Thursday, November 26, 2015

Tapestry of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving 2015

I’m up on Thanksgiving morning, enjoying my coffee and eggs with ham and cheese, and cinnamon roll.    Significant things. 
  The coffee is Ugandan from the Rwenzori mountains on the border of Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo.  The cream is pasteurized fresh from a local small business dairy, delivered twice a week to my gate.  The ham, I cured myself from a hunk of pork for several days.  But that was only after the skin (with hair) was cut off of the hunks of meat – the dogs will get a treat.  Meat from the open market comes like that.  The Kraft cheddar cheese was carried in a suitcase with a recent visitor.  The cinnamon roll dough was made from scratch, along with the frosting on top.
  And outside our sub-tropical birds are singing along all around, with a gobble-gobble interspersed from our neighbor’s yard whose hours are numbered now.  Come to think of it, I haven’t heard a gobble-gobble in the last 5 minutes or so…
  The kids are at school – why wouldn’t they be?  I had forgotten that it was unusual to have school on Thanksgiving day!    But we celebrated Thanksgiving last night by sharing a meal with mission family.  A colleague couple who is in the last weeks before retirement, a family who are colleagues as well, and two single gals – all friends, and now family when away from blood-family.
   We are family by the blood of Christ.

  I thought all day yesterday about making sure we gather before our meal together to stop and testify to what we consider the deepest reason to be thankful over the past year.    Last Thanksgiving I sort of remember, we had people here for meal.  But I was not well.  My body ached.  My appetite was replaced by nausea from medication.  And I was in a constant state of exhaustion.  I left the meat on my plate last year because I couldn’t use my hands to cut it, and was too proud to ask my husband to cut my meat for me in front of family.  I wasn’t hungry anyway so it worked out fine.  My brain was also fuzzy and foggy due to new strong medication so I remember staying mostly quiet because sometimes I couldn’t get my words out coherently.
  And this year?  Wow.  It is significant that we are even HERE.  I know better how to pace myself.  I pick the best-looking pieces of meat because I know I can cut those at least.  The food looks good!  And I’m happy to fill my plate!

  So, my thanksgiving this year?  Yes, it is for my relative health.  It has been God’s gracious mercy to have us still in this place.   This has been perhaps the hardest year of our lives.   And yet… in God’s grace I have something else to be thankful for…my rock in flesh.

  “Beloved Professor… your love and care are remarkable.”
  “…appreciation for all that you have done through your tiresome work.  I will always remember all you have done, you loved us well and the teachings which you imparted in me are great…”
  “I am glad that you have loved us professor…”
  “To the distinguished professor, harvester in God’s vineyard.  Let me humbly say thank you for your unique legacy, mentorship, role model and commitment towards us…”
  “Servant of God, we love you and we pray for you…”
 “We love you as a brother and delighted to have you as our professor…”
  “I’m so grateful for all that you have planted in my life.  It will remain and make a change to the community around me.”
  “I’m so happy for your generous heart with your family.  I will always remember your good advices you ever have to our class.”

These are all words written on a card of appreciation from a recent graduating class from the seminary.  They were having a class party one evening when we were all exhausted, and honestly he felt it a chore to go, and I was annoyed with him for going.  Isn’t it just like that though?     Turned out they gave some kind of speeches in appreciation for their dear, beloved professor.  I don’t know much else, other than the words written in this card.

  This past year, my rock has opened my bottles of water at restaurants.  He has cut and grated and stirred, lifted the cast iron, taken cookies out of the oven, poured from the pitcher, carried my bags, reminded the girls to brush their own hair, heard my cries, wiped my tears.  At least brought me tissues.  =) Never once have I seen him waver in his commitment to me.

   And yesterday when we girls suggested getting down the Christmas boxes late afternoon?  (Ie HIM getting down the tubs)  And had an idea to let our daughters and the single gals decorate the tree and listen to Christmas music?  He even rearranged the living room!  Re-plugged everything in, brought the tubs out, and put on the Christmas music.

  So we all enjoyed Thanksgiving in the dining room, and began transforming the living room to Christmas in the tropics.   I’ve had a set of big candles I’ve used for decoration every Christmas for at least a decade.  But we never light the candles.  Uh-un.  Nope.  They would burn down if we did that.

  But last night, I counted eleven lit candles glimmering in the buzz of Christmas music and giggles of Christmas tree delight.

This year, I am thankful for my God being my Rock, my hope, my light in the darkness, my constant help and giver of peace.   The One who continues to teach me more of who He is and who He desires me to be.   And I’m thankful for the man He gave me to be my rock in the flesh.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Dripping tree sap

I’m sitting here on my back porch, gazing out to a beautiful yard.  Flowers, young fruit trees growing strong, banana trees hanging heavy with fruit, and 3 old trees with huge trunks and large strong branches that run wide and high.  I wonder what it looks like a few feet under the ground, how wide and deep the roots must be to provide support.

God has flooded my mind with pictures of my life this morning. 

The time when I stood on the umpteenth floor of a tall apartment building in Tours, France, looking out of my bedroom window.   I was feeling pretty annoyed that nobody asked ME if I wanted to move to France and beyond.  It was somebody else’s call from God that required my sacrifice and I didn’t like it very much.   I was 9, and change is hard.  (And that was when God called me to trust Him too.)

Twenty+ years later when my own family of four headed to a foreign land, I felt peace that God called our family to go.  All four of us, even if my 2 and 3 year old daughters didn’t understand at the time.

A few years ago, I realized that because I felt God moving us on a certain path, it required our parents, siblings, in-laws, cousins, nieces & nephews to allow a cycle of good-byes and hellos, when they themselves didn’t get the message from God to do so upfront.   I held the peace of our calling to make such major transitions.  But my extended family had to watch it happen without the calling ahead of time.

I’m still on my porch, and thinking about the time the big storm came and took down a major limb on one of our old jacaranda trees.  The width of its smaller branches and foliage, now lying horizontal on the ground, became like a forest for my girls...and their dolls.  

And I think about some of the plants I’ve seen that ooze some kind of liquid when a leaf or branch is pulled away.  You know the ones.   I’ve never seen a maple tree first hand, being tapped into for its sweet tears.  I don’t know if the sweet sap flows when a branch is cut off but I imagine it does.

This morning, I feel like some strong and full branches are being cut away metaphorically.  Not for the burn pile, but to plant somewhere else.   I didn’t get the call or peace ahead of time.  Only the news that some big branches are about to be cut off to plant somewhere else.   And to be honest, I fear the nakedness of loosing so many wise and strong members of my extended missionary community all at once.   I know they would not seek the praise, but they are giants of the faith.  Their names are recorded in the history of the advancement of the Gospel in east Africa – and around the world.

I didn’t get the call to go and put down roots somewhere else.  (tho it may be coming) And I’d like to become a 2 year old so I can stomp my feet and throw a fit that things aren’t going according to what I’d like selfishly.   The thought of being part of holding things together till someone else figures out how things are going to be held together… well, it makes me pull out the trust.  (along with the tissue box)
"...this treatment helps preserve the life of the tree. Already 300 to 400 years old, given the absence of lightning strikes, road widening, etc. it could last another 400 or 500 years. Brimsdown Hill is in the background, the road continues to Kingston Deverill."
"...this treatment helps preserve the life of the tree. Already 300 to 400 years old, given the absence of lightning strikes, road widening, etc. it could last another 400 or 500 years.
Brimsdown Hill is in the background, the road continues to Kingston Deverill."


Sweet tears have already flown and will continue.  Sweet because of the remembrance of the ways these people have stood and fought for the Faith, have encouraged the wounded, have prayed through the watches of the night,  have visited the sick and cared for the needy, have advocated for unheard voices, have lifted their voices in praise in so many languages – the ones they spent a lifetime learning so they could communicate on heart levels – and in our own mother language that connects us to our own heart language.   And they are friends who make cookies with you to show your kids how. 

Anyone who has lived somewhere for 10, or 15, or 20 or 30 or 50 years calls that place home. 

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s an opportunity to make room for others to lead.   That may not be the original purpose or goal, just the reality of us remaining on the field.   Maybe that is God’s plan.      I’m not sure of how things will function (literally).  I want to know, but I don't have to know.

That system of branches that fell in the storm in my back yard…it was a favorite hangout for a hawk that apparently got caught in the storm too.  It lay injured, straddling a smaller limb in the fallen foliage for a few days until it was too weak to put up a fight for rescue.

Clear sap drips from the branches of a maple tree.

I don’t want to put up a fight for God’s rescue.  The choice I’m called to make today is to trust God with the future of those staying, just as much as those who are being re-planted must trust.  

But sap still drips sometimes when a branch is cut off.

I think He can handle trust even in the form of pure maple syrup.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

You are our hope

Anthony attended one day of the annual meeting of the Baptist Union in Uganda a couple of days ago.   It was a good time to renew friendships formed in the ‘old days’ – aka 20 years ago!  They reminisced of bachelorhood, and early youth work around the country.  It is really something to be known and to know other believers.

At some point, the speaker mentioned that Anthony’s wife was sick, and asked him to come forward to update the group.   I got a text that afternoon from him that read: “you were just prophesied for, congratulations.”
Someone prayed for me, and apparently included ‘denying my disease,  I prophesy that the sickness has no power in the name of Jesus…’

One in attendance at that meeting is a pastor of a small church in my town.  He knew Anthony from years gone by, and graduated from the seminary a number of years ago.  His son is a current student at the seminary who has been in our home study group this year.  This pastor came by to pray for me this afternoon.
In his prayer, he reminded us all of half a dozen scriptures about how God leads us, that what He began He will complete, that all is for His own glory. That when Jesus prayed for Lazarus and a boy, He raised His eyes toward heaven and thanked God for hearing Him, that when we call with a pure heart God is sure to hear us.  He prayed for God’s ultimate will to be done, and asked that it be my healing for His glory.

If you know me, you know I know that God is able to do all things.  But I do not believe He has to answer my way because I or anyone else use the right series of words and don’t like the current situation.  Some who have not traveled to my home, do not understand the gravity of the ‘name it and claim it’ theology that has invaded so many churches here.  It is a mixture of their cultural calling to witch doctors (still very much practiced).  Something is done just right or often paid in return for whatever they want done by the witch doctor.

How can we forget: “THY will be done, THY kingdom come…”?

And I thought about something: the difference in these two prayers is not their sincerity, is not in whom they are praying to, is not one’s absence of love and concern.  But the later has a better understanding of WHO God IS.  The one who was trained has a foundation of knowing that God’s word lives and breathes in him.   This pastor who prayed for me was a testimony to me of how important what we are doing here really is.
We do not want to leave behind a body of believers who think God can be called on to do our will, because it is so deep in their culture to see religion that way.
We do not want only to lead people to know Christ. 

It is our heart’s passion to lead people to follow Christ.  And moreso to train national leaders to take this passion far to where they are – further than we can go.

I told this pastor that we have come to realize some things this week.

Different individuals told each of Anthony and I they didn’t know what would happen to the places we pour ourselves if we leave.  One said to Anthony, “You are our hope, what will we do if you leave?”
And that statement is a great testimony to an important reminder for me.

I did not want the attention of so many people knowing about my health struggle, I don’t like the attention.   But now, so many people are watching and waiting.  Many have thought through the realities of the real jobs we do being suddenly empty.

At our church

And I want everyone to see:
I know God’s got me.  I know He has a plan for me.  I know he leads me and will guide me to where our family needs to be.
God’s got these jobs too!   Man is not the hope to do these jobs.   How dare I continue to worry about how God will provide in our possible absence?!

I should not panic.     And those around should not panic either.  We are mere instruments and God is great.

He’s got this.

And if you’re still reading, I have a few more thoughts…

I read a passage in Isaiah the other day.  Where I picked up the story is when the Israelites were being recorded as a stubborn and rebellious people.  Don’t forget that they were God’s people!

Because they despised His Word
    Because they trusted in human means (oppression, perverseness)
      Because they relied on human means to come through for them
Therefore, they would fall, suddenly, when not prepared.  Smashed ruthlessly.

“…And YHWH GOD, the HOLY ONE of Israel spoke more!

In returning or in repentance, and in rest you shall be saved.
(BEING) in quietness and rest:    shall be your strength.

Want strength to do what is required and bear what is on you?
Keep a calm attitude, by continual dependence on God.
Yet will He wait / Therefore He waits
He waits for us!  He is waiting!
He waits to show grace, to BE gracious to you,
And yet He exalts Himself to show mercy on you.

For the LORD YHWH is a God of justice
He is wise and just and true to His Word.
Blessed are those who wait—for—HIM.
Don’t wait for a result, for a decision.
Make God alone your confidence.
He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry!

And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your teacher will not hide himself…!

And your ears will hear a word behind you,
Maybe you can not see Him, but He can still direct and prompt you
“This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or to the left.

Then you will loath…           
…your sin, whatever has separated you from Him,
Whatever you have allowed to crowd Him out
to take your time away from BEING.  From WAITING on Him.
Whatever has distracted your focus off of Jesus.

Do I loath my sin?  Do I crucify my fleshly desires?
Do I abandon my selfishness and abide in Christ?

And He will give rain for the seed with which you sow in the ground
Till your heart soil!
Plant Him.  Work at it.
Sacrifice and toil your heart soil.
God is waiting to grow mercy and grace in abundance!
And on every lofty mountain and every high hill
There will be brooks running with water
In the day…  
That your enemy, sin, falls.
When your selfishness is slaughtered.
When your plans and your hope in man is no longer relevant.

In the day when the LORD binds up the brokenness of His people…

You shall have a song as in the night when a holy feast is kept
Remember the times with other believers worshiping into the night?
And gladness of heart,
As when one sets out the sound of the flute to go to the mountain of the LORD,
To the Rock of Israel…”
 Our rock.  Our hope.

[paraphrase of parts of Isaiah 30]

Thursday, March 12, 2015

School beside the Nile

This is right in front of the porch of our little school, and shows one of our two classes.  Behind the kids is the Nile River.     And don't forget the rope swing fun.

These kids have a lot of transition, but are amazing kids with a great God.

And I will never tire of looking out the side yard of the school...watching little fishing boats, ripples of the current, birds swooping down for fish...

Friday, February 20, 2015

A different kind of side-line bench

I’m at a week long “Mentor Training” with my company.  We have focused a great deal of time on Millennials – as many new personnel are in that generation.   I saw them called YOLOs and only found out yesterday what that stands for.  Maybe most of you know, but I live in Africa!   You Only Live Once

This week, it was funny for me to realize I was sitting in the ‘mature’ group when the ‘young people’ came as a panel for discussion.    The young people want mentors, but don’t know how to ask or what that would look like.  The old people don’t really know how to ‘be a mentor’ either.    Some things it should not be, we all agree, is another task on our plate to juggle or box to check off.  That in a company, it is very difficult to have ‘mentor-vision’:  a mentor relationship combined with a supervision job expectation.     Mentoring is perhaps done on a more casual – albeit intentional – way.

And another familiar statement was made again this week: about how in the recent 10-20 years all the little league kids get trophies, even the ones on the side-lines who never get out and actually make a play.

It got me to thinking about a side-line kind of life metaphor.

My family’s job is to be off the bench, on the front lines playing. 
Many colleagues are in a rough field like American football, or the lonely track of a distance runner or swimmer, or in an understated game like chess that requires a great deal of planning and calculating of every move or conversation or risk literal knocking out of the game or worse.

Often the audience sits, watching, waiting, for the player to make a shot, make the time, make the great move.  Then replay and talk about how their favorite player did such a great or lousy job or how the odds were stacked against them.

I have recently felt like I’ve been ‘sent to the bench’.  Like a book that’s been useful and is now being put back up on the shelf.  I’ve heard lots of times that the 3 big things that take my colleague out of ‘the game’  are problems in marriage, in team, or medical.       We personally have dealt with marriage struggles, and both knew that ultimately we had a lot of control over what happens there.   We have struggled with team issues – when we only could work on our side with no control over the other.  And both were hard.  Whether it’s all up to you to do what’s hard sometimes, or when half of it is unknown and not up to you.  In so many life issues, it is our choice to learn how to die to self.  And sometimes we do better with that than others.  Millenials are termed selfish.   We older ‘mature’ people may not show it so unabashedly, but we are all selfish too.
And now, it seems my little family is dealing with the last of the big three in that list: medical.  And this one, we have so little control over.
The question that hangs is ‘will it take us out of this particular ‘game’?’  We have to wait how the plays go, how the moves are made, and a lot more is on the line than just a scoreboard or winning streak statistic.  What will the team do if it looses some players?    What will the players do if they loose their team?

I’ve been pretty mad, and sad, and resistant to being taken out of the game to sit on a bench for a while.
My girls ask me why I can’t just take good medicine and get better?  Why did God do this or let this happen-for what purpose?  Will I ever be able to do this or that again?  The simple questions that they whisper out loud, and which I have to admit that I have screamed in silence.
My medicine is poison.  I’ve finally gotten off all the 10 years of what we like to term ‘baby weight’:  a silver lining to weight loss due to my body not liking taking poison.  And now, I am forced to sitting around and eating bonbons.  That sounds like fun, but not to someone who wants to be on the playing field and thought that was their position on the team.

So how do you sit on the bench when you thought your place was out with the team?

Or maybe for you the question is how to do more than just cheer from afar?

Or how do you keep up with a team when you have a secret problem?

Or how do you get those around you to respect you in your position?

Or how do you start really caring at all, really?

How desperate are you?   Are we?   Will we move from wallowing in the questions?

We have had 3 mornings of powerful encouragement at this conference from different men on our global team. 
1     1.     We have to die to self. 
2     2.     Be desperate
3     3.     Pick up after hard times or failures or disappointments, allow grace in our lives, and get on with tending and feeding His sheep.

In His infinite grace, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?”
He didn’t chastise for Peter only thinking of him-self and running to hide.
      “….tend my sheep”
And two more times Jesus asked, “Do you love me?”     ME:  Jesus.  Are you desperate for ME: Christ?

Yes?  Then allow His grace and pick up from where you are and find your way to loving Him with all that is in you.  And find your way to tend and feed.

God has shown me that I may be sent to the sidelines for a time, and that I won’t get a trophy for sitting around waiting and feeling sorry for myself.   Even on this bench, He is calling me to be desperate for Him and to find some unique ways to still be part of the team.  Part of the Body.

I don’t like it.  My team doesn’t like it.   But it’s not about me—really.  
I think it is all about me…what if I get a secondary infection and can’t fight it?…what if this little poison doesn’t get me to where I need to get and I  need more poison?  What if this rest doesn’t work for me?   Do you hear me God!?

The question above and around and foundationally is:  Do you love me: Christ?

He has grace enough.

We need grace enough.

We need to extend grace,
      encourage with grace,
            and receive grace.


I have not mentioned yet what this medical issue is.  
It is an auto-immune disease.  My body has an over-active and confused immune system, such that it thinks my cartilage is enemy.  So I attack my joints by destroying the cartilage which produces pain, swelling, and often disfiguring and irreversible damage.  The treatments are aimed at lowering the immune system so that it stops attacking joints – to prevent full disability.   The side effects other than a large number of aching joints are from the medicines themselves, and the risk of other infections that your body is not able to fight against.
Not being around sick people is important.  Having good medical care is important.  And getting a bothering amount of sleep is important for the body to recover every day.  Being an $800 plane ticket away from a specialist is not high on the wanted list when things are still out of wack.

My goal is to get enough rest that hopefully will work in conjunction with my current medication and modified eating plan, and that will in turn get my system to settle down.  In the past eight months, my swollen joint count has dropped from over 30 joints to under 20.   That is the right direction, but not far enough.

This is Rheumatoid Arthritis.

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