Thursday, November 19, 2015

Choose Your Poison

Of all the posts I've seen against letting Syrian refugees into our country the one that has saddened me the most is one that "explains" the issue in this way: "If you have 10,000 m&ms and you know that 10 of them are poisoned then how many of you would still eat them."  This analogy devalues the lives of these refugees making them as expendable as bad chocolate. Of course we would not choose to eat cheap candy when we know some of it is poisoned - it's just junk anyway. How, oh, HOW can we look on these refugees in the same way??? I hope we see them as more than that.

I believe there are many ways to look at this crisis and how we should respond, legitimate reasons to consider both "sides," but this is not one of them! The power of this argument lies in sucking out all emotion, compassion, and empathy out of the decision which it does by making the object of the debate a thing rather than a person. This kind of dehumanizing tactic is has been used for abortion, slavery, and genocide. Obviously for most of us, even those against letting Syrian refugees into our home countries, our object is not to devalue the lives of these people, but that is why we must be very careful about using this kind of cheap rhetoric. The whole intent of this reasoning is to make the issue seem like a clear, logical choice which only an idiot would deny. But this is not a simple textbook logic problem. And we are not talking about colorful, candy-coated chocolate. These are our brothers and sisters. Our children. These are people.

Perhaps a better analogy would be this: If you are watching a ship with 10,000 people sinking off the coast near your home and you know that 10 of them are serial killers, should you go rescue any of them when you face the risk of bringing a serial killer into your city? Look at that mama trying to hold her baby above the water. Look at the little girl clinging to her teddy bear. Look at that boy trying to help his injured father. Look in their faces. And then make your decision.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Bale, You Are Valued

Sometimes my kids really surprise, bless, and challenge me with their simple acceptance of Truth. Tonight we were praying for "our" little Bale, the little boy at an orphanage over here that we have committed to pray for every day. Katie was praying for him - for him to "get better" and to get a family and she proceeded to thank God for him and for "bringing him into this world."

I may have leaked a few tears and I am ashamed to admit that it hadn't occurred to me to thank God for his life... or the lives of any of the many lonely children who don't have the love of a family. I hadn't thought it consciously, but Katie's prayer opened my eyes to a subconscious devaluing of the lives of orphans, counting them as something like a mistake and a sorrow.

I hate the thought of their suffering and so I have not valued their existence as I should. I have not been thankful for them as people - only sorrowed over them as tragedy. But they are NOT a mistake! These precious ones are as intentionally created, as carefully formed, as beautifully loved, and as sacrificially redeemed as my own fiercely loved children. They are unique, eternal souls that reflect the glory of their Maker in a way that no other person ever could. Their lives have meaning and significance and VALUE.

I never consciously thought the opposite; in fact I thought that I did value them and that was why I was praying for them and seeking to care for them in other ways. But I hadn't thanked God for them. I hadn't given Him glory for His amazing creation, displayed specially in each one. That changed tonight, thanks to my little Katie Grace. 

The tragedy of the situation of orphans lies not in their existence, but in the circumstances that led to them being orphaned. It lies in the oppression and abuse and neglect that haunts them now. It lies in the corruption and selfishness that swallow up resources that should be used to care for them. But it NEVER lies in their person. They are treasures and from now on I will THANK God for their lives!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Suffering - Morbid or Hopeful?

Is suffering a morbid topic? It certainly seems so in Western society today. With our increasingly “connected” world of television, internet, and social media we are more privy to the suffering of the world than ever before. Yet at the same time it seems we less privy to the sufferings of our neighbor as we feel the need to hide our personal struggles. Is it only in the church that we feel the need to “put on a brave face” and act like everything is okay? I was recently enlightened to the struggle of a friend back in the states and it drove in deeper to me the need to deal openly and hopefully with the issue of suffering in all its various forms.

I’ve spent a lot of time wrestling through a Scriptural understanding of suffering and have found it to be incredibly hopeful and strengthening - not morbid at all but rather full of life! I find my deepest distress in suffering comes from fearing and avoiding it as though it is unusual, shocking, and indicative of something terribly wrong with the individual who is suffering. It is in the illusion of being able to control life so as to avoid anything unpleasant, or at least to avoid great pain, that I have found the greatest struggle with suffering. If I can only juggle life just right then I can guarantee a mostly pain-free life for myself, my children, and all those dear to me. This lie leaves me feeling panicked, overwhelmed, exhausted, and terrified of suffering. On the other hand, when I accept that trouble is a given, a promised part of this life (John 16:33) then I find so much rest and relief in relinquishing control to the only One who really has control in the first place.

Recently our women’s group here began studying through Elisabeth Elliot’s A Path Through Suffering. It was given to me years ago when I was going through a great loss, but I didn’t read it at the time because I didn’t want to think more about suffering than I already was. (It felt like a morbid topic at the time!) Now as our group studies it together I wish I had read it many years ago and re-read it every year since! It is so profoundly full of hope that I find myself picking it up often to read, re-read, contemplate and prepare for our meetings because I am drawn to E.E.’s uplifting testimony and powerfully simple sharing of Scripture - living and active able to infuse our suffering with living hope. Brett tells me he’s proud of me for putting so much work into it, but really it’s my re-charging time that I look forward to. (After all, it beats meal planning and grading schoolwork!)

It is not only for the great suffering of life, but also for the “little ‘s’ suffering” that we all encounter on a daily basis. It is not only for the one whose world has flipped upside down, but just as much for the one who struggles with the little deaths that must be suffered every day as we live our lives not for ourselves. It is perhaps mostly for the one who, like me, is prone to fear suffering and feels the panic and terror of trying to control life to keep suffering at bay.

Obviously I strongly recommend that everyone buys and reads and highlights and discusses and shares this book for themselves, but over the next few weeks I hope be sharing some of the points that have impacted me the most with the desire that it will equally bless others who are living in this world of suffering.

In my opinion, the greatest strength of E.E.’s testimony lies in her simple acceptance of what Scripture has to say about suffering and her affirmation of the Truth in the way she lived her life. The same Word with all its life is open to each of us to equip us to walk this road to the glorious and promised end of a place with no suffering, where all of our present sufferings are redeemed to the glory of God and the joy of His people.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Rainy Season Lessons

Rainy day outing.

Rainy season is our “autumn” over here. Our actual autumn is more like spring. Sweet, cool nights but warm days, bright sun and deep blue skies, flowers everywhere. Sadly, it’s a rare tree that changes color, but the high elevation and low latitude of our area make for generally lovely weather. So lovely, in fact, that there is no central heat or air here. Most of the year this works just fine, but we did finally buy a wood stove for the cold-concrete winters and there are a few sweltering weeks each summer where we contemplate putting in a window unit, but they are gone before we can act on it and we receive our annual justification for putting that purchase off.

So autumn is like a second spring before it slips smoothly into a clear, cold winter, and late summer’s rainy season is our fall. Cool breezy days, overcast skies that clear up frequently enough to remind us of the rich blue firmament we so love, ethereal mists in the mountains, jeans and light hoodies to keep warm. And the ability to once again enjoy a hot cup of coffee without sweating over it. We leave our windows open to enjoy the fresh breeze and rush to shut them when the rain picks up and blows in sideways.  We keep our lamps on most of the day, dream of fires in our wood stove, though it’s not cold enough for them yet, and find ourselves humming Christmas songs. In August. 

Though I still miss a good mid-south autumn, with flaming trees and crisp, cold air and the lonesome calls of geese and blackbirds, I am learning to see the beauty of our new home. To enjoy where I am. To pick out the joys of rainy season and focus on those. To adapt to THIS life, not one I sometimes dream of. To finally get over wet feet and buy a pair of nice rain boots. (When you know it has taken me 7 years to make that purchase you know that a window AC is nowhere in our future!Rainy season doesn’t replace a true autumn, but it has its own beauty. And I am thankful.

Misty morning at the lake.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Created to Create

Living Art
I never considered myself an artist or even a crafter before, but this first week of summer break has changed that.  I’ve indulged in several creative pursuits with the extra time I have while not homeschooling and I’ve discovered something. There has been an artist trapped in the dark corners of my brain suffocating over the last year or more of homeschooling, pregnancy, nursing, SURVIVING.  She might have died off altogether if I hadn’t had the creative aspects of homeschooling to supply some oxygen from time to time. Now that she has had more time and freedom to get out and breath deep, satisfying breaths I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stuff her away again as completely as I have in recent years.

And yet… I struggle with this feeling of “wasting” my time and money to do “frivolous” things.  Why knit a baby blanket when I could buy one for cheaper than I can buy the yarn to make one?  I really shouldn’t use up the color ink in our printer for anything other than homeschool materials, and even then only if it’s necessary, because… because isn’t anything else wasteful?  Those inexpensive beads and wire I was interested in?  They should definitely only come out of my birthday money.  And even the completely free endeavor of putting my vague thoughts and impressions into words – that is a waste of time, if not money. Even making our house a nice place to dwell leaves me feeling guilty. At least cooking gives me a creative outlet that seems to have some actual value – we have to eat!

But when I think of truly great works of art - the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Les Miserables, Moonlight Sonata – or even “lesser” displays of beauty like a well-tended garden, when I think of these things I recoil at the thought of anything being wasted in the pursuit of such glory. These things draw my soul to worship! They magnify THE Creator so obviously they might as well vocally shout His praises to all who enjoy them. 

But what about my crocheting? Jewelry making? Bible verse and hymn lyric printables? What about me making my bed in the morning (um, sometimes) and choosing a pretty paint color for the bedroom or arranging furniture for the best balance and flow in the room? These are no masterpieces to draw any other living soul to worship. And yet…

And yet, they minister to my soul. They release a song from my heart.  If I spend all of life feeling guilty for these creative pursuits then I don’t worship through them. Instead I cling to them like the forbidden fruit, and set them up as idols in my heart. So my desire is to learn to see this impulse to create as one of the avenues through which we bring God glory and then to walk in the freedom of enjoying HIM through it all. To offer up my piano practice, crocheted hat, and wall color choice as a song of praise to the Creator in whose image I am made. And to trust that He receives my simple offerings as happily as I accepted the sweet, handcrafted gifts of my children. 

After all, it would come to this: that he had dug very deep and found the place where a man had drawn the picture of a reindeer. But he would dig a good deal deeper before he found a place where a reindeer had drawn a picture of a man. That sounds like a truism, but in this connection it is really a very tremendous truth… The creature was truly different from all other creatures, because he was creator as well as creature.
-G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Letter to a New Mother: There is Grace

Last night I went to a party for another expat here who is about to be a mother for the first time - to a 12 year old girl. "Jen" is a single woman courageously stepping out in faith to adopt her daughter from our host country before she ages out of the system and is ineligible for adoption. It was a beautiful celebration.

We had been asked to write a note of encouragement, but I felt ridiculous trying to offer encouragement to someone in such a different place than I have ever been in as a mother.  Then as I thought about it I realized we are not so different after all. Our particular circumstances of entering into motherhood are wildly disparate, yet our position in motherhood is exactly the same. We are both completely desperate for God's grace to cover us and our children. And I wanted to her to know - the grace we need, it is there and it is abundant.

So I may have gotten a little carried away with my "note" but I was overflowing with the hope of this truth. And since I need to hear it again and again, I was really writing to myself as well as my friend. And to all new mothers, or not-so-new mothers, like myself.  THERE IS GRACE.


Dear Jen, 

It’s kind of funny to be in this position – a mother of 8.5 years to four children attempting to offer encouragement to a new mother… whose soon to arrive daughter is older than my oldest!  You are in a unique position entering into motherhood for many reasons and there is so much that the mothers surrounding you do not know about it. But here is one thing we all know well and can testify to, and it is the greatest encouragement there is to give or receive – there is GRACE. 

As in all areas of life, our only hope is in the grace of God. This can be a relief – “Whew! It’s not all up to me!” And it can be a big panic – “Wait… you mean I don’t have any control over this?!?” As a mother my greatest struggle is wanting to control life so that my children are protected and cared for perfectly and so that they grow to embrace the Truth and follow it with their whole lives. But I can’t control any of these things – and it kills me. And not only that, I see the things I want to protect them from coming from myself – impatience, judgment, dismissal, inattentiveness. My sinful, selfish nature is challenged and put through the refining fire by the constant need that calls me to deny myself and put another (or several others) before myself and it brings out the dross – often in ways that are very visible and impacting to these little people that I love so fiercely. And I am overwhelmed and undone.

God, I want the best for these children and I’m giving them the worst! I can’t do this! I can’t be present all the time and I can’t guarantee their safety. I can’t see into their hearts to understand what is going on there, what the needs are, much less change their hearts and bestow an understanding of who you are. I can’t even protect them from myself and my impatience and fear and selfishness! I can’t give enough; I can’t BE enough!

EXACTLY. We can never be enough. It is in the moment that we acknowledge and accept this that grace becomes a relief instead of a threat.  Grace doesn’t take away any control from us; there was never any control in the first place. It was only an illusion. When we can see past that illusion and let go of it, THEN grace comes swooping in, a blessed relief. 

In my experience, there is nothing like motherhood to bring you to the end of yourself and show you just how not-in-control and desperate for God’s grace that you are. That can be a miserable place or a refreshing place. For me personally it is usually the first place before I arrive at the second place. But, O, how sweet the relief when I let it go and put my trust once again where it has always belonged – with the Trustworthy, Faithful One.

He is FOR you, Jen, and for Anna.  HE is in control, so you don’t have to be. HE is enough, so you don’t have to be. That doesn’t mean that what you do doesn’t matter – incredibly, He chooses to use us, to let us be a part of what He is doing. But He doesn’t depend on you.  He is not waiting for you to hold up your end of the bargain – that defies the very essence of grace, which is FREE. There is freedom and rest in this. He holds you both, tenderly and full of love. “Underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deut. 33:27)

With you and for you,

PS. My favorite parenting book is not a parenting book at all, but a book that has opened my eyes to God’s grace like no other book ever has – “One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World” by Tullian Tchividjian (Billy Graham’s grandson). A very easy read and full of HOPE.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Flip Side: What Life Looks Like for the SAHM (Stay At Home Mom) Overseas

Just about the same as the SAHM in the US. The End.

Ok, that’s not completely true.  Obviously there are many little differences, like my Wal-Mart sells dried smashed pig faces and yours doesn’t.  (Squash that envy, friends.) And because we are so glamorous we have dozens of people taking our pictures and plaguing us with questions every time we go out.  IT IS SO FUN. (Please pick up on my sarcasm here.)

But other than that, and an extra language in my tool-belt (or half of one, WHATEVER) it really looks a lot the same.  And sometimes I’m disappointed – I was expecting more excitement. (The kind that doesn’t involve bodily fluids.) And sometimes I’m ashamed – that’s not why we were sent here. I could do laundry, homeschool, and be introverted in the US. And sometimes I’m jealous – Brett is all learning an unwritten language and making all sorts of thrilling discoveries (right, babe?) and I’m… cooking dinner. From scratch. Again. Because I’ve finally resigned myself to the fact that families need to eat like  And there’s no frozen pizza on this side of the world. Or packaged tortillas. 

So what does my average day look like? I get up in the morning a little before the kids, or try to, for a few quiet minutes to read the Word with my brain intact and to beg for grace. Then, bam!, the day is my face like a mother whose kid was nearly hit by a motorbike (to give a completely non-personal example.) It’s something like a cross between a dance cardio aerobic routine and a juggling lesson peppered with “teachable moments” where I struggle to move beyond behavior modification to heart attitudes while cleaning the baby’s spit-up and speaking in another language to our helper. 

And at the end of the day I look at my cold, un-drunk cup of coffee and think, “I haven’t even been out of my house all day, my language level is declining rapidly now that I am homeschooling instead of studying, and I haven’t invited my neighbor over in months. What am I doing here??? What should I be doing here?” 

There are so many points that go into the answer to this question, but here’s the one that has been on my mind the last few weeks:  I just need to be faithful in the small things. Most likely we are not called to completely throw out our daily routine. We are still supposed to cook and eat, teach and clean, go to work and get the car washed. We can and should do all of these things for God’s glory, trusting for His grace to supply all of our needs and enjoying His presence in our lives through it all.

 BUT part of doing all these things “for God’s glory” consists in living our normal, daily lives very intentionally “on mission.”  On mission to display and proclaim the gospel to our children, the closest little disciples we will ever have. On mission to train them to obey the commands of God that we teach them.  On mission to open our lives to relationships with the people all around us who need an ambassador to represent Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation to them.  On mission to live transparent and vulnerable lives before them, not holding them at arm’s length, but inviting them into our mess and likewise entering into their struggles and pain.  

This is no different overseas from being “at home” in the US.  I’d wager no one is knocking on your door asking what your hope for eternity is, and neither is anyone doing that on this side of the world. At least not at my house.  And as for intentionally discipling our children, thanks to VPNs we have Facebook as a blessing/distraction over here, too. 

 So… faithfulness in the small things. It means putting Facebook/Instagram/Twitter down and dealing with my son’s reason for falling apart instead of just sending him to time-out or taking away his video.  It means speaking to the insecurity that lurks behind my daughter’s meltdown over math rather than threatening dire consequences if she doesn’t get herself under control “right now” so we can move on with our homeschool. It means studying language while feeding the baby rather than just browsing Pinterest.  It means taking a big gulp and calling my friend up to invite her over to learn to bake the cake she was interested in and then preparing how to explain to her that my faith is more than a set of the “rules” she is so inquisitive about.  Even if it means that I lose some of my precious down time. It means choosing to engage in conversation with the stylist when I get I get my hair cut rather than just zoning out and enjoying a quiet moment. (I know, for some of you that is like breathing, but for an introvert this is BIG STUFF.) 

In other words, moving overseas didn’t make me extroverted, brave, extra energetic, or more patient, and it certainly didn’t make me less busy with daily life so that I find myself with extra time to reach out because I have nothing else to do.  So there you have it – my life looks pretty much like the homeschool mom in the US. Cram packed with survival that can be aimlessly surfed to the end of the day or infused with intentionality so that I am living “on mission.” This is true whether I’m “just” cooking dinner or embarking on an adventure to see my friends in the village or answering my friends’ questions about my faith. 

What about you? What are the little things that comprise “living on mission” in your life currently? Does it mean taking your kids out to play in the front yard instead of in the back behind a fence? Or even going to the park? Does it mean taking a break from Facebook for lent? Inviting the neighbors or a co-worker over for a casual cookout? Or tutoring refugees in English twice a month? 

Maybe whatever it is doesn’t seem “big” enough, but PRAISE GOD that He does not despise the day of small beginnings and that He commends faithfulness in the little things. (Zech. 4:10, Matt. 25:14-28) Whatever our current situation in life, by God’s grace let’s intentionally live it out “on mission!”