My Treasure

Red Necklace

“A precious stone,” the owner of the souvenir shop had assured me. I loved the shiny pendant, so we spent our last birrs on the necklace before flying back home. Now the fading red paint reveals plastic, and I know that I’ve been scammed. But I don’t mind.

About seven years ago, my husband and I spent ten days in Ethiopia—days we’d been looking forward to so long. We had planned to make it a vacation, to explore Addis Ababa and its surroundings; to get to know Aisha’s country, and to give her the opportunity to say goodbye. Photos of monuments would serve as memorials of her roots.

Instead, the Lonely Planet Guide we pored over during our preparation, lay unopened on my nightstand. We spent most of our time in and around our hotel, immersed in bonding with the nine-year-old girl who now was our daughter.

Aisha bubbled with energy, despite the restless nights she spent coughing and tossing between us. She was relentless in her demands, but her little voice wafting through the air as I pushed her on a swing—wada fee, wada sa, wada fee, wada sa—made me give in every time. The first time in the swimming pool, she tripped and nearly drowned. It didn’t stop her from soaking in the pool an entire afternoon, until her golden skin showed goose bumps—and my teeth were chattering. We played Memory at least a hundred times. I only won once—the first time. That was when I explained the game to her.

She liked joking. During dinner, we felt something tickling our knees, and Aisha explained, “A cat. A big cat.” Looking under the table, we didn’t see anything but a pair of little hands. “Oh—it’s gone.” Her laughter at the look on our faces echoed through the room.

Milk and cheese were labeled “me no,” whereas chewing gum was at the top of her list of favorite foods. Our “no” to some of her wishes triggered several crying fits. I spent an hour rocking her, holding her tight and whispering, “I love you, I love you, I love you…” to reassure her that even if we didn’t allow her to watch television all day, we still loved her.
Standing in front of the mirror for hours, she adorned her short, curly hair with pink ribbons and countless flower clips. Her best friend was my lipstick.

What little we experienced of the city affected us deeply. Modern office buildings rose high above corrugated iron shacks. Goatherds and donkeys wove through rows of honking cars. Elegantly dressed businessmen strode among begging lepers.

Each day, on our way to the nearby breakfast bar, we passed a person so marred by leprosy that it was impossible to tell whether it was a man or woman. We always put some money in the stump that was once a hand. One morning, my husband shared the Gospel. In the absence of a lower jaw, the person could only nod to confirm his words.

Just as we were about to continue our walk back to the hotel, Aisha cried, “Wait!” From her pocket, she fished the chewing gum we bought her that morning. Carefully, she pushed one—then two—sticks out of the package and laid them in the stump. The person nodded again, and Aisha skipped away, right into my arms.

We didn’t make photos of monuments, but monumental moments in our first days as a family were forever engraved in my memory.

So today, as I put on the red necklace with its fake gem, I feel grateful; a worthless souvenir from a country that birthed my greatest treasure—Aisha.


Although she doesn’t speak it anymore, Aisha’s native language is Amharic. Her song on the swing, “wada fee, wada sa, wada fee, wada sa” (written phonetically, as I heard it) means “back, forth, back, forth.”

God’s Candy Bar

Candy BarI recall neither my misdeeds nor the spanking, but I do remember the humiliation when my dear mother demanded that I lower my panties to show my buttocks. The sight must have been worrisome, because for the first time in all my three years, she took me to the grocery and bought me a candy bar. I don’t think I understood her regrets over the punishment, but the unexpected treat elated me.

Jan and I promised that we would never raise a hand against Aisha. However, I confess that I am guilty of raising my voice regularly. I love my daughter more than life, but when she pushes the limits of my patience or defies my parental authority, my self-control tends to grow wings and fly out of the window.

A source of recurring friction is Aisha’s lack of sense of time. Every single school day, I have to urge her, “Come on, honey—it’s late, hurry up now.” I’m always the first to get in the car, waiting for her to race out of the house, her jacket dangling by one sleeve as she holds socks or earrings to put on.

One morning last week, she dragged herself out of bed at 7:45 once again. She got dressed, packed her school bag, and gulped down her yogurt. While she was brushing her teeth, I headed outside to the car. The engine hummed as I sat drumming my fingers on the steering wheel for more than five minutes. Only the concern that I might wake up my husband prevented me from honking the horn in a frustration frenzy. Finally, Aisha jumped into the car. The clock showed 8:08.

“What took you so long? You know we need at least twelve minutes to get to school—you’ll be five minutes late.” I backed out of the driveway and drove as fast as possible around the potholes in the dirt road.

Instead of replying, Aisha flipped down the vanity mirror. “Yuck! My eyeliner is a big failure today.”

As the car roared uphill, the implication of her words hit me. “What? Did you put on makeup when you were already late?” My voice grew louder. “And I sat waiting for you in the car?”

Silence.

I slapped the wheel and further increased the volume. “How in the world did it enter your mind to put on makeup at a moment you’re supposed to be on your way to school?”

No answer.

“Today you won’t escape, young lady. I’ll have to sign a tardy slip, and it will go on your record.” I knew she loathed the idea. “That will teach you.”

A glance to the side revealed that she had her eyes shut. I knew she was praying to be allowed in without a tardy slip; she always does when she’s late.

Well, sweetheart, your prayer won’t help you this time.

8:20—The gravel crunched as I parked the car in front of the school. Impossible—the doors are still open. Aisha grabbed her school bag and rushed inside the school building without saying goodbye. Surely, they won’t let her pass.  I opened the car and was about to step out when she appeared in the doorway and gave me a thumbs up, her face flushing with triumph.

I slumped back in my seat. God, what are you doing? She deserves a rebuke! I could use some backup in my attempts to educate my daughter. How will she ever take me seriously?

Grumbling, I reached for the key.

What do you remember—the spanking or the candy bar?

My hand froze in midair. As the thought sank in, a sigh escaped my lips, and I bowed my head. Okay God, You win. I’m sorry. Not my way, but Yours.

Feeling small before the great God of grace, I started the car and drove home.


photo credit: Mars Honeycomb split via photopin (license)

I first submitted this article to the FaithWriters Weekly Writing Challenge. The topic was “Pride.”

Shards of Life

Broken Vase
About three weeks ago, I did an attempt to write a serious poem. It was the first time in my life (okay, since adolescence…). After I submitted it to the FaithWriters Weekly Writing Challenge, I discovered that God used it to speak into my own life. I had indeed built some walls that had dark corners with ugly growths. Covered by God’s grace, I put everything in the light. Restoration is in process. God is so good.

Here’s the poem, and I pray it will bless you.


 

The Broken Vase

 

A heavy weight has crushed my brittle heart

A vase that broke into a million pieces,

Its purpose lost. My emptiness increases.

I’m floored, oh God, all hope from me departs.

 

Betrayal, loss, affliction, and despair

Piled up until too bulky to be carried.

Under the crashed-down rubble now lies buried

My soul. Into the face of death I stare.

 

You say you’re near and you’ll revive my spirit.

So God, pick up this shattered heart of mine

My fallen, fractured selfand please align

Reality with what’s my rightful merit.

 

Your quiet’s hard to stand; my strength is streaming

Into the soil beneath my suff’ring soul.

A vortex drags me down, out of control.

Anxiety attacks, depression’s scheming.

 

Still waiting here for You, my God. Restore me.

Accomplish what you promised. I believe

That you exist, so why don’t You relieve

My anguish? Why not chase the gloom that’s o’er me?

 

Dear child of Mine, I’ve heard your ev’ry prayer,

Your cries and wails resounding in My heart.

I know the pain that’s tearing you apart.

You yearn, yet you don’t yield all to My care.

 

When you hold back, I cannot make you whole.

If you build walls, defensive with dead angles

Where anger broods and bitter roots entangle,

To shield your sin, I cannot mend your soul.

 

You do believe, but why don’t you surrender?

Why don’t you trust My mercy, love and grace?

Hand over all the fragments of your vase;

I’ll glue—renew—and pour it full of splendor.

 

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).

 


 

photo credit: Day 207: Shattered Chivas via photopin (license)

The Photo Album

Photo Album“Mom, look what I found—pictures. Can I have a look?” Aisha’s voice interrupts my afternoon nap; a square photo album lands with a thud on the kitchen table.

“Sure, honey.” With a sigh, I hoist myself out of the recliner and sit down next to my teenage daughter. She lifts the heavy cover to reveal the first page, which displays the photo of a woman in her late twenties. Her complexion is perfect, her body athletic.

A stab of envy pierces my heart. I don’t need a mirror to remind me of my crow’s feet and the worry lines on my forehead. Without thinking, I reach up to touch the loose skin of my throat.

Aisha turns the page, careful not to tear the glassine interleave; the same woman smiles at us from a rowboat. She is a sportswoman and I know how she enjoys the rhythm of her strokes as the skiff glides through the water. On the opposite page, she is wearing a runner’s outfit; I recognize how she’s counting her steps, breathing deep, and reveling in the endorphin surge.

I look down at my fifty-plus body. It’s starting to sag. Arthritis is destroying my spine’s cartilage, sending painful messages to my right leg through compressed nerves. Walking is all I can do.

It is as if she’s mocking me, that woman in the pictures. She is in the prime of life, taking beauty and health for granted. In the arrogance of youth, she is confident that she will find the perfect love and lead a purposeful life, satisfying her innate need for happiness. A few bad experiences—and a couple of poor choices—have shaken but not shattered her conviction. She is in control.

Aisha studies the pictures, then looks up. “Is that you, Mom?”

“Yes, that’s me—about twenty-five years ago.”

“Wow. You’ve grown old.”

My mouth puckers. “Well, that’s what happens as time goes by.”

“What is it like to grow old, Mom? Do you feel worse now than when you were young?”

“Uh—” Suddenly, I remember the void. Because the woman I used to be searched for happiness in all the wrong places. The longing for love led her to make hasty decisions and choose harmful relationships. She hadn’t yet figured out that the career path she had taken wouldn’t lead to self-fulfillment. The pride elicited by a compliment of a manager and a significant raise—these things did nothing to fill the emptiness of her soul. And the runner’s high never lasted.

“I definitely feel better now.” As I talk, the truth of my words makes me smile. “Certainly, I’ve lost a bit of beauty and my body is wearing out, but I wouldn’t want to go back in time.”

“But why not? Didn’t you like being young?”

“Maybe I looked better, but I wasn’t happy.”

“Because you didn’t know Jesus?”

“Exactly.”

“Are you happy now?” Her gaze scrutinizes me.

I wrap an arm around her shoulder and plant a kiss on her cheek. “Definitely. And life is getting better every day.”

She leans against me as we quietly leaf through the rest of the album.

My outer self may be wasting away, but my inner self is being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16—ESV).


 

A Prayer about Worn Socks

Worn Socks

Dear Jesus,

This morning, I dropped a pair of worn socks in the trashcan and suddenly felt a twinge of guilt. My Mama went to be with You three years ago, yet I could almost hear her sneering, “Your Aunt Terry is a lazy bum. She doesn’t mend holes in socks; she just throws them away.”

Am I lazy, Jesus? I know I’m not the diligent housewife my Mama modeled. To her, housekeeping was a way of life that began at fifteen, when her father sent her away to be a round-the-clock maid. A relentless sense of duty made her toil every day, all day long.

Her countertop was always cleared. She prepared breakfast and invariably had lunch ready in time for us to get back to school for the afternoon. She didn’t vacuum the house by pushing the handle of the vacuum cleaner; she removed the handle, put the smallest nozzle to the tube, and went down on all fours to make sure it swallowed every crumb and dog hair from the carpet. The day she dropped a frying pan, and boiling oil splattered against her legs, the first thing she did was mopping up the mess. By the time she got to the doctor’s, her legs were two big blisters. The house was always spotless, from fridge to bathroom, from cellar to attic. Every cupboard, drawer, and wardrobe was neatly organized. When my father lost his job, she got a job as a janitress at a local school, doing what she did best.

And at the end of each working day, she put up her crooked feet—the painful result of a lifetime spent standing—and took out her mending basket. She never idled.

Ever since I was twelve, Mama urged me to tidy up my own bedroom, “Because you’re a girl and you must learn housekeeping.” I hated it. Dirty, she wrote in the dust on my bookshelves.

I’m in my fifties now and have my own family. But I still detest cleaning. Please don’t misunderstand me, Jesus—I love a tidy house. I just don’t like the process of achieving it. Somehow, it always ends up last on my list of priorities. I prefer talking with my husband over a cappuccino or worshiping You. Visiting friends, sharing Your love, and praying with them. Hiking in the woods, working on my book, or studying my Bible. Chatting with my daughter, helping her doing homework, or reading a good book.

I vacuum quickly, never on all fours. I never iron. Our wardrobes are a random pile of loosely folded clothes. I wash the dishes once a day. Never in my life have I done a spring cleaning. And I don’t mend holes in socks.

The other day, my daughter asked, “Who’s coming for dinner tonight?”

“Why, honey?” I stopped scrubbing the washstand.

“Because you’re cleaning the house.”

Jesus, it’s true that some days, I loath the idea of unexpected visitors, with dirty dishes piled up, a smudged floor, three dogs in the hallway, and schoolbooks plus half the contents of my daughter’s dressing table scattered in the dusty living room. But then You encourage me with the words that You spoke in Martha and Mary’s house, and I decide I’d rather be found amidst the clutter, radiant at Your feet, than grumpy in a spick-and-span house.

I can’t imagine dust or dirt in heaven. Mama must be having a good time.

By the way, can you please tell her that I love her—and assure her that I’m not a lazy bum?

Thank You, Jesus.

Amen.


You can find the story of Jesus in Martha and Mary’s house in the Gospel of Luke 10:38-42.

I submitted this article first to the FaithWriters Weekly Writing Challenge.

photo credit: New socks required ! via photopin (license)

GraceTruth-Featured

Greedy for Mushrooms

Truffle HuntingWhat’s that car doing down there, at the entrance of our pasture?

I descend the steep dirt road and notice a man approaching. “Buongiorno.”

Signora.” The man avoids looking at me.

“Excuse me, but what were you doing?”

“Searching… tartufi.”

Truffles? Our grounds contain truffles?

“Uh—black truffles?” I try to sound casual.

He shuffles his feet and thrusts one hand into his jeans pocket. “Well…no, white ones.”

The white gold of Umbria—worth up to €3000 per kilo.

A nervous excitement seizes me. “Did you find any?”

Beh, not really. It hasn’t been raining enough.”

In an instant, I’m transported back twelve years…in France…

***

The scent of resin enveloped me as I left the path and ducked under low branches into the pine forest. By the light of dawn, I scanned the soil for porcini mushrooms. Nothing. Had someone gotten here before me? Although I hadn’t detected any signs yet—mushroom stems, cut at ground level—the mere idea of an intruder was enough to infuriate me. Never mind that it was a public forest; I discovered this porcini-rich area. It was mine.

My gaze fastened on a bulge in the earth. I brushed aside needles to reveal the light brown cap of a mushroom. After removing the soil around the fungus, I cut its stem and inhaled the creamy, nutty fragrance. My spotless treasure, weighing at least a pound, filled me with exhilaration.

Just as I closed the lid of my basket, a rustle called my attention. I froze. I caught a glimpse of a rival’s boots as he wandered past, his stick lifting the underbrush along the path. Needles pricked my face; my back ached. But I refused to budge.

While waiting for the threat to recede—my eyes ever roving—I spotted a mushroom above ground, about ten feet away. As soon as all was clear, I crawled to it and found it wasn’t alone. This wasn’t hunting; this was mining! I worked feverishly. My knife hovered over some small ones; if I left them, tomorrow they’d be much bigger—but no, I couldn’t risk anyone else discovering them. The entire porcini family disappeared into my basket. They were mine.

On my way back home, I overtook my foe.

“Porcini hunting?” He asked with more than normal interest.

“Yes, but it’s a bad year.” I twirled my basket as if it didn’t weigh five kilo.

“You’re right—I didn’t find anything either.” His plastic collecting bag fluttered in the breeze.

***

The man’s whistle calls me back to the present. A beagle comes running and sits down at the feet of his owner.

“Does the dog help you to find truffles?”

Si, signora. When he sniffs them out, he starts scratching the ground, and I dig them up with a scoop.”

He takes his hand out of his pocket and shows five marble-sized truffles. “Do you want them? They are yours after all.”

They’re mine…

I ignore the whisper in my head. Thanks to Jesus, I’m not the person I was twelve years ago.

“No, please keep them. I only asked because yesterday, I found a dead badger with snare wounds around its snout. I just wanted to make sure you hadn’t put any traps out here; they would hurt our dogs.”

“Thank you.” He puts the truffles back in his pocket.

“Will you sell them or eat them?”

“Definitely sell them, signora. I recently lost my job. Since my wife works only part-time, and we have two small children, I am looking for ways to make some money.”

Before he closes the door of his old Fiat Panda, he lifts his hand in greeting. “Grazie, signora. Arrivederla.

A trail of grey smoke marks his path as he drives up the road.

I set out for my walk back home. Despite the steep climb, I manage a spring in my step.


I published this article first on FaithWriters.

Photo credit: Stefano Cellai/age fotostock

A desire ran wild, handed over

Even a normal, healthy desires can turn unhealthy if we allow it to run wild and dominate us. In this article, I share with you how in 2006, I surrendered my “baby lust” to God, and how He molded it into sheer beauty.



 

Verdant hills roll to the horizon; a river glistens in the sun. The breeze caresses my face as I look at my belly, which bulges under a wide dress. Smiling, I wrap my arms around myself and embrace the wonder of new life.

Beep, beep, beep!

Three minutes had passed. I half opened one eye, eager to know the result, but afraid of disappointment. A little pink line stared at me. Hoping to detect a second pink line, I opened my other eye as well. I blinked. Nothing. My womb was empty.

I grabbed the pregnancy test stick off the washstand and tossed it in the trashcan, along with my dream.

It wasn’t the first time I considered having a child, but I had always found a reason to tuck the idea away. Now I wasn’t in control. Baby clothes brought me to tears. Imaginary telephone conversations to announce my pregnancy to family and friends made me beam. Whenever my husband, Jan, and I sketched our future, I drew a little one into the picture. I planned a nursery. I even named my baby. The prospect of morning sickness, stretch marks, or labor pains didn’t ruin my reverie; rather it added a heroic touch.

As the months crept by, my jubilant anticipation gave way to fear and frustration. The craving intensified with each negative test result, clutching my heart so tight it hurt.

Jan was at peace. “If God wants us to have a baby, we will conceive. Otherwise, we will remain a family of two.”

I fought his words. “If God exists, surely He wouldn’t be so cruel as to stir up this devouring need and then deny me a child.”

Later that year, when I surrendered to God, I learned that He might have given me the desire, but He wouldn’t want it to run wild and dominate my life. I decided to let Him reign.

But then early menopause hit, and I had a hard time accepting that I would never feel life grow within me, give birth, or nurse my baby. Jesus received my tears and tended to my wounds.

When He promised me a child through a Bible verse, “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear…,” I was confused and terrified. “Lord, what if I heard You wrong? What if my scars rip open and the craving creeps out? Can I bear it?”

Yet I chose to trust Him.

Ever so gently, Jesus molded my desire into a longing to care for a child—any child, no matter in whose womb it had been conceived.

Instead of enduring nausea, a big belly, and contractions, we struggled with adoption information sessions, psychological assessments, and a huge pile of paperwork.

Two years later, when the adoption agency proposed a seven-year-old Ethiopian girl, we knew Aisha was to be our daughter. Mesmerized, we gazed at her pictures. “When can we bring her home?”

Cheerfully, the psychologist answered, “The Ethiopian court must study your dossier and approve you as Aisha’s adoptive parents. If everything goes according to plan, the process will be completed within six months.”

Waiting at least another half a year and facing the risk of being rejected—o Lord, I need your help.

While collecting and authenticating the last documents, I submitted the adoption procedure and my fears to Jesus. He was faithful. He armed me with confidence and patience to fight the lavish longing that was about to organize a coup in my heart and rule once more.

One autumn day, we found ourselves sitting on the edge of a rickety couch in an orphanage in Addis Ababa. There, amid dusty furniture and boxes piled up to the ceiling, I first pressed Aisha’s small body against my chest. There, I felt Jesus wrap His arms around us, embracing the wonder of new life—a new family.

 


Notes

The Bible verse, “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear…” is from Isaiah 54:1.

This article was first published in the FaithWriters’ Weekly Writing Challenge.