12 May 2017

Five Minute Friday (from a week ago) ~ Should

I'm a perfectionist.

And I don't usually have a problem meeting expectations, or achieving what is considered "acceptable."

Efficient, usually energetic, hard-working, perseverant - 

But I rarely measure up to my own standards. 

You know ~ the ones I set for myself, and work so hard to try and attain (sometimes driving my family crazy in the process). And yet... almost always and even after all that effort, I fall short. 

I can come up with a dozen or more shoulda, coulda, wouldas: "If I'd just ______________..." Then, just for good measure, I'll tack on a few coulda, shoulda wouldas because I can always think of a million possibilities given the 20/20 vision of hindsight: what I should have or could have done differently that would have, ideally, produced an "on-target" result or, at the very least, one more in line with what I'd been aiming for.

To add insult to injury, at this point, I usually start to mentally beat myself up - not only because of my failure to achieve my goal, but also because of the resulting internal drama that results from this perfectionism.

According to Psychology Today, perfectionism is "...life [as] an endless report card on accomplishments or looks. It's a fast and enduring track to unhappiness, and ...is often accompanied by depression and eating disorders. What makes perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its grip desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, so theirs is a negative orientation. And love isn't a refuge; in fact, it feels way too conditional on performance. Perfection, of course, is an abstraction, an impossibility in reality, and often it leads to procrastination. There is a difference between striving for excellence and demanding perfection."

As I used to say growing up, "It ain't good." 

But ~

 God is using it as a chisel in my life.

I'm in the midst of one of those shoulda, coulda, woulda mental battles right now - one where I didn't accomplish what I'd wanted or expected of myself and for which I'd worked long and hard. I had striven for more than just excellence. I only achieved pretty good. I certainly didn't attain the perfection I was demanding of myself.

God's chiseling away at my self-sufficiency and self-idolatry and the antibiblical underlying worldview to which my perfectionism attests: that somewhere, deep down inside, I still believe that me, myself and I can figure out how to be more than good enough. 

It's a worldview that denies the power of the Gospel, suffocates grace, smothers mercy and stamps out hope.

And I know I want no part of it. 

For I know the One Who already DID. And He ain't little.

He is the heart of the Gospel, the author of grace, the impetus of mercy and the harbinger of hope.


(No, this isn't really a five minute write... but it is something that has been tumbling around inside over the past few weeks. Now, it's finally tumbled out as I think with my fingers.)

31 March 2017

Five Minute Friday ~ Define

On April 22, Tim and I are scheduled to take a French test - actually four tests: Oral Comprehension, Oral Expression, Written Comprehension and Written Expression. We need to attain a certain level of proficiency if we then want to submit applications for permanent residency.

It seems simple. We studied French for a year. Then we lived and worked in a French speaking environment for 13 years. After a two year hiatus, we moved back to a different French speaking world and are living and working here. We go to the doctor, buy our groceries, pay our taxes, have parent-teacher conferences, go to planning meetings, go to church, teach Sunday School, take classes and do volunteer work - all in French.

Yet, when I started studying this morning and worked through a brief online get-your-feet-wet-and-see-what-the-questions-on-the-test-are-like web page, I realized the oral comprehension part wasn't going to be easy (or they are trying to scare people into paying for the study courses - but that sounds awfully conspiracy theory-ish). Maybe it's because my older than they used to be ears just hear slower these days, or the mild but definite loss of hearing acuity I've experienced the last few years or  just the fact that oral comprehension has always been my weakest French language skill - but now I'm more than a little nervous about this test.

Every other practice section I did, I did really well. Oral comprehension? Not so much.

Being a good student... particularly a good test taker... is one of several things, I realized today, that I've allowed to define me. In the residency paperwork, we specify one spouse (i.e. Tim or myself) as the primary applicant. That person has to score higher than the other - and both Tim and I naturally assumed that person would be me.

Talk about pressure. Turning up the heat. Or mettant les bouchées doubles...


It is crazy how concern over one 25 minute, 29 question test scheduled a few weeks in the future has set my world a-spinning today...

You'd think that at my age, it would take a little more to upset the apple cart! 

Photo 1 credit: 

Photo 2 credit: 
[-ChristiaN-] carousel via photopin (license)

17 February 2017

Five Minute Friday ~ Weak

They've had stuffy noses for a week.

Sore throats. Hoarse voices.

A bit of achiness and one complains that her ear hurts.

One of those viral rashes that feels like sandpaper rash all over their bodies.

I've even heard a bit of coughing in the week hours of the morning.

They aren't, like, super sick. I just got home after dropping them off at school today.

No fevers.

Still sleeping at night.

Laughing and playing and interested in life, once they get going.

But yesterday  morning, both little girls woke up still tired (even though they were in bed the night before far earlier than normal), clearly under-the-weather, huge dark circles around their eyes, scratchy, nasal voices. Both just seemed weak.

Could they have gone to school?

Probably. And they would have had good days... done fine.

But I decided to keep them home, to let them rest, to not make their brains work so hard in a second language all day long (even though that is only barely a factor any more), to let them enjoy YouTube Disney music videos and Pentatonix covers, to snuggle in bed and read, to eat a warm, fresh made lunch, to take a two hour nap...

Because it is when we are weak, we are more vulnerable...

Would it have been a wrong decision to send them to school? I don't think so.

Was it a good decision to keep them home?

I think so.

We had a delightful day together. I don't often have those opportunities any more.

Opportunities to care for my sick babies.

One of my Michigan bigs is sick... and I can't be there to pull the covers up around her, run to the store and pick up some NyQuil or make her a cup of Throat Coat tea if she asks.

One of my other Michigan bigs recently had an abcess near his eye. He looked like he'd gone a few rounds in a boxing ring and definitely came out worse for the wear. It kept him out of classes and work for a few days. Doctors orders. And I couldn't be there to drive him to see the doctor, to take him back for his recheck or to make sure he was eating healthy while his body was trying to heal.

I'm always worrying, at least a little, about my Iowa gal. Asthma, dorm life in a state where influenza counts are currently moderate to high and needing to refill her epi-pen because it is expired but waiting since they are expensive and she probably won't need it (yellow jackets) for at least a few more months. Those are plenty of reasons to keep me wondering about her and how she is doing, physical health-wise.

A younger mama, I might have insisted that my two littlest girlies go to school yesterday. Catching up is hard; it is that much harder in your second language.

I'm guessing I'll be taking advantage of those not always necessary opportunities brought about about by weakness - to slow down, stop, change my plans and care for those chunks of my heart that are always out and about, wandering around outside my body - a bit more often than I used to.

Back before they started to leave the nest

Perhaps the nostalgia I so often claim doesn't usually affect me has made me a little weak-kneed as I think about this kids God has gifted me.

first photo credit: FotoDB.de Fieberthermometer via photopin (license)

30 January 2017

The Illusion of Control

There was what some have labeled "a terrorist attack" in our town last night. One or two armed men went into a mosque at the end of evening prayers and started shooting. Six dead. Several more injured, some gravely.

I spent a nice chunk of time today listening to radio commentators discuss the event, listening to some of my Quebecois friends talk about the event, listening to my daughter explain how orchestra practice today was watching a movie because the teacher was stressed and distressed by the event. Each of these conversations was characterized by disbelief that such an event had happened here, and by a trepidation of what else might happen - of what such an attack signified for their future.

People here, at least for the next few days, will feel unsettled and as though life seems out of control. Distant events and tragedies that only happen in far away places on the news just happened down the hill. It isn't supposed to happen like that - and unless you live life like a roller coaster junkie, most don't like that feeling, especially when it touches things that are valued and precious, like life. When terrorism and violence strike close to home (i.e. less than 10 miles from my house), you get a healthy glimpse of what is reality for many in this world.

It makes people used to the insulation very uncomfortable, indignant and wondering if their world is careening out of control.

It is - if they are wondering about their ability to keep "life" under control.

One of the things I learned quickly after moving overseas was that most of the control that I thought I had was, in reality, nothing more than illusion.

The first time I felt terrorist activity hit close to home, the owner of a radio station where Tim had some of our weekly radio programs broadcast drove over a bomb buried in the sand, in town, in Niamey. He died. The next day we were warned when driving on unpaved roads to make sure you followed the clear tracks of a previous vehicle and to never drive through loose sand. At first it was scary. Then it became habit, one that I didn't even realize was so ingrained until we moved back to the States and I actually drove down a dirt road. I felt uneasy and didn't know why until I realized that it was because I couldn't follow any tracks - it had been too dry and the wind quickly did away with any tracks.

The next time, two expats were kidnapped from a restaurant, literally just down the street from our doctor's office and a few blocks distant from our organization's office.

Next, it was watching helicopters fly up the river, by and over our house, fighting terrorists who'd captured several cities in the northern part of Mali.

Then it was the admonition to take a different path to any regular place so that habits and patterns weren't obvious.

Or having soldiers search through the groceries in the back of the car because we lived within the security perimeter surrounding the US Embassy.

Or having our pastor call us and tell us to stay home from church because they feared expat presence might further draw attention to their worship service.

Or being told to shelter in place the day my parents were to arrive for a visit. There'd been a prison break, and no one knew for sure what was going on in town. My biggest fear was that we wouldn't be able to get to the airport to get my mom and dad.

Or receiving a message from one friend still serving in Niamey that another friend from a sister organization had been kidnapped by terrorists.

The nature of these sorts of events is that usually, you don't know you are in danger until it is too late. There is no way to know. You are going about life, not engaging in any sort of risky behavior and then...

I don't fear terrorism. I despise it. My heart aches for those who've lost because of it, for those touched by it, for those who feel they have to resort to using it. I don't want such violence to touch me or those I know and love. I don't want it to touch anyone, anywhere. I think there are things we can do to be wise and to minimize danger. But apart from God's protection and His decision that He still has things on this earth for me to do, I don't think I can control if such an event happens to me or not. Not by where I choose to live. Not by who I choose to allow into my life. Not by who I choose to try and keep out of my country.

What I do fear is the potential influence that such events have on those around me, those who still live with this illusion that some formula or set of procedures will give them control and keep such an event from taking place in their town, or from harming them or someone they care about. Those aren't bad desires, but decisions and procedures and policies that develop out of a spirit of fear - that is the real power given to those who choose to manipulate by terror. "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but has given us His Spirit, who fills us with power, love and sound mind." (how one back translation of 2 Timothy 2.7 - my life verse - has been rendered, but I don't remember which one any more).

I fear the me-first, sensationalistic and materialistic world - and what my children are learning as they become adults in a society that worships self, fame, money, sex and power. I fear that even with diligence, it will creep into our worldviews, and? We. Won't. Even. Notice.

As I was talking with one of my girls about the events that transpired in Quebec City last night, and the reactions she saw at school today, she made an interesting observation: "Mama, we aren't like other religions. We don't need the government protecting us because we already have an all powerful Someone protecting us." We have God on our side.

I'm not in control. It isn't a comfortable feeling. And I don't want to imply that I've figured out the right course of action to take. But what I've been reading of late makes me very, very uncomfortable...

Not being in control isn't nearly as scary as wondering what consequences there will be if we allow fear to become the motivating factor in our decisions - all to try and maintain some illusion of control.

photo credit: gmayster01 on & off 

photo credit: P. Marioné 

24 January 2017

Last time for THAT moment with the last one of my gang

I love teaching. 

I'm passionate about teaching middle school. Fourth through seventh or eighth grade - some days you get the elementary school student, some days you get the high school student but on most days you get the student who's wandering back and forth between those two and totally clueless.

And I love it.

I do enjoy teaching younger children, but not with the same passion... unless you want to talk about teaching little ones to read. 

Or, teaching anyone of any age to read. 

One of the most memorable moments of my life was when, after working with a 60+ year old Zarma woman in Niger for over two years, she haltingly read a primer version of the story of Ruth from the Bible. As she struggled through the words, all of sudden all of the syllables and sounds came together and made sense. She looked at me, her eyes filled with tears of wonder and she emotionally said, "I know this story. It's from the Bible. It is the story of Ruth and Boaz. I'm finally, for the first time ever, reading God's Word for myself. It isn't a pastor or teacher or man reading it to me." I cried, too.

I've been so privileged to work with each one of my children as they've learned to read - either teaching them before they started day school or working with them in the language  they weren't using at school. For most of them, that has been reading in English. For a few, it has been reading in French.

There are so many moments. 

That moment when the code is finally deciphered and the learner realizes that those scribbles on the paper actually translate to sounds they use all of the time when speaking - and mean something.

That moment when reading transitions from struggling and halting and hesitant to fluent.

That moment when the words turn to real colors and smells and tastes and sounds and sensations, both palpable and emotional.

That moment when it is no longer simply reading aloud someone else's words, but interpreting them -and making it personal - to develop them into the story the reader wants his or her listener/s to hear.

That moment when God's story, as revealed in His Word, suddenly transforms from two dimensional to three and finally four or more dimensions, whe the reader is able to have his or her mind blown by His incredible-ness, His so-different-from-mere-man-ness, His powerful-ness, His bigness, His loveliness...

Mary Michelle experienced that last moment, for the first time, tonight. 

She was reading from the Jesus Storybook Bible. I just love its subtitle - every story whispers His name - but I digress. 

She read the following words: 
In the beginning, there was nothing. 
Nothing to hear. Nothing to feel. Nothing to see. 
Only emptiness. And darkness. And... nothing but nothing. 
But God was there. And God had a wonderful Plan.  
"I'll take this emptiness," God said, "and I'll fill it up! Out of the darkness, I'm going to make light! And out of nothing, I'm going to make...EVERYTHING!"  
Like a mommy bird flutters her wings over her eggs to help her babies hatch, God hovered over the deep, silent darkness. He was making life happen.  
God spoke. That's all. And whatever He said, it happened." (p. 18)
As she was reading aloud to me, I noticed that somewhere along the line, she's picked up a tiny touch of a southern accent (like me) - the only one of my gang, apparently, who has. Every single time she read the word "nothing," it sounded more like "nuthin' " This tiny twang showed up in every single -ing word. This fact makes me smile!

But back to the point. She read the above words, gradually slowing, and finally she paused. I thought it was because she was looking at the illustration or waiting for me to turn the page. Maybe. 

I was wrong she turned to me, and in that moment, the total awe on her face was priceless.  

She said softly, her voice trembling a little bit, "Mama, if God didn't have the idea to make people, you wouldn't be here. I wouldn't have you. That would be really sad," as her little hand reached up to cup my face and pull me closer to nuzzle.

I responded, "Hey, if He hadn't made people, you wouldn't be here either."

She startled, then giggled, "I guess that's right...." and her voice trailed off. I stayed silent because it was obvious she was thinking.

"I guess that means He didn't just make the world and the universe and all that stuff out there. He also made words and ideas so that could tell us about Him. Oh Mama! I'm so glad God made words and that He put the words in a book so I could learn about Him. And tell you I love you. And it's even okay that He made French words, too."

That moment! Witnessing His Spirit work in the lives of one of my children? It ranks right up there with the very best of all experiences, ever!

Will she remember the details of this conversation in a few days? I don't know, but I'm pretty sure that, in that moment, God just became exponentially "amaizin'-er," in her eyes. In my eyes, too. At the same time, her view of Mama decreased. I'm so glad that process is starting to happen.

In any case, there's no doubt whether or not I'll remember these details of that moment. I want to. I need to. 

That's part of the reason I put them down here. 

For posterity.


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