Margie Hord

Expat by Default

Lagging Behind… or Going at Your Own Pace?

The trail around the small lake is the perfect place to walk or jog. Ducks and geese swim lazily and an occasional graceful heron can be spotted, preening or looking for a snack.

Bougainvillea arches cover some portions of the path. In the distance I may be lucky to spy one of the local volcanoes, sometimes tipped with white.

Run, Walk, Jog, or Amble

People of almost all ages show up in the cool of the morning. A few top-notch runners whiz by, obviously training to compete in races. Others jog along at a more moderate pace. A few, like myself, walk briskly, giving their bodies a fair workout.

At the same time, there’s a handful of walkers who shuffle along or move with a  gait, aided by their canes. Perhaps some have had a stroke and need to get in better shape.

Disabled… or Different and Able?

One man has an obvious limp, but runs along at a decent clip all the same. I don’t imagine he plans to enter any competitions, but he does beat me!

Even nature speaks of different abilities. One of the geese along the path has drooping wings, perhaps wounded in a fight in its “duck-eats-duck” world. No longer able to fly, it can surely still swim and fish all the same.

It is all too automatic to want to compare myself to others. I feel daunted when skilled athletes sprint by. Then again, it’s all too easy for me to feel superior when I pass others who are merely strolling along.

Different Styles

Style and purpose differ too. Some of my fellow-walkers are already attired more formally. A couple of women have their good earrings on; one wears a flowered scarf. A likely professional has his office gear on. I see that a few have come prepared with bread crumbs to feed the birds. I myself lose my pace all too often, tempted by wonderful photo ops.

The flora and fauna have their style, too. Besides the water fowl, there are two cocky roosters, and one of the workers speaks to them by name. More elegant, a pair of peacocks show off their iridescent plumage. Dressed to

impress!

Go at Your Own Pace

Wait a minute! There is really no need to compare. Casual or formal, fast or slow, focused on competition or therapy or the zest of life… each of us is unique. The point is not to parallel another’s speed, style or purpose. It doesn’t matter if others think I’m “lagging behind”, as I’m not in a race. The point is to live for my own purposes, or if you will, those I was made to carry out. The Creator has made each creature to be marvelously different.

Follow the pace and the path that’s set out before you!

Note: In a blog post last year, I linked the concept of “going at one’s own pace” in both physical and spiritual endeavors. 

Good Grief

low-angle photo of lightened candles

Photo by Mike Labrum (Unsplash)

Grief is real. Taking time to grieve is necessary and legitimate. Grief never ends completely, they say, although time and grace temper it.

Over just two years, I lost the three people closest to me: my Dad, my Mum, and my husband. Each loss ripped a piece from my heart. The last one left me with an empty house as well.

Keeping busy most of the day kept me from dwelling on the pain, but sometimes as my head hit the pillow, reality set in and my eyes flooded with tears. I would try to shoo away the regrets and what-ifs, but sleep could be a long time coming.

Not only did my housemate of years pass away; dreams died as well. All those “when we retire, then we can do this and that, and more” dreams. The places we still wanted to visit, the ways we still wanted to serve the Lord and others.

It was time to decide to continue with some of those dreams on my own, and to seek guidance for new ones as well. Gradually, time for “recuping” and regrouping.

A year or so ago, I shared about my first months of widowhood in From Mourning to the Morning Light. It’s hard to imagine what grieving would be like without God’s presence and the comfort of his Word.

Grieving is enriched by gratitude. Those special memories soften the pain. Talking and writing about them has been part of the healing process.

The Oil of Gladness

clear glass cruet bottle

Photo by Roberta Sorge (Unsplash)

The prophetic words of old were later claimed by Jesus to be referring to his ministry, which included giving “the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit”. That’s for me!

In Biblical times, hosts of different Oriental nations would anoint their guests with olive oil. Among the Jewish people, prophets, priests, and kings were anointed to their office, representing consecration. Oil was a part of celebration, and also represented the Holy Spirit. That’s what is given to me!

Oil was also used for healing. The good Samaritan poured wine and oil on the wounds of the man beaten by robbers. Sheep were also anointed with oil, as we are reminded in the Shepherd’s Psalm: “Thou anointest my head with oil.Shepherds apply oil to keep sheep’s noses free of annoying nose flies, and to combat an infection called “scabs”, caused by parasites.

The oil of gladness: welcome, consecration, healing.

A Time to Dance

close up photography of woman dancing beside sunflower field during golden hour

Photo by Blake Cheek (Unsplash)

Just the other day, my daily reading included the famous passage that reminds us that “To everything there is a season.” A list of contrasting seasons follows.

What jumped out at me was this: “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”

It hit me that gradually I had been able to cry less, laugh more (though I never quit!)… and was ready to “dance.” Little did I realize that at a women’s retreat the following day, I would be participating in a group that was learning choreography for a cheerful number!

Dancing is a celebration. Dancing often means rejoicing with others. In the Jewish tradition, it often means a spiritual act of adoration.

In Biblical times and still in some cultures today, mourning is expressed with loud laments and other manifestations of grief. In our culture, there are even those who will say, “Don’t cry” in an attempt to comfort the mourner. Let us not discourage tears, a normal outlet for our emotions.

“Good grief” lets tears come. It takes its time to heal. It cherishes the memories. It welcomes the embraces of those who comfort.

In due time, the season of dancing will come. The oil of gladness will bring healing.

My Old “Nail”: A Reminder

Big and rusty, it sits on a small kitchen space with other decorative items. Some have questioned its presence, as it isn’t particularly attractive.

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, they say.

I was on the Atlantic coast of Canada beside an old lighthouse that is now just a tourist attraction. There in the sand, I found it. Huge compared to normal nails, it had probably been washed up by waves. In my eyes, it could be a hundred years old or more.

It spoke to me of history, of outlasting modern technology. I imagined that time-worn object holding together a historic structure such as the blockhouse in the same town, or as part of the old wharf that burned down and had to be rebuilt.

Its tip was blunt and not sharp, so one might call it a metal peg. For some reason, it reminded me of the Cross.

The nails that pierced Jesus’ hands and feet must have been gigantic, like this one. No nice slim “needles” that went in easily. Nasty, tearing apart flesh and tendons, with blood pouring forth.

I don’t mean to be gruesome, but it’s a fact.

One day I was leading the service at our little church, and I took my nail or peg as an object lesson before the Lord’s Supper. “Hold it as if it were piercing your hand. Think upon what it meant for our Lord’s hands to be pierced”. My brethren passed it around.

No one told me how they felt, but to me it was a strong reminder of the reality of what becoming human meant for the Messiah. It meant sharing our pain and bearing our sin and agony.

Not everything we possess or display is supposed to be pretty. Some objects are a piece of nostalgia: old letters, a crude drawing by a preschooler, a snapshot of a scrawny newborn. They often speak to us of love.

There are those who insist that Christians should not use the cross as a symbol, especially as a piece of jewelry. My husband once said, “If someone you loved had been murdered with a gun, would you wear a gun in their memory?” I respect that point of view, but it differs from mine.

Much as today’s crosses in churches or worn around neck tend to be smooth and attractive, they are nevertheless a reminder. In nations where it is a crime to be a Christian, the cross is a revolutionary statement. In China, crosses have been cast down from places of worship. For many, wearing a cross is a way of saying, “This is who I am. I am proud to be the object of my Savior’s love. I want to be identified as a believer. I want you to ask what that means to me.”

The “old rugged cross” has spoken to many across the ages.

Rusty nails can also bear a message.

Simple objects can be reminders.

Let us remember.

Not Just Christmas: The Extended Mexican Holidays

selective focus photography of truck carrying party hatsMexicans don’t worry much about political correctness when it comes to holidays. Two of the big ones are Semana Santa (“Holy Week”) and Christmas. They may have become more secularized over the years, but their names still denote their Christian origin. Another distinguishing characteristic is that they tend to last longer than in many other parts of the world.

“Christmas vacation” isn’t just a few days or a week long. If you’re a student or teacher, you may have up to three weeks free! It’s also the time when many employees look forward to their annual aguinaldo or Christmas bonus, so spending is at the max.

white candle lot

One custom I heard about my first year in Mexico was that of posadas. Traditionally, these are nine days of religious ceremonies or processions where believers travel to different homes and “ask for posada” or lodging, reenacting Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay. Hand-held candles light the way. At each place they sing, asking for lodging, until finally they are accepted. There a celebration is held and piñatas are broken gaily.

That’s the tradition, but as I discovered, in reality nowadays the term posada is often used for a pre-Christmas party of any kind! In fact, I have rarely seen the type that is described above. Mexicans love to party, and as some have observed, they may be “broke” when it comes to anything else, but there’s always enough money for a party!

There’s a humorous phrase that’s surfaced in recent years to refer to the extended holiday season: “el puente Guadalupe-Reyes”. Usually puente (“bridge”) refers to a long weekend, but in this case it refers to this extended time of celebration between December 12th (the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe) and January 6th, Epiphany or Kings’ Day (Día de Reyes). In particular, food lovers will joke that it’s the time to abandon diets for a while!

Some celebrate Guadalupe day by making pilgrimages to the Basilica in Mexico City, but most cities have a church dedicated to this virgin and will have fairs with food stands and games set up around it. Parents will dress their children up in Indian costume to represent Juan Diego (or a feminine counterpart) to visit the church. Those who are in the know will avoid driving anywhere near such sites at that time of year!

From early on in December, dinners and parties abound, so that it’s hard to plan anything without many guests apologizing because they have a commitment. (My birthday is on December 11th, so I should know!) Schools, companies, offices, churches, groups of friends… each wants to celebrate!

The culminating activity, family-oriented, is Christmas Eve. Taxi rates soar on December 24th. From days beforehand, markets and stores bustle with shoppers preparing for the feast. Roast leg of pork is a favorite, though turkey is another option. A popular and eye-catching salad is ensalada de Nochebuena (Christmas Eve salad), which includes beets, oranges and peanuts, among other ingredients. Stuffed chiles are also common fare. A dish I had to get used to is bacalao or bacalao a la vizcaína, a complex and pricey mix of salted codfish, tomato, chiles, capers and more. The codfish, preferably Norwegian, is previously soaked to reduce the salt content and then shredded or cut up and seasoned as it cooks.

Image result for ponche navideño

The most typical beverage of the season, which I only get to enjoy two or three times a year at most, is ponche, a hot punch which is chockfull of fruits such as guavas, apples, sugar cane, small yellow tejocotes, and sometimes tamarinds or hibiscus flowers. Spiced with cinnamon and sweetened with panela or piloncillo, this hits the spot on cold winter nights.

Each family has its own Christmas traditions. Catholics may sing a lullaby to the Christ child in their nativity scene. Others may have a posada with small candles and songs. Where there are children, a piñata is a must! Peanuts and miniature fruit are the traditional filling, but nowadays candies and such often take their place. Sparklers, sky-bound lanterns and firecrackers add to the light and sound. A more modern type of entertainment for some families is an after-dinner karaoke sing.

What about gifts? That depends. Some groups or families organize a gift exchange at any of the smaller Christmas parties. Either the 24th or the 25th, there may be gifts under the tree, especially for children. Santa Claus, a more recent import, may or may not be involved. In the past, “el niño Dios” (the Christ child) was said to bring presents, but I haven’t heard of that tradition among our acquaintances.

It strikes me that, as with American or Canadian Thanksgiving, the focus is mostly on eating and socializing, just enjoying family. That takes the pressure off too much expectation of gifts.

Image result for Dia de reyes carta

What kids look forward to most is January 6th, el Día de Reyes! (A little-known fact is that it is the the Twelfth Day of Christmas in Western tradition, with December 25th being the first day.) It’s those “three kings” or magi who really bring toys and such, as far as most are concerned. Our Mexican relatives, at one point, gave the little ones clothing items such as PJ’s for Christmas, so January 6th was the BIG day for presents.

So, much as you’ll see lots of Santas in malls and elsewhere, after Christmas you’ll begin to see trios of men in costume, even in the main square or zócalo, offering photo ops and more. One inevitably is dark-skinned or has his face painted black, as the legendary Baltazar (Balshazzar) is of African origin. His companions are Melchor and Gaspar.

On the eve of “Reyes”, children will put out a shoe for the kings, ideally with their letter of gift preferences. Food will be left out for the horse, the camel and the elephant: peanuts, hay or grass, water, etc.

In more recent years, it became popular to buy helium balloons the day before, put their wish list inside and send it to the heavens. Probably that was invented by balloon-sellers! It has been fun to see multi-colored globos drifting upwards at this time of year. However, the latest trend is to promote a return to the traditional “letter in a shoe” as more eco-friendly.

The last diet-quashing goodie of the season is the rosca de reyes, a ring cake or sweet bread in the shape of an oval wreath. It is meant to represent the elaborate headdress of “the kings”, with colorful candied fruit (figs, candied fruit strips, etc.). It’s delicious, usually made with agua de azahar (orange blossom water) as well. Usually this is accompanied with hot cocoa. The special emphasis is on the plastic baby doll (now, several babies!) representing the Christ child, hidden from Herod. In Spain, the tradition was to have a large haba or fava bean in the cake. Each person has to cut their own piece of rosca, and those who find the figurine are supposed to host the party or contribute to the tamales on February 2nd!

Wait, February 2nd? Right, Candelmas or the day of the Virgin of Candelaria. Were the tamale-makers jealous of the bakers? Anyway, for some reason it’s traditional to celebrate with tamales on that day, perhaps with the excuse that they are wrapped up like the Christ child? Catholics dress up a rather large image of the Christ child on that day to have it blessed in church.

In the end, we might say that the season lasts longer than I first mentioned! Perhaps we should call it the “puente Guadalupe-Candelaria”?

To the Other Side of the World: Unity in Diversity at “The Word Made Fresh”

Asia, a continent I’d never really planned to visit! But this year the opportunity arose, and, as some of you may recall, this was my year for the word “brave”, so I took the bull by the horns to plan a trip across the Pacific. The occasion: the LittWorld conference for Christian writers and editors, offered every three years by MAI (Media Associates International). This year it was in Singapore, that amazing city-state that is an island not far from the equator.

Previous to the conference, MAI president John Maust shared his expectations: “At LittWorld 2018, global publishers and writers will look at fresh new ways to help today’s readers see and apply the power of the Bible in their everyday lives and to know the Word made flesh.”

After one flight to San Francisco and a six-hour layover, I set off for 16 hours across the Pacific. The longest night ever, that I can remember. Time for three meals, a good snooze, and four movies! (Including Paul: Apostle of Christ) Shortly before we arrived, a blood-red sun appeared on the horizon in the midst of a jet-black sky… surreal!

Writers, editors, graphic artists, publishers and more from 52 countries gathered to share, learn, network, and be challenged to use their gifts and knowledge to reach out to even more with a message of hope, the Good News. Some participants arrived from “closed” countries which made their attendance somewhat risky. Fiction, non-fiction, cartoons, film, and poetry were represented. Journalist Lekan Otufodunrin from Nigeria spoke on writing for Internet, as well.

Plenary sessions included speakers from quite a number of nations. One that made a special impact on us all was by Ramez Atallah, of the Bible Society of Egypt. He shared how, after the shocking news of the decapitation of 21 Christian Egyptian workers in Libya in 2015, they were led to publish more than 1.5 million tracts with a reflection on the tragedy. The reality of modern-day martyrdom, and the unswerving faith of those men, spoke with a powerful message to both Christians and non-Christians around the world.

Conference-goers could choose a track of their interest to focus on. For the first time there was a screen-writers track, led by Simon David Hunter.

In the magazine track, magazine editors covered quite a range in terms of their public and more. A Kenyan couple spoke of their work with a young people’s magazine with a distribution of 30,000, which is distributed in many secondary schools. At the other end of the spectrum, Gökhan Talas from Turkey publishes a magazine in a country of 70 million inhabitants and only 7,000 evangelicals, so he seeks to include topics of general interest which include culture and the ancient Christian history of the country. Daniela Encheva from Bulgaria started a magazine for women with small offerings given with much sacrifice in a time of economic crisis.

How can our writing stand out from the rest? The emphasis of accomplished writer Miriam Adeney was not on flashy style, but on having a Christian worldview that adds freshness and hope. Otherwise, she warned, our message may sound like everything else out there. Her own work is proof of the pudding. Her book “Kingdom without Borders: The Untold Story of Global Christianity” has been recognized as a gem even by secular publishers, and shares touching stories of what God is doing in the church “in every nook and cranny of the globe” as the focus shifts from the European and North American church to the third world. In the closing ceremony, Miriam was rewarded with MAI’s Lifetime Training Award for “her stellar equipping and encouragement of writers in multiple nations across more than four decades”.

In the past I had taken a workshop with Jeanette Windle, whose riveting novels set in different countries involve guerillas, drug mafias, terrorists and more. This time I attended her non-fiction workshop, as this area is more down my alley. She has written the testimony of the mother of the Amish schoolhouse shooter, and how the forgiveness of the affected community helped her heal. During my trip to Asia I was privileged to read All Saints, the story of a dying Anglican church in Tennessee which was unexpectedly revived with the arrival of Burmese immigrants from the Karen ethnic group. The case was one of such hope that it became a movie as well.

The sampling above represents only a small number of the options available at LittWorld. Yet undoubtedly most attendees would agree that most important of all was the opportunity to meet others from different nations, different ministries, different experiences and perspectives. From each we could learn and be encouraged.

Among others, I was excited to meet two people whose names I knew from reading Our Daily Bread: Tim Gustafson and Amy Boucher Pye. I always like to remember what name goes with the initials on my daily devotionals!

No less important are the many others I met, including a Russian woman and two Laotian women who took a walk with me to the beach, where after the drizzle stopped, a spectacular rainbow delighted us. Sisterhood across cultural “barriers”… I was touched when the Laotians commiserated with me over the loss of my husband; one had been widowed much younger than myself.

All of this took place minutes from the beach in beautiful, tropical, multicultural Singapore, with its four official languages and a rainbow of religions. The Singaporean team of LittWorld, including pastors, publishers, and writers, did an excellent job of hosting the event. During morning devotionals, songs were projected in both English and Chinese. At the closing banquet, many attendees showed up in colorful garb from their native countries. Many different tongues could be heard in the dining hall and elsewhere. Yet in that diversity, the unity of Christ’s people focused on similar goals made for magnificent harmony.

As several mentioned… it was a foretaste of heaven.

How I Almost Wrecked a Friendship and What I learned

A long-haired woman sitting on a dirt path in a misty forest

by Andrew Neel, Unsplash

Friend or Traitor?

I have a confession to make. Those who know me might not believe how nasty I can be. Years ago, I gossiped behind a friend’s back about her family, and she found out about it. All of a sudden, when I called her, she was curt, busy, stand-offish. Any suggestion that we get together soon received vague answers. It took me a while, but reality finally sank in. She knew what I’d done and saw me as a traitor more than a friend.

Now don’t get me wrong. She was not a petty person, the type that is easily put off, a fly-by-night friend. She had been an example and a spiritual mentor to me. Losing that trusting, open relationship was devastating to me.

At first I was on the defensive. It wasn’t such a big deal, was it? I hadn’t really lied, nor had I revealed any deep, dark secret. Why would it be taken so seriously?

Eventually the truth set in. I was embarrassed, ashamed, and repentant. I knew that waiting for things to calm down was not a solution. I had to ‘fess up if I wanted to save, If possible, our friendship. My husband accompanied me to make a visit, for moral support.

Friends? Confession

by Cristian Newman, Unsplash

Our unexpected arrival met with a lukewarm welcome. It was so long ago that I don’t recall the details, but I probably said something like “We need to talk”. My fears as to the reason for her aloofness were immediately confirmed. I made my confession and asked for forgiveness, hardly daring to receive it.

My friend oh-so-graciously accepted my admission and my plea for reconciliation. Trust did not blossom immediately, but took its time. The rift eventually became barely a crack, a distant reminder of hurt and healing. Over the years, our families shared dozens of gatherings and important life events together. Knowing that the relationship had withstood such a major shake-up made it all that more valuable. Above all, God had touched us both, humbling me and giving her the grace to forgive.

Words can Wound… or Heal

So what’s the takeaway? The fact that we’re all broken people is nothing new. I messed up big time, inflicting wounds on others. We’ve all been there, done that. Healing is not a given, but it’s up to each of us to initiate it… or not. When that takes years, the wounds fester and major surgery may be required. I’m glad I took action before it got harder.

Mister James, Unsplash

I also learned that something apparently insignificant can be a major trigger. That reminds me of that reference to the tongue being a spark or flame that sets off a fire, even “the whole course of one’s life”. Gossip (in spoken or written form) is one of those “accepted evils” that is seldom equated with immorality, and is practiced by those who seem to be pretty good people. Yet I’ve seen it destroy a church. Misunderstandings, a close cousin, have wrecked marriages. On social media, words have even led to suicide.

Again and again, I’ve had to review this lesson: When in doubt, shut your mouth.

Angels in Disguise: A Border Incident

Once in a while, you get into a muddle and it seems like there’s no way out. Sometimes the answer comes in the way of “angels” in disguise.

My story happened way back in the 70’s, so the details are fuzzy. I had gone from central Mexico way up to Brownsville, Texas to renew my tourist visa. Truth is, I was a student.

After finishing my paperwork, I bought a bus ticket back and was set to go… until I was asked for a certain amount of money (a few hundred dollars) to show that I could support myself during my stay in Mexico. Oops!

Though I had opened a bank account in Mexico, it wasn’t a good idea to explain that when I was entering on a tourist visa!

That was, of course, before cell phones and internet and rapid money transfers. Suddenly I felt stranded, at a loss as to how to proceed, in a city where I knew no one.

A middle-aged woman (angel?) nearby overheard the discussion and understood my predicament. As she was about to board the southward-bound bus herself, she quickly indicated that I should look up her daughter and son-in-law, and scribbled down their address. They would at least be able to put me up for the night.

Don’t ask me how I found the apartment, or how I finally got up my nerve to knock.

“Who is it?”

In a broken voice, I responded: “Someone your mom knows”… So convincing, of course! All in Spanish, by the way.

A few more questions were asked before the door was opened; they were undoubtedly surprised to see a young white woman at her wits’ end. Knowing myself, my cheeks probably showed a few tear tracks.

In the end, they offered me supper and a sofa bed, and figured out what to do. The next day was payday and one of them would pick up their pay and lend me the money to show to the person who wanted proof of my financial solvency.

As planned, the following day they accompanied me to the bus station. After I had flashed “my” bucks for the surprised official who remembered me from my first intent, I went to give my hosts a goodbye hug and slip them the money.

I’m quite sure I sent a thank-you letter to that couple at some point. It was truly a miracle that they had trusted me enough to offer me lodging, but even more so, to lend me a considerable amount and believe that I would return it!

In Mexico they’ve recently coined a word, “Diosidencia, something like a “Godcidence” instead of a coincidence. (The final “s” in Dios makes it work better and fit into “coincidencia”). It’s a term I love to use when God seems to be behind an apparently random occurrence, which is truly a godsend.

There’s a Scripture verse that reminds me that I too should be hospitable:

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

What’s interesting is that we speak of “angels in disguise” more as the doers, not the recipients. Perhaps you will be that person for someone, or perhaps others will appear on the scene for you. When you’re in the tightest spot, expect the impossible to happen!

Feel free to share one of YOUR “Godcidences” with me below.

65 Years Young, Redefined

A few months ago I shared a blog post about being 65 and not feeling old, and that in fact the OMS supposedly says we are still young. Jogging, feeling my life is good and not having any major health issues.

Don’t be misled; I’m no Dorian Gray. A five-year-old girl just had a look at my sagging upper arms and declared them to be “squishy”!

Another of my recent posts was about being scatterbrained, and that for certain has been more and more of a reality as the years go by. I’d be ashamed to tell you how many times I’ve forgotten my keys in the last little bit…

New Diagnosis

Then, wham! I learn I have osteoporosis. Oops, that starts with an “o” like “old”. I am reminded that one more disadvantage of being white or Caucasian is having a greater likelihood of losing considerable bone density. Causes are 70% genetic and 30% diet and exercise, mostly.

No more morning jogging! No more crunches! OK, at least I can continue with power walks. If I want to buy an exercise bike, I’m told, it’s best to find the kind with a back rest to take care of the old spine.

Another new no-no tells me I shouldn’t lift heavy objects, like the huge bottles we use for drinking water in Mexico. So what am I meant I do when I want to bring a packed suitcase downstairs?

Where to Now?

A brunette woman pointing out to the sky at Rancho Santa Fe

It’s just as well I’ve always been pretty good at eating dairy products and then taking calcium/vitamin D supplements for years. But now it’s time to be even more conscientious about all that. Of course, there’s quite a few other calcium rich goodies I can stock up on, too. (Note: In Mexico I find amaranth easy to find, in snacks and more. It seems to be harder to find north of the border.)

They say “it’s all in the mind”. Not exactly, but a lot of it. Then there’s the spiritual angle, and I just love the way Paul said it:  

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

Yep, the inner self can be renewed or made “younger” daily, but we’ve got to keep the outer one in good shape as well as possible! So, that all-around workout means, for me:

  • Getting that good heart-nutrition with my daily dose from God’s word.
  • Doing a double check on getting my calcium and vitamin D with my diet and more. Watching the caffeine intake, as that can affect calcium absorption. A cup of coffee daily, or two, max!
  • Put on those tennis shoes to get a few kilometers under my feet, as many days as possible.
  • Get those arms in better shape with those little weights I’ve been less-than-faithful with.
  • Last, but not least, keep my mind and fingers busy, writing up a storm!

Here’s wishing all of you “renewed youth”, whatever young means to you!

A New Name on a White Stone: What Will it Be?

Imagen relacionada

Names have a fascination for us. Parents may spend months considering options for children’s names before they are born. The way they sound, their popularity and especially their meaning are often involved in their choices. In other cases, it may be the name of a parent, grandparent, or other well-loved person.

In some cultures, the definitive name isn’t given until parents have an idea of the child’s physical characteristics or personality, and then that’s considered, in terms of the name’s meaning. I knew of a very pale woman named “Blanca Nieves” (Snow White) in Spanish, and a redheaded friend was Robin.

How New Names Happen

Names or nicknames may be changed at some point in a person’s history. When my children were in Scouts, they were given names of animals from Kipling’s Jungle Book, which gave them a sort of new, exciting identity.

There may also be spiritually inspired names, such as those representing a religious conversion. In some cultures, for example, new Christians like to adopt Biblical names when they enter the faith.

In my youth, I asked to be called by the closest equivalent I knew of to my name in Spanish, Margarita, to identify with my having grown up in Latin America. It was also easier for Spanish speakers to pronounce, though over the years I began to invite people to call me by my birth name (Marjory/ Margie) again. One distinct disadvantage of the alternate name was that English speakers tended to relate Margarita with a popular cocktail, whereas in Spanish it means a daisy, a flower that is lovely in its simplicity.

Several of my family members have actually adopted different names legally; in one case, it was to reflect a family surname from the past.

Immigrants may find that their names are hard for those in their adopted country to pronounce, so that they choose an “easier” name, although they might not change it legally.

New Names in Scripture

Several Biblical characters were given a name change to represent a change in their lives. Abram (“Exalted father”) became Abraham (“Father of multitudes”) to reflect God’s promise of his descendants being as many as the stars in the sky, when it still seemed ludicrous. God tells him he will be the father of many nations, and that prophecy has come true.

Another Old Testament patriarch, Jacob (“Supplanter”), became Israel, He who prevails. He was in some ways an anti-hero, having gypped his brother out of his birthright and being exiled for years; much later, he returned to his homeland. After having wrestled with an angel on his way, his relationship to God apparently changed. He was reconciled to his brother Esau.

Simon became Peter, the Rock, much as his faith famously wavered three times before Jesus’ passing. However, this disciple’s faith had also meant he was the only one to walk (for brief moments) on water. Jesus himself declared that Peter was his new name! True to his new spiritual nature, Peter became one of the pillars of the early church. Once brash and impetuous, he became a powerful leader.

 “So we see that these different names are given to people as a blessing from the Lord, to signify that something about them, their nature or their life, has changed in some way”.

Future New Names

In the book of Revelation, we are told of several rewards that God’s faithful ones will receive one day. My favorite is the white stone, with a new name written on it!

“And I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it”. (Rev. 2:17 NIV)

Without a doubt it will be better than any name we’ve ever had, very unique, perhaps very intimate.

There are different interpretations for that stone, but the color white often signifies purity. I think of our slates wiped clean when we give our lives to Christ.

One metaphor that may be hinted at here is that of a custom in Biblical days. The jury in a court used a small white stone for the verdict of innocent and a black one for that of guilty. So this this little stone may symbolize our freedom in Christ. The final verdict: our penalty has been paid and we are innocent!

(Unsplash: Timothy Eberly)

Perhaps our name will mean something like “Innocent” or “Free at Last” or “Warrior” or “Beloved Child”.  It will apparently be personalized and unique for each one of us, reflecting our new identity as children of God. It will be a special love-gift, a secret one.

Do you long to receive your new name some day? I certainly do!

The Tooth Fairy… or Mouse?

By Ryan Stone. Unsplash.

As many of you know, part of the focus of my blog is to discuss cross-cultural matters. Today it’s the tooth fairy’s turn.

The Tooth Fairy

What, isn’t the tooth fairy universal? For some reason, when we grow up in a particular culture, we often take for granted that everyone in the world has the same customs. It’s when we have the opportunity to live in other countries, visit them, or meet internationals that our eyes are opened to a wee part of the vast variety of customs that exist.

Some “folklore” traditions are seasonal and related to special holidays, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. One that is unlike them in that sense is the tooth fairy, probably invented to make the somewhat painful trauma of losing baby teeth more pleasant. In fact, little ones who haven’t gotten to the stage of losing any pearly whites will often be jealous of their older siblings and long for that rite of passage as well!

When I was a kid, it was a pretty simple procedure. Wash the blood off that freshly plucked tooth, leave it under your pillow at night, and wait to find the tooth replaced with some money the next day. Fairies do magic! (What in the world they want those teeth for, I can’t imagine.)

Anyway, much as in my childhood I left cookies for Santa and letters for the Easter bunny, there was no other rigmarole surrounding the tooth fairy.

A Bit of History

I just learned that, according to Wikipedia, there is an early reference to the tooth fairy in a 1908 “Household Hints” item in the Chicago Daily Tribune:

“Many a refractory child will allow a loose tooth to be removed if he knows about the Tooth Fairy. If he takes his little tooth and puts it under the pillow when he goes to bed the Tooth Fairy will come in the night and take it away, and in its place will leave some little gift. It is a nice plan for mothers to visit the 5 cent counter and lay in a supply of articles to be used on such occasions.”

This fantasy might be compared to those of Santa Claus and the Easter bunny, but as we see, a difference is that it can be helpful for the “refractory child”. Guess what? I had to look that up, just in case you are also wondering what “refractory” is: disobedient.

The Tooth Mouse

Now transport yourself to the Hispanic world: no tooth fairy! However, as of the late 19th century, “el ratoncito Pérez” took on the job of picking teeth up, or as in Mexico, “el ratón de los dientes”, the tooth mouse, with no Pérez surname. Okay, a little less romantic than a fairy…

Mice can be a little scary for some kids. One of my grandsons was rather fearful of mice, so asked if he could leave his tooth somewhere near his bed but not under his pillow. I don’t suppose many of us would like a mouse sniffing around our pillow at night, right?

Of course, modern commercialism always finds a way to take traditions and overdo them to do business. One can find special boxes for teeth, special miniature doors for the fairy to enter, and so on… even tooth fairy dust or a tiny wand for her to leave behind!

In Mexico and elsewhere there are now all kinds of special containers for the teeth that one can purchase. My in-laws make little felt mice with a pocket for the tooth. Yep, there are doors too, even “vinyl mouse holes” to stick on the wall.

Spin-offs for the Creative

Families can get creative, resulting in innumerable variations of the traditional customs. In my family it was the letters the Easter bunny wrote, for example. Well, this year my grandchildren got quite creative. Near the felt mouse with its tooth-shaped pocket they made a little bed for the mouse, cushioned with a pair of socks and toilet paper, and left him a miniature skateboard and a Cheerios snack. There was even a flashlight on, to light his way!

By the way, those kids now live in the U.S., but their Mexican ways have followed them.  Still, their messages for the mouse were in English! Their parents have learned, as I did, to “mix and match” the practices of two cultures.

Perhaps some of my readers have some other interesting family folklore or take-offs on different cultures that they’d like to share below… feel welcome to comment!

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