Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Too-Faithful Teachers

Deanna gave me a lesson in driving a stick shift today, and we had zero stalls! Sammy tried to teach me a few years ago, but we spent the first 45 minutes sitting in the car as he explained the technical machinations of the gears in minutia. By the time I started trying to drive, my mind was trying to move my hands and feet based on a complete and complex understanding of what was going on in the inner workings of the car. This process does not lend itself easily to making quick decisions (such as you have to do while driving). Today was so much better. Manual seems easy enough...I probably just need a few more tries at it to get my feet and hands used to their new movements. It will be like playing a new piece on the piano...once the fingers have memorized it, you can begin the fine-tuning.

If I had my preference, I'd love for my mother to fine-tune my new skills. Family lore says her brother taught her how to conserve gas on the San Francisco hills, and when my father met her he was most impressed by the amazingly aggressive way she attacked the California roads in her little Beetle. Mom still drives aggressively (it has stood her in good stead in Chicago), but we've never owned a manual there so I've never seen this famed skill. In fact, I think it might be one of the most therapeutic things she could do...drive a manual on hilly country roads. Perhaps I'll be able to arrange it. (Another thing to add to the "Mom Must" vacation list. That and the National Tropical Botanic Gardens on Kauai.)

Speaking of teachers who are a little too faithful and thorough (I love you, Sam!)...

I was reminded yesterday as I pulled sticky notes out of The Last Battle that I wanted to brag about the Lord in relation to a little incident from about two weeks ago. I had wanted to give my summer school students a very straightforward presentation of the Gospel before school ended, for who knows if/when they might ever hear it. In one of the classes I had a teachers' aide, David. Although I'd felt free the whole term to speak about God openly in his hearing, for some reason this particular prospect loomed in my heart as a very large hurdle. Whether it was right or wrong (I was sure it was wrong and just fear-of-man), I couldn't shake the inhibition I felt as I prayed and prepared. David was an extremely faithful aide. In the whole term he had never once been late, or absent, or left the room during class. On the particular day I'd chosen to talk to the children David came up to me in the beginning of class, as usual, to review my lesson plan for the period and what his involvement was to be. Since school was winding down and I'd carefully planned to read several things to the kids as literary segues into our talk about Jesus, I didn't have tons for him to do except perhaps some grading. To my surprise, instead of heading back to his table to begin work, he suggested that he knew of another teacher who happened to really need help that period with some end-of-term things, and he wondered if I would mind if he went to her classroom. I happily released him. Not once in the entire term had that happened! With great confidence I was able to use the rest of the period to gently point the children toward Jesus.

In thinking about it afterward I realized how perfectly God had worked it out. I still feel I shouldn't have let a teenager's presence inhibit me, but being the gracious God He is, He not only pulled strings to take away that inhibition, but also confirmed to me that I had chosen the right day to speak to them and that He was going to work.

How fun is that?!

Monday, July 28, 2008

I Am More Beautiful

Whatever you’ve heard about Hawaii, believe. Unless someone tells you it’s paradise. A friend was praying a week before I flew here and he accidentally asked God to bless me in heaven. It was quickly reworded, “Hawaii,” as we all giggled. My very first impression when I saw the mountains that surround my brother’s house, (one which has lasted these three months) was not that I would find beauty here, but that I would find the Lord. Every time I have paused to take in a sight and have intentionally opened my spirit to hear His comments on it, He has said this: “I am more beautiful.” It is no denigration of the creation lying in front of us. It is just simple truth. And I love that truth!

I was reminded of this in Kauai this past week. The beauty there should have been overwhelming, and to many people it probably is. But I’m just me, and God keeps whispering this thing in my ear, and I stare at lush mountains and white-frosted aqua seas and they seem remote and half-way compared to the tangible presence of Jesus.

The two things I don’t have pictures of are what most impressed a mark on me. At the organic farm where we camped one night we hung out in the “cookhouse” with a pile of the hippies who work 15 hours a week in exchange for a campsite. Laid-back, earthy, dull, and-in spite of their grasped and obtained “freedom”-visibly repressed, they welcomed us with an ease and a carelessness that was little interested in whether we were or were not. Two thoughts were paramount during those hours with them. One was whether or not it’s possible to get high accidentally off the fumes of someone else’s weed (oh, I’m so ignorant…it’s funny, but don’t laugh at me, Anna Lew!) and the other, fighting for predominance and winning, was how I could possibly share the good news with this group of people so in need of it. Conversation was not engaged in, openings were not being made, and I felt myself so ill-equipped (as Mr. Darcy might say) to recommend myself to strangers such as these. Why would they listen to a clean, groomed girl who had spent the last few nights in a posh resort, was a college graduate, and politely declined their offers to share in the joints? The more they smoked, the more each retreated into their own internal world and the chance slipped further out of my fingers. Do you know how frustrating it is to know how to save a drowning man but be tied to your boat? I kept praying for some sort of opening and finally God gave me the opportunity He had built into the evening. Hippie girl #1 (bubbly and carefree) had been to the store and bought markers and a journal. It was decided that everyone who stayed there should write in it, and Deanna and I were to inaugurate the book since we were the first who would be “leaving” the farm. When it finally got into my hands I knew what to write about—His voice, continually telling me, “I am more beautiful than this,” and my joy at having something more to look forward to than the beauty in the natural realm.

We retreated then, using a cell phone to guide our stumbling feet along ruts and mango rows and vegetables growing in the red dirt. Before bed we were invited into the owner’s metal barn-home, where we were supposed to be watching a movie but instead watched scuttling cockroaches in relief against the bright computer screen-the only bit of light in all that huge, dirty space. I was glad they were on the screen, for then they were not on me (at least, so I hoped).

The second interaction that impressed me was with Vladimir, the Russian-named Brazilian to whom we fed s’mores roasted to perfection in Lawrence’s beach campfire. Lawrence had gotten a job recently, but didn’t have enough yet to snag a place to live, so he was camping on the beach until he’d saved up. Tom, his friend, came and zipped himself up in his bag next to the fire, accepted one of our s’mores, and promptly slipped into an oblivion of sleep only the homeless achieve. The starry sky above us would surely turn rainy at some point during the night. I didn’t remember Tom being there until morning, after I had survived the disturbing hours of high wind and crashing surf from under the safe cover of a Marine combat tent. How Tom fared I don’t know. He was gone before we rose. But Vladimir, who was so handsome and thought he knew so much…who accepted our food and our help in the dark rain then carelessly insulted all we had told him of ourselves…whose request to impose himself on the rest of our trip we refused, yet who unknowingly slept all night as a tent guard between us and the creepo in the camp beyond… this man I tried to reason gently with under the stars. There is absolute truth. Religions are made by man, but God is still Himself, whatever we may say of Him. Should we throw away reality because someone else once offered us a twisted rendition of it? But he would not listen. Perhaps he was thinking too much about sleeping on the beach under such stars, or about managing to get a place in our car the next day, or about the very American experience of campfire s’mores next to pretty, kind girls. In any event, I was glad when rain abruptly sent us scattering to our various tents.

That is not a very complete rendition of our Kauai trip, which also involved treacherous hikes toward the wettest place on earth, views of an unparalleled Napali coastline, dances in the festival crowds around very Hawaiian bands, tastes of Kauai pie ice cream (coffee, coconut, macadamias, fudge), sushi and poke, destroyers anchoring off swimming beaches, birds playing among the resort’s breakfast buffeters while early surfers dotted the waves just beyond, pervasive and permanent red dirt, packaging up 70 lbs fresh mangoes for transport to the airport then Hilo, Queen’s Bath’s salty buoyancy giving us the ability to swim and watch the schools of fish around our feet at the same time… The beauty of Kauai is extreme, but even in the midst of it, He kept whispering the same thing to me: “I am more beautiful than this.” And I am so glad. I would be sorely disappointed if anything I could see or experience on this earth was the pinnacle of joy and beauty. I need more to look forward to than that, and I have it.

I've posted tons of photos w/lots of explanatory captions on facebook. Here's a link, for those of you who are interested :)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Island Hopping

Hooray! We're all excited (except Arden, who really never knows what's going on) as we're heading to Kauai tomorrow morning. Anna and Jim have raved so much that I can't wait to see it, although I really won't expect to have as gorgeous a time as they--the just-married duo of mercy and power. We'll probably have pretty different accommodations, too. After a few posh days in a hotel, Deanna and I are venturing northward toward an organic farm, where you pick veggies in exchange for camping on the land. We'll probably get out of the veggie picking bit, as we're "just visiting" to check it out. But the camping on the land bit...well, we've borrowed a combat tent from a Marine, loaded up on the bug spray (don't tell the org. farmers), and prayed for no rain.

Unfortunately, Deanna has never camped before, so once again I find myself in the position that made me cry out desperately that night in Kansas, "I will never camp again without a man!" (Life doesn't obey inner vows, in case you didn't already know. Neither do tornadoes and storms and eerie flashing lights, which is what generated that cry.) Since then, I've endured thumb-sized spiders dropping like rain out of trees, so I am, supposedly, the "experienced" one. So experienced that it's only just now I've remembered we need a flashlight. Ahh. At least I know how to put up a tent. Other than up, I guess it'll be up to Jesus to be the man, and us to be courageous.

Don't worry. We will be.

What Fun!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Turtle Heads

I should be working up a lesson plan for the last week of my reading class, but before I do, I thought you'd like a glimpse of yesterday's drive up the east of Oahu to the north shore and Turtle Bay. Since it's a sort of tourist resort area I didn't really expect to see any (turtles, that is) but as soon as we walked on the beach and headed toward the water guess what we saw right there about three feet from land, swimming around a guy with a boogie board, popping his head up to take a look...? The cutest turtle!

If turtles could be said to frolic, this one was. Or perhaps his curiosity had gotten the better of him. They have a sense of security, I believe, since it is a Huge Infraction to get too near one. You can be fined up to $25,000 for touching a sea turtle in Hawaii. He came within one foot of the swimmer, just investigating around, then scooted off into deeper water. The above is not our photo, but it's exactly what these turtles looked like, just randomly poking their heads above water to get a breath.

We wandered over the sand to a very rocky area (where more friendly turtles occasionally popped up for air) where little pools left behind by the tide contained hermit crabs and snails and, to my joy, dried sea salt. It was very hot, and where the sun had evaporated the water, a layer of white salt was left over the sand particles. I tested some. Just like what you'd buy in the store--same chunky size, same taste. Deanna snapped a few photos of me walking along the shore, watching things (boogie boarders, often). Wish you'd been with us to walk as well. This particular spot has a very strong current, and a few months ago a snorkeler was swept out to sea and
drowned. But a few feet to the right was safe, and we did do some swimming about. I have discovered why turtles have such hard shells, though. The rocks they swim by are some of the hardest, pokingest, cuttingest rocks ever (to use the sort of quirky English Annie might :).

Arden and I also did some reading on the towels while Deanna and Dora snorkeled. After about an hour of it a week ago I've decided I'm not such an ardent fan. Maybe it was the humongous multicolored fish I almost ran into. Arms were flailing dangerously near it as I tried in vain to go into reverse. (Is that possible in fins?) I didn't succeed, but he got out of my way and disappeared into the silt. Seriously humongous--plus being sky blue and pink and yellow. I just didn't want to know what his scales felt like! Do you blame me?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Man of War, Mu'umu'us, and Favor

Has anyone out there ever tried a mu’umu’u? (Commonly known as a mumu.) They’re delightfully comfortable. Fabric touches your shoulders and arms, but almost no other part of your body. I finally understand all the old ladies who sit in their mumus on the hot front porch, fanning themselves. It’s not that Hawaii is particularly hot (it’s not, comparatively), it’s that the only place with air conditioning is Dora’s car. So, I admit, I am wearing a 25-cent mu’umu’u that I picked up at the local Baptist church’s big garage sale a few weekends ago. (To be fair, you should know that Deanna bought 5, as they were 5 for $1.) It was more than just a garage sale. We came home one day to find a little door hanger on our knob announcing the upcoming event. Free Food! Games! Door Prizes! and Garage Sale! Pali View Baptist Church is about a block down the street, and since the picture that went along with “Free Food!” was clip-art of a hotdog, Dora (whom one must remember is pregnant and occasionally blurts out such things as, “You know what would be great right now? A sausage-egg-and-cheese biscuit!”) traipsed us all down there in two shifts and we partook.

The Baptists are very nice people. They give away free hot dogs and shave ice, and sell their mumus for only 25 cents. They also give away “prizes” and I, who view myself as one of those
people who never win the free stuff, just got a call from the pastor saying that I won the big prize! A child’s bike. This could be related to what was called last Sunday a “season of favor.” One of the prayer teams at church gave me that word, and I’m taking this bike as a confirmation. (I just never would have guessed I’d be favored with a fancy, new, yellow child’s bike. Now to figure out what to do with it… Dora, ever practical, suggests we Craigslist it and get enough money to buy several of the “lesser” prizes-the ones I’d really wanted-Starbucks cards.) Either way, it was fun news to kick off an afternoon that proved to be as beautiful as one could want.

After another tiring morning of teaching grammar to middle school students (it feels akin to

pushing an elephant into the back seat of your car) I headed home and we all piled in the car for a beach outing. Waimanalo was the target, as we'd never been there, but after we'd unloaded everything and carted it to the water we discovered this sign:

Yes, Portuguese Man-of-War. Their sting could kill a baby (one of which was happily toddling around with us, longing for the water). After double-checking with the lifeguard, who confirmed that at least once a year someone is stung, then dipping in and discovering that the water was pretty silty, we packed right back up and headed for the car. It's sort of silly, because it's not like going a mile down the road is going to save us from a Man-of-War. But off we headed to find a beach where the caution sign was at least not so disturbingly visible, and the water was clearer (in the hopes we could see this new danger coming). Bellows Air Force Base is between our house and Waimanalo, so we motored in. It's actually a vacation station for military. The public beach there was closed for military exercises, but Dora's ID got us right on in to the base beach, and what an amazing place it turned out to me. I cannot rave enough about it, and if I tried you would think I was crazy. This was the best beach I have ever swum at. (Yes, Lizzie, it even beats Lanikai!) Most of the beaches around here are bathtub temperature water, so that was not surprising. But this beach stayed shallow with perfectly creamy sand underfoot for yards and yards out into the ocean. Large swells appeared at random times, cresting near the beach. For the first time I stretched out on my back, closed my eyes, and drifted where the waves might take me. Do you know how delightful it is to see a clear hump of turquoise water rise up before you, cutting off all view of the horizon, meeting the light blue sky's white clouds, and then to ride up in it yourself, pushed almost into that very sky? We used Arden's floatie as a boogie board, and I also tried some body surfing (delightful and very wet fun when timed right). The water was as clear as crystal once we were beyond the cresting line. The beach itself is far from any town (we had to drive for a while on base to get to it) and is lined with tropical pine trees of some nature, and in the background is an unobstructed view of the green mountains that line this windward side of the island. Stunning. So while the military did their exercises (as Deanna and Dora exclaimed with disgust: "sweaty, hot, men" and I thought with pity of their predicament...driving around all day in amphibious vehicles, wearing camis and boots and never able to have a cool frolic in the water surrounding them...the few we saw looked very overheated indeed) we lounged in the water like private heiresses. This is they, poor souls:

And here were we:

All cameras were forgotten or left in the car, so we have no pictures of ourselves, but that made it all the more relaxing, as the back of my mind never had to consider all the perfect shots I was missing, or should be taking. I came away feeling calmed, soothed, and clean. Do you know that sleepy, tired contentment you have after a heavy exercise and a cool shower? Or after a perfect meal (at which you didn't eat too much) and a delightful night-time walk? I've never felt that way coming off a beach. Usually the sand and the sticky damp left over from salt water overpower the health that the sun intended to bestow.

Now, as a rule, military bases are not my favorite places. A traumatic experience with one in the past has left me with an unsettling fear of men in uniforms who follow the letter of the law and sometimes, consequently, misadminister justice. Or if there is no law, who may make one up arbitrarily (one which might be very inconvenient to others, as happened to Dora and me recently.) My stomach always braces up a little when I head onto base with Dora. I'm expecting to be turned away at the gate or told I don't belong, and that is never helpful for a girl's psyche. As it is, I have to get signed in at the grocery store as a guest, and am strictly forbidden from even touching the items on the shelves when I "help" Dora shop for food. (I stick to pushing the cart and caring for Arden.) However, today I was happy on a base. Unusual. It just so happens that all those rules keeping people out worked to our advantage for once, and the beach was delightfully calm and uncrowded. We never even thought twice about abandoning all our bags and accoutrements on the shore while we swam, for what soldier or sailor or marine would fish around in someone else's bag? (Perhaps I'm a little too trusting. Human nature is human nature, whether you're trained to follow orders or not.)

I could keep writing, but tomorrow is another day of explaining grammar to pre-teens and controlling a reading class of 25 varied children - eager, talkative, taciturn, and restless in their turn. I'm tackling poetry. Has anyone ever read Wordsworth to that many kids at once successfully? I'll find out!