Giving thanks, getting involved and traveling

September 29, 2007 at 1:09 pm | Posted in 1 | 3 Comments

Hello loved ones,

You have been so compassionate and mindful of the first-world luxuries that I have had to go without, that I’m aware I need to keep you updated on how my patience here is paying off! A couple weeks ago the Ghanian government increased the amount of electricity we are allowed to use. Hallelujah! That means we only have power outages every four days for about 4-6 hours one day and one night. It’s been amazing having all this power again. You can actually buy food and leave it in your refrigerator and it doesn’t spoil so you can plan meals and go shopping less. I also have running water at Mommy’s for months so no more using buckets and hauling them up and down stairs! I have been persistently trying to find a house to share with other people and it looks like one may come through for me in a nice neighborhood to boot! So, don’t give me too much empathy. We all have our different daily struggles and problems to deal with and God is good to grant us the things that help us make it through.

Speaking of electricity, here’s a timely article on Guinea now that you’re slightly familiar with it from a couple of my past blogs. I can’t make governance commentaries based on my current work…but the BBC can! Be sure to read it (cut and paste it into your browser if you can’t click on it).

http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/2/hi/africa/6990034.stm

Before I relate some fun travel stories I want to ask for your prayers for someone. His name is Kwame and he is a street-boy that I met last night outside of a popular take-away (take-out) food restaurant I frequent in Accra. I bought a big pizza to share with him (and who knows who else) and spent some time talking to him to learn his story. I had almost gone to a concert instead at Alliance Francaise but felt too tired and hungry. I just prayed for my night to go as God wanted it to and went to get some food instead. Kwame grimaced at my pizza and said it would hurt his stomach if he ate it so we went to “a spot” by the road and he ate some chicken and rice. He really made me laugh and smile at his silliness as we ate together. He taught me some “Twi” (one of the local languages) and I found myself wondering if this is what it felt like to be a mother. As directed by my Spiritual Advisor I just enjoyed the blessing and didn’t try to analyze it too much. I talked to him about an organization for street children that I visited a couple weeks ago in an attempt to find more spiritually motivated people in the area. I eventually met his other friends who felt like they could stomach the pizza and planned to meet Kwame the next morning in the same place. I got ahold of the Dutch brother today that I met at CAS (Catholic Action for Street Children) who told me Kwame would be welcome but that there is no place for street children to stay during their first 6 months to a year of training and education. I don’t know the details but I’m sure it has to do with a combination of funding, facilities and planning, whereby you filter out the children who aren’t serious and interested in an education from the ones who are. Of course, if no one teaches a child that education is really important and valuable then they learn the opposite and are condemned to live hand to mouth. I bow to Br. Jos’s (pronounced “Yos”) 20 something years of experience in his field but personally am struggling with the reality that there’s nothing I can do to help Kwame to have some kind of housing and permanent care. In the first world this is an option. Here it is not. I didn’t see him the next morning or any of the other boys as I anticipated might happen. They said they go to a nearby beach in the mornings to do some work for food. He’s really on my mind and in my heart. I can’t solve the world’s problems but I can help “small” as they say here or “kakakakra” in Twi. My current goal is that he know how much God loves him and values him. He said he already goes to school nearby so I’d like to try and be involved with making sure he attends and help support him in some small way if continues to do so.

Please keep him in your prayers along with his friend Solomon and all the Kwami’s of the world and pray that I can be faithful to God’s plans for us should he decide to opt for the streets. Please also pray for CAS and all similar efforts. As my interest in prison ministry grows every day and from the vantage point of my own life, I’m often mindful of what small acts of love can do for people who have not known it, and how it can change someone’s heart from stone to blazing love, if there are only people to show that person how worthy they are in God’s eyes. What are we doing to prevent the loveless from an inevitable path of self-destruction? We cannot act on knowledge we do not have and many people do not know how beautiful they are and how deeply-loved they are by God. Thank you for your participation in this important task!

August was a fun-filled, travel-filled great month. Of course, if greatness is measured in terms of sanctification, perhaps July (i.e. the trial of working at break-neck speed for four weeks in Ivory Coast) should be considered greater. Such is the dynamism that fills my life right now; it is full of extremes and is intensely spiritual Nevertheless, it’s pretty great to have six comp days off of work in which to travel, and then a month full of three day weekend trips to beaches, rainforests and waterfalls. What a contrast, going from hearing about people’s lives being torn apart and loved ones being tortured and killed, to being served meals three times a day every day, surrounded by mountains and ocean. I found myself filled with wonder and awe while giggling like a child at the unspoiled beauty that surrounds me here (at least outside of Accra). Accra is an unsightly, polluted and busy city. So, after four months of labor, I finally made my escape and let me tell you, I was healed. I came back from the last weekend postively glowing. Even my coworker and supervisor noticed it. Okay yes, I was really tan, but the glow came from within, trust me. I just really needed to leave the city and unwind.

Though I haven’t had much time to write or be on-line, it’s still hard to set aside time for it when I do. The demands of life here for me means that it’s important to be with people when I can, celebrating (life) and reveling in the gift of it, so as to counteract the stresses and challenges that exist in third world living. The best antidote to many of life’s difficulties is simple friendship and laughter, and I appreciate those even even more deeply than before.

One of my most fun memories is my recent weekend at the Green Turtle Lodge, an eco-friendly resort on the beach about four hours east of Accra. We got there in record time traveling in our Ford “tro-tro” (the oversized, 3rd world vehicles that pack as many people as possible into them, so that you can’t move an inch and your knees and legs are immobile. Ford tro-tro’s are faster and less jam-packed for a little more money). Record time was about four hours as opposed to the plight of another poor girl I talked to who had left Accra at 12:00 noon and got to the resort at 8:00 p.m. that night; small blessings… Saturday, the next day I had a wonderful and tiring 3 hour beach walk on the Gulf of Guinea (West Africa’s ocean) to a private beach that I never got to, with a nice French-Canadian girl I’ve met here. I was especially excited that she asked me at one point on the walk about my faith, since that’s not a priority for most people I know here, painfully so. In time we made a friend with a young boy who guided us to stay away from a particularly thorny and bushy part of the terrain that we thought might produce a short-cut. On our way to “the secret beach”, there was a load of big rocks that you had to climb over to get to the other side. We didn’t get to the other side but we attempted it. I discovered in Zambia near Victoria Falls, that it’s great fun to climb over rocks; that is, like a jungle woman (or at least that’s my idea of what “a jungle woman” would do). There’s something satisfyingly primal in skipping quickly and adeptly over big, sharp rocks like a hoofed animal navigating similar terrain. Catherine my friend was still trying to manage on her feet but I quickly shifted into jungle woman mode and began using all fours to climb around the rocky seascape. So there I was in my neon green bikini and sunburned face, happy as a clam quickly and constantly looking for the next sturdy spot to wrap my feet around. I didn’t slip once! 🙂 I truly smiled with delight as I clambered over the rocks that morning remembering one of my favorite verses, “He makes my feet like the feet of gazelles, and makes me walk on my high places”. Indeed.

The next day was even better! The waves in the African ocean are serious to contend with. I took a short video with my camera of the waves at one of the beaches I went to a couple months ago. Will try to upload it sometime this century. The tide gets even stronger during the colder months (right now) and when it comes in, you better get out of the way if you don’t want to get wet because it comes in fast. The waves are full of sand because of their ferocity. You don’t even want to know how many pounds of sand came out of my swimsuit when it was shower time. I didn’t know I could get sand in that many places! If you try to kneel down in the water when the wave is going back out you get sucked off your feet. The tide is strong. Nevertheless 😉 the ocean had been calling to me and, though my swimming isn’t the strongest, I feel for some reason a need to be at home in the sea. When I first ventured in, the big, 8ish foot, sand-swirled waves crashing into shore were a bit scary, and I learned from “the video weekend” and watching others that you really can’t swim in waves like that or float in them. You have to dive under them which I can’t do yet, or you have to do what I finally ended up doing, ride them. I somehow spontaneously realized that if you throw yourself into the wave (with your nose plugged) and relax, that the wave will bring you right into shore. The first couple times I got scraped up a little because these waves show no mercy and I was still fighting them, learning how to let go and just be carried along. Before long I was having the time of my life!! I didn’t need a boogie-board. The waves did all the work! I ventured in farther and farther and when a big wave came I became filled with excitement and just jumped right into it, getting shot back toward land. I cannot express how liberating it was to ride around in the waves. What a rush! I spent a couple of hours in the ocean that day because I was so addicted I just couldn’t get out! I found my inner child in that ocean and I was laughing and smiling the entire time, completely alive and rejuvenated, sucking up every bit of joy and fun that was generously being offered to me in that salty, sandy brine. Then I discovered that if you jump into the wave on your stomach, that you can twist around and around as you’re shooting into shore (good back and ab strengthening, and even more fun than riding on your back). When the others I was traveling with came in, I told them what I was doing and soon everybody was jumping into the waves and having a great time. Occasionally, if we weren’t paying attention the waves would send us canonballing into someone standing unawares, and we’d knock them right over just like a bowling pin. Aaagghhh! Good times!! For days afterward I had small sand flakes falling from my scalp that had gotten pounded into my head. Nice small reminders of a fantastic time.

Funny, Fun (and not so fun) Facts:

Ants
I’m sick of ants. I’m sick of having to dump out my cereal onto a plate bit by bit, and then play “Let’s find the ants and squash them under our pointer finger because this is the only breakfast food we have and we paid $4.00-$8.00 dollars for it). You can seal your cereal with a twisty-tie, wrap it tightly in a grocery sac, stick it in a cupboard and still wake up to find that somehow, the teeny ants have found their way in. I’m sick of finding ants in my purse because at some point a tiny bit of candy or gum soaked out somewhere. I’m sick of finding ants in my bathroom, near the kitchen sink, on a random wall, crawling near my bed, crawling on the door – any door – meandering around the floor…Aaye-yi-yi! After removing every food particle possible from my bag and purse, I spent a recent morning on my cab ride to work playing the ant squashing game with about twenty or thirty ants that came crawling out of them.

Maids
Yes, most people have maids here and or washing people to do their laundry. It was strange initially for me to get used to, but the reason is that laundromats and washing machines are practically nonexistent unless you work for the government and have a nice set-up. Whenever I came back home I’d find that my valuable earplugs had been tossed out in the remaking of the bed and that I couldn’t find things as they’d been moved around. Most of the time you end up living in a house, building or compound where cleaning people are already employed to take care of the dwellings. I’ve only heard of one laundromat here whose location no one can explain to me and whose price apparently is ridiculously high, like over $20.00 a load. It can be nice to have someone washing and ironing your clothes, but they aren’t always the brightest when it comes to doing those things well. I’ve had some clothing ruined because bleach was put into a colored wash or clothes were hung such that they became discolored or misshapen. That can be a big deal when you don’t have many career clothes and can’t just go out and buy more.

Stolen Shoes
I have big feet so it’s always been hard for me to find shoes. Africa is no exception. However, while traveling in the Volta I found a nice pair of black sandals that actually fit! When I came home from work on Monday they were gone. I’d been keeping close tabs on my underwear since some of the other girls have had their more attractive pairs go missing in the laundry. Yeah, kind of gross. I searched around and then walked around back to ask our cleaner “Baby” if she knew where they were. I looked down and saw one of the sandals outside her door. I politely mentioned to her that they were missing and indicated the similarity of the sandal near her door to those recently gone missing. My question was met with silence. I asked again quite patiently and repeatedly, while she stood there refusing to say anything. Finally she went inside her home and brought the other sandal out walking them to my flat. Once inside she said that maybe her sister had taken them but still refused to apologize or look at me. The hard part about it all was that I don’t like anyone to ever feel inferior to me and had been thinking about buying the cleaners some nice sort of thank you gift to spread some love around. Right at that moment the power went out for “lights off” leaving us standing in my room in silence and blackness. I had just asked her how I could trust that it wouldn’t happen again and 20 seconds went by, 40 seconds, 1 minute….of silence. There we stood, me asking questions and her saying nothing. Both of us staring into the darkness. It was all quite silly and probably would have been hilarious to an observer. She wouldn’t talk and she wouldn’t leave! Shoes are one thing but losing things of greater value are another, and I couldn’t take a chance on that. I told her that I wasn’t comfortable not telling Mommy her boss (my landlady) what happened, and then poured out a torrent of apologies and “I beg you, I beg you’s”, which actually are phrases used quite frequently here as terms of bargaining, and are said simply to sound convincing or to get more money. I insisted on getting a reason for not going to tell Mommy and she couldn’t give me one. I managed to finally get something out like, “OK, I’ll think about it. It’s okay for now” to get her to leave, but all she heard was, “It’s okay” and suddenly seemed as if nothing had happened and promptly left. I hope parts of this have made you laugh, but it really is true that it takes great patience sometimes to try to get through to uneducated people. It is a big challenge in third world countries to try to get along with people who sometimes don’t think in a logical, intelligent fashion. Don’t even get me started on food service. You Americans would never have the patience I tell you…

The Office
I borrowed a copy of Seasons One and Two of “The Office”, the television series from a friend here who’s going back to England and it has been a real, cultural saving grace. The first couple of times the into music started playing and they showed pictures of Scranton, PA I almost started crying! It just looked so powerfully familiar. I was quite surprised at my reaction. Steve Carell is hilarious and the humor is so fantastically silly and American that I just eat it up like candy. I even have to ration it out so I don’t watch all the episodes at once. It’s laughter therapy for me and makes me feel a little closer to home sometimes.

As I have more time to learn about my blogsite and the fun options it offers I look forward to making it more enjoyable for you.

Keeping you all in my thoughts and prayers, thankful for your companionship and support on my journey,

your sister soldier,
Grace

Pain, hope and joy

September 12, 2007 at 8:10 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Loved Ones,
I have learned within the past month that hope and joy are a choice and I’m choosing for them daily. If I believe in the power of God to give me every good thing of which I have need, in spite of the adversity around me, then this realization should infuse me with hope and optimism. So when a coworker makes an unkind remark or any undesired thing happens, I’m choosing to see it as an opportunity for growth in holiness and wholeness, and another chance to display through my loving faithfulness to him or her, that there is a better way to live. All of us have an abundance of blessings in our lives that should fill us with hope and joy in the work that God is accomplishing in us each day.

I would like to thank a good friend of mine Beverly Wilson for her invaluable contribution to this blog. She recently sent me an email with a link to a website that has caused an important shift in my perspective on why I am here in Ghana and why I am undergoing the challenges and difficulties that I am. Some of you have taken notice of those challenges and I think may be dismayed or surprised that this be the case. It’s hard to discern God’s will through the events of our lives when we know that pain and difficulty are an inherent part of them. No one likes pain. I certainly do not. And sometimes one can look over the years of their life and feel that they have suffered quite enough of multiple types of pain, be it emotional, spiritual, psychological or physical. But it is precisely when we feel most alone or “on the cross”, that Jesus is closest to us. Some of the pain I have experienced since arriving here as been more intensely social than I’ve had the displeasure of experiencing to date. But I can also see now, that that pain is a teacher that is teaching me how to let go of childish desires such as wishing that everyone like me, or give me their stamp of approval. Or curing me of the vestiges of pseudo “Christian female values” like staying silent in lieu of correcting someone when they’re wrong, or not voicing an opinion because it may be unpopular.

My spiritual isolation as a practicing Western Christian amidst of a sea of apathetic Western agnostics hostile or indifferent to God, has produced in me a joyful, intense and lively claim on God’s love and goodness, and an unaplogetic faithfulness and more courageous witness, which my faith was heretofore lacking. Knowing that Jesus is a prized posession that everyone should have (what kind of God after all even allows Himself to dwell in a sinful human being?!), propels me forward to being a faithful witness in the face of rejection or social exclusion. Who will hear and believe if there is no one to proclaim? One cannot show in advance that they want to hear something of which they do not know exists, can they?

Yes, I am also learning the valuable difference between love and kindness and am praying for the courage and grace to practice true love with all I come into contact with, instead of the false love called kindness that often masquerades as real love, but instead is a tool that we use to obtain things according to our own selfish desires, or is a facade that we hide behind when we want to avoid showing real love for someone and do the consequent work that that love commitment entails. We as Christians are always to try to be kind to others, but more importantly, we are to love them. The latter of course entails a deeper commitment to one another and is more messy and can feel therefore at times less “good” i.e. less kind. Nevertheless, that is the task set before us and it is the grand way in which God wants us to live. Thus God will allow pain and suffering into our lives until we learn this lesson and then He will continue to allow more pain to purify us of our negative self-interested ways and our blindness. I have experienced numerous dark nights of the soul since my arrival in Ghana five months ago, but at the rate at which I’ve grown spiritually, I’d be a fool to wish them away.

As I read in my Magnificat prayer book: Life is never without its crosses, but there is a difference between taking up the cross and just being weighed down by it. If we take up the crosses in our life in union with Jesus Christ, he helps along the way. If we refuse his help, we are simply crushed under their weight. Or this by Saint Bernadette: “How much our Lord must love you, to afflict you so…” I have been saying for a couple months now that God must have great trust in me to believe that I can accomplish as much as He thinks I can. And I think about the lives of people who have experienced much greater suffering and isolation, and whose faith has made them radiant. And I marvel in yes, disbelief, because my limited mind can only conceive of so much… We did not gain such a treasure for the Church as Saint Augustine save through the faithful, fervent prayers and mighty faith grown over decades of adversity, of St. Monica. She did not look around in despair and give up hope at the rejection she experienced by her husband and son. No, rather she responded in determination, love and hope, and grew her faith into a weapon sharper than any two edged-sword.

Renewing the spirit of our mind entails learning lessons that change the way we think and perceive the troubles or problems that surround us. That can only happen in situations of everyday life where the rubber meets the road. If we see that God is reaching out His hand to us through our problems, then we can trust that He will carry us through them. Remember, that we are speaking of a God who gave His very life for you that you might live abundantly.

I recently attended two wonderful days of Eucharistic Adoration at my church here and I share here three points that were made in a homily that explain what I’ve been experiencing:

1) Have the vision to believe that anything can happen. Miracles are a reality. This means you must change the way you think. Either you believe in the power of God or you don’t.
2) Take action to pursue what God is calling you to do.
3) Watch him make things happen for you in ways you never thought possible. Why? Because His ways are not your ways. You’ve got to get out of your head and into His, and that is where active faith and trust come in. It is key, for faith is meant to be used. Otherwise it is is useless.

As soon as I can get my hands on a copy of “The Problem of Pain” by C.S. Lewis I will be able to deepen my understanding of the role of pain as it relates to true love. In the meantime I share an excerpt from the link below (I had it properly indented rather than in quotes as it’s a several paragraphs, but don’t have time right now for such details). It is by Jacek Bacz and is an essay on Lewis’ thesis. Lewis is pretty readable so try to continue on if you get stuck cause this is good.

http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/ap0032.html

“Lewis is ready for his main argument. He starts with God Almighty. What is the meaning of God’s Omnipotence? Can he do whatever he pleases? Yes, except the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to him but not nonsense: “Nonsense remains nonsense even if we talk it about God.” Probing further into Divine Omnipotence, Lewis builds up a universe of his own: a universe in which free souls, or perhaps, as we might say today, persons, can communicate. In the process, he discovers that “not even Omnipotence could create a society of free souls without at the same time creating a relatively independent and ‘inexorable’ Nature”; that a fixed nature of matter implies a possibility, though not a necessity, of evil and suffering, for “not all states of matter will be equally agreeable to the wishes of a given soul”; that souls, if they are free, may take advantage of the fixed laws of nature to hurt one another; that a “corrective” intervention by God in the laws of nature, which would remove the possibility — or the effect — of such abuse, while clearly imaginable, would eventually lead to a wholly meaningless universe, in which nothing important depended on man’s choices. “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you will find that you have excluded life itself”. Thus, the universe as we know it might as well be a product of a wise and omnipotent Creator; it remains to be shown “how, perceiving a suffering world, and being assured, on quite different grounds, that God is good, we are to conceive that goodness and that suffering without a contradiction”. An exploration of God’s goodness might provide an answer.
God’s idea of goodness is almost certainly unlike ours; yet, God’s moral judgment must differ from ours “not as white from black but as a perfect circle from a child’s first attempt to draw a wheel” — or we could mean nothing by calling him good. Thus, where God means Love, we only mean Kindness, “the desire to see others than self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy”. We want “not so much a Father but a grandfather in heaven”, a God “who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?'” (Let us note in passing how much this confusion between Love and Kindness is akin to our modern thinking: it sheds light on many present controversies, from assisted suicide to abortion to contraception.) But Love is not mere Kindness. “Kindness cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering”, while Love “would rather see [the loved ones] suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes”.
The goodness of God means that we are true objects of his love, not of his disinterested concern for our welfare. This aspect of God’s love for man is greatly illuminated by the use of parallels from the Scripture. The reader is overwhelmed with the seducing beauty and grandeur of Lewis’s imagery, as he develops the four scriptural analogies to explain the relation between the Creator and his creature: love of an artist for his artifact, love of a man for a beast, a father’s love for a son, and a man’s love for a woman. Every time an analogy is explored we stand in awe before the love so intense and deep; and we wonder “why any creatures, not to say creatures such as we, should have a value so prodigious in their Creator’s eyes”; and we wish God loved us less. “You asked for a loving God: you have one. […] The consuming fire that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes”. We may wish for less love; but then we would dream an impossible dream. God is our only good. He gives “what he has, not what he has not; the happiness that there is, not the happiness that is not. If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows — the only food that any possible universe ever can grow — then we must starve eternally.”
The awareness of a distinction between Love and Kindness and the recognition of what it means to be the object of God’s love make it easier to comprehend why Love is not incompatible with suffering. Because God loves us he will not rest until he sees us wholly lovable. From that perspective, the suffering of a creature in need of alteration is a mere corollary to God’s goodness. Yet, the problem is that the perception of man’s sinful condition, and hence of a real need for alteration — a thing obvious even to ancient pagans — has largely disappeared from the modern horizon, rendering the Christian call to repentance and conversion unintelligible. To talk to the modern man, Lewis insists, “Christianity now has to preach the diagnosis — in itself a very bad news — before it can win the hearing for the cure.” He considers two modern developments that contributed to the rise of a belief in the original innocence: the reduction of all virtues to kindness (“nothing except kindness is really good”), and the effect of psychoanalysis on the public mind (“shame is dangerous and must be done away with”). “Kindness, he says, is a quality fatally easy to attribute to ourselves on quite inadequate grounds”, for we can feel comfortably benevolent towards fellow men, as long as their good does not conflict with ours. He then considers in some detail the symptoms of man’s wretchedness and brings us, step by step, to an inescapable conclusion: “We are, at present, creatures whose character must be, in some respects, a horror to God, as it is, when we really see it, a horror to ourselves.” And at once we perceive a contradiction.
When feeling disguises itself as thought, all nonsense is possible. Nowhere is it truer than in the problem of pain. Yet, from the Christian perspective, anything that can reasonably be said about suffering is only a preamble [italics added] to the Mystery of the Cross. Lewis’s solution to “the problem of pain” prepares the intellect for a dive into the Mystery.”

I have some fun and adventurous trip reports to share with you soon from my travels but needed to share first the wonderful ways that God is working in my life. I have updated my Spiritual Writings page with the fruits of my labors over the past months and have also added a Quotes page, whereby I may share some of my favorite quotes with you!

Being a disciple entails more than just following. It requires obedience and trust. So let us follow Jesus as we said we would with a courageous love and joy, picking up our cross, and without turning back whenever the road gets too steep or the ride too bumpy. Remember the addage that God does not call the equipped but equips the called. Day by day I am living proof of that…

your sister soldier

I have decided to follow Jesus
I have decided to follow Jesus
I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back, No turning back

The world behind me, the cross before me
The world behind me, the cross before me
The world behind me, the cross before me
No turning back, No turning back

Though some forsake me still I will follow
Though some forsake me still I will follow
Though some forsake me still I will follow
No turning back, No turning back

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