Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Shoots from Stumps

"A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit." ~ Isaiah 11:1

Lately I've run into some brick walls in my personal ministry here in Rwanda.  Things I would like to do, and feel moved to start, haven't worked out, and some things I've done, although they turned out well, have turned out to be very, very complicated.  Not that I wouldn't choose to do it again if I'd known how complicated life would become - but I might have taken a deeper breath first, and prepared myself for the walk through the mire to get from point A to point B.  

Tough times often spur introspection, and rightly so.  

"What could I have done differently?"  
"Was this really necessary or beneficial?"  
"What would I do next time?" 
"Am I making a difference or helping anyone at all?"

And of course, the well worn favorite of ex-pats everywhere, 

"What in the world am I even doing here?"  

With these questions running around in my brain, bouncing up against one another, I opened to Isaiah 11, having no idea how gently and dearly the words written there would encourage and affirm me.  

"A shoot will come up"........."from the stump of Jesse."  (from the stump of a dead old tree)

Something new and good would spring up from something old and dead.  The "shoot" here refers to Jesus, who would one day be born through the family line of David.  Jesse was David's dad, and not nearly such an amazing guy as David was.  Yet, from the dead old stump of Jesse, Jesus was born - and He turned the world upside down!  He brought LIGHT out of darkness, HOPE out of despair, and TRUTH into a world of lies.  

Ripples of Jesus's ministry are still moving outward to this day, over 2,000 years after His death and resurrection.   

But that was Jesus, the Divine Son of God.  Of course He turned the world upside down.  Of course his presence and work accomplished so much.  

As I read this passage, I was encouraged.  Any work that God leads anyone to do, anything done through the power of Jesus' Name, even though done by the equivalent of an old tree stump - is sure to somehow, some way produce a new shoot of life, a new promise of redemption and of miracles and of second chances and of God's love to his people.  

Only God knows what fruit will grow from what we often feel are our paltry offerings to God. 

When you think about it, compared to what God has done for us - anything anyone ever does for God is a "small thing".  It's all small stuff.   But we can choose to trust that God will take our very small things, things only as good as what you could expect to come from an old tree stump, and bring out from them beautiful shoots which will grow into solid, strong trees, which will then produce fruit and will become real blessings to many.  

That's real encouragement.  The truth is, what each of us do, no matter how mundane or incredibly small it may seem sometimes, it all matters.  It ALL matters. 

So, if God moves in your heart to bake some cookies for a neighbor, to help a friend update her resume while she looks for a new job, to seek to bring justice to someone who has been mistreated and used or neglected, or to just do the dishes when it's not your turn, do not think this is too small a thing for God.  Nothing is too small for Him.  And He can take all our work, no matter how closely it resembles an old tree stump's leftovers, recover it and make it into a tall, strong tree for His Glory.  

Don't give up!  

 A few of the shoots growing up out of my old stump......things that give me joy and happiness and hope for the future.....
One of Tim's patients from last year came to visit and brought her new baby!  This is child number 7 for her!

Our dear friend and "adopted son", Pacifique -on his way to drop off his application for medical school.  

Saying good-bye to our little sweetheart, Kito, the day he was taking the ferry boat back to Idjwi Island with his Uncle. 

Jeanne and Kito, saying good-bye.

Kito's Uncle, who came to take him home.  What a sweet man. 

Gordance, a friend who attends our nearby University.

A partially paralyzed grandmother who couldn't see to read anymore.  Pacifique brought her some reading glasses. 

My friend at the market who sells ladies and children's clothing. (Above and below)

Dear friends who are seamstresses.  (above and below)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Remember Your Journey

In reading through Micah recently, these verses encouraged me:

“Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, 
that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD.” 
 ~ Micah 6:5b

Since June 2012, but really since April 2011, when we said “YES, We Will Go”, and made our decision to move to Africa public, life has moved at warp speed much of the time.  I almost feel as though I have lived two lives, the Pre-Africa life and the Africa one. 

As I reflect on our family’s identity, I sometimes have a hard time looking at our family history in any kind of continuum – instead it feels like two separate lives – that is how different the experiences are.

I love Rwanda.  I love East Africa (the only part of Africa I’ve seen).  But sometimes, even when everything is good, so good, in this present African life, sometimes I yearn, I long, like a child away at camp for the first time, for my Pre-Africa life. 

I see that past life through a very rose-colored lens, conveniently forgetting any and all arguments, sibling rivalries, loads and loads of laundry, home repairs constantly needed, marital strife, and all other stresses, and I only remember my happy little house in my small town neighborhood, where I homeschooled our four children, raised chickens, enjoyed having pets, swam almost year round with the family in our pool, took my kids to music lessons, baseball practice and games, boy scouts and the waterpark, and visited with friends while buying whatever I liked at the town grocery store, the town social hub, the H-E-B.  I even have extremely happy memories of building snowmen and sledding down the hill by our house, on formal dinner serving trays (because what Texan owns a real sled??) on those few glorious days every other winter or so when we would have ice, sleet or even snow storms.

What is my very favorite memory of our Pre-Africa life?

 My favorite memory of all is remembering how we all lived under the same roof.  

 I fondly look back on those days, especially when I’m missing my kids like crazy. 

Those four sweet little homeschoolers of the past now live in Illinois, Texas and Kijabe, Kenya, while their Mom and Dad live in Kibogora, Rwanda.  Instead of living in bedrooms sharing a common hallway, we now live in locales sharing only the same planet.  Gone are the days of muddy footprints on the floor, of wet trails leading through my house from the outdoor pool to the refrigerator for a snack, of homemade “I love you” cards and jelly smeared hand and face hugs.  But, I do get to say hello to today:  of having intelligent, inspiring and challenging conversations with my globally aware and sensititive adult and teen children, to read books that THEY recommend to ME (instead of reading Dr. Seuss over and over to them!), and I do get to enjoy watching them become independent citizens of God’s world. 

My challenge when I’m feeling homesick for my former life is to remember that we will always be family, we will always be knitted together with love, no matter how many miles separate us. 

But when I’m longing for a time travel machine, so I can relive just one of those days when the children were young and we all shared the same roof, in the same wonderful town –  for the days when we would go to the hospital and visit their Daddy in between his cases – this passage from Micah reminded me. 

“Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, 
that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD.” 
 ~ Micah 6:5b

Consider the journey.  Remember your journey.   

 It is good for me to remember the past. 

But more importantly, it is good that I remember all the times God saved, protected, guided, corrected, warned, inspired, and helped me and us in the past – indeed, I need to remember all the times he did these for each member of our family. 

Because, though my memory is so rose colored, the truth is, those days were often hard, just as these days can be hard. We had more than our share of interpersonal conflict in our home.  Though I worked and tried to provide a peaceful home for our family, I think my battles with anxiety and with other demons were big contributors to our daily struggles ~ we often fought, we sometimes really misunderstood each other, we judged, and we hurt one another. 

Sometimes, Tim and I wanted to just give up on our marriage.  We were so different!  How would we ever be able to understand each other?  Sometimes, we wondered if God knew what he was doing when he let us be the parents of our children – we felt so clueless as to how to raise them the way God wanted!  (We didn’t even know what He might want a lot of the time.)   And yet, amazingly, in spite of our mistakes, they all turned out great. 

 Remember your journey.  

Remember His faithfulness. 

Yes,  God was soooo faithful to us.  He got us through.  He gave us love and hope and he daily renewed our strength.  In spite of our stubborn natures (and oh, are we stubborn!), of our myriad mistakes, or some decisions that we knew were wrong, yet chose to make anyway (okay, I’m speaking for myself in that one – I don’t think Tim ever made those, but I sure did), God was so faithful to us to keep us all together and to see us through. 

His grace and mercy to us are why we are a family today.  Of why we all still have each other.  Of why we have HIM.  And when I read this passage from Micah, I remember, to keep being able to trust Him for where we are now, for where we are going, I must remember the way He kept us safe, and kept us going, in our past journeys. That gives me the strength and hope to keep trusting Him on our new journey. 

So, how about you?  How does remembering God’s faithfulness to you in your past impact your journey with Him today? What are some specific ways He showed his love and faithfulness, grace and/or mercy to you in your past?  And how will that make a difference for your heart’s cry to Him now?  I’ d love to hear. 

“Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, 
that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD.” 
 ~ Micah 6:5b