Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Blessed Day

        Today, I feel truly blessed. I’m not talking about the usual blessings we pause to think about around Thanksgiving, like health, family, friends, a house that’s paid for and a decent amount of money to live on. Today’s blessings came from knowing that at last I have some help with the chores around my place.

Living alone means all the work falls on me. That includes cleaning the inside of the house and maintaining the outside, feeding my critters, cutting fallen trees off my wooded trails, and pasture work such as bush-hogging, seed-planting and fertilizing. When you add to that the fact that I write, serve as contest director for my professional media organization, serve on my county library board, spend oodles of time with my grandsons, ride my horses, and keep my horse trailer, truck and car serviced, you might understand why I always feel so tired and overwhelmed.

       Today was the exception. It started with a good night’s sleep, a rarity for me. When I got up this morning, I felt almost refreshed, and the cold that has had its grip on my head for a week seemed to be receding. But the day just kept getting better. First the two women I hired to clean my house showed up. I’ve had house cleaners before, including one of these women. I usually suspend the service after a few months, primarily because of the preparations I have to make, like putting things away and locking the dogs in their outdoor pen. It seems like house cleaners just get in my way after a while. But I’m keeping these ladies, at least for once a month.

       Shortly after the pair arrived, a youth from my church showed up to finish blowing leaves from my driveway and to clear the cocklebur bushes from around the pond. Those burs get caught in the fleece of my goat and llamas and I have the devil of a time combing them out. I piddled around in my office while the house keepers worked in other areas, catching up in some bookkeeping in Quicken and tidying my desk so they could get to the top to dust it. Then I made myself a cup of tea. As I sat on the front porch sipping the tea, looking at the sun highlighting the gold and rust colored leaves, the most peaceful feeling washed over me. I felt liberated, without a care in the world. Usually, I’m in a state of panic, especially the day before Thanksgiving. Just knowing I had some help gave a calm, serene feeling. 

       Next week, I’ll have even more help, the thoughts of which added to today’s serenity. An old friend named Floyd is coming Monday to pressure-wash my log house, stain and seal it, then to paint the outside trim work and facia boards. He’ll also handle several other minor projects that have been bugging me for some time.

       When Floyd gave me his price for these chores I nearly fell over from shock. He’s charging me a third of what another painter had bid, and half of what it cost me a year ago. And those were pretty good prices, too.  He also pointed out that my front gate needs painting, something I’ve been keenly aware of, so we’re adding this to my “to do” list. How can he do all this so cheap? He’s comfortable in retirement, and considers it part of his Christian ministry to help widows. God bless him!

       I cannot express how it feels to know all of these projects and chores are being taken care of. I’m now free to handle some of those that only I can do, such as digitize my old home movies. That one has been needling me for several years.

Thanksgiving will truly be a day for giving thanks this year.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Don't Drink the Water, Do Hug the Children

        You’ve heard the axiom, “Don’t drink the water,” when visiting foreign countries. I have another one: “Don’t brush your teeth with shower gel.”

That's what my roommate did on our second morning in Zacapa, Guatemala, last month. "It foamed real good," she says, "but it tasted like soapy yuk.” To add insult to injury, she rinsed the toothbrush under the faucet water. Fortunately, she had brought a pack of six. 
It's easy to become discombobulated on a mission trip. Your "stuff" isn't where it's supposed to be, especially in a hotel room that has no towel bars and few shelves. This was her second trip to Zacapa, my seventh, but I still came home with a list of a dozen items to take next time in order to make the stay more comfortable, like those temporary plastic hooks you can stick up anywhere. 

We were there as part of a team of 18 from several Baptist churches in Alabama and one in North Carolina. “Real Love,” based on 1 John 3:16-18, is the name of our ongoing ministry to improve the spiritual and physical lives of people in the impoverished Zacapa village of Conevisa. Our primary purpose on these trips is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But even Jesus recognized that the sounds of growling stomachs can drown out the voice of the messenger.

Although recently incorporated as a non-profit, Real Love dates back to 2009. That’s when mission teams from three Baptist churches in Alabama started knocking on doors and inviting folks to Shalom Baptist Mission in Zacapa. But it’s a long, arduous walk from Conevisa to Zacapa. So the First Baptist churches of Ashville and Moody, along with Thomasville Baptist Church, furnished the funds to buy a piece of land to build Shalom Jireh Baptist Church in Conevisa. Seven churches contributed money and labor for the actual construction. Many of the men and boys from the village provided the labor, along with some Americans.

The church is strategically located next to Conevisa Elementary School. We started a breakfast program that feeds school children cereal and milk at the church weekday mornings. Last month, our team gave out 132 Blessings Bags filled with commodities such as corn, black beans (a Guatemalan staple) and rice. The men built 30 raised vegetable-garden containers. (See photo.) We left money with the church in Conevisa to buy dirt and seeds for those planters, which have now been distributed throughout the village.

         While the men were building the planters and a one-room cinderblock house for a local family, several of us women accompanied a missionary couple on their weekly trip to the town dump. There we gave out more rice, beans and corn. Some people earn their meager living combing through that dump for recyclables to sell, a dangerous occupation considering the filth, broken glass and used hypodermic needles dumped by local medical clinics. We also had a couple of Spa Days, where we painted fingernails and cut hair. Each of us hugged children and encouraged hurting adults.

But the area where we’re making the biggest physical difference is in education. In Guatemala, public school ends with the 6th grade. Only 20% of the children actually make it that far. They drop out to take care of younger siblings, work in the fields or sell items in the market. So we established a partnership between the church, the elementary school and Elim Christian School in a neighboring village to provide scholarships for students who graduate from the 6th grade with at least a “C” average. Fifteen students attended Elim under this program in 2011. We now have 48 students, each with a U.S. sponsor who has pledged $600 per year through the 12th grade. This covers tuition, books, supplies, three uniforms and transportation.

       Some folks wonder why we bother with one little village, when the needs are so great throughout the country. We believe in doing what we can where we can, regardless of how small the contribution. Jesus said in Matthew 25:40: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Sleeping With Gene Bear

Gene presents me with his namesake.
       Quite often, I don’t get a good night’s sleep. It’s not going to sleep that gives me problems, but waking up several times during the night and not being able to go back to sleep. Usually, my bladder awakens me, and I lie there trying desperately trying to ignore it. That's like trying to ignore an itch in public. I know if I get up to use the potty, I’ll have trouble shutting down my mind when I get back in bed. But an urgent bladder keeps me awake, too.

       An article in the November issue of Prevention magazine has some sleep-inducing suggestions. Keeping your thermostat between 60 and 67 degrees helps because lowering your body temperature is a precursor to falling asleep. But that’s something I’ve done for years, so no change needed.

       Another sleepy-time suggestion is a no-brainer — read a good book. Prevention says you should avoid computers, phones and tablets for an hour before bed, because light-emitting devices suppress sleep hormones and disturb deep sleep. “People who read printed books before bed drop off faster and are sharper the next day,” the article says. So I stopped playing crossword puzzles on my iPad right before bedtime and started reading in bed. That combination helps me drop off quicker, but does nothing for my middle-of-the-night wakefulness.

       I’ve decided that the key to getting a good night’s sleep lies buried deep in our childhood psyches, in the form of a stuffed animal. In my case, it’s a teddy bear. For the past two or three nights, I’ve slept with one that my brother gave me for my 60th birthday. It’s one of those “build-a-bear” toys that you stuff and dress the way you like. Gene dressed this one in bluejeans and a red shirt, and wore a matching outfit when he gave it to me at my surprise party. Thus the name, “Gene Bear.” He also put a recording device in each paw, then recorded four greetings. Press one paw and Gene says, “Hi! I’m Gene Bear, and you’re old,” while another announces, “I have gas.” The third one says, “Don’t forget, you share more cooties with me than any other person on the planet earth.” My favorite, though, is, “Let’s make some brownies and watch a horror movie.” 
       Gene Bear decorates my bed during the day, propped against my pillows. At night, I usually shove him aside or put him on my dresser. But two nights ago I grabbed him and hugged him, listened to one of his greetings, then cuddled him all night. I still woke up at least once during the night, but squeezed him tighter, smiled, and went right back to sleep.
       If you’re having trouble sleeping, try ditching the meds and buying a teddy bear. Any child will tell you it’s the best sleeping pill on the market.