Friday, April 24, 2009

Packing List (a.k.a. All that I can't leave behind)

This week is all about packing for Burundi.  There are plenty of the predictable items - clothing, sundries, Emma's hearing aid supplies, batteries and my laptop.  But tucked into my 5 suitcases are some unconventional tokens of home.  

The one thing that I had to pack from my kitchen - my pepper mill (and an ample supply of peppercorns).  After spending last summer in Bujumbura, I realized that fresh cracked pepper is an important seasoning for me, but not most Burundians.  So this time I am coming prepared.  And where there is pepper, there is also salt!  I am packing four kinds of salt, a well-chosen gift from Heather Sunukjian.  I am hoping for a well-seasoned table!

I also decided to take the advice of my friend, Laura Wilson, and pack some seeds to plant in our Burundian garden.  I picked the herbs I can't imagine cooking without:  basil, rosemary, parsley, thyme, mint, sage and arugula.  Even if all the seeds don't yield the herbs, I imagine at least some will!  So I am looking forward to learning how to tend a garden and then enjoy basil leaves torn over fresh tomatoes, mint in my cucumber salad, rosemary potatoes... And then there are some spices I am taking - smoked paprika and chili powder.  Imagine the possibilities!

Carefully wrapped and tucked away in one suitcase are a few favorite icons.  Madeleine L'Engle says that icons are like windows or reminders, and they always have been for me.  Peter & Paul Embracing, St.John, John the Baptist and Jesus the Christ will create a small iconostasis somewhere in my Burundian home.  

I also have rolled away a picture of President Obama.  This is not meant to be a political show of support, but a way to engage Burundian decor protocol.  It is customary to have a photo of the current president displayed in your home.  The first time I traveled to Bujumbura there was a picture of President Buyoya, more recently the picture of the current President Nkurunziza. So our home will honor the dual citizenship of our family by displaying both the leader of Burundi and the United States.

Packed away amongst my suitcases are also a few things to make the mornings more bright:  my Fiestaware sugar & creamer set, vibrant orange mugs, and an array of favorite teas.  
The first is from my table in Arizona, a bit of home.  The second is a cherished gift from Monique MacDonald that I will enjoy each time I make my morning tea.  And then the tea... Moroccan Mint, Boh Golden Tea from Malaysia and Rooibos from South Africa, some favored varieties to enjoy in our new home.

But no packing list (of mine, anyway) would be complete without mention of books chosen for the journey.  Last summer I posted the entire list of the 12 books I was taking for a 4 month stay.  I will not list the 70+ I am taking for the next set of years... your welcome!  But I will highlight a few... because they are part of my favorite things packed!
~  The commentary on Exodus by Umberto Cassuto - his work is like reading poetry as he unravels the truths of the Hebrew text of liberation, deliverance and hope - I cannot wait to read from cover to cover!
~  The Politics of Jesus by Yoder, recommended by Brandon, a friend and fellow expat living in Bujumbura.  I am eager to think more deeply about how following Jesus might affect our engagement in public (even political) contexts.
~  Vulnerable Community recommended by Tim.  This is addressing how theology needs disability to learn how to be fully human - to embrace vulnerability and engage in true community.  I am intrigued...
~  The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chodron, recommended by Jen.  Pema is a contemplative from the east who has offers vocabulary and insight about the inner journey.  The title and strong recommendation tell me this might be timely for me!
~  The War of Art has been hailed a great read by Rob Bell... about the creative spirit, the process and all the resistance involved.  Also sounds apropos.
~  Parables as Subversive Speech by Hertzog, recommended by Brian.  Sounds like a text that will challenge how we engage the parables by understanding their subversive nature.  Brian gave us a sample, and it thoroughly whet my appetite! 

There are many other books.  Commentaries on Genesis and Isaiah, another book on parables, the authority of the Bible, how to think about mission in the 21st century, collections of sermons from great preachers, on contemplative prayer and works on empire, powers and the Kingdom of God.  Authors include N.T. Wright, Brueggemann, McLaren, Caputo, Perriman, Hirsch, Wink, Crossan, Borg, Padilla, Romero, Tutu...  I am quite excited to unload them from duffle bags and place on our book shelves!

So that is a list of the things I cannot leave behind.  There are flavors, simple comforts, visual pieces and cerebral stimulation - alongside the things we need to function day to day.  I find packing to be such an interesting process because it is an exercise in evaluation of what things nourish and engage us, at some level.  That I take toothpaste, AAA batteries or gold t-strap sandals is not interesting, but maybe it says something that somewhere tucked in a corner of one of my many suitcases is a packet of mint seeds.

Friday, April 17, 2009


In less than two weeks Emma and I will join Claude and Justin in Burundi.  For weeks now, Emma has been waking each morning asking if today was the day we were flying to 'Rundi.  Now even I am more and more likely to be found counting the days left on the calendar... eager to segue out of transition into the next season overseas!  Readiness is brooding in our little one-room casita!

But it wasn't alway so, as many of my friends know.  I was filled with hesitation and resistance about a long-term relocation to Burundi.  Even as we made the decision, prepared our things for storage and moved out of our home, I remained far from ready.  My head was in agreement that this was a good thing to do, for so many reasons.  But my heart remained so attached to things here, and unready to relinquish them, even for the best of reasons.

Then came Lent.  Ash Wednesday was a turning point for me.  I decided to fast from complaints about Burundi for Lent, realizing how often I complained about things there, dreading the move.  I selected this fast from complaint in the hope that God would reshape something in my heart, that maybe if I quieted my own negative opinions that He would have more freedom to renovate my internal environment.  So I went to the Catholic cathedral down the street for Ash Wednesday mass.  The cathedral is under construction - so the exterior is done and beautiful, and internal walls are painted rich, saturated colors, but the rest is undone. There is no gold-gilded altar, no icons, no grotto crowded with votive candles, the dome has no mosaic yet... in process. And somehow I felt so at home as I walked in and dipped my fingers into the basin of the holy water... because I recognized that I, too, was under construction.  From the first psalm we sang to the last prayer we prayed (The Lord's prayer), during the imposition of ashes and slow procession toward the communion table, I wept.  Something in me broke, and it was a good, clean break that left me feeling open. I emerged from the service with tear-stained cheeks, and have not complained about Burundi since.  I have not even wanted to... it is like the complaints just evaporated amid that service.  

So Lent for me, this time, has not been a burden of fasting but a freedom to embrace something new God is doing.  I have never had a Lenten season with so much levity!  So resistance that once had residence in my heart is gone - I am so ready to travel to Burundi.  I am eager to see what is ahead - could be new friends, time for reading and reflection, ways to serve others, ways to love my family deeper... all or none or more than the above.  But the good news is that I come ready and without heaviness.  I am grateful that for now, I can travel with joy. 

Often times we do not have enough resources or personal readiness to follow to the places Jesus invites us to travel.  I am learning to admit that truth, and then surrender to the One who has unlimited resources.  He is committed to completing the good work He began in me, so in due season He delivers the needed readiness for the road ahead.  I can witness to that... He supplies a readiness that frees us to move forward with Him.

Did I mention that we are so very ready to go to Burundi?