Saturday March 2, 2019

“…May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.” Genesis 31:49

The context of this reading is an accord between Jacob and Laban, the former feeling a bit scorned by the latter’s less than fair treatment of him.  After Laban is rebuked by God the night before, he agrees to see things a little more in line with Jacob and they agree essentially to become friends.  Laban adds, though, that God will be watching them both so basically they both better not screw up.  The context of this reading isn’t exactly in alignment with our day today, but the whole watching while we are apart sort of is, in a stretchy kind of way.

Our original plan, nay our fourteenth plan on which we finally settled, for our last weekend in Sri Lanka was to head back to Colombo and see the big city.  We would go to a museum, see some temples, and maybe even hit the mall.  That did not happen.  We awoke with great ambition and proceeded to have breakfast.  Our meal gave us opportunity to catch up on the reading of our daily devotionals and then to discuss a plan that Sara and I had hatched while cleaning turtle tanks.  We thought that maybe we could take videos of our service projects to capture not only the service itself but also the ups and downs that go with being away from home, in another country, with three young children….etc.  But, as we have promised our family from day one, we needed to get input from the kids and to make sure that they would be okay with this experiment.

So the conversation went something like this.

Dad:  So guys, I was thinking and mom and I talked a little bit and we even contacted Uncle John (Marshall, whom we knew from his book and then the Farm and who knows people in television..) to get his feedback.

Kids:  (Staring blankly as dad yammers on and interrupts their consumption of sugar covered waffles)

Dad: So we thought that maybe we could video a family doing what we are doing and then maybe do like a podcast/youTube thing, or maybe that even turns into a reality television show.

Kids:  (drool now emanates from their mouths as the sweet aromas of donut, waffles, and juice overwhelm their limbic systems)

Dad: But we would need a test family to kind of be the first ones to try this so we were wondering if you guys….

Anjali: No!

Mom:  Well hold on Anjali, before you say no.  Why would you be opposed?

Anjali: (tears welling) No, I just don’t want to okay?

And so an hour long discussion ensues, occasionally halted for mastication of breakfast confections, about how we should logically think through decisions before rashly answering.  Anjali is not dissuaded from her position that she is utterly and adamantly opposed so we, as a family, agree to hold off on this grand notion from mom and dad.  No hard feelings and Anjali kind of sees the point we wanted to make about how you should think before you answer because fear or lack of understanding of all the facts can lead you to make a poor decision.

Childhood lesson learned or at least discussed, we headed out to sightsee.  We left the confines of the hotel and were immediately greeted by what could best be described as the moist, fiery breath of Satan himself.  It was as though Colombo had been set on fire and simultaneously was spraying us with a hose.  The heat and humidity, robbing us instantly of our breath, worked as a veritable mire intent on preventing our every step.  We slowly meandered in the direction of the mall, our first stop on the tour de Colombo,  all the while fending off offers of rides from eager Tuk Tuk drivers.  What would normally be a five minute walk was slowly dragging out to an interminable trek, each minute making us hotter and wetter.  The impending heat related snippiness was growing closer and closer but the crisis was averted as we finally arrived at the great salvation of air conditioning.

After twenty minutes or so of respite and realizing that we really needed to buy nothing we begrudgingly left the mall and made our way to one of the temples across the street.  We learned that we would need to pay for entry so we took a quick glimpse from afar and moved on.  We had seen a lot of temples in Thailand so wat’s (pun intended) one more?  We strode across a walking bridge to a small island park, did a once around, and then walked back over.  Engaging in a quick family meeting we decided that our sightseeing was now over and that our time was much better spent sitting poolside and relaxing.

Now, this is where the whole watching while we are away from each other comes back in.  On our way up to the hotel Sara got a text message from a stranger.  She had seen our post on Facebook about saying goodbye to the Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project and was interested in our story.  After seeing our family’s journey, she reached out to learn more about COG.  Sara and she traded messages and agreed to re-engage after we had gotten settled in Romania and after she had returned from travels to visit her daughter.  After donning our relaxation clothes and grabbing the next available elevator we encountered a man on his way down.  We exchanged pleasantries and learned that he was originally from New York, now living in Colombo.  No big deal there.  What was very interesting though was that he had started his own company.  What kind?  Television and film production services.  Sara and I said nothing, just shared a humored glance, but just as we were about to leave the elevator he offered us his business card and bid us farewell.

These two encounters prompted an immediate conversation with the kids about how maybe God did have a plan for this after all.  We expressed to Anjali, and to David and Luci for that matter, how we saw this as a sign or at the very least a nudge.  We had given up on our plans that morning and simply turned the idea over to God, basically saying that if this project was meant to be then it would find another way to manifest itself.  We needed our family to be in a good place first and foremost to fulfill our primary obligation of this service trip, the video idea was secondary and maybe wasn’t even that good of an idea.  I am not sure what caused the change of heart but Anjali was suddenly on board with the idea of our family making a podcast.  We figured it would be a great way if nothing else for us to share with our friends and family more than just words about what we were doing.  And if enough people cared and shared then maybe it could inspire others to do the same and join in the fun of service.

I am not sure how the video will go.  This might just be another instance of thinking we have the answers and trying to pork barrel our way on God’s plan.  But with the nudge we got on Facebook and in the elevator we are going to give it a go.  If it is meant to be then with God’s help it will be.  If it isn’t, well then we just spent a hundred bucks on a selfie-stick (I cringe as I write that) and a memory expansion drive for the phone.  But we will have some fun videos, and probably a few that are less fun, for everyone to get a better idea of what our lives are like.  I cannot promise Emmy award winning television-though if we get one it will be to God’s honor not ours.  But the tears, of laughter or sadness, are real and heartfelt and we have enjoyed every one of them.

 

Friday March 1, 2019

John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Today was an interesting day to say the least. Similar to last Friday, today we were inundated with school field trips, which meant countless children (and adults) failing to follow the rules of keeping their hands out of the tanks, but also a bit of inappropriate and rude catcalls from some older boys. Since we were leaving this afternoon, we decided that only one of us would dig holes in the sand as to keep the dirty laundry to a minimum and I was happy to do the work. So as I am on my hands and knees digging holes the length of my arm, these boys seemed to enjoy the show and were happy to let me know. It was pretty easy at first to ignore them and just chalk it up to boys being boys, but after a while I had had enough. I think what bothered me more than anything was that the chaperones didn’t seem to think this was a problem and this was all done in front of my 11 year old daughter. I attempted to ask them to leave using exaggerated gestures but it seemed to get lost in translation (or they just didn’t care). I tried to ask Madu, the staff person, to help remove the boys from the area, but the language barrier proved to be a problem (I am confident that he just didn’t know what I was saying or asking him to do). So plan B, I had David get Jeff so he could stand in front of me to block their view. I was not about to leave my job unfinished because of these kids, but I was also getting sick of listening to them.

Nonetheless, it was also a great opportunity to rise above the disrespect and rudeness of these kids to finish the job that Christ led me to complete. I was able to talk with Anjali about how inappropriate their actions were and that it was okay to ask for help, just as I did by having Jeff come stand between me and the culprits. Anjali tried to play it off like it was no big deal, which in reality it wasn’t, but I wanted her to see that it is okay to stand up for yourself and it is important to ask for help when you need it. I needed Jeff there to shield me because I had work to finish and couldn’t abandon my responsibilities. Once I finished clearing the nests, all was well and that group of kids left and was replaced by younger and more respectful children.

I definitely did not appreciate the behavior of these boys, but I will say that because of Christ they are not condemned, rather, they have just been misguided, but as with all sin they will also be forgiven, by me and more importantly by Christ. They are still my brothers in Christ and just like any good family, we all get pissed at each from time to time and make mistakes. I am definitely not perfect in my life and definitely have my fair share of sin, but Christ made it possible for me to be forgiven and I know they will be too. I am so grateful and thankful for the sacrifices that God has made on my behalf, as well as the rest of my family. I am grateful that this journey has shown me that my family is more than just my husband, kids, parents, etc. but rather my family is everyone I meet; we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and we are all saved through Him.

After lunch we said our goodbyes to all creatures, turtles and humans, and headed for Colombo.

 

Once we got to the hotel, the kids got settled watching movies while Jeff and I headed to grab some wine and a few snacks. After the kids went to bed, Jeff and I enjoyed a nice meal “out” (aka: downstairs in the lobby), but it was so nice to have a bit of a date night.

Thursday February 28, 2019

Romans 12:11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord

Be strong, serve.  It seems a rather redundant reading considering the fact that we are on this trip with that sole purpose in mind.  But I find myself thinking about this notion as we wrap up our last day of turtle tank cleaning.  This has been by no means my favorite task since we set out in July last year.  I have not been particularly fond of getting covered in green algal goo, turtle excrement, and leftover frozen fish bits.  But as we conclude our service time here in Sri Lanka I am also acutely aware of how fun I truly have had.  I will carry with me the memory of a sea turtle who in only a few days has recognized me and my family and will surface in order that she might get her daily dose of shell scratches.  I will always remember the feeling of turtle hatchlings wrapping their tiny flippers around my fingers as I picked them up out of their temporary home to set them free on an sandy beach as they headed out into the world.  I will never forget my hope that each and every one would defy nature and grow old and come back again to make new nests.  As I scrub away at the algal growth and try to avert my senses from the overpowering waft of turtle, sea, and fish, I am reminded of that zeal.

It is hard to serve to be sure but it is harder I think to sit by and do nothing.  When you see a need and do nothing I think you realize that you have missed an opportunity and your heart aches to get that chance back.  Deep down I wonder if that is why so many people are disheartened, depressed, or feel so much less worth than they deserve.  The solution is not a life changing hiatus from work and a year abroad, though that has done me a world of good.  It is simply recognizing that the opportunity to serve is always there and that working in the service of God is the most fulfilling task you can do.  The worries of tomorrow are for tomorrow; for today, put your faith, your love, and your work in the hands of the Lord.

 

Wednesday February 27, 2019

Proverbs 19:8 To get wisdom is to love oneself; to keep understanding is to prosper.

Today was a day of goodbyes. We said goodbye to the loggerhead turtle at the sanctuary who had gotten sick and passed this morning. When we arrived yesterday she was definitely not well and thus a vet was called, but unfortunately they were all on strike. Dudley had found a vet that was willing to come check in on the turtle today, it was too late.

We also we had to say goodbye to Dudley, the project coordinator, who was leaving the country for work and since we decided to head back to Colombo on Friday and spend the weekend there before our crazy early flight on Monday (1:50 am), today would be the last time we were going to see him. He is such a welcoming and kind man and we are very grateful for the love and kindness he showed to us. Thank you Dudley for all you did for our family and for the opportunity to serve alongside your program, helping to give these turtles a fighting chance.

The kids with Dudley.

I have been thinking about ways to connect with my grandmother back in Arizona who is ill. I really wanted to talk with her, but her lung capacity was making that impossible. So we ended up making videos messages for her and I sent them to my dad to show to her. I am hoping that while I can’t be there with her, these video messages will be a way for her to connect directly with us even from afar. As much as I want to visit with her over the phone, I also don’t want to jeopardize her health and well-being, and this was the best solution I could come up with given the circumstances. It allowed me to speak directly to her and for her to see me and the rest of the family. I hope that these messages will bring her a bit of happiness and give her a way to feel closer to us even though we are far away. I want her to know how much we love her and how much we miss her.

Otherwise there really wasn’t much today. The kids did a really good job at the sanctuary. They all helped with burying eggs and clearing out the old nests. We all worked together as a team and it was wonderful. This afternoon we allowed the kids to play around in the pool instead of sitting at the sanctuary because there was nothing to do there. The kids played in the pool and had a great time while Jeff hung out with the turtles. And since we are heading to Colombo on Friday afternoon, we have some packing and organizing to do. Thankfully, packing up our stuff has gotten to be a bit routine and it really doesn’t take longer than a couple hours to pack everything up to move us to the next stop! I’ve got this down to a science. : )

 

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

“Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good spirit lead me on level ground.” Psalm 143:10

Psalm 143 is a prayer of David in which he asks for God to hear him as he laments his struggles.  David asks God for guidance for the quickest way out of trouble and dangers and for his enemies to face defeat.  And for this writing, the entire Psalm will help tell our story of the day.  At first glance this reading may not seem appropriate as it relates to the relative ease by which we live our modern lives.  Sara and I don’t face many instances of deadly foes or great enemy armies trying to relieve of us our lands (especially since we don’t have any!).  Nevertheless, the prayer’s intention is applicable, if not the words themselves.

The day started out like our normal Tuesday.  We dug holes for new eggs, cleaned out old nests, found new baby sea turtles, and did some clean-up.  The usual ho-hum.  Things took a bit of a turn though around lunch.  I got assigned a tour for some folks from the UK wanting to learn some sea turtle lore while Sara sent the kids back across the street to get ready for our midday repast. Sara stayed back and helped clean up a few items so she could join me after the tour.

The kids could not have been home more than fifteen minutes without our supervision, though in kid time that is a seeming eternity.  As Sara and I walked up to the volunteer home we overheard a fight which was escalating…rapidly.  From the time we approached the front door to the time we got to the kids’ room, a mere 10 steps or fewer, everything had hit the fan.  Literally.

A little background will help.  Last evening the kids had a fight, shocker I know, about some mundane issue, shocking I know.  I believe that the gist was that Luci was looking over Anjali’s shoulder while Anjali was doing something on her tablet.  This irritated Anjali which caused her to yell at Luci which caused Luci to get angry and then kick or smack or do something to Anjali.  This in turn caused Anjali to grab the mosquito net above her bed and swing it forcefully in the air.  Unfortunately, in the middle of the room is a rather large ceiling fan with metal blades which happened to be rotating at full speed.  The net hit one of the blades causing the fan to go on tilt temporarily and to send bits of chipped, rusty paint throughout the room.  Fortunately the damage was minor, though messy, and a lesson was seemingly learned.

Until the next day at 12:30 that is when Anjali became enraged over another slight of “Biblical proportions” causing her to unlearn the part about swinging the net in the direction of the full speed fan.  This time, however, the damage was marginally more significant.  Rather, the fan blade bent completely in half, the mosquito net was torn, and the fan was now on full tilt and in danger of dislodging and falling.  I’ll spare you the recap of the next hour which included stuttering, tears, screaming, and blaming going all around.  Suffice to say that Sara and I were a tad miffed and were now considering whether we would indulge in the weekend safari plans now that our kids were losing their minds and we were about to lose money on a very unplanned expense of replacing the fan and net.

Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief.”  As it was Tuesday, I was scheduled to go teach English again after lunch so we spoke with our hosts to ask where and when we could go find a new ceiling fan to replace the now defunct version.  The plan was to go teach and then use the driver to run to the next town over to pick up both.  Following another energetic day of teaching we were off to shop.  Under advice from Dudley we were to look at the local hardware store for a specific brand which was of a higher quality.  With Prasantha’s help I went in to the store only to find out that they didn’t carry that brand.  The vendor’s suggestion was to try the next town down.  5-6 more kilometers.

“The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground…”  Well, maybe not pursues me, but certainly crushes my hopes.  Following a harrowing drive through the small town main street which was more reminiscent of India than Sri Lanka we arrived at store number 2.  And yet again, no fan.  “My spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed.”  I was beginning to feel very frustrated and I was growing weary of apologizing to the other passengers in the van who were stuck on this odyssey for a fan.  This shopkeeper recommended yet another store just a bit longer down the road and so off we went.

Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.”  Third time was sort of the charm.  Despite not having the make and model that we originally sought, we finally settled on an acceptable alternative.  Fan in tow we started the journey back to Kosgoda to pick up the new net and to get back in time to hang the fan before nightfall.  

“In your unfailing love, silence my enemies…for I am your servant.”  All in all, at worst the trip took much longer than planned but it was a success.  The new fan and net were hung and the kids room was cooled off yet again.  More importantly the kids heads were cooled off and the foes of anger, revenge, and frustration were silenced for at least one more day.

The enemies of today are less fearsome than those of the past, at least for our family. But the reality is that our enemies come from within and are often harder to defeat because they go unrecognized and can become too strong to overcome.  Fortunately with God’s help and a great deal of patience even the mightiest enemy, be it anger, sadness, frustration, or annoying little sister, can be overcome with love and grace.  To God be the glory on this day once more.

Monday February 25, 2019

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

The Lord is patient…but I am not.  I am trying to be better about this but I really get frustrated when the kids are not contributing.  And so it was that this morning I made it abundantly clear that during turtle tank cleaning time I was not going to be patient if they started slacking.  After the previous week having to deal with a steady stream of being asked what they could do next, hearing they were bored (that one still gets me), or simply just up and walking off and not doing any work whatsoever I was ready to bring the house down if it started up again today.  I reiterated my point after breakfast, while we were digging nests, and right before cleaning time started.

Now I am not sure if it was my sternness or if my prayers, aka pleading for God’s help, had been answered but the kids did phenomenal.  They were cooperative, helpful, and hard working.  When they encountered a task beyond their capacity they found something else that they could do.  Lucia was her old chipper self again bounding from tank to tank and feeding.  Anjali took the lead on cleaning out the hatchling tanks and the small Olive Ridley tank.  And David scrubbed algae and brought buckets of water on demand.  I had approached the day concerned that with Lorna’s absence the tank cleaning would take much longer and on top of cleaning out old nests we would be working well into the afternoon.  Instead, with the contributions of a small army of hard working kids, we got all the turtles fed, cleaned, and returned before lunch.

I see the repentance to some extent here as the kids redeemed themselves from the previous week.  Their effort was greatly improved and we had no tantrums.  They made the day enjoyable rather than just tolerable and Sara and I were sure to praise them for their efforts.  I hope that I find the lesson in this to also focus on my patience.  The kids needed me to be stern and to know that there are consequences for bad behavior, but they also needed for me to give them the chance to redeem themselves from the previous week.  I was happy to give them that chance and even happier that they took advantage of it.  I cannot speak for God of course but I imagine that God would have the same feeling I did that afternoon – a smile in my heart because my children had done well.  I hope I can make God smile more often than not too.

 

Sunday February 24, 2019

Ephesians 4:29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 

We had some difficulty getting the kids up and moving this morning at 5 am, but we eventually made it down for a quick breakfast and then off to see the whales! Now this was an adventure from the beginning. Our scheduled Tuk Tuks arrived on time as we were quickly shoving food into our mouths.  We piled in for the short drive to the marina. We got dropped off right at the boat, but we were quickly directed to buy tickets (of course not in English but Sinhalese). Our driver was kind enough to drive us to the ticket booth where we were told to “wait here” which was off to the side of the ticket booth. I patiently waited for my turn, which took a really long time and I watched several other folks come and go. But as soon as I was starting to get frustrated by this whole endeavor, a nice gentleman came out to talk with me and sold me our tickets; I think he was actually in charge of the whole process. He was so kind. We got our tickets and a personal escort to the boat. I think he was a friend of Dudley because he was so very attentive to us, making sure we had all we needed.

I wrote this prior to reading the scripture passage and once I read it I just shook my head at God’s amazing wisdom and how much I have learned, and still have to learn. I was standing waiting to buy our tickets and was getting frustrated watching others come and go before me, but I held my tongue and didn’t say anything. I am so glad I did this because the attention we received was well worth the wait. He was so incredibly attentive to us making sure we had a great time on his boat, but if I had said my peace about having to wait while others were helped before me, I seriously doubt he would have been so kind to us. These words from Ephesians are very powerful and can be life changing when you live by them. It is the same thing I tell my kids, “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all”.

We had a wonderful time whale watching and were blessed to see four blue whales, one that even dove under water right next to the boat so we all could see his huge tail fin arch out of the water and then disappear. This was such a cool experience. We were all pretty tired (I feel asleep on the way out to sea) and after the excitement of seeing blue whales (and dolphins) my family could stay awake no longer–all of them fell asleep on the boat ride back to the marina. It was a bit sad that we didn’t get any photos of the whale breaching or diving but we will forever have that memory.

After we got off the boat, the gentleman who sold us our tickets was waiting there to hear all about our trip and to make sure all was well. I was again grateful for the patience God has given to me. We enjoyed a nice lunch at a restaurant called The Shack, right on the beach with the sand under our feet (this is a really neat aspect of dining in Sri Lanka). The kids enjoyed playing in the ocean and it was so wonderful to watch my children play so nicely together. We then headed back to Kosgoda and made it just in time to release the turtles.