“I don’t understand how a woman can leave the house without fixing herself up a little - if only out of politeness. And then, you never know, maybe that’s the day she has a date with destiny. And it’s best to be as pretty as possible for destiny.” - Coco Chanel


Traipsing About Houston...

I had a German Chocolate cupcake from here...

Sugarbaby's Cupcake Boutique

And a Red Velvet one from here...

Crave Cupcakes

Both places were fantastic in their own right. Sugarbaby's was all fluffy, pink and apple green with black chandeliers. Crave was sleek, modern and served milk from old fashioned bottles.

Cupcakes have seen a revival as of late. Not so long ago, they were considered rather passe. They are now de rigueur, proof in the numbers of people in line and in the dining rooms at both establishments. I don't normally hit all the cupcake joints, but Jennifer, Tyler's sweet significant other ordered some from Sugarbaby's for his birthday. And when I saw Crave, I simply had to go in.

Oh the joys of the BIG city...


I'm Absolutely Overflowing This Beautiful Morn...

This is the best representation of my heart today...

I awoke to the smile of an extraordinary male today, my son, with whom I will celebrate his 24 years of life this weekend. We will have leisurely breakfasts together, go museum hopping and marvel in the joy we get from just being in the company of each other.

Stealing a couple of days together as we are doing this weekend, makes my life (states away) bearable...well, almost.=)
Happy Birthday Handsome...


Ok. Umm. Speechless.


A picture says a thousand words. All of which I can't verbalize for now. Whew.

Shall I try? Is this a lobby? Restaurant? Hotel room? Is that a suitcase? Do I also see a briefcase in the background? Is the table from room service or last night's party?

All that and I haven't mentioned HIM. A suit, pocket handkerchief AND cufflinks. Reading the morning paper. Is it coffee or tea in that dainty cup? No time to shave. Did he have the flowers delivered? Were they for me? Hehe...

Mr. Gerard Butler is a multi-talented beautiful man. A man that can play the disfigured "Phantom" and the charming, thoughtful husband in "P.S. I Love You" has to be a romantic.

Ok. I'll stop now.

Kitchen Door Color?


Ok. The cobbler's children never has shoes. The designer stresses over choosing colors for her own home. I'm SO in love with the pink door. As most of you know, the outside of my home is pink. (Not hot pink!) I am wanting a pop of color in my kitchen. I'm considering this color for my kitchen door. My cabinets are white, walls are natural wood, countertops are neutral tile, flooring is "french country" peachy, pink, cream brick.


THEN...there is this door. Whoa. My heart pitty patters over it also. Decisions, decisions. Whew.

Whaddaya think? Do tell.


Dreamy Dressing Room

Image via apartment therapy

I absolutely want this dressing room. As in move in today. I am dead over the blue velvet ottoman (Lord, what all I could get into that thing). The nude is classic yet classy. The mirrored dresser, the chandelier, lamps and mirror take my breath away. Ummm, the dog would have to go to Mary.

When my youngest moved out, I created a "media room" of his bedroom. Tay and I simply love it and it ain't getting changed (no dressing room there!). Even if she were to move I'd never use her room. I love entertaining and will always have a guest bedroom. So, only way I'll be getting that gorgeous dressing area would be to add on. And that surely ain't happening any time soon.

I think I'll just use that "look" in my bedroom. Actually, it does favor my private domain. I'll move some pieces around. Give my vanity an update. Remove some access. Then hopefully this raging desire for THAT dressing room will quiet...


(photo filched from Tyler's myspace)

This precocious, precious child is nephew of my son's "intended" Jennifer Cobbs. Avery had brain surgery day before yesterday and is in Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. Long story short, Avery has a cyst in his brain that is hereditary. From being a playful, rough little boy, the cyst has hemorrhaged and caused him severe sickness. The surgery went well but I can only imagine the terror and heartbreak this sweet family is experiencing.

Please say a prayer for Avery, his mom Jessica, grandmother Linda, and aunts Jen and Jeniece.


Ms. Celine...


Look bottom center of this photograph. That tiny person is Celine Dion. This was my favorite portion of the concert I attended last week in Birmingham, AL. I am posting this picture to give you a sense of just how massive the set, arena, and jumbotron screens were. This is Celine performing "The Prayer" with Andrea Bocelli on the screens. It was indescribable.

Tayler's favorite Christmas gift was tickets to this concert. It was my 4th time to see her and I am more impressed with each "visit". We had excellent seats, the above shot was zoomed as far out as I could go to get the entire set top to bottom. The stage was "in the round" though square shaped, giving each side of the arena equal face time. It had 2 "arms" that actually extended into the crowd, one in our section, putting us literally 25 feet from her multiple times during the evening.

If there has ever been a performer that truly loves her fans and expresses that eloquently, it's she. She is very warm and interacts with her audience and when you leave, there's no doubt she appreciates her fans.

I'm just sure she and I could be bosom friends.

Waaaaaaaa!!! (gasp) (gasp) Waaaaaaa!!!!


That's me squawling my lil' ole eyes out 'cause I want those boots! And I know it ain't happening. Oh well. Can't have everything I want. (sniff, sniff)

Guess I'll just make them my desktop picture and dream everytime I open my Mac.


My Life is Changed...(nothing spiritual=)


How sad is it that my new pillow is what I am referring to? Don't give me some cock and bull story about it having to do with the number of birthdays I've celebrated. That has nothing to do with it! This pillow is "heaven" made of foam. If you are familiar with Tempur-Pedic, you know they make mattresses (a dream that I will own one day) and pillows. I now have half of the original dream. Well, if you call a pillow half. I slept on a Tempur-Pedic mattress at my cousin Rhonda's home last year. I admit that I've always had reservations about these. My thought process was that "memory foam" would awaken me each time I changed sleeping positions. Not so. I was amazed. So I treated myself to a pillow. Kohl's stocks them. Go on. Treat yourself. It's SO worth it.

Now if only Dirt Cheap would get a shipment of these mattresses I'd be set for life.



dan duchars

What a gorgeous color. My daughter Tayler has her room painted a deep eggplant, a richer version of this color. Anyone wanting art work like this? Multiple pieces are hanging on the walls of my booth at Antiques & More Fleamarket in Columbia, MS.

Tempts me to go bring them all home. 'Course I'd have to hang them from the eaves of my house since there are no walls left for artwork inside.=)

The tea table in front of the sofa has been painted silver. Love it. Tayler painted her bed silver also and it looks simply amazing. I have the lamp beside the sofa, though not that shade. My pair of mercury glass lamps with creme shades flank my bed.

Think I'll mosey down to Ace Hardware, my favorite place to spend a couple hours. I want...I need multiple cans of silver spray paint. What am I painting? I have no clue. But I assure you, something's getting sprayed!


Pink In Paris


I peruse multiple blogs daily. They range from cooking, design, fashion...all the way to dieting. Therefore, I see many images daily. It's not often that a picture grabs me. Grabs me and just won't let go. This one did. I am feeling spring yearnings and this one caused them to mushroom out of control. I am envisioning setting a table with a shimmery pink cloth, a white soup tureen (to use the silver ladle in the picture), and serve peach bellini tea from the pink tray. All of this under my pergola of course.

The street vendors in Paris make my guts smile. Moseying along the riverwalk is an absolute favorite pastime. Well, one of them anyway. Viewing the bridges that span the river is life changing. (I have actually taken a couple of evening dinner cruises and viewed most of them first hand. Even the undersides are breathtaking.)

Pink, silver, the riverwalk, the Seine and architecture...a lethal combination in Paris.

Image via apartment therapy


Travels of 2008

There is more than one. But only one wins over all others. My visits of 2008 were wide and varied and I only hope to cover 1/2 the miles in this year as I did last year.
Paris? Indescribable. Germany? Breathtaking. Africa? The winner. Hands down.

(Palm tree studded view across the pools to the Atlantic.)

The resort, the Hotel Casa del Papa in Ouida, Benin, West Africa is my choice of where to return. From the moment of arrival, I felt my inner most being begin to relax. I'm unsure if the break from the mind-numbing, spirit-disturbing country of Togo is the reason, but I truly don't think so. I absolutely loved sleeping with the sound of waves of the Atlantic crashing in. The swish of palm trees was comforting. The bungalows were crisp and clean with Egyptian cotton linens on tester beds and old Air France posters for artwork.


I lay for hours under this private low-hanging hut listening to the ocean, reading, and yes, napping. Ever so often a friendly employee asked if I needed anything. I had several Coca-Light.


Dining here under a thatched roof as the sun faded and the pitch black night made the ocean invisible to the eye, was glorious. The fish was fresh and as tasty as any I'd ever consumed.

My new tradition is listing the places I visited during the year. An overnight stay out of the county I reside in qualifies. Notice that's c-o-u-n-t-y, not country.=)

Travels of 2008

Atlanta, GA
Nashville, TN
Indianapolis, IN
Baton Rouge, LA
Paris, France
Lome, Togo, West Africa
Ouida, Benin, West Africa
Tupelo, MS
Biloxi, MS
Mannheim, Germany
Strasbourg, France (spent the day only)
Winston-Salem, NC
Chattanooga, TN
Laurel, MS

I'm amazed that I hit 3 continents this year alone, with Africa being a first time continent. I begin every year wondering how I will manage a new city or country visit, and somehow....it just happens. May the force be with me yet again this year!

Oh Wow.

Nicholas Haslam

I love blue.
I love crisp, high count, white bedding.
I love mirrored pieces.
I love matching chests for bedside tables.
I love wall mounted reading lamps.
I love oddly shaped headboards.
I love a good reading chair w/ottoman in a bedroom.
I love symmetrical bedsides.
I love dark walls.
I love proof 2 forms of bedside lighting works.
Simply, I LOVE everything about this bedroom.
(Except the plaid on the bench.=)
Then, I'd add a to die for chandelier.
May I spend the night?


The Church of Whole Foods

(Previously posted to MySpace on Wednesday, August 13, 2008)

She sat a couple of tables over and happily nursed her baby without covering nor shame. I read her wife beater style tank when she walked by and it said "Kiss-Not Kill". The air of a "hippie" was apparent and I can't explain why. Maybe it was the hair, longer than most women this day and age and cut into a shag.

Just beside her in a booth was what I assumed to be a student, though his age defied my assumption. He was furiously highlighting in a thick workbook and there were colorful post-it markers sticking out on all sides. He looked to be adamantly studying. He'd raise his head ever so often with a concentrated look as if to memorize.

Up walked 4 young guys, all within a couple years of 20, plus or minus. They ordered a variety of fruit smoothies with protein. Tanned legs stuck out of plaid shorts and fitted t-shirts advertised popular clothing brands, college monikers and the such. Brown feet were ensconced in leather type flip flops and the careless way they flipped their college haircuts out of their eyes belied not a care in the world.

Obviously wealthy, yet weak, the elderly woman watched all this without concern. She had a diamond on her hand worth more than my entire monetary portfolio and heavy gold earrings weighted her lobes. Her hair was perfectly coiffed and what I call "cataract glasses" were perched on her head. She was waiting patiently, at that age where you have no choice. You are still mobile but have little stamina, and are basically forced to let everyone do their thing. If they take you with them, you sit until they finish and come back to help you to the car.

Then there were the three 30 something women who had been swimming. With cover-ups on and pricey handbags on their shoulders, they commanded the attention of most within sight. Each had a clip holding up their obviously saloned hair and they pretended no one else existed. They talked brightly and made eye contact with not a soul.

In this mix, the cowboy was the most interesting. And no, not for obvious reasons. He was well dressed in a suit and tie, a pair of cowboy boots, and his head was topped with a dressy, summer cowboy hat. His handlebar moustache was thick and grey, and overwhelmed his slight frame. 

My favorites were right beside me, close enough for me to catch some of their words. They sat down in a booth across from each other and in a gesture obviously familiar to each of them, they reached across the table and joined hands. Both women were over 70, one of them beautiful to the point of my knowing she was a beauty queen in former years. The beauty prayed. I fumbled hysterically in my bag for my camera. Then proceeded to turn off the flash trying to be Sherlock Holmes and get a picture of their prayer. Of course, by the time I got it in place, they were finished praying. The eldest held on to her friend's hands and I heard her saying " You are the dearest friend I have." I had previously guessed sisters, then observed something that portrayed a long lost joy in seeing each other. An extra something that was not in the familiarity of siblings.

All this transpired in the coffee shop/juice bar of an upscale grocery store, Whole Foods. According to traditions in Mississippi, none of the previously mentioned people would be considered "normal" by most standards. Oh how I'd have loved to poll those I discreetly watched. I would have been safe to bet there wasn't a Republican in the mix. This crowd was full of social activist. My view of the parking lot revealed a range in transportation, from Hybrids all the way up to the excessive BMW. I watched people emerge from vehicles and it's quite comical to pair a person with a car. The thin guy with nylon running shorts exits the Jetta while the 50ish well built women in the tennis dress slammed the door on her Mercedes. How extremely different everyone was, yet all had something in common. What fun a debate amongst these would have been. Obama would have been shoo in as President that very second, and every single American in Iraq would have been deported home at the earliest possible moment.

The yuppie women carrying the $1000 purses and driving the gas guzzling SUV's felt this was "their place" just as did the hippie mother who proudly nursed her child in public. And there my son and I sat. Both born in Mississippi, me living there most of my years and him for the first 23 of his life, we also felt it was "our place". We were right at home. 

I love Whole Foods for the beautiful displays and choices in things not readily available in my small town. The art of piling fresh fruits in baskets, the colorful array of gourmet salads, the cuts of meats and fish the staunchest gourmand would demand, and the choice in fresh baked breads are entirely tempting. The visual feast of just walking through this store or having a smoothie while people watching is high on my favorite things to do when in the big city. The fresh flower market alone is sensory over dose. Learning to live "green" and "organic" abounds. I saw a green t-shirt available for purchase that proclaimed " I was organic when organic wasn't cool."

I find it comical that the prissy 30 somethings were there because it's a "cool" place to be while the nursing mom considers it "green". Should either discuss the other, I somehow think it would be in disgust. Yet they find commonality in a grocery emporium.

Churches need to take on the "Whole Foods" approach. Services should be bright, colorful and welcome you. Funny how the scents and sights of Whole Foods flower market greets you at the door. Upon arrival, we need only the best as is offered at this beautiful retailer. The worship should be pure and as good for you as anything organic. Fresh protein offered like you see in the market area would mean healthy saints. Something new and fresh in song and the Word is attractive. The 30 something prissy and the hippie nursing mother should feel right at home. We have the equation it takes to get to heaven, and it's up to us to introduce them to it.

Making your house of worship a comfortable setting for all walks of life is your place. Not only the pastor, hospitality team or janitor is responsible. You will be held accountable for those you come in contact with that would never be exposed to Jesus otherwise. As we walked out of the store, 2 separate guys bagging said, "Thanks for coming in. Have a great evening." Wow. And they are even friendly.

Whether someone is looking for coffee, a protein drink, or a berry smoothie, something in our services need to appeal to them all. And a friendly welcome is the perfect place to begin. We should take pride in the grounds. Fresh paint and an entrance that beckons is a must. It doesn't take tons of money to have a clean, inviting entrance. Place urns beside the front doors with a plant to say welcome. Light an incredible smelling candle in the foyer. Make sure the restrooms are outfitted properly. Have soothing music (live or piped in) playing pre and post service. Then when they arrive, make them know they are welcomed and in a place that offers something they need. 

The Church of Whole Foods. What a concept.

The Profound Influence of Olida Joyce

(Previously posted to MySpace on Wednesday, July 30, 2008.)

Olida Joyce Bourn Bourriague a.k.a. "Aunt Deta" would pop me good and threaten my life if she knew I divulged her full name. Today would be her birthday. I can't begin to describe the crater in my soul her passing created. I often relive the sheer terror I felt the day she told me of the lump in her breast. Having already lost 3 in our family to cancer, I simply didn't have much faith. 

I was the first born child, first born paternal grandchild, and Aunt Deta's first niece. I'm told she was not allowed to attend the baby shower honoring my impending arrival because she was only 15. This she did not like. We lived on the same street as my grandparents, just 3 doors down. I've laughed at the stories of me taking off Bibbie's glasses during church and wearing them upside down. I'd stand in her lap and disrupt church with my shenanigans. She would voice her remorse and would say how ashamed she was of doing that. 

Three months after my 4th birthday, my mother brought home my 3rd sibling. Meaning there were 4 children born in 4 extremely short years. By this time, Aunt Deta was graduated and basically a built in baby sitter. The story of how she was forbid to go on a date the night she graduated was told often. My grandmother, known to all as "Bibbie", strictly forbade it. (She is altogether another full blog.) My mother had her hands full to say the least. The way things evolved were, I took up residence at my grandmother's. My Daddy would demand I go home for the night, and I'd put up a huge fuss. I became quite adept at begging at a very young age. I'd wail and he'd give in. When he didn't give in, and forced me to go home, I'd beg and cry until he'd say, "Go on back up the road! I'm tired of hearing it!" Out the door I'd run, back to where everything I said was the law. Back to where anything I wanted was promptly provided. Wonder what Freud was say about that observation. LOL.

My Dad began evangelizing around the time my younger brother Timothy and I started school. We settled into a routine of myself and Tim being cared for by Bibbie and Aunt Deta. Mother had 2 younger ones at home, and someone else feeding and bathing 2 of the 4 was a Godsend. This is not to say my Mother and Dad were not involved in our lives, they were highly visible. But anytime you get your way, are doted upon, and discipline is sparse, you gravitate to that habitat. Daddy and Mother, with 2 babies in tow, would leave for revival. Aunt Deta would take us to school. She had a great job at Gollott's Seafood and when I look back, I realize she basically spent her earnings on me. (I've no doubt the others were beneficial as well.) I remember her taking me to pick out school clothes, book sacks and supplies. She bought me my first stockings and high heels, then helped me avoid my Daddy before and after church. I remember shopping for my Easter dress (after I decided I would no longer wear things my Mother sewed for me), my Christmas banquet attire, and a leather coat I was dead for. I never realized what a blessing she was to my Dad.

In my teens, there was never a special service she didn't haul me to. And I always took an entourage. It never dawned on me she'd be tired for work the next morning. We went to every Labor Day service Bro. Majors had for years. We went to Jackson to Campmeeting and would sometimes drive back home. I even remember a trek to Little Rock that exposed me to "free" preaching. Even after I became licensed, she'd still go and chauffeur. Sunday afternoons always meant a nap, and one particular Sunday, she said she had somewhere to take me. She would not tell me where. We got in Pawpaw's snazzy little red truck, and off to Virginia City we went. (Virginia City is a small community 10 miles out in the country from Biloxi.) She stopped in the middle of a deserted road and got out. I still had no idea what she was doing. She said "Your turn to drive." I learned to drive that afternoon on a standard shift. We laughed till we hurt, but before I returned home, I could smoothly shift. Well, smoothly most of the time. 

There was always an orange cereal bowl on the back of the refrigerator that was full of quarters. I don't know where I thought they came from. Did I think they procreated in there? It was always full and bought many tanks of gas. (Of course back then $5.00 would fill a tank.) It fed me and my girlfriend at the mall on multiple occasions. I knew it was for me and after initially being introduced to it, I never had to ask. She'd say,"Did you get you some quarters to eat on?". When I mull that over, I think she always gave me quarters 'cause it kept her from actually realizing just how much money she spent on me! I guess she cashed her check and brought home rolls of quarters just for me. She'd have had to save quarters for 3 lifetimes as many as I went through! She took me through a drive-thru every morning of my life on the way to school. She helped me purchase my first love a suit for his birthday. She went with me to haggle a deal for the first car I purchased in my name. She championed my choice of boyfriends, though Bibbie would have forbade me to date anyone if I'd have listened. She was in the room within minutes of Tyler's birth, and later showed me the bruises on her fingers from me squeezing her hand during Tayler's birth. She brought me a dozen roses after Tyren's birth because no flowers had been delivered. She stopped on the way home from the hospital to pick up a ceramic pumpkin with his name on it. I simply could not bring that child home and him not have a pumpkin in the family pumpkin patch on my dining room table. 

How do you compensate for this type of devotion and sacrifice? I was her world, and she definitely was mine. And when I grew up, it didn't stop there. Every time she came in from the grocery, she brought bags of diapers. I simply don't remember buying them for my first two. Tay drank pear juice like I drink Diet Coke, which is in large quantities. Aunt Deta always bought the little 6 packs of juice and I'd dilute them to make them last longer. We moved a couple hours north just before Tay turned 2. She'd call to check on me, and by the sound of my voice would know if things were rough. Within 24 hours, she'd show up in my drive with a car load of groceries. I never left her house after a visit that she didn't pile the back of my car with essentials. I'd find all kinds of things when unloading the car. Paper for school, boxes of cereal, toilet tissue, and snack cakes to name a few. My children adored and worshipped her as I did. They each were just sure she loved them the most.

Much to my grandmother's dismay, she married at 43 years of age, and God gave her 2 lovely step children. One was basically grown, and the other a tow headed 3 year old that she loved as if she had birthed him. I was her matron of honor.

Today I will make the trek to her graveside. If only I could celebrate in person with her. I would set the table with my favorite, most elegant place settings. I'd have red roses in crystal as that was her favorite flower. I'd play Kenny G, again her favorite, and we'd dine sumptuously. We'd eat carrot cake topped with sparkly candles and I'd surely sing, and loudly.

Instead, I shall take her red roses and place them in the container on her headstone and have a long talk with her. My hope is that all the things I say to her today were also said while she was here. Sleeping in the living room on a short love seat beside her hospital bed the last 5 nights of her life was nothing compared to what she gave to me. Her influence on my life and the lives of my children will forever live. I shared with her in those last days, to the best of my ability, what she had meant to me. I am still unsure of how to give back what she gave. And I fear I'll never be able to.

Happy Birthday Aunt Deta.

I Need My Mother

(originally posted to Myspace on Sunday, May 11, 2008)

I have questions to ask my Mother. I've needed her many times over the last 28 years, but as of late, the need is so strong it overwhelms me. She has never been there, except in my mind, where she tells me buy good quality shoes, walk tall, and to put a vinegar rinse on my hair to get the soap out.

At eighteen, I was invincible. I remember the bliss of being 18 with the sense that the world absolutely, unequivacably belonged to me. I was attending college, working part time, doing aerobics 4 times a week, and enjoying being in love (well, what I thought was love). The world was a bed or roses, and I was wallowing in the petals.

Being the oldest of 6 children, and another sibling on the way, fit me perfectly. I'm an extroverted sanguine and as first born I was boss. My Mother ran a smooth household and not much was required of me. I of course had chores, but was basically foot loose and fancy free. With that many children the chores were spread out fairly thin. Baby number six had been born the previous summer, and the new baby was coming in July. Then my Mother got sick. 

She loved romance novels, beautiful shoes, classy purses, and White Shoulders perfume. I remember her sitting on the sofa with piles of laundry to fold and a book in her hand. If the outside door opened, she'd stuff it into the sofa cushions out of guilt over needing to be folding. She often reminded me to brush my hair 100 times nightly and to take smaller steps when I walked. She made a full wardrobe for my Barbie one year for Christmas. Never dawned on me to be suspicious that each time I walked in the room where she sewed, she'd cram it in the drawer and jump up. I distinctly remember her standing at the stove. She'd boil chicken, lots of chicken for tetrazzini. When I walked up beside her she'd slip me a large piece as she deboned. I honestly believed I was the only one she gave chicken to until discussing it some years back with my sisters. She gave us all chicken with each of us thinking we were the chosen one!

I heard her tell someone when quizzed about how she loved "that many children", that she did not divide her love, she multiplied it. She carried a handkerchief to match her outfit each time she went to church. There was always a half roll of breath mints in the center of her hankie. She bought peppermint flavored Certs since none of us kids liked that flavor. That way she was guaranteed mints for service.

I am older now by five years than my mother was when she died. During my pregnancies, I simply did not think I could bear my mother not being at my side. But you continue to breathe, even when you are sure you can't draw another. While going through a difficult divorce, I grieved deeply yet again. Questions you feel no one but your mother can answer swirl in my head up to this very day. How do I deal with empty nest syndrome? Do teenagers ever become normal again? What is your recipe for German Chocolate Pound Cake?

I became an adult overnight. If our family was a tree, it became huge splinters. My Dad didn't know where his socks were, and for some unknown reason, he assumed I did. We were all still hungry, our clothes got dirty, school was still in session, yet Mother was not there to feed us, fold the clothes nor get anyone up.

Anna Quindlen said in reference to her mother's death, that she performed for a theater of empty seats. As if to say "Look at me, Mother, I did good. I'm okay. I'll get by." Much responsibility fell on me in the early days after her death. My eight year old sister at the time held my hand non-stop. She wouldn't get in the tub nor go to the restroom alone. The 18 month old baby would go to my closet where I had hung my her favorite robe and ask for "Mama?". I felt I had to perform as if my mother could see my every move. I was responsible.

When I reached the age that my mother was when she passed, I simply freaked out. I felt it wasn't fair for me to live longer than she did. But oddly enough, I figured out that loss makes us happy in some ways. I am aware just how short life can be. I attribute having my priorities straight to being conscious of just how precious and fleeting life can be. Her death taught me well. I want my love of life to be ingrained in my children.

There is a hole in my heart that will never be filled. My children may never understand what this feels like. My hope is they never will. Oh I know I shall die someday, but I pray they will have led full lives and have years of love and the cushion of spouses and their own children. We didn't have that when our mother died. I was too young to truly know her and absolutely too young to learn to live without her.

With tears dripping from my chin, I realize I would trade the knowledge that I must live life to the fullest for what I lost so many years ago.


(The following blogs were written last summer while traveling via France to West Africa. They were originally posted on MySpace. I am intermittently reposting those not here.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008
4 Days Before Departure

Monday marks the big day. I must admit that until now, I've not been overly excited as usual about international travel. Graduation for my youngest, excessive work hours, High Praise at Woodlawn (multiple weekday practices for this Friday evening concert), and life in general have kept me from focusing. As of now, I am focused! I shall do my best, depending on internet availability, to give you a day by day account of my travel to France and West Africa.

In previous blogs, I have ranted about Danny Rivers' message "Be The Church". I've also been a tad redundant with my continual blather about SOLO, our new Single Adult Ministry. Visiting the continent of Africa this year didn't really figure into my plans and I so love the mysterious ways of my God. When He dealt so heavily with me after Danny spoke, I responded by asking SOLO to take on raising funds for water wells in Africa. Drinking water is the source of death for multiplied thousands per year. Never did I dream I would possibly get to choose the villages I want to have fresh water wells dug in!

Those mysterious ways of God? My dear friend, celebrated Chef Fran Ginn (owner of Back Door Cafe) held a cooking class and all proceeds went toward our missions trip. She so eloquently told the story of her desire of missions travel to Honduras, and promptly assured us she "just wouldn't be going". We all howled in laughter as she explained her mammoth fear of lizards and how she does her missions right here by donating her time. Yet another mysterious way of God? A lovely lady that has been attending Woodlawn for less than a year, handed me an envelope last Sunday with a precious note explaining that she had wanted to be involved in missions. It contained $1000 toward the trip. I'd say God wants me in Africa.=)

Funny how things that would never interest you catch your eye in the most unusual settings. Memorial Day meant grilling, swimming, and total horseplay with my family. (I'm the one under the umbrella with a stack of magazines.) There was a beach ball being tossed around in a game of "don't let it touch the water". It bounced out of the pool and being the one "not in the water", I was the retriever. I was astounded to recognize the ball had the globe printed on it, and would you believe both Togo AND Benin, the countries we are visiting, were there? One country was too small for the letters so it was printed out in the Atlantic with an arrow pointing inland!

We arrive Paris, Tuesday morning, and meet the Adams from West Africa. Several in our party have not seen the City of Light, so we spend a couple nights there. I have done the major tourist-y things, so I shall try to "get lost" in the feel of the city that I simply will never get enough of. Gertrude Stein so aptly put it, "America is my country, Paris is my hometown".

Kristen and Steven Andrus, along with their children Brennan and Ashland are patiently awaiting our arrival. If my memory serves me correctly, February marked a year for them in Lome, Togo. Woodlawn is honored that both missionary families come from our church. We will be a part of services held in Togo, as well as Benin, help at the new Bible School under construction, and have some semblance of vacation Bible school for children. 

My thrill will be going into the bush with ever seeking eyes for where to put those fresh water wells.

Monday, June 02, 2008
Travel Blog-Day 1

If there has ever been diverse traveling companions, the 11 in this group personifies it. There is moi, one husband wife team, Demetra and Jay Carney, Jerron Carney, Janette Wallace and Joyce Dykes (sisters to Jean Carney and aunts to the Carney men), their niece Whitney (my Tay's best friend), Tomeka Posey (a recent addition to Woodlawn), Scott Popec (new dean of Music at TBC), Selena (a high school graduate kin somehow to Janette and Joyce), and Kayla Gibson (granddaughter of missionaries we will be visiting.

I'm amazed at the dynamics of a group. In the loading of luggage, transportation to the airport, checking bags, and passing thru security, hierarchy has been established.=) It's quite comical.

I just consumed a bag of fresh beignets here in the airport. We are soon to board for Houston. We then fly out at 4 pm for a 8.45 am arrival to the city of Light. (1.45 am mississippi time=) I am anxious for my toes to hit French soil! Our hotel is just off the Champs Ellysees. You shall receive updates daily.

There are plans to visit the Louvre, train to Versailles, peruse the Notre Dame, all of which I have previoulsy done. I shall find a bridge (of which there are 23 spanning the Seine River) and just stand there. The bridges are one of my favorite things there. I have made an exectutive decision to blog from a bridge. I shall try to convey my feelings of this most beautiful of all cities.

Till my toes touch down...

Friday, June 06, 2008
Travel Blog-Day-Umm..I Have No Idea! FINALLY POSTED!!

Digressing to Monday am...
6 am-Wake up after a mere 4-ish hours of sleep. Zombie-like I pulled on the clothes carefully laid out because I knew I'd be cross-eyed from extreme weariness. (Will refer to weariness in future prose.)

7.30 am-Depart Woodlawn. Precious law-abiding Bro. Clark drove us to the Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans at warp speed of 55-(MAX) 65 mph. We wenr by way of McComb and down I-55 to avoid traffic on the Causeway/Covington. I'm sure it's time saving, but I also know we lost a couple of days in Paris because it took so long to get to the airport.!=)

12.30pm-Depart New Orleans.

4.05-Depart Houston for Paris. 

9.5 hours later, we deplaned to an 8.45 am sunny Monday morning in lovely Pareeee' (with our American bodies registering about 2 am at home). The Adams were waiting as we cleared customs. We "bought" ourselves some euros and my eyebrows literally touched my HIGH hairline. Can you say "the dollar ain't worth diddly squat over here??!!" 
I had forgotten the Metro stairs. Oh heavenly Father, the stairs. With our 3 day transportation passes in hand, it wouldn't have been so bad, but having been awake for what now felt like 3 days straight caused unadulterated hate of stepping up one more time. (Sure, I "slept" on the plane, but sleeping straight up with armrests digging into my sides that were designed for anorexic French women did not encourage REM sleep.)
We checked into Hotel Madeline Haussmann just around the corner from the Opera. Deep in the heart of the city with the Metro (subway) in sight is perfection. (The slight imperfection was that the hotel elevator is eccentric and performs only at odd times.) Here is where those who didn't obey the "light packing" advisements cursed. And loudly. Yes, I hauled my suitcase(s) up 3 flights because the French call the 1st floor 0-zero. Moans were emitted as we craved laying down, but the streets of Paris called. 
With everyone ravenous we basically stopped at the first sidewalk cafe. I was aware of major price gouging if dining al fresco at sidewalk cafes (and vocalized it), but we were tired and hungry. And we left poor. I think at that point several were ready to go back to the place that offered "give me your tired, your poor , and your hungry! LOL. I tell you this in all seriousness. Those that ordered a "coke" payed 8 euros for it. Which translates into close to $14.00. Should I even mention what was paid for a hamburger that arrived with a beautifully fried egg atop it? Nah. I'll not divulge that bit of juicy info. The saving grace was that across the street was a lovely flower market and I simply adored the view.

The cokes and burgers (I know, I know) were soon forgotten as we climbed and descended some 82 more flights of stairs in the Metro. We walked the Tuileries (gardens of the royal palace) which is multi-leveled, meaning stairs. I am forever amazed at the symmetry and vision the French have for gardening. And statuary. And fountains. I felt as if I was overdosing on an addiction. That addiction being lovely ladies and naked gentleman posing proudly in all their marble, granite or limestone glory. And often in the center of a fountain. I personally forgot the stairs, airplane straight jacket seating, and malfunctioning hotel elevator as I absorbed the sights and smells of Paris. 

Walking along the Seine perusing the street vendors made my guts smile. Soon enough, we were all posing with the Eiffel Tower behind us. Reactions of those at their first view was lovely. The long elevator ride to the top of the tower is disconcerting, but the views of this most beautiful city knock the breath out of you. The views are not of skyscrapers but of architecture, all centuries old and it causes you to realize just what a young pup America actually is. Spires, domes, gardens and fountains are in abundance. Full size trees in extensive rows that are trimmed into square full size tree-tall hedges go on for days. I stood there and wondered when and how you trim a 40 ft. tree to be squared on all sides and top.

We ended the evening with dinner in the Latin Quarter in a greek restaurant no less. The live music was extremely comical and I hit the streets while everyone finished their meal. I am ashamed that I cannot remember the french word for raspberry, but I had a cone of raspberry gelato that would make the staunchest CIA agent beg.

By 10 pm the entire group was walking as if they were 89 years old. And we still had to navigate the land of stairs to return to our hotel. Have I mentioned anything about stairs? We are now pushing 20+ hours of no sleep and still climbing up and down stairs. Many were delirious with everything funny to some, nothing amusing to others. 

Back at the hotel around 10.30 pm and I had got my second wind. Having been to Paris on previous occasions, I simply didn't want to waste an evening, and it was entirely too early to retire. Four of us took off to Monmartre, my favorite area in the city. Sacre' Couer, a massive white limestone church, is situated high on a hill on the outer edges of Paris and there you have lofty views of the Eiffel tower and city lights. A genius had a ski-like lift installed that bypasses some 2000 (excuse the slight exaggeration=) steps to the perfect viewing area. We meandered up and down streets, watched the artists paint and stopped in to listen to a pianist while having a crepe filled with Nutella (a chocolate hazelnut paste). We closed the pub down and headed back to our hotel. At this point, were walking like we needed walkers! 

We rounded a corner and the Eiffel Tower was blinking! I was unaware that at the turn of the new millennium blinking lights were attached from top to bottom for the celebration. It was such a huge hit that every hour on the hour for 10 minutes the tower has white lights flashing, almost reminding you of a Christmas tree that boldly blinks in no set pattern. It is indescribable! I think the biggest assumption by those that have not viewed the tower is their perception of it's size. It's so massive that most pictures are taken from far away so as to get the whole thing in the picture. Trust me, it's gargantuan. 

After a few hundred more steps we made it back to the hotel around 2 am. I am a day behind as our schedules have been chock full. Here's a promise of full disclosure, well, almost full, to come.

Check back...=)

Travel Blog-Day 3

(Written sitting in the airport waiting to plane to W. Africa, aggravated that internet is not available.)

Four of our group, not including the Adams, has previously visited Paris. Hence a touristy agenda was called for. The plan of the day was to train to Versailles (the "country palace" of Marie Antoinette), and having previously made the trek, I chose to get lost in the city.

When I laid my head down last evening, I was positive my internal alarm would awake me early, regardless of the fact that I'm living 7 hours ahead of CST. I forgot to turn on my internal alarm OR I turned it off when it sounded.=) Someone banged on the door at 9.30 am (which was 2.30 pm at home may I remind you) and I was shocked at the time when awakened. 

Paris has recently placed numerous bicycle rental stands all over the city, and with a deposit, you may ride for 1.5 hours no charge. Anything more, you pay 1 euro per hour. I was quick to advise all that I would be up because of my internal alarm, and planned on cycling around in the early morn. That internal alarm malfunctioned. We didn't leave the hotel till 10, because my weary body didn't cooperate with my mind.

Janette, Whitney and I wanted to see a Marie Antoinette exhibit at Grand Palais, dine somewhere memorable, and shop, all before a late evening dinner cruise on the Seine River with the group. We took the Metro, was completely lost in a matter of minutes, but happened upon exquisite shopping none the less. 

When I squealed they were sure I'd been mugged. There it was, a dream that I never considered possible, The Grand Colbert. Anyone familiar with the movie "Something's Gotta Give"? Remember Diane Keaton's favorite haunt? Her birthday dinner with the divine, tall, skinny, sparkling candles on the oh so French birthday confection? Her line was "there's this little place behind Palais Royale, the Grand Colbert, that I just love". 

Three foot diameter pots on the bar held palms that touched the 20 foot ceiling. The music was French, a much improved change from most dining establishments. They LOVE American music in France. Place settings sparkled and the staff pulled the table away from the banquet setting for easy access. The privacy glass between booths was etched and a lipped silver coaster housed our water bottle. Large olives (non-pitted) were brought in a ramekin with toothpicks tucked to the side. Need I describe more? My braised beef accompanied by herbed potatoes melted on my tongue. Lunch at the Grand Colbert IS the highlight of my Parisian stay.

After our gourmet lunch fare, I was better oriented. We caught the Metro to the Grand Palais and was wowed by Madam Marie Antoinette's life. Her writing desk, Serves china, silk embroidered fabrics for cushions, a harp commissioned by her Mother for her personal use all are beyond imagination. She lived quite the life. Sadly it ended tragically and quite young.

I was light on my feet so as to get the window seat on the barge for our late evening dinner cruise. It doesn't get dark till close to 10 pm. The Seine River winds through Paris, is narrow and 23 bridges span it throughout the city. Each bridge is named and is a work of art in itself. Pont de Alexander is the most famous with it's gold leafing on the statues and arches. The dinner cruise was approximately 3 hours with stunning views of the Eiffel Tower and multiple bridges. (See photo album of Paris for pictures.)

We ended the evening with a walk that included, God help us, the longest staircase yet. Justin Ward, a minister/missionary from Texas attending culinary school in Paris was our guide to a lofty, perfectly symmetrical view of the sparkling Eiffel Tower. I stood quietly with all senses honed trying to indelibly imprint my mind with this scene. All the while gasping for breath from the quick climb.

Our last evening was coming to a close. 

Someone's Metro pass kept denying access, and while they waited for a new one to be printed I went up ahead, put on my sunglasses, laid money on the floor in front of me as if begging, and began doing my best Stevie Wonder impersonation. Subway tiles make for really good acoustics and "Isn't she lovely! Isn't she wonderful....." rang loudly. I had the head sway going well and someone gave me some coins.=) Whitney recorded me with her camera and I'm sure to get famous on youtube I've no doubt.

I packed with a heavy heart, yet excited to step foot on a new continent the next day...

Friday, June 06, 2008
Travel Blog-Day 4

(Written in hotel room in Lome, extremely frustrated because I paid for internet without being told it would not work again till morning!)

Woodlawn hosted High Praise Worship Arts Conference last week and what a roaring success it was. As staff, we made lists of things NOT to do next year to make things more perfect. I now have a list of things NOT to do when traveling with a group in Paris. =) Never, ever take the subway to and from the airport because: 1. You will climb and descend more stairs than you thought existed in the universe. 2. Suitcases are the equivalent of large warts on your nose and you decide you will do anything to be rid of them, even just wear whatever you have on your person and purchase a toothbrush. 3. Early morning means FULL Metro cars with commuters that do not understand when all 13 of your group is on the same stairwell laboring to pull overstuffed suitcases up multiple flights of stairs. And the commuters walk at a full clip and are late to work. And you are definitely in their way. 4. Medium sized cases, especially oversized ones do NOT go through the turnstiles and your backpack will be caught while on your person when the gate thingy shuts! At that point, ya ain't goin' nowhere. 5. Should by some freak accident you board the wrong train, all 13 have to get back off, climb the demon possessed stairs up and down yet again to find the correct train. (Are you remembering that all the trains are stuffed full of rushed commuters?) It truly was comical, unless you were one of the 13.=)

We arrived at Charles De Galle Aeroport with 2 hours and 40 minutes till take off. I actually enjoyed it after realizing it was perfect timing to work on my blog.

6 pm-Arrive Lome, Togo, West Africa

Until we boarded a bus to be transported to the terminal, I thought we were the only plane to land at the airport. I spotted just one more. It was dusk with few streetlights. We passed through customs with no hitches, collected our luggage and soon were in an air conditioned van on our way to the hotel. Within seconds of passing through the gate exiting the airport, the most intense culture shock of all my born days ensued. Motorbikes missing either front or back lights crisscross continually all around you. It's first come first serve in all lanes. But you aren't sure what a "lane" is as there are no lines nor traffic signals on the asphalt/dirt roads. Wait, I saw one traffic light. There are small compact cars, a few large delivery type trucks, but mostly motorbikes in a city of 700,000 plus. And according to the missionaries, no one drives at night. Ha. I spotted a woman with several large pieces of wood, seemingly splintered pieces of 2 x 4's balanced on her head.

I am faltering here trying to come up with words to describe what I saw in transit to our hotel. I'm told it has rained daily for a week, the reason for so much water standing in the intersections. Pictures of this would make the front page of my hometown newspaper and be called a flash flood. Yet we drove right on through. As did the motorbikes. There are vendors lining the sidewalks with flames of some type oil lamp for light. And while I'm trying to view the sidewalks, there are no less than half a dozen motorbikes vying for a spot in front of our van. They do not look, they just pull out. And the van swerves to miss them. Again, no one drives at night here! I simply cannot imagine tomorrow when they all do decide to drive.

Our hotel is beautiful with manicured grounds and the sound of the ocean rolling in. We are at Hotel Sarakawa on the Atlantic Ocean. We dined this evening under a lovely gazebo with the sounds and smells of the ocean blowing in. I had Sole Mienuere (pan fried fish) and rice pilaf. Their Coca-Cola "Light" basically tastes like flat Diet Coke from a 2 week old 2 liter with no lid.=) But it was wet, and cool with 3 or so cubes of precious ice.

I shall retire for rest, but the sights of the city keep rolling through my head. I've not seen this country in daylight and am aching to do so. Tomorrow I will record with my camera the things I've tried to describe to you. And I also get to see the drivers. All those who don't drive at night. 

***p.s. How I ever forgot to mention this I have no idea. After discussion with Pastor Adams, he was extremely pleased to hear that SOLO wants to put fresh water wells here. When I inquired about the location, he said that churches that have wells gain favor with the government and officials and it's very advantageous to the missionaries in many ways. He will take me to where wells are needed and I will have a pictures and a full report of where they will be placed!

Travel Blog-Day 5

I'm one confused female. Should I blog about going to the bible school site? The church service I just attended? The Lebonese food I so enjoyed today? Pastor Adams and his amazing success here in Togo? My visit to Steven and Kristen's lovely home? The Cantrell's who are AIMer's and left a 2 month old grandson in Texas 9 months ago? The Ellis' from Brookhaven, MS who are overseeing the building of the Bible School?

I just made the executive decision to give you a once over of my day, and do future in-depth blogs from the afore mentioned.

When I woke up in Lome, Togo, West Africa I walked straight to the window. Last night was PITCH black from the power being cut off. (I learned that to conserve energy the power is literally shut down in various, random parts of the city with no forewarning. I assume this hotel runs on generators or has an agreement with some high falutin' official because the hotel had power but none across the street nor to the sides. The power is purchased from neighboring Ghana. Yeah, that Ghana. (I took a picture today of the Andrus' generator, which they have not always had. It means they can at least have lights when the power goes. Kristen was so thankful and quick to mention that T.L. Wallace Construction had provided it.)

Back to walking to the window...There is a lovely view of stucco looking buildings with tall palms swaying in the ocean breeze. I did not expect the Mediterranean influence. Not many 3 story buildings, rarely 2 story ones. It's when your eyes light on the ground that you are shocked. Red clay mud everywhere, and gooey from the rainy season. It was raining when we left the hotel, but soon cleared. There aren't puddles here. There are full size fishing ponds in the intersections. This massive city has no sewage system nor garbage disposal system either. The streets tell the tale. The incredibly accommodating missionaries were able to rent a "bus" as Brennan (the Andrus' 6 year old son) calls it. It's a tad bigger than a van, not quite a bus. And the streets are crawling with "moto's" (motorcycles), an Ashland (their 2 year old daughter) word. There are 3 people per bike quite often. We saw five. I have a picture of a mattress folded in half and strapped to the back of one. 

Everyone is selling something. It reminds me of a chaotic flea market, maybe one you'd find on the Biloxi beach the day after Katrina. You don't see masses just walking, they are all manning a rickety, makeshift stand of some sort. From hub caps to roasted chickens, it's for sale on the sidewalks. I can't figure out who they sell to. I'm told that with 700,000 here there is a need for all this stuff. But you don't see people walking the street with shopping bags. Many walking have a 3 ft. diameter dishpan looking thing balanced on their head, usually women, sometimes men, but much more rare. And it's piled higher than any Pentecostal hairdo I've ever witnessed. There is usually a netting of some sort around the wares in their head pots. Ranging from bananas to cell phone covers, many peddle from atop their head. Several women had a 16" square box with plexi glass sides on it balanced right on top. I finally got close to one only to realize it's pastries. Some fan a fire right on the mud sidewalk with large natural colored fans to keep it hot while roasting corn cobs. The biggest shocker is the cell phone stands. Most have no electricity, mud floors, and a poorly painted sign advertising cell phone cards. They love cell phones and purchase minutes at these stands. I'm truthful when I tell you they are stands on every corner AND between the corners. They may live in a shanty, but they have a cell.

The bible school sight is 20 minutes out of town. I was so choked up the entire time we were there that had someone said Boo, I'd have broken down. I didn't know until my arrival that Woodlawn has been fully responsible for building this school. There is a 1/2 mile long block wall surrounding the 3.5 acres with a front and back gate. I will post pictures of this wall. I'm guessing it's about 10 foot tall and here's the kicker. Each and every block was MADE on site. I asked how. They showed me a metal frame where sand, rocks and concrete are poured in, allowed to set up, then placed on the wall. The blocks are made close to the wall so as to not have to haul them. There is no heavy equipment. 140 loads of dirt were brought in for footings and foundation, and each load was shoveled by hand into this foundation. The school will consist of 8000 square feet including the dormitories. I asked if this school was the way to win this country, and the answer was a resounding YES. The nationals (locals) would never understand having a white pastor. These missionaries are pastors to the pastors. They teach these men (and 1 woman who had the highest average for this school year) how to pastor thriving, growing churches. Bro. Adams arrived 12 years ago with 8 churches established, and there are now 38 works and 28 "preaching points" in Togo alone. (A preaching point being somewhere that church is held, but not on a weekly basis.) There will be a printing room for printing their own curriculum and tracks, and the Togo National church offices will be moved to the school. Right now, classes are held in a church and they have to take turns as there is only one classroom. Pastor Adams and Bro. Steven Andrus teach. 14 men and 1 woman attend and when they graduate and they immediately return to their village to either assist at or start their own church. At completion of the new bible school, they will be able to house 32 students. An outdoor type kitchen will be at the back of the dorms and a large "lobby" area. I'm told this is where they will prepare and cook their own meals.

An amazing thing I saw on the way in to the bible school was a sewing shop. Three women were on the porch of a shanty sitting at black and gold pedal driven sewing machines. I inquired and learned they take in sewing for people in the village.

The new school needs a well. I have been under the assumption that the first well SOLO had dug would be in a village. I am going to present to the class the suggestion that our first well be at the bible school. From then, my burden is to put them in villages on church grounds so the missionaries have favor with the "chief".

I'm aware this has not been a once over of my day as promised, but I simply had share all this. Next is my first church service in a third world country.

And I'm going to cry while typing...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Travel Blog-Day 5 Evening

My heart felt like a water balloon being filled from a spigot. I was just sure at some point it would burst and I'd dissolve into a large puddle. When I stepped off of the bus, tears flowed. Earlier, the bible school site had done me in, and when I saw the church building, the moto's leaning against the building, and heard the singing, tears dripped from my chin.

I have a house, car, church, health, etc. These people have shanty's, lucky ones own a moto, they walk forever to get to church and 3000 children die DAILY in Africa from malaria caused by mosquito bites. But the sweetest, purest worship flows from them. How do I improve their world and continue living what's consider a "normal" life at home? I will start by helping provide clean water. And bicycles for village pastors. And mosquito nets that a family of 4 can sleep under.

We drove for what seemed like an hour, well it was an hour, through the teeming city of Lome. Jerron said everywhere you go is like going to the sandbar on the back rack of a 3 wheeler. I couldn't have said it better. It's nerve racking being continually jostled, knocked around, and hitting your head on the window of the vehicle. When we stepped inside the church, the music was so loud you could feel it in your chest cavity. I knew not a word. But I just couldn't quit weeping. One of the missionaries mentioned that if the PA is not squealing, they don't think it's anointed. Lol. They had it working grandly while 4 plus people had mikes and were all singing something different. There were bongos, stainless steel bowls with rings piercing the sides to form a tambourine, drum set, keyboard and various noise making objects. And they all made their own joyful noise to the Lord. When service begins the ladies line up in front of the band and one begins to sing. She starts singing with no music and after a bit of pecking, the keyboardist finds the key she is in. Most songs are sung with just keyboard for a couple verses then the drums join in. And every time on every song I was amazed at the rhythm. It's a haunting, obviously African beat. Seeing worship from these people to our Most High God is transforming. They sing with eyes closed and smooth movements. Even the smallest children move to the beat. There is wide open space in front of the pulpit with the chairs set far back. It took me a bit to figure it out. Within minutes I knew. They exit their pews and in procession they "march" as if a large dragon at a parade for the Chinese New Year, only not connected. Their steps are mostly slow, sometimes at a clip, according to the music. The ministers go first and they circle the perimeter of the open area in front of the stage. They eventually weave around and in and out with each person following the next. Reminds me of walking thru a maze and playing follow the leader all at once. Ministers wives, men, then women in the audience all form a line and repeat the process. It's what's to come that gets you.

The median age for life expectancy in West Africa is 47 years. I think possibly this is the reasoning behind such seriousness in worship by the children. Is a short life the reason they are so responsive so young? Is it that they have nothing else in their lives that gives joy but Jesus? They then form their own line and began to "march" in worship, I am deeply touched. They move beautifully to the drum beat and I sat and wondered what they would think of Woodlawn Gap Kids church. To whom much is given, much is required and I'm proud to say that though our cultures differ by worlds, God has blessed and we have given much to His kingdom by way of our children and to foreign missions. Pastor Carney will be the first to say that children are the church of tomorrow, and we are in process of hopefully building a children's center in the near future. The majority of churches here are a direct result of someone witnessing to Pastor Adams on the job and he being baptized and filled with the holy ghost in little ole' Columbia, Mississippi.

The women carry their little ones on their back, in a sling type thing called a pagne (pawn-yay). They take the child by the arm and literally sling them over their shoulder then tie a large piece of brightly colored fabric over the baby. The child's feet are wrapped around the mother's sides and stick out from the wrap. The ladies sit and breast feed right in the pew. Jenny Cantrell, AIMer here in Togo, told me of a picture she took of a mother at the altar with hands raised, weeping, and a child leaned around her side and breast feeding. By service end, as in every country in the world I think, kids are sprawled on the floors or sleeping on the narrow pews, which are nothing more than a backless bench. 

Three florescent lights hang in the rafters and one ceiling fan turns above the platform area for the ministers. It's hot and your clothes are sweated down. But when you leave you have witnessed a mind blowing revelation that no matter who, what, when, where, God shows up when there is worship from His people.

Travel Blog-Day 6-The Village

I knew all along we were going to see "a village church", and was excited about that fact until we attended church in the city. I then knew it would be a much more unsettling experience.

We drove through miles of poverty and filth that you simply cannot fathom then turned off the "road" toward the village. There was lush foliage and pineapples growing all the way up to the road. Massive mango trees are pretty common, bougainvilla grows wild, and there is a bright orange tree called a flamboyant tree that is exactly like a mimosa in Mississippi, just not pink. It's unfair to even call it a road when it's the equivalent of navigating Red Bluff in a golf cart, just on flat land. The ruts are huge and deep and you are just sure the bus is going to tip on it's side. And every time Missionary Adams visits one of these churches, he takes this road. I shall never take even a half way decent road for granted again. We plowed some 8-10 miles into the bush and arrived at a church that is pastored by one of the brothers from the city church. We were asked to wait at the church till Pastor Adams could go locate someone from the church family. Within minutes, there were 25 or so villagers swarming us. They had never seen that many white faces at once in their lifetime. The church had no electricity, running water, nor bathrooms. But it is a thriving work. Steven Andrus explained that the pastor rides a bike here from the city each week to hold service. A bicycle. I asked if all the pastors of village churches had bikes. He told me no, but when this pastor graduated last year from the bible school, he wrote a letter and asked for help to purchase one. He raised 12,000 francs which is about $30.00 and the Togo National Church paid for the rest. You can guess my next question. Is there a need for bikes? Steven laughed. He explained that they simply don't have a $100 to purchase each graduating pastor a bike. They received letters from 3 students who graduated this year with a dire need for a bicycle. I also imagine you have guessed that I'm raising money for bicycles. So pastors can ride untold miles, in unforgiving conditions to spread His precious word. 

(While sitting in a lovely air conditioned room the day before my departure, the lady doing my pedicure who knew of my trip here, told me she'd like to donate a manicure/pedicure/eyebrow wax to be raffled off and the money go to Missions In Africa. I cannot wait to tell her that we are going to buy bicycles for the graduating pastors with the funds raised! She will be ecstatic.)

There are goats roaming around the village, in the same fashion as dogs in America. Chickens peck at nothing in the red dirt. And the children smile hugely at you after their first initial shyness. I took a couple of pictures of them on my digital camera and showed them the screen. After that point, I had a following to that would rival Paris Hilton in Vegas! Lol. On my return to this most haunting country, I will pack even lighter, yet my suitcase will be heavier. All I had was a package of gum in small travel purse. I tore each piece into the smallest possible strips and passed it out. It was as if I was giving away $100 bills. My guess is that not one had ever tasted Big Red. I was worried that the cinnamon may be too hot, but I only saw smiles and huge chewing motions. And more small palms lifted begging for more. I had to show them the empty packages to be able to move.

The shantys are small. Some have porches, the nicer ones have block walls with thatched roofs. Some are just 4 poles stuck in the ground from trees they hacked down and topped with palm fronds. But they were elated to see us. I noticed a girl of about 10 take off running away from us. She returned promptly in a filthy peach and white dress that she changed into for our visit. She dressed up for us. Many of the children have never left their village. The adults may go toward town to buy food, but kids do not go. One site that sticks in my mind is of a mother laying on a bench and a child standing on the ground in front of her nursing. She was sleeping soundly and this child was nursing happily standing on his feet. Most kids have on clothes, though too huge or too small. Many we saw had nothing on. And they grin and wave with no thought whatsoever of their nakedness.

A man walked up with a baby girl of about 4-5 months old. (You know the girls because they all have pierced ears and mostly wear only dresses.) I asked to hold her, and he began chattering to me. Pastor interpreted that her Mother had died and he wanted me to take her to America. He was begging me to take her. In their minds, America is all wealth, health and perfection. (And compared to here, it definitely is.) I won't even begin to assume that I can convey to you my emotions over this exchange. I walked around and held her while she stared at me with bright eyes.

We gathered and had prayer over this village. The people are reverent and are very still while Pastor Adams prayed, and then it was time to go. They literally chased the bus till they could run no more. A throng of kids all laughing, hollering yo-vo! Yo-vo! (White person! White person!.)

Thursday, June 12, 2008
Travel Blog-Day 7

Our Last Church Service

I told Jerron I would not give him credit for saying this, but here goes. We split into 2 groups and went to separate churches on Sunday morning. Myself, Meka, and Scott went with Jerron to Pastor Koffi's (ko-fee'). And when we pulled away from the church, Jerron said, "That's the POA (Pentecostals of Alexandria) of Lome!"

This was my 3rd African church service, and definitely my favorite. (I had instant reservations about typing that in the blog for fear of the other pastors reading it, then died laughed at myself. How in the cat hair would they? Not with any internet connection I had while there! Not to even mention they certainly don't have a computer! And to think that the Adams' and Steven and Kristen deal with sketchy internet 24/7. I will call their names earnestly and daily for the rest of my days.)

We rode with Steven in his horse and buggy across trails that seemingly had never been blazed on the western frontier. Believe it or not, it was rougher in his 4WD than on the bus. Only difference was there were tons of dark-skinned, bright-eyed people on the sides of the roads and billions of buzzing moto's racing with Steven as if we were at Talladega. We were late from having to get all our luggage transferred to leave for Benin, the next country.

Close to 250 gathered in this large block building that had no doors (if so, they were standing wide open and I simply don't remember them), no lights on, a blaring, squealing PA, and over half the church was children. There were 3 ceiling fans and I'm told that a former lady missionary Elsie Lund purchased the fans for this work. The little ones all sat in the front half of the church. I'm assuming this was because it was Sunday and their from of Sunday School.

This would be the church you'd go to for special occasions were you able to visit other churches. Kristen tells me Brennan asks if they are going to Bro. Koffi's each and every Sunday morning. That boy knows a good thing when he sees it. There was a testimony service which is actually a song sung by whomever gets up, and the congregation joins in after the keyboardist finds what key she is in. Just before Jerron preached (he did truly superb, though with an interpreter) the choir lined up. Had I the funds, Woodlawn would experience this choir. Beautiful, haunting melodies in perfect harmony with only bongo drums accompanying is indelibly imprinted on my mind.

I spent most of the service moving around with a video camera. I took footage of Jerron preaching, the choir, the children's worship, breast feeding mothers, kids eating spaghetti-looking something out of a small black garbage bag (their version of a ziplock), and the church grounds. All to soon we had to leave. We had a rendezvous with the rest of the group for our trek to Benin.

When we exited the building, Pastor Koffi followed and led us to a small building just beside the church. They had cold drinks for us in a small basket sitting in the middle of the floor. As an American, you envision drinks on ice. These were drinks obviously bought in advance of service just for us and they were simply delicious, though lukewarm. I told the pastor, who was also the interpreter and spoke English incredibly well, that I was impressed with his hospitality room! He explained it was the "Mike Ellis Room" and pointed to where he had painted that on the wall. Mike is a contractor from Brookhaven, MS and he and his wife are there overseeing the building of the bible school. He pride in this was that Mike had helped him build this "study room". There was not a stick of furniture in it, but he beamed about it as if I had just installed $20,000 worth of furnishings.

We pulled away in Steven's vehicle with A/C blaring, all discussing the service, and my heart was heavy with the knowledge that was my last African service for who knows how long. How does Pastor Adams come to America, walk into Woodlawn and not absolutely detest us? When it's too cold in the church, we are vocal. When the PA is not perfect, many squawk. When the soundtrack skips, we're mortified. How does he keep a balanced mind concerning us? I am truly aware that cultures differ. But this literal and figurative continent division HAS to be painfully hard to keep in perspective.

On to Benin...

Travel Blog-Day 7 & 8-Benin

We met the rest of the crew at the hotel, changed clothes from sweating down at "Sunday School" and was on the road to the neighboring country, Benin by 12 pm. We left our services early and I was trying to figure out why the huge rush. The missionaries had packed us a lunch to eat on the bus. They told us it was only a 2 hour drive to Benin where we would be able to relax for a much needed "down-time" day. My perception was that we had been to the 3 services in as many days, took a day trip out to the villages, visited the bible school site, had dinner at both missionary homes and were now foot loose and fancy free. Why the rush? Why eat on the bus? There was a cooler on the bus, no, not full of ice, but the frozen plastic water-filled containers for keeping things cool. We passed around a container of pineapple, mango, avocado and all had a can drink. (Have I mentioned the fruit? Dear heavenly Father it's like pure sugar! Nary a piece of fruit in the USA is as sweet.) We stopped at a store and most were afraid of the food, but some of us had a croissant with sausage inside, their version of our pig in the blanket. Steven had bought croissants and Kristen brought delectable cream cheese spread, which I got a kick out of. It was my favorite brand from here in the states. The Laughing Cow Creme Cheese containers in french cracked me up. I can only imagine some snooty french madame peering down her nose in disdain at the stupid "American Laughing Cow" fromage (cheese)! (And if you've never tried it, it's in the "gourmet section" beside the deli at Wal-Mart. Delish.=)

Reality dawned soon enough when we reached the Togo border. We had to fill out papers to leave, which I found incredulous. We then entered what is called "no man's land". It's an area between the countries that is holy chaos. Here they searched whomever, whatever their hearts desired. You take your passport to a policeman who is sitting under an outdoor porch type area of what I assume is a government building. Then you sit down on a rickety bench and wait till they decide it's your turn. Pictures are forbidden. People butt in line, there are goats bleating right behind you, cars, buses, and trucks are stopped in the middle of the road in any haphazard way they please. At this point, you have nowhere to hide. "No Man's Land" is Disney World to the 1,000,000 car sales men of West Africa. You are continually accosted by men desperate to sell you something. Want a cell phone cover with silver stars? A wife beater? A suit for your 3 year old son? Whole grilled fish? A Rolex watch? A Gucci wallet? A Tom & Jerry comic book? It's available. And if you make the mistake of slightly making eye contact with one, or even glancing the way of any said item, they are on you like ants on honey. That meaning 10 in 1.0 seconds flat.

You finally tire of sitting on the bench, so you move around, only after being unforgivingly rude to the car salesmen. They absolutely do not understand no, thank you. It's sweltering hot on the bus, and you are told in an hour plus that you are allowed to leave Togo. On to the next stop which is about a 1/2 mile to Benin customs. Here we had to wait on visas while dodging car salesman, goats, etc. You get the picture. We were able to obtain Togo visas in advance because of our length of stay. But we only needed a transient visa for Benin because our time there was to be only 48 hours. In yet another hour, we were on our way, in our second West African country. I found it to be beautiful. The road was a tad better, the scenery breathtaking. We passed fishing villages where they live in huts out over the water. Can you say mosquito heaven? I told them this was the Almafi Coast of Africa. It was truly beautiful. 

We arrived Ouida, the birthplace and voodoo capital of the world. Thankfully, we drove straight on thru. The town was cleaner but still extremely poor. We stopped for pictures at a massive monument for the "The Door Of No Return". Benin was governed by the Portuguese, and I apologize for my lack of knowledge, but this was where the slave trade began. When one tribal village overtook another, they sold them off as slaves. This was the port where the Portuguese loaded them on boats. It's a hauntingly sad place.

We turned onto a road, which was the beach. I'm telling you, we drove in sand on the beach for 20 or so minutes. There were sporadic thatched huts on the beach side of the road with fishing boats laying on their sides. We arrived to Casa Del Papa, a resort that would price out at $750/night on Maui. You'd weep if I told you just what we paid per night. Yellow cabins with a porch faced the endless, roaring Atlantic Ocean, all connected with a running boardwalk. Rows of massive palm trees swayed in the stiff breeze between you and the ocean. It was as much a culture shock to walk into this paradise as it was to leave the gates of the airport the first time in Lome. The cabin had connecting doors and consisted of 2 private bedrooms that opened to the front porch. Pristine, with white walls and vintage Air France poster for artwork, they were perfect photo shoots for a Pottery Barn catalog. With clean line, dark wood tester beds, sleek linens and a "wet room" bath, I could have simply stayed a month. There was a/c but who prefers that over the breeze off the Atlantic? 

We dined under a large thatched roof pavilion with a wait staff that had giant smiles. The fish, I had bar, was fresh from the ocean. I'm told Casa del Papa is popular with Europeans in the high season. Americans would disdain it only because reaching it is hugely inconvenient. There were 3 pools and if you looked up as if needing something they jumped. Small low, domed open huts were positioned out on the beach far enough apart that you were in solitude. They brought me a chaise lounge and I put down roots. (I made the remark were I fabulously wealthy I'd come in by copter, because return I would!)

And all the while my mind is reeling from knowledge of what is a couple hours away. I know my mind was playing tricks on me. Yes, it was divine having all the amenities, but somehow I kept returning in spirit to the sights and sounds of Lome.

I awoke to an odd swishing sound, even over the roar of the crashing white caps. I got up to see a small African woman with a baby strapped on her back sweeping the sand. Literally sweeping any footprints out of the sand between the cabin and the beach. I inquired and it was work, which she obviously enjoyed. Breakfast buffet was again served under the pavilion and I couldn't wait to hit the beach. We had been non-stop since leaving the previous Monday, and this leisurely Monday was sorely overdue.

The four missionary couples, and Steven and Kristen's children all went with us. I was so glad to see them get this respite. (I figured out that they weren't all scheduled to go with us but Jay and Jerron made it happen.) Demetra, with her heart of pure gold, did manicures and pedicures on the missionary ladies. She sat on the tiled floor up by the pool and the ladies were treated to some pampering. I went to the concession and brought them bottled drinks. I wish that had been my idea.=) We only saw one other couple at breakfast the next morning. Other than that, we "yo-vo" missionaries had the resort to ourselves. Kristen brought kites for the kids, and us older kids enjoyed them as much as Brennan and Ashland. The surf was strong, but Bro. Adams fought it for large shells for his grand daughter, Kayla. I slept for a couple hours on my chaise under my little hut. We spread out each claiming our own little thatched dome, everyone had books and simply chilled out. I sat outside after dinner late that evening on our porch and blogged with my travel candle lit. It was pitch black save the landscape lighting positioned half way to the water. You could hear the roaring ocean but not see a living thing. 

I loved getting to know Jenny Cantrell from Kansas City, Kansas. She and her husband Ken are AIMer's and will return to the states in August in time for their first grand baby's 1st birthday party. When she left he was a very young 2 months old. They are waiting on appointment to Birkena Fasa, the country to the north of Togo I believe. During the mani/pedi session I discovered she and I have strong constitutions (meaning large feet). I wore home one pair of shoes and left her all I took. What kind of sacrifice is that? None. I can go to Payless any given day of the week a mere 1/2 mile from my home. She arrived in Togo 6 months ago with 1 suitcase. We all left anything that could be of use. Sunscreen, bobby pins, lotions, the guys left all their ties and dress shirts, the women their clothes, etc. How do you repay someone for giving up the life we live here in exchange for African life? I know we can't repay in any way, but we surely can do our part to make life as easy as we can for them.

Our departure time of 9 am from paradise came wayyyy too early. We left a bit more rested, yet sincerely anxious to get home. Back in the hot bus, over hill over dale to Lome where we were to fly away home....

Travel Blog-Day 9-Headed Home

Previous to my eyes opening Tuesday, I was groaning. I had been a tad under the weather Monday evening and when I woke it was to abdominal pain. I got up and walked straight out to the water. I was trying to soak in the feel of the beach, ocean, calmness of spirit, knowing we were beginning a LONG journey home.

We met at 9 am and had prayer before beginning. How elated we were to be headed to the grand US of A and yet anguished to know we'd be traveling for 35+ hours. We had to clear customs leaving Benin then again to enter Togo. We planned on going to the airport before lunch for an early luggage check in before our 10.20 pm flight out. Nix that. Customs took a bit longer than was planned. We had dinner and off to "market" we went. I knew we'd find good pricing on happys for our friends and family, but I also had an inkling it would be something of a brouhaha after our experience in No Mans Land. Still, I immensely enjoyed haggling with another crop of car salesmen. I wanted gifts that left no doubt they came from Africa. I found them. But good Lord, those guys love the process of the haggle. And they met their match in me. 

The market is basically an American style flea market but with much less walking space between the rows of booths. One gentleman stepped in front of me and held his arms straight out to his sides as if to block my passage, saying "Madame! Madame! Look to my booth!" Pastor Adams had already laughed at dinner stating that the Africans would be unsure of me because women are as a rule quiet and never outspoken. He made the statement that Lome would never be the same. Well, when this guy blocked my way as if to force me to look at his wares, I looked him directly in the eye and sternly said "Do not block my way." He moved to the side, his eyes bugging out, and made some whoooeeee sound. LOL. His intimidation absolutely was not working on me. I certainly did not want to cheat him, but was also warned they will start off quoting you triple what they will actually take. I left with what I needed.

Gracious hosts, the Adams, allowed us all showers in their home after a hot day of travel back to Lome, then market. We loaded and off we went. It was disconcerting to enter the airport knowing Pastor Adams was not with us. At that point I realized just heavily we had depended on his maneuvering us around. He was not allowed into the airport if not traveling. He did a superb job of planning our days and was so careful to anticipate our needs. We are eternally grateful for his thoughtful kindness.

There is no order to the Lome airport security. We were all trying to get our bags on the conveyor belt to pass through the xray machine as a group, while others were pushing and cramming their bags in with ours. There is no a/c in the check in area and it was quite hot and bad for those who were under the weather. Once assigned a boarding pass we were able to go into an a/c area. One in the group did not fare well with the heat and sickness. I was fearful of them not allowing us all on the plane, but God was with us and we all boarded for our journey back to the land of excess.

Six hours later we were in Paris, and a couple hours later winging our way back home. Nine hours later Houston had never looked so grand. Reclaiming bags then rechecking them for entrance to the states was cumbersome but happily done. I was thankful for the organization, computer screens, and welcome from US Customs officials. Their questions and tight security only make me thankful for the safety we live in daily. We dove into Wendy's and I got the largest Diet Coke available. And guzzled until my eyes watered. A chicken sandwich never tasted so much like a delicacy. I had a moment of guilt remembering Jenny Cantrell saying the first thing she was going to eat when she hit the states was a chicken sandwich from Wendy's. I said a prayer right then and there for her.

Two more hours in the air landed us in New Orleans with smiling faces there to meet us. My desire is to return to Africa for the dedication of the bible school. All knowledge I gained, collimungous included, I'd fly away again tomorrow and repeat the same process.

Friday, June 13, 2008
Post Travel Blog

Here I sit in Hardee's, quite Americanized for the first time in days. I have on "normal" shoes (high-heeled red pumps), eating biscuit and gravy, gulping a large Diet Coke, my Mac plugged into a dreamy, beautiful 120v wall plug (God how I missed that!), and freezing my tush off. I suppose I acclimated to the African heat. I know I sweated buckets, not from the usual gardening nor sunning, just by attending church.

I tend to be a tad formal in conversation subjects. I don't discuss flatulence, diarrhea, nor human waste. But I must admit to several, no many, conversations concerning all 3 afore mentioned. Several of us, myself included, were/are sick. One has been to the potty an average of 25 times daily for the last 4 days, and it was not uncommon for someones eyes to widen, then hastily leave the dinner table with no explanation and return rather white faced. We were careful to use only bottled water, and by the time I finally mastered brushing my teeth while not using tap water, it was time to come home. I was not fond of dipping my toothbrush into a cup of poured bottled water, then brushing, and having to wipe my mouth off so i could drink to swish my mouth out. It was like learning to walk all over again. I bet I turned the faucet on and off 5+ times each time I brushed. I finally got another cup and hung over the spigot to remind me not to turn it on.

We ate in comfortable, clean restaurants but were warned to not use the ice if unsure if it's filtered. Our lunch, though NOT expensive by our standards, would pay the weekly salary of a dozen African laborers. Our Americanized intestines are just not used to anything remotely African. Our drinks were only bottled ones, and we used many anti-bacterial hand wipes. But how do you refuse the hand shakes and hugs of the precious people that are desperately happy to see you? It was inevitable, being queasy and making the bathroom runs (pun intended, God help me), but I'd leave on that jet plane again tomorrow.

I am now safely ensconced in the land of plenty, though my system is still far from up to par. My mind reels with visions of African church services, sidewalk vendors, moto's, missionary sacrifices, baby's tied on women's backs, and no internet. It won't be long that I will take for granted the easy access to ice and my computer being blazing fast and connected. I have had my drink refilled twice with ice added in the last hour.

I pray to never forget all I saw. And to be grateful for the little things. Ice, diet coke from a never ending fountain,120V wall outlets...and 1 million other things...

Sunday, June 22, 2008
“Through My Eyes”

(Disclaimer: This is my "message" from our service highlighting Africa. If you read my travel blogs, this may be redundant. A forum of 6 answered most asked questions about our trip, Jerron opened with facts on the success of Pastor Adams and Andrus, It was then my turn. We ended with a 10 minute media presentation of video footage and still shots from our travels. We took pledges and raised $85,000.00 at service end. This will complete the bible school and dig fresh water wells in multiple villages.)

Early this year, Danny Rivers kindled a fire that now rages within me. He sat down on the steps right here in front of this pulpit and preached a simple thought, "Be the Church". I'll be the first to admit that in my 29 years I'd never heard it on that fashion. His message was direct and incredibly simple. As Christians most of us have been taught how to be "in the church" since our birth. His elementary concept to "be the church" shook me to the core. He basically admonished us to do as the scripture says and "love our neighbor as our selves". In that service, we saw moving footage of Africa that haunts me to this day.
2 weeks ago, I experienced what you and I saw on these screens.
700,000 people live in the teeming city of Lome, the country of Togo, on the continent of Africa. The intense culture shock when we exited the gates of the airport is indelibly imprinted on my mind. There was no power outside the airport. The government shuts the electricity off city wide, at any given time, I assume to conserve energy. Pitch black hardly describes it. The trek to the hotel felt like a race at Talledega, with us being the only racing car, everyone else on motorcycles. Bro. Andrus assured us that no one really drives at night, it's too dangerous. I could NOT imagine daylight when they all DID decide to drive. We were surrounded by motorcycles with missing, dim, or no headlights and I literally could have pulled the ear of multiple people on bikes next to us in the van.
Right now, it's rainy season in Togo and we drove through ponds in intersections that would make headlines in the Columbian Progress reading "Flash Flood". Koffi, our driver seemed to not notice and drove right off into the ponds. Somehow we exited on the other side. We arrived at our hotel which obviously has some high falutin' official in their pocket because it was the ONLY public place in the city with electricity, besides the airport.
The city of Lome has no sewage system, no garbage pick up, and not much by way of law enforcement. The average median income is less than $400 annually. Yet the purest, unadulterated worship I've ever witnessed flows from these beautiful people.
My worship is forever altered. How many times have I walked in those doors with a need? I have entered many times with a heavy heart, broken in spirit, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Within these walls I have asked God to provide for me countless times. Within these walls, I have worshipped Him for providing in times of need. Within these walls I have raised my hands and picked up my feet in praise and Honor of His goodness. But all for what? What was the underlying reason for my praise of Him? Do I really worship Him with pure motives or do I worship with knowledge He's going to repay me in some way? I've thanked Him for financial security. I've thanked Him for keeping His hand on my children. I thanked Him when I was able to purchase my home. I worshipped when He blessed me with a new vehicle. I'm eternally grateful to have been placed in this city where the church loves my kids. I adore walking into this choir loft and lifting His name. But why do I do it? Is my praise pure? Is my worship for the right reasons?
When the van pulled onto the grounds of our first African church service, I simply could not stop crying. Tears flowed freely when I heard the beat of the drum, the sound of voices. I didn't understand a single word, yet His spirit permeated the air. Pure praise was being offered up. Do you think anyone was asking for God to provide for their electric bill? They have no electricity. Think any of them were worried about where the money would come from to pay insurance or get the air conditioner repaired? No, they don't know what insurance is and most certainly don't have an air conditioner.
Their hands were lifted with tears flowing because He saved them. He is the reason to live. A church service for them is a clean place to gather and give holy praise to the One who fills their hearts with joy. To glorify the One that died for them. There's no underlying purpose other than to worship the Most High God that loves them
Cultures differ, hence worship differs. Somehow I think God enjoys their worship a bit more than mine. I have purposed to learn to worship God for who He is, rather that for what He has done or what He can do for me.
Their services are extremely long by our standards and most of us would have long headed out to the Deck, WOW, or Azteca, yet these incredible people continue their praise. From the 2 year old to the adult male, tears drip from their chins. Do these children somehow sense that their lives are not long? The life expectancy in Togo is 47 years of age. Disease, hunger, and contaminated water are all factors in their short life spans. 3,000 children die daily of malaria related deaths in Africa alone.
Our single adult ministry, SOLO, took on the task of digging fresh water wells in Africa after the service with Danny Rivers. We set a goal to have at least 2 wells dug this year. And here is where I can put in a plug since I have the microphone. If you are a single adult we welcome you. We meet upstairs in the Family Life Center each Sunday morning at 9.15.=) Tonya and Clayton Farmer are simply doing a fabulous job of building a singles ministry that you will definitely hear a lot out of in the coming years.
You can't imagine my joy when it dawned on me I just may be able to visit a village that we could place a well in. Our first stop on our first morning there, was the new bible school site. Again, the moment we entered the front gate, tears began flowing from my eyes. I learned from Bro. Adams that Woodlawn has been the sole contributor for the new school and after today, I fully believe we will have what it takes to complete the school. My heart felt like a water balloon under a spigot and I was sure it would burst when I learned that there was no well on the bible school site yet. I could not wait to get back to the states and ask the SOLO class if they would agree to our first well being dug at the bible school. I'm happy to report to you that Tonya and Clayton Farmer will be responsible for the well and it will be in honor of Anna Grace Farmer. Today marks the 4th year anniversary of her going to live with Jesus. There are balloons in the foyer for each child in Wallace's GAP kids class. Make sure your child gets a balloon and we'll meet on the front porch to let them go in celebration of this memorable day. Our single adult ministry will join the Farmers in paying for fresh water wells that the life expectancy of children in Togo may be lengthened. Pastor Adams will help us to place the wells in areas where they are needed most. We plan on placing them on church grounds as it gives favor with the chief of the villages.
I now stand between the flags of the two countries we visited, Togo and Benin, and I tell you the needs are overwhelming and never ending. To whom much is given much is required. How many times has a minister stood in this pulpit admonishing us that we have been given so much and we are required to give back. Can you give up a diet coke a day for 3 months and give $100? Can you sacrifice eating out once a week for a year and give $500? Can you live without $1000 a year for shallow entertainment? Your sacrifice will allow this gospel to be spread to parts of the world you may never get to see except through my eyes.
Let me be your eyes and tell you the need is greater than you can wrap your mind around. Pastor Adams assured us that the way to get the truth to these people is thru teaching men and women in the bible school so they can return to their village to pastor a church. He prints all the curriculum for the school therefore they need tons of copy paper. The bible school attendees need bicycles so as to not walk 2-3 hours to preach in their village on weekends while attending school. (Last Sunday after my short testimony, a member of SOLO class gave an offering of $1500.00 to cover 15 bicycles for graduates.) Electricity still has to be run to the bible school property and that alone will be upwards of $15,000.00. Once the school is completed, furnishings will be needed. Desks for the students, bunk beds and mattresses for the dormitories, not to mention Bibles.
We have been given much, now our sacrifice must be great. As Anne of Green Gables says, you just wouldn't believe what all I wanted to tell you about that I simply did not say.
I will close by saying, call the names of Caroline and Randy Adams, and Kristen and Steven Andrus each and every day when you pray. I hope that when standing in line on Judgement day my sacrifice is not compared to nor judged against any of these 4 people. If so, I shall be sorely lacking.
(P.S. The Andrus' have since returned home and are now pastoring in New Hebron, MS.=)