To the Africa Family

"I bless the rains down in Africa . . ."

This morning, I relived a special feeling when Toto’s “Africa” fed through my earphones. Its signature lines about the great continent bring fond memories. In just a couple of weeks, it will be one year from the date six incredible people allowed me to join them on an adventure to Rwanda and Kenya. And even though we spent many hours together preparing for our trip, it was the trip itself that set our relationships in a framework that can only be viewed as remarkable and led to our claim to be “the Africa family.”

In regard to the song, I should note that we never heard live drums echoing in the night, nor did we see Kilimanjaro. Our closest parallel to the imagined journey portrayed in the lyrics was our time on the Serengeti. Even those rains eluded us. We preceded the rainy season by a couple of weeks.

Still, as I listened to the melody cascade over the distinctive drum track, I came face-to-face with special moments. Quiet conversations were frequent. Laughter was a major feature of every single day. What I remember most deeply is the feeling of comfort I had when I was with my Africa family. Thousands of miles from home, that little group became my touchpoint.

When you experience a time of life with a close-knit group of friends, you encounter not only your own feelings, but are immersed in the perspectives and emotions of those around you. I believe that my memories of this particular group of people will always bring me comfort. Thanks Betty, Allison, Robyn, Aaron, Dan, and Malcolm! You changed me.

So, to my Africa family, I want to say “thank you” for sharing that incredible journey. But, more importantly, thanks for opening your lives to me. Over time and the separation of distance, our family will lose some of its familiarity. I hope that you will never lose the feeling of community that was created. I know I never will.

Mourning Finality

After the Bridges Are Burned

All my life, I heard “Don’t burn your bridges!” (Okay, so early on I actually heard “Don’t burn your britches!” . . . but I digress.) The idea, of course, is that you shouldn’t make decisions that don’t allow you to back up — to reverse your course if you are wrong.

Looking back on my life, I can see a lot of bad decisions and more than a few burned bridges. The decisions about education and career and those far too many cars I’ve bought through the years don’t seem to be scorched by a burned bridge. There were always alternative paths, ways to realign my life, after I made a poor choice.

The smoke still rises, however, from the bridges burned around relationships. I set a torch to some of those because it was “the principle of the matter.” I hoped by saying that that others would see me as noble.

In truth, in most cases, I did set a good boundary. I said “no” appropriately. I did the right thing. Until . . . I burned the bridge. And by doing that, I ended the possibility of future friendship. I destroyed the possibility of reconciliation.

So now, in moments where memories flow, I mourn the finality of burned bridges and quietly ponder rebuilding.

Patience is Passion Practiced

I’ve seen several quotes on patience recently. I’m not sure if it’s because my impatience makes those words jump out at me or if we’re just getting to the “Ps” in all of the quote books. I’m learning that patience isn’t what I thought it was — a state of utter calmness and disconnection. No, patience is a place of turmoil and restraint and battle. Patience is passion practiced.

Many of my readers know that I have learned a lot from my dogs — past and present. But I never thought that patience would be on the list of lessons. And particularly not with Togo. But at 5:45 this morning, there he was, a model of patience.

Togo is our 70+ pound husky-wolf mix. He’s an amazing little boy and a tightly-packaged bundle of energy and, often, mischief. And he’s a gourmet when it comes to dog food. We tend to settle in to one particular brand and one particular type of food for Togo. Frequent changes sometimes lead to upset stomachs so we try to stay consistent. But stores don’t always stay consistent and the merchandise on the 25 lb sack aisle sometimes change. Thus was the case this week when Nancy went to replenish our stock.

On the advice of the clerk, Nancy selected a new brand and flavor. And, as responsible pet owners, we began the process of slowly introducing the new food to Tog0, mixing it with the rapidly disappearing old food. To do this, I carry a pre-measured position of the new food in a plastic bag. If I can, I’ll hide this treasure in a pocket of a jacket. But hiding doesn’t work when it comes to Togo and food. He can smell it. He knows it’s there and he knows it’s for him. He is, shall we say, passionate about his dining experience.

As I pour the new in with the old, he stands next to me with his front paws up on the counter, pushing at the bowl and the bag with his nose. Then, as I pick up his bowl he bounces toward and around me, sometimes barking, always urging me to relinquish my hold. As I begin to lower the bowl to its appointed place on the porch, he sits, looks at me and leans in toward his breakfast.

But he waits. Some of you may remember part of our feeding ritual with Togo. We pause for prayer before eating.

So, with his enthusiasm just bursting from within, Togo sits and waits for me to say the prayer. And only on that “amen” does he begin.

No, Togo isn’t a practicing theologian. No, he doesn’t understand my words. Yes, if I didn’t ask him to wait, he wouldn’t. But what’s remarkable is that he values the moment enough to practice patience.

Part of my prayer is that I could be more like Togo in that regard. Passionate, fighting and struggling to do what is right and expected, valuing the moment, but patient to wait.

Friends . . . Actually

Years ago, my decisions about who my friends were or were not were more simply made. I simply avoided you if you said or did things that I found disturbing.

You would think that the same principle would be involved in social media. I fully understand that it can be. I see posts all the time where people “unfriend” others and, if pushed hard enough, completely leave FaceBook or whatever their platform of choice is.

I’ve “unfriended” a few people in the past. To date, my standard has been to unfriend anyone who exhibits hate and discrimination in their personal posts. Oh, and anyone who has a fascination with the “F” bomb or taking God’s name in vain. (“OMG! Addicts,” you’re nearing the edge.)  I am “friends” with a wide array of individuals — many of them sensitive to such rubbish. Others are young and losing their innocence to what our greater society has begun to find acceptable. Enlightenment never looked so dark. I don’t choose for my internet spaces to be the place where they get further exposure to such things.

I am close to “unfriending” some others of you. You’re pushing the line by reposting things that you haven’t checked out and that are largely false or misleading. Just writing the word “Truth” by those posts doesn’t make them true. Others of you are posting things that do have truth at their base. However, by watching what you post day after day, I have to wonder if you choose to feature only stories that will escalate violence and hatred. If I unfriend you, it won’t be because of your view of what is right and wrong, but only because of the way your actions are perpetuating bad sentiment and behavior among others.

Because of my life experience, I have been honored to form friendships among diverse groups of people. Politically, racially, ethnically, spiritually. I have been stretched by that diversity and I am grateful. But lest you think that you are on the “right” side of my friend set and that you’re safe from the point I’m trying to make, I want to be clear that I’ve found people on both sides of the dividing line. The desire to incite negative outcomes seems to be an equal opportunity malady. I am not immune either.

I strongly believe that unfriending any of you (except for those who violate my standards about the personal bile and profanity) is not the best answer. No, I’m not keeping you on as friends because I think I can change you. I need my perspective to be broad. I need to have as friends those who think differently, see differently, and choose differently than I do. You make me uncomfortable sometimes. But that’s the point. I see goodness in you. And I hope you can look past my multitude of failings. Friends do that.

In fact, some of the discomfort you’ve blessed me with has caused me to pause and reconsider my position on some things. I’ve changed as a result. Thank you. Other things I don’t agree with have convinced me that I need to find ways to better understand you, because the ideas you are posting aren’t doing it.

My plea to you, my friend, is to be responsible. No matter how badly you see and know an injustice to be, remember that we, as God’s children, as peacemakers, are to be a peculiar people. Don’t escalate violence. Talk. Talk loudly if you must, but respectfully. March peacefully. Help bring change to this broken world. But please help stop this vicious cycle of retaliation and justification of the unholy — from both sides.

I say this as one friend to another.

Day 10 – Creation

I realize that when most of us talk about creation, we are limiting our comments to those things immediately before us or those things fixed in our memories. Sensational sunrises. Majestic mountains. Verdant valleys. Babbling brooks. Kind and caring people. Yet, pieces of creation await discovery by all of us. Our day in Kenya was a time of wonder as we boarded a pop-top van and headed on safari to see wild animals in their native habitat.

IMG_1169Jackson, our African friend and safari guide, picked us up at 5 a.m. The animals begin their day early at the Nairobi National Park and were expecting us when we rolled up to the gate. The lions were roaring not too far from us. And the monkeys, the “common thieves,” were perched warily in the trees just hoping that we would leave items unattended.

IMG_1170After paying our fees, we reboarded our van and Jackson began the painstaking task of stalking the great beasts of the plain. We were not to be disappointed. A few minutes into our journey, we rounded a bend in the road and were met by a solitary giraffe.

Just moments later, we scrambled to view a creature that had scurried across the road and who waited for us to pass — the elusive bunny rabbit of the Serengeti. We laughed a bit over our eagerness to see anything in this new setting, our new view of creation.

IMG_1180Malcolm remained watchful. Constantly on the lookout for lions, he never lost hope. But alas, the lions chose not to reveal themselves on this outing.

Betty remained in place as our vigilant leader. Camera in hand, she held us spellbound with her knowledge of African wildlife . . . or something like that.

IMG_1188Meanwhile we enjoyed the thrill of our open-air, standing tour of the plain and the constant challenge of spotting God’s creatures.

Animals were everywhere! Herds of zebra and antelope, mixed in with a few wildebeest were consistently present. What better way to record one’s visit to Kenya than with a few selfies with these majestic beasts.

IMG_1194Some photos turned out better than others.

Remarkably, most of these wonderful creatures were undisturbed by us and the clicking of our camera shutters and, occasionally, squeals of delight — primarily from Allison and Betty.

A few of the animals weren’t interested in making our acquaintance. This rhinoceros, for example, was a little standoffish. And even at a distance, he looked threatening.

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The variety of animals was amazing and despite the missing lions, we were greatly amazed at our new discoveries of creation.

Jackson had one more surprise for us — baby elephants!

We may be limited in our ability to comprehend all of God’s creation. But what a wonderful gift we receive when we can fully see the creation right in front of us.