Posts Tagged ‘contentment’

HAVES and HAVE NOTS by Starla Goodwin

Saturday, 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.”    

Part of The Package by Jan Beiler

Saturday, 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

Tuesday, 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.”

A New Year, And New Steps Jan Beiler

Monday, 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

What Makes the Difference? by Jan Beiler

Wednesday, 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

Tuesday, 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.

Love is a Verb Jan Beiler

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

I held the flash cards in my hand and whispered the words to myself.

“Puesto – perfect participle of poner ( put, set)”,
“Roto – perfect participle of romper (broken)”,
“Visto – perfect participle of ver (seen)”,

These Spanish verbs! It just made me so mad. Take doler, the word for pain or ache. If a person wanted to learn to use it correctly in all situations, he’d have to learn one hundred and twenty-eight variations of the word. And doler was only one of the five hundred and one verbs listed in Christopher and Theodore Kendris’ book.

Worse was the feeling of ineptness I experienced around the other missionaries. Cheryl probably dreamt in Spanish. She’d spent more years of her life in a Spanish culture than otherwise. The blundering feeling increased the morning the two of us went to visit Lola, a dear sister in the church.

Lola was getting close to seventy and didn’t have many teeth left. She talked about a hundred miles an hour, dropped the endings of most of her words, and held her hand over her mouth because she was embarrassed about her missing teeth. I caught only words and those at great intervals- never two in sequence.

We sat together in Lola’s kitchen, at a round table, sipping coffee. Lola began a long story, something about mules and the city and días. At great intervals, Cheryl translated for me. Through the window, I could see Jesús, Lola’s husband, chopping wood for the range. Two geese wandered around, stretching their necks and looking for somebody to scold.

“¡De Veras!” Cheryl laughed. I thought it sounded a little smug. Oh, quit being so critical, I told myself.
Lola chuckled and developed the sequel to her tale. Her wrinkled face wreathed in smiles, her hand motions punctuating the air.

I loved Lola. I used to love Cheryl, too, but something about this was getting on my nerves. It just wasn’t fair. Cheryl didn’t even remember learning Spanish. And now while I was still deliberating over whether to use estaba or era, she was already off on another subject.

She didn’t seem properly sympathetic, either. I’d heard her make, what seemed to me, pointed comments about pride keeping people from using the Spanish they knew. “That’s the best way to learn,” she’d say, “Go ahead and use what you know.”

I actually rather enjoyed trying out my Spanish with the natives if nobody else was present. Since they didn’t know English, we were on equal footing or maybe I even had a little advantage. I could handle that. But I couldn’t handle faltering through a sentence in baby language with Cheryl present. I didn’t know what to call it, self respect, maybe, but not pride. I just didn’t want her to know things about me I didn’t know about myself. Like when I’d messed up.

The school picnic came up later in the week. I carried a casserole of baked beans (we had to have beans in one form or another), and set it on the table next to the grilled hot dogs. Spanish swirled around me. Cheryl seemed to be in the middle of a friendly argument with two native ladies. I turned my back.

Later, after most everyone had gone home, Cheryl settled down beside me on a rock. “Is everything okay? You seem so quiet.”

At home, if someone started to get under my skin, there were enough buffers to keep them from rubbing the sore places raw. In Mexico, I figured I may as well go for surgery. We rubbed shoulders too often for salve and bandages to hold up.

“I’m envying your Spanish,” I said. “Today is torture for me, straining to understand. Groping for the correct words with which to reply. It’s so automatic for you that I’m starting to feel resentful.”

“Oh, Jan,” Cheryl said. “With all your nice things!”

“My things!” I was aghast. “What do I have?”

Cheryl laughed apologetically. “Nice wall hangings. Interesting books. Your place doesn’t have that dog-eared look of having been on the mission field for decades like mine has.”

We talked for a long time and it felt so good. She agreed to help me with Spanish. I offered to loan her my books. We talked of redoing her bedroom. And we talked about our goals for the mission, similar goals.

I stood in the back of the auditorium of our beloved little adobe church, at our next worship service. There were two spaces available for my little daughter and I, one was beside Lola, the other beside Cheryl. I hesitated by Lola’s bench, and then settled in next to Cheryl. She held the song book for me to see. We smiled at each other. Love is a verb.

It Didn’t Feel Like Perfection By Jan Beiler

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

“Your Mom wants you to call home.”  The little neighbor girl delivered her message and skipped away in the morning sunshine.  Way back in the mountains of La Esperanza, one didn’t take phone service for granted.  Our neighbors had a better system than we, but now with a signal amplifier on top of the refrigerator, we could call out - if we sat right beside the fridge.

Before the advent of the amplifier, in order to make a phone call, a person had to get within range of the cell tower in San Borjas.  That meant crossing the dirt road, which ran just outside our house, ducking under the rusty barbed wire fence, and following the cow trail through the sage brush, steadily upward to the top of a high hill.  There surrounded by caltoñas, (thorn bushes of a tenacious variety), and with our dog, Grizzly, grinning and panting beside me, I’d start punching in the long series of numbers to call home.

On this day, with a feeling of foreboding, I arranged for the house to be quiet, situated myself beside the fridge and called home.

“I was going to wait to tell you ‘til we came to see you next month because I didn’t really want to tell you over the phone,” Mom said.

Mom continued, “The doctor thinks Gary has Parkinsons.”

I didn’t know much about Parkinson’s.  I remembered the father of one of my friends had it when I was young.  He walked with a cane.

I learned, over the ensuing weeks, how serious Parkinson’s really is.  It destroys the neuro-transmitters in the brain, leaving the victim with less and less mobility, until eventually he is helpless.

Gary.  My next older brother, the one I had trailed around in my childhood, played ping-pong with by the hour and confided all my secrets to.  Gary.  The athlete in our family of non-athletes, the singer, the public speaker, the writer – surely God wouldn’t afflict him with Parkinson’s?

I felt so far away from home, and so unconnected.  My brother was going someplace I couldn’t go.  He felt like a stranger.  I thought about him all the time.   When I sang, I thought about his song eventually being silenced.  When I saw a handicapped parking space, I thought about his agile gait, stiffening to a slow shuffle and worse.  How could God do this?

I thought about folks I knew.  It seemed to me there were others who could be debilitated without causing much of an impact on anyone, except maybe their caretakers.  Why couldn’t it have been one of them?

One night I lay in bed, unable to sleep.  The omnipresent wind rattled the loose panes in the window beside me, a fan whirred on the desk, stirring the sheets, and I wished life could go back to the way it use to be, uncomplicated and unthreatened.  Tears rolled down my cheeks in the darkness.   “God, isn’t there some mistake?” my heart cried out.  I didn’t want to be rebellious.  I believed in God’s goodness, even when things didn’t turn out the way I chose, but this was so hard…

As for God, his way is perfect:” Without warning, this verse from Psalm eighteen filled my head.

His way is perfect.   His way is perfect. I mulled the words over.  Perfection is superlative.  You can’t get better than that.

My thoughts became a prayer, and the prayer, after a while, became a prayer of submission which brought peace to my troubled heart.  And with the peace, came rest- and sleep.

The Parkinson’s hasn’t gone away.  It still wrenches my heart to watch my brother lose agility, but God is receiving glory from Gary’s response to his affliction.  More glory, I’m quite sure, than he’d receive from someone who hadn’t been making much of a contribution to life.

And I keep remembering that God’s way is perfect.  That means it can’t be improved upon.

Ps 18:30

the word of the LORD is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him. {tried: or, refined}

A Narrow Life? by Jan Beiler

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

The rusty barbed wire gate lay open. Brown dirt tinged the white plaster on the Medino’s adobe house, turning it the same color as the grass-less lawn.

Chickens, not Rhode Island Reds, but an assortment of scrawny brown and black hens pecked about in front of the door.

“What a depressing life”, I thought. “Their world is about as big as from here to Cuauhtémoc”.

Maggie saw me coming and met me at the door with a welcome.
“¡Siéntese!” She waved a hand toward the bench behind the table.

A gauzy curtain drawn up at the window, bright red geraniums in a tin can on the window sill, and a red and white checked oil cloth on the table, graced Maggie’s kitchen.

Maggie bustled about setting out instant coffee, as well as sugar and creamer in a pretty little ceramic tea set. Her black eyes sparkled in her round, wrinkled, face.
We visited about the weather, and Maggie went on to tell me of her son who had been electrocuted several years ago, when he was working in the States. I vacillated between guessing at what she was saying, and grasping for Spanish words with which to reply.

José Medino, Maggie’s tall husband, with his weather beaten face and shock of unmanageable looking white hair, entered the room.
“¿ Cómo está?” José shook hands with me and then straddled a stool, joining in the conversation about his son’s widow and her children.

How I longed for these good dear people, to find salvation. You couldn’t ask for better neighbors. José had shown interest in our remodeling project and already our boys had borrowed his horse to go riding. They were honest, dependable, and God fearing. But they were not Christians.

At the funeral of the village drunk, José had said we must pray for Blas, (the deceased man) because God is a merciful God and would yet forgive his sins. It was a convenient but dangerous way to believe. Could we help to show them the Truth?

Maggie set a steaming cup of water in front of me and placed a plate of pink and black and cream colored Mexican cookies on the table.

Just then a horrible growling, barking commotion shattered the pleasant atmosphere. With a sinking feeling, I followed José and Maggie outdoors. There, sure enough, in the tangle of legs and snarling mouths were the plainly recognizable forms of our two feisty mutts, Tigre and Grizzly, in an all out brawl with Medino dogs on Medino turf.

“Tigre! Grizzly! Go Home!” My words fell to the ground as the frenzied dogs darted in and out of the muddle – snapping, biting, yelping.

Someone came running with a five gallon bucket of water and dashed it into the melee. The dripping dogs separated and with a little encouragement, our two mongrels started for home, not exactly with their tails between their legs, but with a subdued air.

We returned to the kitchen. I was greatly embarassed.
“¡Lo siento mucho!” I apologized.
“That’s alright. That’s just the way dogs are.” Maggie said. She went on visiting as though nothing unusual had happened.

My regard for our native neighbors was steadily climbing. Anyone who had the ability to take life in stride, to make the most of the few resources they had, to accept us as we were, did not have a narrow life. Indeed, we were blessed to live among them.
Yes, we had the glorious gospel message to share with them, but on the day to day level, there was much we had need to learn from them.

HOME, Where the heart is. By Jan Beiler

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

Chalk board green paint with splashes of blue, peeled from adobe walls. I could see traces of sodden clouds through the vacant stove pipe hole. The unpainted, pock marked concrete ceiling, seemed to press down upon me. The whole place had a shut up, damp smell.

Housing on the La Esperanza Ranch in Mexico was limited to three options. A tiny four roomed house belonging to Consuelo, and filled with an accumulation of ceramic praying hands, china dolls, and pictures of Jesus, or, the abandoned public schoolhouse, or Antonio’s leaky roofed house which we were now examining.

I would have gone crazy within twenty-four hours in Consuelo’s house. Our family of eight would be jostling things off shelves and sweeping up debris from the outset.

The public school had plenty of space but I couldn’t come up with a single idea for making the drafty edifice homey. The windows , corrugated fiberglass panels that had to be wrestled open along rusty metal tracks just so one could see outside, were enough to make me faint-hearted. The restrooms were two cubicles with outside entrances, just big enough for a commode, with barely enough space left for an occupant.

In Antonio’s house, each room opened into the next, without so much as a door to separate them. The last of the six rooms was the chalky pink bathroom (at least it had one). Mouse dirt littered the commode tank. The shower and the sink shared quarters.

My husband, Phil and I looked at each other. I had always wanted to live in a purple adobe house. This one wasn’t purple but it was adobe and it had nice wide window sills. I liked the log ceiling beams. “It’d be fun to see what we can do with it,” I said.

Realistic Phil said, “It’d be a lot of work. For one thing, it needs a new roof right off the bat.” He waved a hand toward the puddles that seeped across the floor, “See how it rained in here last night?”
“You’re good at fixing things,” I said. “And look, since there’s no electricity and no plumbing except in the bathroom, we can pick whichever room we want and turn it into a kitchen. Not just any renter can do that.”

God wanted us on the ranch, Phil and I agreed. We had to live somewhere. Now we had to make a plan. A partition here. An opening there. Block off this entrance with a piece of plywood and a book case. With plenty of plaster and paint on all surfaces, it just could be quite livable.

Every nail and stick of wood with which to improve our house had to be brought from Cuauhtemoc, a two hour drive on rough, rocky roads, through stream beds, over cattle guards, up mountains and down into valleys. Black Angus cattle roamed the hill sides, jack rabbits with long ears sharply erect, darted in zigzag lines for cover, and road runners trotted briskly along, minding their own business. An occasional coyote slipped through sage brush and disappeared.

Phil set up shop in the back yard, covering his tools at night with a blue tarp. He, with help from our neighbors, fastened metal on the roof, patched plaster and replaced ceiling beams. We bought cheap kitchen cupboards that a fellow missionary had in storage, filled in the stove pipe hole, cut a window over the sink, and built doors.

The older children helped work on the house and the younger ones took every available opportunity to run like wild things over the mesas or play in the sand in the arroyo. Our three dogs promptly made enemies with neighborhood dogs.

We rolled gallons of white paint on thirsty walls. At last, I put my roller down, rubbed the small of my back and scrutinized our work. The rooms seem airier, and the ceiling not so low. I couldn’t wait to arrange furniture, put down rugs, hang pictures and curtains and place our own familiar dishes on the newly crafted shelves.

In the flickering lamplight of that first meal in our new home, I looked around the table at the dear faces of my family and thought, This house is tiny and inconvenient but my loved ones are here. If home is where the heart is, then this is home.