27 November 2015

Of Sheep and Wolves, of Serpents and Doves

It happened in the car while bringing the kids home from school sometime this year… nothing extraordinary or life changing, but I can’t stop thinking about it.

As missionaries on support learning a new ministry in a new place (that is just about as polar opposite as possible from where we were), we are still figuring out how to make everything work: daily schedules, doctor appointments, health insurance, where to go for car repairs, credits for graduation, future college plans, the budget… Recently, we ran into that not uncommon problem of “more month than money” requiring, for one, creativity in the kitchen – the idea being to use up what was there without running to the store for more. 

A frequent after school car ride occurrence is a kids’ critique of the lunches I packed and sent. That day, most of what I’d heard was that lunch was “Yummy!” but there weren’t enough crackers to go with the soup. So I looked over at my girl who’d only received a handful of broken cracker pieces and crumbs from the bottom of the bag and asked her if she was upset. She smiled and said, “No, Mama. I really just thought it was sweet of you to crumble up the crackers for me to put in my soup.”

Wow! My eyes filled with tears. I was both speechless… and immediately convicted!

She knows I love her. She trusts me. She assumed the best possible motivation for what she found in her lunch that day.

Do you ever wonder what our world would be like if we all chose to act and believe like my teenage daughter did that afternoon?

First? What if those of us who follow Christ as Savior and King rested in His sovereignty? What if we believed that whatever He allowed/allows, somehow He works so that it is for good. What if we then acted correspondingly, instead of allowing fear or anger or jealousy to dictate thoughts, words, actions and reactions?

Secondly? What if we chose to first assume good intentions, especially by those who’ve demonstrated time and again that they love and/or care about us? What if we chose to trust proven confidence, even when we don’t exactly see why we should.

Thirdly? What if we recognized that the image of God stamped upon and within each human means that sometimes (by God’s grace and mercy), men and women are capable of amazing sacrifice, generosity, wisdom, creativeness and perseverance? And I don’t just mean the Christians of the world. What if our initial response was to look for that image of God in others, regardless of faith profession, because God’s Word teaches it is there?

Perhaps that is a "utopic" view of the world.

I was taught through years of Sunday school truths like:

  • “The heart is deceitful, above all things, and desperately wicked....
To read the rest, please join me at 

13 November 2015

Five Minute Friday ~ Weary

Well, it wasn't the word that I WOULD have chosen...

But it does describe, quite accurately, how I'm feeling today.

The last few weeks have been challenging - not in the totally-overwhelmed-can't-do-this-another-day sort of way...

...but rather in the we've-been-at-this-for-a-really-long-time-and-I'm-way-past-ready-to-see-the-last-bend-in-this-mini-marathon sort of way.

First, one kid got sick... the upchuck-throw-it-up-kind that even after twenty years of parenting - including parenting eight kids in a land where abundant amoebas and giardias and plasmodia meant not unfrequent bouts of vomiting chez nous - that particular illness always leaves me nauseated and sick feeling even when I'm not. It also means I was running up and down the stairs at intervals during sick nights to check on said child.

Then, two more got sick... thankfully it was just the sneazy, snotty nose stuff. Until it turned into the coughing at night until we did the steamy shower so that everyone could rest for a few hours before the coughing started all over again. That lasted two weeks.

But, about halfway through that round, another one fell. Same story, different verse. Sometimes, I wish I was one of those moms who could sleep through others coughing at night. I used to be able to. Then we had our own mini-epidemic of pertussis. Four out of eight, including one still not a year old. Now, I awake in a panic during night-time coughing spells. ALMOST. EVERY. TIME. 

We'd reached what I was thinking was the final bend in this race. I started to relax, thinking I'd be able to get to all those things that needed to be done, but that I'd pushed aside because I was just weary and lacking the oomph to get anything much past the critical-urgent done. Then a night time tap and a hubby with severe abdominal pain. A next day trip to the ER, two days of waiting rooms, tests and consulting with doctors ended with a diagnosis of diverticulitis.

Of course, don't forget that in the midst of this, children are trying to study for end of marking period exams in their second language - one that two of them really don't get very much at all.

It has been a wearying three weeks.

At the same time, we've seen such neat evidences of God's care through it all:
  • People wanting to contribute to Anna's missions trip in February;
  • Teachers going the extra mile to help our children succeed in this latest language adventure;
  • Friends willing to transport then sit with and keep company in waiting rooms;
  • Pray-ers who ask how things are going;
  • Nurses who make midnight house calls to correct mistakes and bring forgotten meds.
Hard isn't bad. But it can be wearying.

Thankful God, in His omniscient providence, planned a three day weekend for our family!

Thankful our church leadership planned a soup and salad luncheon for Sunday... and for the excitement of kids preparing to go to church this Sunday disguised as Anna and Elsa, Tom and Jerry, Mario and Luigi, Tuareg bride and Michigan hunter

We need both: the rest and the fun!

08 November 2015

A Story of Three Very Different Thanksgivings

Posted this last weekend over at Missionary Mom's Companion...

 Thoughts of Thanksgivings way past... 

  • traveling to grandparents' house
  • aunts and uncles and cousins and family friends 
  • tearing around a small, rural southern Illinois town on bikes in jeans and sweatshirts, fingers and noses freezing, but a last hurrah before it became too wintery
  • the smell of cigars
  • Thanksgiving Day parades on TV - with all of those amazing floats 
  • American football in the heyday of the Pittsburgh Steelers
  • cousin slumber parties in the refinished basement
  • tables and tables and tables full of food including Stove Top Stuffing spiked with chunks of cheese
  • unlimited orange and grape pop in the basement fridge...

Magical memories...

They easily assume an almost mystical, mythological place in our minds, which then makes it all the more difficult to appreciate a present moment. As an adult, I've discovered that those delightful recollections of childhood Thanksgivings had unexpected repercussions. I'd try to recreate aspects of those bygone days, only to fail miserably because it never felt the same, at least not to me.

I was on an express path to lose my love for what had always been my most treasured holiday.

Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with remembering. But there's so much wrong with trying to recreate what has passed... Instead, we have to draw from the past to build something new.

Our first "traditional" Thanksgiving in W. Africa was a memorable one. My father-in-law had flown out to visit and to see our new home. He brought a frozen turkey in his carry-on! I learned to make mock pumpkin pie from squash, mock pecan pie using oatmeal and mock apple pie from zucchini. I made giblet gravy for the first time and stuffing from scratch - we splurged on cheese to stuff down into the chunks of bread. We borrowed VHS tapes with old football games on them, pulled out our piddly artificial Christmas tree to decorate and began playing Christmas music. We worked on puzzles and played board games and watched Swiss Family Robinson. We'd invited a few single friends to spend the day with us. We discovered that some of the best watermelon EVER came into season during November in Niger and started a new Thanksgiving tradition that involved watermelon instead of cranberries. We prayed and thanked the Lord for our new home. It was a beautiful, wonderful Saturday (since the actual US Thanksgiving day was work as usual for the rest of the world) that set the scene for many more W. African Thanksgivings to come...

After we'd been living in Niger for a few years, we realized that our brothers and sisters in the church also celebrated a time of thanksgiving. Sometime in October, after the beginning of the school year (October 1), many churches observed a "Fête de Moisson," or Harvest Celebration. Invitations were sent to sister churches. Neighborhood children were invited. The church was meticulously cleaned, sometimes even repainted and decorations were strung from the metal trusses supporting the roof. A goat or sheep was slaughtered and slow cooked in a sauce we'd smell throughout the entire service. Everyone brought some food - or at the very least, a bag of hard candies or several bagged yogurts to share. Sometimes, there was even a case of cold, glass bottled Coke - for the men. A basket was placed in the front of the church and after the time of singing and a short sermon, everyone had several opportunities to sing and dance their way down the aisle, to the front and place gifts in that basket - first the elders, then all the men, then all the women, then the choir, then the children, then families - one by one... and on and on. Often, the women would buy yards of the same material from the market several weeks ahead of time and would show up to church in mostly matching outfits. There were games during the children's Sunday School time - sometimes prizes were handed out to children who recited their verses. At the conclusion of the service, we'd eat a meal together - men served first, often in groups of 5 or 6 sitting around a large plate piled high with the rice and sauce that had been awfully distracting during the sermon. Then children would be served... and finally the women would eat together. Usually everyone ate with their hands. Sometimes - trying to be nice, they gave us - the missionary family - spoons to use. We always smiled and said thank you - and never said that it was actually more fun to eat with our hands. I can't say that I loved it... this Thanksgiving celebration... NOT the first time. But it grew on me. The past few years, I've missed watching my children dance and laugh and clap their way to the front of the church - and the offering basket - while our African family danced and laughed and clapped with them.

This year, we celebrated Thanksgiving in Canada.  Canadian Thanksgiving's beginnings are more closely identified to European traditions than to New World unity. Many decades before Europeans settled in North America, festivals of thanks and celebrations of harvest took place throughout Europe during the month of October. It is generally agreed that the first Thanksgiving celebration in North America actually took place in Canada, when English explorer Martin Frobisher landed in Newfoundland. He was thankful for safety as he traveled across the Atlantic. He arrived 43 years before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts... 1572. I've only ever celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving in Quebec; according to what most have told me - it isn't nearly as big of a deal in Quebec as it is in Ontario and western Canada (nobody really said anything about further east). At most, it is a three day weekend to spend time with family. More typically, it is a bit of a party weekend, with Monday as the official holiday. After our traditional Thanksgiving meal (with from-scratch cranberry sauce, for the first time ever), our daughter and her friend went out door to door in our neighborhood. They were collecting pop and other cans for recycling (it's a common way students here raise funds for school activities). Her friend said it would be a great weekend - lots of beer bottles to collect - and she was right. We filled our SUV with garbage bags full of bottles and cans. Even the passenger side front seat was packed, and the girls had to walk to the return center while I drove to meet them. Our church did have a meal after the service on Sunday, which was a fun time to fellowship, eat delicious food and visit. But we couldn't hang out all day as we rent a room and had a deadline by which we needed to be cleaned up and cleared out. The Christian school our children attend gifted families with a four-day weekend - and the last Thursday afternoon was spent watching students (dressed in "Fall" themed/colored costumes) participate in an annual competition: the Autumn Leaves Race. Many parents were at the school to cheer their kids on, and it seemed like fun was had by all - even the highschoolers who had to reluctantly run 2+ kilometers. 

We're still figuring out Thanksgiving here. We live near a First Nations/Native American reservation. I'd love to find out if they have any type of harvest celebration! Next year, maybe!

Were those Thanksgivings past better than more recent ones? No. And even though not EVERY year makes memories with the same sort of reminiscing power, Thanksgiving remains my favorite time of year...

Maybe because it isn't all about me. It is all about remembering why I'm thankful... and to quote some lyrics of a well-known song: 

The sun comes up
It's a new day dawning
It's time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass
And whatever lies before me
Let me be singing
When the evening comes

You're rich in love
And You're slow to anger
Your name is great
And Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness
I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons
For my heart to find

And on that day
When my strength is failing
The end draws near
And my time has come
Still my soul will
Sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years
And then forevermore

Bless the Lord oh my soul
Oh my soul
Worship His Holy name
Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I'll worship Your Holy name"

(Matt Redman - 10,000 Reasons)

03 November 2015

Generating Gratitude

Thanksgiving is this month… unless you live in Canada (like I do now). If you do, Thanksgiving was last month.

Traditionally, Fall- or harvest-time in western cultures - includes a specified time of celebration, family and giving thanks. But that doesn't mean western cultures have the corner on this sort of celebration.

Have you already guessed? Our monthly theme [at Missionary Mom's Companion] for November is thankfulness... and we hope to spark a conversation about how Thanksgiving (or Action de Grâce as we say in French) is celebrated around the world. 

To start things off, I'd like to revisit something I wrote a few years back... while I was still living in West Africa... all about gratitude!

...I feel a bit stupid starting out like this – 

I REALLY can’t stand listening to a generator.

I know. You’re wondering, “What’s the big deal?”

First, I’ve listened to them an awful lot lately.

Additionally, generators are noisy, they stink, there’s usually a big puff of black smoke as they start up, I’m quite sure they can’t be good for the environment and they consume a whole lot of diesel fuel. That gets expensive. 

And while that list of five might actually be considered valid reasons for my churlishness, they aren’t the real ones behind my stronger than ambivalent dislike.

My antipathy towards those monstrosities which authorize electricity for some while everyone else has plunged into darkness is nothing short of sinful.

I detest them because I don’t have one…

Don't bail now! To read the rest, please join me over at Missionary Mom's Companion... and let's discuss thankfulness!


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