Fog and Haze

 

Life is full of problems, isn’t it?

Sometimes they’re little. Things that irritate or distract us, but aren’t terribly important from the viewpoint of eternity–oversleeping, burning the toast, having to scrape frost off the windshield, bogging down behind slow drivers who’re hogging the fast lane, forgetting one’s wallet.

And that’s just the beginning of the day. The list of other possibilities is endless.

No matter how small those things are, they tend to get us off to a bad start. If we’re realistic, however, we would admit that none of them is apt to change our lives for the worse permanently.

It’s like driving through a patch of fog. We know we’ll soon come to a clear spot and the rest of the fog will eventually burn off and disappear.

Too many people feel like they’re living in a haze rather than simply passing through foggy spots. Whatever they’re enduring seems endless. And hopeless. Whether their problems are financial ones that seem to keep binding them tighter, relationships that make life painful or unbearable, or a persistent physical problem the doctor can’t determine the cause of or treat successfully, those people can’t seem to see beyond the haze surrounding them.

They’re very much like these two Nicaraguan villagers. No matter how far or how fast they peddle, their road is dirt, and peddling through it will always make everything around them appear hazy.

They don’t have the power to change their situation. They can only dream of a ride like this that’s at least a little clearer:

It’s actually the same road, though, and it’s still dirty and dusty. The difference is one of perception.

God views our problems far differently from the way we do. He sees solutions we can’t even dream of.. He doesn’t enjoy watching us suffer. He wants to help.

We just need to reach out to Him in faith.

If solving the problem and removing the haze is His will, He will do so. But sometimes He seems to prefer helping us  deal with the haze rather than providing an immediate solution.

Of course that’s frustrating. But acknowledging that He’s in control can change our perception.

Rather than feeling totally overwhelmed, lost in our haze of worry and uncertainty…

 

He wants to help us see our situation more clearly:

I can’t imagine any Christian waking up each morning and saying, “Lord, give me more problems so I can depend on You more.” But I hope every true Believer begins the day with a prayer that says, “It’s all in Your hands. That’s all I need to know.”

For some reason, this blog post has been a hard one to write. I hope and pray that it’s made sense and has perhaps even spoken to a personal need. Your comments will be welcome.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

          

Links you might be interested in:

 

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Blessed to be a Blessing

Click on thumbnails to see larger images. Many additional pictures from Nicaragua are available here.

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[NOTE: This post was originally included in the Winn’s Baptist Church newsletter. I’ve edited it just slightly to post here.]

Every Christian should have a chance to go on a mission trip to Nicaragua. One word of caution, though. That experience is apt to be life-changing.

Using the Internet to learn facts about Nicaragua, the second poorest country in Central America, is one thing; seeing poverty like that in person is something else. But the enthusiasm and dedication of the local pastors as they minister to the physical as well as to the spiritual needs of their communities is uplifting beyond description.

I went to Nicaragua on March 5—we returned on the 10th—with fellow Winn’s members Bruce & Renee Bingham, Richard & Leslie Gray, and Jason Harris. Although Leslie had been to Nicaragua before, the rest of us had not.

In order to check six large duffel bags of baseball equipment, used clothing, and other mission-related items, each of us packed our personal things in our carry-on bags. Our back packs accompanied us every day, as did bottled water, hand sanitizer, and cameras. Most of the group wore shorts or capris except on Sunday morning. Temps were in the 90s.

Pastor Carlos Garcia and his wife, Luisa, were our hosts for the week. Carlos had served as the translator on past trips and ended up feeling called to the ministry. In addition to pastoring a church, he also works for the Asociación de Iglesias Evangélicas La Gran Cosecha de Nicaragua. We participated in activities at most of the churches in that association of churches.

We hit the deck running soon after our arrival…a trip to the station where Carlos has a radio ministry. He interviewed Bruce, and Luisa interpreted.

Renee makes jewelry, and she presented each pastor with a bracelet made of fishing tackle—appropriate for “fishers of men.” She gave their wives an angel necklace. At two of the churches we visited, she also did crafts with large groups of children and let them blow bubbles.

We spent two afternoons taking food and Bibles to needy people and seeing their homes up close. The average “house” was probably no bigger than a single-car garage. Although we saw electric cords strewn all over, no one had an actual kitchen—or anything more than a simple outhouse, if they even had that much of a bathroom.

The better homes were cinderblock. The poorer ones were constructed from whatever sheet metal scraps the resident could scrounge up. Many of the homes didn’t have doors. Many were incomplete. Heavy rocks held the metal down on a number of roofs.

Probably our most meaningful activity took place on Thursday, when we washed the feet of a hundred needy children and put new socks and shoes on them. As reminiscent as that was of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, I sincerely hope he didn’t have the problem of dropping the towel in the basin of water.

We stopped at Pastor Leon’s church, much of which Winn’s helped to build, and enjoyed fellowship with him and his wife.

Sunday was special. We worshipped at Carlos’ church—a two-hour service that didn’t seem nearly that long. Luisa led the singing with her guitar, and I was permitted to share one of my songs. Richard and Leslie participated in the service as well. Carlos’ preaching was dynamic.

That afternoon, everyone but me went zip-lining. Even Carlos’ and Luisa’s three kids. Okay, so I’m scared of heights. But it gave me a chance to take pictures.

Although Monday was a long day of travel—thanks to lengthy layovers—we all got home safely.

You often hear volunteer missionaries say that they went to their place of service hoping to be a blessing, but came away feeling that they had received more of a blessing than they had rendered. I suspect all of our group felt that way.

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Please leave a comment if something in this post has spoken to you. I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

By the way, “Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. On “As I Come Singing” I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Because I’ve already posted all of my songs, I revise and repost a previous post each Wednesday. If you’re interested, please check that blog out here.

Best regards,
Roger

 

It Doesn’t Take Much to Interest Me

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My recent trip to Nicaragua was fascinating, and I could probably write a ton of posts about it. But I won’t put you through that. Much of what interested me wouldn’t interest anyone else.

Nonetheless, I want to share a few of the things that fascinated me. If you prefer to skip this post, I won’t be offended. Especially since I won’t know you’ve done it.

  • Small three-wheel bicycle taxis were everywhere—even out in the country. The driver pedaled on the single wheel in the back, and the passenger rode in a slightly enclosed area up front. I wish I’d had a chance to ride in one, if only just around the block.
  • I’m not sure I saw a street sign anywhere in Managua or the surrounding areas we visited. If there were road signs, I failed to notice them.
  • Not sure I’d ever seen a set of traffic lights that applied only to certain lanes rather than to everybody going a certain direction. Someone coming from the left could turn left into the far left lane of the street I was on while the two rightmost lanes on my street kept going through a green light. There was only a red light for that far left lane.
  • Billboards crossed the busy Managua streets rather than taking up space at the side.
  • • I knew that travelers are warned to avoid eggs unless hard boiled, but I didn’t know the reason: people don’t typically refrigerate eggs.
  • Taking malaria medicine before, during, and after a trip to Nicaragua is considered a must; seems strange I didn’t see a single mosquito that week, though. In the tropics, are the insects as seasonal as they are elsewhere?
  • We never did exchange American currency for Nicaraguan money. Why bother? Everybody willingly accepted U.S. dollars, and many places—especially restaurants—listed the U.S. price along with the Nicaraguan price.
  • The local police seemed to be on the lookout for foreign drivers. Our van got pulled over once for being too large to be in the far left lane, even though no signs warned of this law. Our host pastor talked the policeman out of taking our friend’s license. Our pastor then “thanked” the officer with a small gift of money, but only afterwards—to avoid the appearance of a bribe. Interestingly, we ran into the same policeman at a routine checkpoint later in a very different location. I think he recognized and remembered us. No problems that time.
  • The mall we ate at the first night was bustling with people. I wish our local mall was in such good economic health. Maybe it had to do with a fashion show or something of that nature that was going on.
  • Don’t know when I ever saw so many motorcycles. I didn’t notice many big ones like we have in the States, and the brands I saw weren’t familiar. Nonetheless, very economical transportation, even though motorcyclists drove even crazier there than here.
  • I can’t say I’ve ever been anywhere before where I could watch the vapor rising from an active volcano. I have no idea how far away that was.

Rather than say any more now, I think I’ll do one post about my team’s activities in Nicaragua, and then I’ll go back to just being a person of age rattling on about other things. *G*

In the meantime, though, what curiosities have you encountered in visits to other countries? Please leave a comment and share.

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to the top right of this page where it says, “Follow Blog via Email.”

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on “As I Come Singing.” Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Because I’ve already used all of my songs, I revise and repost a previous post each Wednesday. If you’re interested, please check that blog out here.

Best regards,
Roger

 

 

Spanish That Wasn’t Quite Adequate

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I took three years of Spanish in high school. Early in my studies, I started feeling pretty confident. So much so that I tried showing off to the slightly older (and very attractive) sister of my best friend.

Doggone! How was I supposed  to know that their father had been stationed in Puerto Rico long enough for her to know Spanish better than I ever would?

I learned two things from that experience. Don’t show off about my Spanish, and don’t show off—period. Maybe that’s why I don’t compare myself to other guitar players. If someone tells me I’m good, I’ll thank them graciously, but I know better than to let it go to my head.

But we weren’t talking about my guitar playing.

When I entered junior college, they told me I needed one year of a foreign language. They didn’t offer a second year Spanish course, and they weren’t about to let somebody who’d studied it three years in high school meet the requirements with the first year course.

So, out of necessity, I started taking first year French. I hated it, and I could easily see it ruining my 3+ GPA.

But one of my instructors, Mr. Kirkconnell, befriended me and arranged to teach a second year class with me as his only student. Now THAT was something else, even if he did miss a lot of classes.

Flash forward forty years or so. I was writing Found in Translation and needed to use some authentic Spanish. With a little help from the Internet, I was able to do what I needed to do.

Flash forward to a month ago, when I first learned about my church’s upcoming mission trip to Nicaragua. Hmm. Perfect time to brush up on my Spanish, huh?

I bought a grammar refresher book. From going through just the first fifty pages, I discovered how much I hadn’t learned in high school, much less forgotten. So I abandoned that book in favor of a Spanish-English dictionary and a little Dummies book of useful Spanish phrases.

I wasn’t set, but I was as set as I’d ever be.

We arrived in Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua. The signs were pretty easy to figure out—for the greater part.

But spoken Spanish? Forget it! Even if I didn’t Have a hearing problem, I couldn’t listen fast enough to follow it. So I got real good at saying, “Lo siento” (“I’m sorry”), “No comprendo” (“I don’t understand”), and “Donde es el bano?” (“Where’s the bathroom?”). I didn’t bother with “No tan rapido, por favor” (“Not so fast, please”) because I knew it wouldn’t help.

I’ve concluded that part of the problem is the same thing that makes Spanish such a beautiful language to listen to (if one doesn’t need to know what’s being said): The words basically roll together in such a way that somebody like me can’t easily separate  them into individual words.

I’m glad I brushed up on my Spanish, though. But if I get to go to Nicaragua again, I hope I’ll at least have a larger vocabulary. Maybe I’ll get a little further than “Hola” (“Hello” or “Hi”), even if I still can’t understand what the person I’m trying to talk to says back.

What’s your experience with a foreign language? Or are you still working on English?

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Please leave a comment if something in this post has spoken to you. I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to the top right of this page where it says, “Follow Blog via Email.”

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing” to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Because I’ve used up all of my songs, I revise and repost a previous post each Wednesday. If you’re interested, please check that blog out here.

Best regards,
Roger

Do You Feel Guilty…?

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If you were born in the United States, do you ever feel guilty about it?

I know. That’s a silly question. Right up there with…

  • Do you feel guilty about who your parents are?
  • Do you feel guilty for your physical appearance?
  • Do you feel guilty for your talents?

The list could go on and on.

Life involves a number of things we have little or no control over. That’s equally true for the people I met last week in Nicaragua. They didn’t choose to be born in Central America’s second poorest nation, yet the one that’s richest in natural resources. And they probably can’t conceive of our wealth as Americans without seeing in first-hand any more than I could conceive of their poverty just from reading facts about Nicaragua on the Internet.

One of the things the mission team I was on did was to distribute food packets and Bibles to needy families. We drove on the bumpiest of dirt roads to reach their communities. We saw miles and miles of worse roadside litter than I’ve ever seen in the United States. We saw the most undernourished dogs and horses.

We saw houses our neighborhood associations wouldn’t have approved of. Some were just plain cinderblock. Others were an assembly of scrap pieces of sheet metal. Sheet metal roofs were often held down by large stones.

Some houses—better to refer to these places that were no larger than one of our single-car garages as shacks—had no doors; some doorways were covered with fabric. Few had kitchens or bathrooms, and the bathrooms we saw were the most basic of outhouses.

Although many of the shacks had access to electricity, their owners didn’t have much in the way of appliances. And the people in some areas didn’t have access to safe drinking water.

Are you feeling guilty yet?  You shouldn’t. You didn’t choose to live in the United States or to enjoy a level of affluence that would make you seem wealthy to many of the people of Nicaragua.

Even Jesus said we’d always have the poor. But He also told us to care about them and to try to help them. What can you—what can WE—do to help?

Please leave a comment if something in this post has spoken to you. I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to the top right of this page where it says, “Follow Blog via Email.”

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By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing” to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Because I’ve used up all of my songs, I revise and re-post a previous post each Wednesday. If you’re interested, please check that blog out here.

Best regards,
Roger

Family in Nicaragua

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I just got back from visiting family in Nicaragua.

No, I’m not any more Latino than my name would imply, and I’m not related by blood to those family members. Not in the regular sense, that is.

I’m related to them through the blood of Jesus Christ. I have similar family members throughout the world. It’s truly amazing to visit that kind of family in foreign countries and discover the same kind of love and acceptance I share with my fellow Christians here in the United States.

Going on mission trips is supposed to be a blessing to the people we visit and minister to, and I pray that it is. But it’s always a blessing to me.

Especially with this trip to Nicaragua, which is the second poorest country in Central America. Among other ministry activities, we distributed food packets to needy families and gave new shoes and socks to a number of children. I plan to be more specific in future posts.

Have you been on a mission trip? Do you understand what I’m saying about the sense of being family with the Nicaraguan Christians we visited? If so, please share a comment.

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to the top right of this page where it says, “Follow Blog via Email.”

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing” to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Best regards,
Roger

 

Never Too Old to Say Yes

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I have no idea how old Abraham was when God told him to pack up his family and belongings and move to a place the Lord was going to lead him to. Neither do I have any idea how old Isaiah was when God asked who would go for Him and Isaiah answered, “Here I am. Send me.”

Fortunately, the Lord isn’t directing me to move. I like being where my wife and I are, just as Abraham probably felt about the home he was having to leave—in faith that God knew what He was doing.

But I heard God asking who would go for Him in a rather round about way.

My church has been partnering with a church in Nicaragua for some years now, and periodically a team goes down there to do whatever needs being done. My wife and I decided two or three years ago that we wanted to be part of that some day, but we would need to save for it. So we’ve been saving $50 a month ever since.

Flash forward to Saturday a week ago. I was working on my current novel manuscript, which involves a mission trip to Nicaragua. I’d been doing some online research about that country—the second poorest one in Central America—but didn’t feel I was really finding what I needed.

I emailed someone who’d been there before to try to arrange a get-together so I could pick his brain, but haven’t heard back yet.

I had a passing thought. We had nearly $2000 saved in our Nicaragua fund. Why not…?

But the “why not?” involved several issues. My wife, Kathleen, suggested that I use our savings to go without her, and she did that without my bringing up the idea.

So the second issue was whether our church had a trip planned any time this year. Even if it was months away, I could continue working on my manuscript and revise it later with what I learned there.

Lo and behold, a small group is going this year. Although it is an exploratory trip to meet some of the pastors other than the one we’ve normally worked with, it will involve going to four different areas.

And guess what? This trip is March 5-10. Just around a very short corner.

I got in touch with one of the team contacts, and the team discussed it and invited me to come. I met the rest of the team this past Sunday—just one week after learning about the trip. I may be the oldest person going, but I felt very comfortable with the other team members.

As you can see from the Band-Aid pictures above, I’ve become a human pin cushion—Hepatitis-A, Typhoid, Adult Polio, and Tetanus shots. I’ve also got Malaria medication to take before, during, and after the trip.

I have a number of other things to do to get ready, but I’m excited.

By now, you may be wondering why I mentioned saying yes to God when my original interest in going was to experience Nicaragua for myself so I could come home and incorporate some of that in my writing.

Reasonable question.

If my interest in going had started the day Kathleen and I had the same idea simultaneously, I would’ve been the first person to question my own motives. But remember that money we’d been saving? I’d been interested in going long before I needed to know more about Nicaragua.

I don’t believe in coincidences. Feeling the need to go, knowing that we had the money to cover the cost for me alone (Kathleen wouldn’t have had enough vacation time, even if we’d had enough for both of us), and then discovering that a trip was imminent all added up to my feeling that God was asking who would go—and suggesting that He has something for me to do in Nicaragua.

Please leave a comment if something in this post speaks to you in a way you’d like to respond to. I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to the top right of this page where it says, “Follow Blog via Email.”

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing” to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Because I’ve used up all of my songs, I re-post an old post each Wednesday. If you’re interested, please check that blog out here.

Best regards,

Roger