All Mapped Out

The turning of the calendar page from one year to another is like pulling out a map to check if the direction you thought you were heading is still correct.  If it is new territory, the map may indicate certain sites that we will see along the way, but there may be unmarked sites that will surprise us.

It was a favorite activity of mine while we lived overseas to check out new roads on our way home from a meeting somewhere. I would pull out the map and look for any possible way to entice my patient husband to try a new route so that we could see something new and interesting. Sometimes we would happen to be in an area where the map indicated “ancient ruins”, a sure way to bring out my best persuasive urgings to go that route. On many occasions, we were surprised along the way to see a castle or historical site that wasn’t marked on the map. We would stop, jump out and look around delightedly, take pictures, and head out again. I remember one time we went a bit out of our way excited to see to an “ancient ruin” that was marked on the map, only to discover that there was absolutely nothing there to see.

The New Year can be an exciting journey when God holds and directs the map of our life. I am learning that you have to be an accepting passenger and let Him decide the route. Sometimes I try to keep circling around the past, like looking for ancient ruins that no longer exist. It would be much better to sit back, enjoy the surprise castles and sites that He brings my way. I guess that is part of the road map of faith and trust that we get to look at again with the start of the New Year.

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The Noise of Now

Driving is seldom considered to be a quiet activity. Road noise levels vary according to the budget one has for buying a car—the more expensive the car, generally the less drone from pavement noise. At least I know this is so in a large expensive car, say a Cadillac, from the rare experiences that I have had riding in one.
I think, however, that in various countries no matter what the model of car that you might find yourself driving in, it will be noisy. There is loud, louder, and crazy loud. I don’t think that it is possible to not notice the road noise in places like Romania. Not only do your ears get a work out while driving, but you can easily develop a habit of yelling from trying to talk while driving and bouncing around on the rough roads. It tires a person out just being the passenger on a Romanian road trip.
There was a time when my husband and I were driving in eastern Washington with the windows open. We had driven for miles next to large tracts of empty spaces and farmland. There seldom was a car that passed by. We stopped to stretch our legs at one point. When we turned off the car, the absolute silence was amazing, almost frightening. There was not a sound of a bird, wind, trees, just the sound of nothingness. Being accustomed to lots of busy activity, the sound of silence made us feel very uncomfortable, and we left shortly after stopping.
Just this week, this experience came to mind and caused me to reflect on my comfort with silence. I am not comfortable with it at all! The Bible talks about hearing God’s voice in the silence. The more active and busy I am, the greater my stress levels. I have been reminded that stopping to rest, to let the silence slow me down to bring refreshment, can be more important than rushing on hearing nothing but the drone of a fast paced race through life. We can only hear our own voices in the noisy now of our lives. God’s voice to us is gentle and quiet, unstressed. Which voice do you find yourself seeking time for?

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Have you ever had that “maybe this wasn’t such a good idea” feeling? Standing in the middle of a charred area surrounded by African brush and short trees, I had that feeling. This was not a standard tourist safari we were on.  We were about the only visitors to the large Niassa Game Reserve in northern Mozambique. It was a “do it yourself” type of safari without any of the safety precautions like “always stay inside the vehicle”, which I now see as a very good idea. But then again, if we had stayed inside the car, we probably would not have seen the zebras and wildebeests either.  We had been searching to view an elephant as we drove through the brush, but were not having any success.

We drove to an area where the little native guide we had hired had seen elephants feeding before, and he was fairly sure that we would see one there. Stopping the car, he told us to follow him.  We walked single file, leaving the car far behind, quietly following our guide until he stopped in a clearing. He motioned for us to stay where we were while he crept into the brush. When he came back, he excitedly said that there were two feeding in a gully, one a really large male, but it was too risky for all of us to go and see. He motioned for my husband to come with the camera. Standing there, waiting for them to return was probably one of the longer 3 minutes I have spent—that’s when the “maybe this wasn’t such a good idea” feeling came on strongly. They returned with the guide looking a bit agitated, saying that we must leave immediately because the wind had shifted and he only saw one elephant now.  Sometimes they can pick up a scent of a person and circle around and charge. Of course we insisted on staying to see if this was true…no, we headed back as quickly as our feet could silently speed walk to the car. We have a nice camouflaged picture of the seat of an elephant now.

Good ideas and bad ones can be camouflaged too.  We can be overly focused on ideas of what we need or want.  I have pushed some ideas through that, upon reflection, were elephants. Sometimes those elephantish ideas are better left alone. Maybe this would be a good idea—to be content with what we have already.

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Winter is a restless bedfellow. You can snuggle up with winter content in front of a soothing fire one day, and then be bitterly jabbed in the ribs by him the next as he presents a sky of gray sheet metal shooting bullets of icy rain. Just when winter seems to settle into a manageable rhythm, the north winds start blowing moods around in the diminishing light. It can be very unsettling. What a welcome relief when winter rests peacefully for a time under a comforter of silent snow.
This is just the time when the humble snowdrop flower pushes its neck and petals up through the snow. Picked from the forest, these small, white, bells are bundled and tied with string, and sold at public markets in Romania for a very small fee. I always enjoyed setting them on the table as a winter surprise. New life can and does spring up in the most unlikely places and times. Snowdrops help to coax winter out of bed, letting spring awaken in my mind.

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The Pull to Stop

     Driving in a foreign country can be a 3-D live action arcade game, especially if you are the driver. It is a cure all for boredom, a recipe for an ulcer.  Raw daily life just seems to spill out on the roads at unanticipated moments. You have to be ready to maneuver quickly.  It might be a herd of milk cows swaying home after from a good cud chewing day.  Often these road surprise packages seem to wait to make their appearance on blind corners.  I have experienced this in Romania countless times with cows, horses, sheep, goats, water buffalo and geese, and of course the late night drunk who missed the earlier call to go home with the herd of other drunks.  The most disturbing encounter is with the horse drawn hay wagon at night without any form of lighting, (except for the reflective gold caps on the front teeth of the nervous rider perched on top).

     These carts, known as a “căruță”, are about 5 feet wide and 6 feet long with four wheels, and a front bar that is usually attached with leather straps to the backside of one or two draft horses. While they are generally drawn by a horse, in some areas they use a donkey, oxen or water buffalo. I have seen most with rubber tires, but have also seen some with wooden wheels.

      I encountered an interesting căruță  one night as I made my way home.  A man had been in the forest cutting wood for the winter and loaded it onto his large căruță. He must have started home in the daylight, but night overtook his return.  He was having quite a time getting up a steep hill when I passed him. I happened to notice that the horse was missing.  In its place the man had wrapped the horse straps over his own shoulder and was straining to pull his heavy load of wood up that hill. In his poverty, a horse was too great of a luxury. It reminded me of Tevye in a scene from “Fiddler on the Roof”.  In a quick brainstorm, I stopped my van, backed down the hill and threw open the back doors of the van.  I told him to hop in. I must admit, he was confused, but tired enough to comply. Sitting backwards with his feet dangling down from the open van, I told him to stay there.   I jumped back into the driver’s seat, and used the horsepower of my van to climb the hill as he hung onto the straps of his căruță.  The warmth of his smile after our conquest made me feel like a hero. 

     It reminded me that life gives us moments of opportunities to pass in the night, or to rewind and join in.  I hope that I don’t get so preoccupied with my own journey that I neglect to stop. I want to stay willing to spill out and mix with life as God lets it brush by.

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The Seduction of New

One of my favorite things to do on a Sunday afternoon is to explore small roads that I haven’t been on before. Before moving to Europe, I had imagined the sound of riding over a cobblestone street to be a quaint, charming experience reminiscent of a wholesome time painted with a fairytale brush. I was wrong. Cobblestone and cars make a loud, teeth jarring mismatch. Driving over them makes passengers bounce like water on a hot frying pan. While I don’t like driving on them, they still fascinate me.

I imagine the people and horse drawn carts that have used the road over the years. What were their lives like? Where were they going? An old cobblestone road is living history. There are many types and sizes of cobblestone, depending on the materials that were available. I have been on ones made of marble, river rock, brick, slate, granite, and cut stone. Some of the cobblestone roads I have been on in Romania are hundreds of years old. These streets were the work of skilled craftsmen who were amazingly concise in maintaining a level pattern. In some places the roads were laid in an evenly spaced arching, semicircular pattern of 3 inch cube stones with just enough space between to shed water, and just enough space to grab my high heels. Walking on them in ice I found to be far beyond my skill. I felt embarrassed trying to keep my balance while elderly people confidently strode past. Clearly, you have to grow up with cobblestones to be able to navigate them through the various seasons.

In many villages, though the roads were still in good shape, they have started to be covered over with modern pavement. Oh how seductively quiet it sounded when we drove over the new asphalt through an old village where we used to have to yell to be heard over the road noise. Although the quaint look was gone, it sure felt like an improvement. But it was short lived. It didn’t take much time before there were ruts where the asphalt had begun to be worn away, revealing the solid cobblestone underneath, unaltered by the insult of modern materials. Apparently newer is not always better.

It reminds me of some of the new ways of thinking we are encouraged to accept today. I wonder if some of them will just run their course, wear away, and reveal what was really a solid foundation all along. I wonder what new things have seduced me away from what is really better.

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