Thursday, July 19, 2007

Texas: There's No Place Like Home!

It's been 2 weeks now and Kelly and I are enjoying a very blessed re-entry experience. Our friends and family have overwhelmed us with generosity, love, encouragement and have also given us the space to just live life and be a family. It's been great. We are so blessed by our church family, too! Everyone has been so good to us. Tori was in her bliss today, getting to enjoy a new cowgirl hat, and get a pedicure with Precious, her grandmother. Kelly's mom is so fun with Tori! Tori was excited to get the Texas flag with stars painted on her toes! While a Dad may never fully appreciate the art of toe painting, I can tell you Tori loved it! Isn't she just beautiful!?!!!!

Life in America is full of choices and more choices. We bought a car last week and it was almost too the end, I test-drove only 2 different vehicles (my pre-States mindset was to test-drive a dozen different models, but in the end, I felt like asking someone else, "just pick one for me.") We are not like the missionaries of yesteryear who walked off a boat after being in far-off Africa for 40 years. We are NOT seeing life in America the first time. Thus our culture shock is probably not as severe, traumatic, or overwhelming as it once was for missionaries. We will no doubt encounter our personal experiences when this "new" culture offends us, frustrates us, or even drives us crazy. Probably right now, we're all in that "honeymoon" phase where everything seems just wonderful. BUT, even though as "modern missionaries" (made-up term), we still find America overwhelming with all its options, choices, and personalized selections. If you want pancake syrup, you'll need to know decide in advance:
(1) brand-name or generic brand,
(2) made with real butter or just butter flavored,
(3) original or some flavor,
(4) the strong stuff or light syrup,
(5) reduced sugar or sugar-sweetened with Splenda,
(6) big bottle or little bottle,
(7) little bottle or travel size,
(8) travel size for multiple servings or travel size for single use
and on and on.......

Choices. Wow! While I've been to Wal-Mart and Target countless of times on furlough, I never cease to be amazed by the aisles and aisles of choices. Not so much the amount of stuff under one roof, but rather the number of CHOICES on each aisle (our African friends would never get past the front entrance...they'd be in too much awe of our American SUPER "markets"). My goodness! There are 2 different brands of bottled water in Benin. Pretty easy to pick (and the one we preferred is the default one that is brought if you don't specify the other). Here, I couldn't believe all the various brands, bazillion flavors, and now there are new protein waters with extra vitamins and minerals. Cereal choices in Africa are like 5 (and 4 of those are stale generic corn flakes). Here's there's about 65, enough for 2 aisles! Drive-through fast-food is too much for me at this point. I have to go INSIDE because I feel too much pressure staring at this large board with all kinds of pictures and prices, all the while feeling the honk bound to be coming from the fella behind me because I'm taking too long. That's why we also like Sonic. We pull up to our own drive-up parking spot with our personal little choice-board and just STARE. No pressure. Somewhere about 10 minutes later, we finally get around to pushing that red button (meanwhile the car that pulled up at the same time we did already has their food and is gone!)

The days are long here; so long that it feels like we've been here a whole lot longer than 2 weeks. One reason is the hours of daylight. In Benin, it was black dark at 7:30p and the kids were all in bed by 8:30p at the very latest. Here, it is 9p before it is dark and our kids are having trouble finding it reasonable to be in their PJs while it is still daylight (that'll change next month when school starts!) Our energy level is twice what it was in Benin simply (I think) because our minds understand everything we say and that is said to us. When you live and work in one or more foreign languages, your mind and body are naturally more fatigued by the end of the day. In Benin, when we would eat out at a restaurant in the capital city, I would tune out any other conversations at nearby tables simply because without concentrating heavily, I couldn't really make out the context of what they were saying. But here in the U.S., I find myself eavesdropping on all the conversations around us, simply because I can understand everyone! (by the way, not all conversations are worth listening in on!)

Today I am aware of the uniqueness of American privacy and seclusion. In Benin, life is lived out in the open. In America, we live so much of our lives behind the walls of our home (of course, lovin' that good ol' reliable AC!) We now live in this small town north of a large Texas city. If I moved into a small town in Benin, we'd know everyone in that village by the end of the day. It's been 2 weeks now and I have met (and SEEN) only 2 of our neighbors on our street. People drive in their cars, pull into their garages, and all you really see of people are their heads. I'm so thankful WE enjoy the community of our church fellowship and the rich blessing of family. There are plenty of people in this country who have neither one and are very lonely (and subsequently engage in all kinds of sordid activities to fill that void). One of most powerful witnesses of the American church is for us to share this rich community and fellowship with other people!!

I was talking with an African friend one time who himself had a friend who had visited America once. I asked my friend about his friend's most memorable impression of life in America. He told me that his friend said, "in America, people don't get their feet dirty. They live in clean homes and then get into clean cars and drive to clean stores and back home again. Their feet never touch the soil." While this one-time visitor only gleaned a partial truth about life in our culture, it is interesting to view such a way of life when we just left a place where the red dirt permeated your feet, sandals and clothes! This African brother wasn't necessarily even referring to hygiene, but rather proverbially having doubts that we lacked a strong fellowship between us as people because, to him, Americans don't spend alot of time walking down to their neighbor's house to visit and fellowship. While I hygienically prefer cleanliness over dirty feet, how do I challenge his perception and actually engage my neighbors in conversations about their lives? God has called us to dwell in this house in this small town. How do we dwell here? If dwelling is more than just eating, sleeping and playing, how do we minister the love of Jesus from this home into the lives of those people around us? Do we invite these strangers into our home? Do we take our very active household of 4 kids into their house? How do you get to know people, minister to them, and share life with them?

OK, that's enough for today. We're experiencing new stuff everyday and having lots of things to talk about in our home. Thank you to all of you local folks who are bringing us meals! What a blessing that is!



Kendra said...

Ok, maybe "Reflections on life in Benin" is still appropriate as you process through all these changes? Donny wants you to know, however, that you need to change your time zone thing so we don't think that somehow you posted 6 hours ahead of Texas time! he!

RD said...

We've been keeping up on your journey all along the way (even if we don't comment too often). I enjoyed this post because we can SO relate with what you said - the choices, the energy level, understanding everything that's said around you, the lack of community and the way we live our daily lives here as opposed to Africa (or Thailand in our case). We can relate to all of it and we were only gone two years! And we lived in a city with their own version of WalMart! (but still not the overwhelming number of choices). Anyway, continue to enjoy the journey and we'll continue to follow it. God bless.

Ron and Marilyn said...

Good reflections, Randy - and good to know you guys are loving life in the not so fast lane but that fast lane is available. We want to visit with y'all too! Now when is that going to happen? Sara will be here next week for 6 days. Surely we could fit in a visit??? She comes Monday!!

love you and tell Tori 'cute toes'!!


mindy tyndall said...

First of all...Tori - I love your toes!!! You are girl with Texas in your heart!!! And what fun to go with Precious to get a pedicure! Randy - thanks for sharing these thoughts. I take so much for granted. When I am in the store, I always seem to be in a hurry - I never really "take it all in". But your words...they made me think...why do we need all these cereal choices? Why do we need hundreds of choices of pretty much everything? We are blessed in this country, but we are also overindulged. Roy and I made a commitment this year to "simplify" our lives. It has been difficult in some areas, but in others, such a BLESSING. I am so happy you are all home and I just can't wait to spend time with you and get to know you all so much better. Over the years, from the first time I met Miss Tori at Becky's wedding, I have prayed for you and Kelly and your sweet family. It is just such a blessing to me now to see you and get to visit with you. Thanks again for this really makes one think...

Cheryl said...

We are what causes our "meltdown moment" in grocery stores. One time, for me, it was the cheese. Mom asked me to go get the cheese for tacos. Good grief. There were 10 feet of cheese choices in that Super Walmart. I couldn't do it. And with tears, returned to my Mom empty handed. For Jeff, it is the cereal aisle almost every time.
And I LOVE your comments about fast food restaurants...except that it made me really hungry for a sonic cheeseburger and a LARGE cherry limeade!

laura jo said...

wow. I can't wait to see you guys. I'll be back in Dallas in August from my summer travels. Once things settle down a little for you, I'd love to visit. You are some of my favorite people!

Love yall! Laura <><