Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Forever Riding in a Big Red Cadillac


Ruth and Carmel 

They drove a bright red Cadillac. It must have been around 1982, I suppose I was in about the 2nd grade. I rode Bus 8 home each day from the West Elkton Elementary School. I remember the bus lurching and creaking as Mr. Wilson the chain-smoking bus driver slowed to drop me off. I can't remember what kind of day I had, but what I do remember is how I jumped out of my seat, laughed, and ran down the aisle, bounding down the three big stairs from the bus to the ground. Right in the middle of my gravel driveway sat that big red Cadillac. My Mammaw and Pop were there to pick me up! And that's how they've always been to me.

That's me and my cousin Tricia with Mammaw Ruth. I'm not sure, but I think we were at Americana Amusement Park in LeSourdesville, Ohio. Memories with Mammaw Ruth are full of sunshine, butterflies, flowers, cheesecake, Wendy's Frosties, Ho-Ho's hidden from Pop (he would eat them all), and Cheese Chilitos from Zantigos!

Mammaw and Pop just always made me feel like everything in the world was right. When I was with them, nothing else mattered and there was absolutely nothing that could harm me. I spent most of my summers with them and a good many weekends. I had a special big T-shirt I could sleep in and I even had special socks with fuzzy balls sewed to them that I knew where always waiting for me under the center cushion of the big couch. Inside of the octangular coffee table that opened up like a magic accordion, there was a white and black tin of crayons sitting on top of the biggest stack of coloring books I had ever seen.

Uncle Stephen's room held a secret box of matchbox cars. For years I thought he never knew that I sneaked them out and admired them. I was so careful not to scratch them (he later told me that he always knew). Mammaw had a basket of cars that I was free to slam and crash!

I would sit and run my fingers through the white shag carpet while Pop would tell me Bible stories. Sometimes he would talk about his mamma, or his life growing up as a tobacco farmer. He also would tell me about meeting Mammaw, dating her, and about how much she loved him!

He always had a tooth-pick in his mouth, a gleam in his eye, and if you let him get too close he would tackle you in a big hairy arm bear-hug before tormenting you with tickles or wrestling holds. 

I remember hearing him preach and seeing people rush to the alter in fervent prayer. I remember praying at night with Mammaw and always ending by singing
"Now I lay me down to sleep..."

My faith was formed in those years. My theology grounded in their memories. Whenever the road gets hard, or my emotions betray me, or I just feel like I don't have anything left... I think of them. 

Pop is ninety years old now and Mammaw is only a little younger. Their days are consumed with sleeping and even eating is becoming a more difficult task for them. The uncle who used to have the magic tin of Matchbox cars now has a different treasure. Mammaw and Pop live at his house now.

I wish I could just sneak into the room, find them, and admire them. It is very difficult to be so far from them, knowing that this is the time that I should be for them what they always were for me. 

I should be there to let them know that the world is alright. I should be there so that they know nothing else matters and I wouldn't let anything harm them. This sacrifice is difficult at times. 

They know where I am. They know that I serve. And on those days that I feel heavy or wonder how I can keep on going... I remember that red Cadillac sitting in the driveway. I remember all the smiles, hugs, and butterfly kisses. I remember the long talks in the shag. I remember the faith they passed on to me.

And I want to be a better man. I want to walk in faith. I want to live fearless. I want them to know that they still make me feel like nothing in the world can touch me.

I think of them. I want my life to honor them.

-To Continue the story-

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Day of Atonement: Return to Solola

"The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it." -Henry David Thoreau

Four months into Guatemala our family had a traumatic experience as we drove home from a day in Panajachel. Our car broke down in a blind mountain pass as we exited Solola. I stood on the side of a mountain with my wife, my three children, and my mother-in-law, convinced that the night was about to get bad. God intervened on that dark night, allowing us to return safely home. Since that time I have returned to Pana on a couple of occasions, but I have not attempted the drive since. Last week I realized that I needed to again attempt the drive. I am not content to allow that memory to own me. It is time to conquer the journey.

Today we set out: me, Kellie, Caleb, Aleksandra, Sharon, and Joe. This is Atonement Day, Guate style.

About 10 minutes down the road I realize that my legal and notarized copy of my U.S. Passport is in the other car. I feel strongly that I should return to the house and get it. But we've been here for nearly a year and I've never been stopped. I driven past countless roadside checks and not once have I had to show documentation. I decide it is best not to make the return to get the document. We will press on.

30 minutes outside of Panajachel, and on the outskirts of Solola the highway is blocked off by the Police. Every car is being stopped. I pull over and after a discussion with the officer and his supervisor I am relieved of a quantity of currency and we are again on our way.

Solola seems to taunt us amongst her outskirts. We do not pass without a price. I earn the value of a foolish and vital lesson... Gringo, do not travel without your passport.

We navigate the remainder of the path and arrive in Panajachel. We zip line, have lunch, swim, rest, shop, and have dinner. It is dark in Panajachel and I lay safely in bed typing. Tomorrow we tackle the return trip. Adventure awaits.

For now... we lay in a hot little hotel room with the unscreened windows wide open to the blood-moon lit Guatemalan sky and we rest.

Panajachel at night. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Love is Face to Face.

The children of a family in Labor de Falla for whom the Roh family built an ONIL Stove.

Being in a third world country provides perspectives that constantly slap me in the head. It isn't better or worse, it's just so blatantly different. Building ramps and elevators and lift chairs are undoubtably good things, however these are answers that a wealthy nation provides. I am intensely aware however that there are also other answers.

I have been repeatedly humbled by compassion that has no support of technology or dollars. Sometimes I think money and modern convenience becomes a substitute for the type of compassion that occurs when we press skin to skin and get down face to face. 

My Mammaw is in the final years of her life right now at 86 and she is afflicted with dementia. It is painful for me to know of her suffering and yet to be so far away. Sometimes I have my uncle or mother hold the computer above her face so I can see her. She smiles at me and laughs as she forms the sound of my name with a deliberate effort. I smile each time with tears running down my face, marveling at how she still can remember my face and name. She has forgotten so much. My mom talks about painting her fingernails and helping her remember brighter days.

Compassion for the handicapped or the poor is not optional for Christ followers. A simple walk down the road here provides me with encounters of those who are missing limbs. Some slide on small wheeled carts, others drag their bodies along the dirt. They all have hands reaching out.

I have passed them by on occasion... and then I find myself running back to place a coin in their hand... and taking the time to make some sort of physical contact. The eye contact or the touch of a hand seems to mean more to that person the the few coins tossed quickly in a bowl.

I have a friend who sits down beside the broken and spends his day. That is simply something he does. Compassion and loving those whose bodies or minds are broken requires so much more of us that a chair that lifts or a few bucks tossed at their shattered lives.

It is recognizing that they are creations of God.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Immerse Me. Take me now.

It is a wild and windy night here in Sacatepéquez. The window beside my bed flashes with moonlight as the clouds race underneath it's shine. The pvc pipe that is cut as a gutter has again fallen to the concrete below. I imagine that it has now shattered beyond usefulness.

I had to close the security door on the roof with paper wedged into the lock due to the force of the wind rattling it's steel frame like a specter making its way onto the landing. The outer gate is sealed and the inner doors are customarily open into the courtyard and driveway. The dog has free roam of the grounds.

Watching the clouds surge beneath the moonlight reminds me of the nature of my days. Multitask has taken new meaning as my various natures have merged into a single creation. I once was student, pastor, administrator, missionary, friend, father, son, husband, wanderer... but now I am simply my namesake. I am Roamingshepherd. Call me Shep.

"Not all that wander are lost." Thank you J.R.R. Tolkien. I look forward to chatting with you in the extended part of my timeline.

I have learned to love the storm. My family sleeps in the darkened house. I take this silent moment to reflect. I am the moonlight as the busyness of my life races underneath. I notice every whisp and every shape. These days are amazing. The view is astonishing. I am in awe. I give thanks.

Do you know what it is like to immerse the children of your best friend in the whole wide world into a symbolic dunking of faith? Last week my right hand lifted into the night sky as my left overlaid a small hands clasping noses. A prayer was spoken, the requisite phrase, "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost" dissipated into the night, and bodies  were raised dripping with evidence of salvation.

My soul weeps with the immensity of the significance of this moment. My redeemer has brought me to this place. 

I reflect on a snowy day 4 years ago when I sat stuck in a snow-bank raging at the God of the universe! I was through with Him! I made a demand of Him. I clenched my fist and shouted... "GOD! God, if you are real. God if you are real then take me now. Kill me. Kill me right here... or take my life and use me. If you are real, damn me to hell in this moment or take this worthless life and show me something! USE ME.

I shattered inside, physically hurting as my sobs smothered out my attempts at breath. I cried until I tasted blood and my side cramped. I felt God physically touch me. I was terrified. And I was a peace. 

I remember that moment tonight as the wind howls through the thin glass. I wonder how many windows will be cracked when the sun rises? I thank God that he shattered the window that held back my own soul. I rejoice for shattered pieces.

Baptism comes in many forms. I baptized with water, and God baptizes with the Holy Ghost. The wind just slammed something into the concrete below... Kellie stirs in bed beside me. My fingers make rhythmic ticking sounds on the keyboard as the night resumes its pulse.

Whatever is to come tomorrow is fine by me. I no longer fear death, or pain, or tragedy. Each day is an extension from that day in the snow drift. My God heard my rage and while He did not kill me... He indeed took my life. 

I will not fear the storm. 

I am immersed deep into the water and my God's right hand reaches down to take my own.