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 Choices, Distractions, Family, Mercy, Missions, Perspective, Time

Temper Tantrums and Leftovers

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“You just don’t want me to have fun!”

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably heard those words. If you haven’t, it’s most likely because your children are still very young. Sometime around the 2nd or 3rd grade mark, children begin to think that their parents’ goal in life is to keep them from having fun.

Mom: “Clean up your toys.”

Son/daughter: “I’m not done playing with them.”

Mom: “They’ve been out for 3 days, it’s time to put them away.”

Son/daughter: “You just don’t want me to have fun!” This is often accompanied by a strong folding of the arms or stomping of feet for emphasis.

Now that my 4th child is 10 years old and I have a bit of experience under my belt, I know how to reason a bit with her when she begins to go down that spiral of, “You just don’t want me to have fun!” The other day I sat with her and asked her, “Why would I want you not to have fun? What good would I get from you not having fun? I want you to have fun – why else would I have gotten you all these toys? To have fun of course.” Cue the blank stare…I usually have 2 or 3 minutes to get a meaningful bit of communication in before the curtain of attention falls.

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My life is full. There’s no real reason for me to have a temper tantrum with my Father over things that I have/don’t have or things I have asked for but have yet to see. Yet, I somehow find opportunities to fold my arms, as it were, and look at my Father and say, “You just don’t want me to have fun!”

On the occasion that I have obeyed in some area, much like my children have been at home, I will think that my obedience gives me “credit” or “points earned” towards favorable outcomes in life – especially in those “spiritual” arenas of life. Since we are missionaries and all of what we do is basically for the Kingdom, it’s easy for me to think that God should understand and will hand everything to me on a silver platter. If things don’t work out as I think they should, “You just don’t want me to have fun!” Complete with folded arms and stomping feet.

“I’m doing this for You! Where is the money to get this vision You gave us to get this done?”

Yet, the things He had given me before are still strewn all over the floor. The new believers who need following up, leaders that need to be trained, and the community outreaches that need to be developed are still unorganized and waiting to be tended to.

If I’m honest with myself, there’s much that I am able to do without money. In fact, helping  someone develop in their life with the Lord takes more time than it does money – and time is something no one is willing to part with easily. In our era of “time management” and scheduling, we find it difficult to invest what’s needed in people to see them grow into their potentials. We have families, jobs, hobbies, sports, and recreational activities we have to fit into our schedules. Doesn’t God want us to be happy? Sounds a bit familiar.

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We can find scripture and verse to assuage the guilt that tries to assault our hearts when we consider what we should be doing when it comes to our participation in God’s work. We want more “fun time” while God our Father is asking us to collect what is strewn on the floor around us.

John 6:12 NKJV“So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.’”

What is significant about the leftovers is that God takes what others would consider useless and scrape into the trash. After a large holiday meal, what’s leftover is often tossed into the trash bin as everyone has already had enough to eat. Without giving it another thought, the designated kitchen cleanup crew won’t bother with the odd bits and pieces of leftovers. Why save them? Everyone is full! Throw them away! Unless there’s an old-time auntie or grandma in the group who insists on taking the leftovers home. “It will keep me full for days!” she says while collecting the last few dinner rolls and scrapings of casserole.

The lives of people that are scattered as fragments in our societies won’t collect themselves. Much like our families’ cleanup crews, the disciples would have most likely preferred to have left the crumbs on the ground. They had already worked and served thousands, but after all of their work, Jesus told them, “Gather the fragments.” They might have wondered, “Why gather fragments? They’re just trash.” Until all the fragments came to 12 baskets full – I am sure that 12 baskets of leftovers fed many, perhaps for days.

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The things we allow ourselves to make time for are what become precious to us. Family and friends are precious for they take up our time. However, family and friends, with time, change. Children grow up and leave, friends move, life inevitably changes, and unless we have simultaneously invested in those things that are timeless, such as God’s work, we will find ourselves hungry and life will appear meaningless.

Once upon a time, like you, I was a fragment, someone whose life didn’t appear to be meaningful enough to gather. I’m so glad that someone took the time for me – someone saw value in the broken fragment of me so I wasn’t thrown away. Surely I have time to do the same.

Posted in Adoption, Choices, Family, Mercy, Why

The Paintbrush…

I have four children, each one is precious to me. My firstborn was the first: the first child born to our family, the first one we taught to walk, the first one we walked to school, and the first one to leave home. He was the “trial run” that paved the way for his siblings. I’ll never forget what it felt like to find out for the first time we were going to have a baby, the first time that I held him, and the first time that he smiled at me. Our daughter came a little more than 4 years later. She was the easy-going baby who had to stop and look at every flower, laugh whenever her daddy played with her, and cuddled close to me at bedtime. By the time number 3 came around, we were “professional” parents. He was our funny child; always ready to laugh, always ready for a game, and since we thought he was the last baby, we made sure to enjoy him as much as we could. Fast-forward 15 years and surprise! We were blessed with a bonus baby: number 4 who captured all of us. She had been abandoned in a local government hospital in Malawi where we lived at the time (we still live in Malawi) and when we saw her, we knew she was meant for our family to raise.

After a long and arduous process to adopt her, she became our daughter legally. Our oldest son made the long trip over to Malawi from the States (he had moved Stateside to finish his education by this time) and was with us when the time came to appear before the judge. It was a special day, seeing the first one all handsome and grown, together with this little baby and I thought, “It’s not fair that little ones like her should suffer, that millions around the world should suffer.”

“It’s not fair!” It’s the cry of kids at home worldwide. Each one of my children has cried foul whenever another was introduced into the family. Fairness, as I have come to define it, is an unseen scale by which we measure treatment. All parents try their best to be fair, but as all parents know, what is right for one child may not be right for the other. My second born child never needed a bedtime when she was young because she would fall asleep very early on her own. My oldest, on the contrary, needed a bedtime because he could stay awake until late and then struggle to get up to go for school. What wise parents do is give all their children a level playing field where all are given equal amounts of understanding, mercy, and love.

God is the Ultimate Parent, He knew that all His children would need unlimited mercy, understanding, and love. In His wisdom He affords everyone the same opportunity and sets us on a level playing field.

Romans 11:32 ESV“For God has consigned all to disobedience, that He may have mercy on all.”

All of us need mercy, just as our children need mercy when they blow it (and we all know that they do) and all of us have been given the same opportunity to be forgiven. On our individual journeys, it may seem what is happening to us isn’t fair. Perhaps the best way to view it isn’t through the limited lens of fairness but painted with the broad brush of mercy that exceeds what any of us deserves.

We naturally paint the world around us with our understanding of fairness, of what is right and just. Where we stumble as we interpret our world is judging on the surface by that unseen standard of what we think is fair. Were we to know the entire backstories to those issues we are witness to, it might be that our opinions would change. There is only One Who knows the backstories to all the unfairness in the world and He is the only One Who is equipped to understand it all. I don’t suppose, if we knew even a bit of what He knew, that we would be so quick to see things as “unfair.”

As I am writing this, I can hear baby number 4, who is now 10 years old, laughing while she’s playing with her friend. That we listened to God’s heart to take her in when we saw her is an image of God painting a life with His love and mercy. You see, it is only through the hands of His children can He extend mercy to others. Imagine if we all, instead of wondering about the fairness of it all, would paint the lives of those around us with mercy.

Posted in Choices, Courage, Faith, Mercy

I’m Feeling a Bit Dusty

Originally posted last year this piece really speaks to me today about how “dusty” we feel at the end of each year. We’ve pushed envelopes, issues, decisions, and work back as far as possible but now at the end of an old year and into the new it’s time to wipe away the dust. 

dustHave you ever “pushed the envelope?” Waited a bit longer to service your car than you should have or asked for an extension on a deadline? Left clothes in the dryer and pushed the “touch up” button hoping extra drying time would help the wrinkles fall out that have formed because you left the clothes in the dryer overnight? A little more time, an extra day, a curved grading scale, surely it can’t hurt anyone or anything.

By now you are familiar with Abraham; you know about God’s promises to him and the journey God took him on to fulfill those promises. There’s another interesting character in the story of Abraham whose ability to “push the envelope” amazes me: Abraham’s nephew Lot.

Lot accompanied Abraham on his journey to the land God was giving him and as their time together unfolded, so did their relationship. God blessed Abraham and his household (including Lot) so much that there wasn’t enough land for all their herds of sheep and cattle (Genesis 13:6,7). Their herdsmen began to argue over the issue; obviously the situation was intense for Abraham decided to approach Lot. The land where they were wasn’t large enough to sustain them and a decision had to be made to defuse the tensions that were building. Abraham told Lot to pick where to settle first; Abraham said he would take whatever Lot did not choose.

Genesis 13:8-11 NKJ So Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left. And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar. Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other.”

Lot chose what appeared to be the better land in the direction of Sodom, away from the Promised Land. It seemed Abraham got the “lesser deal” but it wasn’t until his nephew Lot left that the scope of God’s promise was revealed to him:

Genesis 13:14-17 NKJ And the Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: ‘Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.’”

There are times when we need to choose between things like friendship, vocation, education, home, or social status due to the conflict of interest that arises when our herds attempt to share the same pasture. We assume being at peace with one another means we must be together but that’s not what we see here in the example of Abraham and Lot.

Lot’s eyes were set on what appeared to be the better land, in some commentaries it states that the land he chose was so lush it was reminiscent of the Garden of Eden. It was indeed beautiful land, but in it were the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. As we know just a chapter later, in Genesis 14, Lot was captured by the kings of the area and needed a rescue. Just like a good uncle, Abram (later Abraham) rushed to his rescue, chasing off his captors.

Once Lot is safe, Abram returns home. On his way home, he meets with Melchizedek the King of Salem (who is later seen in the book of Hebrews who we know to be Christ Himself) and a covenant is made between Abram and God. Abram goes on to see God’s promises unfold in his life, but Lot always seems to be lurking in the background in need of a rescue.

While Lot was saved by Abram, he never left the land he had originally chosen and found himself living in the most depraved of societies of the time: Lot lived in Sodom. News reached Abram of God’s intention to destroy Sodom and it’s twin city, Gomorrah – and he interceded. His heart was never far from Lot, despite his ever-increasing need for rescue.

How must’ve Abram felt? He had his own issues he was working on, the mothers of his two children, Ishmael and Isaac, were not happy with one another at all, he had a vast estate to care for, and Lot always seemed to be in serious trouble. At this time, Abram had little he could do but pray for Lot.

In Genesis 19:1-29 angels sent by God arrived at Lot’s home to warn him and his family of impending destruction. As you read those verses, you’ll see that Lot did everything he could to push the envelope for as long as he could to stay in the city. One wonders why didn’t Lot leave the night the angels came? Why did he delay leaving until the next morning?

Finally, almost by force, the angels fled with Lot, his wife and daughters from the city:

Genesis 19:16 NKJ “And while he (Lot) lingered, the men took hold of his hand, his wife’s hand, and hands of his two daughters, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city.”

Lot pushed the envelope for as long as he could, and was nearly destroyed in the judgment God brought on the city. It was only out of God’s Divine mercy that he survived. His wife, looking back, was turned into a pillar of salt.

What is so appealing to the lives we leave behind that causes us to delay obeying, to look back, to what is only meant for destruction?

The reason can be found in the differences between Lot and Abram’s relationships with God. Abram was familiar with God, he knew His voice, and throughout his life obeyed Him immediately without hesitation. Lot, on the other hand, is not recorded as even having had one communication of his own with God. He most likely didn’t even recognize his visitors that fateful night at his house were angels sent from God.

How can we recognize God’s voice? Know when He is giving us direction? By getting to know Him through spending time with Him. Abram was so familiar with God that he, while far from perfect, somehow kept on course to the promise that God had given him. God doesn’t expect any of us to be perfect, but He does expect us to spend time with Him for He knows exactly how frail we are:

Psalm 103:14 NKJ For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.”

We would do well to understand that we “are dust” and without Him, we are hopeless. If we could bear that in mind, we would endeavour, like Abraham, to spend more time with Him in His Word, in worship, and in prayer, and less time trying to figure life out on our own.

I’m feeling a bit dusty today. I need His Presence in my life to secure my feet to the ground so the winds of life won’t blow my dust away.