Pickled

Between the two of us, those two being my husband Jamie and I, I am most certainly the most pessimistic. Jamie gets out of bed with an optimism that can’t be fabricated. He is naturally outgoing, social, and energetic. However, he says that in his younger years he was negative and sullen, almost to the point of depression. Only because I know Jamie can’t lie, do I believe him; he is so very different now to what he describes himself as being in his teens.

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My family comes from Finland where people tend to be kindly pessimistic. I say kindly because Finns are perhaps among the nicest people (no bias intended) on earth. I’ve only had occasion to visit twice, and hope to visit more than once more in my lifetime, but while visiting I did notice a general tendency to prepare for worst-case-scenarios. My own family leans in this “prepare for the worst” direction and when visiting Finland, I wondered if my own pessimism might not only be a personal quirk but also a cutural tendency.

I’ve often justified the dark cloud that has sometimes hung over my head as “being realistic.” The problem with my version of  being realistic is that it often collides with Kingdom principles of believing the best, hoping for the best, and enduring all things (1 Cor. 13:7). The sense gained from reading 1 Corinthians 13, the “love chapter” of the Bible, is one of optimism, hope, and joy. While I was only seven when I received Christ, I was already pickled with pessimism – I had the ability to drain joy and expectation out of nearly every experience.

Somehow I knew, even at such a young age, God had better in store for me. I began looking for joy and hope for it seemed to me that joy and hope had much more to offer than negativity. It didn’t take long for me to discover how good it is to trust God in the face of those worst case scenarios. I learned the worst case could be turned around to be the best case.

Romans 8:28 NKJ “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

Everything, the good, bad, and ugly, all come together in perfect sync when we are pursuing God’s Kingdom. This doesn’t mean that we should expect to live in some utopia free of trouble, nor does it mean that we should expect to live defeated, free of blessing. The truth lies not somewhere in between but above these two extremes.

Hebrews 6:9a NASB “But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you…”

There are always better things that God has in store for us; sometimes those better things come after we have walked down the paths of dark shadows (Ps. 23) but even in the dark shadows there are tables prepared for us to sustain us in the valley.

2 Corinthians 4:7-10 NKJ But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.”

The darkness we feel that closes in on us is an attempt to snuff out the treasure we carry, but the darkness actually serves the purpose of reminding us that the glory belongs to God and not us. We’re pressed, perplexed, persucuted, and struck but none of these things can destroy us as long as we remember and are convinced of the fact that we carry the treasure.

What lies ahead is better.

A Bit of Crazy

Every July I turn into a hopeless romantic and this year a bit more so as we are celebrating 35 years of marriage on the 21st of July. I would say that’s a bit of a milestone, it might even be a date-night worthy event. The problem is our choice of places to go for a date night here are limited so we will likely celebrate later on this year when we travel.

As missionaries, we are obliged to travel from time to time to report to supporting churches and individuals as well as hopefully meet new contacts. It’s during times like these that we fit in those much-needed moments to devote to one another and family that we don’t have opportunity to see unless we are traveling. I realize most of the popular books on marriage and family decry our life’s rhythm – but it is what we have learned to live with and work around and somehow God has given us grace and we have lasted 35 years.

When I look back on our early history, I’m sure that we weren’t a likely couple. In fact, we were a pretty unlikely couple and our relationship must have initially surprised many. The thing that brought us, and has kept us, together was simply our desire to make it for the long haul and be in the will of God at the same time. We’ve held on when we didn’t feel like holding on, we’ve forgiven one another, we’ve raised a family together, we’ve seen more in our lifetime together than I ever thought possible. As the children are now almost all grown (one 11 year old remains at home), we find ourselves closer to one another than in our early years. Our combined and common history has created a bond that is difficult to explain and can only really be understood by others who have walked their own journies of commitment in marriage.

This weekend we are hosting a special marriage ceremony for couples in our church in Bujumubura who have not been able, for one reason or another, to be married. Most of the time, these reasons have more to do with finance than anything – having the ability to host a big party has pressured many couples to forego a marriage ceremony. While we agree weddings should be a reason for celebrating, weddings are only a one-day event and their cost shouldn’t prevent couples from living in God’s order. Marriage is supposed to last for a lifetime, not just a day. After counseling and working with these couples, we decided to host a simple but beautiful ceremony at the church for these dear people who only want to get their lives and families in order. As it turns out, the church has shown up and individuals have donated time, money, and decorations for the celebration set to take place tomorrow afternoon. The excitement is brewing and my heart is fluttering for them all – what a great day lies ahead of us!

While the decor is going to be simple, it reminds me of our day so many years ago and the high hopes we had when we stood at the altar. My mother insisted on a friend of hers playing the traditional wedding march and it was almost painful walking the aisle to the tune – it was so badly done. Looking back, I’m happy I let my mom have her way. Letting mom have her way that day was one of my first lessons in learning what was and wasn’t important. The walk up the aisle had nothing to do with the music – it had everything to do with the person waiting for me at the end who was about to commit to living with all of the craziness I was about to unload on him! That my mother had joy that day, in that moment when the keys didn’t sound totally right, was more important than having it done my way.

My way and his way have given way to what has become our way. We have developed our own way of living and serving and loving one another and it has taken a lifetime to get to this point. I suppose the lesson learned from the years behind us for those looking ahead, for those who have a lifetime yet to live, is to chase the dream of love in your marriage year after year. There comes a point in the gift of love that God gives us in our marriages that is worth the wait, that is worth the fight, that is worth every bit of crazy.

I’m so glad we hung on.

Happy anniversary month Jamie, I love you. Let’s chase the dream for another 35 years and beyond.

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I couldn’t believe that I found this song online! It was sung at our wedding on July 21, 1984. #feelingnostalgic #the80s 

A Bit of a Change

As you might have noticed, our podcast for Africa & Beyond that I’ve had connected here to the Cultural Misfit blog, now has not only an English broadcast but also Kiswahili/Kirundi broadcasts. Since many of you reading the Cultural Misfit don’t understand these languages I’m disconnecting the podcast so your inbox isn’t inundated with podcast episodes that you don’t understand!

However, because I’m cool, if you would like to receive our podcasts (in English and other languages) you can subscribe to the podcast itself by clicking here.

Thank you so much for reading and for listening!

Lea

 

How Are You Sleeping?

There are some things we can’t avoid.

As parents there’s no way out of nightly feeding, potty training, skinned knees, and many many tears. Just like we can’t get out of the hard things, there are also positive moments with our children that fill our hearts: the first word, the first step, the first laugh, graduation, marriage, and perhaps the best of all being GRANDCHILDREN.

I find it curious the amount of energy we put into lessening the blows of the negatives we face when raising our families. Theories abound on how to get our babies to sleep all night; the inevitable question, “How are you sleeping?” is bound to arise at some point. Of course no one is sleeping those first weeks, sometimes months, and for some children even longer as they resist every technique that promises parents several hours of uninterrupted sleep. Two of my four children fell into the category of “resistant sleepers” and the dark circles under my eyes still pay tribute to many midnight hours of rocking, praying, pleading, and halfway dozing in my chair with my baby in my arms. I’m sure millions of dollars in revenue have been earned by those writing the popular “how to” books for sleep training our children. Some work and some don’t; it all depends on the child.

The truth of the matter is that a child’s personality cannot be contained – what works for one won’t always work for another. Parenting is the one job I’ve had in my lifetime that has taught me, brutally at times, how to read situations from different angles, how to empathize, sympathize, and most importantly how to love in the middle of misunderstanding. While learning this I have had to, at the same time, maintain a standard for our children of what is important to us as parents. Truly parenting, not just having children, has been the challenge and joy of my lifetime.

I imagine, as God’s child, I have been a challenge to raise. I have resisted many of His prompts, schedules, and standards. He has sympathized, empathized, and loved me in the middle of the midnight hours and my loudest of tantrums. Never once has He compromised His stance, but in His discipline I never found rejection. On the contrary, I found a Father Who was true to everything He stood for and faithful to love in the middle of my refusing to settle down and trust Him.

I’ve heard it said that children are looking for boundaries, for safety, and will test those boundaries (albeit unconsciously perhaps) to see how much they are loved. While human parents will fail, I have failed miserably from time to time as a parent, God cannot. Human parents may give up on their children for one reason or another – God returns to us time again refusing to give up on any of us.

Could there be a better example of parenting? I don’t think so.

I used to think that my parenting career would retire at some point; that my children would no longer be as connected as they grew up and moved on into their own lives. This is true to a certain extent, our children need to form their own families without our overbearing interference. However, I’ve also found that I’ll always be their mom, that my heart will always be full when they call or message me, that there won’t be a day that I don’t think of and pray for them, and that I’ll always be there when they need me.

While my own mother has gone to heaven and I often feel the sting of her absence, and someday my own children will face my departure, I won’t face the absence of God, my heavenly Father, ever. I remember growing up into young adulthood and often resisitng my mother’s advice for one reason or another because I knew I could “do it better” than she did. As the years passed, I began to realize she knew much more than I did about many things and I began to seek out her advice. When she died I realized what a treasure of advice and counsel I had lost. In the same way, the older I get, the more I realize how much I need and rely on my Father’s counsel.

I”m grateful, so grateful, to have learned to trust Him rather than resist Him.

Life is beautiful in His family.

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On a side note, another innocuous change in me as a parent as I’ve grown older is found in my lunch offerings for my fourth child, our bonus baby. Yesterday, she had samosas (a fried slightly spicy meat pie that is the food of heaven) and marshmallows for lunch. I was tempted to feel “parent shame” until my oldest son (who I had messaged her menu to) said, “It’s ok. Let her enjoy life.” 

The student has become the teacher!

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The Chips Will Fall

It’s hard to live out our convictions in an increasingly hostile world – and I’m not only talking about the hostility we see on the news or internet. In our personal, day-to-day lives it’s not uncommon to come face-to-face with intense rejection any time we choose to go against the grain of what is “the norm.” In this atmosphere, it’s difficult to know what “the norm” is at any given point in time; it feels as if we are walking on eggshells trying to keep everyone happy. The problem resulting from working as hard as we do not to rock the boat is the incessant gnawing in our souls of not living authentically before the world (see 1 John 2:10).

I’ve written about this subject many times approaching it from many different angles and why the tempation to please people holds us as it does instead of living truthfully, continues to evade me. One simply has to experience the pain of rejection once to learn the lesson: living for the approval of others will ultimately drain us of our of joy and energy. However, instead of learning this lesson, we work harder to fit in, to make sure everyone knows we are just like them – and this further complicates extricating ourselves from the complicated world of peer pressure.

When I was a teenager, I thought peer pressure was something that would fade away as an adult – was I wrong! Peer pressure (I know that’s the old fashioned term) grows from a trickling stream in our childhood into a raging river in adulthood. Unfortunately for many, fearing rejection prevent us from daring to live out loud. The importance of living authentically is often put off until later in life when one finally tires of the unreliable opinions of their peers.

The pressures of living authentically differ radically from living to please others. When I chose to live truthfully before the world, it did (and does) create waves. It has taken time for me to allow the “chips to fall” where they may – but the truth of the matter is that I am not living to make anyone besides God happy. I’m not even living to please myself because like my peers, my emotions and opinions are unreliable and can change from one moment to the next. The only unchanging opinion belongs to God; He is consistent, reliable, loving, patient, kind, and always has my best interests at heart and this puts Him in a category all by Himself.

I will face pressure no matter which way I choose, but I’d rather live in the Truth I’ve found than in the shadows of fearing rejection.

As a misfit, see my entry Musings of a Misfit Missionary for a bit of background, I understand the pain of being misunderstood and rejected. I’ve been told that I’m selfish, short-sighted, irresponsible, and “the worst parent” in the world (the full account of “the worst parent” comment is told in our book, No Retreat – No Regrets which will be re-released this year). It’s very hard to face those kinds of words without giving in to the opinions of those hurling them at me, but I’m thankful to have had the overwhelming grace to stay the course and continue living the truth of what God has called me to be: a misfit missionary.

Living truthfully doesn’t give me license to live ugly and confrontational towards those who don’t understand. On the contrary, it gives me license to love more, give more, and serve more. It may be that living the truth in love might give those who don’t understand a greater understanding of the love of a Father Whose interests for them far outweigh the opinions and ultimate rejection of their peers.

Imagine this: there’s Someone Who really cares, really wants the best for you, and died for you to make it happen. That’s the kind of person Whose opinion has won me over.

Jeremiah 31:3 NASB I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.”

The Dance

Worship
No on knows what’s behind these lifted hands.

It’s been a few weeks since my last post; we’ve been in the middle of a move and if you’ve ever moved you know what I’m talking about. Thankfully, the house we moved to is a short distance from where we were, making the actual transporting of our things a bit easier. I still need to hang curtains for the few curtains I had are too short to fit the windows – I’m wondering how long I can bear leaving my few bedsheets on the windows.

I’m forever explaining myself away.

Why I’ve not posted a blog.

Why my husband and I choose to keep pursuing overseas missions.

Why, why, why do I feel indebted to explain everything away to everyone?

Romans 13:8 NASB “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”

Inside I feel, as I suppose many of us do, the need to be understood and accepted. I easily concur with the above verse from Romans; the only debt I have to others is to love them. However, I want others to love and accept me and my natural tendency is to explain things away to gain approval.

What a waste of energy because the opinions people have of us can change as swiftly as the direction of the wind.

In our church here in Bujumbura, we have a lovely lady named Mama Christine Makamba who is one of our cell leaders. To get by, she farms; she works hard and shares her harvest with poorer single mothers who attend her home cell group. When they arrive at her home for meeting, she has a meal prepared for them and spends time listening to them, praying for their needs, and trying to help them find a way to feed their young children.

This past Sunday, as usual, Mama Makamba and I chatted about her group, about certain ones we want to help, and as she talked I marveled at her smile. Her joy is almost tangible when talking about her ladies and the change in the lives of her members. Her frustration also rises to the surface when she feels she’s not breaking through and making a difference.

What most people don’t know about Mama Makamba is that she is 67 years old (she won’t mind me saying so), has had 10 children and was a pastor’s wife in one of our churches. Her husband died about 10 years ago from complications of a stroke he had a few years prior. Two of her 10 children were poisoned and died and she has had to face the harsh realities of life as a widow in Africa. I can’t imagine what she has had to endure.

And yet, she has the strength to smile and the strength to love. She believes in paying that debt of love.

On Sunday, Mama Makamba is the only older person in our worship team. Everyone else is much younger but they all sing with her without regard to her age, and I think this is because she loves them all and it shows. She leads them in joy and love – and when she dances something moves in the heavenlies.

No one, besides God, knows the price she has had to pay, the price any of us have paid to get to where we are and there’s no explaining away the work of God in each of us because His grace meets us all where we need to be met. No one else, besides ourselves, can “get” what He has done in and for us and that gives us reason for joy.

I’ve decided, instead of explaining, to follow Mama Makamba’s example and dance – God knows why I’m dancing and He is the best Partner.

Zephaniah 3:17 NKJ “The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”