Tag Archives: family

Indelible Words

Today I saw this video, and it made me cry.  Of course I shared it, and started blogging a comment that went ellipsical and ended up far from this video.  So I shared the video with the lame comment of “Such a cool story!,” and decided to post the blog here.  It really is a sweet love story, and I recommend watching the video, so here it is:

If you decided to skip the video, here’s the spoiler: boy send’s Samaritan’s Purse Christmas Shoebox to a girl in the Philippines when he’s 7 years old, girl finds him on Facebook 10 years later, now they’re married.  There are so many things we could get from this story…. it’s a love story for a Hallmark movie script, a testament to shoebox ministries, a testimony that God brings two people together (bonus points if they had both just “stopped looking in order to focus on themselves”), all great things.

Here’s what made me cry: the power of showing love on paper to children in need. What need?  The need for connection.  I am forcibly reminded of the letters I received as a child in Mexico. I remember because I saved every single one. All the letters from my grandparents (so many postcards and place mats from my Grandma Dorinda!), my Uncle David in the Navy, my penpals (Jennie, Sara, Amanda, and Emily), the ones my dad sent when we lived in opposite countries (even the one he sent when I was at summer camp where he spelled my name with a y (he fixed it before he mailed it, and it took two tries for him to sign “Dad,” too, so it was just an off day that made me laugh)), the letters Angel faithfully wrote me when I was lonely in America, all of my birthday cards. They were read and reread, studied, memorized. I can tell you who sent me the same birthday card two years in a row, which cards ended up in my Bible and Box of Special Things, the round gold-rimmed Teddy bear sticker Sara sent me, the white cat birthday card from my Grandma Wiedling… these written words – so much more than my carousel horses or snow globes or shiny rocks or boxes or international coins or stamps or white teddy bears – these were (and are) my treasures. These are in my heart still, burned into my soul as the indelible reminder that I was not forgotten, that I was loved, that I was worth an international stamp.  People get tattoos of the handwriting of loved ones, and I totally get it.

Since then there are wonderful inventions… email, Facebook, text messages, ecards, evites, affordable communication in and to almost any person in any country. It is convenient, customizable, dependable, and instant. It also gets lost, right in the palm of our hands, lost in feeds, inboxes, threads, accidental (or regrettably intentional) deletes, the fleetingness of Snapchat. There is no more saving the letter for when we can relax on our couch, or hiding in the privacy of our rooms, no more pages of stories, enclosed stickers, birthday cards with activities in them, specially chosen photos to be treasured.  Boxes of treasured handwritten pages are a thing of the past, no more the ceremonies of burning love letters from that hurt us… the delete button removing most of our chance to halt such violence.  There is no more choosing of stationary, finding pens that don’t smear, numbering of pages, taking the TIME to STOP and write to someone, to invest actual time in a relationship with someone far away, no more choosing what flat and weightless memento to enclose.  Now we share snippets, emojis, endless streams of filtered and staged pictures. They come without ceremony or excitement. They are invasive, appearing instantly and stealing from us the option of choosing the location and circumstances of discovering what lies inside.  There is no more turning a sealed envelope over in our hands, studying the stamp and postmark, wondering what the letter went through to get to us, realizing that we are touching a paper that not long ago was being held by someone thinking about us.  The magic is gone.  No we read our messages at stoplights, in lines at the supermarket, on the toilet, in the middle of dinner, in the middle of conversations with other people. The words are no longer sacred.  Using a stamp has become a luxury, synonymous to actually paying for parking and going inside the airport to meet a weary traveler.

And they are typed. There is always an element of genericness about them, even if we have the option of font selection. Teenagers… would you recognize your grandparents’ handwriting if you saw it? Or your parents’, if it wasn’t just a scribbled note? Parents, would you recognize your teen’s developing script, the one they use in real life? Because our handwriting is US. It is our personality, our emotion, our development, our soul.  They are pieces of and links to history.  I have heard my aunt say, “Well, I’m not sure who’s in that picture, but that’s mom’s handwriting and she was labeling all these photos when she was in college, so it’s probably…”  Could you do that?

I know my grandparents’ handwriting… my Grandma Wiedling’s short script on unlined white paper, my Grandpa Wiedling’s typewriter-like block letters on graph paper, my Grandma Dorinda’s narrowly-spaced cursive squeezing as much as possible on the backs of diligently-mailed postcards, my Grandpa Rupe’s childlike lettering (a result of learning disabilities and decades of teaching young elementary grades), my mother’s small loopy cursive, my dad’s scrawl, my brother’s big print.  My own handwriting, like all of ours, has evolved into something that reflects me – a mix of print and cursive, depending on what is easiest in the space, with a’s shaped like “a” that came after my college calligraphy class.  I have always regretted not knowing my Grandma Jean’s handwriting.  She was the first grandma to see me, but died before I was old enough to get a letter from her.  I do have samples of her handwriting, but they are not burned into me like the words that have been written for me.

I don’t know where I’m going with this.  I’ll be honest, I don’t take the time to write.  I have a collection of fantastic Mother’s Day cards that I have collected annually for my Grandmother… some day she’ll just get a package of them.  I have even made a rule not to comment on Facebook birthdays, because I carry so much guilt over not consistently commenting on everyone’s.  I have so many things to write on my blog, but I don’t do that, either.  I am too busy and too tired to muster the energy needed for this skill at the end of a day.  But why is it a skill that requires so much attention?  It used to be second nature.  Why is it not normal for us anymore?   And if the answer really is that we are too busy and too tired to invest in relationships that are out of sight…. for goodness sake’s, WHY???  Technology was supposed to make life easier, faster, more efficient.  We should have more time and more energy.  But… we spend more time editing photos, don’t we?  More time checking email, more time thinking about 12 things we should be monitoring at once, more time synching schedules, more time sending one little text or email, more time watching just one more 22-minute episode.

And so we have forgotten the value of handwriting.  We have forgotten how special it was to get a letter.  We have forgotten what it is to sit and contemplate a friendship as we share our lives on paper.  We have forgotten that labeling and describing the memory is more important than the perfect selfie.  We have forgotten that children remember the simplest of things… like whether you remembered or forgot.

So right now, while I’m remembering… excuse me while I go write a letter to a child.

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Rupe Reunion 2011 Trailer

So my super-cool Uncle Brian, YMCA Director Extraordinaire, is putting together a movie of our time together.  The trailer was released today and I just had to share it.  I’ll share the finished project after the premeire!

Family, Unexpected

So in this last day of my mini-sabbatical I find myself sacked out on my little love seat (it’s times like this that my long legs wish I opted for a cramped apartment in exchange for a couch I can stretch out on) trying to recover enough from my nasty cold to make it through my first day back at work tomorrow.  Culture shock finally hits in the form of the appallingly shallow conversation happening on tv between Ellen DeGeneres and Jesse Tyler Ferguson about his one-testicled dog.  Coming up after the break: new teen musical group sensation Mindless Behavior, and Justin Bieber visits an elementary school somewhere and makes teachers cry.  Yay.  So here I am, still in awkward cultural limbo, feeling a little sick, empty, and lonely.  I find myself whiling away the hours on my phone . . . not playing games, but trolling Facebook, Skype, and WordPress looking for specific people, comments, likes, any sort of connection that requires minimal work on my part.

Which leads me back to my inner contemplation of one of the many subtle and misunderstood MK/TCK (Missionary Kid / Third Culture Kid – here’s a good summary if you’re not sure what I’m talking about) dynamics that set us apart from the general population.  Relationships.  I’ve known and befriended and mentored enough of us to know that we are all extremely different and very much alike.  None of us have the same culture, but we are our own group who have an awful lot in common.  One thing we have in common is this odd mixture of “Goodbye Avoidance” and “Goodbye Expertise.”  You heard me right.  We HATE goodbyes, but that’s because we’ve become experts at it.  Some TCKs say most of their goodbyes because their families are global nomads; others (like me) have said most of their goodbyes to people who flit in and out of their lives.  Regardless, you ultimately meet, love, and release more people than you can possibly maintain relationships with.  Life goes on for everyone, with or without you, and you just can’t keep up.  Facebook helps a lot, if only in stalker mode, but it’s not the same.  How are we experts?  There is a certain skill to the “Out of sight Out of mind” technique.  We never stop caring, but we allow life to go on.  People who don’t understand this often think that we’re shallow and don’t care; that’s furthest from the truth, and the next time we see you you will truly be the only person in the room for us.  But the emotional and mental toll of keeping everyone we know forefront in our mind is simply more than anyone can tolerate.

But, as we all know, there are some relationships you just can’t escape whether you want to or not.  The genetic bond of family permanently ties you to certain other humans for the length of your lives . . . or does it?  Well, sure it does.  Family’s an incredible thing, and I just got to spend 3 weeks basking in it.  Then I got in an airplane and my nearest family is again a little over 2,000 miles away.  As I wrote the other day . . . I love them, I miss their presence, but I don’t miss them.  This separation is part of the rhythm of my life.  I know that after I spend a day at work tomorrow I’ll be ready to come home to this quiet apartment and I’ll be grateful for the solitude.  Still . . . I’m dwelling a lot on the idea of family.

Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26-27).  This basically means that if you want to be an effective Christian, you have to be willing to leave everyone and everything behind you as you follow the call of God.   This is especially evident in the missionary life I’m describing.  But God made us to be social beings, to help one another, to depend on each other.  He didn’t forget that.  “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30).  (I note the promise of problems, but that’s for a different day.)  I’ve been pondering these verses a lot this week and considering all the Family that God has put in my life to fill the holes left by those who were distant because of my parents’ ministry.  I wanted to share them with you today.

The Official Genetic Links

Always start with the “real” family.  They’ve earned it by their mere existence, even if I’m not fortunate to know them as well as I’d like.  I have a small “blood” family: one aunt, 2 uncles, and 9 cousins . . . both sides of the family combined. My uncles come with aunts and 3 cousins are married now, so we’re slowly growing.  I’ve realized that grandmothers hold families together.  I was 11 when my Grandma Wiedling passed; my mom’s brother’s kids were born after that, and I’ve never really been able to know them for a number of reasons.  I’m thankful to be able to connect with them, if only a little, though Facebook.  My Grandma Rupe died when I was 6.  My grandfather made a genius decision a few years later and married Dorinda (who brought us another uncle as well).  The Rupes are simply not gifted in family connections, but Dorinda’s family is exceptionally focused on recording history and maintaining relationships.  She has always honored my grandmother’s memory, and a few years ago even hosted a Veach reunion (my grandmother’s family).  It was at this reunion that I first felt glimpsed what I’d missed out on.  I’ve always loved my eyes, which are just like my dad’s; I knew that his eyes were like his mother’s.  I vividly remember looking around the living room full of Veaches and realizing in shock that we ALL had the same eyes.  Prominent brow bone, hooded lid, almond shaped.  They were all the same.  It was the first time that I felt the power of a genetic connection.  An entire room full of people, 98% of whom had the same eyes.  I had to leave that room to cry them out, because it was such a powerful realization.  It was a sense of belonging that I’d never known.

Around that time, and a little before my Grandpa Rupe’s death, my cousin Jachin and I realized that if we didn’t start building relationships our kids would never know each other.  My Uncle Brian is a YMCA camp director, so Jachin and his 5 siblings grew up in remote places, and didn’t get to know the rest of us very well, either.  Three years ago Eliot got married, and I was fortunate to spend about 4 days in Albuquerque with my Uncle Brian’s family

for the wedding.  Turns out, they’re REALLY cool!  Cousins are an amazing invention!!  I don’t have many, but I love them all so dearly and I’m proud of all of them.  And the additions to our family are equally as special.  Dorinda IS my grandmother.  Jim IS my uncle.  Grace, Kristine, and Elijah ARE my cousins.  I love them, and I’m so excited to see who’s added next!  (Yes, we all know who it will be, but I don’t think I should start any cyber-rumors just yet . . .)

And, of course, there are my parents and brother, who are who they are and have made me who I am. To discuss them and their value to me would take a lot more space and words than is prudent to use in a blog.

The Hundredfold

For a long time it was really difficult for me to distinguish the difference between friends and acquaintances.  I wrote last week about growing up “special” in Mexico . . . it was rare that I ran into anyone who didn’t want to be my friend.  When I moved to America it was the complete opposite.  There were a lot of people who were nice to me and let me stand by them so I didn’t look alone, but I was rarely admitted to an “inner circle.”  I became so desperate for connections that I leeched on to anyone who made any move toward friendship, which freaked everyone out, and I ended up feeling betrayed, foolish, and confused.  Eventually I worked out that relationships progress, and that relationships have varying purposes.  I’ve also come to appreciate that most of my relationships are dynamic in their intensity, meaning that their activity in my life may vacillate, wane, and even stop altogether for no reason other than that God’s purpose for the relationship has been achieved.

I’m not sure if it’s “normal” for people to have mostly short-term relationships.  I live in a small town, and it seems like everyone here has known everyone for most of their lives.  I don’t think it’s normal that the longest “continually active” relationship in my life (besides my parents and brother) has lasted 8 years and is with a coworker.  But over the years I’ve come to really appreciate the people that God has brought into my life.

Some of these relationships are peripheral and short-lived, but they leave a lasting impression:

  • Erica was my penpal from Mexico City when I was about 12.  I don’t remember how we connected, or even if we ever met face-to-face.  She once wrote me a letter citing Joshua 1:9 (“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”).  I think of this verse surprisingly often, always connected in my mind to her picture, and her words continue to encourage me.
  • Julia came to Apizaco on a short-term mission trip.  We sang a song together at a campaign.  I was so nervous.  I was about 13, but I’ll never forget blowing our noses on notebook paper when we said goodbye.  She wrote to me several times
  • Kostya was a Bosnian foreign exchange student during my junior year in high school.  He was the first Muslim I ever met, and told me how grateful he was to have gotten the visa and escape the turmoil that was going on there.  He was so worried about his family.  He was my first window into the Middle East.

Some are intense, deep, and temporary.  These people have radically affected my life, and letting them go was excruciatingly painful.  Sometimes I can still brush ways on Facebook or through Christmas cards.  I am ever grateful for how they touched my life.

  • Slava was an exchange student my sophomore year in college.  He understood the power of God.  He challenged me.  He made me focus on eternity.  He laughed in the face of pain, and prayed without ceasing.  He knew death and loss and suffering . . . and he chose joy.
  • I met Amy at the National Young Leader’s Conference in Washington DC during our senior year in high school.  We were best friends for a week, good long-distance friends for a year, and now I secretly stalk her missionary work on Facebook.  We made ripples in each others’ lives.
  • I met Ben at Urbana 96.  He was someone that I leeched onto, but he was an amazing friend through my freshman year in college.  He challenged my faith deeply and was a close confidant.  He visited me at Christmas, took me to Olive Garden, and I beat him at Scrabble; the score sheet is still in my box of special things.
  • Hank started my emotional education and helped me to be honest and fearless in self-examination.  His energy and enthusiasm helped me to begin defining some direction for my life.  I still dream of developing the vision we started painting in the cafeteria at JUC.

Some people are a one-time life-changing moment.  Maybe I know them for a week, or a day, or a year, but it is one moment that matters.  These are non-reciprocated interactions . . . I am just intensely blessed or challenged.  These moments are burned into my mind and stay with me always.

  • Shinji asked me what was the prayer that God still hadn’t answered.
  • Ioan told me to relax around love.
  • When I had to beg for a position in the sociology department because nursing didn’t want me, Dr. Young said, “I know exactly how you feel, I think you’d be great for our program, and I’d love to have you.”

There are the people that God sticks you with.  I tried picking roommates one year, and it didn’t work out well.  We didn’t hate each other, but I think we were glad when the year was over.  But God tends to stick you with the people you’d never choose for yourself, the people that stretch and grow you like you never thought possible.  Sometimes it’s the people you wish you could get away from but can’t. . . until suddenly you don’t want to.  These are the people that might come in and out of your life, but when you come together it’s like there was never any distance and you still trust each other completely.  These turn out to be the Familiar Friends who know your heart the best, the ones you don’t need to explain things to.  They are Home.

  • I met Kelly in 6th grade.  She was the smartest girl in high school, and told me she threw Valedictorian on purpose so she didn’t have to give the speech.  We weren’t all that close in high school.  She’s pretty much the only person from high school I can still call a friend.
  • Theresa was one of my freshman roommates in college.  There were days I was pretty sure one of us would be dead by the end of the year, and we were both so happy to be free of each other at the end of the year.  The next year we got together and, through tears, laughed about it and became close friends.  She’s a Super Mom in Michigan.
  • Lori, Kristi, and Emanuel loved me during the times that I was probably most unlovable.  I probably would have found them on my own, but it was God that stuck them with me.  They carried me through a period when I couldn’t carry myself, and I’m probably alive today because of them.
  • Michelle and I were destined to meet: we missed each other at Urbana 99 and she decided to go to England instead of Israel during the fall of 2001, but we finally connected at Advent.  We don’t talk often, but she is my BFF . . . my beloved forever friend.
  • Shelly is someone I definitely would never have sought out, but God brought us together.  She is currently my closest friend, San Jose crash site, faithful ride to the airport, ever patient with my unpredictable bursts of cultural ineptitude.
  • Then there is Ricky.  If there was ever a story of God sticking two people together.  Our story is one of divine intervention in nearly every aspect imaginable.  What God has done in my life through him is beyond what I can say.  I am honored to call him my friend.
  • Patrick hired me at Chamberlain’s 8 years ago.  We’ve had our moments, but he is a combination of coworker, brother, and friend.  He knows my secrets, holds my passwords, gives wise advice, and often keeps me centered.
  • Cheryl has been a supervisor, mentor, teacher, and friend.  She knew how to tease a professional out of me, saw potential where I sure didn’t, and made my success her personal project.  She gives me a home away from home, makes sure I don’t spend holidays alone . . . and introduced me to Harry Potter.

And then there is . . . family.  Because God does not neglect the needs of his children.  He calls us to leave siblings, parents, and grandparents; but He promises to replenish hundredfold.  Yes, these people are friends . . . but they’re not.  These are the people who know all your secrets and love you anyway.  They make you eat when you’re sick and don’t worry about the germs.  They get really irritated with you but still don’t turn you away.  They assume responsibility for you without question and have no problem telling you to grow up and take care of yourself.  You know that if you’re hungry they’ll feed you and if you really need something they’ll give you whatever they have.  They treat you like you’re genetic.  Because you practically are, and you’d do the same for them.

  • Chavela has known my family since I was about 3.  We gave her an ironing job when I was really young, and she became our housekeeper when I was 6.  She doesn’t work for my parents anymore because she’s not as strong as she once was, but she still lives next door.  She was my grandmother, aunt, babysitter . . . you name it.  She taught me to cook, knit, and wash clothes by hand.  It was she who first made me realize how my behavior affected others . . . the day she first called me “hija.”  During this last trip she set aside a plate of sopes for me because she knew I was craving them, made me chiles rellenos because I talked about them, and sent me a pitcher of ponche.  When I went to thank her, her response was, “What else could I do?”  She has something like 17 grandkids and several great grand-kids . . . but there were about 10 pictures of me plastered all over her tiny two-room house (no kidding – all my awkward year photos are staring at her all day, and she still cooked for me!).  She expects nothing from me in return, which is good because I could never repay her love.
  • Chavela’s sons, Angel and Jorge, and another guy named Efren, became my brothers.  They took such good care of me, and we were inseparable when we had the choice.  We’ve all moved on, but we still call each other brothers and sister.
  • The Gorhams were the greatest family gift of all.  I met them shortly after they moved to South Bend from Arizona.  Heather was a baby, Desiree was about 4 and liked me, and they needed a babysitter.  I became their regular sitter while I was in high school.  I well remember the night I sat on the couch eating ice cream with Diane after they got home and Shawn had gone to bed.  She asked me where I’d be staying during the summer after my freshman year at Bethel, since my mom went back to Mexico.  When I told her I didn’t know yet she said, “Well, then you’re staying here.”  I was so flabbergasted I asked her if maybe she should ask Shawn first.  She told me he’d be fine with it.  That started a beautiful relationship that I never expected.  The girls were my special friends, and I loved playing with them and watching them grow up.  I was able to observe Shawn and Diane’s marriage, and realized that families could operate in different ways than my own.  I spent 3 summers living with them, and several times came home during a weekend or just to cry my eyes out.  They loved me as a daughter, prayed over me, spoke truth into my life, and mentored me in a very special way.  Diane taught me to ask questions.  Once Shawn took the day off work so we could go to the beach for my birthday.  We rarely communicate now, but I’m sure we all stalk each other properly on Facebook.  I miss them often, and need to drive down to Phoenix to visit them so I can bring back my Yanomamo spears (I hope they still have them . . . )
  • Misa is my newest acquired brother.  I wrote about him yesterday.  I’m so grateful for him.

And that’s my unlikely family.  Just a few of the people God has blessed me with.  I’m not sure what the “purpose” of this post is.  Perhaps to remind myself that God has never left me people-less and never will.  Perhaps to encourage you to look at your relationships in a new light.  Perhaps to simply honor in black-and-white the people that have touched my life.  There are so many more; I have been so blessed to know so many hundreds of God’s awesome people.  Tomorrow I get to go to work and see my kiddos.  To this point God has not given me my own genetic children, but He blesses my life with children who need my love.  I am so grateful for each of them, and honored to be part of their unlikely family.

 

(P.S. Skip the Mindless Behavior group; the story about Justin at the school was actually pretty heartwarming.)

Traveling Back

I’m closing up a beautiful 29-day vacation, 20 of which were spent in Mexico with my family.  I flew down on 12/10 and spent a week and a half helping my mom get ready for our family reunion.  On the 20th and 22nd we were joined by most of our Rupe clan and ended up with a group of 13: my parents, brother, and me; my Grandma, Uncle Jim, and Aunt Marilyn; and Uncle Brian, Aunt Lynn, Jachin, Adrienne, Amy, and Allison.  We all flew back on the 29th.  Never in my life have I taken a vacation like this, and I would be remiss if I didn’t spend some time chronicling it.  I’ve written about how going home rearranges my whole sense of self, but I have to balance that with sharing the pure joy and fun that I had during those 3 weeks.  I could write about it start (I got gyped into buying an “executive” van taxi ride from the airport to the bus station in Mexico City) to finish (Cheeseburger with grilled onions from In-N-Out), but that would be boring in the extreme.  So instead, here’s my top 10 list.  There are a lot more than ten, but for the sake of time, space, and your sanity, I have to draw the line somewhere . . .

10. Battle of the Refrigerated Room

All the girl cousins (me, Adrienne, Amy, and Allison) got to stay up in Misa’s apartment (more on him

Girl Cousins!

Sallie, Amy, Adrienne, Allison

later).  This room is fantastic except for one little problem: it’s frigid.  Cement houses in Mexico tend to warm up during the day and lose heat at night.  This room is built over the shed and has 4 outside walls; even though it gets steamy during the day, by 6am it’s colder inside then out.  Amy and Adrienne got the bed, and Allison and I were on cots.  The cots were really comfortable, except for the fact that the air under the canvas basically meant we were lying on an ice cube.  But Allison and I were not to be dissuaded.  The second night we rounded up every extra blanket in the house.  We were warm on top, but it didn’t fix anything.  And all four of our noses were still frozen in the morning.  So the third night we pulled up the heated mattress pad and commandeered the gas heater.  Allison took the mattress pad, and I put four blankets under my sleeping bag.  We put the heater to work and voila! We slept warm and cozy for about 9 hours straight.  It doesn’t sound like much when I write it out, but trust me . . . it was a significant accomplishment.

4 girl cousins + 2 days = demolished bachelor pad

9. Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Allison drew my name in our gift exchange and got me the top priority item on my Amazon wish list: Voyage of the Dawn Treader blue ray.  I was thrilled with the movie as it was, but the best part came later on Christmas evening when all four of us girl-cousins piled onto my parents’ bed to watch the movie.  It was very cozy and comfy, with Amy and Allison fighting over the foot of the bed against Adrienne’s legs.  I wish we had taken a picture.

8. Mexico City    

On the 28th we made our pilgrimage to Mexico City.  I was thrilled with the bus

Adrienne, Allison, and Amy in Mexico City

ride there because it was the only time I really got to spend talking with Jachin.  We ate at the Casa de Azulejos (House of Tiles), which is now a delicious restaurant called Sanborn’s.  We did a little sightseeing, a little shopping, and ended the night with the “special” highlight of the week: an outdoor Folkloric ballet at the French Dictator Maximilian’s Chapultepec palace at the top of the city.  I’ve been to 3 in my life, and these shows depicting the dances of Mexico are incredible.  I must have been about 7 when I saw the first one, and not too long after that I was enrolled in a folkloric dance class at our local cultural center.  I must have been about 8, and the 3 other girls in the class were teenagers who’d been dancing for years.  My dad told me this trip that I came home from that class saying that feet were not made to move that fast!  I think I lasted about a month.  I was not destined to become a wonderful dancer of the zapateado, but I sure do love watching it.  This show started off a little strange with the most Mary-

focused nativity pageant I’ve ever seen (and some wild onion turban-headed Persian wise men on real horses), but by the time it ended I was proud to be at least partly affiliated with the Mexican culture.  Sometimes I think it’s a real shame that most Americans are transplanted.  The only people in our country with such a rich unified cultural tradition are Native Americans, and we don’t give them enough credit.  I suppose we have the Charleston, but it’s not really the same, is it?

7.  Repelling

A few years ago my heights-avoidant father decided that repelling would be a good team-building activity for his missionary candidates.  So he took a class and, against his better judgment, performed a practical “exam” with his instructor.  He’s been hooked ever since.  When I met my parents in Acapulco a year ago he kept looking for places for us to repel.  I turned him down on the basis that I didn’t like the idea of landing on the highway or on rocks in the ocean far from shore.  But at home dad has a couple of tried and true spots to walk backwards down a rock face, so I went.  He didn’t want to wait for the rest of the
family to show up, so he and I went with 3 other guys from the church during my first week there.  I was a little nervous, but am pleased to say that I’m no wimp and did a great job.  We went again when the rest of the family was

there, and I also went down the “intermediate” cliff.  I don’t think I’m as hooked as my dad is,

but there is definitely a thrill that comes from walking down a wall of rock.  And I have to admit, it’s impressive how my dad

ties all those ropes together, and I’ve rarely seen him so happy doing anything.

6.  Christmas at Church 

Church traditions are what I miss the most about Christmas every year.  But, like I wrote about before, my memories become rose-colored shrines to all that is good in the world.  Christmas is always a search for the magic we felt in childhood.  Here’s the thing: this is perhaps the one situation where reality is better than the memory.  I will never be so prolific a writer that I could adequately explain the amazing combination of Mexican Christmas and church.  Misa was in charge of the program, and he did an amazing job.  Over 200 people showed up, the worship service (including a great tambourine troupe) lasted over 30 minutes of joyful Latin church music, and the kids put on a great pageant.  As if that wasn’t enough, there was food.  Great food.  Food that is Christmas to me.  Sopes, tamales, buñuelos, apple salad, jello . . . and ponche.  Wonderful ponche.  A drink so delicious that all other forms of punch are named after it.  You can’t get it in America because you can’t get tejocotes, guayabas, and sugar cane.  It’s wonderful stuff.

PONCHE!!!

The festivities culminated with piñatas.  I don’t like piñatas – they’re dangerous.  When done properly, they can cause serious brain damage.  When I was about 6 I got kicked in the head in the middle of a piñata pile . . . and that was the last time that happened.  From then on I was the smart one that walked the perimeter picking up all the stuff that the other kids pushed through their legs in their candy-hoarding zeal.  I got a good haul without the potential brain injury.  Now that I am clearly not a child anymore, I certainly didn’t expect that I was at risk for piñata involvement.  The third one was reserved for the young adults.  I’m not really one of those, either.  There I was, innocently taking pictures, when all of a sudden I heard my name being chanted.  Crap.  The pressure of 30 people shouting my name was too much.  To deny the request would look absolutely ridiculous.  The greatest potential risk of piñata breakage is being the one who actually breaks it: not only does a bunch of stuff fall on your head (which could include sugar cane and pottery – both of which are quite hard), but you could be trampled when everyone else attacks the ground around you.  My strategy was simple: don’t break the piñata.  This is easily accomplished while blindfolded.  Naturally, there was no blindfold.  So . . . being able to see and being taller than everyone it would have looked really ridiculous if I didn’t get in at least a couple of good whacks.  I looked beseechingly at Enrique who was driving the piñata, trying to communicate with my eyes that I didn’t want him to make it too easy.  I think he got the opposite message.  I managed to make it through my 10 seconds of piñata swinging with a few good swings but without actually breaking it.  By the end, I had conquered an old fear . . . sort of.

One Piñata to Rule Them All

5. Family Piñata

Okay, let’s face it: American piñata hitting is just silly.  The thing is fixed on a rope, blindfolds are optional, the riot is minimal, and loot collection is relatively polite.  To do the thing properly, only one side of the rope is fixed – the other is held by someone standing on a roof whose job it is to make it very difficult for the hitter to connect . . . or, in some cases, a little easier.  Blindfolds really should be used, even though the church piñata was lacking on this point.  The riot really is orchestrated chaos, involving a combination of the “Dále Dále Dále” song and a mix of shouted instructions to the hitter that may or may not be accurate.  And when the thing finally breaks . . . sweet, innocent, respectful children become nothing more than rabid animals.  It’s a free-for-all, and it doesn’t matter who gets hurt or kicked or trampled in the violent race for the shower of candy and fruit.  Every little break before the candy counts, too.  The cones are especially important, because they serve as candy holders; there’s only a few of them, so you’re pretty cool if you score one.

So, in our efforts to encourage cultural awareness, we got the family a piñata to break on Christmas Eve.  Dad took me, Adrienne, Amy, and Allison to the market to pick out and fill one.  Before break time, we taught everyone the song and coached them on the importance of assertiveness and borderline violence, even (and especially) toward loved ones.  Then dad perched himself precariously on the overhang and away we went, youngest to oldest.  Everyone took a turn (except dad) right up to Grandma, who was allowed to break it.  I think some sugar cane landed on her head, but she made it through okay.  I was proud of the rush for cones, and my cousins did a pretty good job of picking up every last peanut.  In all fairness, it was a full piñata for only about 10 people, so they had an easier time of more work.  They fought it out, though.  The funniest moment was when Jachin’s turn came.  He’s about 6’4,” so dad (who had been sitting on the overhang) dangerously teetered himself to a standing position so he could cause a proper challenge and make the game last for the rest of us.  Then the girls started shouting opposite directions that he believed, and he spent almost his whole turn swinging wildly in the opposite direction of the piñata.  We were all crying with laughter, and my dad didn’t even move; I think in the end he made it easier, and Jachin finally got a hit in when he figured out the girls were tricking him.  It was hilarious!!

4.  Amy’s song

On Christmas night we all trouped over to church for a short evening service.  It was pretty cool to have so many Rupes in the room.  In our church the music tends to last at least half an hour, and songs are repeated lots and lots of times.  I like this method, which is not usually what you see in the US, but it can get a little redundant if you don’t know the words.  I was starting to feel a little anxious for my family when I glanced at Amy, who was standing next to me.

What I saw was my littlest cousin (who’s not really so little, but always will be to me), eyes closed and hands raised, worshiping God with words that she didn’t understand.  My heart soared and I again marveled at a God who speaks to our hearts regardless of location, language, skin color, and any other possible barrier.  I don’t think I’ll ever lose that mental picture of our sweet Amy.

3. Getting Ready for Christmas

I went 10 days before everyone else with the specific purpose of helping mom get everything ready.  I wiped down every dusty branch on the Christmas tree.  We cooked and baked, and made lists, and beds, and moved tvs, and went shopping . . . so much shopping.  I got to climb up in the attic and pull down all our decorations that hadn’t seen the light of day in 5 years.  We pulled out decorations from my childhood and found places for them in the new living room.

I pulled down a box of hundreds of pictures that I sorted during my days of smart-mouth related bedroom confinement, and had a blast sorting through them to create collages to put under the protective plastic in the living room.  I put 14 Christmas CDs on an MP3 player so we could blast Christmas cheer through our

airspace.  I spent a few hours walking through downtown with my dad looking for obscure details to put into our incredibly detailed 2-page scavenger hunt.  I spent hours developing the 12-page “International Rupe Reunion Handy Dandy Handbook” that included tips for living, a calendar of events, a map, a list of handy phrases, wifi codes, room assignments, and where to find more toilet paper.

In my foray into the attic I discovered about 8 boxes of my old books, toys, and random stuff.  I found my old Fisher Price tape player; my poster of Zach, Screech, and Slater (shirtless!); and my Benji dog.  Best of all, I found our family Nancy Drew book collection that spans 3 generations (we thought it was sold at a garage sale by someone who didn’t care) and a collection of  6 beautiful limited edition carousel horse music box plates given to me by my Grandma Wiedling that I thought had been lost in a move.  (I could mention that these were in a box labeled “Ship to Sallie” in my own handwriting, but that would imply that my parents put this box back into the attic instead of shipping it to me . . .)

Most of all, this time of preparation was just a great time to spend with my mom.  I know she was disappointed that there was so much to do that I did most of the decorating without her, but I was glad I could be there to help.  Christmas Eve was especially nice: neither one of us was feeling that great, so we stayed home while everyone else went sight-seeing.  We spent a quiet day baking and cooking for Christmas.  In the end the turkey never thawed, but we had plenty of food to go with the ham so it was all good.  It was such a blessing to spend time with her.

2.  Germ-a-palooza

Gross, but accurate

My parents invited a neighbor to the Christmas program on Sunday the 18th.  She came, so we sat with her to eat.  She had to leave early because her son was home with a bad cold.  Monday I started coughing.  Tuesday my throat felt like one of those baskets with a snake in it that Chinese illusionists cram full of swords: scratchy as a basket, slimy as a snake, and sliced raw.  Wednesday my lung capacity seemed to be about 1/3 normal, and I actually went to bed.  Since I couldn’t sleep, my brother watched a movie with me.  We went downstairs after the movie, and I discovered that my dad had sat on the couch and slept for about 4 hours.  Neither one of us gets sick very often, and we’re not usually wussy patients.

On Thursday my dad was supposed to go to Mexico City to get the second round of family.  I managed to drag myself out of bed, but he wasn’t moving.  He had a fever of 101.5.  I was invited to go to the doctor with him, but I turned down the opportunity – I really didn’t think I was sick enough for professional intervention.  As they were leaving I went into this massive coughing fit, and Misa instructed me to get in the van.  Dad and I sat for 40 minutes or so waiting for a consult at the hospital, then they practically forgot about me sitting in a cold room with a thermometer in my armpit while the doc saw him.  When the nurse came back for me the thermometer was so stuck to me that we almost couldn’t find it; she took my temp again, and I had no fever; I was, however, declared to be much sicker in my lungs than my dad.  Mom and Misa left that afternoon for Mexico City looking a bit peeked, while dad and I sat pathetically on the couch staring at each other and counting the minutes to our next dose of something.  The drugs kicked in and, fortunately, I was feeling well enough in a few hours that I was able to set up beds for everyone who was arriving that night.  Grandma and Aunt Marilyn did an amazing job taking over all the kitchen projects that mom and I had planned for that day.  Thanks to a combination of delayed flights and lost luggage the group didn’t get back from Mexico City until about 2am; this was a good thing, because everyone wanted a low-key day.  Which was also nice because mom was so tired and fighting a milder version of what dad and I had that she slept a good chunk of the day.  A few days later, Misa (who stayed with his family in Mexico City) posted on Facebook that his throat was on fire and he had a really bad cough . . . that I’m sure he got from me.  By the end of the trip we were all feeling better, although at our last meal in the airport we were passing around antivirals and benzocaine cough drops while normal people would share breath mints.  My cough has gotten worse again since I’ve been back; I just got off the phone with Misa, who told me to go back to the doctor – I coughed at least 40% more than he did during our conversation.

I know it’s a strange thing to put this shared sickness on my top 10 list of favorite events, but it really was a shared experience that was a significant factor in the dynamic of the trip.  We went through it together, and our greeting still involves “how are you feeling?”  We shared germs at Christmas 2011, and we’ll never forget it.  It sucked to not be able to talk or taste properly during most of the time I was with my family, but it all worked itself out.  Fortunately, no one else was drawn into the fray.

1. A New Brother

Most of the other things on my list are really about tied for position.  But the greatest blessing of the trip

Will my pack from 1984 help Misa keep track of his stuff? Most likely not.

really is in the top slot.  It has nothing to do with the Rupes, but everything to do with family.  It came completely unexpectedly, which is probably why it blessed me so greatly.  In the missionary world, you have two kinds of family: the first is the family you’re related to, which is permanent but distant; the second is the family God puts in your life, which is generally fluid, but consisting of relationships that are deeply woven throughout their duration.  Then there are a few relationships that span both worlds: not blood, but forever; not obligated, but deeply committed.

Enter Misael.  I’ve written about him throughout this blog and mentioned him on Facebook, so people have been asking me about him.  He’s my new brother.  My parents first met him a few years ago during a missions class they were teaching.  Misa wanted to be a missionary, and spent quite a bit of time studying in preparation for the ministry.  He’s spent quite a bit of time in several countries working alongside other missionaries.  Last year he began working part-time helping my parents in the administration of LAMM and promotion of Inmersión, then he started helping out with the church.  Ultimately, his calling has been confirmed as a support to missionaries rather than as an actual field missionary.  He left his parents’ home in Mexico City, moved into the frigid apartment over my parents’ shed, and now works with them full-time with basically only room and board as compensation.  In January he’ll be going to India for 4 months to develop some first-hand understanding of what it’s like to live on the field so that he can better support the LAMM missionaries.

Praying? Facebooking? In his case, quite possibly both.But that’s just what he does.  He IS a pretty amazing man.  After 3 hours, I felt like I had known him my whole life.  He didn’t join LAMM looking for a family, but LAMM is our family so he got us anyway.  And he joins in with gusto.  He’s not shy about sharing anything but he gives far more than he takes with his help, support, and just by creating an environment people want to be in.  He’s hilarious and willing to do just about anything for a laugh.  He loses his stuff all over the place, and works tirelessly to do the best he can on any task he undertakes.  He wants me to visit more often so that my mom will cook more, and was completely thrilled to discover we had an attic and owned Christmas decorations.  Best of all, he loves my parents.  And he understands them.  He’s in on all the insider information and history of our family, and he guards it without judgment.  I am no longer worried about my parents, no longer concerned that no one is making them slow down and pace themselves; I watched Misa head for the stairs to drag my dad out of bed and to the doctor.  We talked, and without my asking he assured me that I could go home and trust him to assume all the “son responsibilities.”  “Live with open hands,” he told me.  “That way you can receive all the blessings of God without hanging on so tight that you miss out on whatever’s next.”  True to that, everything he cares about in the world fits into a small suitcase and a laptop bag.  Misa could use your prayers.  He will be the next leader of LAMM, and that’s a daunting thing to train for.  He needs financial support, he needs to learn English, and he needs favor to get a visa to the States so he can start building relationships with the LAMM leadership.  He also needs a lot more heat in his room.

The greatest blessing of my trip was gaining a brother, as well as a new peace for the well-being of my parents.

And there you have it.

Imagine if I’d written EVERYTHING!!!

With my favorite mountain in the world, Malinche, behind me, I prepare to step backwards off a cliff . . .

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