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Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Bee

I usually take my own photos for my blogs, but man, I didn't even try to snap a honeybee photo. I just knew I couldn't do it justice. After finishing Sue Hubbell's book, A Book of Bees: and How to Keep Them, I have a new appreciation for these busy little bugs. Bugs rule. 

Bees are invertebrates, which far outnumber us vertebrates by--well, here are the numbers: there are 35,000 known species of vertebrates and over 30 million species of invertebrates! You do the math. Moreover, scientists think that what we have identified so far is significantly less than what is actually out there.  This will blow you away: "The number of individual insects estimated to be alive in the world at any one time is 10 quintillion" (for non-math majors: that's 10 with 18 zeros behind it).  "It is figured that for every human being on the planet there are about 200 million insects."  Ew. Creepy. Crawly. Buzz.

But now that I am slightly more enlightened about bees, (I'm into my fourth book, one documentary film, and several jars of honey, so I'm practically an expert) I'm not so creeped out. I'm actually a little in awe. Venturing out into bee territory came as a result of a conversation with a friend who gardens, and who decided to keep bees in order to pollinate her garden. . . and, I imagine, just for the challenge and fun of it. Just putting on the costume and firing up the smoker sounds so exotic, like something out of Africa!

It seems to me that bees pretty much 'keep' themselves--they have their own rhythm, organization, hierarchy, and instincts. But as much as you can 'keep' a wild animal, beekeepers do. Humans and bees have developed a symbiotic relationship, one that benefits both species. Besides producing honey, bees cross-pollinate about 90% of our wild plants and about a third of the world's food supplies, including many fruits, nuts, and vegetables.  But, alarmingly, millions of bees have been vanishing in the past few years, and no one knows exactly why.

I hesitate to even go further because very quickly my lack of knowledge will begin to show. With each turn of the page, I realized how much more there was to learn about these gentle, hard-working creatures and how much we really do not understand. And, in fact, I'm not alone in this. 

The honeybee may be the most widely-studied insect (of the 10 quintillion) on the planet, and yet scientists are still baffled as to their organization, intelligence, and social hierarchy.  Who makes the decisions as to when they will swarm, when and how they decide to raise a new queen, when to dance? (yes--'waggle dance', to be more precise. It sounds like a Muppet movie).

Some have even conjectured that deep down in the dark, unreachable recesses of the hive, there is a mystical 'spirit of the hive' that joins the mind, body, and spirit of each colony of bees.  Unless we are somehow able to get inside the mind of a bee, this will forever remain a mystery.

When I think of trying to understand the mind of God, let alone the mind of a bee, I feel overwhelmed and humbled. But instead of scaring us to death with His superior intelligence and awesomeness, God allowed us to get inside His head and heart by sending us Someone who spoke our language, lived in our 'hive', and even allowed us to become a member of His 'colony'.

What might have remained a complete and unattainable mystery has been split wide open, and the sweetest thing imaginable is revealed: The Creator loves His creation. Not only does He know exactly how many insects are crawling on the planet, He knows how many stars He has flung across the sky, and how many hairs He has put on my head. Not only does He know the mystery of the 'spirit of the hive', He knows all about me, right down to the deep, dark recesses of my soul. 


I feel like firing up the smoker . . .and doing a waggle dance!  God rules! 

I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden wealth of secret places, so that you may know that it is I, The LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name." Isaiah 45:3

"They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb." Psalm 19:10

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Pineapple

My new baby arrived about a week ago. Actually, I never even saw the actual 'birth'. I'm a laissez-faire gardener. The plants that happen to survive my care (if you can call it that. . . 'lack of care' is more accurate) are those that are self-sufficient. That is, they can survive and thrive without me watering them, fertilizing them, or talking to them. Pineapples fit the bill. I hacked off the top of a pineapple over a year ago, stuck it in a pot, and forgot about it. The resulting astonishingly beautiful flower is more of a testament to the resilient inner life of the plant than it is to the skill of the gardener.

But now that it is here, I'm intrigued. There are so many interesting facts about the pineapple. The juice can be used to tenderize meat, clean machete blades, or swab boat decks. It is also said to help prevent macular degeneration, induce labor, even abortion, and cure venereal disease. The leaves are used to make textiles, rope, and thread to bead pearls, sew shoes, make fishing nets, and roll cigars. They even became a symbol of social prestige among the American colonists. Because of their rarity and cost, they were considered an extravagant luxury. All one had to do to achieve rock star notoriety was to display one on the dining room table. 

But the most fascinating thing about the pineapple is the actual botany of the plant. The fruit, the actual pineapple, is a cluster of more than 200 flowers. You can see the first of the flowers beginning to bloom in the photo above. I just went out to check it again, and lo and behold, it is bursting with flowers! How did I never notice that? Here is the updated version:

Now that we are properly impressed with the pineapple's uses, social status and impressive birth and growth progress, here's another fact that will blow you away:  the fruit is arranged in two interlocking helices, eight in one direction, thirteen in the other, each being a Fibonacci number. Yes. Pineapples are math!  A Fibonacci sequence, which I'm sure math majors must already know, begins with zero and one, and then each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two. Whoa. Now I'm in way over my head, but apparently the pattern of the way the sprouts grow is a mathematical sequence that is also found in the uncurling of a fern, the flowering of an artichoke, the branching of trees, and the arrangement of a pinecone.

How cool is that?? When I consider the pineapple, I am awed at the complexity of the natural world. Exquisite beauty and intense simplicity are just the ruse to draw you deeper into the mystery that begs to be studied and understood by botanists, mathematicians, and laymen alike. Consider the lowly pineapple. Who knew what was hiding deep within its fruit--math!!

God begs us to consider His exquisite beauty and delve deeper into the mystery of who He is. He draws us to Himself and tantalizes us with the creation He has left with us--it speaks to us, one awesome flower at a time. (He may even speak through mathematical equations, but that's a foreign language to me.)  

All I know is that the inner life of this creation (moi) is buoyed by the fact that God, in His grace and mercy, has not left me to wither and die on the vine, but allows me to survive and thrive, and sometimes, even bear fruit. That Gardener, unlike me, is not a laissez-faire Gardener: He is ever-present, ever-watchful, and never lets His flowers die.

And that is an extravagant luxury I'd pay any price for.

"Stand and consider the wonders of God." Job 37:14

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Tulips

One of the most spectacular sights I saw in Europe was not a towering medieval cathedral, a marble statue, or a great masterpiece of art. It was the tulip fields at the Kuekenhof Gardens in Amsterdam. Here is where words fail me trying to describe it.

In addition to the spectacularly sculpted gardens, there were acres and acres of planted tulips, as far as the eye could see. The atmosphere was hushed, almost reverent.  I was in college, just venturing out as an adult, and had never seen anything like it, never imagined such stunning beauty. Fast forward a few years. . .

'Two lips. Three lips. Four lips. . ." my two-year-old counted as we were passing some tulips on our morning walk one bright spring day in Delaware.  As beautiful as the Kuekenhof Gardens were, seeing tulips from the eyes of a child makes you appreciate the whole world in a different way. Don't kids just say the darndest things?  

Last spring I spent the blustery month of May in Chicago. It made me realize how much I miss the changing of the seasons. (Let me clarify: I do not miss Chicago winters!) It was still too cold for my Florida capris and open-toed sandals that I had packed, but I bravely bundled up my frozen now-tropical toes for morning walks. It was well worth it to smell the damp, rich earth as it pushed up the first signs of spring: tulips, crocuses, daffodils, and hyacinths.

When we bought our first house in Delaware as a young couple, one of our first tasks was to landscape our barren yard. We drove down to the local nursery and bought flowers, bushes, and trees--the house didn't even come with grass!  My mom donated some of her prize roses, and we planted flowering gardenias (my husband never liked them--he said their smell reminded him of the graveyard), a Japanese maple tree, azaleas, and a magnolia bush. But by far the most spectacular plants in our yard were the tulips and daffodils.

Tulips are planted in the fall, not the spring, when they immediately begin to root. During the winter, when the landscape is covered with snow, and the earth is hard and frozen, they lay dormant. You almost forget about them--that's what's so surprising about them popping up in the spring.  You've been concentrating so much on surviving the winter that you forget, every year, that spring is just around the corner. Soon after the tulips burst through the soil and majestically declare that winter is over, the plant begins to die. However, new growth continues in the deep, dark underground world where roots and bulbs reside. According to  "the period between blooming and the plant dying is referred to as the 'Grand Period of Growth'. . .the energy flow reverses and starts to go downward to build new bulbs instead of upward to form new flowers." It's not too much of a stretch to see the lesson here.

The tulips (and the three lips and the four lips) remind me that even on the coldest, darkest, gloomiest day, God is working in my life, in the deep recesses of my soul where no one can see. Although it may outwardly appear as if age is taking its toll and is marching towards its logical conclusion, it may actually be that the Grand Period of Growth has just begun! God has planted a seed that only the Master Gardner can sow, and only He can harvest. No one can stop its growth. Someday, (maybe even today!), it will push out into the sunshine and bloom with astonishing beauty. Thankfully, I am confident it will not smell like the graveyard--it will be an 'aroma pleasing to the Lord', not because of anything the flower has done for itself but because it is God's own handiwork.

Incredible? Amazing? Words fail me. 

And that's not so surprising.

"Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come."  2 Corinthians 5:17

"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place."  2 Corinthians 2:14

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Frame

I love my art. Each of my pieces is meaningful to me--they remind me of places I have lived or visited or of the artist who created it. Each work of art has become like a personal friend, one who graces my home with beauty and interacts with those who visit me. This one, the Blue Nude, painted by my friend Phyllis Jean, speaks to me. Her attitude says, "I'm chillin' in my art studio, surrounded by my Modigliani's. So what?"

'Blue Nude' is a watercolor painted on silk, but others are rich oil paintings of landscapes or people from other lands. There is hand-painted pottery by the Lencan Indians from Honduras and a wood block carved by Italian woodworkers. There are watercolors,  pen-and-ink drawings, a colorful origami crane, and two Nicaraguan sketches painted with coffee on pieces of cardboard. Each is as unique as the artist who created them. 

When I was in college I tried my hand at various artistic endeavors: pottery, knitting, crocheting, quilting, and weaving, to name a few.  After just a few weaving classes, I was a fledgling weaver, turning out pieces of cloth that complied with the basic tenets of the process: it had warp and weft, but that's about it. Years later, as I was going through mounds of accumulated stuff, getting ready for yet another move, my daughter found a small piece of weaving that I had made back then and claimed it for her own. I had it framed for her, and voilá! Art!

The art of tapestry or Oriental rug weaving, on the other hand, is just a bit more complicated and a LOT more magnificent. The weavers tell stories of medieval knights, fierce battles, historical milestones, or they just create incredibly intricate designs. Each story or design is woven into the warp and weft of the fabric, thread by thread, knot by knot. Looking from the back of the tapestry, however, there is no rhyme or reason to it. It just looks like a big mess of knots. You have to go around to the front and step back to get a good vantage point. Only then will it come into focus, and you can clearly see the artist's intent.

I have had the imagery of the tapestry as a metaphor for my life for a while now. The way I have always thought of it was always centered around me: me at the back of the tapestry, knotting the cords one by one, creating my life, one thread at a time. If things didn't make sense or looked like one huge mess, all I had to do was back up and get a good look at the tapestry from a vantage point farther away, so it could all come into focus. Often that happened with the passing of time, as the images unfolded and became clearer in retrospect, and the art emerged as a cohesive, comprehensible whole.

But recently one little phrase in the devotional book Streams in the Desert (February 12th) made me stop and think: "You are the Workman, I the frame."  It is the Workman, not me, who is knotting the cords behind the loom.  My only job is to display His workmanship in the finished, even the unfinished, product. I am the frame-- the part that just holds up the real art, the part that allows God's artwork to be viewed and appreciated. No one even looks at the frame. They look at the artwork.

So, what does the tapestry of my life reveal? I'm sure I won't know until the Workman finishes His artwork and takes me home where it will be displayed in a different realm. But the legacy of my life will remain on this earth, knots and all. Will it reflect His workmanship? What will the knots proclaim, me or Him?

Only the Artist knows for sure what the finished product will be. But I'm trusting that what the Creator began, He will finish, His intent fully known and wonderfully revealed.

And it will be a work of art, knots and all.

"For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. 
I will give thanks to You, for 
I am fearfully and wonderfully made. . ." Psalm 139: 13-14

"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." Ephesians 2:10

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Conversation

You really get to know a person well when you drive around with him every day, all week long. But when I first met Arnaldo, we didn't talk very much at all. I wasn't very confident speaking Spanish yet, and he was naturally on the quiet side.

Arnaldo was first assigned as my husband's driver when he spent a few days in Tegucigalpa, Honduras while he was interviewing for a job. When my husband was eventually elected, and we moved overseas, Arnaldo was assigned to me, and a different driver (see previous post, 'The Bodyguard') was assigned to my husband. Looking back, I think that God specifically chose this gentle, humble man for this particular job for a specific moment in time that was waiting for us five years in the future.

But first, there was a lot to do. I had to figure out my role as the wife of a diplomat, living overseas in a strange country, with no friends, struggling with a language I could barely speak. I remember sitting in my den, asking God to show me what I should do. What a concept! I hardly ever do that. My first instinct is just to go ahead and do whatever I feel like doing and figure God will somehow just show up and bless it. Or not. But, looking back, I suppose I was at the point where there wasn't much of an option. So I asked. And then I took baby steps.

And so it happened that, among all the other good causes I became involved in, one undertaking became my passion and joy. And it came about by talking to the person who was closest in proximity to me, the one arm's length away. The driver. How are you? (I could say that.) Are you married? (Yes.) How old are your children? Baby steps. Conversational Spanish 101. 

Venturing out a bit further, I discovered that my driver was a pastor, a Christian.  He pastored a small church in his neighborhood, Las Palmas. Baby step by baby step, I learned about the church, neighborhood, and the families who lived there. We did a Christmas outreach there on the first Christmas and purchased 200 toys for the children--about twice that many kids and their families showed up! 

And then, over time, I asked him another question that my sister-in-law and I had been thinking about. "What would your church be able to do for your community, if you could do one thing? What is most needed?" (Just thinking about how the subjunctive probably came out in Spanish makes me cringe!) 

It turned out that what they most needed was a childcare center for the children of single moms who often worked late and whose children ended up at Arnaldo and his wife's front door. Or sometimes they were locked into their homes and fed through the bars on the windows by neighbors. Or they were 'taken care of' by their older brothers or sisters of elementary school age. Or they just wandered the neighborhood, alone. Or they were put into service by the local gangs. It broke my heart, as I knew it did his.

And so, what began as a conversation, became a small reality: Fundación Casa de Luz (House of Light Foundation), was born. We are partnering with Old Cutler Presbyterian Church and a non-profit organization here in the States (the result of another conversation) called Institute for Community, which shares our same vision of effecting change in the community through connecting with people and meeting their needs. Three American missionaries and several women from the local church have joined us, and we learned how to create a board of directors . . . More conversations. Now the happy chattering of children has been added to the conversation.

Fast forward five years to another conversation in that same car . . .The conversation most meaningful to me, the one that I most needed in my darkest hour, the one I never saw coming, was a conversation without words. The very moment I knew my husband had been the victim of a plane crash, a hand reached out to the back seat. I grabbed it and held on for dear life. This conversation needed no words, no translation, no subjunctive verb tenses gone awry . . . My driver had become my pastor.

God, Who I sadly seldom take into account, had been a silent partner to those leisurely chats all along. He was, in fact, the 'third party to our conversation' that day as well. He knew years before why this particular person needed to be with me that day. Incredibly, without condemnation for neglecting Him in the past, He descended into that car and, in spite of all the chaos, brought with Him a tremendous peace--a supernatural peace that 'passes all understanding'. It was the 'right word at the right time.'

A new conversation had begun--with a God who, unbelievably, surprisingly, amazingly, cares for the intimate details in our lives. Who knew? 

I'm sure I promised never to neglect Him ever again after that day, and I'm equally sure that I've already broken that promise. But it is my heart's desire to get to know Him better as I converse with Him day by day. Baby steps. 

You never know where that conversation will lead somewhere down the road.

(And thankfully, I won't be needing that damn Spanish subjunctive!)

"...Those long hours of leisure as we walked arm in arm, God a third party to our conversation." 
Psalm 55: 12 (The Message)

"Congenial conversation—what a pleasure! The right word at the right time—beautiful!" 
Proverbs 15:23 (The Message)

Visit Casa de Luz on Facebook: Fundación Casa de Luz

Or, at Institute for Community's webpage:

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Bodyguard


You'd never know it just by looking at him, but this man is deathly afraid of needles. . . as in,  hypodermic needles. His name is Felix, and he was my husband's driver and bodyguard during the five years we lived in Honduras--a highly trained ex-military-turned-security guard with years of warfare under his belt. He was practically blown apart while fighting against the Nicaraguan Sandinistas during the 1980's, and still carries in his body bits and pieces of shrapnel from the grenade that almost took off his hand and blew a hole in his stomach. He walked out of the jungle on his own, holding his gut together with his injured hand, to try to save the lives of his men in his unit. He lived, but some of his men did not.

But point a needle at him, and he goes weak in the knees.

I could describe Felix in so many ways--he is a crusty old curmudgeon on the outside, but there is a heart of gold beating on the inside; he has a wicked sense of humor; he adores his family-- his youngest daughter, especially, has him wrapped around her little finger . . . and, it turns out, he's a poet. He wrote one of the most touching, poignant poems I have ever read as a tribute to my husband when he passed away. But here's the thing that makes him stand tall above everyone else:

He would have taken a bullet for the one he loved. Literally. If he could have saved my husband's life by throwing himself in front of the plane as it skidded off the runway, I know he would have. 

When we first arrived in Honduras, I was not looking forward to having people around us at such close quarters 24/7. However, over time he, and a few others, became part of our 'extended family' of people who worked for us and took care of us while we lived there.  Having bodyguards and drivers were a necessary precaution for many expats living in this particular country--but no one really believed that anything would ever really happen. You are as vigilant as possible, but then you just go on with your life. What more can you do? In the end, I cannot imagine how I could have endured what I did without him and the others who became such an integral part of our lives.

The thing is, we don't know how many disasters God spares us from daily as we make our way through life. Sometimes we get a glimpse of the near miss as we swerve to avoid the car whizzing by; or when we catch ourselves and avoid a serious fall; or we scoop up the baby just as she goes to grab the knife or the lye or the razor...or when the surgery is successful or the test comes back negative. Our hearts race with the realization what could have been...

God is so near, so real, so palpable sometimes we can taste Him. And at other times we feel so alone, so afraid, so abandoned that we begin to believe that He is far away and removed from what matters in our lives. Nothing could be further from the truth.

And yet, sometimes the worst does happen. Sometimes the plane does crash, the test does come back positive, the surgery is not successful and the baby gets cut.  Where was God? Someone challenged me a long time ago that if you feel that God is far away, guess who moved?  I still don't understand so much about the how's or why's of the way God works, but I choose to believe one thing:

God has not abandoned me. He is not afraid of the dark or the jungle or the bogeyman lurking in the shadows, or even . . . shudder . . . hypodermic needles. 

He, like the bodyguard, is on duty 24/7, watching, guarding, protecting in an often-scary world. He, like the bodyguard, would willingly take the bullet and lay down his life for the one he loves. 

In fact, He already has. 

"For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways . . ." Psalm 91:11

". . . for the LORD will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard." Isaiah 52:12

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Mermaid

I know. This doesn't look like a mermaid. In fact, it's a momma manatee and her baby, floating near the building that my daughter-in-law manages in North Miami, where she snapped this photo. 

Manatees are gentle, slow-moving aquatic giants. How in the world they were ever mistaken for mermaids is confounding. You'd have to be at sea a long, long time in order to mistake this massive, whiskered-face mammal for the beautiful, seductive Little Mermaid of film and literature. However, there's no accounting for a young sailor in love--or at sea.  Legends don't need a whole lot of substance to get started.  It just needs to be a good story.

As with all legends, there is a sliver of truth hiding beneath the surface. Manatees bob upright on the surface of the water cradling their babies, much as a human would, face-to-face, as they suckle their young. Their eerily human-like faces, albeit whiskered and wrinkled, resemble a woman's--OK, not a very pretty woman, but remember--if you're an adventurer out at sea for months on end, you might just be a little desperate. If manatees are startled, they can move surprisingly fast, often slapping their fish-like tails on the water as they submerge. At least one old salt had a mammoth imagination, fell in love, and a legend was born.

Once, as a child, when I was in Sunday school, we were making a mosaic art project, gluing beans and seeds on construction paper to form Noah's Ark.  As I glued, I asked my teacher a question: "Is the story of Noah true?" The answer I got reverberated in my head for years to come. She said that it was a fable, a legend, much like the bedtime stories my parents read to me at night. That, I believe, was the beginning of my spiritual walk out the door of the church. I didn't return until years later, after much soul-searching in other religions, other cultures and alternate lifestyles.

At the heart of the cultural revolution of the 60's and 70's was a search for 'truth, peace, and love' without the trappings of the social mores of the previous generations.  I was one of those seekers, and followed my own path in pursuing truth. Thank God, He spared me the heartache that experimentation with psychedelic drugs and rampant sex left in its wake. Instead, my quest for truth took me through the study the world's great religions, in the awe-inspiring art and architecture of Europe, and in discovering new ways of looking at the world through the eyes of people from other cultures.

When I had exhausted those avenues and came away with more questions than answers, I turned back to my roots. I figured that someone had believed all those stories in the Bible, enough to produce some of the greatest art that the world has ever known (. . .a far cry from my bean mosaic of Noah's Ark).  I decided to give it a second shot.  I was given a Bible and began to read the stories of men and women who were much like me--flawed and broken, but with a kernel of faith.

The stories were thrilling and inspiring--Abraham, Moses, Noah, Jonah, David, Paul, Esther, to name a few. They fought, swore, killed, lied, cheated, you name it. Nothing was sugar-coated. Some of them fell away, some grew like solid oaks.  But they were real and believable. At some point, I began to believe in the truth of what I was reading, and it rocked my world.

Unlike the fables and legends of my childhood, the deeper I dug into the Bible, the more truth I found, and the closer I got to the real treasure: the Author of the Book, the Captain of the Ship--the Way, the Truth, the Life. 

My search was over, my question answered. I had come home to port.
But the adventure had just begun.

 "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

Casa de Luz

Casa de Luz
marcela and dyana