Notes from Jan

Of Pancakes, Pandemics and Protests

July 13, 2020

It all came back  as I  warmed  syrup and mixed the batter to make Norwegian pancakes for my grandson, Basil.  It seemed as good a time as any to tell him the story that happened almost fifty years ago.  With so much bad news, why not a story with a happy ending?

The unexpected call came to my parents from their friends, the Smiths. They were desperate to find a place for two families fleeing a small country with a big problem.  Vietnam. The refugees were pastors, co-workers with the Smiths.

Hanging  a No Vacancy sign outside 103 Bethel Spring Dale in Greensboro, North Carolina would’ve made  sense. My parents lived in a small three bedroom house with limited resources.  But they also had a son who’d served in Vietnam and a long friendship with the Smith family. Still, only God knows why they said, yes! 

Sometimes I have to remind myself, Faith’s not about making sense.

And so two Vietnamese families arrived with nothing much but their love for Jesus, trust in their missionary friends and hope for something better for their children in this land of opportunity.  They were heavy on faith but light on English.  So the missionaries stayed to translate, while the neighbors watched from a distance.

Someone captured  how my parents shared their limited resources. They stitched a sampler that hung in the kitchen: “Small Houses Filled with Love Have Elastic Walls.”   Jesus seemed to love hanging out with folks with more faith than sense or cents. Sometimes God tapped others to drop off  bags of rice on the front steps, other times God showed up with strength for the day,  and hope for tomorrow.

So what does this have to do with pancakes? We were not what you’d call culturally sensitive but love’s a universal language. Thank God! For example, Mama did what she always did for breakfast, when she wanted to welcome or impress.  She made Norwegian pancakes, plus she was more into telling than asking. The morning after they’d arrived, Mama delivered her best for the newest members of our  family. Norwegian pancakes for one and all. The Vietnamese smiled and nodded until she  brought out the syrup and demonstrated how we do it.  After some translation,  an international incident  was avoided through the addition of soy sauce  with a side of laughter.

Well,  Basil and I stuck with syrup  for our pancakes but I hope both of us remember Love welcomes, listens and adapts.  I know life’s complicated.  We’re in the middle of the muddle  of a global pandemic, economic crisis and a social movement for racial equality in this land where we espouse “liberty and justice for all.” If only we could  simply switch syrup for soy sauce  to demonstrate” I hear you,” “I care,” “We can do this together.”

Thinking about the Vietnamese reminded me that  before I went to college, it was through missionaries, folks in the military  and National Geographic magazines, I mostly learned  about people and needs beyond my own.  Most of my suffering came second hand, but listening, reading and observing still taught. Pictures and words enlarged my worldview.   Stories revealed the value of  being teachable, faithful, trustworthy, grateful and willing to sacrifice for the greater good. Some encouraged me through their testimonies to be generous, sing and pray, especially when life seemed hopeless.

For instance, one night, with Mama at the piano, the Vietnamese began singing a song we sang in our church, Hiding in Thee. They knew about hiding to escape.  I only knew the words, still we sang as one.

“How oft in the conflict, when pressed by the foe,

I have fled to my Refuge and breathed out my woes;

How often, when trials like sea billows roll

Have I hidden in Thee, O thou rock of  my soul.”

That was a long time ago.  The two families adjusted, worked hard and found purpose and blessings for them and their children in this country. The pastors, like my parents,  aged, died and left for heaven, where they’re no longer “pressed by the foe.” But I’m counting on their prayers as we “breathe out our woes” and seek refuge in Jesus when “trials like sea billows roll.” Most of us will suffer mostly second hand as we learn the stories, see the faces of racial injustice, learn statistics of Covid-19 deaths and economic disparity. Still, whether first or second hand, I hope and pray we’ll resist  fear-based inclinations to protect self and stuff by posting No Vacancy signs from our houses or hearts, even if all we  do is listen, offer soy sauce, and sing along until we get it.






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  • Reply Dale July 13, 2020 at 9:29 pm

    Our memories are a gift and we never know when the Lord wants to use them to remind us of Him.

    Thanks friend, Dale

    • Reply Jan Carlberg July 13, 2020 at 10:14 pm

      Or to remind us of good friends, like you.

    • Reply Jeri July 14, 2020 at 12:00 pm

      Such a treasured tale! What wonderful examples of the family of God, shown 50 years ago to a watching community. Love that these stories are blessing all of us in the re-telling… thank you Jan!

      • Reply Jan Carlberg July 14, 2020 at 12:40 pm

        We all have stories. One of the hidden blessings of this lid-on-life we’re currently experiencing, is time to reflect and share stories of God’s faithfulness in the past to give hope for the future.

  • Reply Laurie Kroll July 13, 2020 at 10:19 pm

    Thank you, Jan, for sharing your memories. Your parents impacted more than these Vietnamese families by practicing such radical hospitality so many years ago. And I wonder how many of us who love all the cultures that God loves were impacted by our time within the pages of National Geographic! Be well.

    • Reply Jan Carlberg July 14, 2020 at 12:42 pm

      Thank you, Laurie. I did many a school assignment with stories and photos from those magazines. May you be well and flourish during these unusual times.

  • Reply Jennifer Dickinson July 14, 2020 at 8:34 am

    Those Norwegian pancakes have brought many happy faces and great memories to your table! I can attest to that! Thinking of you and those wonderful days at your table being included in those in those elastic walls of hospitality and love!
    Love Niffy

    • Reply Jan Carlberg July 14, 2020 at 12:46 pm

      Precious Niffy, you were a sweet friend and neighbor. Martel road was a good neighborhood and you and Heather had fun times as friends. I loved making pancakes for you . Next time your’re free to travel and connect, stop by and we’ll do it again…with syrup, not soy sauce. Unless you prefer otherwise.

  • Reply RUSS BISHOP July 14, 2020 at 9:34 am

    Thanks. My heart is warmed!

    • Reply Jan Carlberg July 14, 2020 at 12:48 pm

      Thanks you, Russ. Once we’re cleared to gather again, I’d love to make Norwegian pancakes for our Breakfast club or “bible” study group.

  • Reply Alyssa July 19, 2020 at 12:55 pm

    Thank you for sharing this story, Jan. It made me laugh, and also brought a tear to my eye with the it is well with my soul hymn.

    • Reply Jan Carlberg July 19, 2020 at 4:08 pm

      Well, knowing the family you married into, I know you’ve enjoyed Norwegian pancakes more than once. Sending hugs to you and Andrew.

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