Tuesday, October 20, 2015

To my second grade teacher with great gratitude

We all have teachers that have had a huge impact in our lives. I have been blessed by many good teachers over the years but there is that one teacher I have often thought of over the years. She was
truly a profound blessing to me and I had no way of being able to express my thanks for her beautiful impact in my young life. We moved a lot when I was young and back then there was no email or Facebook to easily keep in touch. Over the years this teacher has come to my mind from time to time though I never tried to find her. I figured it would be too hard to try to track her down, after all she was young and not yet married so her name would be changed, and well, life just has a way of getting busy. Then one day (don't you love those three little words "then one day"!?)...

Then one day, I had to find my way to Rain Forest International school from my apartment. Steve was at the hangar with the truck so I called a local taxi man to arrange for a taxi ride to school so I could start leading the senior girls small group time after school. The taxi man informed me he was busy that day but another taxi friend of his was picking up my neighbor, Heidi H, and maybe I could ride with her. I hadn't officially met Heidi yet but we live in the same community so I walked over to her house and introduced myself and said I had heard she was taking a taxi to the school and asked if could I tag along. She was surprised to hear I knew of her plans but chalked it up to missionary community and said I could jump in with her.

During that ride to school we sat in the back of the taxi getting to know each other. While we were bumping along deeply rutted roads she mentioned she and family were most recently from Philly. Then she mentioned a school her husband had worked in previously and my jaw literally dropped. No joke I was in the back seat gaping at her with my mouth open wide in surprise. It turned out her husband worked at the school I had attended for one year in Philly after we returned from three years of living in England. The story of my favorite teacher Miss M poured out of me and Heidi thought she KNEW HER!!! Can you believe it??! She was pretty sure it must be the same one because Heidi was a nurse and once took care of Miss M's dad so she knew Miss M's maiden name and the age matched up and she would write some emails and see if the Miss M she knew was the Miss M I knew.

This blog is dedicated to wonderful teachers that teach more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. This is for all the teachers out there that breathe life into learning and creativity and treasure and love kids along the rough patches and smooth ones. This is especially in thanks to a loving God who answered a prayer I never prayed to get to thank and reconnect with a very special teacher from my tumultuous second grade year while my world was in the midst of seismic changes. These are the emails between Miss M and me, posted with Miss M's permission. I am guarding Miss M's privacy as she would prefer to keep a low profile internet-wise so I have slightly edited some things to keep that privacy in check.

Dear Miss M, 
I was thrilled to get to know Heidi H. in a taxi ride the other day. I was blown away when she mentioned her husband worked at Phil-Mont near Philly. I attended Phil-Mont right after my family returned from England. My dad was an officer in the Air force stationed there for 3 years. I started school in England and attended a village school in the British school system from the age of 5 to 8. I had a developed a full blown British accent and had learned the king and queen succession with all the other British children. Transitioning to America was a huge challenge. Our entire family had come to Christ in England. American missionaries serving the air force military base led us to Christ. I had been abused by a neighbour during that time in England as well as having been verbally abused by my headmaster who repeatedly told me I was stupid and would never learn. He wasn't a fan of Americans apparently. I was the only American student in that small school and the kids followed along with the Headmaster's contempt for me. I didn't tell my parents about the abuse even though they knew I was greatly troubled. Back then it wasn't talked about much and so my classic symptoms of abuse were misunderstood and my parents didn't know how to help me. By God's love and grace He saved me profoundly and personally. I carried a deep shame about what had happened and knew that God loved me anyway. He chose me and it was transformative in my life. 

When I attended Phil-Mont I was still very raw and hurt though saved and loved by God. I believe it was the year of '80 - '81, although I'm not sure I haven't had the time to check with my mom. My younger brother and I were there on scholarship while my dad attended Westminster. I was bossy and friendless and far behind the American system. I remember Miss M being a beautiful kind presence in my life. She put candy in our desks if they were tidy and organised. I remember clearly her teaching on the cycles of the Israelites in how they were faithful for a time but slipped away becoming distant, disobedient, and cold towards God. It was a lesson I have never forgotten, at the time I vowed to never be so faithless and fickle as those Israelites... A heartfelt vow for sure but one I have broken countless times no doubt! I also clearly remember her taking the time to talk with me one recess on the blacktop. I had probably driven kids away with my bossiness and Miss M came up and gently told me that in order to have friends I must first be a friend and sometimes play games I don't want to play and by doing so I will be a better friend and others will want to play with me. That gentle advice changed the way I interacted with other kids and helped me to finally make some friends. I felt safe with Miss M and so wanted to please her. After being the only American girl in a small British school with a verbal bully of a headmaster, Miss M was a miraculous change.

I have thought of her over the years. She had a profound impact on me during a very fragile and vulnerable time in my life. She spoke kindness and blessing into my being. I will never forget her. I really hope that you are the Miss M I have written about. I can't imagine there were too many Miss M's that taught second grade at Phil-Mont near Philly in the early 80s. If you are her it's really ok if you don't remember me. I remember you and have always wanted to thank you for the impact you made in my life. Thank you for teaching me how to be a friend. Thank you for your safe and kind presence in my life during that tumultuous transition between England and the US, between hating school and thinking I was stupid to liking school and feeling safe, and perhaps not so stupid. That year at Phil-Mont changed me for the better. You were a big part of that change. My maiden name was Morris, I was a skinny redhead with crooked teeth, an abundance of freckles, and emotional issues. I was probably a challenging student to work with since I was so overwhelmed academically and stubbornly resistant to learn new concepts. I had a British accent at the beginning of the year but quickly lost it in an effort to blend in and be more like everyone else. My family moved back to my parents hometown of Dallas, TX by the beginning of my third grade year. 

Phil-Mont was the only private Christian school I ever attended. God used it to help reinforce my new life as a child of God. I am now married with 3 kids. Our 2 oldest are in college in the states our youngest is a senior at the school where Mr. H teaches. My husband and I are missionaries in Cameroon, my husband Steve is an ordained pastor and a missionary pilot and I am taking classes online to compete a degree in Psychology with Christian Counselling. I hope to use that degree to become a member care specialist for missionaries and their families.

Thank you for teaching me more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. God used you mightily in my life.

With Great Gratitude,
Alace (Morris) Straw

Alace,

Thank you for your extremely kind email. How very extraordinary that you remember so many things about that school year. I’m honored that you remember me, as your second grade teacher, with such fondness. 

Alace, I’m so sorry that you had such a difficult time in England during the early years of your life. No child should ever, ever, ever have to go through what you went through. Oh, the depravity of man - how sad God must be! The sin was not yours but you have had to overcome the effects of that sin as you grew up. God loves you, as you know, and He will always sovereignly care for you because you are His child.  It was a blessing to me to read your email and learn how God has worked in your life.

You would have been in the 2nd grade class that I taught during my 2nd year of teaching. Wow - so many years ago! I loved teaching 2nd grade. I have such fond memories of that time. I especially liked teaching the unit you mentioned about the Israelites during the time of the Judges. I’m sure you didn’t know this but I had only become a Christian 4 years earlier. I didn’t know many things about the Bible myself. While I taught the 2nd graders Bible at Phil-Mont, using the Bible curriculum published by Christian Schools International, I was learning myself! Isn’t God amazing? 

Also during that time I rented a room in the home of a Godly woman who became my spiritual mentor, my 2nd “mom” and eventually another grandma to my children. It was through her that I grew in the faith even more and, happily, met my wonderful husband D. We raised 3 daughters who all went through Phil-Mont. The daughters are all now married and my husband and I are grandparents of 4 (going on 5 in October) grandchildren.  

I taught 2nd grade 2 more years after the 1980-1981 year and then left to raise our children. When I went back to work, the Lord provided a job at Phil-Mont again. I am now 3 years out, happily retired and gloriously loving being a grandmother!! 

I was happy to hear all your news. I’m sure you will do well as a member care specialist once you complete your degree. Your sensitivity to others’ cares, worries and stresses will be extremely helpful to them. You will, I’m sure be a good listener and, because of that, you will be a good friend.

Thank you for understanding that I might not remember you after all the years. After the Phil-Mont school year starts next week, I will go into the office and ask them to dig out of the archives the picture of my 1980-1981 2nd grade class. I expect to see "a skinny redhead with crooked teeth and an abundance of freckles” in the picture. I’ll write again after that picture jogs my memory.

God Bless You and Your Family,
Miss M

Dear Miss M,

I loved getting your response! It is amazing how God allows such wondrous moments of connections! Moving around so much gave my life a transient quality back then, perceptions of events during that time often has a translucent quality; it’s wispy thin and feels fragile like it was maybe a story I read long ago rather than my own personal history. Getting to reconnect with you has solidified, so to speak, a vibrant piece of my early story. I would really like to share these emails in my blog as another evidence of God's goodness in my life. I've shared this story with my small group at RFIS, Rain Forest International School, in response to one of my senior Cameroonian girls asking how we can know for sure God loves us personally and uniquely. I started with sharing how intricately God has designed our physical bodies since I am learning afresh in my online psych class just how fearfully and wonderfully we are made. Then I told them this story of reconnecting with you after all these years through Mrs. H recently. I also told them that I got to talk with my mom about the circumstances of how I got to be at Phil-Mont. I thought both my younger brother and I had attended Phil-Mont and mom corrected me and told me the story of how it all happened.
Apparently at the time there was a teacher's strike happening and the start of school was to be delayed. My parents were very concerned about this since they knew I was already so far behind the US system after three years in the British system. They shared their concerns with their neighbors and the neighbors recommended Phil-Mont. My parents couldn't afford a private school and the same neighbors said there were scholarships available. My parents prayerfully applied for the scholarship, my dad even made a pie chart of our finances at the time. They prayed though out the application process. They went before a board and shared their testimonies. Mom said not a dry eye was to be found around the table after she told her testimony. (Our testimonies are linked, but that's a story for another time) One day while they were praying about this and other things my mom got up and wrote down a number God had given her. After the prayer my dad asked if God had given her a number. She responded that He had and Dad asked to see it since God had given him a number previously during a prayer. They compared numbers and found it was the same number. They didn't know what it meant but knew God was up to something. Later they received a call from Phil-Mont saying that I had received the scholarship. Whilst on the phone with the man my mom asked how much the scholarship was and the man responded a bit briskly that it wasn't necessary to know the exact percentage off of the regular tuition we had received. My mom then told him about the number God had separately given my mom and dad and she wondered if it had anything to do with this scholarship. She now can't remember the exact number but it was something around 60-something. Something. It was a very specific number. The man went to check, when he came back on the phone he was a bit choked up and told my mom that the number she gave him was the exact percentage off of the regular tuition I had been awarded for the year. 
Isn't that an amazing story of God's detailed work in our life at the time? If I hadn't shared a taxi with Heidi and we hadn't shared a bit about our histories back in the US we never would have made the connection of having you in common. I wouldn't have reconnected to thank you after all these years as an answer to an unspoken prayer. Then I never would have been prompted to ask my mom about how I came to be at Phil-Mont back then and I would have missed out on another vibrant story of God working intricately in my life! I think this story is a foreshadow of heaven! We will get to peel back the veil and see all these wondrous threads and storylines that knit us together in a brilliant tapestry of living fabric richly woven together by The Master Artist, Creator God, Lover of our souls! 


Many Blessings,
Alace (Morris) Straw

Alace,

Greetings! Fall has arrived here on the east coast. The temperatures are cooler and the leaves are starting to drop. Time to break out the jackets.

I hope this email finds you well. Thank you for your email and the wonderful story of how God brought you to Phil-Mont. Wow! God does work is amazing, mysterious ways. I’m often drawn to the mental picture of that tapestry you mentioned in your email whenever I contemplate the workings of God. We see such as small portion of that tapestry now but - some day when Jesus comes back - we will see such a beautiful, magnificent tapestry when we are in heaven with Jesus and come to understand all the workings of God. 


Please call me L - after all, you are an adult now :-)

Blessings,
         L

Miss M found a class picture from our 1980-81 school year and emailed it to me. Sure enough there I was on the bottom left corner with red hair, crooked teeth, an abundance of freckles, and all those emotional issues hidden underneath my shy second-grade smile. And there was Miss M, at the top right corner, my beautiful and kind second grade teacher, an unsung hero. 


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Running, Rain, and Candle-Light Nights

When we drove to RFIS the other night the flood waters rushing by the roadside reminded me of pulled taffy, a rich terracotta-colored confection stretching and folding thickly over and under obstacles, pouring off banks in a ropey stream. It was beautifully mesmerising in a dangerous kind of way. The rains splashed down upon the bedlam of traffic that clotted and flowed more chaotically than usual. People and cars competed for puddle and stream-free space.

There has been a major malfunction of a power substation transformer that has left us dealing with regular power cuts all week. Our evenings have been quiet and candle-lit, flickering and hot, bereft of fan-whipped breezes. Cooking and homework in the fragile candle light is both strained and soft. 

I'm at the end of week two in training for a 5k. General thoughts and feelings include the following: running with inelegant strides around a soggy soccer field, feeling misting rains cooling my red-faced exertion, muscles flaring fire with each heavy footfall, pushing back the accusing thoughts hurdling insults and lies, striving, straining forward towards the strong, leaving behind the whiny feeble.

In the midst of running, rain, and candle-light nights may this song echo and reverberate within my soul:

                         "Holy Spirit"

There's nothing worth more that will ever come close
No thing can compare, You're our living hope
Your presence, Lord

I've tasted and seen of the sweetest of loves
Where my heart becomes free and my shame is undone
Your presence, Lord

Holy Spirit, You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your presence, Lord

I've tasted and seen, of the sweetest of loves
Where my heart becomes free, and my shame is undone
By Your presence, Lord

Let us become more aware of Your presence
Let us experience the glory of Your goodness








Monday, August 24, 2015

One step forward

Steve and I have been watching a history channel show called Alone. It has captured our attention. It is a show about ten men, supposed survival experts, surviving in a terribly hostile environment on the northwest coast of Canada. They were allowed 10 survival items to fit snuggly in a backpack and were each dropped off in various places miles apart. Boundaries were given so they would not come into contact with the other survivors. The one that stays out the longest wins $500,000. It's a survival show like many others except these guys have been taught how to operate the cameras and video themselves so that they are truly alone without a single soul around. Within the first few days surprisingly several of these experts drop off. They each have a Sat phone that allowes them to punch out and call for a rescue. Right now we are engrossed in watching the four remaining men continuing to slog it out after over thirty days alone in the mouldering forest. The frost is coming... (cue ominous music now)

The brilliantly spellbinding part of this show is watching the men soften and melt exposing their core vulnerability. A vulnerability that is most often cloaked and well hidden under "normal" circumstances. These men allow us a glimpse into their inner man grappling with both physical and psychological survival. Some of the video journal entries are hard to watch as they sob and cry out for answers and relief against the staggering loneliness. My heart goes out to them and at the same time I am uncomfortable with their naked yearning. It strikes too close to home I'm afraid.

Moving to another country is somewhat like a survival experiment only there's no promise of a cash prize at the end. There isn't a team of editors waiting to wade through the material to shape an episode or season out of it. And you aren't physically alone. There are people all around. The rugged terrain of community surrounds and is at once comforting and intimidating. Vulnerable feelings bubble up like unwanted house guests camping out, refusing to leave.

If I had a video camera pointed at me this afternoon you would have seen my ugly cry face and heard my shuttered breath hitch and choke on hard feelings. I miss my old life however temporary it was and the temporary life before that one and even the one before that. Mostly I miss feeling rooted and comfortable. I miss knowing things effortlessly. Today I went out and had a lovely lunch with a new friend. It is beautiful to see a new friendship blossom through shared stories. It's like connecting random dots and seeing a friendly, beautiful shape take place. However on the taxi ride home my new friend was speaking better french with our driver than I, even forming a connection with him. I sat in the back feeling lost and frustrated with my inability to communicate fluently even though I have lived in french speaking Africa for over six years. I felt slow and stupid, out of step.

One step forward and two steps back. Moving to a new place even one that is known is uncomfortable. It takes time to feel connected. Familiarity is a distant feeling. I yearn for more than I have at the moment. It will come and I will be connected and familiar and find a natural rhythm. It won't be long now, it's just getting though this learning curve. It's not retreating and not allowing those self-focused pity parties to loudly and obnoxiously drown out the progress.

Our favourites on the show are the ones that feel the depths but don't remain in despair. They face the hard feelings and move through them to the other side. They get up the next day and go about their next task. They don't retreat. They don't surrender. One survivalist says he doesn't feel he's competing against the other survivalists, he's competing with himself. His main goal is to come out of this experience at peace with himself. He's articulate and entertaining as well as introspective. He shares feelings of regret over the relationship he has with his son and the mistakes he's made to contribute to it. He says he can only move forward and try to do better and not give up.

They share a common grief in their aloneness. They are only miles apart in distance and know they can call in a rescue however they are compelled to continue. Man verses nature, man verses self, the age-old battle rages on across our computer screen. We peer in with equal parts sanctimonious advice and empathy. We root for one and speculate the other will be making the rescue call soon. Sometimes, I confess, I erroneously feel this is how God is watching me. He is without and above the fray. He is distant and silent. Watching my feeble attempts to survive in a hostile environment. Yet I know the truth, my feelings can't be trusted when it comes to this.

The truth is Jesus spent forty days and forty nights in the wilderness just before the beginning of his public ministry. He fasted and was hungry. He was alone, though led by the Spirit. It's a mystery I can't solve, this God-man feeling human feelings. Satan came to him at the end of his forty day fast and tempted him first with food, then with security, and finally, with untold wealth. Jesus never wavered in the midst of what must have been staggering temptations. After all, he was fully human. After watching these guys survive alone in a wilderness, scavenging whatever nutrients they can find, hoping to win a life-changing prize, I am awestruck by Jesus Christ, God incarnate, living in our skin, loving us up close.

The scriptures are rife with God reaching out to his people in the midst of the wilderness.

Today before lunch I was waiting for the taxi and a lovely quartet of girls came along up the path singing together and giggled out a greeting to me. I melted and and returned their greetings. The littlest one, probably around three or four years old, reached out and shook my hand. She grasped at my skin just before letting go and as she walked away she closely studied her hand to see, I imagine, if my whiteness had rubbed off on her. The eldest girl of about eight or nine swept her up and carried her on one shoulder. And off they merrily went down the path. It was a delightful moment. A gift of reaching out and connecting. Progress. One step forward.      

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

fighting fear

When life is moving too fast... literally last evening I was sitting in the back seat of our van and Joe, our oldest, was driving down I-83. I don't often sit in the back seat so my perspective was a bit different and I was wall-side of 83 feeling ridiculously anxious. The wall felt menacingly close. I had to close my eyes and remind myself not to freak out. It's not that Joe was driving too fast, he wasn't even up to speed at one point and people were passing on the right. I just feel I've hit a patch of extravagant turbulence. My world is being rocked hither and yon.

I find myself comparing this summer to last summer. When we first arrived in the states last year Steve was very sick with scary high fevers that were eventually diagnosed as viral encephalitis and when he recovered he was diagnosed with malaria and before being completely recovered from that he had a gall bladder attack. This happened while we were mostly homeless and trying to get a couple of our kids to college and one settled locally for the next school year.

It's so easy to remember the scary parts and forget the parts where I was surrounded by excellent support. I had multiple medical professionals at my finger tips. I had friends and family coming out of the wood work to offer homes to live in and care for my kiddos.

Recently friends of ours were in a very serious car accident in Cameroon. They were on their way back from the airport after a year of home assignment. 2 missionary friends had picked them up in a van large enough to accommodate everyone and all their luggage. The wife of one of the friends was back at their home with dinner ready, anticipating a wonderful reunion. She got a text letting her know all was well and they would be there soon. Then she got a disturbing phone call from her husband telling her they had been in an accident. (Facebook users: Click Here)  All survived and no one was gravely injured, though there were some really scary head injuries sustained. They are all expected to fully recover.

Again it's so easy to dwell on the chaos and horror of that situation and forget the excellent support that surrounded them and the way God must have intervened to allow them to live through a head on collision going 35-40 mph. But that's the thing right? God allowed them to live through it. He didn't prevent it but allowed them to go through it. I hate going through times of illness and accidents, times of goodbyes and transitions, times of loss and mystery (not the good kind that you watch or read about passively for entertainment but the kind you go through in a befuddled state feeling out of control). Steve just came up as I'm writing this blog and told me about the death of a good friend of ours in Gabon. My heart is grieved to hear of it and know I can offer nothing other than prayers and words of sorrow from a great distance.

It's easy to ask why God has allowed us to go through such things. He could effortlessly prevent them. However He allows them to happen. We live through it until we don't. How we live through it makes all the difference. I can tell you stories of God's goodness in the midst of great grief. I can remember when He spoke love and comfort during times of great personal distress. He promises to be with us always.

I hate to admit that I often forget God's goodness. I find myself fearful and anxious much like the Israelites wandering in the desert after being delivered from slavery in Egypt. They experienced
miracle after miracle in their epic deliverance. Yet they grumbled and complained and embodied fear. What should have been an 11 day journey turned into nearly 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. I first heard of the cycles of failures of the Israelites when I was a child. It was absurd to me that the Israelites could so quickly forget God's miraculous rescues and provisions. I couldn't believe they could be so hard headed and hearted. I vowed never to be like them! Famous last words... I am so like them. I forget God's goodness again and again. I moan and complain and allow anxious and fearful thoughts to root deep within.

Case in point, I am taking college classes online and while I was in the midst of taking a quiz for one of my classes I accidentally submitted it after only completing 20% of the quiz. It was a stupid mistake and I panicked. I freaked out and after writing an email to my professor went upstairs to my room and wept bitterly in frustration. I over-reacted for sure. I allowed ruinous thoughts to rain down on my brain. Thoughts that said I was stupid and couldn't even follow simple directions, thoughts that said I shouldn't be taking classes. I was a puffy mess. Steve lovingly sat next to me and firmly yet compassionately calmed me down and prayed with me. I took a shower and decided to shake it off. I checked my Liberty email and found my prof had responded and I could retake the quiz. No harm no foul. All that emotional fallout for nothing!

I have all these fears about leaving our 2 college kids in the states and fears about going back to Cameroon. They range from small concerns to full-blown life and death scenarios. My vivid imagination can really crank out detailed possible disasters which loop in living color over and over again in my mind. I am really good at making mountains out of mole-hills. It reminds me of the story of Gideon.

I am taking a Bible class and in my course work I am studying the story of Gideon. The opening scene is of Gid deep within a winepress threshing wheat. A winepress is a well-like structure in the ground where grapes are thrown down and someone jumps in to stomp on them. The story goes on to say that an angel of the Lord appeared in shepherd's clothing and sat under a tree near the opening of the winepress and watched the wheat get tossed up and down. Gid was surely covered with wheat, looking ridiculous and unaware anyone had come upon him. He was deep in the winepress hiding from possible Midianite bandits then the angle of the Lord greeted him saying, "The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor" (Judges 6:12 ESV). Gid responds by saying, "Please sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us..." (6:13). Gid is referring to all the calamity the Israelites are facing with the Midianites stealing from them and pushing them to the edge of the Promised Land.

In the book, Courageous Faith, author Ed Hindson points out during this time in the history of Israel the Israelites were once again in a cycle of failure. They did evil in the eyes of the Lord and so the Lord allowed the Midianites to raid, destroy and push around the Israelites for 7 years. The Israelites cried out to God and begged forgiveness asking God to intervene and deliver them from their enemy. God answered their prayers with the most unlikely character Gideon. Gideon was probably the most cowardly person in the weakest tribe. God chose Gid, a bumbling farmer afraid of his own shadow to become a war hero, to bring victory to the Israelites and keep His promises. Gid had all kinds of "ifs" in his dealings with God. His "ifs" were simply his many fears fleshed out. God responded to each and every one and became Israel's deliverer once again. In the story of Gideon the Spirit of the Lord comes upon Gideon and transforms Gid into a war hero. God did the work and all Gid did was obey.

Hinson ends his chapter on Gideon with this sentence, "God is more interested in our finding him in our life's struggles than protecting us from life's struggles" (p.104). That's the part I struggle with. I want protection from life's struggles and God wants me to find him in life's struggles! My fears mount up before me like a vast wall stretching out over the horizon yet God wants me to hand over my fears and grasp hold of this:

"...I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen." Ephesians 3:14-21 NLT

I am encouraged by the story of Gideon. I love how God uses unlikely characters to become heroes and do incredible things. God calls us to become more than sum total of our parts, he puts his spirit in us and extraordinary things happen for his glory. I am a coward like Gideon was but I am being changed by his spirit. Rather than shrinking into a quivering stressed out mass of humanity focusing on my fears, please pray I press more fully into God and become complete with the fullness of his love and power.



Thursday, June 18, 2015

And the night sky trembled with light

The night sky trembled with distant light. The summer air thick and warm like crushed velvet
enveloped us. The clouds on the horizon flashed and fluttered with white lightning. While in deep contrast the panorama of distant stars and planets shone high in the spangled sky. It felt like we were witnessing an ancient argument, an angry clash of darkness and light, of obscurity and clarity.

That beautiful moment occurred during our "trip-cation" to Texas. We were with our dear friends, Aaron and Melissa Bequette, standing on their back deck in East Texas. We called the journey a "trip-cation" because it was a combo of trip and vacation. Sam and Megan felt calling it a vacation alone would give the impression it was effortless and leisurely. Which it was not. Hence the mash-up. We drove from York, PA to Dallas, TX with many stops along the way there and back.  Steve mapped out our 3,000+ mile journey:



Driving through a large swath of the US allowed us to watch the landscape scroll by while being carried along smooth ribbons of roads.  It was beautiful and oh so convenient.  In Africa road trips are very different, though they too are beautiful, they are not convenient, not in the least.  I am fatigued just thinking about writing about African roads... smooth ribbons they are not. Deeply pocked and cracked, the roads wind serpentine. They slow you down. It takes time. Traffic clogs, people dodge... rather they don't dodge. People casually walk alongside traffic with nary a glance to ensure personal safety. It is up to you, the driver, to watch out for them. It's more of the upside down life personified. Upside down at least to the foreigner.

So it's nearly time to pack up and say goodbye.  It's transition time once again.

 

I will be a foreigner. A stranger in a strange land. It will be a majestic mess, an epic argument of darkness and light, of obscurity and clarity. It will be a grand panorama of joys and sorrows stretched across the days, weeks and months. And I feel unprepared. The water and power cuts, the spotty and slow internet connections, the heat, the traffic, the struggle to communicate... the heat, are a few of my least favorite things. The lack of reliable health care, the security issues and missing family and friends here in the states are also some least favs. We will be leaving our two college kids behind.  We won't see them for nearly a year. So many feels.

Yet, there is something about Africa. It calls to you. The torrential down pour of rain pounding on tin roofs, the street food and the riotous blend of brightly colored African print fabrics, the symphonic sound of voices and screeching breaks and car horns blend together in a soup of sorts for the senses. Friendships made there are vibrant and deep, quickly joined together and sharply parted. Sown into my soul are these. With high cost comes high value. I ready myself to dive in once again.

I am taking a deep breath.  Drawing in all the American-ness I can. A great gasping gulp before the slow release. "Joy and sorrow are this ocean. And in their every ebb and flow. Now the Lord a door has opened that all hell could never close. Here I'm tested and made worthy. Tossed about but lifted high. In the reckless raging fury that they call the love of God." ~ The Love of God by Rich Mullins

          




Thursday, May 28, 2015

Living lavishly in the temporary



Going the Cheap Route

When we first came back almost a year ago I picked up a really cheap comforter from Ollie’s.  I mean, why spend the money on a quality comforter when it’s just for a year?  We decided not to buy any sheets as there were sheets that came with our fully furnished mission house.  

Steve’s mom gave us a set of nicer sheets however they are made for a full-sized bed and we have a queen-sized bed.  Though they were the wrong size I still used them and with some effort they did fit!  When changing the fitted sheet on the queen, that last corner becomes a wrestling match with the mattress.  Once finally wrestled into place the victory is short-lived as it unravels whilst in slumber, the corner slips off the edge of the mattress and curls over bunching said sheet into a tangle of wrinkles and frustration.  It’s exhausting.  Also the cheap comforter is made of slippery material that slides easily.  It often slipped off the bed or we awoke in the morning baffled to find the comforter had somehow slipped sideways or upside down.
Our bedding... not our bedroom.

Enough is Enough

Steve decided he'd had enough and we went to Walmart and picked out a lovely comforter set and soft sheets.  Those sheets are a crisp white and feel like a silken sheath of delight.  The comforter has the perfect weight to it as it rests gently over us in fluffy goodness.  It’s truly remarkable how the quality of bedding can make or break the sleeping experience. 

My only regret is we waited so long to get good bedding.  It got me wondering how often we make do with less than the best due to circumstances?  A comforter is a comforter, right?  So, we had a comforter and it covered the bed (as long as no one moved).  Likewise, sheets are sheets and we had those.  

So... Does this make us spoiled American’s?  Do we need pampering?  

Short Term Investing

We are living a temporary life here in York.  Being aware that our limited time is slipping by is both a blessing and a curse.  The blessings are that you really appreciate what’s before you.  It’s hard to take people and places and things for granted when you only have them for a short time.  On the flip side, the challenge is to fully engage and invest when you know you will be leaving soon.  Why invest your heart, time and money when it’s temporary? 

Last summer I had a conversation with someone who lamented her lack of deeper friendships.  I offered to be her friend and to be a bridge to others.  She gently responded that I am only here for a short time so thanks but no thanks.  She turned me down and though I was momentarily stung by the kind rejection I realized I am just as likely to pass over investing and engaging in someone if I know it will be temporary.

Risky Business

Yet when I have thrown caution to the wind and fully entered in, I have been so blown away by friendships and experiences.  To dive deep knowing it will be brief is a risk.  It hurts to say goodbye when your heart is connected.  Parting with such sweet sorrow is no joke!  

I have also been amazed at how a friendship birthed in lives overlapping just a few months can become so deep and enduring.  I think of the Traveling Chucks and our team at Bongolo and the kids at UBAC and friends in Cameroon.  Just the other day Steve and I watched a video made for Bongolo and we got to see our dear friends and teammates.  I found myself tearing up, so thankful to get to be on mission with those amazing people.  Our home church of York Alliance holds deep roots with friendships that span 15 years though our daily lives are an ocean apart for just over half of those years. 

Living Lavishly
 
Even though my Heavenly Father says life is so fleeting here on earth, He showers me with beauty and grace and mercy.  James 4:14 "You don't know the first thing about tomorrow. You're nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing." ~ The Message Bible  He paints the skies with splendor each dawn and dusk.  He causes flowers to bloom for a moment of fragile beauty.   He has given us taste buds to savor vanilla lattes and feet to feel the green grass spring up and cushion each foot fall.  We have been given ears to hear rain falling on tin roofs and the surf rolling against a sandy shore.  He is extravagant in His love for us.  His mercies are new each morning.  He delights in us.

Though the struggle is real to get out of bed each morning, the "fancy" bedding reminds me of God’s goodness.  I have a choice- I can live emotionally and spiritually frugal making little investment in this temporary life or I can live lavishly.  I hope to fearlessly dive deep with whomever and whatever and where ever I find myself… even if it’s just temporary.