Saturday, March 30, 2013


Let me tell you what just happened to me.  I was walking down the hallway with a trembling lip and sad puppy eyes, when I ran into my friend Remy.  Here's how the conversation went:

Remy:  Hello Sarah!
Me:  *sniff* hi.
Remy:  What's up?
Me: (all trembly)  I missed dinner.  I was showering and I took too long, and now the dining room's closed and I can't even get milk for this little bag of granola I found in my beach bag. 
Remy:  (Full of concern) Oh, well I have some yogurt in my cabin.  How many would you like?  Two?
Me: One should be enough (pathetic coughing).
Remy:  You'll need two.  Wait here a minute and I'll get them.
(My sad eyes have gone all wide and hopeful.  If they'd given Oliver Twist a roasted duck when he asked for more porridge, he'd have looked very much like me right now.)
Remy: (returning from her cabin) Here they are.  I have some eggs on the shelf in my classroom, if you want to make yourself an egg.
Me:  (happy, but still a little pathetic)  Thank you so much!
Remy:  You would have done the same for me.
Me:  Yes, I would.

So here I sit at my computer, happily munching away at my granola, now fortified with two cups of yogurt and some dried cranberries I found in my cupboard (Score!), and I reflect on how much difference a good friend makes.  I really was close to tears tonight when I rushed upstairs to find the food already gone.  I hadn't eaten a legitimate meal all day.  We'd been at the beach, snacking here and there, while we went on hikes and played in the waves, until it was time to come home.  I was so dirty I couldn't bear the thought of touching plates of food before I cleaned up.  First, I had to hunt around for my soap, and then my towel wasn't in its usual place.  What with one thing and another, I just took too long.  It seemed all hope was lost, and then in stepped a friend with yogurt.  The day was good and saved.

Sometimes I spend so much time thinking about the Big to keep the balance between telling the truth about what you believe and not sounding like a heartless know-it-all...what it really means to live well...whether it's better to let your students learn from their failures or to keep them from failing in the first place...etc.  I forget that life isn't lived in absolutes but in particulars.  It doesn't matter what I think about the nature of love if I can't bring myself to show any tangible sign that I love people.  I don't just know about friendship, I am a friend, and I have friends, and we show our friendship through our actions.  Some of them are big, like when you grieve with someone, and some are modest little things, like sharing your yogurt.  But they add up to something very beautiful. 

Jesus chose to die on the cross, and that was something he had to do by himself.  But there were friends who were with him along the way, like his mother Mary, and John the Apostle.  They didn't understand what was going on, or why, but they stayed with him until it was over.  That's special.  We don't often get to do things for God.  Usually it's the other way around.  But there are times when we have the unique opportunity to show our friendship to Him, times when we can bless the One who invented blessings (which blows my mind, when I think about it).  Maybe the chances come by more often than we realize.  Jesus did say that when you do something for "the least of these [his] brothers," you do it for him.  So the next time we have a chance to do something kind for someone who couldn't possibly pay us back (or maybe just isn't very likely to), we could think "Here you go, Friend.  Enjoy."  And we'd be part of a pattern of kindness that touches the very center and source of Life.  (That sounds dramatic, but I don't know how else to say it.)

How did I get to preaching?  I really only meant to share my satisfaction in having a real dinner when I thought I'd be stuck scrounging crushed granola bits and soy milk.  Ah well.

Happy Easter, friends!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

In defense of doing things the hard way...sort of...

With just about anything worth doing, there is an easy way and a hard way, and the hard way is probably the better option.  You'll find this in cooking, in exercise, in education, in relationships...  Our parents were right.  It's better to do a good job the first time.  Sometimes the first time is the only time you get. 

One of the local craftsmen who sell wood carvings and leather doodads to our ship shop had a wife who was pregnant.  When it was time for her to give birth, it became apparent that she would need a caesarean.  So they sent the man off to buy blood for his wife, in case she needed a transfusion.  (The way it works here is if you need blood, you have to buy it.)  But while he was away trying to get the money he needed, they went ahead with the surgery and lost both the mother and the baby.  It was devastating for the man, but not an uncommon occurrence here.  A friend of mine who runs an organization called Babies Without Milk to raise money to feed infants whose mothers have died, told me about one local family in which the young mother came down with malaria and died.  No one took her to the doctor or even bothered to buy medicine because they all figured she'd pull through.  Life is fragile.  No less in the US than here, although we like to think we've found a million ways to preserve it.  There are still no guarantees.

So tell people you love them, goshdarnit!  Well, I mean, make sure you know them and actually do love them and all.  Don't just go confessing your love to random strangers or anything.  But please do take the time to tell the people you love that you love them.  Relationships are not meant to be disposable, but if you treat them that way you will cut yourself off from everything that makes life matter.  ...And while we're on the subject, children are not pets.  Nor are they hobbies you can pick up and then slough off at will.  They are people, and they are worth every bit of time and energy it takes to raise them!  I'm not saying you need to drop everything you like to do and sign them up for soccer, ballet, judo, acting lessons, and tutoring.  I am saying that when your little darling does something foolish or cruel, you discipline them lovingly.  You work hard to be kind and generous and always keep your word because you know that your kids are watching, and they will judge themselves and others by the standard you set.  I'm saying you put down your books and gadgets and play with them.  And when they ask you hard questions, you take the time to answer honestly and from your heart.  I'm saying you delight in them.  You call out good things in them.  You sacrifice your happiness for their good.  And you pray for them all the time.

Ahem.  I don't know where that came from.  I watch these silly movies and tv shows, and get all worked up when the main character pretty much throws his/her family away in pursuit of something that will turn out to be empty.  Don't do it!  I yell at the screen, Stop right there, get back in your car and drive home to your wife and kids!  They never listen.  It's like they aren't even watching the show. 

In other news, I am officially coming back to teach at the Mercy Ships Academy next year!  If all goes according to plan, we'll be working in Congo, docked at Point Noir.  With this in mind, my summer plans run thusly:  1) Fly from Conakry to Seattle and split about three-ish weeks between family and friends in Washington and family and friends in California, 2) Fly out to the IOC in Texas (I don't know what the acronym stands for, it's like the US headquarters for Mercy Ships) for several weeks of training, and 3) Fly back out to the Africa Mercy which will probably be docked somewhere in the Canary Islands.  On the one hand, I'm so excited to see you all I can't hardly contain myself.  On the other hand, I don't know how I'm going to squish a year's worth of hugging and visiting with all-y'all into those piddly three weeks.  And on the third hand, I'm excited to see Congo and all the cool things that'll happen when we're there.  I may just be an emotional basket case for a while.  Fair warning.

I just want to thank you, again, for helping me come here and teach these wonderful kids in this beautiful corner of the world.  We come and go and do amazing things every day, so that it eventually becomes routine.  But I'm not taking any of it for granted, and I know that the people we help in Guinea aren't either.  My friends and I were in the market this morning looking for fabric and a man shouted out "Mercy Ships!  I love you!" when he saw us.  It felt kind of silly at the time, because how do you respond to that?  But the truth is that the man knew that we were from the ship, and that the ship was doing something good, if not for him or his family, then for his country.  And since you are all a part of my being here, I pass his sentiments on to you.  Thank you.  And (because I take my own advice) I love you!
Here we are getting ready to go on an adventure! 
These are just some of the beautiful fabrics we looked at today.  (My friend Stephanie took this picture.)