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24 September 2017

263/365

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed."
Malachi 3:6 (ESV)

23 September 2017

262/365

Late afternoon doldrums and I'm all over the chance for a snack from the little store across the street. "Just a coke," I say, thinking that he'll come back with my usual 12 ounce bottle.

1 liter of coke and the sugary, chocolate-filled, chocolate-frosted, hot dog bun-like, cavity in a sealed bag (and look at the label- is that 'fro impressive or what?!), Nito later, I am thinking that I might later regret that momentary lapse in judgment...

261/365

Today I wore a brand new hat. It was picture day at Instituto IsaĆ­as 55 and this year, I am the photographer. I made sure my camera battery was charged. I double checked the SD card, because my family will tell you that they have lost track of how many times I have pulled out my camera, only try to take a photo and then say, "OH! I forgot to put the card back in!"  My friend, the organizer of this event (really, I feel like it should be Organizer of this Event with a capital O and a capital E...), brought a very proper blue cloth for a backdrop. We hung it on table folded and standing upright. I took a test shot to check the light. But truthfully, that was a bit of a show, because my display screen is broken so I can't see the pictures I take until I'm home on the computer anyway. I ran upstairs to check the first picture and then trusted the rest would be fine. I am clearly amateur.

It was break time for the kids, and they watched our preparations with interest. A couple sign "hello" to me and I return the greeting. A really neat thing about deaf kids- their expressions give them away nearly every time. They are curious about why I'm there and they are curious about the camera. I want to ask them questions and show them pictures of themselves, but that won't happen today. We get to business. One by one, the students come over and sign their name and point it out on a list for Heather. We place each student against the blue background, and inevitably move them a little more, a little to the left, a little to the right. Little kids, they have not yet learned to make that serious Official Photo face. They still smile for the camera. I want to hug them. Every single one. I am clearly amateur.

With a few minutes of break remaining and most of the teachers distracted by our activities and questions, a few start to chase each other, playing tag, running through streams of mid-morning sun. I leave smiling and thankful for this place of peace, for this place for the deaf kids of Reynosa.

260/365

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” 
-- C.S. Lewis "Mere Christianity"

I listened to boys run laps around my house, hiding in corners and surpising one another when they would make a sudden turn, enjoying a Sunday afternoon in the sun. My guy, he was trying really hard to find the one thing that would cheer me. And even so, on some days, the activities and even the comforts of this world do not come close to filling the empty spaces. I missed my peeps and I missed familiar. It didn't take long to recognize again, this world is not my home. 

22 September 2017

259/365

I lined up my cards.
I piled up my beans.
The kids next to me prompted me when I missed a square.
The kid next to me won a package of toilet paper.
The lady across from me won a bag of rice.
I traded my cards.
I tried bottle caps.
I'm really not superstitious.
The kid across the way, the one who kept launching beans that bounced off my head, won the jackpot.

The quest for a win continues.

258/365

¡Viva Mexico!
¡Viva handshakes and kisses on the cheek for and from everyone in the room!
¡Viva beautiful girls and lovely women in bright dresses!
¡Viva boys in all manner of sombreros and even seemingly armed for battle and men in guayaberas!
¡Viva the silly photo booth and Mexican mohawks and Mexican berets and Freida Kahlo masks and bigotes big and bigger!
¡Viva the green and white and red!
¡Viva bright table coverings and spicy hot salsas!
¡Viva tamales and posole and tostados!
¡Viva limonada and jamaica!
¡Viva el valero, the traditional Mexican toy that seems so simple, catching a wooden orb on a stick, and is so darned difficult!
¡Viva El Grito!
¡Viva Mexico!




257/365

Some of my very earliest childhood memories include trips to Octopus Car Wash. I remember pulling up to the gas station when full service was still the norm. The guy at the pumps would fill the tank, regular please, and check the oil and ask what car wash package we wanted. We always chose the option with the fragrance, and that was back when they really sprayed some sort of scent towards the floor mats of your car. I wondered how much our squirt lowered the level in the colorful bottles of potion displayed above the hoses.

After the fill-up, my folks would pull the car around to the wash, and we'd hop out quick so the guys could climb in and start vacuuming the interior. Next stop was to the cashier to pay, and for my sister and I, a chance to check out the gumball machines and pull the knobs and make sure some stray candy wasn't waiting behind the little shiny metal door. Some times the cashier, always a nice looking girl it seems in my memory, would give us a sucker, too. Sometimes we would really hit the jackpot and my parent would buy us a root beer from the vending machine. Then we would race to the steps in front of the windows and wait for our car to cruise by. OK, well, let's be honest, probably most of the time, we would race to the steps and then elbow and jockey our way to the top. And as long as we're being honest, I should probably confess that most time I would probably elbow and push my sister off the steps entirely. I was a bully. So sorry for that, Kimberly.

On good days, we'd take our turn down the row of steps and follow our car through the rinse and wash and rinse and wax cycles, until we walked out to the dryers. It was loud out there, and nobody could hear anybody, and I would always wonder if the car behind would hit the car ahead on the conveyor belt. We'd watch a teen jump into the back seat of our car and spray the windows and wipe them clean. The guys on the outside would dry the bumpers and the lights. Finally, in what seemed like a really long time to wait, someone would wave and we'd hand the guy the stick that showed we paid and climb in again, the damp clean car smell permeating the air.

I still love the car wash. Now I get to pay at a machine by swiping my card. Now I line up my wheels to the belt and follow the sign and put the car in neutral and take my hands off the wheels and wait for the spray. I always think they could give a better effort in cleaning the bugs off my window, and yet, I keep coming back. I always second guess if I have rolled the window all the way up. One day I'll probably really mess up and roll the windows down instead. I wait for the long blue carpet rags to slap the car with suds. I always second guess if I should have paid the couple of dollars extra for the wax that shoots out in colors, and then I always wonder what happens when the wax gets on the windshield... I always get to the end of the tunnel and wait for the blowers to shoot the water droplets off the window, all the while checking the rear view mirror to see if the next car coming from behind is getting too close. I drive around to the free vacuums and get all manner of sand and dirt and organic growth off the floors. I hope not to suck up something that shouldn't be- like the tiny black baby sock that I pulled out of the attachment this week, surely inadvertently lost by a mom trying to regain order in her chariot mini-van.

I almost always hum the chorus to Car Wash, "working at the car wash, yeah."

The car wash- making this customer happy since 1973.

20 September 2017

256/365

I suppose that I shouldn't be surprised but honestly, I didn't expect it. The reading log has turned into a competition. Who knew that reading Bible stories and making check marks could be a thing? "How many has he read?" "How many am I missing?" "Can I read one more? Just one more?! Please?!"

Boys and girls from our neighborhood come into the community center in the afternoon. These kids do not attend the local schools. Some have them have gone at one point or another, but mostly, they have picked things up along the way. But now, through a government education program that we are able to administer, our neighborhood kids have opportunity to earn a certificate of completion for their elementary and middle school learning. Think of it as a GED for the lower years.

The kids gather at the gate in mid-afternoon, usually before we arrive, and come in and work for a couple of hours, rotating through tutoring in math and writing and reading. I have the privilege of sitting across and next to these kids and listening to them read. I have listened to kids learn to read for a lot of years. It is balm to my soul.

Some of our kids read fluidly, with inflection that makes me want to laugh out loud. I'm pretty sure that one has a potential in radio. Others still falter and stumble, but push on. A couple of our boys also attend a weekly Bible study, a small group from the church meeting in the home of our teammates. On this day, we took turns reading out loud, moving from person to person towards these brothers. And then, they each took their turn, reading out loud too (and old language words from an old school translation Bible- words that might cause many to slow down). When each finished, we let out a cheer and they each smiled big.

I imagine a time when we will have a library of books for our kids to borrow, a means to transport them to far-away lands and meet yet unknown people and take adventures that ordinary life might never allow. But meanwhile, we progress, one story at a time.


19 September 2017

255/365

Mid-week, and the visits for prayer and to drop off bags of simple groceries from the church continue. Our first stop comes just yards down from the entrance to Boys' Town, La Zona Tolerancia. And tolerance sounds like a nice thing except that this is the place where prostitution is knowingly permitted. We stand next door to the curandero, next to the tire shop in the wall, and push the button and wait, not knowing what to expect behind the gate.

Our dear little friend opens the gate and ushers us in with smiles and handshakes and kisses. She leads us into the courtyard, and then to her little apartment. Actually, "apartment" would be generous; really, it's just a little room divided by a curtain. Later she will tell us how much she pays weekly for rent and we shake our heads. Surely it should be considered much too much except that "fair housing" has not yet come to this neighborhood. We start to sit inside her home, on the bed, on a chair, and then she decides we should go outside. More room. More breeze.

We gather around in plastic chairs and sitting on the wall and find out how our friend has been. She tells us stories of her health and of her family. All the while, activity goes on around us. The toddler in pigtails, not yet even talking but already running to and fro in the patio, always trying to escape from adult grip. The faces that peek from the doorways of rooms above and beside us, surely checking out the visitors as much as we sneak glances at them. We hear the sounds from just beyond the wall, of water vendors and of the horse hooves of the trash carts and of car tires screeching on the busy entrance road. Our friend grows plants in old paint buckets, certainly for use in healing, certainly to bring a little green to this dusty place.

We pray and the farewells bookend the greetings, handshakes and kisses and hasta luego, Dios le bendiga. We leave with smiles and venture back into the center of the neighborhood, another visit to make. But this address, we just aren't sure exactly where to find this place. We know we are close, so close, but not quite there. Mario calls, and the lady tells us she'll meet us in the street. We make a U-turn and backtrack, and sure enough, there she stands, near the corner but in the street, her back to us, hand waving as she talks to us. We tell her we are just behind her. We watch her look in all the wrong directions. Finally she turns and sees us so close and we all laugh. All the while she continues to talk to us on the phone, leading us to her home a few houses down the street.

Again, her enthusiasm is contagious and we greet each other like lost family. She, too, invites us into her small home. Our eyes adjust to the dark and we smile. Al Pacino hangs across the room from Freida Kahlo; small knick-knack statues fill a short set of shelves. We perch on the low couches and she pulls up a plastic chair. One story blends into another, smiles morph to tears and then back to laughter. She tells us about her health and dramatically pulls up her shirt to show us exactly where her abdominal pain hits. She tells us about her neighbors and her life in this neighborhood for many many years. She tells us about witch doctors and black cats and half-cooked eggs. She tells us she wants to know more about Jesus; she wants to know more about the Bible. She wants us to place our hands on her as we pray over her before we leave. We do.

And always, people are people, no matter the language, no matter the income, no matter the career. People who hurt from relationships and from life. People who need more than anyone can possibly provide. People who long for more. We leave smiling, but overwhelmed if not for our hope in He who is enough.

18 September 2017

254/365

"Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul."
Wassily Kandinsky, "Concerning the Spiritual in Art" (1911)

Our apologies, Wassily Kandinsky. I'm pretty sure that when we introduced your artwork, Squares with Concentric Circles, we didn't pronounce your name correctly. I ignorantly guessed you might have hailed from Poland. Yet lo, I later discover that you were Russian, though you lived in Germany for a time and eventually became a French citizen. I wonder what you, considered among the first of the great abstract artists, would think of our table of youth, trying to imitate your works. I think, maybe, you would be amused as they consider the colors and cut out shapes and match layer on layer. I think, maybe, you would turn on the music and turn up the volume and encourage our kids to look even more deeply, at their work and at themselves. I think, maybe, you would remind them that their work is not just mere passing time, but is really creating. I think, maybe, at the end of the time, you would laugh and shake your head and praise and encourage them, just like we do.



17 September 2017

253/365

When the power goes out anywhere in Latin America (is this true in other parts of the world, too? I only have experience in Latin America...), I'm pretty sure that the first thing everyone considers is, did we pay our bill? But on the weekend, you can't do much about that. We continued about our lazy sabbath afternoon, expecting the lights to return at any moment. They didn't. After a little while, we wandered around the neighborhood a little bit to investigate, and sure enough, at least the our couple of blocks were without electricity. After a couple of hours, we messaged our cross-town friends to learn that they also were without lights. That message led to discovering the entire state was without power, and not only ours, but three other states besides. Somehow you don't feel quite as bad when you know that four states full of people do not have a fan running or lights on either.

Eventually, the residual cool inside the house faded and we moved to the front where a breeze crosses the porch. We read and watched traffic go by in the street. Mostly people would come in pairs. A couple of carts trotted by. More that a couple of dogs and more than a couple of boys kicking soccer balls wandered past our iron gate. We ate our salad in the dimming light of day and fired up the Kindles. The best thing about a power outage is that you feel like it won't last too very long. We didn't feel too much pressure to conserve battery power. The sun set and darkness fell heavy before the hum of the air conditioner started up, before the fans started spinning again. We turned off the lights just in time to go to bed.

252/365

John Steinbeck borrowed the line from poet Robert Burns, "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry." And such becomes the case when a hurricane heads your way. We had her move-in date on the calendar since June. We had the date for our mission agency country retreat on the calendar for just as long. The two dates were separated by a full week, and surely all would be well. Surely nothing could cause a conflict?!

Nothing except a hurricane.
When Hurricane Harvey set its sight on landfall in south Texas, the plans suddenly became precarious. Within a day of the move-in date, we knew that event would be postponed. We didn't know how long. As we watched the storm grow to Category 4 and slowlyslowly churn towards the shore, we didn't even know if there would be much of a school left to move into this semester!

Amazingly, the university weathered the storm incredibly well, A week and two days late, students were moving on campus. But a week and two days later, these parents were on the Pacific coast of Mexico, not the Gulf coast of Texas. We made new plans. A car full of sisters and a loyal brother-in-law and an auxiliary vehicle with the best second family we could ever hope for made the trip. And this mom sat far away and second guessed and lamented missing the day and begged for photos.

As such, the road trip a week later can't be counted as a do-over, though we did bring a load of forgotten items. But it certainly did serve to redeem the missed day. We brought tech-y dad to hook up the router and make the Wi-Fi work. We drank coffee and bought a few necessities and ate a really good Thai lunch. We walked around campus and trekked across a bit of shore. We ate ice cream. And we hugged and kissed our girl goodbye, leaving confident that all is well. (and we returned to fix the Internet one more time. And we forgot keys. And still, all is well.)

Not a lot of scenery fills the landscape between here and there. It is wide-open spaces north to south, wide-open spaces east to west. And yet, "the emptiness sings." I drove home thankful and content (and even more, with a Husker game on the radio for company). The best laid plans go awry, but plan B often works out better than you might expect.