Disabled But Able*

Disabled But Able*

“DBA”* is painted on the little sign that hangs on the gate. This is the only indication of the business located in the garage on the property. I entered and walked up to the open garage door. Five busy people paused mid-task when I greeted them, “Ngapi … nawa … ewa.” “Good morning. How are you? … “ There were nods, smiles and greetings returned. Though I had stopped by once before, I reintroduced myself. One young man moved a chair for me to where I could sit and observe their work. I was most welcome.

Their director, who unfortunately didn’t appear that day, had earlier indicated to me that this group could use some assistance in various areas, specifically with their cookie recipe and “they also have spiritual needs” he said. Today I was there to observe and learn.

“Kwakukanga icookie,” one lady explained as she and her colleague scooped spoonfuls of dough and placed them on the baking sheets. “We are baking cookies.” I repeat the ruKwangali phrase, the Bantu syllables rolling off my tongue and feeling oh, so familiar. This is their mother tongue and the language I might have learned had this assignment required it. Two of the young men speak English fairly well and were able to answer my questions: Do you have a printed recipe for the cookie? Might I look at it? Though one of the sighted members looked high and low, the recipe was nowhere to be found. I wonder how long they’ve been making cookies now without referring to the recipe.

I sat and just listened to their conversation. I noticed certain grammatical structures similar to the eMakhuwa I learned in Mozambique. I thought I could distinguish personal pronouns and singular nouns from their plural. I picked up on some noun classes. My heart raced as it dawned on me this could be the perfect “language immersion” environment. Rule one of language learning: listen, listen, listen. Here were five people who had been doing the same assembly line task for years and between them could turn out over 300 cookies in four hours with their eyes closed, literally— since two of them are blind! Unselfconsciously they conversed together, amicably, all morning as they scooped and flattened dough balls, put pans in and out of the oven, lifted hot cookies off the pans onto cooling racks and, finally, packaging them ten to a bag to sell in local stores. And I just listened. “If I had started coming here a year ago, I’d be fluent in this language by now,” I thought with chagrin.

My mind drifted to various language-learning environments I’ve experienced. By far, immersion is the most effective language learning recipe, if you will. Our family practiced this method in Portugal when our Spoon Lickers were very little. [Immersion = except for a few key bilingual helpers, you live and move within the local culture, avoiding contact with speakers of your mother tongue.] To get anywhere, to buy anything, to accomplish any task or errand we were forced to use Portuguese. Our children attended the local day care and went to a local school. We chose a church that didn’t have any English speakers. They have their own stories of the immersion experience — some horrific, some hilarious.

I was jerked back into the present by an automated, English voice rattling off a long number sequence followed by something like “this account owing six-hundred [Namibian] dollars, due March 9 …” then another similar message, and on it went. One of the blind gentlemen was “reading his financial statements in English” in the brilliant way technology has provided for those with his visual challenges “This guy is seriously in debt!” I realized with a start. I turned away – (“Should I be hearing this private information? Though no one else here understands, has he forgotten my presence?”) – out of courtesy, before I caught myself. I might as well look right at him, for all the difference it would make.

My eyes roved the wall. Several old posters are mounted which tell what organization has given financial support to the DBA project and the amount given. They obviously seek to receive money from donors.

Another poster declares “Our ability exceeds our disability.” For, indeed, every member has a physical disability, but you’d never know by watching them get those cookies from a state of raw ingredients to the store shelf.

The poster that intrigued me the most, though, was the paper scroll that extends from ceiling to floor entitled “Our Wish List”. It is full from top to bottom. The items higher on the list, the things absolutely necessary to their business of cookie making, all have a check next to them. Item acquired! I’m not sure how the other items fit into the business of turning out a great cookie, however: a lounge set, dishes, silverware, an espresso machine, a car …

I watch the cookies pile up. They are flat as a sheet of paper. They offer me a sample. The texture reminds me of fruit roll-ups. The flavor is pleasant. It has promise. Maybe they could be marketed as “Cookie Roll-Ups”. Their director is right, though. At some point they strayed from the procedures or ingredients indicated in the original recipe and, though there might be other reasons for diminishing sales, this betrayal of the recipe is obvious. I look back up at the Wish List, and the subtle invitations to contribute, publicizing what they believe they need to succeed in business. But, in truth, they have few orders for the cookies and only need to work two mornings a week to fill them. It isn’t a booming business. It is built on a failing cookie. These cheerful, industrious members have great ability. Unfortunately, their cookie is off the mark…

… like our souls: off the mark, sin-sick and disabled. We present a busy, industrious front, too. We have plans and dreams. Then, in the quiet stillness that catches us unaware, is there an unease? Do we sense all is not well and our soul will not be up to carrying us into a bright future? And are we hoping in the remedies our culture offers us to relieve the dis-ease? A stronger self-image maybe? Or let’s try giving the ache a politically or socially correct label in order to feel better without changing anything inside. I know some pay the witchdoctor to perform a ritual promising peace of soul. But when we awake in the wee hours, and silence surprises us, that ache is still stirring. The soul’s dis-ease is not healed by medication or the affirmation of our culture any more than the cookie will be improved by acquiring a lounge chair. There is only one way to improve that cookie: find the recipe and return to following it. There is only one source of hope for our soul.

My soul, wait silently for God alone,
for my expectation is from Him.
He only is my rock and my salvation;
He is my defense;

Just as the psalmist ‘preached’ to his own soul, I would remind myself, and you, to do the same. Emphasize the words that denote exclusivity. “God alone… from Him … He only … He is … in God is my … is in God.” The salvation of our soul and the healing of its dis-ease, is God’s territory alone. All that your soul requires for health is found in God through His Word; by knowing Him and obeying His instruction. The Creator of your soul offers absolutely everything your soul needs for its vital health. He is exclusive, though. It’s His way only, His Remedy only, His Provision only, or the soul is tormented for eternity. He means for us to place all our souls expectation in Him exclusively.

DBA’s business is that cookie. Our life is the soul. The soul is all we have, really. It is all there is of us that, sooner or later, slips into Eternity. Shouldn’t we, then, attend to it God’s way with no List of Alternative Hopes?

Psalm 62; 130:5; Proverbs 30:5; II Peter 1:3-4

*Not the real name.

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Bye Lines

Bye Lines

“Time to say ‘goodbye’”, Sarah Brightman’s breathy crooning soared up and over the mango and the cashew trees, wafting in under our tin roof. The bar down the road, like most bars in Africa, graciously shared their music with the entire neighborhood. One raunchy, raucous rap or intrusive, throbbing rock song after another pushed it’s way into our evening routine. Then, suddenly, Sarah is singing goodbye. It seemed so incongruous, out of place – and yet, comforting in an odd sort of way.

Here are some down to earth goodbyes I have known:

“May the Lord watch between me and thee, while we are absent one from the other.” One branch of my family repeats in unison this covenant made between Laban and Jacob. (Gen. 31:49) Their relationship had been strained, at best. Deceit and mistreatment are the words that come to mind. When Jacob finally left Laban’s employ they reconciled, promising not to avenge wrongs, acknowledging that God would see and hold accountable the one who sabotages their family relationships. I’m not sure why my family clan has used this as their goodbye, but it really would be an appropriate one for some of our situations.

“I hate goodbyes – I’ll just say ‘until next time’”.

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” The Aaronic blessing – Numbers 6:24-26

Tearful goodbyes: Standing in a circle, holding hands, various ones pray, then we sing the Doxology together. God has blessed one branch of my family with more than their share of musical talent. I love singing with them but never make it to the final “Amen” of that farewell, as I’m usually sobbing by that time. Some of those family members I will never see again this side of Heaven.

Painful goodbyes: the final visit with grandchildren before returning to Africa for another term — my small grandson spontaneously stooped down, grabbed a couple pieces of gravel from the drive and handed them to me as I got into the car – his way of recognizing my sadness and bestowing a blessing. I only registered the blessing later. At the time, it all just hurt.

I remember clearly where my brave, precious mother was sitting when I bade farewell before our final term in Mozambique. Usually positive and dry-eyed when we depart, this time her lip was trembling, her eyes pleading. I sensed within me that I’d never see her walk again. We promised to not go more than a year without seeing her. She smiled then, and released us. It was a painful departure, and it was the last time I saw her walk.

I carry deep within me my father-in-law’s goodbye. Here we were, a young couple with four little children and ten pieces of luggage at least. A crowd of dear friends and family gathered around us at O’Hare to enclose us in a tight circle and pray for us before we boarded our plane for another continent. The children were his grandchildren; the luggage, the possessions they would need for the next four years; but the young man was his own son. My husband’s dear father, and mine because hubby and I are one, gripped me in an uncharacteristic hug. And then, with his voice close to my ear he chocked out , “Please, take care of my son.” At various times in our marriage, his heartfelt “last instructions” have echoed in my mind and I remember that my husband is also someone’s beloved son whom they hope will be cherished as they have cherished him.

I have known some who pick a quarrel in the final days or hours before a goodbye that will initiate a long separation. Maybe they think: “It won’t be so painful if I convince myself they aren’t worthy of my love anyway.” This way of saying goodbye is selfish, destructive to all parties, and is like a curse on the relationship.

Goodbyes are important. The way we say goodbye can pronounce a curse, or a blessing.

Elijah bade farewell to his ardent disciple, Elisha, with a blessing – the prophetic mantle was passed on to him with all the enabling he needed to fulfil God’s calling. II Kings 2

Jesus’ goodbye to his disciples was a promise of great blessing – a clear mandate for service and the power of the Holy Spirit within them to qualify them for the work. (Acts 1) In both the case of Elijah and Jesus, their disciples received a greater blessing at the farewell than they had while living in the bodily presence of their master. They received a double portion, a blessing that saw them through to the end of their days.

How often have I bid a farewell with my mind full of my own sorrow and deprivation? Was my loved one blessed in the parting, or have I been too absorbed with my feelings about the separation to bestow a blessing?

Our family parted in July after a sweet reunion. We planned our goodbye ritual in advance: we stood in a circle, sang Mayibuye (our favorite Africa song), repeated Aaron’s blessing as a prayer, then sang the Doxology. It moved me, blessed me, and I actually made it to the “Amen” – just. Our farewell was a fitting end, sending us all our separate ways with full and happy hearts.

How do you say goodbye? I know that I want to be less concerned about expressing my personal feelings and more generous to appropriately bless.

Time to say goodbye! So, I’ll see ya’ — here, there, or in the air!