project mexico notes

July 29, 2006
I’m sitting after morning prayer and the mists have lifted. I can see the ocean — the grandeur of God. The orphanage is charming, obviously full of Christ’s love. It is a privilege to be here.

The chapel is wonderful. I am so excited — there are relics of St. Innocent and St. Nektarios. St. Nektarios seems to be keeping special watch over me these last several years. I think he has had a huge part in leading me into Orthodoxy. Thank you, blessed Nektarios!

The horses are neighing, the sheep and goats “baa”-ing and life looks like a picture here. But it isn’t a picture. I’m here and in this place, and I am glad. Deep peace is present here. Stillness — I have a small taste of it.

I have been enjoying Fr. L’s dry and wonderful way of humor. I do love him so. I also can see my nouno has quite a way with all the boys. Below me on the hillside are beautiful jeweled dewdrops on spiderwebs.

The humidity and the clouds are high, and it looks to be a nice and cool day for pouring cement.

later…

It stayed cool, cloudy, and humid all day. When we arrived on site, we discovered that we had a bit of an incline to level on a beautiful area in the hills.

At the corner of the next lot, there is an ocean view. We picked and shoveled at the clay, and three hours later had a leveled site — but not without a visitor, a baby tarantula! He was a little fuzzy.

After framing, we had a nice tuna sandwich lunch, and then began the cement work. My nouno and I ran the screed board. After we were about halfway through with the slab, waiting for a delivery of bags of cement, I had an opportunity to go and talk with Laura, for whom we were building the house. Laura Limón León – Laura Lime Lion. Cool name! She is 34 and has an 11yr old son and a ~19 yr old daughter, who has an eight year old daughter. At least the 4 of them will live in the little 11ft x 23ft house we build. Laura is very happy, and has such a joyful smile. She tells me (in Spanish) that she is very excited, that this is ‘un milagro’ – a miracle. She and her son have helped with the digging all morning. We talk for about 20 minutes before the rest of the cement arrives.

Since there is no running water here, earlier this morning a water truck brought water which we keep in large 55 gallon plastic barrels. There is no sewer, no electrical lines. As we drove out today, we passed area where there was electricity, and line that people had thrown over the main line an wired to their houses to get electricity hung like tents from the lines in places. These even ran across the road. Very dangerous live wires, especially for children playing. When it rains, I’m told that a distinct humming can be heard from the lines, sometimes shorts happen, and the power is completely out. India is like this as well in places where powerlines run.

We complete the foundation slab and the bolts for the framing are embedded into the still-wet, but hardening, cement. A long day. I’m spattered with cement flecks from head to foot. It feels good to work.

acolyte

Last weekend was pretty interesting — I am learning to be an acolyte, assisting the priests in the altar. So many details to remember! But it is a very special privilege as well. What was extra-special to me was that in our priest’s stead, serving liturgy last week was Hieromonk Christodoulos from the Monastery of St. George. One of the reasons this was special is that on the path to Orthodoxy, the very first EO liturgy I ever worshipped at was at the monastery, with Father Christodoulos. This was ‘another first’ with him! He is so passionate for Christ! Indeed, his name fits. (Our priest was at our cathedral, where, apparently with short notice, Archbishop Demetrios (hierarch of the GOA) was at liturgy. I hear their service was a bit longer than usual… )

—-

I ask for your prayers, and also for my family. From July 28th through August 3rd, I’ll be going to Project Mexico and St. Innocent Orphanage helping both to build a complete small house and work some at the orphanage. I’m pretty excited about it! The team will be flying into San Diego and driving for a couple hours to the orphanage, which is just south of Tijuana. I’ll also get to find out just how rusty mi Español es. Please pray for our team to serve humbly and lovingly to the needs we are presented with, and that the family will be fine without me being home for the week.

and in the darkness, find them.

This weekend, my heart almost stopped. Not literally, but close. We had just driven down to the location of William’s Saturday baseball game and were getting out of the car. I open the trunk and sling William’s baseball gear bag up onto my shoulder, and it roughly brushes my hand. I hear an odd “ping … ping ping … ping ping ping” and look down. Weird, some golden shiny thing is pinging down the pavement in front of me towards the curb.

I wonder what it is?

Wait a second, that looks familiar. “My ring!” I shout. Wait that’s not a curb, it’s a gutter opening. “OH NO! NO!”

“Ping … ping” into the opening. “Ping … ping … ping” becoming fainter and stopping.

My wedding ring rolled into the sewer drainage entrance. Internally I’m sinking. Amy has turned towards me, and I’m sticking my head down by the drainage entrance. The sun is illuminating the area a little, and I can see that I can’t see my ring.

But I can see that there is a cement boxlike area, with a few cement drainage tubes leading off of it. Oh, man. This is getting worse.

I say a quick silent prayer, “Lord help me.” And then, I notice another detail I initially had ignored. There are two little sets of iron rungs on the sides of the underground cement box. I lift my head up to look at the sidewalk. Two manhole covers.

“Please don’t be bolted down,” I whisper.

The covers are large, and I am full of adrenaline. No bolts. The cover has a small notch, into which I stick one finger, all that will fit, and start to lift.

“Be careful,” Amy says.

The cover must weigh over fifty pounds, but I pull it up pretty quickly and before I scamper down the hole, I notice the kids giving me strange looks. I don’t think they’ve caught on yet.

Down in the cement box, I search and don’t see my ring. I sigh, and head to what I think must be the most logical tube. I get about two-thirds of my body into the tunnel, and there on floor is my ring.

I can’t describe how I felt at that moment — relief and joy amongst the multitude of feelings.

As I climbed back out of the hole, I crossed myself and thanked God that it was possible to recover my ring.

After I put the manhole cover back, my hands smelled of the acrid aroma of oxidized metal and we went on to the game, where we met William and Carolyn’s godparents and proceeded to have a nice hot time in the sun watching six-year-old baseball.

But my heart is beating strongly. And God is merciful.

we’re not junk from a pool

Yesterday I went to church. I took the children. But, it wasn’t the Orthodox Church — it was the church of secular humanism. Yes, that’s right, I took the children to the museum of Nature and History.

First, we went to the “Space” exhibit, which, admittedly to this old science-fiction nut, was pretty darned cool. I sat and watched, to the kids annoyance, about ten minutes of amazing video of the many amazing pictures sent back from the Mars rovers — the video scrolled over some immense panorama shots that were breathtaking. But, of course, none of this was presented as an awe-inspiring view into the creation of God, rather, it was presented in a “look how smart we humans are, we’re virtually gods!” sort of way. Ironic, considering the little bits of the universe we’ve touched are so infinitesimal. I began to wonder if God gave us the universe just to help us remember our place and how ineffable He really is.

After this, we took a sojourn to the observation deck on the roof and enjoyed the view of downtown and the Rocky Mountains. Immediately following, we were off to the Native American exhibit. As we entered, there was a video with a message of “Welcome” playing in many of the native languages, which was very cool. However, next to this was a map of the Americas with type set in white overlaying it that read something like “We are all the same” (not the exact phrase, but close). If this were really true in the context of a museum, why the heck would I care to enter the exhibit? While trying to sound inclusive in a context that made little sense, the museum actually denigrates the entire history, traditions, and culture of these wonderful people. The rest of the exhibit was actually very nice, and the maps, rugs, baskets, and and pottery gave me the chance to explain to the kids that this was more than the past, that there were people who lived now only slightly differently than this. I was able to tell them about some of the pueblos I have been invited to, and some of the Native American friends I’ve had back when I was working in northern New Mexico. I enjoyed the whole exhibit very much, it brought back more than a few good memories.

Of course, William, almost six, wanted to see the dinosaurs. It wasn’t until we entered the exhibit and were ushered to our seats for the video that I started to remember about this part of the museum. (Shields up! Red Alert!) The video started up and we received the lecture about how we are all created from random junk in a pool that was hit by lightning and UV rays. Science fiction indeed. Well, after the video I skillfully navigated them past the evolutionist creation mythology sections and to the actual dinosaur bones. Now, I’m not one who is going to argue over the age of the earth. However, I have zero doubt that God is her creator. The random junk-in-a-pool theory takes huge leaps of faith to believe, as there is zero science behind the assertion. And these are the same people who would likely complain about I.D. being faith based. Pot, kettle, black.

Anyway. After navigating out past the chimps-became-man proselytization posters, we were as hungry as dinosaurs, so we had lunch at the T-Rex Cafe. Personally, I think my dinosaur burger was tough enough to have been millions of years old. Home was our final destination.

Now, I do enjoy museums most of the time, and this trip was mostly pretty fun. However, I have been entrusted with two beautiful children by God, and the things that are easy for a grown faith to handle raised the hackles on my neck when my children were there. They are jewels to protect.

Last night as I was putting William to bed, we said our prayers. Afterward, he looked up at me.

“Dad?” he said.

“Yes, William?”

“Do you ever feel like not eating, or sleeping, or playing, and just spending all the time praying?” he asked me with a very serious look in his nearly six-year-old eyes.

“That is a beautiful idea, Will,” I said. Really, I’ve never considered such an extreme devotion.

“That’s what I feel like now, Dad.”

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Thanksgiving past and present

Last year for Thanksgiving we traveled to New Mexico and spent the days visiting both of our families. The night of the feast, we were at Amy’s aunt’s. After an interesting dinner, William started throwing up. Red Jello. Everywhere. Amy’s uncle did a yeoman’s job cleaning up, and we got in the car to head back to Los Alamos from Albuquerque. It is a 100 mile trip, about 1 hour and 45 minutes.

Normally.

I’m sure you’ve wondered, as Amy did last year, why on earth places like K-Mart were open on Thanksgiving. We know, now. It is for parents traveling late at night in the car with a kid who has just totaled his clothing after throwing up again in the backseat. On the Interstate.

So, Amy and Carolyn go in to get clothes for him, paper towels, and also cleaning stuff, as the backseat and his carseat are not pretty. As he is just too covered in it to take in, Will and I, we stand outside in the cool air.

Okay, we get that all straightened out. The poor kid has the heaves the whole way home. Amy is driving, I’m leaning into the back, hold a bag out for him if he so much as breathes funny. After I catch the next one, hollow-eyed William looks at me.

“Hey, Dad, this is a working plan!” he says.

We all laugh, and laugh, and laugh. I love William.

The next morning, Carolyn woke at 5 am with heaves. I loaded the car, and we prepared for a fun-filled seven-hour drive back to Colorado. I drove this time, and Amy got to try the “working plan.” We made it home, but we were completely exhausted.

Well, that brings me to this year. Our Thanksgiving was much quieter than it has been for awhile — we spent the day together, just us four. No family came up. None of the friends we had invited came over. It was decidedly peaceful. I cooked the bird, and it came out fine. Amy has mastered the gravy. I said a prayer of thanks for our bishop allowing this day as a local feast day without fasting restrictions. For dessert, we went to a friend’s house and had a nice get-together with a couple of couples, and their kids. It was really fun.

This year, though, the big event was the day after Thanksgiving. We went to Liturgy to celebrate the Feast of St. Catherine the Great Martyr. Not only is she the patroness of our parish, but she is Carolyn’s name saint, and this is the first name day to come up for our recently chrismated family.

She started the day with the gift of a new watch. I’m pretty sure that as long as I’m around her, I’ll not need mine again, as she happily announces the time frequently — over 50 times last Thursday, I think! ( Amy tells me the today she only announced the time twice. ) After, we went to Liturgy, and it was wonderful to be there, still warm in our Thanksgiving glow, to celebrate the Great Thanksgiving in Eucharist. Afterward was a blessing of the loaves, wine, and oil, followed by coffee hour. Carolyn was told χρόνια πολλά (chronia polla) by our Priest and others, and he explained to her that it means “many years”. She just glowed with delight. We also had the gift of the protopsaltis from the cathedral come help with the chanting, and he is wonderful.

I hope you all had a blessed and wonderful day of thanksgiving as well!