Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Blues

I was taken by surprise on Christmas Day. It was a wonderful low-key day, spent at home with our immediate family (minus our 19 year old son, Teyler,--still in the States). After opening gifts, I immediately started in on making homemade cinnamon rolls, I also made homemade rolls, and our traditional Christmas Chowder Soup. At about 3:00 p.m., the phone rang and it was Teyler. A lively conversation ensued between Teyler and his brother. I could hear the excitement in Christian's voice as he conversed with his brother. They were laughing and updating each other on the latest happenings in their lives. As I stood over the sink scrubbing potatoes, I was surprised that I began to cry. I had been perfectly fine up until that point. Christmas Eve had passed without incident, and two-thirds of Christmas Day had passed. But now, knowing my son was on the phone, the dam broke. The tears began to pour and my heart felt such pain. I wanted to see and hold my son. Not only was I shocked at my reaction, but so was my family. I left the kitchen and laid down on my daughters' bed and sobbed for about an hour. (The following picture shows two of my children coming in to "cuddle" with me to help me feel better!). During that hour, I cried out to God and told Him of my heartache. I searched for some profound spiritual insight into the pain but found none, only pain. Eventually there were no more tears to shed and I finished the rest of the day feeling rather melancholy--extremely rare for me. I looked forward to bedtime, the escape of consciousness/emotional pain.

The following morning (Christmas Day in California--remember, we're a day ahead in Guam), I slept late and was greeted by Eric with one of my cinnamon rolls and orange juice in bed. How kind of him to be sensitive to where I was emotionally. About an hour later, as I sat at the computer, Skype began to ring (our computer web camera system) . When I answered, who was on the screen? My son, my parents, and two of their foster children. I was so thrilled! That was the first time I had "seen" my son in nearly three months because of computer difficulties on his end. Eric, the kids and I all gathered around on our end as we talked to my family in California. We talked and laughed for two hours!! It was an incredibly special time for all of us.

That night, after everyone was in bed and I had tidied the house, I felt the need to write about the pain I had felt being separated from our son. Writing helps me process my feelings; it's very therapeutic for me. It was 12:30 a.m. and I had just typed the first sentence of this blog when the phone rang. Who would be calling us at this hour? I grabbed for the phone worrying that perhaps something was wrong with our family in the States. It was Jim, the gentleman I've been working with at Thomas Nelson Publishing (the largest publisher of Bibles). I had ordered one of the textbooks for the class I'm teaching through them. It was 8:30 a.m. in Tennessee and there was a problem with my order and he wanted to alert me as soon as possible. In the course of his conversation with me, Jim told me how he'd spent Christmas with a friend who had a 20 year old son in the military stationed in Afghanistan. Because his son is on the front lines he has had no contact with him for two weeks. Apparently, this man broke down crying on Christmas saying how hard it was to have NO contact whatsoever and to not know if his son was dead or alive. As Jim told me this story, it was such a reality check for me. My son is safe and, for that matter, is being spoiled and loved as he lives with his grandparents. I can talk to him on the phone at any moment. I was even able to "see" him on Christmas Day through modern technology. I felt such gratitude towards God for having my son where he is. I also had to smile at God. I don't think it was a coincidence that the phone call came RIGHT when I sat down to write about this topic. I also don't think it was a fluke that Jim "just happened" to tell me this story of his friend and his son. Here AGAIN is proof of how God consistently meets my needs emotionally and physically. He sent me a BIG message. "Karyn, I see you, I see your pain" and then very gently He reminded me, "Pray for this man's boy and all the other moms and dads who have NO contact with their children and whose children may be in VERY dangerous places physically and sometimes spiritually." Oh, how I love my dear Father, who ever so lovingly and gently moves me beyond my self-absorption to a place of gratitude and willingness to "bear another's burden."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Sunday

Here is a picture of Eric preaching at the Agana Heights Church where he has been guest preaching for the past few months. Because it is Christmas Sunday, Eric put on a long sleeve shirt--first time wearing one since being on Island. The local Chamorro people who attend this church are extremely friendly and warm, and they do such a nice job decorating the sanctuary for the various holidays. During their service, they have an extended time of greeting where the parishioners often greet one another in the traditional Chamorro style--a kiss on the cheek. With each Sunday that passes, more and more parishioners have begun to greet us in this manner. We think it is really sweet; although, Christian has a different opinion, "Oh great! Now they're starting to kiss me too. I got kissed by two grannies today!"On Christmas Sunday, I (Karyn) was greeted with a binder filled with five songs and asked if I would sing soprano with the choir that morning. Talking about "speed reading!" This DEFINITELY challenged my music-reading abilities in a way they had never been challenged before! Before we got up to sing, I scoured the music trying to note unusual timing, repeats, notes, etc. Other than coming in at the wrong time once, I somehow pulled it off. Eric said he wouldn't have known about my incorrect entrance except that I made a face, turned red, and started smiling! The children's choir (Katie and Noelle included) sang the first song with us.

The True Christmas Spirit

Some friends sent me an email asking me about Christmas here on Guam. It prompted this response which I then thought our “blog readers” might enjoy.

Imagine someone saying to you, “Since your birthday is in winter and we want to have a summer party, let’s just pretend your birthday is on some arbitrary date in the summer and we'll send out invitations and not say anything to any of the guests and no one will be the wiser. We'll have a wonderful birthday party.” Well, if you did this, you would know in your heart that it wasn't REALLY your birthday and it would somehow take away from how your birthday normally feels, right? Well, that's how I feel about Christmas. It seems like we are just "pretending" it is Christmas, that it's really not for another six months, when it will be winter and cold. I honestly feel like we are doing an "un-Christmas" (you know, an "un-birthday"--your birthday six months past your actual birthday). I try to play Christmas music and we have a Christmas tree decorated with lights and ornaments but still, I don’t feel like it is Christmas. (By the way, the photo shows us having just arrived home from buying our tree. It is 5:30 p.m., 91 degrees with humidity in the high 80’s.) It's kind of a bummer and I feel like, to some degree, I'm being bad spiritually because Christmas is about Jesus' birth not all the other stuff. But, it doesn't feel like Jesus' birth. I think it was probably kind of cold the night of his birth and it's NEVER cold here (except when someone has the air conditioner on too high). So, when you ask me about Christmas here, I would say I feel like a robot--"doing" Christmas things but not feeling Christmassy at all--ZERO! LITERALLY! Nothing is coming naturally. Without the Christmas feeling to guide me, I have to stop and say to myself, "Okay, what other things do people normally do at Christmas? Oh yeah, we need to make some cookies.” Or, “Oh yeah, I need to make sure I send Christmas cards--what is the date anyhow?" I'm not sad about this because I really feel no loss because it honestly doesn't feel like Christmas! It is bizarre. I think it's connected not just to the different weather but the different culture and conditions. Eric not pastoring a church also plays a big part. You figure the church has ALWAYS consumed a HUGE amount of our time and Christmas energy (e.g. choir rehearsals, celebrations, decorations, partying, parishioner crisis’s to deal with, etc.). Also, the buying frenzy and panic that is so pervasive around the holidays isn't nearly as pronounced here. That part I LOVE! I have always dreaded the present buying pressure of Christmas and it's GREAT not to have that for the first time EVER. But, on the flip side, it’s sad to say that that horrible pressure-feeling is very much tied into how Christmas has always FELT. So, here is another reason it does not FEEL like Christmas here.

On the practical side, we have bought the girls bicycles (we had to leave theirs in the States because they couldn't fit into the cargo container) and we bought Christian scuba diving lessons (fairly inexpensive here when you have connections!). The kids will be thrilled because they have very low expectations. Amazingly, they seem to really understand our new financial status and the limitations that presents for us. They NEVER ask to go to McDonalds, ice cream, etc., nor do they EVER ask for anything. I think they have accepted without resentment the way we need to live. The amazing thing is we are all more content materially than we have ever been. I'm not sure if it is that God has given us His contentment, or if it is because we live in a less materialistic place and so don't know what we're missing!!! (Or perhaps a combination of the two)

Guess what? Since I originally wrote this, I have felt the “Christmas spirit” on two occasions. Interestingly, both occasions were while singing Christmas carols during worship--once in church, and once at PIBC. As I sang, I was overcome with such a strong feeling of gratitude and praise. How grateful I am that our mighty and powerful Jesus humbled himself and came as a babe to give new life to me. How happy I am that He loves me and even knows the number of hairs on my head (or even cares about it!). As I reflected on these two “Christmas-feeling encounters,” I realized that no matter where I am in our big world, even if I don’t FEEL the “Christmas spirit,” I can always feel “Jesus’ Spirit.” That’s great news because, after all, isn’t that the true meaning of Christmas?

Merry Christmas and glory to God in the highest!


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Student Christmas Party

Tonight was the student led Christmas party. We rushed out the door because we didn't want to be late since Eric was giving the devotional during the worship session preceding the gift exchange. Forgetting the fact that Micronesians are notoriously extremely late (up to two hours), we arrived at 6:00 and were the ONLY ones in the beautifully decorated meeting room. We were told the students were still cooking the meal and wrapping presents. However, this gave us time to take pictures of their decorations. Notice the front of the podium. It is decorated with hand-picked flora located around campus. The same is true with the tables. Micronesians are so creative using growing things to decorate. At about 7:15 p.m., the students began to wander in bringing their gifts, and within a few minutes a time of worship began. A prayer led us to the evening meal (lots of barbequed meat: brisket, pork, and chicken, a mountain of rice, kimchi, pancit, and goodies), and then the party began! Each student had drawn a fellow student's name. The gift giver was the "angel," and the recipient was the "mortal." Although the entire night was in English, it might as well have been in Chuukese, Yapese, or Palauan, because the humor was DEFINITELY Micronesian. The students were roaring with laughter over things we simply didn't get. I have NEVER seen a group of people laugh harder in my life! We think what was so funny to them was when an angel and mortal were of opposite sexes, as the gift was handed over, the recipient would often hug the giver. This is no-no in Chuukese culture (men don't EVER touch women in public). The students thought it was so funny to be breaking this rule. There were also a LOT of comments from the audience about getting married and proposing, not to mention frequent cat-calls. It was extremely entertaining just to watch the students in hysterics, even though we had no real understanding of WHAT was so funny.

On this night, our family made a presentation to the students of a new volleyball net. Their existing net is ridden with holes. I have to give you a little history here. There are two things about Micronesian culture: 1) Boys don't touch girls, 2) If you want to give praise (which I don't think happens much) you must praise the whole group--not the individual. Well, of course, me, the bumbling, loud, energetic, excitable American, comes onto the volleyball court and when I see a great spike, I run up to the spiker and to their horror (especially when it's a guy) I yell, "Great spike!" while putting my hands up for a high five. They look at my hands and have no idea what to do. Obviously this high-fiving must be an American tradition. Then, to be respectful of me (since I'm an "elder") they tentatively and uncomfortably touch their hands to mine. Then, I'll hear the students talking in Chuukese, probably saying how crazy I am. Once that happens, I'll remember, "Oh yeah, they don't do that here." But after some time has passed, there will be another great play, I'll forget and I'll run over yelling, "Great dig!" with a high ten. The students revert back and forth between being stunned that I "high-fived" them and looking at their comrades and busting out laughing and giggling and speaking in Chuukese. Okay, now that you have the background, I'll proceed with the story. During the presentation of the gift, I told the students how much fun our family has had playing volleyball with them (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights). I told them how AMAZING they are with our girls (8 and 11), ALWAYS including them and encouraging them, no matter how competitive a game is or how poorly our girls are playing. I thanked them for this and told them this would NEVER happen in the States. Then, as a joke, I told them there was one thing they didn't do very well and needed to work on. At that point, Eric and I gave each other a high ten followed by a low hand clap, we then turned and did the same thing with our girls. The students all burst out laughing. The students were UNBELIEVABLY grateful for the new net, and it obviously meant a LOT to them that we gave them this gift. Giving is of HUGE importance and significance in this culture.

Following the party, the students went out on the court to play volleyball. As I played with them that night, EVERY time, someone did anything (even an error), the ENTIRE team approached EACH person on the team giving high tens and then the low hand clap. It was obvious that they thought this was the most ridiculous thing, and yet they were determined to try to integrate this into their play. It touched me in a profound way. They didn't "get" the concept of high-fiving the individual who had just accomplished some great play for the team; for them all were to be congratulated. And yet, I think they didn't realize that when I gave them the gift of the net, I was just teasing them about not being good at "high-fiving!" And they were trying, as best they could in their culture, to "please me" by giving high fives even though they gave them at the wrong time and they gave them to the group not the individual. They were laughing so hard as they high fived each other and you could tell they thought it was the silliest thing in the world and yet, they were "loving me" in my "bizarre" American culture. How precious that they, in the best way they could, tried to "love me in my silly/weird culture!" I hope I will be able to love them half as much and thus show the love of Christ.

Men's Night at PIBC

I'm so excited that even though it is 1:00 a.m., I feel compelled to sit and write. We just spent two of the most amazing days we've had here thus far. First, our family had the privilege of being guests at PIBC's "Men's Night," which was held to honor the guys who are graduating this semester. It was so invigorating and refreshing to be a part of this event because it revealed Micronesian culture in a way that we seldom experience from a typical day on campus. The night was filled with Micronesian food and entertainment. After the guys took plates piled high with more food than Eric could eat in a day, the festivities began. One of the highlights was a group of Chuukese guys doing a traditional stick dance. It was loud and fast, and looked like a blow to the head could happen at any moment. We forgot our camera, but another missionary, Melissa, filmed the dance and we stole it and pasted it at the end of the article. Throughout the night, several of the men sang. The willingness of the Micronesians to get up and sing from their heart without all the hangups we American's have is so moving. They seem to be unconcerned with the "performance" aspect of things and simply offer their voices as a gift to God and the listeners. Also, their games and "crowd breakers" are wonderfully creative and often involve music (Micronesians, Chuukese in particular, are very musical). At one point, the key boarder, Tim, provided a tune and then six men (Eric being one of them) had to individually sing a song about themselves to that tune. It was hysterical. It was a fantastic night.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christmas and Boonie Dogs

On Saturday, December 9, the faculty and staff of PIBC (Pacific Islands Bible College) gathered on a beautiful beach at Andersen Air force Base for our annual Christmas party. Snorkeling, volleyball, and a game of “Sneaky Santa” (where you can “steal” a gift up to two times) were part of the activities. Proceeding across a small meadow, we made our way to a “hamburger” joint where we enjoyed some quintessential American food with “Guamish” nicknames, such as the Bamboo Burger, the Boonie Dog, etc. It was here that a cultural difference became interestingly apparent.

After ordering, Eric wandered over to a Chuukese staff member and asked, “What did you order?” The Chuukese guy casually responded, “I’d like to get the Boonie Dog but I’m not sure how they prepare it here. It might not be very good if they don’t cook it right. I think I’ll get the fish instead.”

At first, Eric was thrown by the response. After all, how difficult can it be to cook a hot dog? The menu was plain enough: “Boonie Dog: Served on a sesame bun with fries.” Then it hit: our colleague was thinking literally and understood boonie dog to refer to real dog (yes, as in ruff- ruff). Guam is loaded with “boonie dogs” (boonie = wild) and this guy was taking what was written on the menu at face value, “Boonie Dog.” This was a logical conclusion given the fact that dog is a normal part of the Chuukese diet.

Eric and this gentleman proceeded to have an interesting conversation about the eating of dog. Eric, knowing some nationalities prefer certain kinds of dogs, asked, “Do some dogs taste better than others?” The answer was, “No, they are all delicious.” “Does ANYONE have a dog for a pet?” Eric questioned. This was met with a hearty laugh, meaning, “What a preposterous idea, of course not!” Our Chuukese friend then relayed a story of a man who had come from Guam to visit friends in Chuuk. The man arrived with his pet dog (can you see where this is going?). His Chuukese hosts were probably assuming he was bringing the dog as a gift—for eating—kind of like a potluck or hostess gift. As the man and several of his Chuukese friends sat around visiting that evening, they had had a bit too much to drink, and perhaps, seeing the dog sitting next to his master, they began to salivate. Suddenly, to the master’s horror, one of the Chuukese men clobbered the dog with a rock, killing it, and the group of men proceeded to prepare the dog for “dinner.” Our friend explained how surprised the Chuukese were by their friend’s rather negative reaction to the meal preparation.

It’s amazing how many times these cultural differences are present, but we glide on by them in complete ignorance. One of the challenges of being a missionary is trying to detect cultural nuances while remaining sensitive to, and respectful of, those things that may seem trivial or even “gross” to us. Who knows, perhaps if we’d been raised on Chuuk we’d be dreaming about a delicious black lab steak for Christmas Eve dinner! : )

Monday, December 3, 2007

Weavings from Micronesia

When we were at the Spiritual Emphasis Retreat at Rios Beach (see article below: "Scorpions, Snakes, and Spiritual Emphasis Retreat"), one of the Chuukese guys pulled these branches from a coconut palm tree and within ten minutes had woven this incredible mat. He explained that in addition to using them as sleeping mats, they also use these "mats" as shingles on their island huts. They overlap the "shingles" creating a water-tight roof. Remember, Micronesia is a rain forest so there is a LOT of rain! That's pretty amazing! Not only are the roofs water-tight, but the "shingles" last for two years!!

During the retreat, this same man and his wife sat on the mat while we "haoles" sat on our lawn chairs. It is "the norm" for our students (and probably Micronesians in general) to sit on the floor/ground for hours and to show no signs of discomfort!! Recently, at a college women's night, Karyn had to sit on the tile floor (
not up against the wall where there is at least back support) with the other female students for about 2-1/2 hours. She was miserable. "I felt like the most squirmy kid in the world. I simply could not get comfortable!" she moaned. "On the other hand, at least we had an air cooler in the room," she continued with genuine thankfulness.

On many of the islands, parishioners sit in a non-air-conditioned wooden or cement-floored building for church services which can last hours. So, the next time you are sitting in church wishing you were on a cushy couch, give thanks that you are sitting, with back support, in an air-conditioned building. We have so much for which to be thankful. "Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!"