Posted in Family, Good night, Mother's Day, Perspective, Time

The Last Time Mama Tucked Me In

I wrote this in 2015 remembering my mother and wanted to reshare it as I remember my mother this Mother’s Day weekend. She’s been gone for almost 11 years, but she’s not gone from my heart. Happy Mother’s Day Aiti. I love you!

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I tucked in my little seven-year-old girl last night in her bed in her bedroom. She had a night light. She had her music. She had her baby doll that she had to have for Christmas. She had the most important item of all: her blanket. We were all lying down in our beds and sleep had begun to descend on us when I feel a light tap on my arm. I opened my eyes and the unmistakable voice of my baby girl wakes me up:

“I can’t sleep.”

We tried to get her to her bed a few more times; it’s late and school comes early in the morning so guess who makes her bed next to mine, gets tucked in, and sleeps soundly? This happens so much in our house that our three grown children complain that she has gotten the princess treatment.

Perhaps she has, I reason with them. I do, however, distinctly remember all three of them on the floor in our room many weekends. Three a night in our room = three nights with one seven-year-old. I’ve won the fight of reason, albeit barely.

I’ve watched all three of the older ones grow – the first two have already left home and the signs of the third one leaving are already there. The truth of the nest becoming emptier are all around me and still my little one remains with me for a while.

It’s been some years since I left home to marry my husband. I remember all of the activity surrounding the events of our courtship, engagement and then wedding. There was a shower, presents, dress fittings, florist visits, and rehearsals to tend to. My mom, she went to be with the Lord in September 2008, was busy with preparations and invitations. As time for the wedding drew close, we were like ships passing in the night as she worked and I was going to school and working. We didn’t have much time to connect.

The night of the rehearsal dinner came and went. Afterwards, we all went home to try to get some sleep. Nervous, I checked my dress, rechecked it and made sure my shoes were still where I placed them in the closet. In finally fell into a light sleep after some nervous hours. In the middle of the night as I was dozing, I saw a light turn on in the hallway and the unmistakable silhouette of my mother enter my room. I laid there as she put her hands on my shoulder and prayed for me and cried, wiping tears as she asked for the Lord’s blessing on my life. After some time, she tucked me in for one last time and left the room.

My eyes are now drawn to the little bed on the floor. Mom’s prayers have carried me for many years and have touched all my children and landing on bonus baby number four. For now, I think I’ll keep working on tucking her in in her room but when she needs to come and have a “mom and dad scare the bad dreams away” sleepover in our room I’ll be happy to pray for her and remember the last time mama tucked me in.

She will spread her wings soon enough. Until then? Come here sweet one, mama is here.

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 Comfort, Death, Loss, Love, Ministry, The Unexpected, Why

Leave Your Shoes At The Door

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Two weeks ago, we received the very sad news that a young woman, a niece of one of our church members, had died suddenly. Until very recently, she had been a healthy young mother of 3 young children all under the age of 8. When this news came to us, immediately our hearts hurt for the family – especially for the young children who had lost their mother.

After Sunday service, a day or two after hearing the news, we went with other church members to the “kilio” (wake) where friends and family had gathered. According to custom, men sat outside in chairs that had been quickly set up under a makeshift tent. Women and children filed into a small front room from which all furniture had been removed. There were woven bamboo mats lining the floor where everyone sat. Most of the senior ladies sat closer to the bereaved, while those who weren’t so close as well as children sat along the opposite side of the room.

I followed the line of ladies into the room designated for them and brought my 10-year-old daughter along with me, we all left our shoes at the front door as it is customary to remove shoes when attending a wake. It may sound strange that my daughter accompanied me, however, the church member who we were visiting whose niece had died, is our children’s church director.It was only natural for children from church to come and show their love and support for their leader who is very much loved. This wake was the first time my little girl had experienced anything of this kind and I wondered how she would react. My worries were soothed when I watched her follow her friends and remove her shoes as they did, and sit on the floor with all the other children. I told her it would be alright if she wanted to sit with me but she declined, she wanted to be with the other children. Her bare feet mingled with those of her friends and her eyes took in the setting. Indeed, the Kingdom of God is seen in the children and I saw it that day when in the rawest of settings, my little girl embodied the love of the Kingdom when she sat to comfort those who mourned.

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We all took turns, one by one, hugging family members; the inevitable flow of tears and sobs ebbed and flowed throughout our visit. The children even took their turn to give their condolences and theirs was perhaps the most appreciated by their teacher as she talked with each one and took in their hugs and love ever so deeply. I understood even more on that day the priority that children take in the Kingdom of God.

Luke 18:16 NKJ“But Jesus called them to Him and said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; forof such is the kingdom of God.'”

Not many days after our visit, we drove to the graveyard and laid this young mother’s remains to rest. Present were her children, husband, and hundreds of friends and family. The weeping at the site is one sound I’ll never get used to and neither should I. The pain felt in those left behind is very real; if we ever become accustomed to the sound of death and the pain felt by those losing loved ones, how can we ever comfort them? We do know that life apart from the body is lived in God’s presence (2 Cor. 5:8), but there remains a real loss for those left behind. This is why we are told to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). This “ministry of presence” brings strength to those whose strength is depleted when death comes knocking as it does for everyone, even multiple times, during our lifetimes as loved ones leave us when eternity comes to call.

Still, it remains in my mind some days later, the picture of the children’s shoes outside the front door of the house on a warm Sunday afternoon. I can feel the warm breeze blowing through the front door, hear the weeping of children, and feel the sting of death – and there was my little girl in the middle taking part in the “ministry of presence.” 

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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 Faithfulness, The Call of God, Unexplained

The Things No One Ever Tells You

Have you ever felt taken by surprise? Started down a road with “great promise” only to find the road to the promised result is a lot longer and bumpier than you thought it would be?

Disappointed.

Discouraged.

Even defeated.

Normal life events take us by surprise: marriage, children, moving, all of them throw curve balls at us that we had no training on how to catch. More often than we care to admit, we arrive at those events unprepared.

Many of us dream of having children, building a family, something like a Norman Rockwell painting of days gone by: a house, white fencing, a playground in the back for the kids, a dog, and good jobs to sustain it all. What a surprise for the new parents when baby comes home! I remember years ago when we were expecting our first child. We did everything right from the get-go; we wanted the best for our baby. In those days, some of you may remember, Lamaze was all the rage and peer pressure dictated that we attend Lamaze classes to prepare for the baby’s arrival. There, we learned breathing techniques, positions to take to ease the pain of labor and delivery, and were encouraged to have a totally natural birthing experience. In addition to following Lamaze, there was a real push for “supernatural childbirth” in some churches. A cassette tape of teaching accompanied by a small book encouraging women how to believe for a pain-free delivery was circulated. I diligently followed the teachings of both: Lamaze and the process for a pain-free supernatural delivery expecting things to go smoothly.

Fast-forward a few months (mind you I was deep into preparation mode by that time) and one Monday afternoon while walking around in the mall, I felt a strange twinge in my lower back. This came a bit earlier than my due date so initially I thought it was false labor – until the twinges became full-blown knife-in-my-lower-back-put-me-out-of-my-misery pain. My husband, wrapped up in his Monday night football said, “You’re not having that baby!” To which I replied, “Oh yes I am!” It was as if a fire alarm went off and he jumped into action, up and down the stairs, “I’m going! Where is your suitcase?” This was my first undeniable indication that things were not going to go as planned…at all.

It was nearly midnight by the time we cut through all the red tape of checking into the hospital. When I was finally examined, I was told, “Oh this is going to take some time yet.” The night was young, I was strong, and I was determined to follow directions: breathe right, lay on my side, rub a tennis ball on my back, and pray, pray, pray. The minutes turned into hours and the pain, contrary to my great hopes and prayers, went from my determined announcement of, “This is very hard but I’m gonna do this!” To my begging, “Give me SOMETHING!!!” Before my son was delivered the next morning just after 7, I had had two injections for pain and wanted a third but was told when I asked for that third shot that I was too far advanced for more painkillers. Each of my preconceived ideas for a smooth, pain-free delivery went out the door. There was no breathing technique known to man that could’ve helped me – and I wondered how could I have possibly been so ill prepared? Taken by such a surprise? How could I have failed so miserably?

And…the surprises kept coming. My baby had colic for the first full year of his life; sleep was a rare commodity in those days. Slowly, very slowly, I began to predict the unpredictability of parenthood. I threw out books and tapes on perfect parenting and simply listened to other mothers who had walked longer in those shoes than I had. By the time my boy was three, I woke from my disappointed slumber, no longer berating myself for my naiveté, and wanted more children! What was wrong with me? I went through two more deliveries, still unprepared each time, and one adoption but I learned through them all and fiercely loved them all (and still do!). What didn’t bother me so much as time progressed were the surprises that crossed my path. I grew accustomed to rolling with the punches and began to laugh at myself for being surprised; for life, I had learned, was full of surprises.

Life, and its accompanying surprises, has a way of exposing our pride, revealing our lack of faith, and displaying our faults out in the open for all, ourselves included, to see. If only we would enter into adulthood as if we were still children – simply trusting our Father to take care of us no matter what unexpected circumstances arise. When my babies were small, all I had to tell them when trouble came along was Dad and I would take care of it, not to worry. When they heard that answer, they turned over and slept without a care in the world. Mom and Dad were going to take care of everything and that was all the assurance they needed. Oh that we would learn to trust our Father like children again!

Instead of living carefree, we allow the disappointments of life to weigh us down; we’re bent over under the weight of this world.

Age and life experience, another lesson I’ve learned, doesn’t disqualify me from being blindsided by life. Living on the foreign mission field is an unpredictable – and wonderful – adventure. Nothing is normal, anything is possible, and there are unexpected events that take place, sometimes by the hour.

There’s a certain romance in the Western mind about the mission field. I’ve seen it and heard it when traveling stateside and in Europe. We are told by some that they admire what we do, thank God for our service, yet we feel so very under qualified to serve these people God loves so very much and who deserve so much more than we can offer. Somehow, despite our shortcomings, we were given this call and we do our best to be faithful.

While on the subject of missions and the connection between the West and the mission field, I wanted to debunk an idea that some might have about those serving overseas. I get the distinct impression that those on the other side of the pond think missionaries must love everything they do and have lots of faith to get things done. Yes, we love the field, but we don’t always love everything associated with our call and often feel that our faith is so very weak in the face of the great challenges we face. No one loves financial strain that, for the most part, doesn’t come and go for the missionary. It seems financial strain comes to set roots down in everything we do. No one loves to see young children suffer in famine, such as we now have in Malawi, and have our hands tied by finance and circumstance to do anything to bring them relief. No one enjoys rejection, yes, we missionaries and the Gospel we carry are often rejected; we aren’t received with joy and red carpets. It can be a lonely and tiring journey – but the rewards of seeing lives changed far outweighs the bumps we face along the way.

 

Like everyone else, we are not immune to discouragement and find, in the process of time, that we bend over under the stresses of circumstances far beyond our control. Therein our pride is revealed when we think our presence can do anything, for it’s only by the Presence of God can things change. Therein is our lack of faith revealed when we doubt that God hears our prayers when it seems answers are delayed. These are our faults and imperfections and yet God still chooses to use us, any and all of us who dare to walk down this road towards a City that God is building.

Psalm 145:13b, 14 NLT “…The Lord always keeps His promises; He is gracious in all He does. The Lord helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads.”

Posted in Christmas

Hunger During a Season of Celebration

I wanted to share a recent update we’ve written about the situation here in Malawi where we serve as missionaries. The country is facing severe food shortages due to years of inconsistent rains (either too much or too little). As much as 40% of the entire population of Malawi is facing food insecurity this year. The Christmas season will be remembered as a hungry one.

Please keep Malawi, which, has been listed as the poorest nation in the world in 2016, in your hearts and prayers.

Click here to read more about the current situation in Malawi.

Blessings. Lea

Posted in Christmas

First, He Came as a Child

I’ve had the picture of the Savior at Christmas being a baby in a manger but haven’t taken time to really understand that He came as a child. I have had pictures in my mind of the baby Jesus in the nativity scene, surrounded by the wise men, shepherds, Mary, and Joseph. But He was a child before He grew into a man.

Imagine, God Himself, growing and playing with the neighbourhood kids. Perhaps they played versions of soccer, hide and seek, and tag. Since Jesus was the oldest in His family, I wonder if He behaved like the oldest brother by teasing and hassling His younger siblings? Did He have foods that He favoured over others? Did He clean up after Himself?

He was born Emmanuel, God with us, and God came as a child.

We’ve often quoted Mark 10:14 where Jesus says, …Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.” But have we really understood what it means to come as a child?

When the Son of God came as a child, He came in the most unassuming, unimpressive, and innocent way. There was no fanfare or special treatment for the King of kings. He didn’t insist on being recognised or have His bags carried for Him. Children come without conditions; they simply enter into a room looking for those who will embrace them.

“It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty founder was a child himself.” Charles Dickens

With all of the normal activity that surrounds this season, it’s easy to forget the humble history of Christmas. Its “mighty founder” came as a child. Before He grew to fill His assignment, He lived as a child. This is why He had the authority and understanding to tell us to come to His Kingdom as “little children.”

We often say that Christmas is the season for children, and for sure there’s nothing like seeing the sparkle in our children’s eyes as we see it at Christmastime. But, as we grow up, we tend to lose that sparkle as “life happens.”

When did we lose sight of the fact that things aren’t really all that complicated? Family issues, financial complications, marital struggles, all seem to cloud our understanding. When we come to Him as children and leave our struggles with Him, we can trust that He will guide us through to their resolution.

The key to it all is coming, like the Saviour did at the first Christmas, as children.

As we celebrate the season, you might be facing some very complicated and seemingly unsolvable problems. Simple as it may sound, take those problems to the Lord. He is waiting to embrace you and all that you have without precondition. Give your cares to Him and, as a child, trust that He will be with you and take you through.