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The Journey: Africa to Tyler Garden Oasis to Miami.

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Meet Dr. Glenn and Kim Strauss, two of the more profoundly spiritually grounded human beings I’ve met to date and the couple whom I’ve anointed “spiritual liaisons” between my journey to Africa, return to the United States and ultimately being residential-planted in North Miami Beach. The latter bookends a brief yet complex labyrinth of transformation that continues to muster “marvel and awe” in my own eyes but not so much for Dr. Glenn and Kim.

You see, they are long term professionals at spiritual counseling and have seen God move in so many miraculous ways in the lives of the fragile, grieving, brokenhearted, wounded, and just tired folks who love God. Many, like myself, are and/or have been missionaries aboard the “Africa Mercy.” Some have spent the vast majority of their adult lives committed to serving abroad and there are others who simply come to their home, formally dubbed: “Tyler Garden Oasis,” for a respite between missions and/or transition back to life with family, friends, and defining what’s next?

I am behind the “eight ball” in preparing this blog post as a tribute of thanks to them.  During my respite, I continuously captured images, many just for fun, but most have been valuable to this illustrative effort. Today is Christmas, December 25, 2019, and I cannot think of a better gift than my words, truth, and gratitude to honor both the birth of Christ, who divinely brought all of this together, and Dr. Glenn and Kim who stood in the gap as faithful, obedient servants.

Here it goes: on October 5, 2019, I left Senegal, flew to Paris and arrived at the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport where a former Mercy Ships volunteer/employee picked me up. It was their suggest that I come to Tyler Garden Oasis as they new firsthand the difficulty of what it would be like to return from abroad and gather one’s self.

The Strauss’, too, are uber experienced as they have dedicated their professional lives to serving onboard ships and land. Dr. Glenn is a prominent ophthalmologist who founded the nonprofit’s eye program in 1997 and currently serves as medical director. He has given sight to the blind through transformative surgeries to countless Africans with cataracts and glaucoma. His level of faith is huge. Kim’s faith is huge too. She is a Kilimanjaro to Dr. Glenn’s Everest. Together, they are an eighth wonder. But in all fairness, God gets all the glory! They have been and remain apt and humble conduits.

I arrived exhausted, sick, confused, spiritually depleted, broken, traumatized, losing weight and hair, pissed-off, peeing often, and sleepy. The Strauss’ first order of business remained true to the end: call your own shots. They let me sleep and rest as long as I wanted and needed while beckoning me only for meals or to offer a “quick-check” to make sure I was still breathing. Tyler Garden Oasis is “chill.” It is definitely not some spiritual, crazy retreat and garden throwback playing Zen music while monks jump out of the trees and woods. It is not. Is it peaceful? Absolutely. Comfortable? More than. Home? You bet. Quickly, I became family. Notwithstanding, my own family and friends were absolutely available and integral to the mainstay of my mission and planned one-year stay; however, the return and adjustment from ship-life to land-life is not to be taken lightly (a’tall).

The last thing I felt like doing was sharing pictures of Africa, being a sofa-griot, and giving those interested a Senegelese play-by-play of “What was it like?” I understand the curiosity. I truly do, but my Africa experience professionally, as a recruited volunteer writer, was both baffling and sad on many levels. It really took all the king’s horses and Dr. Glenn and Kim (and God) to put me back together again. Well gosh Penny, what exactly happened in Africa? Buy my book when it’s published. Yeah, I know…this is just another teaser.

There are two bedrooms in their palatial garden estate aside from their own living space.  The bonus is that each room has it’s own bath nook. Mine, was adjacent to a private living room (I claimed it private!). Citing this is relevant because time and opportunity aligned perfect for me to be there for “such a time as this.”  Not everyone can come to “Tyler Garden Oasis.”  Two were turned away prior to my arrival. They are selective as to whom they work with and invite, and man…don’t I feel spiritually privileged.

For the first week of what would become an unplanned four-week sojourn, I slept and cried and went to the emergency room for treatment. I was a wreck. By the second week and the stat-infusion of some exceptionally appetizing and exquisitely prepared meals, I came to life thanks to Dr. Glenn’s French toast, Kim’s chili, Kim’s baked salmon and cabbage, Kim’s everything. Three meals a day were served, on the same schedule as the Africa Mercy, and if you chose to not show up for a scheduled meal, then you just “nooked” leftovers or prepared your own. I did a combination of the latter because my sleep patterns were completely erratic and breakfast at 7:30-8:00 a.m. was more than a notion. Incidentally, everything, including room and board, at Tyler Garden Oasis is free.

Conversations began to commence, but never in a formal, clinical approach at all. If my recollection serves me best, the kitchen table served as the epicenter of personal inquiries: How are you? How can we better serve or help? What do you need?  For me, that equated to some deep conversations, much corporate prayer, and keys to Dr. Glenn’s truck. I left a third world county and unforgiving sun and arrived in Tyler, Texas where it was freezing. I had one hoodie, purchased at the Paris airport, and no coat, no closed toe shoes, and nothing with sleeves. “Ross Dress for Less” became my best friend. Can the church say sweaters, skullies, boots, and turtle necks! Pictured in the collage below is my dear friend Arian Timoti who is an international program manager for Mercy Ships. We met several times for “girl talk” at a Chinese restaurant I favored. I additionally friended a local fitness center where I started swimming and soaking in a jacuzzi and indulging a dry sauna.

Into the third week, my pity-party was forced to end. Kim showed up with homework for me prior to a planned trip the Strauss’ would take out of town. She personally identified a series of select scriptures she wanted me to read and relate to as I entered a stage of renewal in my spiritual walk. Dr. Glenn, the more pragmatic of the two, thought it would be a good idea to work on a forward-moving project that would help me to identify 2020 goals and where I’d like to be headed both professionally and personally as the two complement spiritual manifestations.IMAG5785A fellowship proposal was born, and I poured my heart and soul into it day and night over five-days(?) in an attempt to make it innovative, cohesive, journalistically sound. Well, it was all of those things and the most beautiful rejection letter finally arrived after my November 4, 2019 departure from Tyler Garden Oasis. We all waited with bated breath, but to no avail, God never says no. His response is either: “Yes. Not now. Or, I have something better in mind.”

It sucked. What an ill-timed rejection. That fellowship, in my natural mind, would have solved everything. It’s funny how we plan our lives perfectly for God and he simply has other  themes and directions in mind. Gee, all I was trying to do was help!!!! I’ve been awarded many fellowships in life, and I’ve received rejection letters as well, but this one stung with a sting no ointment easily healed. I now know why God said, “I have something better in mind.”  Ahhhh…they that wait upon the Lord!IMAG5786

I began to pour myself into affirmations, scriptures, and positive words that uplifted my mental state. Literally, I became obsessed with all things good in word, deed, and people and skirted the opposite as though they were a rooted plague. Some of the most uplifting are below:

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There were certainly good times and fun included. On one of my worst days, Dr. Glenn and Kim took me to the Tyler Zoo and on an even better turnaround day, I prepared a curry chicken dinner for them and invited my dear-sweet friend Karen Ransone. It was a wonderful evening and marked a definitive return to my being and feeling somewhat among the living. I love visiting zoos (and beaches) and absolutely love to cook. During the month of October, I was also featured in the fourth quarter issue of “Cancer Today Magazine,” and the hard copies arrived at Tyler Garden Oasis. I remember crying when I opened the package, but I’m not so sure why? Actually, I am just a weeper. A real bag of water for those who have the impression of my being an iron curtain. Tough? Yes. Sensitive? Moreso.

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As mentioned earlier, I left the “Oasis,” one) because Dr. Glenn and Kim witnessed immeasurable growth and two) there was a pending reservation for one-week  by a missionary coming from abroad. I returned to Florida on November 4th and it was a challenge beyond challenges followed by a blessing, then a blessing, then another blessing, and the blessings kept coming. I continued to keep in touch with Dr. Glenn and Kim via email and text. I’d send pictures and updates. A health tragedy for me loomed, and they served as apt confidantes. The beach, any beach, has always been a refuge for me as the ocean is where I am spiritually content and tend to hear from God in a unique way. It’s not the only way. I’d be an octopus if I only prayed in water! But, it is a proven, unique way in which me and the Lord connect. What’s yours?

Milestones between leaving Tyler and this writing include, but are not limited to my purchasing a new car, and making a decision to relocate to Charleston, South Carolina because I wanted to be in a market where artists thrived, the historical relevance is very “Penny-ish”, it has a state-of-the-art medical facility at MUSC, and it’s a coastal community near — THE  BEACH.

As life would have it, the day I was going to sign a lease in Carolina, one of the toughest, and most talented editors that I worked with as a freelance journalist and I commenced talk. I pitched a freelance destination story on Charleston’s charm. She said, “Wait, you’re back from Africa? I need a senior writer. How soon can you come to Miami?”

On December 15th, I had a dinner/interview at “Point Royal” at the Diplomat Resort in Miami, Florida wearing the cutest black and white newspaper cliche` tunic. The next day, Monday, my offer letter arrived. Wednesday, I signed a lease to my new apartment. Friday, I visited the office and began onboarding for a January 2020 start date, and Saturday night, I attended the Miami Times Holiday Staff Party at “GG’s” on Ocean drive in Hollywood, Florida. Note the dragonfly necklace, a symbolic insect in my life’s journey as it signifies “transformation.”

If all sounds very “bip-bam-boom” and magical, fuggitaboutit. The pitfalls and resets and reboots in between have been mortifying and magnificent. Good Lord! I cried the latter often, and he remained with me every step of the way. Get yourself some Jesus and a Dr. Glenn and Kim. I shared with them the other night how ironic and mystic it is that the number “8” remains resonant through all of this: I was in Africa for eight weeks which was eight months shorter than the planned mission which was scheduled to end in June. I am an August baby born the eighth month, and my new apartment in Miami is a four-digit numeric that equates to (8) on 188 Street. There’s more, but I’ll let Quora.com explain it best:

The number 8 is very significant such that it is used 73 times in the Bible. It is the symbol of Resurrection and Regeneration. In Bible numerology, 8 means new beginning; it denotes “a new order or creation, and man’s true ‘born again’ event when he is resurrected from the dead into eternal life.”

Since 8 comes after 7, the number of completeness signifying an end to something, it implies 8 is associated with the beginning of a new era or that of a new order. The 8 creative words of God in 6 days, in Genesis chapter 1, verses 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26 speak of a new order. God rested on the 7th day and the 8th day was a new beginning (Genesis 2:2–3). Jesus rose on the 8th day, the first day of the week, which was a new beginning for the world John 20:1-21

Eight persons were saved from the Flood in Noah’s Ark in order to have a new beginning for mankind (Genesis 7,13). Also 8 men – Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, James, Peter, Jude and Paul – were chosen by God to enable us to have the New Testament in written form. The Lord Jesus presented 8 beatitudes in His sermon on the mountain to new believers destined for God’s kingdom (Matthew 5:3-11).

Eight is symbolic of the New Life, the anticipated Resurrection (that is the baptism of believers) and the final Resurrection (that is the raising up dead saints). To confirm this, Jesus showed Himself alive 8 times after His resurrection from the dead (Matthew 28:16 – 17; Mark 16:9 – 11; Luke 24:15–52; John 20:19 – 24, 26 – 29; 21:1 – 24; Acts 1:3–10; 1 Corinthians 15:4 – 7).

I must add that (Glenn)(Kim) (eight letters…smile) have been friends and spiritual counselors to me that I am appreciative to have. Pillars of strength. Prayer warriors. Humorists. Great people whom I’ve grown to adore. On this Christmas day, I thank you and hope my journey, one that so intimately includes you, continues to serve as a positive testimony of faith regarding God’s purpose for one’s life. While there may be twists and turns, tragedies and triumphs, count on this: Jesus, my Lord and Savior, never left nor forsake me. My faith wavered at times and then ballooned as though faith were conceptually invented by me. I started to have faith contests with myself to see how steadfast I could be. Please, try this at home. It works.

I love you Dr. Glenn and Kim. Merry Christmas and blessings to all who enter and depart Tyler Garden Oasis. You, too, will be forever changed. Take a look at the attached PDF to learn more. https://newhorizonsfoundation.com/images/Tyler-Garden-Oasis-flyer.pdf

Penny Dickerson 2019

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