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Monday, January 26, 2015

God's Presence in the Frightening Times


A couple days before Thanksgiving, sharp pains began in my leg near the site of a healed dog bite wound incurred while I was hiking in Ecuador last June. Tingling sensations ran up and down my leg. I grew more and more apprehensive as I researched dog bites.  In a few of the cases I found, the first sign of rabies began with these symptoms, and the disease then quickly progressed to the patient’s inevitable death.

An extreme dread flooded my body for the next forty-eight hours as I struggled with my mortality. There was a chance I had rabies, a small chance, but any possibility of a disease that carries a one hundred percent death rate within seven days is terrifying. I frantically researched. I asked friends to pray. I asked God to help me find the right doctor and for strength. I canceled a trip to Mexico and drove to the Medical University of South Carolina’s ER on Thanksgiving Eve where I told the story of the dog bite injury to many health care professionals.
 
On that June day, rays of sun pushed through the clouds and sparkled off the water. A hiking trail snaked around the crater left behind by an extinct volcano. A lake painted with shades of teal lay in the base’s empty space. Dark grey rain clouds threatened in the distance. Vistas of mountain valleys were seen in all directions, with wildflowers of blues, purples, whites, fuchsias, and yellows dotting the mountainside. Sheep slowly grazed on the rolling landscape of Ecuadorian Andes Mountains.

Hiking the five-hour trail of steep inclines and descents, three Ecuadorians and I were exploring the countryside, admiring the unique wildflowers that grew along the path. Halfway through the hike, I found myself walking alone. One of my companions had summited the slope and the other two were a hundred yards behind me. Out of nowhere, a dog appeared, growling and barking aggressively. My heart raced and my hands started to tremble. I took deep breaths.  I spoke calmly, slowly walking sideways. Suddenly, he knocked me down and sank his teeth into my calf. I kicked his nose with my other foot and thankfully, he released me. My companions appeared and threw stones as he ran off. My body began to shake and tears ran down my cheek. After cleaning the wound the best we could, we continued on.
 
As we neared the end of the hike, a rainbow appeared overhead. I felt God’s presence and peace. Hours later, in Quito, Ecuador, where I was staying, I visited an ER. The local medical staff treated my wounds and prescribed an antibiotic. The doctors told me I didn’t need a rabies vaccine. I disagreed. I knew I needed the vaccine for my own piece of mind. Unfortunately, the urban hospital did not have any in stock.

The next morning, I traveled to a different ER. Through my translator, these doctors echoed the message of the previous night’s medical staff. I informed them that I wasn’t leaving until I was vaccinated. They relented and administered a vaccine.

I continued my journey, visiting two indigenous communities in the Andes Mountains and Amazon River Basin. I received a second dose on day nine, after returning to Quito. Back in my hometown of Charleston, S.C., I received the final two injections of the thirty-day prescribed vaccine protocol. The wound healed and all was well.

Still unaware that in the United States, the current protocol is for an injection of immune globulin to be given along side the first dose of the vaccine that I had received. This treatment would have boasted my immune system until I developed immunities. I did not know the importance of immune globulin until it was too late.

After being discharged on Thanksgiving Eve, I went home, still unsure of a diagnosis. While waiting to see if I developed more common rabies symptoms, I gave my life over to God, in a deeper way then ever before. If I were going to die, I must completely trust Him to take care of my children. I relinquished control and was covered with a peace and sense of total freedom. I have experienced the peace that passes all understanding before, but this was far better. An intense longing for heaven radiated from my heart. Without words, I remembered my true home. If there had been a doorway to heaven, I would have walked through it. At that moment, heaven’s pull was greater than my life here.

I am thankful to have lived through this experience. I continue to have periodic leg pain, but knowing that the time has passed for it to be the beginning of rabies is a relief.  I will see a neurologist in January. There is a slime chance I will develop rabies since I didn’t receive the protocol that has one hundred percent success rate. I have learned to focus on my blessings and shift through my to-do-list and put family, friends, and outreach at the top.

Has this stopped my desire to travel? No, though I will evaluate each situation with greater care. I have learned how to deal with hostile animals and will carry a medical kit wherever I go. My sixteen-year-old daughter and I are traveling to Haiti in February with a medical mission team from Pawley’s Island. She will have the rabies vaccines before we go, knowing that you can’t always get what you need in third world countries.

Travel is a wonderful way to learn about the world, yourself, and God. Every time I go, I gain new knowledge, insight, and understanding. When I leave my comfort zone, I become more of who God wants me to be. I will go where He leads for His plans are perfect. In the New Year, may you experience His plan for your life as we walk in faith.




     Vibrant Wild flowers


Sheep grazing on the mountain slopes

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Witnessing faith, cowboy style

John Mullins’ horse trots towards the horizon as the sun crests. Light begins to reflect off the dew, illuminating the mesquite trees and tall grasses of the South Texan landscape. Sounds of birds chirping fill the sky. The bellowing of cows along with the neighing of horses joins their chorus. John, a working cowhand, rides his horse towards the cattle entrusted to his care. He smiles as he watches calves frolic mischievously around their mothers. John’s breaths form clouds as each warm exhalation meets the cold morning air. Despite his warm clothing, he shivers. It’s another day on the ranch and he feels blessed to be a cowboy.

John grew up in Archer City, Texas, home to 1300 souls within thirty miles of the Oklahoma border. Now in his mid-twenties, he counts himself lucky. He has found a full time job doing what he loves. Many of his contemporaries have settled for day work or make their living in other fields. Regardless, these men and women live to be in the saddle. Some of John’s happiest memories have occurred while riding on a quality horse, watching the antics of the calves intermingling with their mothers. Humbled by the handiwork of God, he never tires of the beauty of these moments, especially at daybreak. “I see God every day.” John said. When asked if his belief is unique, he answered, “most cowboys have a similar viewpoint. We all struggle with our faith, nobody’s perfect, and His presence is felt more closely by some over others, but for every cowboy, it’s there. It’s hard to say, can’t speak for others, but its there for all of us.”

When challenging, dangerous stuff happen and men survive, John’s faith in God is deepened. The rugged, sometimes unforgiving land is filled with poisonous snakes, drought, and the aggressiveness of steers. At times, situations of life and death happen without warning. Through it all, John feels God looking out for him. “You realize how delicate life is, it can be there and then taken away.” When a heifer struggles with the birth of her calf and complications end her life, John knows life goes on. Her calf is alive and needs to be feed from a bottle. Faith strengthens him and he isn’t the only one. 

John Riggs, host of Authentic Cowboy TV show, is a cowboy and a preacher. He says “You can’t work this kind of country and see all that has been created and not know there is a God in heaven.” He goes on to say that cowboys are men of valor. They may not like each other, but they have each other’s back. Their shared passion is for the wide-open spaces, the satisfaction of a job well done, the freedom of being in the saddle, and finding God in the midst of His creation. Cowboys don’t claim to be perfect. In fact, they readily admit their shortcomings. What makes them men of valor is their unwritten code, their courage and their respect for others.

Casey Hoff, another Texan born young cowboy, is a ranch hand for JS Bidwell, a workingman’s ranch outside of Archer City. He has loved every minute of those seven years. He has experienced times when he needed God and God showed up. Casey’s faith is the core of who he is. On one of his living room walls, twenty crosses of different shapes and sizes hang as a reminder. In a time when we see many young people fall away from the conviction of their fathers, it is refreshing to witness faith in action. These young men live their principles.


Cowboying is not a lucrative job, but this way of life suits them. They are not in it for the money. Day after day, they spend long hours with a great deal of responsibility and danger. But they would not have it any other way. Their faith in God is interwoven into who they are and what they do. Jesus is their wagon boss and they live this life for Him.

http://www.charlestonmercury.com/index.php/en/lifestyle/travel/388-witnessing-faith-cowboy-style





Texan cross found on Casey Hoff's living
room wall among 20 plus crosses



Photo taken at dawn by John Mullins

Monday, August 25, 2014

Blessed Time in the Fragile Rainforest

I sat in the shade of a thatched roof, surrounded by walls constructed of branches laced together with leaf fibers, and a floor made from sliced bamboo stalks. Rain clouds dotted the sky while the sun's rays warmed the air. Sweat appeared upon my forehead. A slight breeze stirred from the sheet of paper my hand waved from side to side.
             Small brown faces with deep brown eyes stared back at me. The Achuar children of the Ecuadorian Rainforest, ages three to fifteen, had gathered with our group of ten Americans. We were a part of a Pachamama Alliance cultural exchange, an organization that partners with the Achuars to protect their homeland.  In one of Achuar schoolrooms, children stood and introduced themselves in Spanish, their second language. "Me llamo Patricio," one boy said as he told his name. A fifteen year old girl said, "Me llamo Marisol," and stated her age. After the youngest had sat down, we were next. "Me llamo julie," I said. I told them my age and I heard stifled giggles. Their perception of a fifty-year-old woman is one of frailty and wrinkles and I seemed to belie that image.
            After introductions were completed, we asked questions about their life in the jungle and they, curiously, wanted to know about us. Out of thirty children, only Marisol has seen a TV. Fascinated with my Ipad, groups of the children allowed me to record their movements. Amidst the laughter, they watched the replays. For a moment they were typical American kids drawn to a screen. Watching their surprise, I envisaged a life without TV and was drawn to the simplicity. These children use their imagination to occupy their time with fishing and swimming in the cool water of a nearby watering hole. They enjoy learning especially grammar and mathematics. Both boys and girls love soccer and have created a soccer field with tall sticks outlining the goals. Watching their mothers, the young girls learn to cook over a hot fire, wrapping fish and yucca in palm branches. They use their creativity to make jewelry. The boys weave thatched roofs and baskets along with carving and using blow guns to hunt as their fathers complete their education in the natural world. The rhythm of nature becomes their rhythm, a slow underlying pace that keeps them in the present.  They respect each other and the earth. 
            We then moved outside for a game of soccer. Girls and boys, all barefoot, gathered with a four of the American adults. My heavy boots made walking in the mud bearable, but running a challenge, so I removed them. After dividing the group into two teams, we began. Despite the fact that I didn't speak Spanish and knew only a few words in their native tongue, we played on. Our clapping, high fives and cheers became our common language. Smiles and laughter crossed the barrier and we played as a team, bonded by more similarities than differences.
            Living in the rainforest is not easy. There are challenges, and the elders are concerned for their future.  The Achuars, one of the least exposed indigenousness tribes in South America, are going against tradition and inviting outsiders to experience their way of life in an attempt to stop the slow march of the oil companies into their lands. These visits have profound purpose, a way of exposing foreigners to lessons from the rainforest.
            What have I learned? On reflecting, I realize that the rain forest and nature in general needs protection. I see that my energy consumption is encouraging companies to find additional sources of oil. America has an insatiable need for energy and it is draining the world’s resources. I have decided to do my small part. If we join together, our combined contributions can make a significant impact.

            I plan to serve at least one meatless dinner a week, use air dryers instead of paper towels in public bathrooms, limit paper towel use at home, continue to recycle everything possible, use compact fluorescent light bulbs, bring my coffee mug to Starbucks, use a carwash instead of my hose, take shorter showers, adjust my water heater to a lower setting and carry reusable water bottles. It seems impossible to image that limiting my water usage will affect places thousands of miles from me, but it really does. Will you join me? 

 http://www.charlestonmercury.com/index.php/en/lifestyle/travel/346-blessed-time-in-the-fragile-rainforest

Here are photos that appeared in paper form, but not online.





My bedroom in the rainforest did not have walls. The beds, built on stilts, were covered with a thin pad and mosquito netting. A fire burned over night in the middle of the room to discourage critters from visiting. I found that when it rained, water droplets poured straight downward so even though I was inches from the edge of the thatched roof, I did not get wet.


Mary Sol, Patricio and his brother played frisbee with me. They caught on very quickly. We shared many laughs.



Children gathered with us ten Americans in one of their classrooms. They told us what it's like to live in the rainforest. They were well mannered, good natured children who LOVE to play soccer (football to the rest of the world) I participated in a grand match where many of us high fived and danced when a good shot was made. They were fun to hang around.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

How can we save the Rainforest?

Following my visit to the Ecuadorian Rainforest, I have decided to live my life differently. I don't want to contribute to the need for additional energy, where companies search for new sources of power to satisfy insatiable demand. I look at the sweet pictures of the children I met in Tiinkias when I need encouragement to make changes.

Marisol and I
In their school room
In front of their watering hole

 So what am I going to do differently:

I plan to serve at least one meatless dinner a week, use air dryers instead of paper towels in public bathrooms, limit paper towel use at home, continue to recycle everything possible, use compact fluorescent light bulbs, bring my coffee mug to Starbucks, use a carwash instead of my hose, take shorter showers, adjust my water heater to a lower setting, turn up the air conditioner when I am gone, and carry reusable water bottles. It's hard to imagine that limiting my water and energy usage will affect places thousands of miles from me, but it really does. Will you join me? 

I found this list on the web. Choose actions that speak to you. When each of us make baby steps, we are capable of altering the future of our world in significant ways.

Home

Recycle everything you can: newspapers, cans, glass bottles and jars, aluminum foil, motor oil, scrap metal, etc.

Investigate local recycling centers that take items your garbage hauler does not.

Try to use phosphate-free laundry and dish soaps.

Use cold water in the washer whenever possible.

Don't use electrical appliances for things you can easily do by hand, like opening cans.

Re-use brown paper bags to line your trash can instead of plastic liners. Re-use bread bags, butter tubs, etc.

Store food in re-usable containers, instead of plastic wrap or aluminum foil.

Save wire coat hangers and return them to the dry cleaners.

Take unwanted, re-usable items to a charitable organization or thrift shop.

Don't leave water running needlessly.

Install a water-saving shower head.

Set your water heater at 130 degrees.

Have your water heater insulated free of charge by your utility company.

Turn your heat down, and wear a sweater.

Lower your thermostat by one degree per hour for every hour you'll be away or asleep.
Turn off the lights, TV, or other electrical appliances when you're out of a room.

Get a free energy audit from your utility company.

Burn only seasoned wood in your woodstove or fireplace... and don't light them as often.

IN YOUR YARD

Start a compost pile.

Put up birdfeeders, birdhouses, and birdbaths.

Pull weeds instead of using herbicides.

Use only organic fertilizers... they're still the best.

Compost your leaves and yard debris, or take them to a yard debris recycler. (Burning them creates air pollution, and putting them out with the trash wastes landfill space.)

Use mulch to conserve water in your garden.

Take extra plastic and rubber pots back to the nursery.

Plant short, dense shrubs close to your home's foundation to help insulate your home against cold.

WHILE ON VACATION

Turn down the heat and turn off the water heater before you leave.

Carry reusable cups, dishes, and flatware.

Make sure your trash doesn't end up in the ocean... don't litter beaches.

Don't pick flowers or keep wild creatures for pets... leave plants and animals where you find them.

Don't buy souvenirs made from wild or endangered animals.

Watch out for wildlife... give consideration to all living things you see crossing the road.

Build smaller campfires, and make sure they're completely out before you leave.

Stay on the trail... don't trample fragile undergrowth.

IN YOUR CAR

Keep your car tuned up.

Carpool, if possible.

Use public transit whenever possible.

On weekends, ride your bike or walk instead.

Buy a more fuel efficient model when you're ready for a new car.

Recycle your engine oil.

Keep your tires properly inflated to save gas.

Keep your wheels properly aligned to save your tires. (It's safer too.)

Don't litter our roads and highways... save trash and dispose of it at a rest stop.

AT WORK

Recycle office and computer paper, cardboard, etc. whenever possible.

Use scrap paper for informal notes to yourself and others.

Print things like in-house memo pads, etc., on recycled paper.

Print or copy on both sides of the paper.

Use smaller paper for smaller memos.

Re-use manila envelopes and file folders.

Hide the throw-away cups, and train people to use their washable coffee mugs. Use washable mugs for meetings too.

Route around the office or post non-urgent communications ... instead of making multiple copies.

Use the stairs instead of the elevator on trips of less than three floors... it's better for you too.
When You're Shopping..
Avoid buying food or household products in plastic or styrofoam containers whenever possible. (They can't be recycled, and don't break down in the environment.)

Think twice about buying "disposable" products. (They really aren't disposable and are extravagant wastes of the world's resources.)

Buy paper products instead of plastic if you must buy "disposables." They break down better in the environment and don't deplete the ozone layer as much.

Check the energy rating of major appliances you purchase. Buy only the most energy-efficient models.

Ask questions... don't buy products, such as styrofoam, that are hazardous to the environment or manufactured at the expense of important habitats such as rain forests.

Buy locally-grown food and locally-made products when possible.

Don't buy products made from endangered animals.

PERSONAL THINGS

Join a conservation organization.

Volunteer your time to conservation projects.

Give money to conservation projects.

Spread the Word

Convert by example... encourage your family, friends, and neighbors to save resources too.

Learn about conservation issues in your community or state... write your legislators and let them know where you stand on the issues.

Teach children to respect nature and the environment. Take them on hikes, or camping. Help them plant a tree or build a birdhouse. Teach them by example.