Margie Hord

Expat by Default

Category: Uncategorized

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.

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.

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!

Spring at Last

Winter’s snows are but a memory now,

yet their abundance fills

rushing rivers and springs,

their white foaming down waterfalls.

The first bright dandelions dot dirt roads,

and their cousins, the more daring daffodils

show off their frills

in gardens, on hills.

Bold birches bare their stark white bark

against blue skies flecked with clouds.

The wind whispers in the tall pines

and brings the occasional

whiff of spruce.

Hillsides are still

a mixture of dark ever-green

and light browns,

with pale spring greens

and dusky pinks

barely a promise

in almost-budding tree tips.

The new warmth hints of summer,

but winter seems to have been

only yesterday.

 

(Vermont, May 2018)

Peanut Butter Cookies

 

 

Resultado de imagen para peanut butter cookie

I had almost forgotten them.

Cookie-making is once a year now,

At best.

But little ones (now grands) were bored

And I needing to give them time.

Down to the kitchen: What do we have?

Not much, and hardly any butter,

I mutter

To myself.

A light comes on: peanut butter!

We make do, adapt, shape balls,

Then they learn to dip the fork in flour

And press this way, then that,

Leaving the old crisscrossed patterns

I know from childhood.

Then the wait, the excitement

Only the young know well.

The removing (Don’t touch!)

And the other wait they hate so much.

Why? They’ll burn you.

Let’s have milk!

We invent a party with a candle too.

These are the simple rituals

Passed on again,

Those simple gifts.

Respect, beyond Race and Religion

A native of Burkina Faso has said, “As children, we grew up with people with differing religious beliefs—playing together, celebrating each other’s festivals and mourning each other’s death, with humanity as the overriding connector common to all.”  Recently, however, jihadists opened fire in a bustling café filled with foreigners and have targeted Christians on several occasions.

Alarming attacks have occurred more frequently in the United States in recent years, some of them random, but others fueled by religious fanaticism and white supremacism.

This is not new, by any means, but in first world countries, many thought such extremes had been overcome. Just this month I was privileged to hear pastor, author and activist Dr. John M. Perkins, a contemporary of Martin Luther King, in an interview by pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church (as part of the series Loving like Jesus in a Fractured World). Now 87, Perkins witnessed the upheaval of the civil rights movement, where his brother was killed by a racist. He himself was imprisoned and beaten numerous times, and as a result was tempted to seek retaliation. God made him understand, however, that in doing so he would fall into the same error of hatred, and in the end he became “a living legend…the founding father of the reconciliation movement”, in Warren’s words.

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