Monday, August 29, 2016

But He is Strong

I have debated about making this post a long time. The subject is unpleasant, and I certainly don't want to brag about how we overcame this difficulty. But God keeps nudging me toward sharing this story to show HIS strength.

And let me tell you... it was ALL HIS strength that made this possible, for on my own I could not possibly have dealt with this situation.

Recently, the local police stopped by to ask if we knew where a traveler could stay. Brad talked to them for a long time before they left. He had told them he knew of nowhere. I know he didn't volunteer our spare room because it wasn't really "spare" anymore; my brother was moving in with us a couple of days later. I had his room clean and ready to go. I appreciate Brad's protection of my work, but I said, "Well, the person could stay here..."

So Brad called the police back and made the offer, and the police brought the traveler to our door. We've had strangers stay with us before, and I'm sure we'll do so again. Usually, the traveler is a Native man, hitchhiking his way to see his mom, his kids, or to get to a job. Usually, the traveler is reasonably clean, reasonably sober, and very appreciative.


My mother has a wonderful gift of hospitality, and I think I learned what I know of it from her. Generally, I enjoy being a hostess, providing meals, a bed, a shower, and laundering clothing and bedding for their travels. Jesus' words on how we treat "the least of these" inspire me to be genuinely happy for these opportunities, even if they're sometimes slightly uncomfortable.


This time was different.

When the police dropped off the traveler, I was shocked. I couldn't tell whether the person was a man or a woman. (woman) She was dressed in multiple layers of ill-fitting, disgustingly filthy clothing. She had a t-shirt around her hair and much of her face, leaving few clues to her age. (74) She was toting a ripped-up trash bag and a handled tote-bag, which she deposited on the floor of our kitchen. Our cats immediately began sniffing around in them; I was afraid they would urinate on the items, marking their territory.

And the smell... I have never smelled anything like it before in my life.  Seriously.   Never.   Ever.    It was the worst stale-urine-on-a-bedwetter smell combined with the worst BO and some other smells I never want to experience again. She had obviously been using her clothing as a toilet for weeks. Her pants were even wet as she entered the house. My eyes and throat burned as I greeted her. My stomach turned over as I watched her sink into a chair in my kitchen, and I dreaded the idea of her even in my house, let alone in a bed in my house.

And I sent up a silent prayer, begging with God to give me His love for this forlorn soul because I could find none in my heart.

And He did.

I was suddenly calm and unbothered. My physical repulsion at this woman's condition was removed. I was able to serve coffee to her, chat with her, offer her (with genuine joy) food, bed, shower, laundering.

It is not a testament to me or my strength, ability, or faith. Absolutely not. I could not possibly have succeeded in suppressing my revulsion. It was a gift from God. My peace of mind, my strength of stomach, my ability to actually love this traveler were given to me, complete, from Almighty God.

After she went to bed, I sanitized the chair and table where she had sat. Yes, it was that bad. But I didn't do it out of disgust, I did it to protect my family.

And when, in the middle of the night, we were awakened by the overwhelming stench of her using the toilet (removing her clothes made the smell so strong that we were suddenly awake, eyes and throats burning at the far end of the hallway), I was able to thank God that she felt safe enough to use the toilet instead of her clothing.

I got up the next morning, cooked bacon and eggs, determined to send her on her way with a good meal. I awakened her gently, thanking God that she slept on the bed instead of in it. She started with fear, then realizing where she was, asked if she could stay another night. Since my brother was in need of the room, we said no, but invited her to breakfast. Then my husband drove her halfway to her destination, where she would likely be able to hitch the rest of the way before nightfall.

After she left, I was left with the delousing, bleaching, sanitizing, washing, and deodorizing... but I was also left with the love of God for this unfortunate soul who wandered through our lives. And the absolute knowledge that...

I am weak.

But He is Strong.

In all things, depend on Him. He will provide all we need. The Lord is my strength and my shield and my righteousness. It is only in Him that I can do His will in this world.

I am weak.

But He is Strong.


And Amen.

PS There are no pictures for this story because I refuse to utilize any homeless, desperate (or any other) person for my own purposes.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Happy Anniversary!

Today marks the third anniversary of our arrival in Dulce, New Mexico. I suppose it's natural to review "what we've accomplished" and to "set new goals," but that's not really how I think of our three years here. I have learned and gained so much more than I've given or accomplished.

Living among the Jicarilla Apache people has taught me many things. I'm still confused at times, but I've learned a lot! If you've ever lived outside of your native culture, you understand what I mean.

What have I learned?

I've learned that differences within the culture are almost as large as the differences between my (White, mainstream) culture and the Jicarilla culture. The Jicarilla people have many interpretations of what certain cultural practices mean; if I ask several people what something means, I get a better, fuller understanding than if I simply ask one person. This is even true with language pronunciation and use! Slowly, I am coming to an understanding of what things mean, but I am still ignorant on many topics.

I've learned that it's okay for me to take photographs in most situations since I am a member of the community. I still ask permission to post any pictures publicly, but I do that among my White friends, too. And I never take my camera to cultural events such as a keesta (girls' coming-of-age ceremony) or go-jii-ya (annual fall festival). Many of the parents of Kat's friends appreciate my photography hobby and love seeing what their children are doing while playing.

I've learned that ministry is all about relationships, especially here among the Jicarilla Apache. The time we spend with our Jicarilla friends opens the door to service and witness, besides being fun. Relationships take time. Among the mainstream culture, time is often more important than people; that is not true in Dulce. Here, if someone drops by (yes, this actually happens!), you stop what you're doing and settle in for a visit. It's delightful!

I've also learned that much of the ministry here is not done in the church or even with the church members. Much of our ministry consists of being welcoming to strangers who wander through our yard and our lives... of making plates of food for hungry wanderers, who are often intoxicated... of simply sitting with those who are distressed, depressed, or suicidal. This church was "the" church among the Jicarilla Apache for about 50 years; this means that families who aren't connected to another church often come to Brad for a wedding or, more often, a funeral. Brad is very good at consoling grieving family members and proclaiming the gospel at funerals.

I've learned that northern New Mexico is a long, long way from the Midwest. That when a parent is ailing, it's very hard to be so far away. That it's too expensive to go back as often as my heart would like. And in all this, I've learned that God provides for them in our absence. Neighbors, friends, and church family have all connected to support our parents. Accepting this blessing is difficult at times, but it is a good gift. 

We've discovered that we absolutely delight in the weather in the mountains. We love the cool summer nights and warm winter afternoons. We love the snow... and the fact that it usually melts within days. On our travels back to the Midwest, we feel the humidity, that's for sure! The dry climate is welcome when we return.

So, as we prepare to begin our fourth year in service here, we look forward to learning more about ministry, more about the Jicarilla Apache, and more about ourselves. We thank God for bringing us here, and ask Him to give us many more years among these precious people of His.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


We've lived in Dulce for almost exactly three years, and for most of that time I have taken a daily walk. My walk leads me through town to the high school track, around the track, and back through town to our home. On my route I recently noticed that some of the sunflowers were full and beautiful... and some were missing all their petals, leaving just the middle section.

I've seen this before and never really thought about it, but this particular morning it struck me. I looked a little closer.

My inspection of the sunflowers revealed that the pretty ones with bright yellow petals had small immature seeds in the center. The bare sunflowers held fully mature, robust seeds. And that got me to thinking...

It seems to me that we Christians are a little like the sunflowers. When we're immature, we hold potential, but it is undeveloped. Our actions for Christ may look pretty; they may draw attention, but mostly to ourselves, not to Christ. I know that I personally have had times in my life when my work "for the Lord" was more self-serving than I'd like to admit.

And the plain sunflower, with all the petals lost, is a mature Christian who is full of the promise of new life. None of the attractive glitz. Just the seeds of faith. Just the seeds of Christian growth. Just the seeds of God's will.

Sometimes people will be drawn more easily to the bright beauty of immature faith, but patiently growing into maturity as a Christian brings eternal joy. So don't worry if your Christian service isn't a blazing parade with myriad onlookers and followers. Instead, continue to allow God's Spirit to change you, to develop you into the deep and mature follower of Christ that will serve God's Kingdom in everything you do.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Ha dee an sii

We have been so very blessed here in Dulce, NM. God has provided everything we could possibly need, especially friends. Recently, we were invited to go along with some friends to pick choke cherries. I don't know much about choke cherries except that they taste really good when made into jelly or syrup. So we jumped on the adventure of picking choke cherries.

It turned out to be a delightful evening of picking choke cherries, climbing ridges, exploring, and laughing with our friends.

We also have a couple of friends who have been teaching us some of the Jicarilla language. We stumble through some of the sounds that make up the words, learning bit by bit. We can greet people, and we know a few words. Not much more. I do have a book with language information, but it seems like most of the words we already know are somehow different in the book.

Today I learned something that opened my eyes, my ears, and my heart even more to the Jicarilla culture. After one says "Danzho" (hello) to someone, the next statement is "Ha dee an sii?". This has been translated as "How are you?" for us. But today, in the children's message at church, it was defined as, "Do you need anything?"

Wow. What if we asked each other that every time we greeted each other? Do you need anything? Yes, I need someone to hold my baby while I take a break. Yes, I need someone to mow my lawn. Yes, I need some food. Yes, I need a hug today. Yes, Yes, Yes!

This deepens my understanding of the cultural expectation within the Jicarilla of providing for each other. For helping each other out. For giving of themselves when there is need.  And it strikes me that Jesus would like this.

Do you need anything? Yes. I need someone to care about me. I need someone to reach out to me. I need someone to love me.

Jesus does all that. Jesus tells us to do all that in the great commandment, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

It's amazing how God has blessed us in bringing us to the place. We came to be servants and to bring God's good news; and yet we are receiving God's good news at least as much as we are bringing it!