A Glimpse of Heaven from Oklahoma City

Two weeks ago today, we arrived in Oklahoma City. All of us were sick. All of us were tired. We had cancelled the rest of our appointments for our “home ministry assignment,” but we still had to get ourselves back to Seattle. So, we were looking at several long days of driving across the U.S. in the middle of winter. We almost didn’t even go through Oklahoma City at all since the shortest route to Seattle from Nashville puts you through Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota up to I-90.

But our friends Lj and Kari had made arrangements for us to stay at the Mission House near the Oklahoma Christian campus. And so, thinking that at least we could rest there and not worry about bringing our germs into a friend’s home, we went. I’m not sure what I really expected from our time there. To see old friends from our Japan days, to see Rusty’s nephew Robbie, who is a student at OC, to rest and relax for a bit before we made our big push west.

I didn’t expect to be totally overwhelmed with love and care. I didn’t expect to be ministered to. I didn’t expect to wish we could just stay forever. I didn’t expect to catch a glimpse of heaven from Oklahoma City.

From the time we arrived, our friends poured out for us. Seriously — we have the best and most thoughtful friends! People came to visit. They brought my kids a Wii to play. They invited them over to play. They brought food — every single one of our meals during our 2 days there was taken care of! They took us out to eat after church on Sunday. They invited us to their small group. They hugged us and encouraged us, and we laughed and reminisced together. They laid hands on us and prayed over us and our ministry, and it was so beautiful and so needed.

On Sunday night as we were packing up to leave the next morning, I started crying. I told Rusty I didn’t want to leave, that I wished we lived here, near friends, near kindred spirits. It’s amazing how you don’t even realize how lonely you’ve been until you’re suddenly – not. For a little while, anyway.

It probably sounds strange when I say I caught a glimpse of Heaven from Oklahoma City. Because, really, there are more beautiful places in the world. I think even people who live in OKC would acknowledge that! But what makes OKC beautiful to me is the people. So many of our dear friends from our English-teaching days in Japan live and work there now. There’s just something about those relationships that we formed in the early years of our marriage, during our first stint in our first foreign country. Every time I go to visit, I sort of feel like I’ve come home. And I’ve never lived there! But I’m with my people, my family, my tribe. I’m accepted and loved and understood. I matter to them.

I think this is what I mean. This is what I imagine Heaven will be like – a great big homecoming. The homecoming to beat all homecomings. We’ll throw our arms around each other and we’ll laugh long and loud. And maybe we’ll shed a tear or two. We’ll tell each other the stories of how we watched God work in us and through us and in spite of us. There will be food and there will be light and there will be warmth. Everyone will matter and everyone will belong.

This is what Heaven will be. And this is what I caught a glimpse of in Oklahoma City.

(A million thank-you’s to our dear friends Lj and Kari Littlejohn, Kelsey and Lisa Herndon, Mark and Charity Chan, and Damon and Amy Britton. You encouraged my heart in ways you can never know. I am blessed to know you and to call you my friends.)

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May 19th

Well, the day is finally over. We had a full house this evening with all the Operation Ecuador missionaries, including several new interns. Our house was full and LOUD with kids running and playing and the adults visiting and playing cards. The singing was amazing, the curry buffet was delicious, and the birthday cakes (for Rusty and Josh) were yummy too. It does my heart good to see people enjoying themselves in our home.

And to top it all off, today, some new friends arrived to stay with us for a few days. They are Neill and Julie, of OverlandBirds.com. They are currently in the middle of a 2-year trip around the world in their Land Rover Defender! They started in England, came down through Europe and Africa, and then shipped their car to South America. You can read all the fascinating details on their blog (click the link above). Rusty began corresponding with them a couple months ago and offered them a place to stay when they came through South America. They are excited to sleep in a real bed again for a few days and have a place to wash all their clothes, and Rusty is enjoying “talking shop” about Land Rovers and hearing all their amazing stories.

I know the wheels are turning in his brain, now more than ever, figuring out how we can do something similar — someday. Someday when our kids are older and we are independently wealthy — ha! I’ll admit, there is a part of me that finds the whole idea intriguing. And another part that can’t get past thinking what a hassle all those border crossings and car shippings must be! I told Rusty awhile back that I didn’t think I could do a “round the world” trip in the Land Rover, but I might consider a trip around South America. So, who knows? Maybe in 10 years or so, we’ll set out on our own continental journey.

It’s fun to dream about, anyway!

My First Birthday in Ecuador

Today, I celebrated my 36th birthday on my 5th continent. It’s interesting — as you get older, your birthday really is just another day. We’ve been needing to go downtown to take care of some paperwork pertaining to our visas, and we can only go on Mondays and Fridays since Alex is in school the rest of the week. Friday was a public holiday, so today we trudged off downtown with the kids in tow to try to take care of it. We ate breakfast out, then went to the office… where we were told we needed to have color copies of our passports, visa stamps, and visa registration stamps. So off we went to find a copy shop, then back to the office… where we were told that now their computer was down, and could we please come back after lunch? We took the kids to eat at Burger King and let them burn some energy in the play place, then headed back to the office where we waited and waited for them to prepare the papers we needed. All of us had to stand for a picture, which was a frustrating process with Stephen and Benjamin. But finally, we were done and on our way home. Not the best way to spend your birthday morning, but it’s something we’ve been needing to do for awhile and we finally got it done, so that’s a good thing.

But we made up for it this evening — a double date with Julie (who coincidentally shares my birthday, although we are not twins) and Josh! The plan was to go see “Les Misérables,”and then eat dinner out. However, when we got to the theater, we were told that the showing we planned to see was sold out, so we ate dinner first at one of our recent finds, an awesome Middle Eastern restaurant. Then, we went back to the theater… where we were told that there were some problems with one of the projectors, so the next showing of “Les Mis” had been cancelled! The only other real option that would get us home at a decent time was “G.I. Joe,” which Julie and I rather reluctantly agreed to see. (It was our birthday, for crying out loud, and we didn’t really want to see a guy movie). However, what we didn’t know was that in the time that we stood there debating what to do, they fixed the projector, so Rusty and Josh actually bought tickets for “Les Mis,” but let us girls go on thinking that we were going to see “G.I. Joe!” It wasn’t until the movie started and I heard the familiar strains of the opening score that I realized what was happening.

Anyway, wow! What an amazing movie! Such a powerful story, such powerful music. It was hard to keep myself from bursting into song right along with the actors through much of the movie! I know “Les Mis” has its critics, but honestly, it seems like most of the criticism stems from people who can’t seem to expand their imaginations to see Russell Crowe or Hugh Jackman in a singing role! I was pretty impressed with both their performances, actually. Even the noisy people in the row behind us who kept up a constant stream of chit-chat and giggling through much of the movie (ANNOYING!!!) couldn’t diminish the power of this film, although I do look forward to seeing it again in the privacy of my own home without all that obnoxiousness.

482322_10152708998005553_2013226771_nIf you are friends with me on Facebook, then you know that as his present to me this year, my sweet husband built me a scrapbook table for my craft room. He worked on it most of last week and finally got it done on Saturday night. The legs are made from shipping pallets that were in our container, and the top and shelves he made from a piece of laminate chip-board (counter-top) that he had cut up. Such a sweet and thoughtful gift! I look forward to finally getting all my scrapbooking and crafting stuff unpacked and organized, and to being able to work on my scrapbooks again.

It’s been a good day, and even though this morning wasn’t exactly fun, I got to spend my day with some of my favorite people in the world — my hubby, my kids, and my sister. I’m loved and I’m thankful.

Reflections from the Beach (written March 12)

We got back to Quito yesterday from a few days of family vacation at the beach. It was some much needed time away from all the responsibilities, stresses, and distractions of daily life. I wrote this in my journal on the morning we left, sitting out on the veranda and watching the vast ocean as the day dawned:

We are at Playa Almendro for a few more hours. 5 days we have enjoyed here — 5 idyllic, carefree days — and I don’t want it to end. But all too soon, we will be loading up for the journey back to Quito.

I kept thinking I would grab some time to write while we were here. I even brought my computer, to do some writing for my blog. But I never turned it on the entire time we were here, and I never sat down to write in my journal until this morning. Maybe I was just having too much fun. Or maybe I needed a break from even the responsibility of writing, much as I enjoy it. Or maybe I was more interested in just relaxing, just being, than I was in reflecting and pondering and gathering the words to write about my feelings.

We swam, played in the sand, soaked in the hot tub, played games, read books, watched movies, laid in the sun. It’s amazing how quickly life at the beach settles into a lazy routine based on the rising and setting of the sun. We were up each day by 7:00 (without an alarm) and falling asleep in our books by 10:30. We ate lots of yummy food, and thanks to my prep work last week on the meals, and Rusty’s help with the dishes, I didn’t have to spend all my time in the kitchen.

Yesterday afternoon, I sat out on the beach for quite awhile, watching the waves roll in and listening to the pound of the surf. And I thought how easy it is to be at peace here — away from all my worries and responsibilities and stresses, and with the wide empty ocean to look at, to listen to, to soothe my soul. It’s always been one of my dreams to live by the sea. But I wonder — if I could see this every day, would it still have the power to melt away my cares, to put life back in perspective for me? Or would it just become part of my “normal,” something I see but don’t really notice?

I do know that the sea calls to me, has always called to my heart in a way that I can’t really explain. Every time I come back to it, I feel a sense of homecoming. And that surprises me, not only because I’ve never lived by the sea, but because that sense of home, of belonging, often eludes me as a TCK and global nomad, someone who is from everywhere and nowhere all at the same time.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that the ocean is much the same, no matter where you are in the world. It’s something I’ve been ruminating over since yesterday.

Awesome AIMers!

Right after the medical campaign, for a couple of nights, we kept five students from the Adventures in Missions (AIM) program who are currently doing their field assignment in Sucre, Bolivia. They came to help with the medical campaign and stayed afterwards for about a week to do some sight-seeing before going back to Sucre.

I have written before about the blessing of having visitors in our home here and here, and this time was certainly no exception. These kids (can I call them kids since I am twice their age?) impressed me so much with their servant hearts, their attitudes of gratefulness, and how they played with and loved on my children. The girls were constantly in the kitchen asking if they could help with food prep; they washed dishes without being asked; the guys did puzzles with the boys and played Mario Kart with them; and they even made their beds every day! One night, the girls all sat and watched with keen interest a film called “Real Love Stories,” in which Rusty and I were featured. (A friend of ours made this film years ago to show the youth group at the Metro Church of Christ in Portland, where we were attending at the time.)

(If any of you AIMers read this post, feel free to pass it on to your parents and let them know what awesome kids I think they raised! I hope my boys turn out just like all of you!)

Rusty and I so enjoy being around young people with a heart for missions. In fact, working with teens and college students was one of the aspects about this opportunity with Operation Ecuador that Rusty found most appealing. He has always enjoyed working with this age-group, from back when we lived in Japan and he got to take the Pac Rim students from Oklahoma Christian University around Tokyo and Nikko for three days. In fact, if we hadn’t gone into missions, I probably would have strongly encouraged Rusty to pursue campus ministry — he has both the heart and the giftedness for it.

For my part, I find the enthusiasm and zeal of young missionary apprentices both heart-warming and contagious. I wouldn’t really call myself an “old” or “seasoned” missionary — we haven’t even been in Ecuador for a year — but we’ve been around the world enough and lived overseas enough to experience the occasional slumps, to have to fight the tendency to become jaded. And sometimes it’s good to remember why missions is so exciting, that it truly is a blessing to join God in the work of reconciling souls to himself. Young people just starting out, just getting their feet wet in the mission field, can help remind us of that.

I have had many positive experiences with AIMers through the years… from a college roommate who went through the program, to my brother-in-law, to several fantastic AIM teams that we had the privilege to know in Mito, Japan. And I now have another positive experience to add to my list with this team from Sucre. Thank you, AIM, for your high caliber program, and thank you, Sucre Team (Andrea, Kacie, Kaylin, Brett, and Cameron) for staying with us and letting us get to know you!

A Little Break

I’ve taken a little break from the writing project for the past couple of days, for several reasons:

  1. After spending all week at home with my kids, I sort of feel like I’ve run out of things to say! Not really true, of course — I have lots on my mind, lots I want to and could write about, but at the end of the day, I am usually just so tired that all I want to do is veg out in front of the TV or my computer, not think about putting words to some of the thoughts rattling around in my brain. It has been raining a lot this week, so every day, I would think, “Tonight would be a nice night to build another fire after the kids are in bed, and just relax in front of it,” but then after I got the kids in bed, I couldn’t even muster up the energy to actually get the fire going.
  2. On Thursday night, the older boys had a sleepover in my bed. They watched a movie on my laptop before they went to sleep, so I couldn’t use my computer during their movie, which is usually a good time for me to write. I could have gone out and used our desktop Mac or even Rusty’s old laptop, but I decided cuddling with my boys and watching “Cars 2” for the 542nd time was more important.
  3. Yesterday, we spent the afternoon at my sister’s house. We celebrated Jana’s fifth birthday with a Hello Kitty party and TONS of kids (just including cousins from both sides of the Marcum’s family, there were 13 kids, plus there were a few from Jana’s class at school). It was a crazy fun time, and after everyone else left, we stayed for a sleepover. After we got the kids settled and asleep, we watched a movie, and by the time it was over, it was late and cold, so I just went to bed.

Rusty will be home TONIGHT, and we are all so excited to see him. I am so very thankful for all the folks from the States who come and make sacrifices of time and money to bless Kumanii and the people along the Cayapas, but I’m also thankful that we don’t have another short-term group on the calendar until June! 5 groups in 6 weeks has been a little much for us with such young kids.

On Biting Gnats and Making a Difference

After Christmas, while my parents were with us, we took them on a five-day trip to see some of Ecuador. We spent one night at Kumanii, the jungle lodge, and since the next day was Sunday, we went to church at one of the nearby villages. On the way home, we spent one night at Chachimbiro, a town famous for its termas, or hot springs. But at the beginning of the trip, we had 3 nights of family vacation time at a lovely hosteria near the mountain city of Ibarra.

The hosteria was called Paraiso Escondido (Hidden Paradise), and it was nestled at the bottom of a ravine with a river rushing through it. They had zip-lines, four-wheelers, and a big pool. All our meals were included (yay for not having to cook or clean up for 3 days!), and, as we were the only guests, we had the entire place to ourselves while we were there.

It sounds like perfection, and it would have been, had it not been for the biting gnats. Josh said he thought we must have found the gnats of the Ten Plagues fame, because they were truly awful. Their bites itched like crazy, and in my case (and my poor sons’ case), swelled to giant welts. I caught Stephen one morning using the back of a chair to scratch his back where he couldn’t quite reach — poor guy! We were using insect repellent and taking garlic pills every morning, and they just seemed to blithely ignore both of those facts and kept biting away.

As I lay there one night, unable to sleep, still itching despite having smeared myself with hydro-cortisone cream, I marveled that something so small could cause so much discomfort. It reminded me of the quote, attributed to the Dalai Lama, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” Yeah. I’ve done that before, so I totally get what he’s trying to say. But here’s the thing: I don’t think I want to “make a difference” in the same way a mosquito does (or those horrible gnats), thank you very much!

The Importance of Visitors

My parents have been here visiting us for the past three weeks. This morning, they boarded a plane to head home to Detroit. It’s been a wonderful visit, and we certainly packed a lot into the time they were here — from celebrating the holidays, to taking them to see some of the sights around Quito, to a five-day trip around Ecuador, which included a visit to Kumanii, Operation Ecuador’s jungle lodge and outpost on the Cayapas River.

Last night, we all gathered at my sister’s house to say our goodbyes. We drank chai and ate Christmas cookies, sang a few songs, and had a time of prayer. Josh asked us to pray short prayers of thanksgiving or blessing. The kids all participated and said some very sweet prayers. Then my dad went around the room and blessed each one of his grandchildren. It was a precious time.

It struck me this morning that my parents have somehow managed to visit us in every single home we’ve ever lived in since we got married. That’s pretty significant when you consider how much Rusty and I have moved around in the past 13 years! From our first home, a cramped Japanese apartment, to our current abode, this spacious house in Quito, and everything in between, they have seen it all. It really speaks, I think, not just to how much they enjoy traveling and seeing new places, but to their desire to be active participants in our lives and to create lasting memories with our children.

When people visit (and this is true of anyone, really, not just parents), they are giving us the gift of their presence, the gift of being better able to visualize and understand our life, and thus the gift of knowing better how to pray for and encourage us. I think this is why missionaries love to have visitors from “home”. Yes, it’s a sacrifice — a sacrifice of time and money. But it is also one of the best ways folks back home can demonstrate their care and support.

And if they manage to squeeze a few U.S. goodies into their luggage on the way over, so much the better! 🙂