How One Guatemalan Mama Celebrates Mother's Day

About every six weeks or so, Dick and I make a regular visit to San Andres Iztapa, just outside of Chimaltenango, to visit Edgar and his family.  We have been working for over two years now to get his frequent seizures under control.  Thanks to generous sponsors, he has seen a great neurologist in Guatemala City and his current medication has reduced his seizures from more than 60 a day to around 10.  While not perfect, this has greatly improved the quality of his life.  More than that, though, it let's him and his family know that there are people, both here and in the US, who care about him.  That, I think, has been the best medicine for them all.

This time, we arrived two days before the Guatemalan celebration of Mother's Day.  We found the courtyard outside his house filled with ladies who were peeling what seemed to be a small mountain of carrots.  Edgar's mom told us she frequently does catering for people in the village, and they were preparing a large Mother's Day dinner for one of the local churches.  She would be spending her Mother's Day serving other mothers.

She told me they were cooking one of my favorite Guatemalan foods, estufado (stew).  This particular dish uses four different types of meat, and must cook more than 24 hours over an open fire. She asked if I would like to see where they were cooking it.

Looks like quite a bit of stew, doesn't it?
This gives you a better idea of how big the pot really is!

Can you imagine tending to, let alone regularly stirring this for more than 24 hours?  But she does it and says she loves cooking and is grateful for the work because it helps her feed her family.

If you think this is hard, her kitchen is located on the third floor of their home.  I can't imagine carrying all the food, and water, up six flights of stairs to get it to the kitchen.  Then again, I don't know how they get all the hot stew down without killing themselves.

This is the view from the doorway of their kitchen
This type of extremely hard labor is not uncommon among the women here in Guatemala.  They often work long hours daily to care for their families.  Many don't have any running water in their homes (Edgar's family does), and must also carry whatever water they need long distances from a public faucet or a river.  Many have to go out daily to collect the firewood they need to cook their food, and most have respiratory problems which come from cooking over an open fire.

Few of them complain.  Most, like Edgar's momma, are grateful if they have food to cook for their families, and a roof over their heads.  They are more than grateful for our friendship and whatever little we can do to help them.  Their secret?  They know all they (and we) have, comes from God.  They believe that, if they are not grateful for what He has provided, they don't deserve to receive more.  I think we could learn from our Guatemalan sisters. . . .

Family Updates--and a Big Announcement

Yes, a big part of the reason I come to the States twice a year is to see my family.  I had not originally planned to do this, but it was strongly recommended to me by a pastor with whom I had worked and who knew me, and my kids/grandkids well. I'm glad I took his advice.  I anticipate that in the future, my trips to Omaha will become fewer, as my grandsons become older.  I long for the day they are old enough for  THEM to visit ME, and the opportunity to show them first hand my life and work.  For now, though, I travel.

When I travel back in September, though, it will be an especially exciting time for our family.  My only daughter is getting married October 10 to a wonderful young man.  Brian is everything I would have wished for her to find in a husband, and I am so excited to have him as my soon-to-be son-in-love.  (My kids the best taste is spouses!)

Amid all the fund raising activities of this past trip, I managed to squeeze in a fair amount of time with my grandsons.  It was strange this time--I didn't see too much of my own kids.  Jeremy was traveling a lot for his job, the bank that Mikayla works for recently bought some other banks and she was working long hours as they were merging computer systems (or some such thing--I really don't understand what it is she does exactly!), and Joel is working evenings as the night auditor at the Fairfield Inn by the new stadium downtown, and sleeps most of the day!  Jon is still in San Diego, and I am anxious to see him at Mikayla's wedding.  I think I actually spent the most time with my daughter-in-love, chatting at the island in her kitchen!  Thanks, Lindy, for keeping me up on life in Omaha and what's going on with everybody!

Soccer games are required activities for visiting grandmas
I have to admit, they are much more fun now that Zach is getting older
and he and his teammates have better skills
The Zach and Nate, though at school during the day, had plenty of time amid their sport practices and play dates, however, to spend with grandma.  There is nothing sweeter in the whole world to me than, when Nate hears my voice, he comes running from wherever he is in the house and jumps into my arms.  This is probably going to have to change, soon, since he is now big enough to almost knock me over.  I love it while it lasts, though.

I got to celebrate Zach's birthday with him on April 23.  His mom even took him out of school early and we went out to the Bookworm bookstore to buy his birthday present.  Zach's fascinated with maps and geography these days, and he picked out a pop up children's atlas for his birthday present.  This went with him wherever we went for the remainder of the time I was there.  In his words, "This is the best birthday present anyone ever got me!"

We ended the night at the Panda House restaurant, sharing a plate of orange chicken.  Somehow this has gotten to be one of his favorite foods, and it's kind of a tradition that we go there to eat it each birthday.  It was so good to spend time just visiting with him, and I am awed by what a wonderful young man he is growing into.

One of Nate's favorite places to go is Barnes and Knoble bookstore.  He has a love of trains, and they have a big set there for kids to play with, so that's kind of become a regular grandma date place for us.  It was such fun to chat with him about anything and everything.  It's hard to believe that just a year ago he needed intensive speech therapy after having the frenula (the little piece of skin under your tongue) clipped.  He is never quiet!  Even when he sleeps he mumbles and trashes around, which I quickly discovered when we had a sleep over.

The one thing that grieved me when I moved to Guatemala was missing my children and grandchildren.  Would it be different if I lived in Omaha?  I'm sure it would.  I would be more directly involved in the daily goings-on of their lives.  Their lives have moved on without me, and I'm proud of who they are and how they manage life.  It's hard, though, not being right there.

I am so grateful that they include me when I am back, and am more than pleased that the boys like to spend time with me.  Zach told his parents at one point, "You guys need to go on a vacation.  Then we can have grandma to ourselves!"  Yep, I'm ready when they are!

Reflecting on My Time in the States

Every time I travel back to Omaha, I feel just a little bit more like an octagonal peg trying to fit into a round whole.

Sounds strange, I know, but let me try to explain.

When I left the US almost five years ago, I was pretty much, through and through, an American.  Though I had had a number of experiences in other cultures, including living for two years on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, I still thought with my middle-class mindset. Training prior to going on the mission field helped me to be aware of these prejudices I held, but I still had them. I am a product of my history.  I was a square peg which pretty much fit into the square hole of life and culture in the US.

Shift to Guatemala.  I loved the Guatemalan people, their heritage and their culture.  That was, after all, why I had moved there.  But I found myself surrounded by round pegs.  Not that there's anything wrong with round pegs; they're just different. In Guatemala the situations I found myself in were designed to be filled by round, not square pegs.  (Sure, there are "square" communities of ex-pats, which even include some missionaries.  But that's not why I was here.)

So, what happens when you try to fit a square peg into a round whole?  Well, you can reject the process which will reform you, quit trying, and pack up and "go home."  Or, you can, through experience after experience, find your rough corners whittled away.  You come closer and closer to fitting into the "round hole" of life in another culture. After time, your square peg may have worn away enough so that you can actually fit into the round hole. But there will always be gaps, spaces where you don't quite think the same as the round society in which you live; things you will never really understand, but need to accept.

That seems to be where I find myself now.  Not caught between two cultures as I have felt in the past, but formed and shaped by two very different world-views.  These two very different life styles no longer compete with each other to be better.  I am part of both.  And as part of both, I hope to internalize the best of each while at the same time repenting of their worst characteristics.  A lofty goal, but one which seems to keep me in a constant state of disequilibrium.

How do you live in this continual sensation of being out of balance? You learn to listen more intently to the voice of the Holy Spirit living within you, to guide your words, actions and decisions.  You reach out to those stronger, more experienced around you, to help you catch your balance.  And most of the time, you manage to stay upright.  More and more often, you find that you can effectively fill one of the "round hole needs" around you, though never completely, and often at personal cost.    You learn to love as God loves, without expectation and with a spirit of unconditional acceptance for others.  And you are glad to be an "octagon" living in a round society.

Other times it's different. You often stumble and fall, making mistakes, hopefully ones that are not too serious.  You apologize and repent, ask forgiveness and learn to move on.  You learn that the world, believe it or not, will not end if you err.  And maybe you even become a little "rounder" in the process.

You learn not to judge.  Not those who live around you and not yourself.  You learn that good and bad do not change between cultures--we have the Bible to depend on for that.  But you also learn how much of your own understanding of what the Bible says might have been colored by the culture which shaped you.  You learn that evil is evil, no matter when you find it, but that often those who do evil are not themselves evil, just lost.  And, after all, aren't we here to seek out the lost and lead them to the One who longs to make them whole? You learn the true meanings of the words "grace" and "mercy."

Lord Jesus, let me love others as you do, with grace and mercy that have brought me to repentance. Let them be drawn to you because of my acceptance of them--and never pushed away by my judgment.  Get me out of the way, and let them see you in me, and give me the words to explain how I am able to love as I do--because you first loved me.

What do I do in Omaha?

I have to be honest.  First and foremost I spend time with my family, especially my grandboys Zach (age 9) and Nate (age 5).  I see my kids when I can, but, to be honest, scheduling can be a problem.  Jeremy travels much of the time during the week, the bank Mikayla works for just purchased two other banks and she's working too many hours, and Joel works evenings.  It seems the one time we get together is to watch Zach play soccer.

This trip was a bit different for me.  The friends with whom I stayed were away on a cruise, and I had their whole house, as well as their two cats, all to myself for almost three weeks!  After living with three to four young men all year long, it was strange to be rattling around in this big house all by myself.  It gave me the peace and quiet I needed to complete my taxes though.

Of course, no trip would be complete without a few lunches and dinners with the friends I have left behind.  I especially enjoy and value the friendship of some of the younger women I know, and love spending time with them, even if it's only for a quick lunch.

Much of my time this trip was preparing for our Taste of Guatemala dinner, which was an amazing success.  I was also busy spreading the word about the house we are purchasing to provide a permanent residence for Casa de Esperanza.  Meeting with life groups from my home church is always a distinct pleasure.

I was so excited, too, to be in Omaha to participate in Westside Church's first Missions' Sunday.  Almost twenty ministries supported by the church were represented at tables set up around the worship center.  It was wonderful to see long-time friends and meet new people who were interested in the work we are doing.  I appreciated getting a chance to meet and get to know some of the members of the Missions' Committee at the church.  Their interest and belief in what we are doing has helped us greatly over the years.

I can't begin to sufficiently thank the people who make my time in Omaha so enjoyable.  Whether it's a quick cup of coffee, or a place to stay and a car to drive (thank you, Gail and Bo Higgs for letting me crash at your house), I it would be much harder, both physically, emotionally and financially, to spend time in Omaha.  It makes this time such a pleasure, and I have come back to Guatemala ready to hit the ground running once again!