Saturday, January 31, 2009

My Boyfriend's Back!

Just in case the title of this post made you nervous, boyfriend = husband/Jim. Ha! I'm a funny girl.

Jim returned this week after taking a mission group to Hato Mayor (see previous posts). A group of twelve individuals, some from Horizon, some not, spent a week working on the mission house being built there.

"A typical Dominican house" set up at a city museum. This was much nicer than many of the country homes we saw.

Let me ask you this---have you ever gone to visit someone you've never met before and when you left they started adding an addition to their house just so you would come back? Me neither, but that's what happened to us after our first trip to Hato Mayor. I told in an earlier post about Pedrito's dream in Hato Mayor. His son and daughter-in-law's dream is to someday have a mission school connected to the church. There is so much need in the barrio where they live. Our little church has latched onto the dreams and we hope to make them come true. We will eventually arrange medical missions and more in the barrio. It's all about being a light in the world, not just in this little community where we live in Indiana. It's about building relationships and telling people they matter---to us, to God. It's not about preaching the Word. It's about living the Word. Words fall on deaf ears. Actions say you mean it.

So Arelis and Pedrito build. They are able to build because of generous hearts across the great divide. (I hope my friends don't mind me sharing this). Steve and Amy were blessed by some unexpected funds. They could have put in a new pool. Steve could have built a bigger and better pen for his beagles. Amy could have expanded the garden of her dreams. No, they wanted to do something more, something worthy. So, the mission house outside of Santiago is built with much love. Steve and Amy have received a little help from friends, but it would have taken years for the dream to come to fruition had they not given generously of their time and money.

There is more to do to complete the Mission House, but it is lookin' gooooooood! I am looking forward to my three-week adventure there this summer. I'm going alone at the moment. Steve has created a laundry list of "projects" for me to complete. Wait a minute! Wasn't that supposed to be a vacation?! Not really. I'll be visiting family, my Dominican family. And they will welcome me with open arms and ginormous hearts. Can't wait.

The reason we go:
A few miles outside Santiago

Sunday afternoon at Children's Church

Waiting for baseballs, bats, and gloves that we brought from the U.S. Much better than the sticks, milk jugs and bottle caps they are used to using instead.

For more about this recent trip, see Jim's posts and Todd's posts. If you would ever want to join us on the adventure, send me an email! Anyone with a heart for serving is welcome to join us.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Real Oldest Woman in the World

Okay, so I don't know if she really is the oldest woman in the world, but she's the oldest woman I know.

Her name is Sahndai (spelling uncertain). Is she not beautiful? She will turn 121 years old sometime this year. She lives in the little village of Los Patos in the Dominican Republic.
Up until about 7 or 8 years ago, she still lived on her own in a rustic little cabin on what we refer to as "Grandpa's Mountain". She was born in 1888!! There is no documentation to prove this, so she won't make any books of World Records soon.

From my journal, July 2007:
"She is in amazing shape for a woman her age. She walked down the street to meet us at her daughter’s house. The daughter is 72 years old and the last of fourteen children. The oldest child is 97 and still going strong. When Joel introduced Todd (in the Dominican way—he didn’t pronounce the last sound of the word), Great- Grandma said in Spanish, “Ta? Ta? That sounds like poop!” She laughed out loud. So did we. Her sense of humor became further evident when she stood up, stuck out her back end and passed gas. Then she let out a roaring laugh. We were all so taken by surprise by this that we could do nothing but roar with her. She got quite a kick out of herself. When we showed her the pictures of her on our digital camera, she said, “Ai, caramba!” She was something. She thought my silver-white hair was pretty so we took a picture together. Our hair is the same color. When Steve asked how she lived so long, she attributed it to two things: 1) her name was taken off the “death list” and 2) Coffee! She loves her coffee. Arelis brought her a new mug to drink from. She grabbed it and put it to her lips and said, “Where’s my coffee? Where’s my coffee?” I think she enjoyed us as much as we enjoyed her."

Her son, Joel's grandfather, is 87 yrs. old. He took quite a liking to Clella, the 81 yr. old on the trip with us. Rumor has it that he is quite a ladies man and is the father to many children of numerous mothers in the community.

"One thing we noticed about grandpa, great-grandma and the uncles is just how healthy they are. They have good teeth and good health. They are all spry and in great shape. We attribute it to all the natural foods they eat and the hard work they do." I guess a lot can be said about beans, rice, avocado, mango, and fish! I LOVED eating in the DR.Joel and his Grandpa, the ladies man.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Dream In Hato Mayor (Ah-toe My-your)

On Tuesday, Jim and I were two planes passing in the sky. While mine was arriving in the Hoosier state from the snowy hills of Maine, his was headed to the warmer clime of the Dominican Republic. We will have spent thirteen days apart by the time he gets home again. Jim left with a group of people on a mission trip to the barrios of Hato Mayor, just outside the city of Santiago. This will be the third trip members and friends of our church will have made to this neighborhood since the summer of 2007. We originally made our first trip to help complete the building of a church there. The church had been the long-time dream of one man, Pedrito, and his wife, Arelis. There were no churches in the near vicinity of their little community. To get to the closest church would have required a combination of three different modes of transportation and would have cost more than the neighbors could afford. Pedrito and Arelis asked themselves, "Who will teach the children about God?" The silent yet clamouring answer they received was, "You."

For fifteen years, Pedrito built this church, literally, brick by brick. You have to understand that Pedrito and Arelis make very little money. Pedrito has a health condition that prevents him from holding regular employment. Arelis teaches at two different preschools and makes the equivalent of $4000 per year. They are not rich, but what they have, they share. Last spring when I was there, I watched as an emaciated woman approached the gate of their house. Although I could not speak the language, I could tell some bargaining was going on. The woman would talk, Pedrito would shake his head. Gently he spoke to her. Soon, Pedrito reached into his pocket and placed a few pesos in her hands. Through a translator, I learned that the woman was a drug addict and she came begging for money. We asked Pedrito why he gave her money. His response was, "She has babies. They need milk." A few moments later, the woman walked past, a quart of milk dangling from her hand. With a nod and a glance, she whispered, "Gracias, Pedrito."

Whenever Pedrito would receive a donation, usually a small one, he would purchase materials for the building. Perhaps it would be enough for two cinder blocks or perhaps a coil of wire. Bit by bit, he cleared the land. Piece by piece, he built. Fifteen years later, we came to put on the finishing touches. For years, the people in the barrio would watch him. "Look," they'd say, "there goes crazy Pedrito. What's he doing today?" They would scoff and they would laugh, but during the two weeks we were there, a change in attitude became apparent. We gringos became quite a novelty in the neighborhood and curiosity brought people out of the woodwork. Before our return to the U.S., we were able to have the first worship service within the church. They packed the house!

The first service was at night, scheduled to begin at 6 pm. Well, you know, there is American time and then there is Dominican time. By 7:30, we were ready to roll. The journal entry I wrote about this night said this:

Just want to tell you quickly that we have finished the work we hoped to on the church in Santiago. We had the first service of celebration in it last night. The electrician came Sunday afternoon, so we had lights! It looks wonderful even though there is much more for Pedrito to do when we leave. It was a very emotional moment. Joel (his son) had been sick and we didn't think he was going to make it to the service. He came a little late. I was very blessed to have been able to see his face when he approached the doorway. He stopped just short of entering. When he saw the church filled (really filled) with people from the central church, he burst into tears and started sobbing. He was overcome with emotion from seeing his father's lifetime dream come true. I am crying just thinking about it. Laura said, "THIS made everything worth the work." During the whole time of gathering and worshipping, Pedrito would not enter the church. I watched him. He would circle the church and look in through the windows. From window to window, he would travel. He was invited inside by many, but each time he would give a slight shake of his head. To another window he would go. Oh, how I wish I could have known what thoughts went through his mind. I know his heart was overcome.

Father and son 1

Father and son 2

I am green as a ripe avocado with envy that I couldn't make this third trip.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Unexpected Gifts

The Mass for my sister, Sue, went very well. While I wasn't surprised, I was very pleased. For me, a Catholic Mass can seem very impersonal, disconnected almost. Much has to do with the priest at times, but it also has to do with the rote-ness of the pomp and circumstance. This is not meant to be a bashing. It is just my own personal experience coloring my perception and what I need in/from a worship experience. Anyway, I found myself embracing the tradition of the Mass yesterday. I'm not looking for a steady diet of the traditions, but I did find comfort in it yesterday. I think much of that has to do with the fact that Catholicism is just part of the fabric of this one family's life. I also think I've grown up and matured and I don't need to reject or criticize as I once did. I've accepted the role Catholicism has played in my life and have learned to embrace the fact that it has much to do with the person I grew into. It is part of the good and bad in me. I've come to peace with it.

The service was given a more personal touch because family members were allowed to participate in the service. My sister, Michele, and niece, Amy, read scripture. Michele's daughters, Hannah and Olivia, brought the gifts for Communion. Ronnie, the firstborn of our family, ordained as a deacon in the Catholic church, assisted the priest and gave the homily (message). He did the same for Mom and Dad's memorial services as well. Ronnie is rather quiet and reserved. He's also been the most disconnected from the immediate family due to the demands of a military life and settling eventually in the southwest. Sometimes, I feel that we just don't know him well. While I think it has been an honor for him to be involved in the three services this way, it is also a burden to carry that responsibility. It requires putting aside one's own grief for a time to provide strength for others. Each time I've watched and listened to him in these moments, I am struck with how beautifully he handles them. It is a surprise each time because it seems so outside his comfort zone. But it's not really. I've placed that assumption on it. Even so, I love the surprise of it, because it provides a moment for me to appreciate his skill.

There is much about the memorial services for Mom, Dad and Suzanne that has touched me, but one of the greatest gifts I've received through them all was an opportunity to reconnect with family members that were once such an integral part of my life. Cousins, aunts, uncles, family friends. I'm touched that they've come. Some have come from very long distances to do nothing but honor the lives of these people who meant so much them. I am deeply moved by their presence. I miss the idea of them being a constant presence in my life.

Of all the blessings in the day yesterday, there is something else that touched me deeply to my absolute core. I feel guilt in the pleasure of it because it has everything to do with me and not much to do with Suzanne. It has to do with six people who were there, who came just for me. They came for me. I don't know if I can do justice to the emotion inside me or if I can really explain well what this meant to me. Sandie, my best friend from high school, and her husband, David, were there. They are always there. I know this and it comforts me. Sandie and I can go months without talking, but it doesn't matter. That constant hasn't always been there, but it is something that has grown with the years. Our friendship is like an old sweater I put on that wraps me in warmth.

As I sat in a pew toward the front of the large sanctuary waiting for the service to begin, I spied a woman come in from a side door which I had discovered led to the bathrooms at the base of the stairs. Something familiar about her caught my eye, but I couldn't place it. "Who is that woman?" I wondered aloud to my nephew. Her curly bob, held back by a thin ribbon, framed a freckled face. My eyes followed her as she walked toward the back of the church. As recognition dawned, my head snapped around, seeking the face of her husband. I found him sitting there watching me watch her, a quirky smile on his face as our eyes met. Jim and I had worked together over seventeen years ago in the same school corporation. Lori was an elementary school counselor in a neighboring corporation. We became fast friends until they moved to Portland so Jim could attend law school. He now works in school law. I moved to Indiana. We hadn't seen or spoken to each other for at least ten years. The last time we spoke was when we met for breakfast one summer morning while I was visiting my parents.

After the service, I joined my siblings at the back of the church forming a reception line in the back. I was the last in line, shaking hands, receiving hugs and words of condolences. Twice more, I looked into faces that took me a moment to recognize, mostly because I never expected to see these people here. The first was the face of a man I almost married. I broke Roger's heart to marry my Jim. For years, I prayed I wouldn't run into him when I returned to my hometown. My guilt was great and I didn't want to see it in his eyes. From time to time, I would run into his sister and she would give me updates. When I mentioned that it was good to see him after so many years, he said, "It's been 28 years!" Wow. That did something to me. The second was the face of my old friend, Keith. We were good friends in high school. Once we graduated, we only connected once every five to ten years at our reunions. It was always good to see each other, but the visits were fleeting. We did speak one day last summer. I was driving home to Indiana after a week in Maine for my dad's memorial service. I'd heard that Keith's brother, Paul, had been badly injured in a car accident and was lucky to have survived. Paul and I had dated for two years and I needed to know how he was doing. It was good to talk with him and get the update. I figured that I would see Keith at our next reunion, should we both go.

To put into words the impact their presence meant to me is very difficult. Our little church does much in our community to reach out to the lonely and the hurting. Jim is always reinforcing that we do these things to let people know that they matter. Our actions are intended to say that we see them and they matter to us. In my work and as a pastor's wife, I am the one who is usually reaching out---to students, to parents, to staff, to members of the congregation, to friends. I am the one who needs to be strong so someone else can fall apart. I am the one who says "I see you and you matter to me". It can be a lonely place. Who pastors the pastor? Who helps the helper? Many times the answer can be "no one".

Had Lori, Jim, Roger or Keith not been at the service, I wouldn't have given it any thought. I would have gone on with my day, greeting and hugging friends and family. At any time though, when thinking about my life, I would have told you that these people held a place in my heart, a strong and vital place in my heart. They are part of my fabric and I would have guessed that I was just a fleeting part of theirs. I think what their presence said to me yesterday was that I am a part of their fabric, too. I think that's the part that makes the tears flow as I write this. Somewhere along the line, someone saw me and I mattered to them, too. Gosh, as I write this it sounds so incredibly dorky. And needy. gyuck. I don't mean it as such. It was just an incredibly good and beautiful and heartfelt day and I am grateful for it.


Friday, January 16, 2009

I traveled back to Maine last night to return for the Saturday funeral service for my sister, Suzanne. Not going to say much tonight, but I wanted to post a few pictures of Suzie and me. I'll have more to say in the days to come.

Sue in Ocean City, 1960. Note the
St. Christopher's medal
mom pinned to her swimsuit.
Made me smile.

Suzanne and me, maybe 1961,
Laurel, MD.

Sue and me, Elmendorf AFB, AK,

Mom just had baby #6. Suzanne is
holding Michele. I'm wearing the braids.
The other girl is a neighbor on base.
Ft. Meade, MD, 1965.

Suzanne and Michele,
Springvale, ME, 1969.

Sue and Jan, Alaska.

Family of six.
Germany, 1953.

Family of seven,
Alaska, 1963.

Family of eight. Dad's
retirement party from US Army.
Springvale, ME, 1968.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Snow Angels

Yesterday was my birthday (Insert birthday song here. Thank you!). I had a really good day. Several birthday greetings, a few people singing silly songs to me and a few cards from co-workers that were unexpected. It was just nice to be remembered. There was nothing extraordinary about it, it was just a really good day. It gave me joy in my arms.

It's rather humbling with each year to see the age meter rise. I don't feel as old as the numbers would suggest. For a long time, I've said I feel about 28 years old. Not a teenager, but not old, either. Possessing a sense of maturity, but not too old for fun. More frequently lately, I feel a bit closer to my actual age. This usually happens when I find out I'm actually older than individuals I thought were older than me. That's always a shocker and provides a dose of reality. This has been occurring since I was about 35 y.o. I just feel young and it creates a pause in me when it happens. Then it makes me laugh because I think how silly it is for me to forget I'm getting older. I hope I always feel young. I don't want to be an old fluff (I hate the f.a.r.t. word) who laments and forgets to find the joy in a moment. I've been around too many people like that. Don't like being around people like that.

There are other moments that I reclaim my childhood and go all silly and goofy. Yesterday was one of those days. A while ago, one of our secretaries and I were talking about wanting to make snow angels. I usually do this at least once a year, but last year passed without me doing it. Rita said we'd have to wait for a snowy day and take the opportunity together. So yesterday morning as the snow was falling and several inches were predicted, Rita said, "Hey, Mrs. D-M, today's the day for snow angels!" I immediately got in touch with my inner child. The thought of this activity gave me butterflies. I thought about it as I walked to the cafeteria and I thought about it as I walked back to the office. I thought about how we could make it an activity that would include more people. My inner child thought we should put a halt to this thing called school and get everyone outside making snow angels. But, um, no. That wasn't going to happen. Can you imagine, though, what it would be like for 1500 middle school students and their teachers to go out and make snow angels? We could laugh and get silly and goofy. Heaven forbid that middle school students would get silly and goofy. For some, that would be a fate worse than death. Not to mention the fact that the rest of the day would be utter chaos. So, alas, my imaginings were altered to a bit more reality.

Rita and I did have jobs and we did have work to do, so we waited. BUT, as soon as the buses hit the road and the school had pretty much emptied out, we made an announcement over the loudspeaker (with the principal's permission, of course). Rita got on the horn and said, "If anyone would like to join Mrs. H and Mrs. D-M outside to make snow angels and to celebrate Mrs. D-M's birthday, meet us in the courtyard in five minutes." We were joined by one teacher and five students. None of the students had coats, of course. Who wears a coat in the winter when it's snowing outside? Not a lot of middle schoolers, I'll tell ya. But Rita, Mrs. S and I were bundled to the hilt. Out the courtyard doors we went. Rita and I had to rein in the students because they were about to traipse all over the fresh fallen snow. You gotta do snow angels on virgin snow, dontcha know? Rita and I had planned just the right spot. There is a little bit of a hill in the courtyard where trees and flowers are planted. We chose the side of the hill so our angels could be seen from the office windows. We lined up a few feet apart, conferred on our strategy, then fell back on the snow. Swish, swish, swish, we spread our arms and legs back and forth. Laughter and silliness abounded. Carefully helping each other up so as not to make a mess, we stood back and observed our creations. We deemed them perfect, thank you very much.

As we headed back into the building, one student found a speaker that had fallen off the roof of the building. She quickly turned it into a bucket for scooping snow. I just caught the glimmer in her eye when a speaker full of snow caught me in the face. Um, so I chased her. Unfortunately, she had the upper hand, being much quicker than I and wearing proper foot attire. My prissy little red shoe boots with the smooth bottoms could not grip the slippery snow. I slipped and slid in my pursuit almost to no avail. RITA HAD THE KEYS. The students had to get past us to get back into the building. It's not true what they say, you know. Revenge does taste sweet. (insert evil laugh here).

The evening was low-key. Jim and I went to dinner at a new restaurant in town. I received a lovely gift from my spousal unit. We were home by 8:30 pm. Joy in my arms.

I said it wasn't an extraordinary day, but I was wrong.


Thursday, January 1, 2009

To The New Year


Wow. Time just flies by. As I look back over the past year, the thoughts are very bittersweet. In December '07, I lost my mom, followed by my dad in June '08, Jim's mom in October and then this last Monday, my sister Suzanne lost her 24 yr battle stemming from injuries in a car accident. It's been quite a year of loss. All is not bleak, however. I celebrate every day of their lives and I have many wonderful memories to keep me content in having known them.

I also have much to celebrate, as well. In February, I learned that I had received an $8000 grant that would allow me to take my father on a trip Germany to solve a mystery. (See my other blog for about this once in lifetime opportunity. You'll have to go back to earlier posts). I went on a second mission trip to our sister church in the Dominican Republic (another blog is in the works for that story. It's lovely). I took a trip to Maine with good friends and got to share with them the beauty of my home state and just have fun in Maine after so many trips there for sad reasons.

I started two blogs! Whodathunk? I've always wanted to just write about whatever, but never knew what form it would take. Blogging has opened up new doors for me. At some point, I will use blogging more regularly to write more and maybe develop a more consistent form. Who knows? Blogging has also connected me to new "friends" who mean much to me even though we may never meet. I love how blogging brings the world into my home. People are fascinating and I so appreciate the glimpses of those who allow me a peek into their struggles, joys, and points of view. What a gift I've received.

After years of struggle, our little church, Horizon Ministries, just celebrated 10 years of outreach and ministry. Yeeha!

As I look to 2009, I have great hopes that the year will bring new adventures. I look forward to my daughter's graduation after her long journey through school. I pray she'll find a teaching job she can love next fall. I plan to spend three weeks with our "family" in the Dominican Republic. I just want to live with them to learn their language. No interpreters allowed. I want to eat what they eat, I want to live the way they live. I want the challenge of feeling what it's like to be like some of my students---in a foreign world with a foreign language I don't know and customs I must adjust to. I want to climb a coconut tree! I want to grow stronger in my faith and be a light in the world. I want to be better than I've been and as good and kind as I use to be before unkind people caused me to retreat and become bitter. I want to grow.

Life is a journey and every day brings new adventures. I want to see the magic and adventure of each moment. I want to strengthen friendships and develop new ones.

"I want, I want, I want..." Sounds so greedy or self-centered. Better words might be "I hope", "I desire", "I dream of". With every bit that I desire for myself, I equally desire to do and give for others. It's not all about me. I just hope to live the adventure---good or bad, adventurous and dull moments.

It will be a good year. So, here's to 2009!

Jan painting in the DR. (Above)

Going to market with Pedrito.

You'll have to excuse me. I don't know how to put captions with the pictures! And that's Mom, Dad, and Suzanne several Christmases ago.