Posted in Forgiveness, Grace, Kindness, Leadership, Mercy, Patience, Perspective

No Pogo Sticks Either

We stepped out for an hour this past week to have a short meeting with some of our leaders at church. Since we would only be gone for about an hour, we allowed our youngest daughter to stay home alone. She has matured and we have begun allowing her to be at home for short periods of time as we run errands or hold short meetings. Our compound where we live in Bujumbura is safe; we have neighbors behind and beside us that are as concerned about the security of their homes as we are ours and we knew that she would be alright for an hour.

The security drill is as follows: keep the phone nearby at all times and answer every call or message we might send. The doors stay locked, no going outside, and no surfing the internet (we lock devices away). TV is allowed as is homework; almost torturous I know! Feeling satisfied that she hadn’t totally tuned us out during our “I know all this mom” discussion over rules and safety, we set out for our meeting.

After an hour, we made our way home and as we walked to the door, I saw her sweet little face greet us from a window as we entered, “I want to say that I had fun! I had fun!” My mommy senses were tingling, something was definitely up.

Sweet fingers nervously folded together she explained that the past hour she had played with water in the living room and created a slip and slide – the floors are perfect for sliding. My eyes betrayed my feelings, “I made a slip and slide! You’re mad aren’t you mommy?” Rewinding the tape of my own childhood antics in my brain, I briefly relived a few of my own moments. No sweet girl, I wasn’t angry I was actually impressed; I had never thought of making a slip and slide in the living room, nor had the three older ones ever come close to this level of ingenuity. Her eyes pleaded for leniency, she had tried to clean up after herself and she did have fun.

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Relieved that water hadn’t been spilled on electrical appliances or anything that could be damaged, her punishment was to dry the floor (we have a super clean floor right now) and endure the lectures that ensued for days afterward. While it seems she might have gotten off lightly, if ever there’s another slip and slide, there will definitely be greater consequences to face. She assured us, “I won’t ever do that again mommy!” But, the slip and slide will forever receive props from all of us and the memory of I had fun will endure in my parenting records and on into subsequent generations.

This afternoon she is playing with friends and again the house is a playground, we often say that this is Andreya’s world, we just live in it! I did end up sending them outside as the ruckus was getting beyond our ability to contain and now the party continues by the laundry line. Listening them makes me smile, the mess really doesn’t matter, it makes me so very happy to see her happy.

I think God must laugh at some of the messes we create, our slip and slides in the living room, that we thought would be fun to do but later created a bit of a mess to clean up. The effort of cleaning the mess is punishment enough, lesson learned – hopefully! Next time, it might not be so easy to escape the consequences.

Today, I had to step out for a few minutes and the usual run-down of rules had an additional item or two added just in case:

No slip and slides, no hot air ballooning, no flying trapeezes and no pogo-sticks either!

 

Posted in Despair, Judgment, Kindness, Kingdom, Mercy, Missions

The Roosters

It was early, the sun had not yet risen but the roosters had already begun announcing the dawn’s arrival. The usual clanging of pots used for gathering water could be heard both far and near as the ladies of the village prepared themselves to collect water. On most days, everyone had to make multiple trips to the river to draw water, unless it rained in which case rain water was gathered in every available receptacle. On those days there was an almost audible collective sigh breathed as at least on that day their arms wouldn’t ache from having to draw and carry water home from the river several kilometers away.

The children woke slowly to the sound of their mother’s pots, husbands prepared themselves to work their fields of maize, squash, and other locally consumed vegetables. Everyone hoped this year’s rains would bring better times; the past years had brought sporadic rain. Sometimes the rains were too heavy, others too light. Either way, the community suffered through months of hunger. In decades past, the rains had been reliable and food plentiful, but that was no longer the case. The months of drought before harvest were now called the “season of hunger.” It seemed the hunger was lasting longer and longer every year.

Families began to move from the safety of the village to the larger cities in hope of finding work that would pay to purchase food to feed their families. The migration to urban areas did little to assuage hunger, rather, it heightened it as populations mushroomed and there wasn’t enough work in the city for all its new inhabitants. Mothers who hoped their children would go to school and do better found themselves with problems far different from what they had encountered in the villages. Their children began to wander the streets searching for food only to be pulled into prostitution or human trafficking.

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This scenario has repeated itself time and again in Africa; the problems of intese poverty and insecurity plaguing the most vulnerable: women, children, and the elderly. The answer to the question of solving the problems of intense poverty and suffering we face here in Africa and other parts of the developing world is too complicated for one simple blog to answer.

Those of us working in these situations feel the weight of the suffering of those living in these situations daily. Some resort to begging on the streets of the larger cities, others will steal, and yet others will resort to prostituting themselves just for a piece of bread to feed their children. For those of us living in a situation where our next meal is sure, it is easy to pass over them and say, “Get a job.”  What can they do in situations like these in the developing world where there really aren’t many jobs at all? Where can they go? What can they do?

Today as we woke to the crowing of the roosters and we made our way downtown, beggars lined the streets, a thief tried to open our car door, and little children who ought to be in school stood by their mothers as they tried to earn a little money sweeping the streets. This is an everyday occurence here and it still moves me – to do more, try harder, and find help for the few that we can reach.

What difference does it make to help only a few instead of thousands? It makes a difference to them and those around them and perhaps among them will be found a leader who will in the future sometime be the catalyst for change. While the need swallows me daily, so does God’s grace. He gives strength when we have none and provision to touch those we can.

Posted in Change, Correction, Cross, Family, Forgiveness, Kindness, Kingdom, Missions

Be Nice

I remember one of my favorite things to say to my 3 older kids when they were growing up was:

“Be nice.”

Sometimes it felt nearly impossible to get through a day without a major crisis unfolding between 2 or all 3 of them. The oldest would pop the youngest over the head, the 2nd born (a daughter) would take great delight in getting her 2 brothers in trouble, and the 3rd born relished in the fact that he had it a bit easier than his 2 older siblings. Now, with a 4th one that came a full 15 years after our 3rd, you know there is a lot of “you didn’t do that for us” going around.

Well, I confess, there’s truth to that statement, but we learn as we go don’t we? While we were waiting for our first child to be born, I remember thinking how I would do everything better than everyone else (why I thought this I am not sure). I knew how I wanted to raise my child in a certain way that was better than everyone else’s. I was sure that my household would be quiet, peaceful, the laundry would always be folded, dinner on the table, and everyone would be nice.

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Fast forward 10 years and I found myself up to my neck in raising children, living abroad, and somehow working as a full-time missionary Africa. I honestly do not know how I made it through those days with my mind still somewhat intact. The amount of work that just goes into running a household here is stupefying; there is no fast food (thankfully), no quick place to shop (you go to the market which is an all-day ordeal), and keeping the house clean is a whole other blog for another day. All of this doesn’t take into account the work of the mission and church. At the end of every day (much like you wherever you are), both then and now, I wonder how I made it and continue to make it and follow my own counsel to “be nice.” Honestly, I wasn’t always as nice as I had hoped to be – but I always worked on it and am still working on it!

Ephesians 4:31,32 LB “Stop being mean, bad-tempered, and angry. Quarreling, harsh words, and dislike of others should have no place in your lives. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God has forgiven you because you belong to Christ.”

In the current supercharged world of “speaking our minds,” many have forgotten the need for those of us identifying as Christians to just be nice, be kind to each other. Everywhere we look these days be it online, TV, print, or in person there’s a strong negative current to “speak up for what is right.” We are ambassadors of the Kingdom and our righteous King, but we won’t convince anyone of their need for Christ if our righteousness is covered in ugliness. No matter the situation, Scripture is clear on the matter, we must be nice.

Society has always been ugly, humanity has always been divided, and the church can’t fulfill her mission when she looks, acts, and speaks like the world. Whatever happened to following Jesus advice to “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29 NLT)

Have you ever noticed how exhausting it is to force change with anger or frustration? I wonder how many ulcers and troubles with high blood pressure could be averted by simply being nice. 

I learned this truth the hard way years ago serving here on the continent when I saw much hunger, injustice, and unnecessary death. I worked myself to the bone trying to bring change; no matter how hard I worked, no matter how many hungry and vulnerable children I fed, there were still more than needed feeding and despite my valiant efforts, people still went hungry. I became tired and bitter about my situation and the unfairness of it all – until one day, after sickness forced me to rest, I understood that anything pulling me from Jesus’ yoke that gives me rest is not His will for me. Over time I began to understand that this fallen world is full of sin and sin can’t be dealt with on our terms. Anger, frustration, overworking, and self-righteousness pull us away from His way to address man’s fallen nature by just being nice. The response of humanity to the message of the cross is not my responsibility; I am only responsible to bring the Good News. As long as there is sin in the world, there will be division, injustice, and pain.

This doesn’t mean we don’t speak the truth for Scripture clearly instructs us to “Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.” (Ephesians 4:15 NLT) What is our motive for speaking out and what is our method? If love for those we see lost in sin is our motive, then our methods will line up with Scripture – otherwise we are only adding fuel to the fire of division instead of bringing Christ in to redeem the situation.

How has frustration over the sinfulness of this world worked for us thus far? How has being angry helped any situation? Jesus walked this fallen earth and seldom was seen showing outright anger and frustration to the world; He had come to save them, give Himself for them – He died for them. His frustration was seen in the temple, among the “righteous,” who were too bsuy enriching themselves to reach out to those who really needed help – those outside of the temple (for us this can be taken to mean the church).

My youngest daughter loves the movie, “Frozen” and the theme song, “Let it go.” I rarely spiritualize animated movies but today I will make an exception. Those things frustrating you, those unfair, unrighteous, unholy, difficult things that anger you – let them go. Take Jesus’ yoke on you, He is the only One qualified to measure out judgment. Now is the time to be the church in the world, speak in love, and simply put:

Be nice.

 

Posted in Inconvenience, Kindness, Kingdom, Love, Pride, Sight

Of Glasses and Vanity

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I’ve come to the realization that my eyesight simply isn’t what it used to be. An optometrist told me a few years ago that my age is at fault for my ocular malfunctions. After recovering from the “age” comment, I felt somewhat betrayed that my eyes would rebel against me to the point of requiring full-time vision correction.

At first, I only needed glasses for reading, I was able to swallow that pill easily enough and carried on with life. Fast forward just a few years and everyday tasks became impossible without my glasses – reading recipes, deciphering the lettering on my measuring cups and spoons in the kitchen, recognizing someone’s face on the other side of a parking lot, all became difficult. I found it cumbersome to put my glasses on and take them off repeatedly during the day and finally succumbed to the need of wearing them all day long.

Vanity has driven me to great lengths to find the perfect pair of frames and I have yet to find them! Vanity also drove me to wear contact lenses; I happen to like my green eyes and am now in the throes of wearing daily contact lenses in order to keep them from being hidden behind my glasses.

As irritating as it may be to wear glasses, use contact solution, order new contacts all the way from my optometrist (Dr. Reiter who is amazing, and did not make the age comment, if you’re in South Florida and need your eyes taken care of she’ll take great care of you) and have them delivered by FedEx to Malawi, I can’t imagine not correcting my vision when it’s in my power to do so.

Yet, when it comes to seeing what’s really important in this life, there have been times that I’ve been in need of a heavenly optometrist. I’ve been guilty of neglecting to correct my vision, finding it inconvenient to open my eyes to what’s at stake: the souls of men and women. The noise of life, the angry TV news reports and overboard social media blurbs, have made me focus on the “rights” and “wrongs” in society rather than keeping my eyes on Kingdom business. It’s easier to take sides than it is to be a Kingdom worker, for God sees all humanity equally through lenses of love. Those lenses force us to see not only the true condition of others but also of ourselves in light of Who He is – the Great I Am.

Has the truth of John 3:16, that God loves the world, become so foreign to us today that we conveniently edit out the truth that everyone means everyone? Everyone not only means those who we think fit into the mold, but also those who especially don’t fit into the mold. Everyone from the Midwestern housewife, the school janitor, exercise instructor, orphan, billionaire, and Syrian refugee is seen equally through the eyes of our Father. He simply loves them and wishes they would become part of the family.

I wonder how much our spiritually poor eyesight keeps us from working with the Father to grow the family; how much have we actually harmed the effort to bring the prodigals home?

2 Peter 3:9 Voice Now the Lord is not slow about enacting His promise—slow is how some people want to characterize it—no, He is not slow but patient and merciful to you, not wanting anyone to be destroyed, but wanting everyone to turn away from following his own path and to turn toward God’s.”

The next time you see someone at the grocery store or sleeping homeless on the street or even see angry newscasts on the TV, dare to look behind the veil of what this world would have you see. On the outside, people appear to have it all together or be the authors of their own misery or at the mercy of a ruthless dictator. Their external circumstances belie who they really are: the apple of God’s eye.

It’s time to put our glasses on.

Posted in Correction, Kindness, Pride, Sight, Uncategorized

That Would Be Kind

A comment on my 5th grade report card still strikes me when I think of it today:

“Lea does not take correction well.”

Well that was embarrassing to admit!

Surprisingly, it was my English teacher who had written the comment. It caught me off guard, as I never suspected that I had made her feel this way. I had thought she was kind and might have even liked me – until that report card. Everything changed when I read her remark for I knew that there would be consequences to those remarks when my parents read them. Her correction stung. I felt criticized and angry. From that day forward I vowed to be perfect in class, to prove her wrong, but I wouldn’t forget how she wounded me.

As time went by, my participation (as I had vowed) was perfect. I worked hard, never interrupted and even began to draw praise from her. The following report was glowing on how I had improved. My parents’ praise lifted my spirits and I changed from wanting to prove her wrong to wanting to please her.

Psalm 141:5 NKJV Let the righteous strike me; it shall be a kindness. And let him rebuke me; it shall be as excellent oil; let me not refuse it…”

 NCV “If a good person punished me, that would be kind. If he corrected me, that would be like perfumed oil on my head. I shouldn’t refuse it…”

Correction. What a word. We use it primarily when referring to children, school, education, but rarely when referring to adults. Mentally I suppose this is because correction is meant for the immature, not those who have grown into adulthood. For some reason, there comes a time in life when we seem to “outgrow” the need for correction (or rebuke) and are expected to make it through life on our own with no help at all; no correction of how our sails are set if the winds are contrary.

Kindness. Another great word; it is not a word we would put into the same sentence or phrase with correction. Normally, I would think a kindness would be expressed in a way that makes me feel good, not in a way that challenged me to change. My feelings are to be soothed and reinforced – they need to be told how wonderful I always am or how unfortunate it was for someone to be unkind to me. If words or actions aren’t brought in this way, they are not kind.

Refuse. This is a word used very often when correction is involved. Children who are corrected often refuse to receive correction internally and only follow through with prescribed consequences because they, as children, have no choice. We’ve all heard the story of the child who is told to sit down but replies, “I may be sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside.” When we grow into adults, the inner refusal we suppressed all those years as children is free to be released and expressed. We are capable adults after all, aren’t we? We are going to stand up for everyone to see.

Most of us can see ourselves in the descriptions of children above yet we fail to recognize that while we are grown adults physically, we remain children of God eternally. The physical realm easily translates for us into the only reality to embrace, as it is the most “real” reality we can feel.

During the years of war in the Central Africa region (early 1990s-early 2000s) we went through and heard of many atrocities too horrible to describe. While war, the slaughter of innocent civilians, and economic hardship all took their toll on us, I think it was the callous disregard to what was really important that would strike me the hardest. A situation comes to mind when a friend, whose Bible school compound had been looted of tens of thousands of dollars of books, furnishings, and equipment, went to visit one of her acquaintances in a nearby village. As she entered the home, she recognized some of things in the home as items from the Bible school and she said those belong to the school. The reply to her statement was amazing, “Sister, that is church, but this is life.”

Correction, had this lady received it instead of hardening her heart, could have been a catalyst in the village for everyone who had stolen items in their homes to return them to the school. How very sad to think that she placed more value on the temporary rather than the eternal. Life, as we experienced in the time of war, is but a breath, here one moment and gone the next. While this may seem like an extreme example, its truth is universal and timeless.

How often have we been guilty of the same kind of thinking when it comes to correction that God brings to us through friends, family, His Word, sermons, worship or other avenues? Is it so wrong to be wrong? Isn’t it better to be corrected? Why do we prefer the consequences of a hard heart?

Pride is a terrible and unforgiving master and when pride rules our lives, it brings us eternal and far-reaching consequences. How long will we stand up when God has said to sit down? How long will we refuse correction before we understand that correction is actually kindness and not criticism?

There is a big difference between criticism and kindness. We primarily associate criticism negatively (although it can be used in a positive sense, it is rarely meant to be positive) as disapproval by someone. They perceive something we have said/done negatively and express their disapproval. This can make us wonder, how can a correction possibly be kind? The answer is simple for a correction is not a criticism, as we understand criticism. Correction’s motive is different from that of a criticism. A criticism is meant to wound while a correction is meant to bring positive change. What is to be gained in the correction by the one giving the correction? If the benefit of the correction will come directly to us, then it is a kindness.

If pride is our master, we find it difficult to bend our knees and sit down (for we have been standing up this whole time) and allow the correction to change us. This is a true kindness as it changes us and enhances who we are and what we do. But pride will refuse to change because pride can’t be wrong. The goal of pride is self-preservation and self-exaltation. How has that helped us so far? Where has that gotten us except far from where God wants to bring us?

I have read many books and articles in recent years on the need for mentors, teachers, leaders, and spiritual fathers in the church today. People, on one hand, cry out for fathers but do not allow fathers to speak into their lives. It is a conundrum of sorts. I don’t believe that there is a shortage of fathers as much as there is a shortage of children who are looking for them.

It’s a kindness when God corrects us and gets our sails set straight. He is the Captain and He sees the map, He knows the destination; may we allow Him to correct our sails. If we open our hearts to His kindness (His correction), He will give us those people we need in our lives to help us to get to our destinations.