Sunday, December 30, 2012

Change of Plans

We were excited. We were going on a day trip with a group of friends to see the waterfalls and eat lunch.  It took us about an hour to just get out of Conakry.  We had to navigate our cars through a sea of crowded taxis and vans, animals wandering beside...and in the road, and people everywhere trying to sell something through our window.  
Slowly the crowd thinned, cars dispersed and we came upon forests and fields full of green vegetation. The paved road continued for about another hour and we would occasionally pass small communities.   Finally, we turned off the road onto a dirt path that weaved several miles through one small village after another until we arrived at the waterfalls.  The restaurant takes a while but they made great food. The kids frolicked and swan in the river and we all drove home exhausted and happy with our day.

....well, that was the plan, anyway.

Actually, we only made it to where we turned off the paved road.  At that point, some men sitting by the road began to motion to us.  We stopped and they warned us not to continue saying that the falls were closed. Confused, we got out of our vehicles to talk to them. Since several of my friends spoke the local tribal language, we scored big points.  They began to share that all the villages down the road had gotten together and decided that the owner of the restaurant should drill them a well for drinking water.  Until he did, they were blockading the road with trees and sticks and refusing to let anyone pass.  My Man and his buddy decided they wanted to check it out themselves. So, they left the rest of us with the villagers there and went to find adventure.  They told us to come for them if they were gone more than 40 minutes.  
I said if they were gone more than 40 minutes, we were leaving them.  

Since the Smith Kids make themselves at home everywhere, it only took a few minutes before they were off running through the village with all the local children, playing with a monkey, climbing in and out of a pit, digging in the dirt and having a ball.  
See for yourself.

At one point, Little Aggie was chasing some of the boys with a large stick threatening to...well,ok, actually, hitting them.  One of the locals who knows this particular tribe told me that the boys like to beat up on "foreigner" boys as sort of a test to see if they belong.  
He passed.

We were getting up on 40 minutes when our men came driving up in a cloud of dust. They had spoken with the village chief and elders and won their favor.  They decided to grant them permission to park in their village and walk to the waterfalls.  But he warned them that no cars must come through or the other villagers would likely kill them for allowing people in.  
That's where they lost me.  We're going home, I declared.  
My Man and his friend seemed a little surprised that I didn't want to partake of the spoils of their hard-fought victory. 
We loaded up and headed home for a last minute barbecue, swimming, game time and lots of laughter.  

So, it wasn't the day we'd planned but as I once again learned...

that is life with a wild Man.  (Both of them)

Friday, December 28, 2012

Now that I have seen...

...I am responsible

I have heard this song many times before...but I didn't hear it until today.  I was sitting at my desk working and all of a sudden as she sang the words "Now that I have seen, I am responsible", I understood.  

I think of Pastor Mike who saw the suffering of war-torn orphans and took responsibility to house, clothe and educate them.  

I think of Esther who saw mothers dying and their babies following along and took responsibility to feed them.  

I think of my closest friends, the DuPrees whose feet follow their eyes.  Wherever they see suffering, they run with JESUS toward it.  

I think of my parents who saw the city without foundations and took responsibility to engage in building matter the cost.  And it cost.  

We will walk through this world and see many many things.  If we are willing, there will be times that GOD will open our eyes and we will really see...a situation, a need...but always a person.  
When that happens, you are responsible.  I am responsible. 
GOD open our eyes. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012


Suffering is a teacher.

I have had a heavy week.  It's been a heavy year.  I know that the things that grieve my heart are small compared to what many people have been through and are going through.  Yet, pain is a personal thing, isn't it? When it enters our lives it knows just how to reach those deep places and when it does, it taps right into the center of our ability to receive a teaching.  
Suffering is a teacher.

Yesterday my Man, my kids and a few friends went to Call of Hope to deliver some CHRISTmas presents.  They knew we were coming. When we arrived, one of the teachers met us and said, "we've prepared a table for you" It was set up at the front of a dark, extremely crowded room.  They had placed their best tablecloth on the table and set up a fan to blow directly on those seated at it.  
The kids had all prepared something to perform for us.  The youngest little children sang a song, the older kids performed skits and danced tribal dances and many of the children quoted Scriptures from the CHRISTmas passages of the Bible.   Every part was precious. The children are taught from very young how to speak in front of people. There's no stage fright, no one too shy. On their turn, each child would come to the front and say "Good Afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen, Instructors, Colleagues and Students of this Honorable Institution"  (I loved the irony of such a grand statement in such an incredibly humble setting.)  Then they would continue with giving their name and what they intended to recite.  
Nothing compared to one sweet girl in a little brown dress. She was probably the age of CurlyGirl.  
When she walked up to recite her verse I noticed her eyes had tears.  She began to recite and as she said each word, more tears came. By the end of the Scripture, the last few words of the verse were spoken through her sobs.  She finished and walked off still crying loudly.  
She wasn't nervous.  She wasn't scared.  
She was crying because she understood the words she read: "Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men."
It made me wonder how I could have ever read that verse without crying as she did.  
It is probably because I hadn't read it as one so familiar with the kind of death that steals life from children every day.  
Suffering taught her the reality of GOD's Word. And it teaches me. 

Suffering creates communion.

For the first time this week, I felt like I was not a visitor in Guinea any more. I felt like I was one of them.  How could I even pretend to understand or think I am part of the life here if I don't suffer as they do?  When I drive down the streets, even their faces look different to me snow.  I feel a connection to them.
Suffering creates communion.
 This week I lay down on my bed and cried like a little child. I cried for the injustice and the suffering and the poverty that is like a plague among the people I love. When I looked up, my housekeeper was standing there....crying too.  
Suffering creates communion.
I grieve over Abu. It hurt me that he never belonged to anyone.  I shared that feeling with a wise friend. She corrected me, saying that exactly the opposite was true! He belonged to many, she said.  Everyone who knew him, loved him and felt invested in his life. In a way, he was all of ours.  I think she is right.  His suffering made us all feel connected to him. 
 Suffering creates communion.  

I don't like suffering. I don't want it.  But I know I need it.   It has a way of making life real, of driving out the unimportant and the wasteful. It makes you grasp the things that are right and real and true. 

So, that was my CHRISTmas gift this year:  suffering.
I didn't ask for it but I am so grateful.  
Without it, I wouldn't be so hungry for my other CHRISTmas gift:


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Abu died last night.
My friend called to tell me. I went home to tell my kids.
I arrived at my house to find that I had to deliver other bad news to the guard we love the most.  He put his hands on his head, bent down and began to wail.  
From my living room, I could still hear him crying...although I am not sure how I heard him over my own.
Then the phone rang with more bad news from one of our closest missionary friends here.


Now I know Africa.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


I keep a file in my email inbox called, "Keepers".  It's for the emails that I never want to delete.  Like whenever my Man sends me a little note that shows me he is still completely mad for me.  Into the Keepers file it goes.
My heart is kind of like that this year.  It makes me think of Mary. At least twice in the Gospels we read that "Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart".  I don't really understand all that that means, but I get this much: the moment stuck with her. In that breath, the reality reached the depths of who she was.  
The year is winding down, and as I look back over it, I have treasured up several keepers of my own. 

* Watching my man deal so straightforward and so tenderly with one of our employees who was in pain, that at the end of the talk, all he did was embrace My Man and sob.  Did that make my Bull-Riding, Wildhearted Texas Man pull back? Not a bit.

*  Walking with my kids and watching a man stand in front of his one room hovel, reach out with a piece of bread and offer it to my well-fed, healthy little boy.  

*  Being told by a local  colleague, "I really trust you."

*  Driving home one evening and seeing a boy the same age as Little Aggie asleep on the street cuddled beside his mother.  A normal sight here but it wasn't normal to me this time. This time, I saw my boy reflected in his ebony frame.

*  I once passed a fruit stand where I passed in time to see a nursing baby reach up to touch his mother's face while he ate. My babies did that. That's normal. Not just normal for Africa, normal for America...and Asia and everywhere. We're the same. We're sisters.

* Teaching a zoology lesson on hyenas followed up a couple hours later by a spontaneous discussion with a friend describing to us her first hand account of watching lions and hyenas in Kenya.  The lives people live!

To Be Continued... 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

And we did it again...

I remember once, many years ago, my Man and I decided to visit a "Mom and Pop" restaurant for breakfast. We had heard it was really good and were excited to finally find out for ourselves.  When we walked in, we knew the rumors about it must be true because even at that early hour it was already filled with people. We saw an available booth in the opposite corner and began weaving our way through the crowded tables to stake our claim.  We sat down but slowly grew frustrated when no one came to take our order. Finally, we were able to get the attention of a server but she seemed confused by our attempts to order food.  We started to think we were in the twilight zone. After several minutes of sitting there commenting to each other about the lack of service, a man stood up and in a loud voice, called the room to attention: "The meeting will now come to order."
A few moments into his welcome, we deduced that this was a political party gathering.  The speaker said he noticed there were some newcomers (that would be us) and he asked us to stand up and introduce ourselves to the group. My Man, ever unshakeable, rose to his feet and said, "Good morning, my name is A and this is my wife.  We're very supportive of this political party...but actually we just came here for breakfast."
By the time my Man was donating money in the hat they passed around and commenting on the subjects they discussed, I was laughing so hard I couldn't even speak.
We never got breakfast.

Last night was a little bit like that.  Really, I blame the language barrier.  A local friend invited us to a soiree she was helping put on.  I didn't know what that was, but it sounded fancy.  So, we got all dolled up, got a sitter and went out.  It was at the fanciest hotel in Conakry (a little perspective--they still don't have toilet seats.)
On the way there we inspected our tickets (all in French) for a clue of what exactly the event was that we were attending.  No clue.  We shrugged it off as probably just another party.
We were one of the first to arrive. Our friend was there to greet us as we entered. She directed us over to the area for cocktail hour before dinner.  My Man and I got our drink and positioned ourselves where I could sip my fruit soda and we could try to figure out some clues from the other guests who were streaming in.  No one spoke to us, they all seemed to know each other.  When a photographer came by and snapped our photo, we joked that we hoped this wasn't some type of radical meeting to overthrow the government or anything, now that there is evidence of our attendance.
Finally, a short man approached us and said "Esku vous Francais?"  (Are we French?)  The dumb looks on our face answered that before our mouths could.
 "You're American," he said.
Then he continued with, "What are you doing here? This is a meeting of the French Ex-Pat Association."
I responded, "We're here to foster good relations between the French and American communities in Guinea"
That bought us some street credit for the moment, but we quickly learned we needed some tie to France. Imagine how excited we were when we realized all we had to say was that we had parents in Paris. (Texas....but we could leave that part off)
 Three more Frenchmen walked up while were talking and  like a script, each of them said the same thing: "You're not French. What are you doing here?"
You know, in America that would actually be considered rude but we understood they were being...well, French.
Eventually, we won them over, and by the time we were directed into the "ball room"  for dinner they had saved us a the front.   We enjoyed a delicious meal, flown in from France, survived the storm of second-hand-smoke, danced like Frenchmen, and then slipped out before our babysitter abandoned our kids at home.

So the evening was a little awkward, at first, but our new French friends welcomed us in with an amazing measure of hospitality.  And somewhere in our evening, the memories of those two hungry, young twenty-somethings came back.  And with it, a flood of gratitude that three kids and three countries later, there I was with the same dark-haired stud....
still laughing.  

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Moving Me

I wonder how many words we hear in one day?  I bet it is a lot.   I know that about once a day I will ask my kids, "How do we listen?"  (This is more of prompting to make them listen than it is a question.)  They respond with, "Our eyes, our ears, our heart, our hands and our undivided attention."

Obviously that's our ideal, not always our reality.  However, I would guess that of the thousands of words we hear every day, there are at least a few of them that snap us into that type of listening.  I wonder what those things would be for you.  Blogging is fun, but it is terribly one-sided.  Today, in particular, I wish I could hear each of you tell me what things captured your ear. 

These things got my eyes, ears, heart, hands and undivided attention lately:

* My Man and I went to the orphanage to talk to Pastor Mike.  We had a great talk, and as usual I left feeling extremely humbled and so grateful that I get to know such people as these.  In our conversation we discussed the inconsistent electricity that is life in Guinea.  The schools here are coming up on exam time and he told us that around this time all the kids crowd at the airport in the evenings to sit under the lights in the parking lot. It's the only place with enough light to study.   

* Our missionary neighbor was rejoicing with us that he just put up some solar panels.  For the first time in 9 years they'll have a refrigerator and be able to freeze food!

*  Prayer request time on Fridays with my friends is one of those times that leaves me intrigued.  A few from this week include more than one request for friends with AIDS,  frustration with doctors here who won't even tell people they have it a lot of the time because the news is a death sentence so they think it's better if they just don't know,  another request for a friend who is in a situation here that is frighteningly similar to the one portrayed in the film "Not without My Daughter".  There were requests for multiple missionary families who have faced such hardship and sickness that they are weighted with discouragement, and some are returning to the States.

*  I was on a walk with my kids a few days ago and traffic was especially heavy.  I kept directing their path around the vehicles that would come from various directions.  In the middle of all that, I thought  how I want my kids to grow and learn to avoid danger without helplessly waiting for my direction. Then I heard something...well, maybe I didn't so much "hear" as I did sense the LORD was teaching me something.  I think that's what HE wants for us too.  We are HIS children and HE wants us to grow up! When we're little we need to be told to do everything.  As we mature into someone like our FATHER, though, we will start acting and responding like HIM without even stopping to ask, "What do I do here? and here? and here? and here?"  For me, the times I am doing that, fear is at the root of it.  I am afraid of messing up. It is easier for the LORD to just tell me what to do than it is to just walk confidently that HE has supplied me with HIS SPIRIT to do it!

May GOD give us all ears to hear! (and eyes and hands and hearts, too)
Keep listening Beautiful Ones!