Monday, May 22, 2017

Remembering The Unexpected Messenger

John 14:18: "I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you."

The scripture reminded of a bizarre incident that happened years ago when my third husband was in the hospital. I stayed until way past visiting hours, leaving my husband's bedside only when the night shift insisted I go home. As I rode the elevator down to the ground floor, I fought back the tears, the fatigue, the sense of hopelessness. The cancer had spread, already encompassing one quarter of his brain.  The prognosis was six weeks.


I stepped outside into a biting wind, heavily scented with fresh snow. I prayed I'd make it home before the storm hit, maybe even have the dogs ran and fed too.

Dog food. I groaned. We were out. The last thing I wanted to do was put on a civil face and go to the market. I wanted to go home, crawl into bed, curl up in a tight ball, and sleep.

The store parking lot was nearly empty. Surely that meant the check out lines would be short.

I grabbed my purse, jumped out of the truck, shut the door - and froze. The keys were still in the ignition. A sob threatened to drop me to the ground and escalate into serious crying, but tears would only complicate my situation, not solve it.

I considered my options. I had my purse and thus money and my cell phone. My parents had an extra key to the truck and were only fifteen minutes away. Fifteen minutes would give me plenty of time to make my purchase and be back out to the truck before they arrived. Since, the truck canopy was unlocked, I could put the dog food inside and sit on the dropped tailgate while I waited - if I needed to wait.  And, it hadn't  started to snow, yet...

In less than ten minutes the phone call had been made, the dog food purchased, and I was back outside, sitting on the tailgate. I entertained myself watching other desperate souls entering and exiting the store.

One held my attention longer than the others. Male or female? I couldn't tell. The hair style, clothing, and mannerisms could be either. The hair was a longish Pompadour. The shirt, slacks, and loafers were not definitive of either gender.

The person crossed the parking lot and then veered in my direction. I held my breath. Surely he/she did not intend on drawing me into conversation.

He/she continued his/her course right up to my tailgate. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. I’ve locked my keys inside, but my folks are on their way with a spare.”

“It’s not very safe for you to sit here alone this time of night. I’d better stay with you.”

I thought, "God, no! Who will protect me from you?"

To my horror, the person jumped up and sat next to me on the tailgate. What followed was the oddest conversation I have ever been a part of.

“Do you remember an incident a few years back when a patient on the fourth floor of the hospital jumped out the window in a suicide attempt?”

The fourth floor was the psyche ward. I swallowed. “Vaguely.”

“Well I was that man.”

I struggled to keep my face non-responsive.

“Amazingly, I was not hurt in the fall, just bruised. It was then I realized God had a plan for my life or He would not have saved me in such a miraculous way. I needed to stick around and discover what that plan was. I continued with therapy and have since put my life back together. I have had steady employment for several years now, and I am a productive part of society again.”

“I’m glad to hear that.” Surprisingly, I meant it.

“And don’t you worry,” He told me. “God will give you the strength you need to deal with your current crises. I don’t know the details, but I know you are overwhelmed with great difficulties. I will pray for you.”

I was touched. “Thank you.”

My folks pulled in next to me.

“Looks like the cavalry is here.”

He jumped down, grabbed his cart and turned to me one more time, “I really do wish you luck.”

And with a nod he walked away.

I learned several important lessons that night. First, God sends the least likely messengers. Second, He will never leave me orphaned, alone, and terrified of the future. I need only to rely on His strength, not mine, an He would carry me through the difficult circumstances, the infernos, and dark places as long as I held onto Him, my faith.

Of course, the rest of my life turned out far better than I imagined. God hand picked my fourth husband and promised we'd grow old together in health. He still sends unexpected messengers to comfort me when facing challenges, but none have been quite as strange as the one I encountered in that dark parking lot on the tailgate of my truck.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Lion Sleeps Tonight - So I Hoped (My African Wedding and Honeymoon)




The warning was explicit: Do not walk around the compound at night without an armed guard. So, where was I? 

Granted, I was with my new husband and being a police officer and big game hunter he had skills, but those skills meant little since he wasn’t carrying a gun. The man with the gun was back at the lighted, and safe, enclave with the rest of our tour group, enjoying his glass of sherry.

Bill drained his in one gulp and hurried me with mine. He wanted to go back to the chalet to “wash up” before dinner and did not want to wait on a guard to escort us.

Twenty yards to the chalet.

Two weeks prior to our arrival at the game reserve, lions mauled and killed two people — inside the fifteen-foot electrified fence. They attacked the older gentleman a few feet from his chalet. Then, they attacked his wife when she came searching for him.

The song, The Lion Sleeps Tonight, was sweet and romantic when a group of four young men serenaded us on our wedding night. Now it was a prayer. 

There wasn’t any light, not even a sliver of a moon and I could see only a few feet in front of me and almost nothing behind.

What was that?

I squinted in a vain effort to improve my night vision. Something was moving around in the shadows beneath trees beside the river. Please let it be monkeys! They were the only creatures besides lions who could get inside the compound. But they slept at night ...

Ten yards.


Five yards.

Almost close enough to run, but running wasn’t wise with predators lurking.

I looked at the inky black space behind the staircase leading to our chalet and envisioned huge, clawed paws reaching out and grabbing my ankles as I climbed.

Ten steps.

Five steps.

The deck.

We closed and bolted the door.

Bill made a beeline for the restroom, revealing the reason behind his urgent retreat from the group. All the rich food had tipped the sensitive balance of his digestive system, poor guy.

I sank onto the bed, an enormous king draped in mosquito netting and drenched in pillows. Even though our room wasn’t one of the Presidential suites, it boasted rich wood, elegant drapery, cushioned chairs, and our own mini-bar stocked with assorted cold drinks.

A gift basket sat on the table, a new addition since our game drive.

A card was tied to the handle by a tiny blue ribbon, a wedding gift from the lodge staff. Nestled amid colorful tissue were two bananas, a couple packages of nuts, some individually wrapped chocolates and two bottles of sparkling water.

Bill exited the restroom. “Okay, let’s go eat.”

I looked at him and then the door. The dining room was back across the compound, through another vortex of heart-pounding-palm-sweating dark.

"Sweetheart, it'll be fine. No lion is going to eat us."

"Right. You heard what the manager said."

"They've reinforced the fencing since then. We'll be fine."

"Yeah, just like all those people in that book you gave me to read before we came."

"Death in the Long Grass is a hunting classic."

"Uh huh. All about man-eating lions."

"A little fear adds spice to life."

"I don't need any spice, thank you."

Bill held the door open.

Against my better judgement, I stepped out the door and into The Gauntlet.

We made it to the dining room without sight (and thank you, Lord) no sound of any lions. Even the pride milling around the entrance gate was silent. Had one roared I am not sure if I would have become the fastest woman alive (alive being the key word here), or if I would have remained frozen, rooted to the ground, unable to move, and become a statistic.

Our brave dash across the dark compound was for nothing. The dining room was locked and darker than the compound. It seemed everything was dark that night, especially my mood.

Bill peered through huge window. “I know dinner was served earlier, but I was sure they’d offer something to us after the game drive.”

I agreed. "At least sandwiches."

As usual, Bill handled the situation with grace and immaculate aplomb. “Oh well, one missed meal won’t ruin our trip. I’ll be okay until breakfast, how about you, Sweetheart?”

“Well,” I replied, “There’s a gift basket with snacks in the chalet....”

I looked back across the compound. The chalet lay past a long, long stretch of black, inky space. I prayed the old adage “three times is a charm” didn't include lions.

Five heart-pounding minutes later, we were back inside the chalet, sitting opposite each other in the plush wicker chairs, staring down at our evening repast. We each had a banana, a small package of nuts, a few chocolates pieces, and a bottle of sparkling water.

“If you chew slowly it fills you up quicker.”

Bill stared at his portion, entirely cupped in one hand. “Right.”

After consuming the contents of the basket, we crawled into bed, tired, cold, and hungry. Even so, I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

The next morning, the dining room was packed with other guests, each one smiling and nodding as we entered.

I whispered to Bill, “What's going on?”

He shrugged. “I have no idea.”

He headed straight for the buffet table. I followed, still wondering why we seemed to be the center of everyone's attention.

The lodge manager walked over. “Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. Pulliam.”

“Good morning.”

“How are you?”

“Fine.” Bill replied.

“Everything okay?”

“Yes.”

The man hovered, something else was on his mind. “We missed you at dinner last night.”

“Well,” Bill answered, “we came down to the dining room, but it was locked, all the lights were off, and we didn’t see anyone around. Figuring we somehow missed dinner, we went back to our chalet.”

The manager sighed. “We waited for a half hour and then realized you had left the group before I announced dinner was in the Boma, not the dining room.”

Boma is an African word meaning eating place, an open space surrounded by a fence, filled with dining tables, an open fire, and a long buffet table. My mouth watered as I pictured a whole lamb, pig, or half a cow roasting on a huge spit — sizzling and savory. I envisioned the buffet covered with salads, breads, soups, potato dishes, pasta dishes, vegetables, and desserts.

The manager continued. “We sent a tracker to escort you to the Boma, but when he arrived at your chalet it was dark, and well,” He hesitated, then said, “knowing you are newlyweds, he was unsure whether to knock, or not.”

I envisioned the poor tracker shuffling his feet outside the door, debating on whether to disturb us, while Bill and I were inhaling our meager snacks.

Bill grinned, and said, “Please don't worry about it. It was just an unfortunate misunderstanding. If missing one meal is the worst thing we encounter on this trip, we will be very lucky.”

Relieved, the manager wished us a good day and moved on to other guests.

I elbowed Bill. “I told you to turn on the lights.”

“Well, Sweetheart, I didn’t see any need to burn every light in the place in order to eat a handful of snacks.” With a wink, he added, “Besides, it was romantic, wasn’t it?”

Romantic? Standing in a darkened room, shivering from cold and shattered nerves, starving, and so tired my bones ached, was not my definition of the word.

I looked down at my ring. Now that was romantic. We bought it at a South African diamond emporium in Johannesburg. The simple design was elegant, and perfect. Seven diamonds sparkled in a white-gold scalloped band. Back in our room at the Bed and Breakfast, Bill slipped it on my finger and vowed to honor and cherish me for the rest of his life…

****
Bill raised his glass of sparkling wine. “Happy Anniversary, Sweetheart.”

“Happy Anniversary, Honey. Haven’t the years flown by.” He grinned. “The happiest years of my life.”

I cuddled closer. “Mine too.”

“We should go back to Africa.”

“I’ll go in a heartbeat on one condition. Don't spice it up too much.” I put a finger to his lips. “Don’t say it. I don’t care what Winston Churchill said. I’m not an adrenaline junkie like you, and I don’t want to feel the thrill of being shot at and missed — or stalked, but not eaten.”

Bill's eyes twinkled. “I have just the book for you to read.”

“What? Another Death in the Long Grass? Thanks, but no thanks.”

“This one is excellent. I know you'll enjoy it.”

“Where does this one take place? Zimbabwe, Botswana, Kenya? Is it a pride of man-eaters or just a single lion stalking and devouring anyone it comes across?”

“South Africa. Kruger National Park. Several prides....”

All storytelling aside, a card sat on the top of the coffee maker.

I wish I could write a book with separate chapters for every reason why my life is warmer, brighter, better, and a thousand times more fun because of you.
Love, Bill

Well, ditto, Honey. I would follow you anywhere. My home is wherever you are, whether it is in Argentina, South Africa, or Idaho. I love you with all of my heart.

***
  Below are some of our photos.


My husband, Bill, just before the wedding
Me, just before the wedding



Third Floor of the Safari Lodge


Table decor of African Protea and greens

After our vows, standing with the Magistrate

View from our deck at the Safari Lodge
Lion photographed in Edeni Game Reserve, South Africa

The Trail down to Victoria Falls



Dining Hut at Camp by Limpopo River in Zimbabwe
Baobab Tree in Zimbabwe


Wild Elephants along the Zambezi River
Victoria Falls from Above


Giraffe in Edeni Game Reserve, South Africa
Sunrise in Edeni, South Africa


South African Wild Dogs, South Africa

 




Inyala Buck in South Africa


Young Cape Buffalo in South Africa


Aloe Trees at The Great Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe


Young Rhino

Dancers at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
More Dancers at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe





Our Chalet at the second camp

Great Zimbabwe


 


Top of Great Zimbabwe

Leopard in Edeni Game Reserve


Sunset in Zimbabwe

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

… And the World Didn’t End



We are a society hooked on devices, except perhaps my husband. He has a cell phone and a laptop, neither of which he uses extensively. However, I love technology and wish I had the use of more. I have emails, social media, book research, and numerous apps that keep me connected, updated, informed, and organized. 

Yes, I did all of that before I had a basic cell phone, but it was more time consuming. Did I have more time back then, or did I do less?

When my Android tablet broke this last week, it forced me to take stock of how much I needed it. I loved some of the apps and the fact it was smaller than my laptop, but not that much lighter, and yet I lugged it around from store to store only using it for a shopping list. Which was ridiculous since I have an online printable program I can access with my laptop. It organizes my list according to the aisles in the grocery store just like the app, but paper is smaller and lighter than the tablet. 

I used the tablet to read digital books, but then I have a Kindle, and it has a free 3G service. 

The tablet had other drawbacks too. I hated typing on the tiny keyboard, and yet I was addicted to having it “just in case.”

Originally, we were looking for mobile access to the internet while we were traveling and the tablet seemed like a good solution. It wasn’t. After some research, it seems a hot spot mobile modem will give us the same flexibility as the tablet and allow us to both use our laptops. 

So, the tablet went away, and the world didn’t end. Imagine that. 

However, I am toying with getting a smart phone when it’s time to upgrade in a few months, but don’t tell my husband. I need to figure out a few good reasons why I need it over the one I currently have. 

Let’s see: fancy apps, smaller than my laptop, and I think it will be fun to have… 

Okay, so the world will keep turning if I don’t get one, but please don’t tell him!