they have experienced at being rescued by the Good Shepherd??? They haven’t forgotten the  ancient Jeep Wagoneer rattling into the village of La Esperanza all those years ago bringing the gospel to fan the flickering flame in their hearts.  The flame of longing for something better, something that would make a difference.

*Sopaipillas are deep fried tortillas which are rolled in a mixture of confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon while they are still warm.  With honey drizzled over top, they are delicious.

Chicken is…Just Chicken Jan Beiler

September 14th, 2010

Those chickens must’ve had to work for their living, I thought as I looked at the scrawny chicken drumsticks for sale in Hermanos Castillos.   I turned away from the display.  Much as I longed for the taste of fresh chicken, it wasn’t worth the price they were asking.  Converting pesos to dollars and kilos to pounds it would have been over a dollar per pound… unreachable on a missionary stipend.

In the mean time, Dad and Mom came for a visit.  Dad had been the Bishop over the Mexico  churches for many years, so, like it or not, we had to share them with everybody.  Still, they were my parents and when it was time for their return flight, we were privileged to take them the six hours to El Paso, Texas to the airport.

As we neared the border town of Juarez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Mom dug around in her ample purse and pulled out fifty dollars.  “Here,” she said.  “I want you to go to Walmart and stock up on meat.”

Such riches!  I picked out several ten pound bags of chicken leg quarters and three five pound rolls of ground beef and I think I even bought a ham.

Gratefully, I stored the meat in the freezer in our little house in La Esperanza.

Phil was adding a second story to the Pastor’s house.  Dave and Phyllis’ family of ten had crowded into the three bedroom, one bath house for the last five years.  They frequently hosted large groups of visitors, who stayed for weeks at a time. It seemed the addition wasn’t happening a minute too soon.

A work day was scheduled.  Folks were coming from the Pedernales mission, and three men from the states had arrived to help with framing.

“I’ll bring the meat for the casserole,” I offered.  “I have all those leg quarters.”

Phyllis planned to make pies.  Pies were her specialty.  The tender crusts melted in one’s mouth and the chocolate filling with real whipped cream from Naomi’s cow, would be sure to make every worker glad he had come.

The bone to meat ratio is high, even on chicken from El Paso.  The early darkness of winter had fallen by the time I finished picking the last piece of chicken off the last bone.   The mixing bowl full of succulent meat was a treasure to gloat over, especially when one is in the habit of eating beans.

A kerosene lamp flickered on the table, not quite able to dispel the shadows in the corners of the room.  I pushed the cookie sheet full of bones off to one side and turned to the cupboard for a container in which to store the meat.

“Chad,” I said over my shoulder to my eleven-year-old son, “Take this stuff out to the dogs.”

“This?”  Chad asked.

“Mom,” Francie said at that precise instant, “do you want me to start bathing the little ones?”

“Yes,” I said to Francie.  I was still rummaging in the cupboard.  In a kitchen as small as mine, everything had to be stacked and packed so that getting a container was not a light matter, especially in a dark cupboard.

There!   This one looks like the right size, I thought, seizing a square, six cup Rubbermaid with a matching red lid.

I turned back to the table.  Where was the chicken?  I moved a lid and a basket of tea towels, placed there in my quest for a container.  I looked on the chair at the end of the table and on the bench by the wall.  The only sign of chicken was a silver pan full of bones.

“Where is the chicken?”  I asked as the horrible reality began to sink into my unwilling brain.

“Chad, WHAT did you give to the dogs?” I asked.

“The chicken,” he said innocently.  “I asked you if that was the pan I should take out and you said ‘yes’.”

“I said ‘yes’ to Francie,” I moaned.

“Well, I kind of wondered,” Chad replied.

“You kind of wondered?” I choked.  “How could you not know?”

Never one to accept what he considered undeserved blame, Chad shrugged and said, “I’m sorry, but I asked you.”

I slumped onto the kitchen chair.  All that precious chicken!  Brought clear from El Paso, cooked and picked off the bone for two lousy mutts! I felt like I could not accept it.

In the end I didn’t have any choice but to accept it.  I grudgingly carried the chicken scraps out to the dogs, and watched resentfully as they pounced upon the spoil. Low growls rumbling in their throats as each warned the other not to take more than his share.

I fried hamburger for Phyllis’ rice casserole and tried to figure out what was left to be thankful for.

We still had plenty to eat, nobody was hurt, and, after all, chicken is… just chicken.