Moments Like These

Following Jesus to this corner of the Amazon Jungle has brought its challenges – infections, bugs, tropical heat, tonal language, and being faraway from my family.  Sometimes I feel discouraged, overwhelmed, or homesick.

But God remains faithful.  As He said to Abram, thousands of years ago, “Fear not…I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.”  God Himself is enough to make any challenges and suffering worthwhile.  Actually, He is enough to make them seem trivial.  In addition, if He weren’t already enough, God gives me beautiful, precious moments where His extreme grace shines into everyday village life with unexpected glory.  Although words cannot adequately express these moments, please let your imagination supply what is lacking in the following feeble attempts.

  Moment 1

Leaving the home of one of my language helpers, after eating lunch with her and her family, her two-year-old calls my name, and I respond with, “yes?” to which he replies, “nothing.”  We go through this sequence three times.  He clearly does not want me to leave.  The morning before, he actually came home with me, to play with the toys I brought back from the city last time, and the big cardboard box that my agitator came in.

That box proved to be the preferred toy during its two-week lifespan.  I suspected that children valuing boxes as the best playthings ever would be a cross-cultural phenomenon, and now that theory has been proven true.  It served as a terrific hideout, playhouse, and jungle gym.  The two-year-old girl, who is an only child, was afraid to go in the box by herself, however, and her mom never offered to go with her, so guess who ended up going in and out of the box about a dozen times that day?  Let’s just say it was someone who was rather large to fit in the box, but I scrunched myself up as best I could, and we both two-year-old had fun.

The box was also great for carpentry practice.  Lorena, my coworkers’ oldest daughter, came up with the idea of nailing the box to the floor (note that my kitchen floor is made of dirt).  After engaging in this activity for over an hour, she commented, “Now that I’m learning how to hammer nails, I’ll be able to help my daddy with things.”  Her dad probably won’t need things nailed to the ground very often, but at least that skill is a small first step towards hammering nails into wood.

The eight-year-old girl invented a game where she and her cousin laid inside the box, and told her two-year brother to run and jump on top of them.  Inside the box, they couldn’t see when he was coming, producing an adrenaline rush of wondering when they would suddenly get pummeled by a flying child.  (No, I did not participate in this game, just imagining what it would be like and remembering similar games I may have instigated with younger siblings back in the day, ahem).  Unfortunately, the box met its demise during a variation of this game, and is no longer with us.

This post was supposed to be about special moments God has given me recently, not “Ways to Have Fun with Large Boxes”.  Please excuse that rabbit trail.

Moment 2

Have I mentioned that the two-year-olds (there are three in our village – two boys and one girl) have developed the habit of yelling my name whenever they see me?  They mispronounce it in the cutest ways, too.  There was never more than a slight chance of a very, very white gringa sneaking across the village undetected, but now the probability has decreased to just above zero.

One of the two-year-olds mothers commented,

“The children like you a lot.”

“Aww…I like them a lot too.”

Her husband interjected a smart-aleck comment into the heartwarming moment, saying, “The children like your cake.”

“Just the children?” I teased back, a twinkle in my eye.  “Not the grownups?”

Returning his attention to working on their family’s motorcycle, he ignored the question, but his wife laughed.

Such good friends, and such wonderful moments.

Moment 3

One morning, down at the creek, as I sat on a log while my friend, washed her family’s clothes, she suddenly commented,

“You are a good friend.”

I have no idea what I was even doing to qualify as a good friend.  I actually felt pretty much like a lazy loser.  If it weren’t for my pathetic allergies, I would have been in the river with her, helping wash clothes, because that’s the kind of friend I am in my heart.  Actually, my sneaky plan was to help despite my allergies, thus the pair of non-latex cleaning gloves (sent special delivery by my special sister-in-law) stuffed in a back pocket.  But I had forgotten that in addition to regular laundry detergent, the Neno use huge quantities of bleach for washing clothes, and the bleach allergy is so strong I discovered it long before doing any allergy tests.  It manages to get the best of my fingers, even inside gloves, and last attempt took a couple weeks to recover from, so I don’t dare use it for anything, and cannot even stay in a closed area with the smell, due to the resulting lightheadedness.

Yet in that moment, while struggling with the never-ending tension of what I want to do and what I am physically able to do, something prompted my Neno friend’s affirming words.

There is no way she could have known what was going through my head.  She doesn’t even know that I am (or used to be, anyway) the hands-on, jump in with both feet, get in the middle of the action, type of person, and that it is oh-so-hard to hold back from getting involved.  Sitting still and observing gets old fast.  Yet in the Neno culture, the opportunities where I have been able to help have been few and far between, due to various health challenges, the intense heat, and the fact that compared to theirs, my muscles are outrageously weak.

Nevertheless, we have a loving Heavenly Father who knew exactly the emotional conflict going on inside His daughter’s heart.  And He gave me that encouraging moment with a friend to remind me to keep on going, loving those around me, and serving when opportunities arise, without feeling guilty or remorseful about all the ways I see that I wish I could serve and be involved.

And as I write this, weeks later, tears fall freely…tears of gratitude for two-year-olds, cardboard boxes, children in my house, jokes and laughter with friends, and unexpected grace at the creek’s edge.  Emotional conflicts continue, but with friends like the Neno, a Father like God, and occasional moments like these, it’s going to be just fine.

From the Mouths of Little Friends

SNEEZE AWAY

Here in Brasil, when someone sneezes, the polite thing to say to them is “Saude!”, which is the word for health.

When you think about it, that makes a lot more sense than our English, “Bless you!” It is, of course, perfectly appropriate to desire and pray for God’s blessing on each other at any time, because we need His blessing constantly, whether we are sick or healthy, rich or poor, happy or grieving.  Yet I always thought it was a bit strange to automatically wish blessing on someone when they sneeze, because a cold or other sickness is no indication of a lack of God’s blessings.

The “bless you” custom actually originated in the Dark Ages, when people blamed sneezing and sickness on evil spirit.  According to this superstition, the sick person really did need God’s blessing in a deeper way than normal.  As we now know, bacteria and viruses, not spirits, cause sickness.  When someone sneezes, they probably are lacking a bit in the health department (unless they inhaled pepper or looked right at the sun, of course).  So wishing health for them in that moment, as Brasilians do, is quite logical.

However, in the mind of a Brasilian three-year-old, it may not really make sense, as I learned from Isadora.

During a bout with a major cold, Isadora was clearly not her normal optimistic, happy-go-lucky, energetic self.  Moping around the house, she sneezed loudly.

I said, “Saude!” (Health!)

To which Isadora replied dejectedly, looking up at me with her stuffy little nose and swollen red eyes, “It’s not health.  It’s sickness.”

SAME RESULTS

Another day, Isadora informed me, “The butterfly died a little bit.”  After thinking for about two seconds, she changed the diagnosis to, “No, it died a LOT!”

GROWNUPS ASK THE SILLIEST QUESTIONS

The day before field conference started, I was taking care of a friend’s 3-year-old and 11-month-old, trying to tire them out on the soccer field.  We were “racing” to the goal, and since the 11-month-old was already tired, and held up her arms so sweetly, wanting to be held, I ended up running with her on my hip.

After the 3-year-old, Elisa, won the race, I told her, “You run really fast!  Who taught you how to run so fast?”

“My mommy and daddy,” she replied.

“That’s great.  So who runs faster – your mommy or your daddy?”

Without missing a beat, Elisa said, “Jesus runs faster.”

From the Mouths of Little Friends

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Christmas Cookie Making Night!

UNFORESEEN CHALLENGES OF SINGLENESS

One day in the village, while I was still living with my coworkers, the girls were planning an imaginary play session.  Sidenote: their imaginations are so active, that it is often hard to keep up with which character they are impersonating, resulting in protests such as, “I’m not Isadora!  I’m Maria!” (or Ana or Elsa or John or Abbi or Jubilee or some other movie or book or real-life personality).  Obviously their identities should be obvious to everyone, right?  They know who they are pretending to be, after all.  My own character-guessing skills are improving, slowly but surely.  At least I can list off the top four imaginary roles of choice for each girl and always know when Lorena is Mahi, her favorite cat character.

On this occasion, however, Isadora was casting herself in the new role of Julia, a two-year-old daughter of missionary friends who had visited us the previous week.  Lorena wanted to be another little girl, so they needed someone else to be Misa, Julia’s mommy.

Lorena suggested that I be Misa, to which Isadora immediately argued,

“But Tia Paulette can’t be Misa!  She doesn’t have a husband!” As I tried not to laugh out loud, Lorena acquiesced to Isadora, realized the watertight logic in her firm objection.

What a letdown.  Never realized my single status could be so limiting, even affecting which roles are available to me when playing with three-year-olds.

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Those cookies do look yummy!

THE CUCUMBER FLUENCY TEST

As I made lunch, Isadora wandered into the kitchen to see if she could coax me into giving her bits of something to eat before the meal was served.  As she has learned from previous experience, that isn’t very hard to do, as long as she asks politely, instead of demanding.

So I offered her a big fat cucumber stick, telling her “In English, this is a cucumber.  Can you say cucumber?”

“Cucumber!” she repeated, a big grin showing her delight in learning a new word.

“Good job!  You said that just right,” as I handed her the desired pre-lunch snack.

“Yup!  And that means…that I know how to speak English!”

After further reflection on my own language learning endeavors, and a thorough testing of current skills, according to the above standards, I am pleased to announce to all of you that…I already know how to speak Neno!  Our language consultant may not agree with Isadora’s evaluation methods, however, so I intend to keep studying and practicing, just in case.

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Lorena, the beet lover.                               Isadora, the brownie batter licker.