29 February 2012

28 February 2012

What's in a name?

"My heart is full of praise that one so insignificant, uneducated, and ordinary in every way could be used to His glory for the blessing of His people in poor persecuted China." (Gladys Aylward)

Gladys Aylward is one of my heroes.


I've been thinking about her this week - probably because I have a friend who makes me think of her. This friend has been coming with me every week, helping me teach a literacy class for the past few months. She doesn't speak the local verbal languages... but she's very fluent with languages that speak directly to hearts. Mamata (the oldest lady and most faithful student in the class) and those who live in her concession call my friend "Everyone's Friend..." The other day I think she told me (my Zarma isn't all that great - but it is improving) that getting to meet my friend has been a gift because Mamata doesn't just call her "Everyone's Friend" like everyone else. Instead, she gets to call her "My Friend." And she does. In fact, I don't think I've ever heard her use my friend's name...

So why does that make me think of Gladys Aylward?

I'd never heard of Gladys until 10-15 years ago, when I stumbled on an old Ingrid Bergman movie titled The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. It was the Hollywood-ized version of Gladys Aylward's amazing adventure, striking off on her own (after being rejected by a mission agency who said she didn't have the education, skills or ability to serve as a foreign missionary) to live life in rural, mountainous China ministering to the poorest of the poor under the most unbelievable circumstances.  Even with its inaccuracies and departures from the real story of her life, it recounts the story of a mighty woman of faith who touched the lives of everyone around her. I immediately tracked down a biography to find out the real story!

So much of her story captivates my imagination... I wish I could be a missionary like her. But the part that totally captures my heart is when she is given her Chinese name by those all around her. Her Chinese community called her “Ai-weh-deh,” or Virtuous One.

Just consider some synonyms for that name:
  • Honorable One
  • Irreproachable One
  • Gracious One
  • Compelling One
  • Persuasive One
  • Fruitful One
  • Approved One
That was her testimony. That was how she reflected God and His glory to the Chinese people...

I've also thought about the fact that she considered herself so un-extraordinary... and yet those to whom and with whom she ministered felt very differently. Virtue and virtuoso come from the same original root - a virtuoso is one who demonstrates masterly skill and excellence... God's grace grew her into a masterful servant of both the Most High and the "very-est low..."

I think of and am challenged by her story and example~ just as I am every time I see my friend here, a dear lady who reflects enthusiastic, joyful friendliness and a genuine love for people. That has been clearly evidenced by the name the people in Mamata's concession have given her.

It also leads me to prayerfully ask:

What name am I known by?
What name, some day, do I hope to be known by?

How about you?

26 February 2012

Multitude Monday - 1000 Gifts ~ High Fidelity for Friendships

Last week, Ann posted a powerful piece about friendship and I've been thinking and praying about it ever since.

Probably most of us have had a similar experience with a "Mare Griebe:" the friend we never dreamed we could lose because of so much history - a long line of shared special together moments - sometimes broken by stretches of time, but always picking up again where we left off.

And so life continues along, we enter a stretch of time that seems more broken, wider, longer. A season of busyness distracts. Somehow, we forget. We get lazy or we make a bad choice. We end up causing her to feel taken for granted, neglected, betrayed... She's wounded, deeply hurt... and then she's gone. 

Looking back at our actions (or lack of action), we think we discover the very reason we now live with that sad, empty place of nothing but memories. And it is good to first point the finger in, to self-examine, while asking the Lord if we did not love, serve, share or give as He would have had us love, serve, share or give. That, of course, must be followed up with seeking forgiveness and restoration, where possible.

In her post Ann shares four recommendations, ideas to mold self into a better friend. They are investments, if you will, to helpfully prevent friendship breakdowns:
  • People are the priority - a mantra at our house is people are more important than things, be those things a toy that is in high demand or a schedule that makes high demands;
  • Live maskless - transparent lives lead to authentic, real relationships;
  • Speak life - share true words that edify, and when those good words might be painful ones, share them gently and with huge doses of love, grace and mercy; and
  • Get together - relationships hinge on time gifted, words shared....
It is very, very good advice.

But it takes two to tango, or so the saying goes.

So... What about those relationship times when you feel more like "Mare?" When you are the friend waiting... needing... wanting... hoping for... expecting... community? But instead you feel neglected, lonely, pushed away, forgotten, unimportant? It hurts - deeply.

Myself? I tend to wonder what I've done, but I'm afraid to ask. I'm always still shocked when it seems someone wants to be my friend - and deep down, always wonder, "Is this too good to last?" So it doesn't take much to convince myself that yet one more friendship is dwindling into something that no longer really is... or more bluntly, dying. Sorrow blossoms into bitterness which easily festers... finally anger and then? Nothing. To protect from that sort of hurt, any feelings and most effort risking continued nourishing of that friendship are slowly suffocated. Or abrubtly and totally switched off - more like an execution. And the deeper, longer, more intense or dear the friendship, the more powerful and most unchanging, absolutely unflinching that response can be.

Everyone feels like "Mare" from time to time. I've been there more times than I care to count over the years and I've found it to be an enormous struggle for me in this missionary life.

Consider family and friends back home and the frantic pace of life in the West? People don't often write - snail mails or emails... or call... or message... or Skype... as often as would fill my encouraging-words-are-my-love-language cup. Sometimes, I don't even know what circumstances are keeping that someone so busy that special heart to heart contacts are few and far between... and so I can't understand the voiceless void that ranges from irritating to heart-wrenching. Sometimes the problem is beyond anyone's control - phones don't work, internet connection crashes for weeks on end, serious illness takes over... yet even with understanding the cause, the hurt is still just as real, just as painful.

What about my friends and friends-like-family here, those who live this same life? Those I know should understand? They certainly wouldn't allow life - ministry, busyness, preoccupation with family or others far away, imminent change and transition - to interfere with relationships, would they? Our pace of life does tend to be slower... we should have more time... However, I've slowly come to a revelation: having such expections of another (no matter what side of the water they are found) is not only unrealistic, it is unfair to those I'm counting on to shoulder it.

I do so want to nurture those friendships God has gifted to me. I need to keep in mind the wise counsel from that blog post that started this whole train of prayerful thought. But I've also been deeply convicted that in those times when I feel like "Mare," I'm just as responsible to nurture and maintain a precious relationship. I'm wrong... I sin... if I decide to give up on another because of my hurt feelings or wounded pride, and I choose to crack or even shatter community.

I'd add the following to that list of "4 ways to be a better friend:"
  • Liberate -from my expectations, permitting others to be my friend, their way;
  • Be the first - to forgive both real and perceived offenses, offering always mercy and grace; and
  • Have a hospitable heart - willing to entertain and open (or re-open) the door to both new and continuing friendships, even after hurt has entered.
this week's gratitude list:
(#1940 - 1971)

hard lessons, reluctantly learned and tearfully lived - leading me to lean on the One I can trust with my hopes and expectations

dear friends, on both side of the ocean

letters from home

Tim-made chicken soup on an evening when I really wasn't feeling so well

listening to excited girlies chat for a few minutes with Uncle Chris

5 bamboo poles - now we only need one more

window repairs

kitchen sink faucet working once again

sharing raspberry tea with hubby before heading to work

strawberry shortcake & a small dollop of whipping creme for breakfast

sound sleep

colds that stay colds and don't grow into something worse

little by little, inch by inch progress on a piddley project

being pushed into practicing what I preach

Sunday confirmation of truths the Spirit has been impressing on my heart throughout the week

girl going maniac and finishing much laundry

upcoming outreach trip for teens

much Mexican food, laughter... even though back and feet were so tired afterwards

anticipation as I've now waited over a week for that crazy movie to download

praying for guidance... and being given patience to gently wait instead of answers

finding my friend at church for the first time in many months

holding little Mariama this morning - and her hands went directly to my face, cupping my cheeks (it is always fun when my pale skin isn't frightening to a little one)

Bible study anticipation - after needing to cancel two weeks ago

helping a scared, sad boy transition from fears and tears to snuggles, smiles and giggles

hearing Colossians 3:12-14 quoted and rediscovering all over again why I love those verses so very much

making a hard decision... knowing it was the right one... knowing that my counsel came from God alone...

fervent praying for so many hurting here in this land - this part of the world

teenage smiles

good news, a much needed miracle, in another Niger city

another who identifies with Dr. Quinn... finding that TV series encouraging...

looking forward to seeing what others post on this Multitude Monday

24 February 2012

Five Minute Friday ~ Grit

I grew up in Oklahoma... not during dustbowl years, but I still remember grit.

Now, I live on the backside of the desert...

and we're intimately acquainted. Just keeping the desert from moving in and taking over the house can become, in some seasons... like now... a full-time occupation or preoccupation.

Freshly swept floors immediately recovered with fine particles of sand as soon as the windows are re-opened and the fans circling again overhead. Grains swept off furniture several times daily, piles of orange sand in the sink where grimy kids have washed hands before dinner, and there is no escaping grit shed from pockets, shoes, bare feet, blonde hair and sweaty skin - when your entire yard is a playland sandbox. My kids believe it next best to heaven; after sweeping the floor and dragging rugs outside to beat for the 4th time, sometimes I'm more inclined to wonder if I'm trapped in an infernal nightmare.

Grit... yuck!

And yet?

After more than a decade at this, I'm discovering that it takes a special God-given grace-filled grit to deal with all the grit of this placethis life.

It takes grit:

eye-blinking courage,
a setting-of-the-jaw-never-give-up type of attitude

- regardless of circumstances.

Moses exhorted Joshua, "Show some true grit, boy, because God ain't gonna take off on ya!" (i.e. "be strong and courageous...") in Joshua 1. That oft repeated advice is remains radical marching orders.

Some days ~

...at the blessed end of one of those days,

when tiny specks of grit are all that remain after crushing grindstones of sinful self, of sinful people, of this as yet redeemed yet unrestored world, of spiritual battlefields, of dark principalities and demonic powers, of human frailty and fatigue, of discouragement, of God's growing me... God-given, grace-filled true grit is all that remains. It is what helps me pray (and most days, mean it), "Father, help me to remember that hard is not bad, that suffering I have the privilege of sharing with You. Help me to gently trust and then ferociousl grab and fiercely cling to hope that You are growing a gem, polishing a pearl, from this moment... or this season... of hard.

Give me Your true grit to brush and beat and sweep away once again the grit that distracts me from the joy of Your abiding Presence in all things." 

20 February 2012

Multitude Monday - 1000 Gifts ~ 4-day weekend... a gift from heaven

Today is the last day of a four day weekend...

...and excepting the fact that part of my family (including my much better half) hasn't been here, it has been more than wonderful.
  • Resting, really resting... lots...
  • sleeping in until we wake up...
  • preparing low-key meals with several of my girlies helping...
  • baking bread and a cake to welcome home our travelers...
  • making pita with a friend for company...
  • eating frozen yogurt cones for breakfast (the travelers devoured all breakfast foods on their way out)...
  • cleaning the house together on Saturday, leisurely - with no expectations of perfect or being on time for a softball game...
  • trying out "Le Cafe" for breakfast...
  • watching episodes of Dr. Quinn ad nauseum (just ask Nadia... *grin*)...
  • reading a book that has been sitting on my nightstand for over a year...
  • not looking at or even thinking about work or ministry or really anything at all until Monday and I have to get ready to head back into another week.
It is approaching almost two years since I've had a break that has felt like a break the way these past few days have - and I pray that I feel as rejuvenated when I head back into real life on Tuesday.

One of those books they had us read in preparation to head to the mission field was a book called Margin by Richard Swenson and I must admit that it is an idea with which I struggle, on several counts. First, I'm not very good at it. Wife, mama to 8, missionary, teacher, blogger - I tend to keep my life pretty full and busy, and frankly, I usually prefer it that way. However, it is quite true that when I have no empty spaces in life or in my schedule, the only wiggle room is how much sleep I get. When there is a mini crisis, an unexpected expectation to fulfill, one of the kids gets sick, the internet doesn't work consistently or predictably for nearly 2 months - less sleep is the only way to fit in any extra that needs to be done.

I understand that this missing sleep isn't a sustainable strategy ~ at least not for long stretches at a time.

But I also struggle with this because I'm not so sure that the idea of intentionally guarding space I call "margin" in my life is biblical... a Sabbath most definitely is, but I don't see that the two are one and the same. I can see that margin seems wise, humanly speaking, and is, in general, a good principle, but biblical? I have to wonder if it is one of those things man has concocted to allow him to serve in his own strength, instead of simply being a conduit for God's strength at whatever moment He asks us to be.

I'd be very curious to know what some of the rest of you think...

And now on to this week's gratitude list:
(#s 1911 - 1939)

(repeating, of course, those things already listed above)

resting, really resting... lots...

sleeping in until we wake up...

preparing low-key meals with several of my girlies helping...

baking bread and a cake to welcome home our travelers...

making pita with a friend for company...

eating frozen yogurt cones for breakfast (the travelers devoured all breakfast foods on their way out)...

cleaning the house together on Saturday, leisurely - with no expectations of perfect or being on time for a softball game...

trying out "Le Cafe" for breakfast...

watching episodes of Dr. Quinn ad nauseum (just ask Nadia... *grin*)...

reading a book that has been sitting on my nightstand for over a year...

not looking at or even thinking about work or ministry or really anything at all until Monday and I have to get ready to head back into another week...

family home, all safe and sound, together again

homemade pizza

gardening surprises- eating our first tomatoes from our own "pop-up" garden

icy cold water to drink

rain today - even if it means the unbearable hot is literally just around the corner

African art

little girl planned birthday parties

sleeping in Tim's flannel shirts

being married to a member of a team of international softball champions! (whatever that means!) 


crickets chirping

friends to help me change the gas bottle

homemade kites constructed from black plastic bags

discussing with my big ones yet once again how we are all sinners in need of grace... how we are all sinners who need to be ready to offer grace to our fellow sinners

Monday afternoon naps

homemade white cake with raspberry filling between the layers

almost... almost... feeling rested so that getting out of bed in the morning doesn't quite feel like next to impossible

having our mosquito ninja home once again


13 February 2012

Multitude Monday - 1000 Gifts ~ Is there really such a creature as a mixed blessing?

And where did that saying, "mixed blessing" come from, anyway?

Blessed" means "favored by God." Thus blessing is intrinsically linked with God... for all blessings ultimately come from God.

So where did this idea of a mixed blessing originate? I did a little bit of research and according to the dictionary*, this expression entered common speech in the early 1930s (I wonder if there is any correlation with that being the time of the Great Depression?) and refers to any situation that has both clear advantages and clear disadvantages.

And while I understand that that can be the human perspective - it obviously cannot match with God's point of view, for it is He Who is causing all things to work together for good. Thus, there are no disadvantages - no matter how it feels that way. Accepting and trusting God's sovereignty in all situations, choosing to believe that as His child, His chastening... the incomprehensible... the unimaginable painful... it is all His blessing because He works all according to His will. Believing and living this truth is evidence of His grace and His growing eternal perspective in me.

Thus the saying "'the grass is always greener on the other side' really is not true. The grass is greener where I water it..." (unknown author)

I wish you could see our garden right now... Speaking from experience, living in this desert land... much can flourish in the desert, but only when it is watered abundantly and consistently.

this week's gratitude list
(#s 1880 - 1910)

little boy wearing "Lightening McQueen" rainboots to church (with his shorts) on Sunday night - and I thought he looked great!

surprise opportunities leading down unimagined paths

little girls jealous over who gets Mama's lap while we snuggle on the loveseat

watching her blowing bubbles, popping bubbles and chasing goats with Aisha and Madina while Mamata's reading skills continue to improve

listening to Mamata slowly sound out the syllables and read her Valentine, a gift from my friend Sally

hearing others praise my big girl for kindness shown and service offered...

and being reminded to look more often for evidence of God's good work in her, instead of only looking for where she's missed the mark

comparing photos from last summer... and seeing how much they've changed

looking forward to homemade yogurt and granola for breakfast

continuing to study Genesis 3 in deep detail - and seeing so much I never knew was there  

desert times

desert blooms

the blessing of lonely seasons

three math classes all in one

black-eyed nieces

pleased-by-simple-things-"court-er" of said niece - he's approaching infinite patience with all these little Wrightlings

checking hard things off my to-do list

still enjoying episodes of Dr. Quinn, together

teaching young men and women, even when they don't always want to learn

searching for that spark to motivate those not-wanting-to-work learners

learning the Laendler

teaching the Laendler

a wise lady who makes me laugh each week when I see her

table literally covered with donuts and ready as a surprise for all these kiddos Saturday morning... and my big boy and brand new teen who helped me get them all ready

out to dinner with my guy and a couple of friends... for his birthday

sandy colored rug that will not show all of the sandy colored dirt the way the white one did

empty laundry baskets

finding celery in the market

wondering if I can create a raspberry meringue pie... since the temp is getting up to 100' (38' +)... and hot season is creeping our way

optimistic... yet once again... that internet will remain... for more than a week at a time

"Kala suru" --- practicing patience as I learn that it is OK to not always be electronically "connected"

* mixed blessing. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved February 13, 2012, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/mixed blessing

03 February 2012

Five Minute Friday ~ Real

Do you ever feel swept away by unexpected "real-ness" where you least expected to find it?

I was recently watching a movie... and the story took an out of the blue twist from the traditional Hollywood protocols and values... and I was enchanted.

Especially when one of the characters said the following about marriage:

"We need a witness to our lives.  There's a billion people on the planet, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything.  The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it, all of the time, every day.  You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it.  Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness. ' " *
Isn't the real, nitty gritty of the marriage relationship rather eloquently expressed in those words? Real doesn't usually come all dressed up and fancy, but in patched and faded jeans and a threadbare flannel. It isn't distinguished; therefore we often overlook it.

So often, all I want to know is that I matter to someone else... that I am noticed and would be missed if I was suddenly no longer around. I know I matter to God... but it tends to remain a theoretical knowledge... until it becomes real.

Then I tangibly feel His hug through the the very real and sheltering arms of my husband, hear His concern in an email from afar, smell His service in the scent of fresh-baked-by-my-brand-new-nine-year-old-bread, taste His generosity through a meal provided by new friends and watch His delight sparkle in the eyes of my little and not so little ones.

*(Susan Sarandon's character in the movie "Shall We Dance.")


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