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 Change, Church planting, Courage, Endurance, Faith, Holy Spirit, Missions, Patience, Perspective, Serving, Unexplained, Unknown

So It Is

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There are so many lessons to learn when a big change takes place in life. Most of the time I can, with relative accuracy, predict what the 2 main lessons in such a change will be (since I’ve gone through this multiple times): faith and patience. Faith to trust God when the next step is ambiguous at best and patience to walk down a path that might make me take more time than I had hoped to reach my destination.

I mistakenly thought I would bounce back from a move like this one we have just taken (from Malawi to Burundi) quickly; perhaps I was a bit presumptuous in thinking so. It was easy for me to think, “I’ve seen it all.” when really I haven’t touched the tip of the iceberg in life experience. Yes, I’ve worked overseas since 1987, yes I have moved multiple times across countries and continents, and yes of course I have experienced quite a bit – but I’ve not experienced enough to say I know it all.

The past weeks have reminded me that not all changes we make in life are equal. There are many factors that can figure into our reactions during changes in our lives, I won’t even try to list them there are so many, it can be mind-boggling as we try to make adjustments along the way. Thankfully, there is one constant truth that I cling to every time we have had to make changes (big or small) and that is God, my Father, loves me and always does what’s best for me. If I can manage to keep that truth in focus, everything else eventually falls into place.

It seems, as I look back on the past few months, that God is always teaching me the same lesson in a different way: trust Him and His process. If I resist the process long enough, God will simply bring me around again to another set of circumstances to teach me the same lesson again. Better to learn it the first time!

I used to be under the impression that our lives are meant to be lived for God so we can do something for Him; kind of a merit-based faith! Don’t mistake me here, I believe we give all we have back to God: our time, energy, talents, and possessions. However, we don’t give it all to get His approval or His blessings, Jesus already did the work for us so we don’t have to strive any longer. We have been given God’s approval in Him – we are blessed! Anything I might do in my lifetime for God is simply an expression of love that I have for Him and that lets me off the hook of seeking after merit!

Since God is after the best for me, not what He can get from me as I have thought in times past, it would seem the best course of action would be to trust His processes over my own. Those processes don’t make sense to my mind most of the time, but my heart somehow understands what God’s Spirit is leading me to do.

John 3:8 NIV “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

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Living this way, by the Spirit, can be quite intimidating in the sense that most of the time those around us are likely to misunderstand what we are doing. In fact, it might even seem a bit “flighty” to those around us. It might appear to those observing us that we don’t know which direction we are taking, and in this life of the Spirit so it is. We don’t really know where we are going. All we know for certain is that God is good and He takes us to the places where we need to go in order for Him to work in us and through us. This life is a big puzzle that God majestically puts together from start to finish – we just don’t know where those pieces fit much of the time until we look back and can say, “Now I see.” 

We’re after a goal that only God knows how we can attain, so as He leads may we follow – even to the consternation of those around us. So it is, we often won’t be understood or embraced, but if we dare to let God’s Spirit blow through us, nothing can hold us back from seeing the pieces fall into place.

 

Posted in Patience, Rest

Dumpster Diving

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As newly-weds, my husband and I decided to apply for our first credit card. This was when having a credit card wasn’t as commonplace as it is today; my kids would call the process “old school.” Long applications had to be filled out by hand at the bank and it would take some time (compared to today’s process) to get approved and actually receive a credit card. We endured everything that was required of us and the day came when, finally, the card came in the mail.

Like most people I suppose, we had a place on the kitchen counter that grew cluttered with the mail and other miscellaneous “paperage.” That place on the counter slowly began to eat away at my inner peace, as at my core I am my mother’s daughter. She was careful to always keep a clean home and instilled in me that same compulsion: if it’s cluttered it must be cleared.

This compulsion, you might call it haste or impatience, has been the source of irritation to my family. Some, I agree, is justified, and some is not. However, the account of what happened during one of my cleaning moments did result in a great amount of stress and dumpster diving.

Let me explain…

The cards came in the mail and we were aware they had arrived and were in the envelope they came in on the counter. Days passed and I put that information in the back of my mind as I was compelled, as if by the Spirit, to embark on “the great clean” of the century. That day nothing escaped my fury as even the oven received a state-of-the-art scrubbing! Proud of myself, I unloaded the last bag of trash into the dumpster outside (one shared by the community we lived in), and sat down for a cup of coffee. My mother would have even declared the place clean and with that thought, I smiled with a bit of smug self-satisfaction.

Later on the next day, my husband looked to the countertop and noticed the customary pile of post had disappeared.

“Where’s the credit card?” he said with an unmistakable tone of worry.

“It was here on the counter in the envelope.” his voice beginning to quiver.

“I don’t know, didn’t you put them away?” came my honest reply.

Thus began the search of the century that ended with my husband standing up in the dumpster for several minutes going through the trash until he found said credit card, still in its original (albeit stained with coffee) envelope. While this happened over 30 years ago, I have yet to cease being reminded of it.

While I was thankful to have the card in hand, in the fury of our search, we ruined my hours-long cleaning effort and I had to clean up all over again.

I was hasty and I blew it.

Psalm 31:22 TLB “I spoke too hastily when I said, ‘The Lord has deserted me,’ for you listened to my plea and answered me.”

We often become impatient with the circumstances of life, we want answers now! Our impatience clouds our ability to see that God’s given us the credit cards already, and He’s paid the bill. They’re on the counter of life, ready to be used to pay off our debts but we seem to have misplaced them, thrown them away in the dumpster. In our haste, we wonder why God hasn’t come through, why doesn’t He see, doesn’t He care? Right when we are sure He has turned His back on us, in spite of our hastily spoken words, He comes through with an answer – and gently hands us the cards we threw away in our compulsion to get things in order.

Yes, we all blow it and say things we shouldn’t and even begin to wonder about God’s love and care for us. While we may fail, we can be encouraged with the knowledge that God’s love and care never fails, in spite of our baseless doubts. He is always watchful over us in spite of what life may throw our way.

Don’t throw away the credit cards just for a moment of apparent clarity – the clarity we create in our haste only lasts for a moment only to be replaced once again by more clutter as life continues to unfold. However, if you do blow it (as we all do) our Father is more than ready to go dumpster diving and answer you.

Yes, He is just that good.

Posted in Endurance, Faith, Patience, Preparation, Questions

It Will Take As Long It Takes

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“How can I possibly get this done in time?” I asked myself frantically. “How in the world am I supposed to have this lesson done by Thursday morning, let alone have it proofread ahead of time?” I had talked myself out of even trying; I convinced myself that any attempt to get the lesson written in English and then translated into Swahili would be futile.

In 1987, I finished three months of language school and soon after found myself being expected to teach a class in the language I had just studied: Swahili. I was only six months out of my studies and had been given a translator to assist me during my first few months post-language school. Those were good months! I had enough understanding to hear and understand the topics of conversation; having a translator kept me from forcing myself to become conversational on my own.

The smooth sailing was short-lived; the translator was needed for others who knew less of the language than I did; it was time to teach on my own in Swahili. I was assigned to teach a class on prayer. The class met on Thursday mornings for one and a half hours, which felt like an eternity of time to fill. I was barely conversational at that point; I had to carry a dictionary with me whenever I went anywhere. Going to the market was always an adventure: I would go (trusty dictionary in hand of course) with a list that I had translated into Swahili beforehand and meet the ladies who were there selling their produce. Always smiling, they helped me unlock the meaning to words and phrases I failed to find in my dictionary on my own.

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When I finally summoned enough courage, I opened my lesson book and began with the title, which was simple enough, “Prayer.” On a corresponding sheet of paper, this was pre-laptop and printer days, I handwrote the title in Swahili, “Maombi.” I encouraged myself, “This is like translating the grocery list.” I worked over an entire day to write and translate the first page, I had several more to go before my first lesson was complete – and there were, if memory is serving me correctly, ten full lessons that I had to write, translate, and teach. When, after a week, my first lesson was complete (over ten carefully handwritten pages), I went to have it proofread by Shirley Hagemeier who was, with her husband Ralph, our senior missionary. By the time she was finished, my poor translation skills were on full display. Shirley, being the gentle lady that she is, encouraged me. She said, “Be patient, every week you will get a bit better.”

Week after week, I walked to Shirley’s house to have my paper checked for errors. Week after week, I watched my skills slowly improve. The time required for me to write and translate the class filled my days; I had difficulty keeping up with going to the market, cooking (that’s another blog for another day), and other necessary and unglamorous life-duties. By the end of my first term teaching in Swahili, however, I began to find myself not only reading my painstakingly written notes, but I was also able to answer some of the students’ questions without first having to go home and translate the question and then write out their answers.

After two years of speaking Swahili, we moved to another city away from Ralph and Shirley where we taught in one of their extension Bible schools. I was quite comfortable by that point with living in Africa, and moved around the city we had moved to easily without a dictionary. In time, I became acquainted with another missionary, Mrs. Grooms, who had served as a missionary for many years. She was fluent in Swahili as well as a couple of other languages spoken in the region and was an encouraging soul. One day, over a cup of coffee, she told me that while I was doing well with language study, that language study was not over. I would spend my first five years on the field studying language.

I left her house that day, my three-year-old in tow, thinking I was fluent enough in Swahili. Three more years of language study didn’t sound appealing to me at all – I bristled at the thought. Surely there were more important things to do than learn languages! However, in the back of my mind I knew that Mrs. Grooms was right. Swahili was a great language to know but there were great swaths of people who didn’t speak Swahili. If I learned French, a major language in Central/West Africa, I could communicate with even more people.

A year later I found myself in another classroom in France studying French and another year later (three years after Mrs. Groom’s comment) I was sitting down to study my 3rd language: Kirundi (the language spoken in Burundi where we had gone to plant our first church). Shirley Hagemeier’s words rang in the back of my mind as all the languages jumbled together in my mind: “Be patient.” It was apparent, by that time, that Africa was to play a major role in my life and I had learned to be patient with the process. As the years passed, I learned two more languages, translated more classes, books, and lessons than I can remember. Five years actually was a conservative period of time spent learning language – it may be more like seven or ten years of language study for the career missionary.

I no longer worry about how long a process will take; it will take as long as it takes. There’s always a reason God puts us through His processes – and we are not always going to be privy to His reasons. Those feelings I have of frustration at His process is an indicator of my weak faith and foolish pride. If I truly trust in Him, then I have no option but to submit and follow Him answering, “Yes, Lord.”

There were bonuses to my submitting to God’s process: not only did I learn how to communicate without translators, I learned patience, perseverance, and the cultural nuances that one learns only when digging into the language of the people of the land. I was also easier to live with when I gave up struggling with the process.

How long will it take to get it over and done with? It takes as long as it takes, but hidden in the time it takes will be the elements needed to take you on parts of your journey that are yet unknown to you, but not to your Father.

Psalm 9:10 TLB “All those who know your mercy, Lord, will count on you for help. For you have never yet forsaken those who trust in you.”

Posted in Family, Missions, Patience

Potato Chip Sandwiches

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Things don’t get done quickly or conveniently here in Malawi. When something actually is accomplished in one go, you find yourself wide-eyed and amazed, wondering what you will do with all the time you have saved. We live for days like that.

The list of pending business around here is quite long; we spend hours going to the bank, paying bills, and checking on an application to approve our church’s site plan for building that has been waiting approval for a few months now. When one initially moves overseas to a situation like ours, it can take some time to grow accustomed to the change of pace. I remember the first few years we worked abroad; we wondered how we would ever get anything done. There’s always another signature, another stamp, another fee…no wonder so many fall to paying bribes. We decided long ago that we couldn’t follow the crowd and pay bribes; it has made us an enigma among many but we sleep peacefully at night knowing we are working on the up and up.

This doesn’t mean we don’t get frustrated – we certainly do! There was a time, years ago, we believe that our commitment to not paying bribes played a central role in us not getting approval for our church to operate. It was time-consuming (we worked on getting approval for years) and expensive with many trips, applications, fees, and even living in the country for a time. The sting of ending our efforts, the embarrassment we felt over leaving, made our situation all the more uncomfortable and demoralizing.

We are now used to taking our time. One of the most notorious places you will ever waste time in here in Africa is the bank. To open an account at the bank, you will need a list of documents that will fill a large binder. It can take a few days to gather all the proper documentation, but, once you have it all together, you then have to fill out a 6-8 page application. There are many questions on these applications that will stump even the most avid application-filler! I’ve needed counsel almost every time when filling the applications. I usually don’t take less than two days in filling said applications; I will customarily take at least 2 blank copies to prepare for the inevitable errors that I will make in my attempts at filling in the needed blank spaces.

Once you have an account at the bank, you would think that things would be a bit easier but, alas, going to the bank is not meant to be convenient. From long lines, few tellers, money that requires time to count (the current rate of exchange for the Malawi Kwacha to USD is roughly 700 MWK/$1 USD), there’s rarely an occasion when going to the bank is easy. So when asked, “What did you do today?” and I answer, “I went to the bank.” People here immediately know what frustration I must’ve faced and will often nod with understanding.

My young daughter, Andreya who I call Dee, has also grown accustomed to our errands around town. Another skill we have developed in our service here is making time for our family when there’s no time. Yesterday, for example, we had to run a few errands after school was out for the day and we took Dee with us on our route of “getting things done.” We’ve learned to be together on these errands that can, without planning, simply be time-consuming and rob us of family time. Our journeys yesterday took us to pay the Internet bill and by the pharmacy. Dee, knowing that such things can take time, took her bag, homework, and baby doll with her to pass the time efficiently.

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Jamie, my husband, and I were chatting away as we pulled out from the pharmacy and heard some crunching coming from the back seat. I asked Dee, “What are you eating?” Before she could reply, Jamie looked back and saw she had brought a sandwich with her– and not just any sandwich: it was a potato chip sandwich.

“I knew I’d be hungry so I brought a sandwich.” She said in her sweet little voice and I was immediately disarmed. I had the usual list of motherly reasons why a potato chip sandwich wasn’t the best choice du jour – but that voice and reply finished me off. In any case, if I were honest, I wish I had thought of bringing a potato chip sandwich along as well.

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in patience has been to value the potato chip sandwiches of life. The sweetest moments won’t come with the approval of plans or building of facilities. They come often in the unplanned, unguarded moments when we drink in the beauty of those who God has given to us.

The next time you get ready to unload the pre-prepared list of reasons why not to someone you love, remember the potato chip sandwich. The reasons why not aren’t quite as important as we may think and the moments of the sandwich may just pass by without our taking them in.

Psalm 90:12 VOICE Teach us to number our days so that we may truly live and achieve wisdom.”