Three Score & 10

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For months many have been preparing earnestly for this day. They’ve kept up with current trends, searched online and in neighborhood stores for that perfect costume. The one that cries individuality but conveys that huge “Wow!’ factor when unveiled. Yes, for many Westerners tonight is Halloween. Interestingly, I’ve never celebrated the event. I’ve never donned a costume or gone to a costume party. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the tradition per se, it’s just, the day holds a much bigger significance in my life. Today is my mum’s birthday and she turns 70! So, I’ve always spent the day reflecting on who she is and what she means to me.

I am who I am because God chose her. I’ve been told I’m a carbon copy of her. I don’t see it, but I do see her beauty (both inner and outer). My dad would have been crazy to have missed her during their college days at the University of Nebraska.  That smile accentuated by radiant cheek bones. That resilience. That work ethic. Her realistic idealism. Her philanthropy. Her care for those society has written off.  Her support for dad through some difficult times. Her support for her family…ALL OF THEM.  The things she’s endured herself.

You see, mum was born into a large family. Six sisters and one brother. She was dependable as a young girl. Her parents could always count on her. She did well in secondary school and it wasn’t a surprise that she earned a USAID scholarship to Nebraska and then onto Purdue for her graduate studies. Someone that focused would have to attract a like-mind. Falling for that equally handsome doctoral student was only natural. They married in Lincoln over 45 years ago and still look great together.  I love the pictures mum sends me of her and dad dressed up for Church every Sunday. She’s still radiant!  The picture I just received of her sitting in a brand new car dad bought her today underscores her excitement but more importantly, her gratitude to God!

As the first in her immediate family to go overseas for an education back in the 60s, she knew her siblings would need her. Her community back home would need her. Her homeland would need her new found expertise. She and dad returned home with me to do their part in helping a country 13 years removed from independence.  Today, mum is a retired civil servant and philanthropist. In her time, she’s helped advance the cause of science and technology; supported her siblings, nephews, and nieces in getting their education; and has done the same for so many more. Every New Year’s day, hundreds return to express their gratitude for my parent’s support. I can’t return every year, but I thank God daily for the gift of my mother.

She’s still the best driver I know…even at 70! She’s the best price negotiator I’ve ever observed. If you’ve ever shopped in an open market in Africa, the Caribbean, or any developing country, you know how important negotiating is to the final outcome. Mum is a certified pro.  I could write a book about this woman but knowing her, she’d prefer the blessing of simply fulfilling God’s call on her life as a servant, daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, sibling, and friend.

I love you mum…HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!

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A night of culture…musically speaking

So I’ve been living in my apartment since July.  Other than my family’s visit over Labor Day, I haven’t entertained at the loft…well, until this past Wednesday. “The Loft”…that’s what I call my place. I live on the top floor of a shopping complex; next to a fitness club and with the view below. To say this chapter has been therapeutic is an understatement. I enjoy waking up before dawn to the smell of freshly baked bread and a view that heralds God’s magnificence.

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And so for the past five weeks I’ve been facilitating discussions among a group of 12 individuals from 12 different countries. Discussions cover a range of topics from migration to terrorism, transnational organized crime and gender equality. These amazing professionals from various fields have taught me so much since we started this journey together. They are part of a larger group of 105 participants attending a course on applied security.

Last Saturday we held a Culture Night where all 105 participants got a chance to showcase their individual cultures with food, drinks, pictures, and art. It was an amazing event…so much food from as far as Honduras all the way to Afghanistan and South Africa. But then on Wednesday, I experienced a different kind of culture night when 10 of the 12 in my discussion group dropped by my apartment. I knew some of them were fans of music from the 80s and so I had a video playlist projecting on the wall. The balcony seemed to become a nice gathering spot despite the cold but clear night.  We talked about family, travels, and joked about the teams loss during volleyball.  I learned more about them as individuals, their aspirations, likes, and dislikes.  I also marveled at how this group that five weeks ago had never met, came to become a well-oiled intellectual and social machine.

Back inside I switched roles from party host to “Karaoke DJ”. Hearing people from so many different countries sing along to Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”, Fugees “Killing Me Softly”, or Michael Jackson’s “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” was a hoot.  Frank Sinatra’s “I Did It My Way” was the fan favorite.  But, the highlight came when I asked each of them to pick a favorite music video from their country. I then played the video on the big screen and we all got to enjoy a healthy sampling of world music.  It was so much fun to see each of them temporarily forget the challenges each of their countries faced while excitingly digging through YouTube for a favorite music video.  I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about the universality of music and how people with so many differences can also have so much in common while coming together to sing popular tunes.

What a night…definitely up there among the memorable ones!

There’s just something about fellowship, even through music, that connects humanity and opens us up to be better listeners especially in the company of those who don’t look, sound, or even live like us. I am blessed to have had a rich multicultural journey thus far and one that has less to do with the places I’ve been but more to do with the people I’ve encountered.

 

“Show hospitality to one another without complaining.  Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of the varied grace of God.” — 1 Peter 4:9-11 (NET) 

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Be Kind to Strangers 

I really enjoy train travel. As much as I like driving for hours at a time, I also enjoy being a train passenger lost in a world camouflaged by my headphones. A world where I laugh quietly at Robin Williams’ jokes or bob my head to a LeCrae song. I thought this weekend’s trip to watch my son’s football game would be typical of my previous travels. Until I arrived at the train platform and realized it was a holiday weekend in the country of my residence. EVERYONE was traveling; the train was crowded and some of the travelers had already had a few hours head start on drinking. As I approached my stop, I tried to squeeze out of my seat and head to the door without causing a commotion.
I made it out before the train’s doors were shut closed and headed for my connecting platform then it hit me: I didn’t have my cellphone. Ugh!

It must have fallen out of my pocket in my attempts to squeeze out of the compartment. Double-ugh!!

I had just printed 250 business cards with that phone number listed. Triple ugh!!!

That was the number mum routinely sends me text messages on. #%<**##!!!!

I stood there helplessly for about a minute, then gathered my thoughts and went into problem-solving mode. I reached for my other phone (yes, I have two phones–don’t judge) and called my missing phone.

“Hello?” The male voice on the other questioned. I asked if he spoke English and told him I had dropped my phone on the train. He said he did, told me to hold, and then hung up. aargh!!
I took a deep breath, waited 30 seconds and called again. This time a female voice answered. Her English was better and I could feel my stress level dropping as we made arrangements for me to get the phone back on my return journey.

I have to confess I had believed the worst would happen. I didn’t anticipate a stranger would go out of their way to return a high end smartphone. I rushed to buy a gift to give this kind stranger when we met. Last night, during the exchange, I gave her a bottle of wine, shook her boyfriend’s hand as he said: “welcome to our country!”

I smiled. It was indeed an excellent way to leave a positive impression on a visitor.
I’m a big fan of “paying it forward” and a believer in Hebrews 13:2:

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

Not calling myself an angel, far from it. Just reinforcing the power of kindness when opportunities present themselves. Just be kind…period. In fact, make it a point to aggressively seek ways to be kind to strangers. Try doing it without looking for anything in return. Sometimes we feel we deserve a pat on the back. Don’t. It’s like wondering why you didn’t get nominated for the “volunteer of the year” award.  Really?

Challenge for the week: Find ways to be a secret giver.

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“I’ve Been to the Mountain Top”

Shere Hills Jos Plateau State

Shere Hills Jos Plateau State

The first time I remember hiking it wasn’t even called hiking. I was an 11-year old military school cadet and we were sent out on a road march into the hills of northern Nigeria. We were given a map, a compass, and told when supper would be served. We had some water and no snacks. Just a dozen young boys out in the woods looking for clues. It wasn’t a fun experience although some of the scenery was breath-taking. My team got lost, couldn’t find any of the clues we were supposed to when we were supposed to, and bickered amongst each other for hours. By the time we made it back to camp, the food was almost gone. I didn’t make any vows that day but let’s just say words like camping and hiking were relegated to the recesses of my memory bank.

Fast forward a few years and this time I’m a 19-year old college cadet. Another road march; a very familiar scenario. The environment, a bit more controlled. Woods, yes but bound by a fence line. We were on a large military base in the midwest of the U.S. This was a test of our ability to survive and operate. Figure out what was edible and what wasn’t. Learn to take cover, avoid being seen. There was a sense of adventure on this one and of course, every thing I’d learned in military school came back to me. I was calmer this time. I fell into a natural role as the cool, calm, and collected cadet offering suggestions when needed and calming fears when they arose.

The Rock, Gardez

View of The Rock from a Forward Operating Base in South West Asia.

Then there was “The Rock”. This time I’m a lot older and in a more hostile environment.  I was an advisor at a base in South West Asia located in a valley and surrounded by mountain ranges and outposts said to have been built by Alexander the Great’s soldiers. We were already sitting at 7,500 feet. Those assigned to this location were challenged to climb “The Rock” at least once before their tour was over. And what would one get? You guessed it…a t-shirt! It was a tough climb up to 9,250 feet and very thin air. I remember the gasping like it was yesterday. It took about 3 hours to get to the top and another 2 hours to get back down. I did get a t-shirt and proudly counted myself among those brave enough to dare take on and conquer “The Rock”…not Dwayne Johnson. 🙂

So today I find myself in yet another valley, this time in Bavaria and the view is breathtaking.  I’m reminded of the words to a song my mom would sing when I was little:

“When through the woods, and forest glades I wander, And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.  When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee, How great Thou art! How great Thou art! 

[The hymn “How Great Thou Art” is based on a Swedish folk melody and was adapted and written by an english missionary, Stuart K. Hine based on his experiences in the Carpathian mountains.]

Krammerspitze Mountain Top

Krammerspitze Mountain Top

There’s something about mountains that inspires us inwardly. That adventurer I thought I’d pushed away time and time again came rearing its head and I decided to not only admire the beauty of God’s creation, but to also experience it by hiking.  At first I took the tourist option and climbed the Zugspitze with the cable car and oh what a view it was!  I was on the highest point in Germany and on a clear day, I’m told you can see all the way to Italy. I looked down and saw hikers who looked like ants from where I stood.  I was inspired by their courage, sense of adventure, and resilience.  From the bottom it was a 5,900 foot climb and most people did it in two days.  I hadn’t climbed or walked that far before, well airplane rides don’t count.  So I signed up for a guided hike as soon as I could.  A week before the big hike, I decided to go on a day-hike just to evaluate my mental and physical readiness. I’d had mixed experiences in the past but this one was all on me. The Krammerspitze Mountain sat at about 6,500 feet and I was told the hike took about 5-6 hours (not counting stops for lunch, etc.)  I made some mistakes on this outing; like forgetting my trekking poles for example (you definitely need those) or not packing enough electrolytes (cramped muscles are never fun) or not getting a good idea of where the peak was actually located (thought I was done when I still had an hour of climbing left, lol). Thanks to friendly fellow hikers, I made it up and back, with needed rest and lunch, in 8 hours. My knees and feet didn’t appreciate the trek, but my mind did. I took what I learned that day and prepared myself to tackle the Zugspitze.

The following week, tIMG_1599emparatures had dropped slightly, it had rained almost everyday and we knew it had even snowed at the top of the mountain. There were 11 of us in the group aged 12 to 60-something.  We pushed-through, we talked, we stopped to take pictures and at night we slept in the closest quarters I’d ever seen. Amazing how quickly 11 people with one focus can bond.  By far, this turned out to be the best hike I’d ever been on (although my hike total sits at only 1/2 a dozen). It was everything I expected it to be: Grueling, cold, wet, picturesque, exhilarating, and a priceless sense of accomplishment at the end.

I can now say that “I’ve been to the Mountain Top” and I’m glad God “allowed me to go up to the mountain” and that He let me “look over” and “consider all, the works His hands have made”.  To Him Be the Glory!!

Zugspitze Mountain

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Memorial Day: Living & Dying for Something Greater

 
This weekend I visited the American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg as part of our Memorial Day commemorations. As many may know, the last Monday in May is a federal holiday in the U.S. when we remember those who’ve died while serving in our armed forces.

 I walked the hallowed grounds of the cemetery in quiet reflection. I saw General Patton’s grave and took time to reflect on his story and place in history. I thought of all the books and movies that depict the story of one of America’s most famous wartime Generals.  Then walking between the other headstones you realize that some of those who lost their lives where still teenagers; lives sacrificed in defense of freedom.  Gone too soon?  You wonder if the family line ended with their sacrifice. You wonder who’s telling their story.  You see the gravestones of siblings buried next to each other and are saddened even more. Then you come across the gravestone of the unknown.  

These were regular folks, factory workers and clerks, like you and me, who went to battle. These regular folks did the extraordinary to secure our right to free will.  Looking out at the spanse of headstones it should quickly dawn on anyone breathing that freedom should never be taken for granted. I immediately felt immense gratitude to those who faced the jaws of death and paid the ultimate sacrifice. It is a special calling to be one of the few willing to die in defense of one’s country. It is a calling to a cause much greater than oneself. This calling isn’t understood by some today. Those who get wrapped around their individual ideologies about war, forget that there are a few good men and women who, regardless of how you feel, train day-in and day-out in preparation to answer their nation’s call. They do so knowing that response may require never returning home. America collectively values this special group of people and honors them with days federal holidays and more.

As I stood among the rows of white-marbled headstones, I felt in the greatest of company; among heroes of a great generation of Americans.  This Memorial Day, take a moment to reflect on those who lost their lives in defense of freedom. You enjoy yours today (even the ones you don’t appreciate), because they gave up all of theirs.

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Thank God for Doctors & Nurses

Bandaged Wrist Right After Surgery

Today, for the first time in my life, I had surgery.

Yes, all those years of training, football (soccer to many of you), track and field, and mountain hikes in South West Asia, I’ve never gone under the knife. Well, today I did. Was I scared or nervous? No…more like anxious to get rid of this “thing” that had been growing like an alien species on my wrist for months.

However, all the appointments to discuss the risks of anesthesia (in its many forms); the advice from friends (about what kind of anesthesia to go for); and, just the reality of a part of my body being cut open only helped to increase my anxiety. Then came the doctors and nurses, at separate points before I was rolled into the operating room. They each explained what was going to happen, how it was going to happen, and how long it would take. They were so reassuring!

About 30 times today I was asked to verify my name and date of birth. Part of me started to think they were planning a surprise party afterwards and wanted to be sure. It never happened. They also kept asking what I was allergic to; this is when I decided to add the word “stupid” to my list of allergies. Yes, I’m allergic to stupid. Unfortunately, the nurses didn’t have a wrist band for that allergy; but they all laughed in agreement.

I was promised a drip “cocktail” that would sedate me while I was in surgery. Whatever that cocktail was, they need to put some ice cubes in it and pass me a glass, because I don’t remember squat! One minute, I was repeating my name and birthday for the umpteenth time, and the next minute, a nurse was explaining the bandages and stint on my left forearm. I slept through the whole thing!

I’m in recovery now…at home, and will need weeks of physical therapy. Nevertheless, the fact that I’m blogging this with one hand and not curled up in a fetal position in bed is a testament to God’s goodness; the professionalism and expertise of the doctors; and the care those nurses provided.

#TGBTG

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Again on Prayer

  

Today I found a chance to teach my sons deeper lessons on prayer by watching the movie Bruce Almighty.

Three lessons:
1. God answers prayers in three ways: Yes. No. Maybe.
2. Left to us, we’d want yes answers to all our prayers and it would result in chaos.
3. Our deepest desire in prayer is to desire God’s will above our own. Christ exemplified that in his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Not my will but your will be done…”
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Condemn Not

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Pieter Bruegel, Oil on panel, 24cm x 34cm. Courtauld Institute Galleries, London

John 8:4-11

“Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

To professing Christians: Are you known more for what you stand against, or for what you stand for?

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STRENGTH THROUGH STORMS

Received this from a friend today who knows the value of journaling thoughts that come to mind in the midnight hour. She’s given me permission to share on this blog. POWERFUL!

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I am a parent and I am an airman. I struggle every single day to balance the two…by myself. I am alone and I am scared, often. I became a widowed mother of 2 at the age of 24, and then a widowed mother of 3 again at 27.  I lost my first husband to a battle with drugs that stole his life and the memories that my children could have had with him before they were old enough to even remember him. 

I lost my fiancé to a motorcycle accident on Thanksgiving day that obliterated the possibility that he would know what it felt like to hold his first child in his arms surrounded by our little family that adored him. 

I have very few friends; when I am not working I am cleaning, cooking, helping with homework, paying bills, grocery shopping, tending children, or attempting some form of hygiene of my own amidst my chores…on the days I’m not utterly exhausted. Oh, let’s not forget…volunteering and education are key in the whole person concept these days. 

I am a coordinator for a volunteer corps for the base I am stationed at and I am slowly working on my Bachelors degree because it’s getting harder for me to be judged only on the quality of my work. How you ask? I cry myself to sleep some nights, others I’m too tired and am not even sure how I made it into my pajamas let alone to my bed. I wake up and do what I was always taught to do…keep going, don’t give up, push harder. 

Nobody likes to fail, and failing would start by not getting out of bed. Why do I keep going? I can honestly say I have lost count of how many times I have been so tired of it all, and so exhausted in the last few years that I wanted to just stop and give up. But then, every single time, I couldn’t do it…I couldn’t give up. I reminded myself that someone else had it worse, there’s always worse and there’s no way that I wanted my children to see me give up.  After everything that THEY have been through, they were watching ME. They were learning how to cope through ME. I reminded myself that I will show them that even through the most devastating times, that they CAN be strong, that they CAN get through it. I could not let them see me give up if I want to instill this quality in them. The humanity and compassion they have learned as they dried the tears running down my face. And then I realized, they were not the only ones watching me. 

While we may not be able to put onto a performance evaluation the real life success of struggles that truly makes someone a leader, I sleep so much better seeing my resilience help someone else bounce back.  We think our struggles no matter how big or small are our own, and they’re not. While we may feel the the heavy burden and the root of that instance, our branches touch so many that can relate. It may not be just our children that we are teaching these qualities to but our friends, our families, our coworkers, and even our friends that we may or may not ever even talk to on social networks. 

I get up every morning and I tell myself that I have no other choice!! I will succeed today! Today is not the day I am defeated by myself or by life! I will not be pushed down off this mountain I have worked so hard to climb because I want to reach the top; and I don’t want to do it alone, but I will if I have to! 


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Answered Prayer

“The greatest tragedy of life is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer” — Author: F. B. Meyer

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