Saturday, January 18, 2014

My Goals/God's Goals

Never have I doubted that God has a plan for my life.  I have tried my darndest to derail it at times; High School and College flashbacks--brain bleach, please.  Yes, it's painful to remember some of the times in my life when I was not attentive to God's plan for my life.  My plan was so different and so much harder, but I have no doubt HE used my rebellion to draw me back to a closer alignment with HIS plan.

Let's go back, for a second, to that "By 50 Bucket List."  There were 3 things included:  Obtaining National Board Certification, Running and completing a 5K race, and Going on a mission trip to Niger, Africa.  At first glance, it looks like a: get that additional certification so you can get a nice, big raise to finish out your career; get that approaching 50 body into a little better shape; stop talking about working for Jesus and actually DO it, kind of list.  Hint:  those were MY plans.  Here's what God's plans were.
            National Board Certification:  Stop being afraid that people think you're actually a better teacher than you are.  Take the time to honestly reflect on your teaching practice.  Make note of areas in which you need more information or training.  Recognize, humbly, that there are things you really do well.  Make your brain work hard again--it's a muscle and it only grows when it's stretched.  Feel and respond to the urgency of deadlines again.  Feel pride in a hard-earned accomplishment.  Acknowledge God's role in the success and do something good with the pay raise-- I sponsored 2 little girls from Africa through World Vision.
            Running a 5K race:  Realize again (it's been a long time since I birthed those babies) that you do not have a super model's body, but it is capable of doing amazing things.  Remember how to set goals and work toward them.  Push yourself when you think you can't do anymore--rely on God's strength.  Feel the difference between accomplishing a brain-goal and a body-goal.  Have the opportunity to experience one of those moments when the "veil is so thin" (we'll talk more about those later) that you can tangibly feel God's presence.  As I reached the point in the race when I fully realized I would be able to run the whole way, Francesca Battistelli's song, "Beautiful" played on my ipod.  I could not stop myself from raising my hands, with tears on my face, and worshiping our great and glorious God from whom ALL blessings flow.
            Mission Trip to Niger:  This one's a little more complicated.  I still am struggling to discern God's plan for what this trip did to me.  I think HIS plan was to unsettle me, to challenge the complacency I felt in my faith, to shake up my comfort in my church, to push me to look at some difficult situations through HIS eyes and HIS love.  Two things I know:  HE gave me a glimpse into the lives of missionaries--a career my son and daughter-in-law are entering.  This was not a comforting or settling glimpse.  It was a hard awareness I am still struggling with.  HE also sent me home with a sense of "unbalance."  HE shook me up about what is important.  That's big--really big--and will doubtless be the subject of more reflecting/writing.

I thought I knew what these experiences were preparing me for.  I had no idea what God was preparing me for. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

One Word

Yes, I believe writing is good for the soul.
No, I do not believe in forcing it when the feeling is not there.
Yes, I do regret that I did not write more when my children were little.  I was so sure I would remember everything.  I don't.
No, I still do not believe in forcing it when the feeling is not there. I have read too much bad writing, forced writing, regrettable writing.

2013 has been a year.  I can't decide what kind of adjective to use to describe the year.  That will take several blog posts.  I do know I did not feel like writing.

Earlier this week, as I was making sausage balls for the Open House we are hosting this weekend (several blog posts on that one, too), I started feeling it.  I actually ran to get a piece of paper on which to write the ideas that were popping, like popcorn, in my brain.

Then, one of those God things happened.  That evening I was chatting with a friend, on facebook, (a friend who has just had her first book published!!) and she said, "I think you should start writing your blog again." I don't need to be told 3 times.  I guess I do need to be told twice, but not three times.

As 2012 came to an end, this same newly published friend challenged me to select one word on which to focus for 2013.  Perfect!  I have never done New Year's Resolutions, but loved the idea of focusing on one word for the year.  I selected the word LISTEN.  Around that time, I had come to the self-realization that I am not naturally a good listener.  I have a tendency to be an autobiographical listener.  While you are talking and I'm supposed to be listening, I'm organizing my response about MY experience with what you are talking about.  I don't like this...not one bit.  One of the greatest gifts we can give each other is to fully listen, with no agenda, with no script, with no preconceived notions.  While I have not faithfully focused on my word all year, I have noticed such a positive reaction when I have just....listened.  I'm not abandoning LISTEN.  I hope it will become a habit--the way I do things.

So what is my word for 2014?  GRACE.  I want to give GRACE in thought, word, and deed (Oh, that thought one is going to be hard!) I want to be on the look out for and recognize others giving GRACE. I want to respond to bad behavior with GRACE. Lastly, I want to give GRACE to myself.

That brings me back to an adjective to describe 2013.  To be honest, it has been a bad year, health-wise, and I have had to accept limitations and a lack of control with which I have no experience.  That has been and continues to be hard.  I have to give myself some GRACE.

I hope to write about GRACE.  I also hope to write about finding God in unlikely places.  I know I will write about my family--lots of changes there.  Here we go.....

Kris--did you notice I used very few contraction?
Jackie--did you notice how hard I worked to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tagibati, Days 5 &6

Evil is real, certain locations are dark, and mission work doesn't always feel good. 

That's a statement of truth.  How we deal with it makes all the difference in the world.

 I've had the opportunity to hear Buddy Berry, the superintendent of Eminence Independent Schools, speak twice.  He has made amazing things happen for students and teachers in his district.  He does not accept defeat.  When presented with a problem, or a statement like the one above, Buddy's response is, "Yes, and what will we do?"

Yes, evil is real, Tagibati is a dark village, and our mission work there did not feel good.  I have heard missionaries speak of "dark" locations before and didn't understand, until we arrived in Tagibati.  The air was heavy and close feeling, the heat was oppressive, we weren't greeted with a lot of smiles. 

In the first location we shared the gospel, a woman responded by asking why we did not bring gifts.  She told us she wanted gifts, not Jesus.  The children seemed to enjoy listening to our bible stories, so we continued sharing.  All of a sudden, two little boys in the front started rolling on the ground punching each other.  They were going at it like prize fighters.  The woman who told us she didn't want Jesus broke up the fight with the Tagibati version of a "switch."  It was a branch from a thorn bush. Those kiddos scattered and it was heartbreaking to see them get smacked with that branch.

With heavy hearts, we left that compound.  The feeling intensified when Jody (one of the local missionaries) told us he wasn't comfortable with us eating in the village--too many people would be angry that we were eating during the day during Ramadan.  We piled in the bush taxi and found a lovely, big tree above the village.


After lunch, I didn't want to go back to the village.  Jody had lined up women for us to talk to.  He walked us to each compound and no one was home.  We decided to prayer-walk.  We asked God for just one opening.  At the next compound, Biba asked if we could talk with the women and they invited us in to try our hands at pounding millet.
 We were willing to make fools of ourselves, in Jesus' name.  This was the opening we'd prayed for.  As we provided lots of laughs for the women of this compound, another woman came in with a huge load of basil.  When the women sat to strip the basil leaves from the stalk, we asked if we could help.  This was a job I knew I could do. We spend a precious hour or so with these women.  We shared the gospel, they told us what a nice story it was (sigh), and then we just shared our lives as women.  One woman told us how lucky we are that our husbands can only have one wife.  It was a sweet time, but none of us wanted to return to Tagibati the next day.  We couldn't see that there was anyone else to try to talk with.

Of course we followed the plan and returned the next morning.  Again we were greeted with requests for "Cado, Cado" (gift, gift).  Parker (another local missionary) accompanied us that morning.  We did find a compound where the women were willing to let us share and strip basil leaves.  After hearing a few bible stories, they told us we were not loving if we did not bring gifts.  Parker, the trained missionary, instructed the women that we were bringing the greatest gift, the gift of Jesus and eternal life.  While Parker was speaking about Jesus, all of the goats in the compound started bleating.  The babies all began to cry, the Call to Prayer sounded over the loud speakers mounted on the side of the Mosque, and an old man burst into the compound and yelled at the women for listening to us.  Whoa!  The name of Jesus has power and light can be painful in the dark. 

I won't lie--I wanted out of Tagibati.  At lunchtime we left and headed back to Boubon.  We ladies were treated to Henna on our feet--a Boubon spa treatment!

 By the end of that afternoon, after 5 days in the villages, I had gotten what I'd asked God for.  I was broken...physically, emotionally, spiritually. 

After sitting on mats on the hard ground for hours, with no back support, and wearing a backpack full of food, bible, and water bottles, my back screamed at me.  I slipped and slid down a bank on our first day in Yourizey Koira and the top of my left foot was skinned and sore.  I had tried so hard to keep it clean and dry.  After the henna dried, the sweet girls rinsed off our feet with river water.  My bandage was soaked with brown filthy water.  I wanted to cry, but decided starting my anti-biotic that night would do more good.  I felt dirty in a way I never have before.  Despite showering every day, I felt like my pores were clogged with red dirt.  I was tired of peanut butter Cliff bars (may never eat one again), tired of Gatorade, and tired of lukewarm water.  I was so tired of squatting behind bushes and walls.

Emotionally, I found myself becoming impatient with the dirty, half-naked, children hanging on me.  I know that sounds horrible and mean, but I couldn't stand anymore suffering that I was powerless to soothe.  I WANTED TO GIVE A GIFT!!  If I couldn't make it all better, I wanted to at least make today, this hour, this minute, a little better. And if I couldn't, I wanted to stop seeing it and hurting.

Spiritually, I was broken from rejection.  I so easily became discouraged and gave up hope.  Even the women and children who did understand, receive, and believe the love of Christ that we shared, could not acknowledge this gift.  The questions, the smiles, the eyes, the whispered words that assured us that "His sheep hear His voice," could not be publicly declared.  The only way a woman can identify as a believer is after her husband has publicly acknowledged his belief.  Guess what happens then?  They are shunned, mocked, disowned, and persecuted.

 The believers we met and taught are the bravest people I have ever met.  I was so broken to realize that my faith is so easy.  How do I "suffer for Jesus"?  I squirm  when some members of my family mock born again Christians and gleefully point out examples of hypocrisy.  I can't join in discussion about Fifty Shades of Grey and get snickered at for not reading it.  And if these little inconveniences get me down, I can read my bible, call a believing friend, or go to church and be reassured and uplifted.

These brave believers reminded me of this description of Abraham in Romans 4:20 "Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised."  When Nigerian believers accept Christ and are baptized,  there are not rows of families seated near the baptismal pool taking pictures, nobody has a luncheon with a pretty cake, very few people celebrate with them, there's no big community praying for them.  They make my faith look so small.

So, at the end of our time in Niger, here we are, back to Buddy Berry's response.  "Yes, and what will we do?"  We'll debrief.  We'll ride camels for a bit of fun. We'll say tearful good-byes to new friends.  We'll make the long (long, long, long) flight home.  We'll joyfully greet our families, take long hot showers, and sleep in our own beds.  I'll go back to work and try not to cry.  I'll be surprised by the anger I feel.  I'll pray and cry and pray and cry and pray.  I'll spend long hours processing.  I'll realize some changes have to be made.  I'll pray and talk with my husband and talk with my friends and pray.  I'll make the painful choice to cut some things from my life; things that I thought were good things.  I'll add some beautiful things.  I'll be so thankful for those who understand and sad about those who don't.

To be continued......

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

When We All Get to Heaven...

Sing the wondrous love of Jesus,
Sing His mercy and His grace;
In the mansions bright and blessed
He'll prepare for us a place.
When we all get to heaven, 
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus, 
We'll sing and shout the victory!
While we walk the pilgrim pathway,
Clouds will overspread the sky;
But when traveling days are over,
Not a shadow, not a sigh.
When we all get to heaven, 
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus, 
We'll sing and shout the victory!
Let us then be true and faithful,
Trusting, serving every day;
Just one glimpse of Him in glory
Will the toils of life repay.

When we all get to heaven, 
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus, 
We'll sing and shout the victory!
Onward to the prize before us!
Soon His beauty we'll behold;
Soon the pearly gates will open'
We shall tread the streets of gold.
When we all get to heaven, 
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus, 
We'll sing and shout the victory!
My friend Kris ministers to homeless individuals in our community.  Someday I'll find the words to write about Kris and what an inspiration she is to me.  Kris's husband Keith first met Greg in our downtown park.  He told Keith that homeless folks have interesting stories to tell and asked if Keith knew anyone who could write his story.  Kris had been praying about an opportunity to write the stories of the homeless.  Kris and Greg became friends.  Kris listens and Kris prays.  I believe those are the two most important ingredients in a friend!  Kris had the joy of leading Greg to Christ almost a year ago.  You can read about it here: Ponderings, Kris's blog.  

Greg knew joy and love in the last year, but he still continued to know pain.  Greg gave Jesus his heart one year ago tomorrow.  This past Monday, Greg met Jesus face to face.  He's treading streets of gold.  He's won the victory.  Greg's pain is over.  

Last night, I sat around a table with Kris and 22 other folks, and we made plans to reach out, share food, share hygiene products, share clothes, share music, share encouraging words, and get to know some homeless folks in our community.  We know we can't "fix" everything, but we can DO something.  I will do something, with the memory of a beautiful, dignified man in my heart.

Rest in Peace, Greg.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Yourizey Koira, Days 3 & 4 (Thursday 7/26 & Friday 7/27)

 Sometimes you just know you're standing on Holy Ground.  This village is Holy Ground.  This village wasn't originally "on the radar" of our church.  It's not one of the villages on the road we committed to evangelize and serve.  Men from this village went looking for truth and they found it being taught in a village right across the river, one of "our" villages.  These men heard the truth, believed, were obedient in baptism, and obedient in the Great Commission.  They took the truth back to their village and shared with their wives, families, and friends.  This village has a growing body of brave believers.  They are facing persecution and some downright scary things have happened in their village, but they are not deterred.  Ten new believing women will be baptized this weekend.
 On our first day in this village, we took "the long way."  We drove to the compound of our brave, toothless, first believer.  The men spent the day teaching believers more of God's word. These men can't read, so they listen to God's word again and again.  They memorize, internalize, repeat, and soak in the truth, so they can share and teach.  Before the day was over, a friend our believers had invited to visit for the day, was on his way to the river to be faithful in his new commitment.
 We women started, as always, with groups of curious children.  Soon their mothers came near, with their farming tools in hand, to listen to stories from the bible.  They stayed, and stayed, and stayed, and listened as we desperately scrambled for more applicable and understandable stories.  They didn't talk much, but they listened politely.  Women in this culture can't make a public proclamation of faith unless their husband allows it.  As a teacher, I looked at the eyes of our "students" and recognized the eyes of confusion, defensiveness, kindness, curiosity, and that look we teachers live for--the "I GET IT!" look.  HIS word does not return void.

The children in this village were shy, until Morgan decided it was time to sing and dance.  We played and played and sad little faces started to smile and giggles filled the air. 

 The next morning, we took the short-cut.  We crossed the river in boats--more similar to canoes.  The water is a lovely shade of brown and the current moves quickly, but it was a cool, relaxing ride.  This day, we met at the farm of our first believer's father.  This day was, hands down, my favorite day of our visit.  We got to fellowship with, disciple, and encourage believing men and their wives.  Mid-day, we began preparations for a shared meal.  Our trip was scheduled during Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sun-up to sun-down.  This is the first year that our believers in this village have not participated in the fast.  This is huge!  They stand out like sore thumbs.  It was an honor to share a meal with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
 We spent at least an hour picking through the rice to remove bugs and pieces of chaff.
 The rice, black-eyed peas, onions, oil, and water were boiled in these pots.  The rice mixture was served in large communal bowls topped with Tonka.  Tonka is a hot spice blend made and used by the Songhai. ( As soon as I tasted it, I knew I had to bring Tonka back to my husband.) This was one of the best meals I have ever eaten.  I still tear up remembering working and eating together.  It was a blessed day. 
On the way home, the rain came.  Yes, the rain, after a couple of years of drought and failing crops in this area.  The rain came on the very day faithful friends of the Songhai, who were participating in a 30 Day Songhai Ramadan Prayer Guide, were praying for rain. This village is Holy Ground and this was one of those days when you can almost feel the veil tear and God's presence and blessing surround you.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Boubon, Day 2 in Niger (Wednesday 7/25)

We bravely loaded into the Bush taxi Wednesday morning.  This sweet buggy (an original swaggerwagon) was to be our chariot for the week.  We never had more than 12 people in our bush taxi, but frequently saw similar bush taxis with 15ish people, a few goats, some chickens, and boxes & bags piled 3 feet high on the luggage rack.  Our driver, Hama, took good care of us.  I chuckled at the irony of this admittedly spoiled American wife of a paramedic, daughter of a fire-fighter father who MADE car seats for us as children (they hadn't been invented back then), lover of air-conditioning (hater of hair blowing in my face) riding facing backwards, on an unsecured bench, with no seatbelt, right next to the open window.  Some unexpected blessings I discovered:  bandana secured hair does not blow in your face, balancing on an unsecured bench seat strengthens your CORE (my abs were sore!), and facing backwards is sometimes preferable to seeing what's in front of you!!

It was Market Day in Boubon.  The population of the town swells.  Everywhere you look, there are "vendors" selling livestock, food, spices, cooking pots, fabric, medicine.  Picture a flea market on steroids, in half the usual space.  There were lots of goats and cows. I'm not a goat expert, but the goats looked pretty normal to me.  The cows were the scrawniest heifers (ha-ha...get it?  scrawny heifer, as opposed to fat heifer--never mind) I had ever seen.  They had horns like Texas Longhorns, but their ribs were visible.

When we piled out of the bush taxi, we were swarmed by children. Little Madjeeto grabbed ahold of my right hand and he didn't let go.  As we walked through the village, I had two or three kiddos holding the fingers of my left hand, but nobody fought Madjeeto for his place on my right side.  The Foxes, who live in Boubon with their 3 precious little girls, directed us to homes where women had expressed interest in hearing more about the gospel. Mamu is a beautiful woman whose Christian brother-in-law has been witnessing to her.  She graciously offered us chairs (we didn't realize what a treat that was) and my little buddy laid across my lap.  As we took turns sharing the truth of the Gospel with Mamu, I rubbed Madjeeto's back.  That little punkin' stayed there for a good hour.  My mind wandered back to days of my boys laying across my lap while I rubbed their backs.  As I prayed for that sweet little fella, I scolded myself for ever hurrying through that precious time with my boys.  In the end, Mamu told us that she believed the words we said, but she could not go any further with a decision or baptism unless she had her husband's permission.  We prayed for her, for the very same things moms in this country ask for: health for the family, food for their family, safety.  We also prayed that her brother-in-law will continue to be bold in his witness to her husband and that her husband's heart will be opened to God.

After lunch we played the Market Game.  We were sent out, in teams of 3-4, with a shopping list and 2000 CFA.  Can I confess that it was NOT fun?  It was overwhelming!  Morgan (that youngster) loved it.  She found a young boy who led us through the market to find many of the things on the list. We did not win the game.  We collected more items, from the list, than other teams, but were disqualified because our baby gift was not acceptable.  Honestly, who doesn't need teething biscuits?  In the end, all of the goodies were divided up and we took gifts to two homes with new babies.

My group visited a woman with a 2 day old baby girl.  This precious little thing was so beautiful and was so the handiwork of God.  We took turns holding her and telling her mother how much Jesus loved her and that baby girl.  Mama listened politely, as she dribbled dirty river water into the mouth of that sweet little thing, but told us she was not interested.  This little shack was where I saw the most disturbing sight of week.  This sweet, beautiful, perfect little child had flies gathering around her nose and little puckered mouth.  Her cord stump appeared to be infected and was covered with flies.  Bless her Lord, bless her.

Exhausted, hot, sweaty, and dirty, we piled back into the bush taxi and headed back to Niamey for the night.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Day 1 in Niger (Tuesday 7/24)

Our flights to Niger were great.  All connections were made, all luggage made the whole trip, the food was even decent, but no one really slept (except Morgan--I guess when you're young, you can sleep anywhere).  The ride to the Baptist Missionary compound was our first bit of culture shock.  Some of the roads were paved, some not, none in what we would consider good condition.  Nobody pays much attention to staying in their lane.  Horns are used a lot, to signal you are going to pass another car, motorcycle, donkey cart, etc....  Shacks by the sides of the road sell all variety of goods--fruits and vegetables, freshly slaughtered goat, phone cards, prayer beads, etc... At every stop-light, our vehicle was approached by beggars or vendors.  A polite, "Non, Merci" usually sent them on their way.  The compound is located on Embassy Row.  Embassy Row in Niger looks quite different than Embassy Row in Washington DC.  Everywhere is red, dry dirt.  The walls of the compounds looked like stucco (reddish) with concertina wire on top.  All embassy gates are guarded by armed soldiers--with Coleman tents as guard houses. Traffic is bad, especially when cows and goats get into the road!  Exactly 24 hrs. after we left Living Hope, on Sunday, we stepped into the Guest House in Niamey.

Tuesday morning, we had our orientation with Mark.  He gave us some history of the Songhai people.  The Songhai are 99.5% Muslim, but they have retained many of the animistic beliefs of their ancestors. They believe in the power of their ancestors, magic, sorcery, and very much fear the spirit world.  Most Songhai are subsistence farmers, growing millet, sorghum, and rice.  We also saw plots of Moringa--that's the active ingredient in some popular (and expensive) nutritional supplements.  The climate is harsh and there has been very little rain in the last couple of years.  The Songhai do not rotate crops, so their soil is depleted of the nutrients necessary for abundant crops. 

When the Songhai are sick, they visit their village's witch doctor.  He looks their symptoms up in his "notebook" which directs him to the appropriate verse in the Quaran.  The witch doctor then writes that verse, the required number of times, on a wide paddle-looking board.  He rinses the board with water and catches the ink/water in a container.  The "patient" is directed to drink the liquid and they will be healed.  The infant mortality rate is very high and is accepted as the will of Allah.

We met three very special people that morning:  Cephus, Biba, and Ibrahim.  When Mark and Parker bravely answered the call to share Christ with the Songhai people, they had to spend lots of time learning Zarma (and a little French), so they could communicate without translators.  Cephus was their language teacher.  When they moved from Niamey, the capital city, to the village of Ayarou, Cephus moved with them to help them with the adjustment.  As each Living Hope team returned from Niger, the name Cephus was mentioned with big smiles.  Two years ago, Cephus married a beautiful woman named Biba.  Cephus and Biba are Songhai, but were raised in Christian homes--their fathers are/were both pastors.  They are the primary translators for the visiting missionary teams.  Cephus also supervises the National Partners (Songhai believers who travel through the villages evangelizing and discipling). Cephus and Biba have been trying to get approved for Visas to visit the US, without success.  That morning, they had another appointment.  We were thrilled when Cephus danced into the room (we called it "the visa dance") with their good news.  Cephus and Biba were able to fly back to the US with us at the end of our visit, and will spend three weeks being "loved on" by supporting churches and sharing the desperate needs of the Songhai people.

The third person we met was Ibrahim.  Ibrahim was the first believer in Ayarou.  Folks who follow Mark and Parker's work in Ayarou and now Niamey know Ibrahim's story--from God speaking to him in dreams three nights in a row which led to his acceptance of Jesus, profession of faith, and baptism--to the death of Ibrahim's wife and his family and neighbors' refusal to help bury her unless he rejected Christianity.  It was so good to meet this strong, brave man and hear him tell his testimony of faith.

After orientation, we walked out into the RAIN, and headed to the American Embassy Recreational Area for lunch.  They make some good Mexican food!!

In the afternoon, Mark invited vendors he knows and trusts to come to the Guest House so we could do some souvenir shopping and practice our Zarma phrases. 

Each night we met for prayer and to share our "high/low" for the day.  Several of us stated that our frustration with trying to say simple greetings in Zarma was our "low" for the day.  It was scary to think that we would be heading out to a village the next morning.  We knew we had Cephus, Biba and Odette (Biba's younger sister) to translate, but there are certain greetings we'd need to use.
Fo Fo = Hello (and thank you)
Mate Gaham = How is your body? (yeah--seems weird until you realize it's just what they say)
Samay or Baney Samay = fine, well
Mate Zankey = How are your children?

Ready or not, rested or not, the village of Boubon was waiting for us.....